Genre - Epic
Literary works are
divided into various categories called genres in accordance with
their characteristic form and content. The Iliad1
belongs to the genre of epic. An epic is a long poem which tells
a story involving gods, heroes and heroic exploits. Since the
epic is by its very nature lengthy, it tends to be rather loosely
organized. Not every episode is absolutely necessary to the main
story and digressions are not uncommon. You will notice how different
in this regard is the genre of drama, in which every episode
tends to be essential to the plot and digressions are inappropriate.
The events narrated in epic are drawn from legend rather than
invented by the poet and are typically of great significance
as in the case of the Iliad, which relates an important incident centering around the greatest hero of the Greeks in the Trojan War, the most celebrated war of Greek legend (see Troy for more information on the Trojan War). The epic poet tends to present his narrative impersonally, not drawing attention to himself except occasionally, as in the first line of the Iliad when Homer
addresses the goddess who is the Muse2
of epic poetry.
word Iliad means "a poem about Ilion [another name
2In Greek myth a Muse is one of the nine daughters
who are goddesses of the arts. See line 604 of the first book
of the Iliad.
To learn more about Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War, see Troy.
Reading the Iliad
When you first read
the Iliad, the beginning of the poem can present some difficulty because it assumes a general familiarity with the war between the Trojans and Greeks that most modern readers, unlike the ancient Greeks, do not possess (see Troy for more information on the Trojan War). You should have no trouble, however, if you keep a few facts in mind. The war had been occasioned by an offense given twenty years earlier to Menelaos,
the Greek king of Sparta, by the Trojan Prince, Paris
(also called Alexandros). Paris, aided by the goddess Aphrodite,
whom he had judged the winner of a beauty contest over the goddesses
had stolen Menelaos's wife, Helen.
In order to recover Helen, Menelaos's brother, Agamemnon,
the powerful king of Mykenai, had gathered together a large force
that included many prominent Greek warriors, themselves either
princes or kings. The greatest of these was the hero, Achilleus,
the central character of the Iliad . The main story of
the poem consists of the experiences of Achilleus within a rather
limited period of time (fifty-four days) in the tenth year of
Another problem you
might encounter in your first reading of the poem of the language
in which the story is told. After reading even a small portion
of the Iliad one quickly becomes aware of Homer's distinctive
style, which is characterized by the constant repetition of phrases,
whole lines and even whole passages. The name Achilleus is frequently
accompanied by the phrase "of the swift feet".3
is often described as he "who strikes from afar". Speeches
are repeatedly introduced by phrases such as "Then in answer
again spoke..." and summed up by "So he spoke".
You could no doubt provide numerous other examples of this stylistic
phenomenon. What is most unusual about the recurring descriptive
words applied to the name of a god/goddess,/hero/heroine, or
inanimate things is that, although they are sometimes relevant
to their context, they most often are irrelevant and therefore
seemingly unnecessary. For example, it is helpful to the reader
to have Agamemnon identified once or twice as "lord of men"
and Achilleus called "brilliant" and "of the swift
feet", but the frequent repetition of these descriptive
words throughout the poem reveals that their purpose goes beyond
identification. The description of Apollo in 1.213 as the one
"who strikes from afar" has some relevance because
the god will send a destructive plague into the Achaian
camp by shooting arrows from his silver bow (1.48-51).4
But there are many more of these repeated descriptions which
are totally irrelevant. The Achaian ships are often called "fast"
when they are not in motion. Odysseus
is twice called "crafty" in book one although he engages
in no tricks. The sea is referred to as "barren" for
no apparent purpose. But even the relevant epithets5
lose their relevance when they are constantly repeated, as is
the case with Apollo, who continues to be referred to as he "who
strikes from afar" throughout the rest of book one without
any connection with the action. The problem is further complicated
by the fact that other epithets are also applied to Apollo such
as "King"," Phoibos", "radiant",
"beloved of Zeus", "archer", "who works
from afar", etc. with a similar lack of relevance.
quotations from the Iliad are from Richmond Lattimore's
translation (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1961).
4References to the Iliad will be given by the
book number (before the period) and line numbers (after the period).
5An epithet is a descriptive word or phrase
that is linked with the name of a person or thing. Remember that
you can also consult the Glossary for terms, as well as characters,
events and places
To learn more about
the epithets of the gods and goddesses, see the Knowledge
Builders for all 12 major Greek gods and goddesses.
The reason for the
constant repetitions in the Iliad is that Homer composed
in an oral style, which involved the improvisation of poetry
without the aid of writing. In order to facilitate the adaptation
of his words to the requirements of the dactylic hexameter, the
traditional meter of Greek epic poetry, the oral poet used stock
phrases called formulas, which aided him in filling out various
metrical portions of the line. A character or object in the Iliad
generally has a number of epithets of varying metrical size
used in conjunction with it. The reason for this is that sometimes
a longer epithet is needed to suit the meter, while on other
occasions a shorter one is needed. For example, in lines 58,
84, 364, 489 of book 1 a metrically longer epithet is required
to describe Achilleus; therefore he is referred to as Achilleus
"of the swift feet". But in lines 7 and 292 of the
same book a metrically shorter epithet is needed; therefore he
is called "brilliant".
