10 October 2012

David Lupher's Iliad Resource Materials

Below, I post the really helpful materials that retired classics Professor David Lupher (University of Puget Sound) has allowed me to use with my students.  These study questions and ancillary materials are keyed to the Fagles translation, but are useful for all students who want to enrich their reading of Homer's poem.

Homer's Iliad (Fagles Translation)
Introduction and Study Guide

This is intended as a brief and handy introduction and study guide to the Iliad.  Read the first four pages before beginning the poem.  Fuller information on many of these points may be found in the introduction to Robert Fagles’ translation.  That introduction is not by Fagles, but by the great British-American classical scholar Bernard Knox (1914-2010).  While it is an excellent interpretation of the Iliad, it is fairly lengthy, and it contains “spoilers.”  Thus, it may prove more helpful when you have already read the poem or at least have gotten into it.

In addition to Knox’s introduction, note also the follow features of Fagles’ translation:
- the maps on pp. 68ff
- the genealogy of the royal house of Troy on p. 617
- the notes on particular passages on pp. 621-33 (These notes are by Bernard Knox.)
- the pronouncing glossary of names and places on pp. 639-83 (This is very helpful for sorting out characters and places and in refreshing your memory as you read.  Note the much briefer glossary of characters at the end of this study guide.)

Genre:  The Iliad is an epic poem (not a “novel”!)  An ancient epic (from the Greek word epos,    "word, utterance" or, especially in the plural, "poetic utterance, poem") is a long narrative in verse on a subject drawn from the legends of the "Heroic Age" of Greece, roughly the late second millennium BCE.  The Iliad and the Odyssey were products of a long history of oral epic poetry.  Oral poets (aoidoi, "bards") were illiterate artists whose productions were skillfully improvised conglomerations of traditional themes, scenes and phrases, accompanied by a lyre and perhaps by impressive costumes and gestures.  Audiences may have been the inhabitants and guests of noble houses, though festivals at shrines of gods and aristocratic funerals were also likely contexts for performances of particularly ambitious oral epics.

Place of composition: Western Asia Minor (modern Turkey) or an island off the coast (Chios                      has been a popular ancient and modern candidate).

Time of composition: The Iliad probably achieved more or less final form around the mid to                     late 8th century BCE.

Composer: The moments at which the two great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were captured              in writing marked the end and perhaps also the high point of the Greek oral poetic                 tradition.  These moments also marked the beginning and perhaps also, as the later Greeks themselves believed, the high point of Greek literature.  Both epics were attributed to a bard named "Homer."  Nothing is securely known about "Homer," not even that he actually existed.  The tradition of his blindness was probably derived from the moving portrayal of the blind bard Demodokos in the Odyssey.  It is in fact far from certain that both epics were composed by the same poet. It is also quite  uncertain whether these epics were written down by the composer(s) or were dictated  to scribes.  The "freezing" of these oral poems in writing remains a highly mysterious and controversial phenomenon.

Form:   The Iliad comprises almost 15,700 lines of dactylic hexameter verse.  Greek verse is          composed of patterns of long and short syllables—not, as in traditional English verse,  patterns of accented and unaccented syllables.  A line of dactylic hexameter, the meter of  all ancient epics, has six units ("feet"), most of which are dactyls.  A dactyl is one long  syllable followed by two shorts.  The two short syllables may be replaced by one long  syllable, and the last foot will contain one long followed by a single syllable, either long or   short.  The translation by Robert Fagles uses what Fagles terms "a loose five- or six-beat line but inclining more to six."  In length, then, Fagles' lines approximate Homer's, but his accentual metrics ("beats") do not reflect Homer's "quantitative" (long vs. short syllable) system.

Divisions:     At some point in antiquity, perhaps during the 3rd or 2nd centuries BCE, the Iliad         was divided into 24 segments, traditionally called "books."  The "books" were given  as titles the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, and brief descriptive headings were supplied.  Thus, the first book was called "A" ("Alpha") and subtitled "Plague.  Wrath."  It is more common these days simply to give the books numbers.  Fagles, like many other translators, has also supplied titles (e.g. Book 1: "The Rage of Achilles").  It is important to remember that these titles, while often helpful, are entirely the invention of the translator.  In writing papers, it is best to refer to the books of the epic by their numbers, not by the titles the translator has devised.

Time of Action: The traditional date is around 1200 BCE, near the end of the Bronze Age                 Mycenaean civilization of the Greek mainland and islands.

Place of Action: The Iliad takes place in and around the city of Troy—also called Ilion (Ilium),
hence the poem's name Iliad.  Troy was located in NW Asia Minor, near the entrance to  the Hellespont (the Dardanelles), then as now a highly strategic location: the Gallipoli Peninsula, made famous by the disastrous 1915 campaign, lies just across the Hellespont  from Troy, an indication of how strategic this region was and still is.

