History is an eternal story. It has existed throughout all of humanity. In a way, it is part of our very nature to tell the story of our ancestors. One of the earliest known scripture is the story of a great war to prove that the ancestors of one of history’s greatest empires (Macedonia) were the greatest group of people the world had ever seen. This story had all of the parts that any story ever has. It was the story of romance, bravery, self-sacrifice, and, above all, an adventure which excites, enthrals and leaves the reader with a sense of pride in humanity.
This is what all of history is. We read novels for the same reason we study history. We want to be wowed by the qualities of those who came before us and did amazing things. We do not read the history of average people doing average things, we read the history of amazing people doing amazing things. We read stories and histories because we want to be these people.
This story had the power to inspire people to do unbelievable things. There once was a boy born into the ruling family of a tiny kingdom on the Balkan Peninsula. This boy read histories, learnt sciences and studied the art of warfare. When he was finished, he decided that he was not content to rule a small kingdom – even as his father expanded it to cover most of the Balkan Peninsula. He decided that he would only be content once he had control of everything he could find. At the age of twenty one he set off on a quest, never to return to his homeland. He crushed two of the greatest empires the world has ever seen and made his own which was even greater. He arrived at the centre for the world’s three largest religions and was told that his coming had been foretold by God himself, while elsewhere he was known as a devil with horns who haunts their land. He took control of most of the classical centres for art and learning and even built one himself. He did all this before he was thirty years old, and all because he was inspired by a character in a book. In an old story of history, bravery and romance.
All this inspiration for emperors, story writers, conquerors and great leaders sung out in the form of a poem nearly three and a half thousand years ago. A poem which defines much of our culture and outlines why we even go to war. A poem of love, of honour of the bravery which lets us win when all seems lost. A poem which has even put commonplace phrases into our language. A poem of Achilles and Hector, Gods and Goddesses, and a face to sail a thousand ships.
This is the story of how stories don’t change. This is the power of stories. This is The Iliad.
By Henry Kingdon