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C. S. Lewis once wrote that we must read the classics “to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.” Yet the briefest contact with the work of, say, Homer suggests that this breeze is not always so refreshing. Last year, in a book entitled Memorial, the British poet Alice Oswald translated the sections of the Iliad that describe soldierly death — and chucked the rest of the epic. By stringing these passages together into a kind of martial rosary, Oswald encouraged a fresh reckoning with the Iliad’s fundamental and horrifying strangeness.

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