Background:  Zeus, king of the gods, had a passion for mortal women.  While "courting" one
             of them, Leda, wife of Tyndareus, he took on, as he often did, an animal disguise: this
             time, that of a swan.  The product of this peculiar union was Helen, who grew up to
             become the most beautiful woman in Greece, courted by all the Achaean (Greek) chiefs. 
             Her shrewd stepfather Tyndareus made all of her suitors vow to band together to support
             the marital authority of the lucky man who would win her hand. This man turned out to be
             Menelaus, king of Sparta, whose brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, the most
             powerful Achaean ruler, took in marriage Helen's half-sister Clytemnestra.
                        Not long afterwards, Jason led the Argonauts on the quest for the Golden Fleece.
             In the course of this celebrated voyage, the Argonaut Peleus fell in love at first sight with
the sea nymph Thetis.  The two were eventually married in a big wedding on Mt. Pelion.
All the gods were invited—with one exception: Eris, the goddess of Strife. Understandably miffed, Eris crashed the party and tossed among the carousing goddesses a golden apple inscribed "For the Fairest."  Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all dove for the apple, initiating a contest that could be settled only by referring the matter to the pure young Trojan prince Paris as he pastured his flocks on Mt. Ida.  In exchange for her offer of the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Aphrodite goddess of love received the prize, whereupon Paris proceeded to Sparta to collect his prize, Helen.  (Incidentally, Homer mentions this "Judgment of Paris" only once: in the last book of the Iliad.)
        Paris' abduction of Helen activated the oath sworn by the suitors to Helen's step-father Tyndareus.  This, then, was the beginning of the Trojan War, an expedition of Achaean chieftains against Troy, led by Helen's brother-in-law Agamemnon king of Mycenae.

Subject:  The action of the Iliad takes place as we enter the last year of this ten-year war.  In other
                words, the Iliad is by no means the story of the entire Trojan War.  It does not even take
                us to the end of that war.  Its subject, as stated in the first lines of the poem, is the wrath                      of Achilles, the best fighter of the Achaeans, against the commander-in-chief            
                Agamemnon.  The cause of the quarrel is the subject of the first book of the epic.  The
                subsequent 23 books are devoted to the dire consequences of that wrath, consequences            
                disastrous for Agamemnon, for the Achaeans, for the Trojans, and for Achilles himself.

Duration of action:  The action of the Iliad covers 52 days.  In fact, 21 of the 24 books cover                                                      only six days.  The lapse of time is as follows:
                                       - Book 1: 23 days (But only the action of three of these days is recounted
                                                in any detail; the others are passed over in a few lines.)
                                       - Books 2-22: 6 days: lst day of battle (Bks 2-7); 2 days of truce (near the
                                                end of Bk 7); 2nd day of battle (Bk 8), followed by events of the
                                                subsequent night (Bks 9-10); 3rd day of battle (Bks 11-18); 4th day
                                                of battle (from Bk 19 to the first lines of Bk 23)
                                       - Book 23: 2 days for the funeral of Patroklos
                  - Book 24: 21 days (Again, most of these days are traversed in a few
                           lines; the main action occurs on the night of the ninth of these days.)

Characters: Like most ancient epics, the Iliad presents the deeds and words of three main kinds                                       of characters:

                     1. aristocratic men and women - the agathoi ("good people") - The majority of mortal     figures in the Iliad are lords of relatively small territories, their nobly born  companions, and their womenfolk.  While slaves do appear—and two slave women play a decisive, though passive, role in the action—slaves in Homeric epic tend to be no less nobly born than their masters; they simply have had the misfortune to be captured in war.  Though it is clear that the bulk of the warring armies at Troy were composed of non-aristocrats, the poet virtually never brings them into individual focus.  The only member of the "common people" (demos) to receive a name, description and opportunity to speak in the Iliad is the loudmouth Thersites, "the ugliest man who ever came to Troy."  (Some scholars suspect that Epeus in Book 23 is another man of the demos, but it is hard to be sure.)
                   2. gods and goddesses - Homeric gods live forever, are much stronger than mortals, and have a special diet (liquid: nectar; dry: ambrosia, lit. "immortal stuff") and hence also a special fluid in their veins (ichor) instead of blood. It is also implied at times that they have a language of their own, though this may simply be a special vocabulary for some birds, geographical features and the like.  In most other respects, however, Homeric gods startlingly resemble Homeric mortals in their   values, psychology and way of life.  Gods and goddesses are particularly sensitive  about the honors they receive.  In this too they resemble mortals, but gods do receive special honors denied to mortals: especially sacrifices of bulls, sheep and other expensive animals.  A particularly impressive sacrifice will be referred to in the Iliad as a hecatomb, technically a sacrifice of a hundred animals.  By a convenient arrangement, the gods especially enjoy the smoke of the sacrifices,  particularly the smoke of thighbones wrapped in fat.  The edible parts of the animals are left to the human celebrants to barbecue and feast upon.  The most important of the gods live on Mt. Olympus in northeastern Greece, though many of them have other favorite spots in which to spend time and receive honors.  Some lesser divinities live on the earth (river gods, nymphs of springs, etc.); others live under the ground (their king is Hades, lord of the dead); and others live in the depths of the sea.  The principal divine figures of the Iliad are ten of the twelve Olympians and the sea-nymph Thetis.  (See below for notes on individual gods.)

                3.  the offspring of mixed marriages—or "affairs" (often in fact rape)—between gods and mortals - These figures are what the Greeks designated as "heroes" in the strictest sense of the term.  They are mortals and live among ordinary humans, but they tend to be stronger (if male) and better looking than full-blooded mortals, and they will receive quasi-divine offerings when they die.  While alive they may receive special aid or favors from their divine parents and other divine protectors,   but their mortality persists as a tragic, unalterable fact.  Among the main figures of the Iliad who fall into this category are Achilles, Helen, Sarpedon and Aeneas.

