If the past is a different country because they do things differently there, the emotions of the past might be a passport in. The first word of Western literature names an emotion: wrath. The Iliad is indeed a story of emotions twisted up to tautness and their fatal unspooling. The reasons for Achilles’ implacable wrath are distant, but the fact that we too can be peeved, vexed, angry, furious, incensed, and possibly even wrathful gives us a way into the bronze age. Or something even more foreign: the heart of another person. Achilles is only disarmed by the poignancy of someone else’s emotion: Priam, abasing himself at the feet of his son’s killer, saying, “Think of your father.”

The classicist Angelos Chaniotis, formerly at All Souls College, Oxford and now at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, has previously edited the two-volume...


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