Circa eighth century b.c. Greek poem.
The following entry contains criticism on Homer's Iliad from 1983 to 2000. See also Homer Poetry Criticism.
A seminal epic widely accepted as one of the greatest literary artifacts of Western civilization, the Iliad has been admired for centuries for its artistry as well as for the profound influence it has exerted on European literature. Within its epic scope, set in the tenth year of a legendary war between Greeks and Trojans at Ilios (Troy), the Iliad depicts the heroic ethos of a mythic era personified in the figure of Achilles, a Greek hero of unrivaled martial excellence, who chooses undying fame won on the battlefield over the prospect of a long life. The epic's proper subject is the wrath of Achilles and its tragic consequences, but it also explores such themes as the workings of fate, honor, and the human urge toward immortality. Likewise, the Iliad delineates the heroic code—the thematic basis of all subsequent epic poetry. While theories regarding its author, the near-mythic Homer, continue to spur scholarly debate, the poem itself is renowned for its compelling narrative, vivid imagery, poetic technique, psychological scope, and stylistic clarity.
Almost nothing is known about Homer, but scholars hypothesize that he was an Ionian Greek (probably from the coast of Asia Minor or one of the adjacent islands), that he was born sometime before 700 b.c., and that he lived in approximately the latter half of the eighth century b.c. According to legend, he was a blind itinerant poet (the Greek word homēros means blind man); historians note that singing bards in ancient Greece were often blind and that the legend, therefore, may be based on fact, but that it is also possible that Homer may have lost his sight only late in life, or that his purported blindness was meant to mask his illiteracy. Internal evidence from the two major works attributed to Homer suggests that the Iliad preceded the Odyssey and that both were composed in the eighth century b.c. in a dialect that was a mixture of Ionic and Aeolic Greek.
Biographies of Homer exist in the form of six early “lives” and assorted commentaries by ancient and Byzantine scholars, but the information they contain is considered unreliable and mostly mythical. Some commentators have even gone so far as to assert that no such individual as Homer ever lived. Due to the paucity of information regarding Homer, the manner of the composition of the Iliad has been one of determined critical speculation that has brought together the efforts of experts in such fields as archaeology, linguistics, and comparative literature. In the 1920s the critic Milman Parry proposed that both the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed orally. Parry established that Homeric verse is formulaic by nature, relying on generic epithets (such as “wine-dark sea” and “rosy-fingered dawn”), repetition of stock lines and half-lines, and scenes and themes typical of traditional folk poetry. Comparing Homer's poetry with ancient oral epics from other cultures, Parry deduced that Homer was most likely a rhapsode, or itinerant professional reciter, who improvised stories to be sung at Greek festivals. As a public performer, Homer probably learned to weave together standard epic story threads and descriptions in order to sustain his narrative, relying on mnemonic devices and phrases to fill the natural metrical units of poetic lines. Parry's theory stressed the derivative, evolutionary character of Homer's poetry but affirmed his individual genius as a shaper of traditional elements whose creations far exceeded the sum of their borrowed parts. Many contemporary critics accept Parry's analysis of the authorship question, although critical speculation about the subject continues.
Scholarly consensus regarding the composition of the Iliad holds that the poem was most probably transmitted orally by local bards and first written down on papyri shortly after Homer's death. Although Homeric Greece did not yet have a system of writing appropriate for literary texts, records indicate that a Phoenician alphabet may have been adapted and used to record the poem in the eighth century b.c. Once set down in writing, the poem most likely became the exclusive property of the Homeridae, or sons of Homer, a bardic guild whose members performed and preserved the poem. Scholars conclude that in the second half of the sixth century b.c. the Athenian dictator Peisistratus, who ruled from 560 to 527 b.c., established a Commission of Editors of Homer to edit the text of the poems and remove any errors and interpolations that had accumulated in the process of transmission—thereby establishing a canon of Homer. The origin of the poem's current title, which means “the poem of Ilios” (the Homeric name for Troy), remains a matter of conjecture. Scholars are uncertain whether Homer ever used it, for the earliest mention of the title discovered was by Herodotus in the fifth century b.c. Fragments of papyri, a third-century codex, and two other partial manuscripts exist, but the oldest full surviving manuscript of the poem, probably transcribed by a Byzantine scholar, dates from the ninth century. The first printed edition of Homer's poetry appeared in Europe in 1488 and remained in use until the seventeenth century. Many translations, both prose and verse, of the Iliad have subsequently been published. Critics agree that the most influential of these have been by George Chapman, Alexander Pope, and the translation team consisting of Andrew Lang, Walter Leaf, and Ernest Myers; in the contemporary period the edition most highly regarded and frequently used is that of Richmond Lattimore.