             The principal human and divine characters of the Iliad are:

             1 Achaeans (also called Danaans and Argives: "Greeks" to us)
                - the Atridae (i.e. sons of Atreus):
                     1. Agamemnon - king of Mycenae, commander-in-chief of the Achaean                                                                             confederation
                     2. Menelaos - king of Sparta, Helen's original husband

                - Achilles - "best of the Achaeans," son of Peleus - king of the Myrmidons, a tribe in                                                     southern Thessaly

                - Patroclus - son of Menoetius - companion of Achilles (actually older than Achilles,                                                    though we tend to think of him as younger)

                - Nestor - king of Pylos in the west of Greece - the "elder statesman" of the Achaean                                                 army

                - Diomedes - son of Tydeus - from Argos, near Mycenae - the second-best warrior                                                        after Achilles

                - Odysseus - king of Ithaca, off the west coast of Greece - wiliest of the Achaeans

                - Ajax (Aias) - son of Telamon - a fighter of tremendous staying power (not to be                                                             confused with Ajax son of Oileus, a notoriously savage
                                                            warrior from Locris who can often be found fighting 
                                                            along side his more famous namesake)     
             2. Trojans (including such allies as the Lycians)
                - Priam - aged king of Troy, husband of Hecuba and father of Paris, Hector and many                                                 others

                - Hector - Trojan prince, greatest warrior of the Trojans

                - Paris - Hector's brother and Helen's current husband

                - Andromache - wife of Hector and mother of their son Astyanax

                - Sarpedon - son of Zeus - king of the Lycians, allies of the Trojans
                - Polydamas - the shrewdest counselor on the Trojan side

                - Aeneas - son of Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite - second-best Trojan warrior                                                    after Hector
             3. in a class by herself

                - Helen - Helen of Sparta / Helen of Troy - wife first of Menelaus, then of Paris, then                                                 (after the action of the Iliad—see Book 4 of the Odyssey) of Menelaus

             4. gods and goddesses

                - neutral (at least officially neutral re. the larger picture of the war)

                     - Zeus - "father of men and gods," "cloud-gatherer," the embattled patriarch of the                                                Olympian family
             - supporting the Achaeans:

                     - Athena - goddess of crafts and craftiness (not yet of "wisdom") - a loser in the                                                       "Judgment of Paris"
                     - Hera - wife and sister of Zeus - closely associated with Argos near Mycenae - the                                                other loser in the "Judgment of Paris"

                     - Hephaestus - son of Zeus and Hera - the lame smith god

                     - Poseidon - brother of Zeus and Hera - lord of the sea

                     - Hermes - son of Zeus and the nymph Maia - along with the goddess Iris, he is a                                                     messenger of the gods

                     - Thetis - mother of Achilles, wife of the mortal Peleus - a sea nymph, not one of                                                      the Olympian gods  (Actually, the only Achaean she really supports
                                                       is her son.)
             - supporting the Trojans:

                     - Aphrodite - daughter of Zeus and the minor goddess Dione - winner of the                                                                  "Judgment of Paris" - goddess of love and beauty

                     - Apollo - son of Zeus and the nymph Leto - also called Phoebus - god of                                                                  prophecy, music and healing (not in Homer the god of 
                                                                 the     sun---that is Helios)
                     - Artemis - twin sister of Apollo - virgin goddess of the hunt

                     - Ares - son of Zeus and Hera - god of war (despite the fact that he backs the losing                                                   side!)

Two other Olympian divinities, Demeter and Dionysus, do not take part in the action of the Iliad.

Homer's Iliad:  Study Questions (Fagles translation)

Book 1

What do the opening lines of the Iliad seem to tell us about the subject of the entire epic?

Several tempers are lost in this first book.  What kinds of behavior seem to trigger human and divine outbursts of anger?

In the course of Book 1 the priest Chryses offers up two prayers to his patron god Apollo.  What forms do these prayers take, and how do they differ from each other?  What do these prayers tell us about the nature of the gods and of human-divine relations?

Trace carefully the course of the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon.  How much of this crisis seems due to the immediate situation?  How much of it appears to be rooted in long-standing differences between the two men?  How does the quarrel reveal possible points of contradiction and tension in the entire society?  How might the quarrel have been avoided?

A central theme of the quarrel is the question of the distribution and retention of gera, gifts of honor (see #6 on handout on basic terms).  What are some of the objects of value in the society of this poem, and why are they valued?  Keep this question in mind as you continue to read the Iliad.

What do we learn about Achilles in the scene between him and his mother, the sea-nymph Thetis?  How might this color our understanding of this hero and of what happens to him in this poem?

How does Zeus, "father of gods and men," reveal himself in his exchanges with the two goddesses Thetis and Hera?  How does divine society as displayed at the end of the book contrast with the human society we have seen in the rest of the book?  Contrast the divine quarrel at the end of the book with the human quarrel earlier.  What are your first impressions of the nature of the Greek divinities, at least as Homer portrays them?

Book 2

What is Zeus' motive in sending the delusive dream to Agamemnon?  What are Agamemnon's motives in his plans in response to this dream?

What does the behavior of the Achaean army in response to Agamemnon's "testing speech" tell us about the mood of the army after nine years of war?

What do you make of Thersites?  Why do you think the poet's presentation of him is so contemptuous?  Do Thersites' words justify the poet's scorn and Odysseus' response?  How is Thersites viewed by his comrades?