The term formula
can also be used in reference to other elements larger than the
name plus epithet. A whole line can be formulaic, such as the
line which is regularly employed at the end of a meal:
had put away their desire for eating and drinking
Also formulaic are
whole passages which are repeated in almost exactly the same
language with a closely corresponding sequence of events, as
is evident in the description of a sacrifice and a meal in 1.458-469
and 2.421-432. Messages tend to be repeated or stories retold
in almost exactly the same language.
are essential to the oral style of composition. They not only
aided the poet in composing, but also helped the audience, who
did not have the benefit of a text, to remember the details of
the story. But if these repeated formulas had been just practical
necessities, the Iliad would not have succeeded as poetry.
In addition to their practical purpose, these formulas with their
emphasis on particulars create an indelibly vivid impression
of the characters and the Homeric world in general. Who can forget
"swift-footed Achilleus", "fair-cheeked Briseis,"
"Zeus who gathers the clouds" or "the glancing-eyed
Achaians", "the infinite water"? Some formulas
have an inherent poetic beauty: "Dawn with her rosy fingers",
"Hera of the white arms", "the shadowy mountains
and the echoing sea", etc. The formulaic line which is often
used to describe the death of a hero has a power that survives
its many repetitions:
He fell thunderously
and his armor clattered upon him.
You will no doubt
find your own favorites in the poem.
Be patient with this
oral style of composition; you will soon become used to it. Also,
don't be put off by the great variety of characters and actions.
The Iliad is something like a very large painting which
contains crowds of people and many insignificant events but focuses
on a central action. These details are not important individually,
but do create an impression of largeness and provide an imposing
background for the main focus of the painting. Confronted for
the first time with a poem with a large cast of characters and
the seemingly countless details of the narrative, you might find
yourself somewhat confused. But if you read carefully and are
willing to reread, you will find that the main story of the Iliad
is fairly simple and involves a relatively small number of
The code which governs
the conduct of the Homeric heroes is a simple one. The aim of
every hero is to achieve honor, that is, the esteem received
from one's peers. Honor is essential to the Homeric heroes, so
much so that life would be meaningless without it. Thus, honor
is more important than life itself. As you will notice in reading
the Iliad, when a hero is advised to be careful to avoid
a life-threatening situation in battle, his only choice is to
ignore this warning. A hero's honor is determined primarily by
his courage and physical abilities and to a lesser degree by
his social status and possessions. The highest honor can only
be won in battle. Here competition was fiercest and the stakes
were the greatest. Two other heroic activities, hunting and athletics,
could only win the hero an inferior honor. An even lesser honor
was won by the sole non-physical heroic activity, the giving
of advice in council (1.490; 9.443). Nestor, who is too old to
fight, makes a specialty of giving advice since that is the only
heroic activity left to him (1.254-284).
The heroic ideal
in the Iliad is sometimes offensive to modern sensibility,
but what is required here is not the reader's approval, but understanding
of these heroic values. One can only understand the Iliad,
if one realizes what motivates action in the poem. Indeed, Homeric
heroism is savage and merciless. Thus the hero often finds himself
in a pressure-filled kill-or-be-killed situation. Success means
survival and greater honor; failure means death and elimination
from the competition for honor. But victory in battle is not
enough in itself; it is ephemeral and can easily be forgotten.
Therefore, the victor sought to acquire a permanent symbol of
his victory in the form of the armor of the defeated enemy. As
you will notice, furious battles break out over the corpse as
the victor tries to strip the armor and the associates of the
defeated warrior try to prevent it. Occasionally, prizes from
the spoils of war are awarded for valor in battle as in the cases
of Chryseis and Briseis, who belong respectively to Agamemnon
and Achilleus. The importance of these captive girls as symbols
of honor is evident in the dispute which arises in Book 1. The
Homeric hero is also fiercely individualistic; he is primarily
concerned with his own honor and that of his household,6
which is only an extension of himself. As is particularly true
of Achilleus, the Homeric hero is not likely to be as concerned
about his fellow warriors as he is about himself and the members
of his household. Loyalty to the community or city had not yet
achieved the importance it was going to have in later times.
household, or oikos,
consisted not only of blood relatives, but also of retainers
Man, supposing you
and I, escaping this battle
would be able to live on forever, ageless, immortal,
so neither would I myself go on fighting in the foremost
nor would I urge you into the fighting where men win glory.
But now, seeing that the spirits of death stand close about us
in their thousands, no man can turn aside nor escape them,
let us go on and win glory for ourselves or yield it to others.
The moral pressure
which ensures compliance with this heroic code is simply what
peers will think and say. The Homeric hero is supremely concerned
with the reaction of his fellow heroes to his actions, since
ultimately it is they alone who can bestow honor. When Hektor's
wife urges him not to re-enter the war, he answers (6.441-443):
...yet I would feel
before the Trojans, and the Trojan women with trailing garments,
if like a coward I were to shrink aside from the fighting.
