One very serious problem with many of the greatest works of literature is that there is always an implicit, and usually an explicit, openness to the supernatural. This is a very serious problem indeed, if, as may be the case, you are an atheist.
In order to correct this deficiency, the League of American Atheists has set itself the goal of “rewriting and republishing all works of literature to eliminate the divine in all of its forms.” The first installment is an edition of Homer’s Iliad with all references to the gods removed.
“Not only does this make for a better and more authentic story,” claims Kurt Harrow, the League’s Vice-President for Marketing, “but it also makes the tale more suitable for a younger audience. After all, the original version has some pretty explicit scenes featuring Zeus.”
This new version, instead of beginning with an appeal to the goddess (“Sing, O goddess”) now starts out like this:
Baby, let me tell you about the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave warrior did it send hurrying down to the underground, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of nobody fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.
And who was it that set them on to quarrel? It was their raging hormones; for a bioterrorist had sent a pestilence upon the host to plague the people, because the son of Atreus had dishonoured Chryses, a scientist of biology. Now Chryses had come to the ships of the Achaeans to free his daughter, and had brought with him a great ransom: moreover he bore in his hand a symbol of the biomolecule DNA wreathed with a suppliant’s wreath and he besought the Achaeans, but most of all the two sons of Atreus, who were their chiefs.
“Sons of Atreus,” he cried, “and all other Achaeans, may science, which dwells in the laboratory, grant you to sack the city of Priam, and to reach your homes in safety; but free my daughter, and accept a ransom for her, in reverence to science.”1
Homer, by Antoine-Denis Chaudet, 1806. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen (Jastrow), CC-BY-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
- Based on Samuel Butler’s Translation. ↩