What is the effect of the clustered similes and the invocation of the Muses before the "catalogues" (pp. 114-5).  And what is the poetic effect of the "catalogues" themselves?
(These are commonly called "the Catalogue of Ships" and the "Catalogue of Trojans.")

Book 3

At the beginning of this book, the Achaean and Trojan forces confront each other for the first time in the poem.  But what promises, after the "Catalogues" of the preceding book, to be a grand scene of massed battle suddenly turns into a scene focused upon two figures: Paris and Menelaus.  Why these two?  How do they comport themselves and reveal their characters in this scene?

Perhaps the most fascinating figure of this book is Helen.  What are our first impressions of her?  How do others view her?  How does she view herself?

The scene of Helen and the Trojan elders on the Scaean Gates has always been famous, known since antiquity as the "Teichoscopia" ("View from the Walls").  What do we learn of some of the key characters of the poem in this short but powerful scene?  It is often noted that it is implausible that Priam would need to have Helen inform him of the identity of Achaean leaders who had been besieging his city for the past nine years.  Why do you suppose the poet risked this criticism to create this scene?

The book closes with scenes of meetings between Helen and Aphrodite and between Helen and Paris.  Both scenes reveal rather unusual relationships.  How do these characters seem to treat and feel about each other?

Book 4

This book opens with another scene on Mt. Olympus.  Analyze the interchange between Zeus and Hera.  How do they view and treat each other?  What are the limits on their power?  What claims do the humans below have upon them?  What is the result of this scene for the immediate action?  What is the implied result for the entire war?

What is the role of Athena in the truce-breaking scene?  Does divine intervention seem necessary here?  To what extent does it seem to absolve Pandarus of responsibility for his action?

Analyze the role of Agamemnon in this book   How does he reveal himself as a human being and as commander-in-chief?  In Book 1 Nestor had reminded Achilles about Agamemnon: "He has more power because he rules more men" (p. 86).  How does Agamemnon display this superior power in this book?  What are the qualities of a good commander that he reveals here?  What are the qualities of good subordinates? 

Recall the mood of the Achaean army in the first half of Book 2.  Compare that with what we see here.  What has made the difference?

Book 5

Book 5 is the first book of the poem to be devoted to scenes of full-scale battle.  The book's traditional name is "Diomedes' Aristeia (Great Deeds)."  (Remember that the titles that Fagles gives to the books in his translation are entirely of his own invention.)

You might focus your reading of this book by staying alert to three main aspects:
            1. Homeric warfare -   What seem to be standard features of an encounter between
                                                hostile pairs of Homeric heroes?
                                                How does Homer give his battle scenes an orderly rhythm
                                                so as to avoid the impression of chaos?
            2. Diomedes -   Why does Homer create such a major role for him in this book?
                                    In what ways is his stature exalted here?
                                    How would you describe his character?  (You might want to look
                                    back at his brief appearance in Book 4, pp. 157-9.)
            3. the gods -     There are many ways the gods make their presence felt on the field
                                    of battle in this book.  What are some of these ways?
                                    What is the effect upon a reader of Diomedes' wounding of two of
                                    the gods?

Book 6

We learn some interesting details about minor victims towards the beginning of this book.  Why might we be given such information?  What effect does it have on us?

Why does Hector return to Troy?  Does this seem entirely plausible?

Pay special attention to the famous meeting between Diomedes and Glaucus the Lycian (a Trojan ally).  Is Diomedes' presentation of himself here consistent with what we saw of him in Book 5?  What is the point of the mythological stories here?  What do you make of the poet's comment on Glaucus' "stupidity" at the end of the encounter?  What is the effect of the entire scene in the context of this day's battle?

Hector pays a visit to Paris and Helen.  What are the dynamics of their interaction?  How do they view one another—and themselves?

Hector's meeting with his wife Andromache and his infant son Astyanax is one of the most celebrated scenes in western literature.  Why might this be so?  More specific questions to bear in mind here are:
            - What does this scene tell us about the position of women in Homeric society?
            - What does this scene reveal about the character of Hector and the motivations
            for his behavior?
            -  How do you reconcile Hector's prayer for his son with the fatalism of the
            speech which he had just delivered to his wife?

Book 7

Up to this point in the poem, though the Trojans may have been bolder than usual on the field of battle, the Achaeans have generally had the upper hand.  Similarly, the duel between Hector and Ajax in this book, though technically declared a draw, is not improperly celebrated by the Achaeans as a victory for Ajax (p. 224).  Note also Diomedes' confident prediction of Troy's fall as an argument for refusing any "deals" with the Trojans (p. 227).  Nevertheless, Book 7 does mark a kind of transition from the books that show us the Achaeans managing reasonably well without Achilles to the books where "the will of Zeus was moving towards its end" (see the first lines of the poem).  In the absence of any serious setback on the battlefield, how does Book 7 nevertheless prepare us for a shift in Achaean fortunes?

Book 8

In Book 1 Thetis had supplicated Zeus: "Come, grant the Trojans victory after victory / till the Achaean armies pay my dear son back, / building higher the honor he deserves!" (p. 94).   At last, in Book 8, Zeus seems ready to deliver on his promise to Thetis.  How does he go about doing so?   And how does he ensure that the Trojan success doesn't go too far?   Also, if Book 8 takes us back to Zeus' promise in the first book, how does it also prepare us for the future action of the poem?

Especially celebrated is the end of Book 8: the Trojan campfires burning on the plain.  How does the poet prepare for and develop this scene?  What gives it its special power?