Hektor is not free
to walk away from the war. His fear of adverse public opinion
forces him to ignore the pleas of his wife and risk his life
for the sake of honor. Therefore, one must fight courageously,
whatever the cost. As Odysseus says (11.408-410):
...I know that it
is the cowards who walk out of the fighting,
but if one is to win honour in battle, he must by all means
stand his ground strongly, whether he be struck or strike down
The religion of the
ancient Greeks was polytheistic7 and consisted of
the worship of various gods who presided over different aspects
of the physical world and human experience: Zeus,
god of the sky; Aphrodite, goddess of sex; Ares,
god of war, etc. The Greek gods are not spiritual beings but
are anthropomorphic.8 They resemble human beings and
tend to act in a human way, displaying all human emotions, virtues
and vices. Their anthropomorphism is further illustrated by the
patriarchal organization of the divine family, which imitates
the patriarchy9 of human society. Zeus
is the patriarch of the gods, who demands (but does not always
get) the obedience of the other gods. The importance of both
divine and human patriarchy in the Homeric world can be seen
in the frequent use of patronymics1 in the Iliad,
son of Kronos; Achilleus, son of Peleus). One of the most important
things that can be said about a god or mortal is the identity
of the father.
by the worship of many gods'.
8'Having human characteristics'.
10'A name inherited from a paternal ancestor'.
It should be noted
that Homer's depiction of the gods in the Iliad is more
the result of the poet's inventive imagination than a literal
representation of the gods of actual ancient Greek religious
observance. Homer is more concerned with making the gods suit
the thematic needs of his poem than inspiring religious piety
in his audience. It is quite clear that the gods in the Iliad
on one level act as a foil11 for humanity by accenting
the troubles and sufferings experienced by men through the contrast
with the joys and general ease of divine existence. For this
reason, appearances of the gods in the Iliad are sometimes
characterized by comedy in order to emphasize human misfortune
by contrast. In fact, Herodotus,
the fifth century historian, says that Homer and Hesiod,
an epic poet contemporary with Homer, first named the gods, determined
their honors and functions and devised their physical appearance
person or thing that emphasizes, through contrast, the distinctive
traits of another person or thing'.
In the Iliad the
gods are very much concerned with human affairs. One reason for
this involvement is the fact that many gods and goddesses who
have mated with mortals have human children or human favorites
participating in the war. The gods take sides in the war in accordance
with their like or dislike of one side or the other. For example,
Athene and Hera, who lost a beauty contest judged by the Trojan
prince Paris, are fiercely anti-Trojan, while the winner Aphrodite
dotes on Paris and favors the Trojans in the war.
The interest and
involvement of the gods in human affairs have an important effect
on the action of the Iliad. The gods universalize
the action of the poem. Because the gods take interest in human
affairs, the events described in the Iliad are not just
particular actions of little significance, but take on a universal
meaning and importance that would have been missing without the
gods. On the one hand, the involvement of the gods exalts human
action. When Achilleus in Book 1 considers killing Agamemnon,
his decision not to kill could have been presented on a purely
human level without the intervention of a deity, but we are shown
exactly just how critical a decision it is by the involvement
of Athene. Throughout the Iliad there is a tendency to
present action consistently on two planes, the human and the
divine. On the other hand, the gods also serve to emphasize the
limitations of man, how short his life is and, quite paradoxically
in view of the previously stated purpose, how ultimately meaningless
human affairs are.
Exercise for Reading
Comprehension and Interpretation
all, in order to understand the Iliad you must try to
identify the main theme12 of the poem. Once identified
the main theme will help you separate the essential action of
the Iliad from the action which is not crucial to the
central plot. The main theme is presented by Homer in the first
line of the poem. What is the main theme? Here is the first line
in Greek followed first by a transliteration and then by a word-for-word
aeide thea Peleiadeo Achileos
of, goddess, of Peleus's son Achilleus
Note the difference
between the word order at the beginning of the line and the normal
English arrangement. How does the Greek word order help you identify
the main theme?
theme in literature is a central idea that gives a literary
work logical unity.
After the introduction
of the poem (1-7), Homer tries to create immediate interest by
thrusting his audience in medias res, 'into the middle
of things'. This Latin phrase is used in literary criticism to
refer to the epic poet's practice of beginning his story without
an introduction to the main characters and an explanation of
the situation which forms the background of the story (i.e.,
without any exposition). The first action of the poem is a suppliancy,
that is, a ritual act, in which the suppliant, while sitting
or kneeling, grasps the knees of the person supplicated and touches
his chin or kisses his hands (see 1.500-501 and 24.478). This
act of self-humiliation was an attempt to forestall any unfavorable
reaction on the part of the supplicated. Once the supplication
was properly performed, the suppliant was under the protection
of Zeus; anyone who rejected a supplication risked the anger
of that god. What request does Chryses make of Agamemnon (20)?