Plot and Major Characters
Approximately 15,000 lines long and divided into twenty-four books (a structure that seems to date from the third century b.c. rather than from Homer's lifetime), the Iliad is composed in dactylic, or “heroic,” hexameter. The action of the poem occurs near the Hellespont, in northwest Asia Minor, during the Trojan War, which archaeologists estimate took place in the second half of the twelfth century b.c. The plot begins in medias res, recounting an episode near the end of the war between the besieged Trojans, under King Priam, and the attacking Greeks (or Achaeans as they are generally named in the poem), led by King Agamemnon of Mycenae and his brother Menelaus of Sparta. One of Priam's sons, the self-indulgent Paris, has abducted the fabled beauty, Helen, wife of Menelaus. After a massive naval assault, fighting has dragged on for nearly ten years. During that time the Greek armies, including the mighty Myrmidons commanded by Achilles, the bravest and most headstrong of Agamemnon's supporters, have managed to capture and loot a portion of Trojan territory, but have failed to breach the massive walls of Troy. Incidents in the first book of the epic draw Achilles and Agamemnon into a disastrous quarrel. Through his refusal to return Chryseis, a captured Trojan girl and the daughter of a priest of Apollo, Agamemnon invites a divine plague on the Greek army. In order to assuage Apollo's wrath and end the plague, Agamemnon later agrees to part with Chryseis, but demands Briseis, a Trojan concubine to Achilles, as compensation. In response to this dishonor, Achilles withdraws his troops in indignation, refusing to aid Agamemnon any further. Achilles prays that the Achaeans be defeated on the battlefield in his absence, a message his immortal mother, Thetis, conveys to Zeus, the ruler of the gods. Meanwhile, Agamemnon receives an enigmatic dream from the all-mighty Zeus, telling him he will soon defeat Troy. Armed with this knowledge, the Greek leader decides to test the resolve of his Achaean warriors. In a ruse to boost morale, Agamemnon proposes that his soldiers return to Greece, but his rhetorical trick backfires, leaving the quick-witted Ithacan king Odysseus to convince them to stay and fight. An unsuccessful truce between the Greeks and the Trojans follows, intended to provide the opportunity for Menelaus and Paris to settle their feud by single combat. The duel proves indecisive as Paris is whisked from the battlefield by the goddess Aphrodite before he can be defeated. When fighting resumes, the Greek hero Diomedes, under the divine protection of Athena, takes to the field. He attacks and wounds two immortals, Aphrodite and the war god Ares, both of whom fight for Troy. Thereafter, Zeus decides to set his plan for a reversal of Greek fortunes into motion. The Trojans swiftly gain the upper hand in combat, despite a successful night raid by Odysseus and Diomedes on their camp. The following morning the Trojans take the offensive. Led by Hector, another of Priam's sons and the finest of the Trojan warriors, they penetrate the Greek defenses. Only temporarily slowed by the formidable Achaean hero Ajax the Greater, Hector sets fire to one of the Greek ships. At this point, Achilles relents and sends the Myrmidons, commanded by his beloved friend Patroclus, to assist Agamemnon in defense of the ships. An outstanding warrior, Patroclus performs gloriously in battle while clad in Achilles's nearly-impenetrable armor. He slays a host of Trojans, including the hero Sarpedon, before being killed himself by Hector below the walls of Troy. In sorrow and rage, Achilles determines to rejoin the battle and obtain revenge on Hector. But first, his mother, Thetis, visits Hephaestus, blacksmith to the gods, and asks that he forge a new set of armor for Achilles. Hephaestus fulfills the request, creating an outstanding shield that symbolically depicts a city at peace and a city besieged in war. On the field of battle, Achilles's rage is unstoppable. He single-handedly repels the Trojan forces and kills Hector, dishonoring the noble warrior by mutilating his corpse by tying it to a chariot and dragging it around the city. King Priam, overtaken by grief for his son, visits Achilles in his camp and begs for the return of Hector's body so that the proper funeral rites can be performed. Moved by his passionate supplication, Achilles agrees and the work closes with a description of Hector's funeral.
As the principal focus of the Iliad, Achilles embodies many of the major themes in the work. Among these is his choice to intensely pursue timē (roughly meaning “honor” or “prestige”), kleos (“glory”), and aretē (“martial virtue”) in order to secure his immortality as a great warrior, even if it means his early death. Thus, Achilles personifies the dual Greek conception of the brevity of life and the eternity of fame. Through Achilles, Homer delineates the heroic code fundamental to Western literature: that the chief aim of a hero's life is to win renown for his aristeia (which denotes “excellence,” “courage,” and “prowess”) using all the resources given to him through his aristocratic birth, wealth, intelligence, and military and athletic abilities. Furthermore, he fiercely guards his honor and that of his companions, strives to fulfill his aidōs (“duty” or obligation to community), and accepts his moira (“fate”) despite his constant striving for success. That Achilles rejects his aidōs for the vast majority of the epic, instead showing himself to be vain, intemperate, and boastful while he stands aside from the battling Greeks, suggests Homer's balancing of noble, heroic behavior with human flaws and limitations. Only in the final book of the Iliad, with King Priam begging for his fallen son's corpse, does Achilles acknowledge his communal responsibilities, treating the defeated King with pity rather than wrath. To a degree, Homer also humanizes the divine figures in the epic, the pantheon of Olympian gods including Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, and Apollo. Rather than depicting the immortals as paragons of virtue or restraint, Homer characterizes these figures, for all of their knowledge and power, as variously jealous, deceitful, manipulative, capricious, wrathful, or petty. Homer conveys an additional theme of great significance to the Iliad largely through the work's renowned similes, a number of which describe scenes of ordinary, peaceful life juxtaposed against the violent and bloody warfare that drives the narrative. Likewise, Homer highlights the stark contrast between peace and conflict in the scenes painted on Achilles's shield—a device singled out by many critics as the symbolic touchstone of the epic.