Book 9

Early in this book Agamemnon utters two speeches in which he recognizes the gravity of the mistake he had made in quarrelling with Achilles, "the best of the Achaeans."  (Compare also his speech to the assembled Achaeans in Book 2, p. 103.)  How does Agamemnon characterize and account for his mistake?  How does he promise to retrieve it?

The first major speech of the "embassy" to Achilles is that of the wily Odysseus.  In addition to conveying Agamemnon's offers, how does Odysseus sustain his reputation for shrewdness by devising persuasive gambits of his own?

Achilles' long speech in reply to Odysseus (pp. 261-66) is one of the most important speeches in the Iliad.  It deserves a careful reading—and rereading.  What are the speech's principal points?  How does Achilles now view the heroic code by which he has hitherto lived?  What is the famous "choice of Achilles" with which this speech reaches a climax?

Phoenix's speech (pp. 266-72) is the longest in the Iliad.  Why is so long a speech given to so relatively minor a character?  What are Phoenix's general arguments?  What are the arguments that he tailors especially to the case and nature of Achilles?  Why does he devote so much of his speech to the story of Meleager?  What do Achilles and Meleager have in common?  What is the specific point of the story?

Ajax's speech (pp. 272-3) is, in this context, relatively short.  It is, however, crucial in helping us to understand how Achilles' behavior is assessed by his own peers.

How has this book advanced—or complicated—the story?  Here are two subsidiary questions:
            - What will satisfy Achilles now?
            - What, specifically, does he intend to do?  Note that he signals his intentions to
            Odysseus, to Phoenix, and to Ajax.  Is he consistent?  Also look carefully at
            Odysseus' report to Agamemnon.

Book 10

This book is traditionally known as the "Doloneia" ("Doings of Dolon"), after the name of the Trojan spy of its central scene.  In ancient times it was widely suspected that this book did not form part of the "original" Iliad, and many modern scholars have agreed that it is a later (but still quite ancient) addition.  Even if we assume that these ancient and modern scholars are correct, we still need to ask:
            - Why was this section added?
            - What might its intended effect be upon a reader of the Iliad?
            - How has this episode been made to fit relatively smoothly into this part of the
            Iliad, and how might it contribute to its immediate context in the poem?

Book 11

With this book the third day of fighting begins, a long day which will last eight books.  Perhaps the most important thing to observe as you read this book is its contribution to the central narrative architecture of the poem.  How does this book both efficiently move the story forward and strategically slow it down?  As you read, jot down the most important events of the book.  You will want to pay special attention to:

- Zeus' promise to Hector – What, precisely, is the extent of Hector's mandate
            from Zeus?
            - the wounding of the main Achaean heroes – How are these scenes constructed?
            What is their immediate result?
- Nestor's long speech to Patroclus – Why does the poet have Nestor deliver such a long speech to such an impatient listener?  Why does Nestor indulge in this
lengthy reminiscence?
- Patroclus' meeting with the wounded Eurypylus – What does this scene tell us
about the character of Patroclus?  Why does the poet let Patroclus get sidetracked
by this minor character?

Book 12

In this book, as the Trojans begin their assault upon the Achaean rampart, we get to know Hector more deeply than at any time since Book 6.  In particular, note his interaction with the Trojan warrior Polydamas.  What is Polydamas' role here?  What does Hector reveal of himself in his exchange with him?  Pay special attention to Hector's famous response to the bird omen and to Polydamas' comments upon it.

The best-known passage in this book is the speech of Sarpedon, son of Zeus and Lycian ally of the Trojans, to his fellow Lycian Glaucus (pp. 335-6).  Read this speech carefully.  What does it tell us about the heroic code which was called into question by Achilles in Book 9?  What is the effect of this speech in its immediate context?
Book 13

This book contains the account of the Trojan assault upon the Achaean ships.  Since many of the main Achaean heroes were knocked out of action in Book 11, temporarily major roles are here given to relatively minor characters.  How does Homer nevertheless manage to sustain our interest here?  Also, how does he contrive to remind us of the general situation, the main structure of the poem's story?  Note also the continuing role of Polydamas, whom we met in the last book.

Book 14

This book begins with Hera's celebrated—or notorious—"Deception of Zeus" (the ancient name for this book).  What effect does this scene have on us at this stage of the poem's action?  What does it add to our conception of the nature of Homeric divinities—especially that of the "father of gods and men," Zeus?  What are the immediate consequences of this scene?

Book 15

After the "detour" of Hera's "Deception of Zeus" (Book 14), the awakened and angry divine monarch puts his plan back on track in this book.  Indeed, we learn much more about the details of the "will of Zeus" in this book than we had known before.  What do we learn, and how do we learn it?  And how does the poet get the story moving forward once more?

Book 16

This book is the "Patrokleia," "The Doings of Patroclus."  What have we learned about Patroclus up to this point?  How does he reveal himself in his conversation with Achilles at the beginning of this book?

Pay particular attention to Achilles' speech to Patroclus on pp. 414-5.  What does it reveal to us of Achilles' present state of mind?  What is the principal factor restraining him from going into battle himself?  What do you make of the prayer with which he concludes this speech?

As you read the account of Patroclus' behavior on the battlefield, be especially alert to:
            - Homer's use of similes – What effect do they have on you as a reader?
            - the mixture of divine and human responsibility in the death of Patroclus

Book 17

This book is devoted to the fight over the body of Patroclus.  Why do you think Homer made this so protracted a struggle?