What is the reaction of the Achaians 13(22-23)? What
is Agamemnon's response (26-32)? Why does Chryses pray to Apollo
and what prayer does he make (36-42)? How does Apollo answer
his prayer (43-52)?
uses three names, with no apparent difference in meaning, to
refer to the people whom we call Greeks: Achaians, Danaans,
What advice does
Achilleus give to Agamemnon in the midst of the plague (59-67)?
What does Kalchas fear (74-83)? What effect is Achilleus's assurance
of protection to Kalchas (85-91) likely to have on Agamemnon?
What explanation does Kalchas give of the plague (93-100)? What
is Agamemnon's reaction (106-120)? Why does Achilleus say that
Agamemnon should not demand an immediate replacement for Chryseis
(122-129)? What is Agamemnon's answer to Achilleus((131-139)?
Why does Achilleus take Agamemnon's vague threat so personally
(149-171)? What specific threat does Agamemnon make to Achilleus
(181-187)? What is Achilleus's reaction to this threat (188-194)
and what is the result of Athene's intervention (216-221)? What
is the meaning of Achilleus's dashing the sceptre to the ground
(233-246)? What is the purpose of Nestor's
speech (254-284)? What are the reactions of Agamemnon and Achilleus
to this speech (286-303)?
What is Achilleus's
conduct toward the heralds of Agamemnon who come to get Briseis
(334-344)? What important fact do we find out about Achilleus
when he calls to his mother (352-356)? What request does Achilleus
to make of Zeus (407-412)?
What is the purpose
of the prayer and sacrifice that Chryses makes to Apollo in 451-474?
Describe the feelings
of Achilleus after his decision to withdraw from the war (488-492).
What request does Thetis make of Zeus (505-510)? What is Zeus's
answer and why is he disturbed by the request (518-527)? What
complaint does Hera make to Zeus (540-543)? Why is she disturbed
by Thetis's supplication of Zeus (555-559)? What is Zeus's reaction
to her complaints (545-550; 561-567)? What is Hephaistos's
advice to Hera (573-583)? Why do the gods laugh (599-600)? How
do the events on Mt.
Olympos reflect events on earth in book 1? Compare the result
of the quarrel between Achilleus and Agamemnon and that between
Zeus and Hera. What is the main difference between the quality
of human and divine life?
First, you should
note that the word 'character' is used in literary criticism
in two different ways. It can mean a personage in a literary
work (e.g., Achilleus in the Iliad), or the personal traits
which make such a personage a well defined individual (e.g.,
Achilleus's tendency to anger and his other distinctive characteristics).
The term "character analysis" refers to the examination
of the character's personal traits.
When you attempt
a character analysis, there are a number of things that you must
take into consideration. The personality of any character is
revealed in what the character says, thinks and does, and what
other characters and the author in his own person say about that
character. Although the evaluation of the personality of a character
is most important in a character analysis, you should not neglect
physical appearance and condition, which also can have an important
effect on character and action (e.g., Helen's beauty, Nestor's
Book 3 is especially
rich in characterization, particularly in reference to the two
people whose actions were the cause of the war - Paris and Helen.
Paris's character is revealed not only by his words and actions,
but also by implicit contrast with his brother Hektor. Helen
is presented as a complex character, who realizes the wrong she
has done and despises Paris, but yet seems unable to give up
her sexual relationship with him. The analysis of her ambivalent
character is further complicated by the control that Aphrodite
exercises over her. One general rule, however, should be kept
in mind with regard to divine influence on human behavior: the
gods tend to influence characters to act in a way consistent
with their personalities. For example, the close relationship
of Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love, with Paris and Helen,
is probably an indication that sexual desire is a predominant
drive in their psychological make-up. Conversely, Aphrodite never
exerts influence on Hektor, whose personality makes him primarily
a fighter rather than a lover.
As you read the Iliad,
make note of the evidence in the text which gives insight into
the personalities of important characters. The better you understand
the characters of the Iliad, the better you will understand
their actions. One note of warning: characters in a literary
work are not real human beings, but have been created by the
author to suit the needs of the story. Always keep this in mind
in character analysis.
Irony is a frequently
used device in literature, which can be employed in various ways.
One kind of irony is evident when literary characters in word
or deed make assumptions which the reader or audience know to
be false or say things which the characters cannot know the significance
of till later in the work. This kind of irony is often referred
to as "dramatic irony", which is so called because
of its frequent use in drama, but this term is also loosely applied
to the same phenomenon in narrative works like the Iliad.
Dramatic irony underlines the frustration suffered by central
characters in literature in the pursuit of their own happiness.
A classic example of dramatic irony occurs in Sophocles's
play Oedipus the King, in which the hero Oedipus
curses the killer of his predecessor in the kingship, not knowing
that he himself is the murderer. Watch out for examples of dramatic
irony in the Iliad; they are important for a proper understanding
of the poem.
Simile and Metaphor
A simile is a comparison
of two unlike things introduced by "like" or "as".
For example, Menelaos is compared to a wild beast because of
his eagerness to find Paris, who had been rescued by Aphrodite:
"Menelaos was wandering through the throng like a wild beast..."