As one of the best known literary works of the Western world, the Iliad has inspired much critical commentary and has wielded an enormous influence on later authors and readers. Over the centuries, critics have been nearly unanimous in praising Homer's handling of the narrative, imagery, structure, and themes of the Iliad. They commend his ability to intersperse lengthy descriptions of battle scenes with highly dramatic dialogue, whimsical fantasy about the gods of Olympus, and, at certain key moments, moving lyrical poetry. Homer's genius, scholars have asserted, is most evident in his masterful yet self-effacing storytelling technique. In a perfectly plain and direct manner, the narrator carries the action forward, examining the events in great detail and occasionally digressing from the main narrative, but always in such a manner that the course of the tale seems natural and entirely inevitable. In addition to praising Homer's seamless narrative technique, with its flawless manipulation of tightly woven incident, simple design, and panoramic scope, scholars have acknowledged the immediacy and crystalline clarity of the Iliad's imagery. Special consideration has been reserved for Homer's extended similes, said to enhance the realism and enlarge the range of the poem by bringing into its military world parallel images from domestic life, agriculture, and nature. Critics have also marveled at the degree of accuracy demonstrated by Homer in his portrayal of battle scenes; his knowledge of weapons, battle strategy, and even the medical treatment of wounds has proved uncannily thorough.
Although most commentators praise the narrative impact and brilliant imagery of the Iliad, there remains a great deal of debate regarding the structural and thematic unity of the poem. A number of contemporary scholars have examined the underlying complexities of work's narrative structure and thematic framework, highlighting Homer's use of misdirection, parallelism, and reversal. Some interpreters have suggested that Homer's portrayal of the Trojans is not adequately balanced with that of the Greeks, citing evidence that the poem is biased toward Achaean heroes, and finally withholds the glory due to the Trojans. Overall, however, critics have tended to cite the comprehensive and cohesive vision of life depicted in the Iliad as the poem's central unifying principle. Although Homer presents an extremely harsh world in which human beings appear destined to suffer as the mere playthings of the gods and fate, he simultaneously conveys the value of human ideals and the joy of pursuing heroic excellence. Late twentieth-century critics have continued to focus on such specialized topics as Homer's narrative technique, use of irony and humor, and development of individual characters, considering the poet's treatment of the gods in relation to mortals, or probing such minor themes as the guilt of Helen or Paris.
Exploring Homer's philosophical beliefs, scholars still grapple with his presentation of death, divine and human justice, and the role of the citizen and the state in society. The concepts of aidōs, aristeia, and other elements of the heroic code have also inspired considerable commentary. Homer's rich use of simile continues to elicit interest, with scholars considering his descriptions of heroes as wild beasts, as well as his lyric evocation of human gentleness, care, and nurturing in the brutal context of war. With the ongoing proliferation of critical attention to the Iliad, the oldest and in some ways the most formidable work of Western literature has remained fresh and intriguing for generation after generation of scholars and readers. It impresses as much by its thematic complexity as by its stylistic simplicity, as much by its depiction of tragedy as by its celebration of life, and as much by its harsh descriptions of warfare as by its tender lyric poetry.
The Iliads of Homer (translated by George Chapman) 1611
The Iliad of Homer (translated by Alexander Pope) 1715-20
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (translated by William Cowper) 1791
The Iliad of Homer (translated by William Cullen Bryant) 1870
The Iliad of Homer (translated by Andrew Lang, Walter Leaf, and Ernest Myers) 1893
The Iliad of Homer (translated by Samuel Butler) 1898
The Iliad (translated by A. T. Murray) 1924-25
Iliad (translated by Emil V. Rieu) 1950
The Iliad (translated by Richmond Lattimore) 1951
Iliad (translated by William H. Rouse) 1954
The Anger of Achilles (translated by Robert Graves) 1959
The Iliad (translated by Ennis Rees) 1963
The Iliad (translated by Robert Fitzgerald) 1974
The Iliad (translated by Robert Fagles) 1990
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SOURCE: Lang, Mabel L. “Reverberation and Mythology in the Iliad.” In Approaches to Homer, edited by Carl A. Rubino and Cynthia W. Shelmerdine, pp. 140-64. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.
[In the following essay, Lang probes the interaction between the Iliad and external mythological stories of Greek gods and heroes, concluding that this relationship implies a process of “ongoing, non-static composition” in regard to both the epic and mythological exempla.]