Note in particular the weeping horses of Achilles (pp. 456-7).  How does Homer develop the peculiar pathos of this scene?  What contribution does Zeus' speech to the horses make to the mood of the entire poem?

Book 18

Read with heightened attention the scene with Thetis and her son.  What are Achilles' feelings at this point?  Has he learned anything?  What is the function of Thetis in this scene?  Compare the scene of Thetis and Achilles in Book 1.

Pay special attention to the scene in which Athena and Achilles emit an ear-splitting shriek, just before the sun comes down on the third full day of fighting in the poem.  How does the poet give this scene its eerie power?

At a Trojan war council Polydamas offer his fourth piece of advice to Hector.  What is Hector's response, what does this response tell us about Hector, and how does the poet judge the success of Hector's speech to the other Trojan warriors?

The last part of this book is the most famous: Hephaestus' forging of new armor, especially a new shield, for Achilles.  Why has Homer created such a scene here, and what is its effect on us?

Book 19

The most important event of this shortest book of the Iliad is the reconciliation between Achilles and Agamemnon.  Analyze Achilles' first speech to Agamemnon (p. 490).  How does Achilles now look back upon his anger and its cause?  Next study what is traditionally known as "Agamemnon's Apology."  How does it compare with Agamemnon's earlier admissions of error (Book 2, p. 103; Book 9, pp. 252-6)?  How does Agamemnon apportion blame and responsibility for his "folly" (atē)?

Much of the rest of Book 19 seems to be devoted to the somewhat surprising question of breakfast.  Should the Achaeans rush forth into battle at once, or should they eat first?  Why does the epic poet devote so much attention to this seemingly mundane question?

Book 20

Why does Zeus unleash the gods early in this book?  What is his motive?  What do you think might have been the poet's motive?  In particular, note Apollo's role as advisor to Hector (p. 515). 

Book 21

This book begins with one of the most dramatic and poignant battlefield encounters in the Iliad: that between Achilles and the Trojan prince Lycaon.  What gives this scene its special power?  What does it reveal to us of Achilles' present state of mind?  How does it prepare us to await the meeting of Achilles and Hector?

The central event of the rest of this book is Achilles' "battle" with the raging Trojan river Xanthus/Scamander.    What is the effect upon us of this unusual scene?

Book 22

The first major scene finds Hector alone outside the gates, listening to the appeals of his aged parents who stand above him on the walls.  Compare and contrast the essence of the speeches of Priam and Hecuba.  Then analyze Hector's response (pp. 544-5).  What is keeping him outside the walls?  What path do his reflections take here?  Does he remain true to his nature?

After all of his calculations, Hector turns to flight.  Why?  And how does the poet convey the excitement and pathos of this race "for the life of Hector breaker of horses?"

In the climactic confrontation of Hector and Achilles, we see again what we have so often seen before: the convergence of human and divine agency.  How are these intermingled and unified here?  How do the "divine intrusions" affect the reader?  How do the heroes give intensified expression to their own natures in this scene?

How does Andromache's lament (pp. 557-8) add to our picture of the role and lot of women in the Homeric world?

Book 23

Book 23 is largely devoted to the funeral games of Patroclus.  On one level, of course, these games provide a kind of welcome relief from the warfare that has formed the subject of so much of the rest of the Iliad.  At the same time, however, how do these games sustain and reinforce the tone and values of the rest of the poem?

How does Achilles behave in this book?  Do you see any indications that he may soon be ready to move beyond the frame of mind he has hitherto displayed?

Book 24

The first major scene of this final book takes place on Mt. Olympus.  How do the gods view Achilles' present behavior and state of mind?  What is the standard of normal human nature and behavior against which they measure him?

The central scene of this book is Priam's supplication of Achilles for the return of his son's body.  We have already noticed that supplication, though a ritual presided over by Zeus, does not always succeed.  Priam's supplication, however, does succeed.  Why?  How does Priam move Achilles?  How "close" do Priam and Achilles become?  How thoroughly has Achilles at last "digested" his anger?  While the scene is largely devoted to Priam's persuasion of Achilles, it also contains a persuasion of Priam by Achilles.  What does Achilles persuade Priam to do?  What attitude does he urge him to adopt?  How consistent is this with the Achilles we have seen in the rest of the poem?

How does Book 24 form an effective conclusion to the Iliad?  Think back to Book 1.  Do the beginning and the end of the poem achieve a kind of equilibrium?  The end of Book 24 is not the end of the Trojan War.  How have we nevertheless been made to think ahead to that now not-too-distant event?

Basic Terms and Themes

1. arete (ἀρετή) pronounced ah-reh-tay

 Successfulness, effectiveness, competence, skill, the ability to fulfill efficiently the requirements of one's status or occupation; excellence, especially manly excellence: courage, valor  (The word is perhaps related to ἄρσην, "masculine," cf. Latin virtus, "excellence, valor," related to vir, "man.")  N.B.: Arete  is often translated "virtue," a misleading equivalent at best, though aretē is indeed close in meaning to the Latin word virtus, from which our word "virtue" derives.

      - Homer, Iliad 22.268-9 (= Fagles, lines 316-18) - Achilles to Hector, just before they begin their duel:

            Come, call up whatever courage [lit., every sort of arete] you can muster.