(3.449). The basic purpose of this or any simile is to present
a word-picture which will make the reader experience in a more
vivid way what is being described. In the above example Menelaos's
movement in search of Paris is brought to life by the picture
of a wild beast, which suggests the frantic agitation of a man
who has been frustrated in his desire for revenge. The simile
is an important feature of Homer's style. He uses both short
similes like the one above and extended ones which became a standard
feature of the epic tradition after Homer. The first 35 lines
of Book 3 contain four extended similes.
Akin to the simile
is a figure of speech called a metaphor, a comparison between
two different things without the use of "like"
or "as". The simile describing Menelaos stated that
he was "like a wild beast". That simile could be stated
as a metaphor: "Menelaos is a wild beast". This, of
course, does not mean that Menelaos is literally a wild beast,
but that at this time he shares some characteristics with a wild
beast. Metaphors are not as common in the Iliad as similes,
but they do occur as in the formulaic phrase, "winged words"
(1.201). Obviously, words do not have wings, birds do. But words
do fly out of the mouth like birds, and once they have been said,
they are as hard to take back as birds are to capture.
is suggested by the description of the Trojans and the Achaians
in 1-9? by the description of Menelaos and Alexandros (Paris)
(15-37)? Why is Hektor upset by Paris's behavior (38-57)? What
difference does Paris see between himself and Hektor (59-66)?
What proposal does Paris make (67-75)? What is Helen doing when
she first appears in the narrative (125-127)? What is the symbolic
significance of her action? Why is Helen summoned by Iris
(130-138)? How does Homer depict Helen's beauty (156-160)? What
does Helen do for Priam (161-242)? Do you find anything strange
in the questions asked of Helen by Priam at this point in the
war (the tenth year)? What purpose does the information given
by Helen serve in the Iliad? What literary device is Homer
employing in 236-244?
What are the terms
of the duel (281-291)? What crime of Paris does Menelaos mention
in his prayer to Zeus (351-354)? What does Aphrodite's intervention
prevent (373-382)? Why does Aphrodite want Helen to go to Paris's
chamber (390-394)? What is Helen's reaction to the goddess's
invitation (399-412)? What threat does Aphrodite make to Helen
(414-417)? What criticism does Helen make of Paris (428-436)?
What is Paris's reaction to this criticism (438-446)? Helen's
actions in this scene are obviously inconsistent with her feelings.
What is the reason for her inconsistency?
What purpose does
book 3 serve? Does it advance the story begun in book 1 at all?
Explain your answer.
Homer often gives
his audience hints about what is going to happen later in the
story. This technique is called foreshadowing and conveys a sense
of the inevitability of important events. An example of foreshadowing
occurs in book 6 when Hektor leaves Andromache
to return to battle while her handmaidens mourn for him as if
he were already dead (500-502). Note also Hektor's pessimism
which he expresses to Andromache (447-465). This foreshadowing
prepares us for Hektor's death in book 22. Achilleus's approaching
death (which does not occur in the Iliad) is also foreshadowed
as early as book 1 by himself and his mother (352; 416).
The above examples
are only the most obvious instances of foreshadowing in the Iliad.
Try to find other more subtle instances of anticipation of future
begins with the deaths of minor figures on the Trojan side, many
of whom Homer brings briefly to life with a few words before
they are killed. What is the intended effect of Homer's description
of Axylos (12-15)? Evaluate the words and actions of Agamemnon
in the case of Adrestos in the light of Homeric morality (44-60).
What order does Helenos
give to Hektor (86-95)? What is unusual about this order? Why
does Diomedes (the son of Tydeus) ask Glaukos to identify himself
(123-143)? What comment does Glaukos's simile in 146-150 make
on humanity? The story which Glaukos tells about his grandfather
Bellerophontes has little or no connection with the plot, but
has an interest of its own as a heroic tale. The typically loose
organization of the epic form easily accommodates such a digression,
which would be intolerable in a smaller and more tightly structured
form like drama. What discovery does Diomedes
make when Glaukos mentions his grandfather (215-231)? What is
the result of Diomedes's discovery (232-236)?
After he delivers
Helenos's message to his mother Hekabe,
what does Hektor tell her he intends to do (280)? What is Hektor's
attitude toward Paris (281-285)? What is Athene's reaction to
the prayers and gift of the Trojan women (311)? What literary
device is Homer employing here? Explain your answer.
What does Hektor
encourage Paris to do (326-331)? How does Paris react to Hektor's
words (333-341)? What is Helen's view of herself and Paris (343-353)?
Where does Hektor go next (365)? What does Andromache fear (405-410)?
Note carefully Andromache's story about the death of her father
at the hands of Achilleus (414-428). It is a foreshadowing of
Achilleus's behavior in the last book of the Iliad. What
does Andromache think is most notable about Achilleus's conduct
with regard to her father? What request does Andromache make
of Hektor (431-434)? In Hektor's mind what prevents him from
doing what his wife asks (440-446)? What does Hektor foresee
for the Trojans and his wife (447-465)? What is the intended
effect of the laughter of Hektor and Andromache at their son's
terror in the context this sorrow-filled situation (466-471)?