The relationship between non-Trojan-War exempla and the Iliad episodes or situations which they illuminate has been defined in two opposite and apparently mutually exclusive ways. One view sees the exemplum as a model from which the Iliad episode was adapted; the other holds that the Iliad situation has priority, and that the exemplum was invented to fit it. In both these cases the relationship is viewed as it would be in a literary work which was composed once and for all by an individual poet. The Iliad, however, is presumed to be the end product of many re-creations, and in this case it is almost inevitable that both types of relationship operated. What we have to allow for then is a process of reverberation between inherited material influencing the Iliad narrative and also the Iliad narrative influencing inherited material. Imitation and innovation go...
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SOURCE: Mueller, Martin. “The Plot of the Iliad.” In The Iliad, pp. 28-76. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1984.
[In the following excerpt, Mueller analyzes the plot of the Iliad in the context of the poem's central figures, Achilles and Hector, and the warrior code they depict.]
The encounter of Achilles and Hektor depends upon the withdrawal of the former, which tempts Hektor beyond the safety of the walls. The withdrawal is the beginning of the plot, the duel its end. The protagonist is absent in the middle. That absence is a narrative fact of great and continuing significance. But its representation is a narrative problem. So is the difficulty of developing in adequate detail the character of the protagonist if the design of the plot severely limits the places of his appearance.
The Embassy is Homer's answer to both problems. A delegation of Achaeans implores Achilles to give up his anger, accept enormous damages from Agamemnon and rejoin the fighting. The attempt must fail since the absence of Achilles must continue, but the failure turns into a magnificent occasion for impressing his absent presence on the reader's mind. Moreover, the Embassy does for Achilles what the encounter with Andromache did for Hektor: it provides a setting in which he can speak freely and passionately about the conditions of his existence....
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SOURCE: Pucci, Pietro. “Textual Epiphanies in the Iliad.” In The Song of the Sirens: Essays on Homer, pp. 69-80. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998.
[In the following essay, originally published in Italian in 1985, Pucci elucidates Athena's appearance to Achilles at Iliad 1.194ff, examining the manner in which Homer presents the revelation of gods to mortals in the epic.]
In Homeric narrative a god appears to a hero and, by virtue of his presence, determines or intensifies to the highest degree the action that the hero performs. Regardless of whether the god suggests a plan of action (Iliad 2.165ff., etc.), prevents the hero from performing a particular act (Iliad 1.199ff.) or simply encourages, watches over, and accompanies the hero, his presence—his being there (whether perceived both by hero and reader or only by the latter)—amplifies the action to a heroic scale and places it in an ampler, teleological perspective, directly intensifying its importance, effect, and force.
But this divine presence is characterized by contradictory, ambivalent, and disconcerting elements both from a formal and from a theological point of view. Formally, the appearance of the god is managed through a representation of his physical presence that is always weak and arbitrary. If we compare the epiphanies of Demeter and Aphrodite in the hymns devoted...
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SOURCE: Knox, Ronald, and Joseph Russo. “Agamemnon's Test: Iliad 2.73-75.” Classical Antiquity 8, no. 2 (October 1989): 351-58.
[In the following essay, Knox and Russo argue for the cogency of Agamemnon's deception of his own troops in Book 2 of the Iliad, despite its unintended failure.]
πϱω̑τα δ' ἐγoν ἔπεσιν πειϱήσομαι, ἣ θὔἐμιs ἐστί, aαὶ φεύγειν σὺν νηυσὶ πολυaλήϊσι aελεύσω. ὑμει̑s δ' ἄλλοθεν ἄλλοs ἐϱητύειν ἐπἐεσσιν.
In his recent commentary G. S. Kirk writes a long note to try to make sense of Agamemnon's announcement, quoted above, that he will “first test [the troops] with words” before initiating the battle in which he expects to capture Troy that day (ἤματι aείνo, 37).1 Agamemnon has received a dream from Zeus the night before (Διὸs δἐ τοι ἄγγελόs εἰμι, 26 = 63) telling him to arm the men and begin the attack, for now finally all Olympus is united on his side (11-13 = 28-30 = 65-67). In the morning he holds a closed meeting of his general staff, to whom he reports verbatim the message of the dream and then adds lines 73-75, the statement about first applying a test.
This passage has never been satisfactorily explained, and Professor Kirk calls...
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SOURCE: Knox, Bernard. “Achilles.” Grand Street 9, no. 3 (spring 1990): 129-50.
[In the following essay, Knox studies the thematic course of the Iliad embodied by Achilles, observing that the hero traces a path from “godlike self-absorption” driven by honor and rage to his recognition of pity and the values of human community.]
There are in the Iliad two human beings who are godlike, Achilles and Helen. One of them has already come to a bitter recognition of human stature and moral responsibility when the poem begins. Helen, the cause of the war, is so preeminent in her sphere, so far beyond competition in her beauty, her power to enchant men, that she is a sort of human Aphrodite. In her own element, she is irresistible. Every king in Greece was ready to fight for her hand in marriage, but she chose Menelaus, King of Sparta. When Paris, the Prince of Troy, came to visit, she ran off with him, leaving husband and daughter, without a thought of the consequences for others. Her willful action is the cause of all the deaths at Troy, those past and those to come. When she left with Paris she acted like a god, with no thought of anything but the fullfillment of her own desire, the exercise of her own power, the demands of her own nature.