            Life or death—now prove yourself a spearman,

            a daring man-of-war.

                  - Plato, Meno 71E - The old-fashioned Thessalian aristocrat Meno defines arete for Socrates:

            “If you want a definition of the arete of a man, that is easy enough: the arete of a man is
              to be capable of taking an active part in the business of the polis"  [see below, # 14], and while
            doing so, to be capable of helping one's philoi  [friends and relatives] and harming one's
            echthroi [personal enemies], while taking care to suffer no harm oneself at their hands.  Or
            if you want a woman's aret, that is easily described.  She must be a good housewife,
            protective of the things inside the house and obedient to her husband.”
  2. agathos  (ἀγαθός pronounced ah-gah-toss
      An adjective applied to one who possesses aret.  It has a wide range of meanings: 1) valiant,
      brave, courageous; 2) excellent, useful (esp. of things); 3) noble, of high birth and station
      (The archaic and classical Greek language tended not to draw a sharp distinction between moral
      qualities and social standing.)
            - Homer, Iliad  6.476-81 (= Fagles, lines 568-74): Hector prays to Zeus and the other gods on behalf
              of  his infant son:
                                                Grant that this boy, my son,
            may be like me, first in glory among the Trojans,
            strong and brave [agathos] like me, and rule all Troy in power,
            and one day let them say, “He is a better [ameinōn, comparative form of agathos] man than
                                                                                                                                     his  father!”—
            when he comes home from battle bearing the bloody gear
            of the mortal enemy he has killed in war—
            a joy to his mother’s heart.
       3. kakos  (κακός) pronounced kah-koss
      An adjective applied to one who lacks aret:  1) cowardly, base-hearted; 2) useless, ineffective,
      incompetent; 3) of low social status 
      - Homer, Iliad 2.191-2 (= Fagles, lines 220-1) - Odysseus rebukes an agathos warlord:
            My friend—it’s wrong to threaten you like a coward [kakos],
            but you hold fast, you keep your men in check.
 4. time  (τιμή)  pronounced tee-may
      Honor; respect; high standing in society, esp. as measured by audible praise and tangible         rewards (see #'s 5 & 6 below).
      - Homer, Iliad  1.277-9 (= Fagles, lines 324-7) - Nestor to Achilles during the quarrel at the start of the   poem's action:
            And you, Achilles, never hope to fight it out
            with your king, pitting force against his force:
            no one can match the honors [tim] dealt a king, you know,
            a sceptered king to whom great Zeus gives glory [kudos].      
 5. kleos (κλέος) pronounced kleh-oss
      Glory, fame, the audible aspect and measure of tim, the things people say about someone
      (usually good things, that is, but one may have a "bad kleos") - from kluo (κλύω), "I hear"
      A closely associated word is kudos (κῦδος), perhaps most frequently used of the glory of
      triumph in battle, but today used in English of any kind of public glory.  (Incidentally, kudos
      is properly a singular noun, not plural as many suppose.)
      - Homer, Iliad 6.444-46 (= Fagles, lines 527-9) - Speaking to his apprehensive wife Andromache at the
         Scaean Gate, Hector defines his own nature:
            I’ve learned it all too well.  To stand up bravely,
            always to fight in the front ranks of Trojan soldiers,
            winning my father great glory [kleos], glory for myself.
      - Sophocles, Antigone,  lines 502-3 (= lines 561-62 in Fagles’ translation):
                        Yet what could I have done to win renown [kleos]
                        More glorious [full of kleos] than giving burial
                        To my own brother?
 6. geras (γέρας) pronounced gair-as  - plural form: gera  (γέρα) gair-ah
      A gift of honor, prize; the visible and tangible reward and measure of aret.
      - Homer, Iliad 1.355-56 (- Fagles, lines 420-22) - Achilles tells his mother Thetis about his quarrel with       Agamemnon:
            Atreus’ son Agamemnon, for all his far-flung kingdoms—
            the man disgraces me [lit.: took away my tim], seizes and keeps my prize [geras],
            he tears her away himself!          
 7. aidōs  (αἰδώς) pronounced eye-doze
      An acute sensitivity to what other people think about you—and especially to what they say  
      about you—or what you imagine they are saying.  "Shame" is a common English translation,
      but aidōs  is as often as much an impelling as it is an inhibiting force.  A.W.H. Adkins has defined     aidōs as "the distaste felt at doing something of which society disapproves, or failing to do             something of which society approves."

      - Homer, Iliad 15.560-64 (= Fagles, llines 650-55) – Ajax rallies his men against Hector's attack upon the       Achaean ships:
            Be men, my friends; discipline [aidōs] fill your hearts!
            Dread what comrades say of you here in bloody combat!
            When men dread that [lit. “feel aidōs”], more men come through alive—
            when soldiers break and run, good-bye glory [kleos],
            good-bye all defenses!
      - Homer, Iliad 6.441-43 (= Fagles, lines 522-25) - Hector responds to his wife's counsel of caution:
            All this weighs on my mind too, dear woman.
            But I would die of shame [aidōs] to face the men of Troy
            and the Trojan women trailing their long robes
            if I would shrink from battle now, a coward [kakos].
8. charis (χάρις) pronounced khah-ris
      A favor; thanks; gratitude; gratification; delight; loveliness (pl. charites).  This word has much
      of the range and complexity of the English word "grace."  (Charis is the Greek word in the New        Testament which is rendered "Grace" in English, and the goddesses we call the Three Graces
        were called the Charites in Greek.)