What hopes does Hektor have for his son (476-481)? What literary
device is evident in this expression of Hektor's hopes? What
is Hektor's state of mind as he leaves his family (486-493)?
What literary device is evident in 500? What do we learn about
Hektor's character from his meetings with Hekabe, Paris, Helen
What comment does
the simile in 506-511 make on the character of Paris? What are
Hektor's feelings about Paris (521-525)?
What purpose does
book 6 serve? Does it advance the story begun in book 1 at all?
Explain your answer.
How are the
Achaians doing in the war at this point in the story (1-8)? Note
the capitalization of the first letters of Panic and Terror (2;
see Hate in 11.4). The reason for this is that these two human
emotions are personified as minor divinities by Homer. What recommendation
does Agamemnon make to the Achaians (17-28)? What criticism does
Diomedes make of Agamemnon (38-39)? What is Diomedes's attitude
with regard to the war (45-49)? What advice does Nestor give
to Agamemnon (96-113)? How does Agamemnon react to this advice
(115-161)? What Achaians does Nestor suggest should go to Achilleus
(168-170)? Why doesn't Agamemnon go himself?
What is Achilleus
doing when these men arrive at his hut (186-189)? How does Achilleus
behave toward them (197-204)? What is Patroklos's role in this
scene (201-220)? Then each ambassador delivers a speech which
is in turn answered by Achilleus. You no doubt have noted that
Homer frequently employs speeches in his narrative. Throughout
ancient times speech-making was the primary means of mass communication.
Writing did exist, but without a printing press, publication
of written material was very limited. Thus it is natural that
speeches are prominent in the Iliad. The speeches also
give a lively dramatic quality to the poem. This quality often
leads students to make the mistake of calling the Iliad a
play, that is, a dramatic performance in which actors impersonate
characters, when it is really a narrative poem, that is, a genre
in which a story teller or narrator relates the whole story.
is spokesman for Agamemnon and therefore speaks first because
of his rhetorical skills (see 3.216-223). Although Odysseus repeats
word for word most of Agamemnon's earlier speech (115-161), he
makes purposeful additions and omissions. Read Odysseus's speech
(225-306) carefully and identify these additions and omissions.
Explain the reason for each addition and omission.
To whom do you think
Achilleus is referring in 312-313? Achilleus then presents his
reasons for rejecting Agamemnon's offer (315-420). Briefly summarize
these reasons. Do you find them convincing? Explain your answer.
What does Achilleus say he will do now that he has refused to
accept the gifts (357-363; 426-429)?
The speech of Phoinix
is divided into three sections: Phoinix's relationships with
his father, Peleus and Achilleus (447-495), the parable of the
prayers (502-512), and the example of Meleagros (529-599). What
effect does Phoinix hope lines 485-496 will have on Achilleus?
What is Phoinix's basic message to Achilleus (496-501)? Phoinix's
story of the spirits of Prayer is a parable: a story illustrating
a moral lesson. In this story what we would regard as psychological
phenomena internal to a human being are personified as minor
divinities. Ruin represents the tendency to give offense to others
and the spirit of prayers, the desire to make amends by asking
forgiveness. What point does this parable make? The story of
Meleagros is an instance of the technique commonly used by Homeric
characters of giving a mythological example to make an argument
more persuasive. Although this story is long and detailed, its
essential message is clear and simple. What is this message (600-605)?
What is Achilleus's response to Phoinix's speech (607-619)?
What is the main
point of Aias's
brief speech (624-642)? What is Achilleus's response to this
speech (644-655)? What does Odysseus report to Agamemnon (677-692)?
Is Odysseus's report entirely accurate? Explain your answer.
What is Diomedes's reaction to this report (697-709)?
state of mind in book 9. Does he really believe everything he
says to Odysseus? Explain your answer.
does the wounding of Agamemnon, Diomedes, Odysseus and Eurypylos
serve at this point in the story (1-590)? What significance do
the disasters suffered by the Achaians have for Achilleus (608-609)?
What do lines 598-614 say about Achilleus's feelings with regard
to the war and the Achaians? What literary device is evident
in 603? What order does Achilleus give to Patroklos
How is Nestor's speech
(655-802; cf. 1.254-284) typical of him? What suggestion does
Nestor make to Patroklos (791-802)? What do you think is the
effect of Eurypylos's words (822-835) on Patroklos?
Patroklos mention the wounding of the Achaian chieftains to Achilleus
(23-29)? Explain the meaning of the metaphors of the sea and
rocks in 34-35. What request does Patroklos make of Achilleus
and what does he hope to accomplish, if Achilleus consents (38-45)?
Read 49-63 carefully. Explain why Achilleus agrees to Patroklos's
request. What warning does Achilleus give to Patroklos (87-96)?
Why does Achilleus give this warning? What frustration does Achilleus's
prayer to the gods reveal (97-100)?
What emergency critical
to the fortunes of the Achaians arises (112-124)? After the formulaic
scene of Patroklos's arming (130-144), Achilleus prepares his
men the Myrmidons
for battle. Homer then presents a catalogue of the Myrmidons
(168-197). Catalogue poetry is an important feature of the epic.
