The Anger of Achilles (1963)

‘The Anger of Achilles’ was derived from Roberto Graves’s populist translation of ‘The Iliad’, itself a controversial work for it’s deliberate appeal to a public unfamiliar and uninterested with the language of the classics. Graves’s translation is engineered towards entertainment, eschewing literal translations of the text (and a few historical accuracies) in the process. “The Homeric epics” Graves declared, “need to be rescued from the classroom curse which has lain heavily on them throughout the past twenty-six centuries, and become entertainment once more.” Despite mixed reviews from purists, Graves’s text, ‘The Anger of Achilles’, was a commercial success. While a planned film series never emerged, the BBC approached Graves to produce readings of some of the sections of the work which, in 1961, was broadened in scope to a three hour radio play.

The radio play was produced by Raymond Raikes who had brought Roberto Gerhard in on previous BBC productions. Based on his correspondence with Graves, Raikes envisioned that the accompanying soundtrack would comprise of both orchestral and radiophonic music. This combination made Gerhard, with his connection to the Radiophonic Workshop, a natural choice and the resulting radiophonic material was realised with the collaboration of Delia Derbyshire, which executed most of the radiophonic elements. Gerhard wrote around 30 minutes of original music for the production, much of which is purely orchestral material. However, Gerhard made special use of electronics to accompany scenes with Athene, Thetis, Aphrodite, and Zeus as a way to make the presence of the Gods stand out in the soundtrack, emphasising their divinity.

While originally broadcast as three one-hour instalments, Raikes edited the production down to 55 minutes for a single broadcast a year later. This abridged version of ‘The Anger of Achilles’ went on to be submitted for and win the Prix Italia in 1965 for literary and dramatic work for radio. A year later it was broadcast on the BBC Home Service in 1966 (now Radio 4) – a rare occurrence for a work of poetry – to an estimated 150,000 listeners, a testament to the work’s ability to capture the public’s imagination.

061Audio recording of the radio play ‘The Anger of Achilles’
516Audio recording of a fragment of the radio introduction to Roberto Gerhard’s ‘The Anger of Achilles’