(translated into the Latin tongue by Boccaccio in the 1350s and thence into divers others)
Dear Gentles of fairest Adamastor,
It has been brought to my attention that it has been alleged in divers but unnamed quarters that my interest in the works of one Giovanni Boccaccio is not based on a love of literature per se but rather on a delight in his ribald and most unedifying short stories. I assure you, gentle reader, that nothing could be further from the truth. My motives for studying the good professor’s works are and always have been purely academic. It may be true that I quote more from his tales of naughty nuns than from his more scholarly works. However, this is merely a concession on my part to these degenerate times in which bawdiness is preferred to high culture by many who by grace of their education and station should know better.
To support my claims I present for you here a summary of his greatest work, the translation of Homer’s classical masterpiece, the Iliad, from unreadable squiggles into a civilised language. I have, I trust, no need to remind you that familiarity with the classics is essential to any African renaissance gentleman. Nor do I need to remind those of you who hail from Rome or Britain that, if we are to believe the accounts of your great historians Virgil and Geoffrey, you owe your nations to those proud Trojans who buggered off out the back way(1) when the Greeks came storming in.
The Iliad despite its length is actually a very straightforward tale. The old but rich Menelaus marries the beautiful but more than a little irresponsible Helen. Helen does the dirty with Paris (a Trojan gentleman with a similar personality) and scarpers off to Troy. Menelaus is not amused and together with his brother Agamemnon and every sword he can hire sails off after them. Agamemnon bumps off his daughter before they leave to propitiate the gods. This does not propitiate Clytemnestra (his dearly beloved) and her parting words “Just wait till you get home, Fennel Breath”(2) are a blatant attempt by the author to set up a sequel.
Paris and Helen beat them to Troy and hide inside the castle. Paris’ old man and his fellow Trojans are not exactly delighted at the mess Paris has got them into but there’s not much they can do about it. Cassandra wanders around spreading light and happiness in her unique manner and is lucky not to be thrown off the city walls(3).
A ten-year siege commences. Edited highlights include the following: The Greeks winning a fight and capturing lots of gold and women. The Greeks arguing over who gets the gold and the women. Achilles going off in a huff because he didn’t get the gold and the women. While the big A. sits in his tent and sulks, Nestor the brave kills Patrocles, Achilles’ “long time companion”. Achilles comes out of his tent and Nestor does three laps of Troy with the heartbroken hero in hot pursuit. Nestor gets away but Achilles gets him the next time. Nestor’s best mate Hector takes this personally and kills Achilles with a vicious blow to the ankle. This sort of thing continues for ten years.
Finally, the Greeks solve all their problems by hiding in a giant wooden horse. Cassandra tries telling the Trojans that leaving giant wooden horses as farewell presents after sieges is a little suspicious. No one listens to her. No one ever does. That night, the Trojans have a big booze up and get smashed in more ways than one. Paris is killed but Helen, patron saint of the braindead but beautiful, is forgiven, her innovative excuse(4) ranking right up there with Odysseus’ “why I took ten years to sail home”(5) story as the least believable excuse of all time.
(1) A popular approach to a lot of things in classical times.
(2) “Fennel Breath” was a colloquial Mycenaean term used to imply regular overindulgence in Ouzo.
(3) The patron saint of the modern woman; Cassandra was always right. She knew she was always right. She really was always right. Did any of the (all male) decision makers ever take her seriously? Noooo. Did they suffer for it in the end? Yeeeees.
(4) “Don’t be silly, Menelaus, I’m just a phantom of me. Let’s go to Egypt, just the two of us. I’ll find the real me for you and we’ll have a second honeymoon together”.
(5) Given that, even in his excuse, Odysseus spent seven years shagging a sea nymph, one wonders why Penelope accepted his story at face value. Perhaps Penelope, who whiled away her ten years of heartbroken solitude with a horde of rich and handsome young suitors, had her own secrets to hide?(6)
(6) Penelope was later made the patron saint of the guild of textile workers on the grounds that she took ten years to not finish one piece of weaving and, when the customers complained, got her boyfriend – a particularly violent sailor – to rough them all up.