In book two there is an elaborate catalogue of the Achaians at
Troy and a smaller one of the Trojans. In book 18 there is also
a catalogue of the daughters of Nereus who are mourning the death
of Patroklos (39-49). What comment do the similes in 156-163
and 259-265) make on the character of the Myrmidons? What was
their attitude with regard to Achilleus's withdrawal from the
war (200-209)? What prayer does Achilleus make to Zeus (241-248)?
What literary device is evident in 249-252?
Fate in the Iliad
is not a force which predetermines all human actions. Fate
primarily refers to ends, like the end of a man's life or of
a city such as Troy. These ends are governed by fate and cannot
be avoided. The relationship of the gods to fate is an issue
in the conversation between Zeus and Hera. What action does Zeus
consider in 435-438? What warning does Hera give to Zeus (440-449)?
Is fate the same as the will of the gods? What control do the
gods have over fate? What does Zeus's sorrow for Sarpedon's death
add to the account of his son's death (459-461)?
What is Patroklos's
first concern after killing Sarpedon (558-561)? What is the effect
of the extended simile describing the battle over Sarpedon's
armor (641-643)? What request does Zeus make of Apollo (667-675)?
In what sense is Patroklos responsible for his own death (684-691;705;786-787)?
What warning does Apollo give to Patroklos (707-709)? What aid
does Apollo give to Hektor (715-725)? How is the simile in 752-753
an example of foreshadowing? How is Patroklos's death accomplished
(791-821)? Why does Homer have Patroklos killed in this manner?
What is the significance of Achilleus's helmet which is struck
off Patroklos's head and is picked up and worn by Hektor (796-800)?
What prediction does the dying Patroklos make to Hektor (844-854)?
What is Hektor's reaction to this prophecy (859-861)?
Achilleus react to the news of Patroklos's death (22-34)? What
figure of speech is employed in 22? What ironical fact does Thetis
point out to Achilleus (72-77)? Explain the irony of her statement.
What is Achilleus determined to do as a result of Patroklos's
death (90-93)? What does this action entail for Achilleus (95-96)?
How does Achilleus view his anger which had led him to withdraw
from the war (98-126)? What must Thetis do before Achilleus can
return to battle (130-137)? What message does Hera send to Achilleus
(197-201)? How does Achilleus drive back the Trojans (203-231)?
What does Achilleus's rout of the Trojans enable the Achaians
to do (231-238)? What help does Hera provide (239-242)?
Poulydamas's speech to the Trojans (254-283). What is Hektor's
reaction to this advice (285-309)? Is Hektor correct when he
says that Zeus's intention in allowing him to drive the Achaians
back to their ships was to give him glory (293-295; see 1.407-410)?
Explain your answer. What comment does Homer make on the Trojan
reaction to the speeches of Poulydamas and Hektor (312-313)?
What promise does Achilleus make to the body of Patroklos (333-342)?
Explain Zeus's sarcasm
to Hera in 357-359. How does Hera reply (361-367)? What obligation
does Hephaistos owe to Thetis (394-409)? What request does Thetis
make of Hephaistos (457-461)? How does Hephaistos react to this
request (463-467)? What connections with the story of the Iliad
do the pictures engraved on the shield suggest to you?
When a series of
related images appears in a literary work, the reader should
be alert to the possibility that the author is expressing something
important about his story and/or characters through the pattern
of his imagery.14 The Iliad as a whole and,
in particular, Book 22 give evidence of patterns of imagery which
add significance to the narrative.
is the employment of images (word pictures) in a given passage
of a literary work, a whole work, or a group of works.
As Cedric Whitman
in his book, Homer and the Heroic Tradition (New York,
1965, 128-147), has shown, there is a network of fire imagery,
which extends throughout the Iliad and is connected with
heroism, especially that of Achilleus. The fire imagery of book
22 is a continuation of the image which accompanies Achilleus's
appearance in book 18 at the ditch to frighten the Trojans with
his war cry and is designed to strengthen the impression of Achilleus's
destructive power. There Athene causes a flame to issue forth
from a cloud around Achilleus's head. This flame is in turn compared
to a flare and signal fires originating from a besieged city
(207-213). The image of the besieged city is a foreshadowing
of what the city of Troy will soon experience when Achilleus
kills its champion Hektor. Also, the armor which is made for
Achilleus later in book 18 is created by Hephaistos, the god
of fire, and on the shield are depicted images associated with
fire: sun, moon, and stars. In book 22 the fiery brightness of
Achilleus's armor is compared to the destructive star Orion's
Dog (Sirius), which rises in late summer when, as the ancients
believed, oppressive heat caused disease (26-31) and later Achilleus's
spear is likened to the evening star Hesper, which seems to gleam
especially brightly because of the darkening sky (317-318).
In book 22 there
are many other related images which contribute important significance
to the narrative. Take careful note of this imagery and its meaning
as you read this book.