But when the Iliad opens, she has already come to realize the meaning for others of her actions, to recognize that she is a...
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SOURCE: Traill, David A. “Unfair to Hector?” Classical Philology 85, no. 4 (October 1990): 299-303.
[In the following essay, Traill contends that Homer does not allow the Trojan hero Hector the full glory he deserves in the Iliad, and instead presents him in a less favorable manner than lesser Greek figures.]
It is one of the puzzling features of the Iliad that while Homer undoubtedly depicts Trojan heroes, notably Hector and Priam, in a favorable light in domestic scenes, Trojans in general, and Hector in particular, are not allowed to shine on the battlefield with the luster one expects. Thus, though most modern readers readily admire Priam for the wisdom and compassion he shows in his delicate scene with Helen in Book 3, and Hector for his love and concern for Andromache and Astyanax in the beautiful scene at the Scaean Gate, they experience a certain sense of disappointment when Hector fares so poorly in his single combat with Ajax and in his fighting against other Greek heroes. This reaction, I suggest, is not inappropriate and “modern,” for the logic of the Iliad's plot requires that Hector should rank second only to Achilles in prowess: otherwise, what is all the fuss about when Achilles withdraws? We are therefore entitled to ask why Homer does not allow Hector to defeat Ajax and why he makes it clear that not only Achilles and Ajax but also Diomedes and Agamemnon are...
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SOURCE: Slatkin, Laura M. “The Helplessness of Thetis.” In The Power of Thetis: Allusion and Interpretation in the Iliad, pp. 17-52. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
[In the following excerpt, Slatkin concentrates on the integral role of Thetis in the development of themes of mortality, protection, and the discovery of identity in the Iliad.]
In a key passage in Book 1 of the Iliad Achilles, in order to obtain from Zeus the favor that will determine the trajectory of the plot, invokes not Athena or Hera, those powerful, inveterate pro-Greeks, but his mother. The Iliad's presentation of Thetis … is of a subsidiary deity who is characterized by helplessness and by impotent grief. Her presentation of herself is as the epitome of sorrow and vulnerability in the face of her son's mortality. Consider her lament to her Nereid sisters at 18.54-62.
Ὤ μοι ἐγo δειλή, Ὤ μοι δυσαριστοτόκεια, η τ' ἐπεὶ ἂρ τἐκον υἱὸν ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε, ἔξοχον ἡρώων· ὁ δ' ἀνἐδραμεν ἔρνεϊ ἐσοs· τὸν μὲν ἐγo θρἣψασα, ϕυτὸν os γουνἳ̑ ἀλωη̑s, νηυσὶν ἐπιπροἐηκα κορωνίσιν '′Ιλιον εἴσω Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον· τὸν δ' οὐχ ὑποδἐξομαι αὔτιs οἴκαδε...
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SOURCE: Morrison, James V. “Misdirection 3: Thematic Misdirection.” In Homeric Misdirection: False Predictions in the Iliad, pp. 73-93. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, Morrison discusses narrative misdirection brought about by prophesies and threats in the Iliad.]
This [essay] examines thematic misdirection, which is brought about by false authoritative predictions. In contrast to false anticipation, where the presentation of an expected event is merely postponed, with thematic misdirection authoritative predictions anticipate events that do not take place. The substance of the prediction—not merely the apparent time of fulfillment—is false or exceedingly misleading. The themes of a Trojan victory and burial for a fallen hero are subject to thematic misdirection.1 These both play a central role in the narrative, developing throughout the epic. Regarding the threat of Trojan victory, authoritative predictions support the false picture of the Greek fleet in flames before the Myrmidons' intervention. The predictions by Zeus and Achilles concerning the extent of this victory imply destruction of most of the Greek fleet before Hector is stopped. This puts into doubt an eventual Greek homecoming, even if the Greeks eventually rally to sack Troy. Once again, misdirection challenges the audience's assumption that the traditional story line will be...
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SOURCE: Taplin, Oliver. “The Past beneath the Present.” In Homeric Soundings: The Shaping of the Iliad, pp. 83-109. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.
[In the following excerpt, Taplin examines broad ethical issues in the Iliad and the epic's narrative form, focusing specifically on temporality, and the guilt of Helen and Paris.]
3.1 BEFORE THE BEGINNING: AULIS AND THE TROAD
… ‘Child, why are you crying? What pain has touched your heart? Tell me, do not hide it inside you, so that both of us can know.’
With a heavy groan swift-footed Achilleus said to her: ‘You know. What need for me to tell you all when you know it? We had gone to Thebe, Eëtion's sacred city. We sacked it, and brought all the spoils here. The sons of the Achaians made proper division of all the rest among themselves, and chose for the son of Atreus as his gift of honour the beautiful Chryseïs.’
The Iliad is much too good to begin at the beginning (or to end at the end). It begins at an exact time, the day that Chryses comes to the ships; but an extraordinary amount about the past is filled in by piecemeal reconstruction, especially during the first three and a half books. It is not, of course, blocked out in chronological order; and it is...