      The most fundamental chain of meaning for charis in Greek values is the following:
            1. A charis  is a favor done by person X for person Y.
            2. Charis is the feeling created in Y by the act performed by X.
            3. Y performs an act of charis  for X in return.
            4. A feeling of charis  is thus created in X, who accordingly feels obligated to perform yet
                another act of charis for Y,...and so on ad infinitum.

      Homer, Iliad 9.315-17 (= Fagles, lines 381-4) – Achilles rejects Agamemnon’s offer of recompense:
            Will Agamemnon win me over?  Not for all the world,
            I swear it—nor will the rest of the Achaeans.
            No, what lasting thanks [charis] in the long run                      
            for warring with our enemies, on and on, no end?
9. hiketeia (ἱκετεία)  pronounced hick-eh-tay-uh
      The rite of supplication. This is the social ritual in which one person who presents himself as    utterly helpless and harmless (often as a result of losing a duel on the field of battle) puts himself completely at the mercy (if any) of another person whom he acknowledges as the person of power in this ritual relationship.  The suppliant asks a free charis of that powerful person: life, aid, ritual  purification, a son's body, anything that the suppliant needs and the other has the power to grant.  In full hiketeia, actual physical contact is usually at least attempted, especially with the knees and         chin of the person supplicated.  Hiketeia  was a powerful ritual which was believed to be supported   and watched over by Zeus in his role as Zeus Hikesios (Zeus the God of Suppliants).

      Homer, Iliad 1.500-503 (= Fagles, lines 596-600) - Achilles' mother, the sea-nymph Thetis, approaches       Zeus on the summit of Mount Olympus:
            And crouching down at his feet,
            quickly grasping his knees with her left hand,
            her right hand holding him underneath the chin,
            she prayed to the lord god Zeus, the son of Cronus:
            “Zeus, Father Zeus!...”
      Homer, Iliad 6.43-46 (Fagles, lines 51-4)  - The Trojan Adrestus supplicates Menelaus on the battlefield:
                                                            …above him now
            rose Menelaus, his spear’s long shadow looming.
            Adrestus hugged his knees and begged him, pleading,
            “Take me alive, Atrides, take a ransom worth my life!.,,”
10. xenia (ξενία) pronounced kseh-nee-uh  - in Homeric dialect xeinie (ξεινίη) ksay-nee-ay
      The rite of guest-friendship.  In an act closely related to hiketeia, a stranger (xenos, ξένος; in
      Homeric dialect xeinos, ξεῖνος) arrives at the hearth of another man and is granted food and
      lodging.  Both men are now xenoi  (plural of xenos) in the more specialized sense of guest and
      host.  A new and lasting relationship has now been instituted, often sealed by an exchange of
      gifts (xeínia in Homer, "guest-gifts").  In theory, a chain of reciprocal charites (see #8) has thus
      been forged, a chain which the descendants of the original guest-friends are expected to
      perpetuate, even if they may someday find themselves facing each other on the field of battle.
      Xenia was a powerful ritual relationship that was believed to be fostered and watched over
      by Zeus in his role as Zeus Xenios (Zeus the God of Guest-friendship).

      Homer, Iliad 6.215-18 (= Fagles, lines 257-61)- The Achaian Diomedes addresses his apparent enemy, the Lykian Glaucus, on the field of battle:
                                    Splendid—you are my friend [xeinos],
            my guest from the days of our grandfathers long ago!
            Noble Oineus hosted your brave Bellerophon once,
            he held him there in his halls, twenty whole days,
            and they gave each other handsome gifts of friendship [xeínia].          
11. ate (ἄτη) pronounced ah-tay
      Delusion, madness, destructive (often self-destructive) folly; also, the resulting disaster, ruin.
      At is often blamed upon a god, and on occasion it is personified as itself a goddess, daughter
      of Zeus (which doesn't exempt Zeus himself from being at times a victim of at).

      Homer, Iliad 19.91-95 & 134-38 (= Fagles, lines 106-9 & 161-4) - Agamemnon "excuses" himself for   his folly in slighting Achilles, "the best of the Achaians":
            Ruin [Ate], eldest daughter of Zeus, she blinds us all,
            that fatal madness—she with those delicate feet of hers,
            never touching the earth, gliding over the heads of men to trap us all….
            How could I once forget that madness [atē], that frenzy,
            the Ruin that blinded me from that first day?
            But since I was blinded [lit. experienced atē] and Zeus stole my wits,
            I am intent on setting things to rights, at once...
      Aeschylus, Agamemnon, lines 763-71 - The chorus sings of the chain of Folly-Ruin (at) in
      the history of the House of Atreus (Lattimore translation):
            But Pride [Hubris*] aging is made                   *hubris (ὕβρις) = aggressive insolence
            ...ripe with the young Pride                              In an Athenian court of law it meant virtually
            late or soon when...birth is given                     “assault and battery.”  It implied “pride” insofar
            to the spirit none may fight nor beat down,     as “pride” might motivate one to intrude aggressively
            sinful Daring; and in those halls                                  into someone else’s “space.”
            the black visaged Disasters [Atai]  stamped                            
            in the likeness of their fathers.


  1. This is a wonderful resource for studying the Iliad. Thank you for sharing it! (Julia)

  2. Hope you find it useful. You can write to Dr. Lupher at Whitman College if you want.


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