The word 'tragedy'
primarily used of a dramatic work, that is, a play in which a
central character called a tragic protagonist or hero suffers
some serious misfortune which is not accidental and therefore
meaningless, but is significant in that the misfortune is logically
connected with the hero's actions. 'Tragedy' and its adjective
'tragic', however, can be used of any literary work containing
a protagonist whose actions lead to disaster for himself and
others (e.g., the Iliad).
In tragic literature,
the actions of the protagonist, no matter how well-intentioned,
lead to disaster. In the Iliad, a sense of the futility
of human action is conveyed by the use of dramatic irony, especially
when Homer depicts his characters unknowingly doing things which
lead them to their own doom and contrasts their ignorance with
the gods' knowledge of their fate. In reading the Iliad note
carefully how the actions of Achilleus and Hektor contribute
to their own misfortunes and exactly when they become aware of
the consequence of their actions.15
will be said on the nature of tragedy in the introduction
to Greek Tragedy.
Apollo point out to Achilleus about his pursuit of the god (7-13)?
What is Achilleus's reply (15-20)? What does the Orion's Dog
simile emphasize about Achilleus (26-31)? Why does Priam urge
Hektor not to fight Achilleus (38-76)? What is Hekabe's reason
for making the same request (82-89)? What are Hektor's feelings
about fighting Achilleus (99-110)? What does Hektor think about
the possibility of making peace with Achilleus (111-130)?
What is Hektor's
reaction to Achilleus's approach (136-137)? Note carefully the
images applied to Achilleus and Hektor in 139-142, 189-192, 262-264,
and 308-310. How are these images related and what comment do
they make upon these two heroes and the situation in which they
find themselves? Explain what the images of the race and dream
contribute to the narrative (159-164;199-201). Why does Homer
interrupt his account of the chase to describe the two springs(147-156)?
What is the meaning of "Father" Zeus's balancing of
the golden scales (209-213)? How does Athene help Achilleus (224-246;276-277;293-303)?
What request does Hektor twice make of Achilleus (254-259;338-343)?
How does Achilleus answer him on both occasions (261-272; 345-354)?
What does the dying Hektor predict to Achilleus (356-360)? What
is Achilleus's reaction to this prediction (365-366)?
How do the Achaians
and Achilleus treat Hektor's body (367-371;396-404)? What comment
does the simile in 410-411 make on Hektor's death? What does
Priam decide he must do (418-422)? What did Hektor mean to Hekabe
and the other Trojans (431-436)? Why does Homer take time to
describe Andromache's headdress when she faints at her discovery
of Hektor's death (466-472)? What effect will Hektor's death
have on Astyanax (489-514)?
Achilleus's psychological state in the beginning of the book
(1-22). Why do Hera and Athene ("the girl of the grey eyes")
hate Priam and his people (25-30)? How is Achilleus's treatment
of Hektor's corpse viewed by the gods in general (23-24)? by
Apollo (33-54)? by Hera (56-63)? What role does Iris
play in 77-88 and in 159-187 (as in 18.166-167)? What request
does Zeus make of Thetis (104-119)? How has Achilleus been living
since Patroklos's death (128-131)? What is Achilleus's reaction
to Zeus's message (139-140)?
What message does
Zeus give to Iris to deliver to Priam (144-152)? What prediction
does Zeus make about Achilleus's reaction to Priam's supplication
(158)? In what condition does Iris find Priam (162-165)? What
does Hekabe think of Priam's intention to go to Achilleus (201-216)?
How does Priam answer Hekabe's objections (218-227)? How does
Priam feel about his surviving sons (239-264)? What sign does
Priam ask of Zeus (308-313)? How does Zeus answer his prayer
(314-321)? What task does Zeus assign to Hermes (334-338)? Who
does Hermes (Argeiphontes) pretend to be (390-400)? Where and
in what condition is Hektor's body (411-423)?
What is the significance
of the fact that Achilleus has resumed eating and drinking (475-476)?
What does Priam do first when he enters Achilleus's dwelling
(478-480)? What ritual act is Priam performing with these gestures?
What is the irony of his kissing Achilleus's hands (478-480)?
What arguments does Priam use to persuade Achilleus to return
the body (486-506)? How does Achilleus react to Priam's acts
and words (507-524)? According to Achilleus, what is the basic
difference between divine and human life (525-526)? What is the
moral of Achilleus's story of the two urns (527-533)? How does
the experience of Peleus illustrate this moral (534-541)? What
is Achilleus's reaction to Priam's impatience (560-570)?
In your opinion,
why does Achilleus give Hektor's body back to Priam? Is it only
because Zeus so ordered? Explain your answer. Why does Achilleus
tell Priam the story of Niobe
(601-620)? What connections can you find between the experiences
of Niobe and Priam? How do Achilleus and Priam feel about each
other (629-632)? What additional favor does Achilleus grant Priam
Why does Hermes urge
Priam to leave Achilleus's dwelling (683-688)?
What future does
Andromache foresee for herself and her son (725-739)? What view
of Hektor does Helen present (762-775)? Why does the poem end
with the burial of Hektor? Do you find this an appropriate ending
to the poem? Explain your answer.