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SOURCE: Frazer, R. M. Introduction to A Reading of the Iliad, pp. 1-26. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1993.
[In the following excerpt from his study of the Iliad, Frazer investigates the work's narrative structure and parallelism, the character of Achilles, pro-Achaean bias, representation of the Olympian gods, and use of simile.]
TYPE-SCENES AND PARALLEL NARRATIVES
In the first part of the present century Milman Parry (for his collected essays see Parry 1971) proved that the Iliad was composed in accordance with the techniques of oral poetry. It thus consists largely of formulas such as “swift-footed Achilles” and of type-scenes such as the assembly scene, and it strings one thought to another and one scene to another paratactically. Lord 1960.92, who uses the term “theme” instead of “type-scene,” well describes how an oral poet—in this case in modern Yugoslavia—creates the elements in a type-scene.
He knows where he is going. As in the adding of one line to another, so in the adding of one element in a theme to another, the singer can stop and fondly dwell upon any single item without losing a sense of the whole … Moreover, he usually signals the end of a theme by a significant or culminating point. The description of an assembly moves inexorably to focus on the chief hero of the song; … the...
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SOURCE: Morrison, James V. “Thematic Inversion in the Iliad: The Greeks under Siege.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 35, no. 3 (autumn 1994): 209-27.
[In the following essay, Morrison stresses the thematic significance of role reversal in the middle portion of the Iliad, in which the Greek camp is depicted as a city under Trojan siege.]
In the central books of Homer's Iliad, the Greeks come under Trojan attack. In Book 12 the Greek camp is assaulted; in Books 15 and 16 Hector threatens to burn the Greek fleet. With its walls and defenses, the Greek camp is in many ways like a city (polis), as previous commentators have noted.1 I would like to make the stronger claim that the poet of the Iliad deliberately promotes the idea that the Greek camp—once under attack—should be thought of as a city under siege. The effect is to reverse the rôles traditionally assigned to Greeks and Trojans. The Trojans, who have been defending their city for ten years, go on the attack, while the Greeks are put into the position conventionally associated with the Trojans, that of defending a city.
This paper has two goals. First, I gather evidence suggesting that Homer consciously draws attention to this reversal in a number of ways: by giving an elaborate description of the Greek wall and its defense (echoing defenses of Troy), by introducing terms...
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SOURCE: Crotty, Kevin. “Memory and Supplication.” In The Poetics of Supplication: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, pp. 70-88. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.
[In the following excerpt, Crotty illustrates the pivotal shift in Achilles's character achieved by Priam's supplication of the hero in Book 24 of the Iliad.]
No act of supplication in the Iliad is so elaborately prepared as Priam's supplication of Achilles in the final book. The ceremony is the means decreed by Zeus himself to effect the return of Hector's corpse to the Trojans for burial. That the supplication of Achilles by Priam is decreed and overseen by the gods raises its dignity and lends it a monumental quality that befits the conclusion of an epic poem. The lively interest of the gods in human affairs—the pity that the gods feel for Hector and their anger at Achilles (see 24.22-54)—makes these events larger than life: more exhilarating and more exciting, because of the gods' attentive participation, than anything else in the world.
There is an unmistakable, Odyssey-like element of fantasy in the gods' oversight of these final moments in the poem. The counsel of gods that opens the last book of the Iliad, the subsequent flight of Iris to Troy, the companionship of Hermes leading Priam to Achilles' tent—all these recall the opening scenes of the...
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SOURCE: Clarke, Michael. “Between Lions and Men: Images of the Hero in the Iliad,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 36, no. 2 (summer 1995): 137-59.
[In the following essay, Clarke follows the implications of Homer's beast similes in the Iliad, highlighting their contribution to the poem's theme of extreme heroism that culminates in self-destruction.]
If the beast-similes of the Iliad appear easy to understand, this is because they correspond formally to one of the simplest types of comparison found in poetry of the modern European tradition. As a rule our own culture encourages us only to contrast the human world with that of animals, so that an image drawing them together seems trivial: we know we are dealing in tropes when Shakespeare calls the Black Prince a “lion's whelp” or when Byron says that “the Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold.”1 As such things are not taken as expressions of deep ideas, the habit of analogy makes it easy to assume that the beast-similes of the Iliad are likewise an external ornament rather than a serious part of Homer's evocation of the heroic age. In the past this prejudice led even to the strange belief that they are designed to relieve the monotony of repeated battles;2 and although more recent years have seen many fruitful studies of the similes' rôle in amplifying the narrative,3...
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SOURCE: Naas, Michael. “Persuasion in the Eyes of the Other.” In Turning: From Persuasion to Philosophy, A Reading of Homer's Iliad, pp. 182-93. Atlantic Highlands N.J.: Humanities Press, 1995.
[In the following essay, Naas appraises the concepts of valor, shame, honor, and supplication as they relate to community relations that mediate between the Self and the Other in the Iliad.]
