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Gonzaga Holds Epic Greek Poem Marathon

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Poetry readings are becoming more common in Spokane. Usually the poets themselves read short pieces they’ve written.

Two Gonzaga professors held their own poetry reading on Friday and it went on for hours and hours.

At 9 am Friday, Gonzaga classical civilizations professor Dave Oosterhuis starts the poetry reading.

“I’d like to welcome you all to Gonzaga’s eighth annual Homerathon, this year doing ‘The Iliad.’ We’ve got a long day ahead of us, of Homer, of epic poetry. Sixteen thousand lines of Greek, mostly in English," Oosterhuis said.

Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR
Gonzaga classical civilizations assistant professor Amy Pistone begins the reading of "The Iliad" with a few lines in Greek.

His colleague, Amy Pistone, takes over at the podium.

“Ok, welcome, everyone. We’re kicking this off," Pistone said and then begins to read the first lines of The Iliad, in the original Greek. After a minute or so, Pistone stops, then goes back to the start, this time in English.

“The Iliad is the first epic poem written down in Europe and it’s the most influential," Oosterhuis said. "Strangely enough, it’s still often considered the best. People have been imitating Homer for 2,500 years and most people will still point to The Iliad as the greatest of the epic poems.”

Epic is an understatement. Oosterhuis says it takes 13 or 14 hours to get through it.

After about five minutes Amy Pistone stops and hands the book to student Caitlin Relvas.

“In looking at him from under his…," Relvas begins.

Dave Oosterhuis
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

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“A lot of people like to think The Iliad is about the Trojan War. It’s about the war over Helen of Troy," Oosterhuis said. "Paris, this Trojan prince kidnaps the most beautiful woman in the world, who just happens to be Greek, takes her home and all the Greeks raise this vast armada, for one reason or another, to get her back. And they spend 10 long years in this war that the Greeks eventually win. Helen is brought home.”

The Iliad tells the story of that war.

“This poem, and a lot of people don’t realize The Iliad is a poem, it’s meant to be read aloud. It’s poetry that’s meant to be heard. It’s poetry that’s meant to be performed," Oosterhuis said.

After a few minutes, Relvas hands the mike over to Annette Wissuchek, who wears a symbolic gold headpiece as she reads. The ritual will continue throughout the day and evening.

Next year’s Homerathon will feature another of Homer’s poem, “The Odyssey.”