In a society of face to face relations, a culture of shame and honor where competition for glory leaves little room for a sense of duty and knows nothing of sin, the existence of each is constantly placed beneath the gaze of the other. It is in the eye of the one facing you, in the mirror that he presents you, that a self-image takes shape.
If the relation of man with man ceases to be that of the Same with the Same, but rather introduces the Other as irreducible and—given the equality between them—always in a situation of dissymmetry in relation to the one looking at that Other, then a completely different relationship imposes itself and imposes another form of society which one would hardly dare call a “community.”
Throughout the Iliad, persuasion and turning are associated with a series of practices and...
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SOURCE: Jones, P. V. “The Independent Heroes of the Iliad.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 116 (1996): 108-18.
[In the following essay, Jones analyzes the balance between human and divine responsibility in the Iliad, describing Homer's narrative treatment of the gods and fate vis-à-vis the mortal perspectives of his heroes.]
My objective in this paper is to consider the question of the mysteriousness or numinosity of the gods in the Iliad by examining first how heroes talk about and react to the gods, and second how Homer handles fate. My aim is to integrate the findings into a wider thesis about the Iliad's narrative strategy.1
Griffin (1980) 152 discusses the mysteriousness and numinosity of Homeric gods, and cites Il. [Iliad] i 43-52, Od. iii 371-82, xix 33-42, saying ‘It is perhaps worth emphasising that in each of these … episodes, we see not only the god behaving like a real god, mysteriously, but also the characters who are present at the moment of revelation responding to it in what can only be called a religious way: adoration or reverent silence’. My point is very simple. This is not how the heroes themselves talk about the gods, nor (in the Iliad at any rate, I believe) is it how they react to them. To summarise my broad conclusions: when heroes talk about the gods, they talk of their power...
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SOURCE: Rabel, Robert J. “Plot and Point of View in the Iliad.” In Plot and Point of View in the Iliad, pp.1-32. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.
[In the following excerpt, Rabel differentiates between the author of the Iliad and the epic's narrator, commenting on shifting modes of perception in the poem, particularly in relation to its treatment of the heroic code.]
[T]he term point of view refers most directly to visual perspective, the place from which an object is viewed. In the most literal sense of the term, only the Muse(s)-narrator and the characters of the poem have points of view. The poet lacks visual perspectives, as Homer himself acknowledges in his second prooemium in the Iliad, the invocation of the Muses preceding the so-called Catalog of Ships in book 2:
ὑμει̑s γὰρ θεαί ἐστε, πάρεστἐ τε, ἴστἐ τε πάντα, ἡμει̑s δὲ κλἐοs οῒον ἀκούομεν οὐδἐ τι ἴδμεν.
[you are gods, and attend all things and know all things, but we hear only the report and have no knowledge.]1
Visual point of view requires physical presence in the world of the story.2 Thus the Muse(s)-narrator has personally witnessed and transmits to the audience through the poet a...
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SOURCE: Heiden, Bruce. “The Simile of the Fugitive Homicide, Iliad 24.480-84: Analogy, Foiling, and Allusion.” American Journal of Philology 119, no. 1 (spring 1998): 1-10.
[In the following essay, Heiden emphasizes Homer's comparison of the supplicating Priam to a murderer seeking refuge as the thematically definitive moment in the Iliad.]
Homer elaborates “the most dramatic moment in the whole of the Iliad”1 with a unique, disturbing, and pathetic simile. Only in the scene of Priam's unheralded arrival in Achilles' lodging does the predicament of a murderer seeking refuge in a strange land ever provide the material for a Homeric illustration.
τοὺs δ' ἔλαθ' εἰσελθoν Πϱίαμοs μἐγαs, ἄγχι δ' ἄϱα στὰs χεϱσὶν 'Αχιλλῆοs λάβε γούνατα aαὶ aύσε χεῖϱαs δεινὰs ἀνδϱοϕόνουs, αἵ οἱ πολἐαs aτάνον υῒαs. ὡs δ' ὅτ' ἵν ἄνδϱ' ἄτη πυaινὴ λάβῃ, ὅs τ' ἐνὶ πάτϱῃ ϕῶτα aαταaείναs ἄλλων ἐξίaετο δῆμον, ἀνδϱὸs ἐs ἀϕνειοῦ, θάμβοs δ' ἔχει εἰσοϱόωνταs, ὥs 'Αχιλεὺs θάμβησεν ἰδoν Πϱίαμον θεοειδἐα· θάμβησαν δὲ aαὶ ἄλλοι, ἐs ἀλλήλουs δὲ ἴδοντο. τὸν ϱαὶ λισσόμενοs...
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SOURCE: Sinaiko, Herman L. “Reading Homer's Iliad.” In Reclaiming the Canon: Essays on Philosophy, Poetry, and History, pp. 39-55. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.
[In the following excerpt, Sinaiko details the status of the Iliad as oral poetry, documents the nature of its epithets and similes, and outlines its depiction of Achilles as “the first and greatest tragic hero.”]
The Iliad is the oldest work in Western literature and the quintessential canonical classic. Still, many readers don't bother to read the poem, thinking that they already know Homer's epic account of the Trojan War: how it started with the abduction of the beautiful Helen, how Achilles, the mightiest Greek warrior, was killed by an arrow in his vulnerable heel, and how Troy was finally taken through Odysseus' stratagem of the Trojan Horse. Unfortunately, none of these events occurs in the Iliad. But I aim in these remarks not to correct misperceptions so much as to persuade you to read it.
Let me be clear at the outset: I am convinced that Homer may be the only artist who measures up to Shakespeare. I would like to suggest some of the grounds for my fascination with the Iliad and show why, even in translation, Homer has had the reputation for over two and a half millennia of being the wisest and best of poets. I propose to sketch out the kind of poet he is and...
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SOURCE: Ebbott, Mary. “The Wrath of Helen: Self-Blame and Nemesis in the Iliad.” In Nine Essays on Homer, edited by Miriam Carlisle and Olga Levaniouk, pp. 3-20. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
[In the following essay, Ebbott interprets Helen's character in the Iliad as the epic personification of blame and of the consequences of righteous indignation.]
When Aphrodite tells Helen to go to Paris' bed after he has lost his duel with Menelaos, Helen refuses (Il. [Iliad] 3.410-412):
κει̑σε δ' ἐγoν οὐκ εῒμι—νεμεσσητὸν δἐ κεν εἴη— κείνου πορσανἐουσα λἐχοs· Τρῳαὶ δἐ μ' ὀπίσσω πα̑σαι μωμήσονται· ἔχω δ' ἄχε' ἄκριτα θυμἳ̑.
I am not going to him—it would arouse nemesis— to share his bed. The Trojan women hereafter would all reproach me, and I have endless sorrows in my heart.
Here, after the renewal of the original conflict between Menelaos and Paris, Helen says what the Greeks and Trojans probably wish she had said in the first place—that she will not go to Paris' bed, for it would inspire nemesis, and if she did, all the Trojan women would reproach her. In this mix of past and present, Helen expresses not only that it would be blameworthy of her to go to Paris' bed after his loss to...
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SOURCE: Mills, Sophie. “Achilles, Patroclus, and Parental Care in Some Homeric Similes.” Greece & Rome 47, no. 1 (April 2000): 3-18.
[In the following essay, Mills concentrates on extended similes that recall scenes of parental or mutual care in the Iliad—particularly those associated with Achilles and Patroclus—as they emphasize the poem's countertheme of “love and cooperation between human beings.”]
And the two fought it out over Kebriones, like lions who in the high places of a mountain, both in huge courage, and both hungry fight together over a killed deer.
… the flung stones dropped to the ground like snowflakes which the winds' blast whirling the shadowy clouds drifts in their abundance along the prospering earth.
(Il. 12.156-8; cf. Il. 12.278-87)
As when dense disaster closes on one who has murdered a man in his own land and he comes to the land of others, to a man of substance, and wonder seizes on those who behold him, so Achilles wondered …
None of these three passages from the Iliad would be classified as anything other than an extended simile, but the differences between them in subject matter and what is compared make clear how difficult it is to make any simple summary of the nature and...
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SOURCE: Taalman Kip, A. Maria Van Erp. “The Gods of the Iliad and the Fate of Troy.” Mnemosyne 53, no. 4 (August 2000): 385-402.
[In the following essay, Taalman Kip maintains that providing the Olympian Gods with an interpolated morality is not consistent with Homer's presentation of the human condition in the Iliad.]
Ever since antiquity the gods of the Iliad have been a stumbling block: in the view of Homer's ancient admirers the behaviour of his gods, especially Zeus, ought to have a moral basis, since otherwise they would not feel comfortable about their admiration for the poems. Plato sacrificed his admiration on the altar of his indignation, and banned Homer from his ideal state. Allegorizing interpreters solved the problem by arguing that Homer's gods were not meant to be gods; if Apollo is actually the heat of the sun, we need not be bothered by his morals.1 Christian readers were sometimes willing to forgive Homer because he was not actually at fault, having been born too early to be a Christian.2 Down through the ages Homer has been alternately attacked and defended on this point, and I am convinced that the desire to justify the ways of the Homeric gods has not died out. Otherwise I cannot explain why a number of scholars, in discussing the gods and their reasons for dealing with men as they do, consistently ignore the narrator, disregarding what he...
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SOURCE: Lardinois, A.. “Characterization through Gnomai in Homer's Iliad.” Mnemosyne 53, no. 6 (December 2000): 641-61.
[In the following essay, Lardinois considers the characteristic use of gnomai (or wisdom-sayings similar to proverbs) by Achilles, Nestor, Odysseus, and the gods in the Iliad.]
Characterization in Homer is a controversial subject. For a long time scholars denied the possibility of any consistent characterization in Homer, believing the poems to be written by multiple authors, or perceiving the technique of oral composition or the state of the archaic Greek mind to be insurmountable obstacles.1 Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, for example, claims that “to speak of a character of the Homeric Achilles or Odysseus at all is a piece of stupidity, as different poets conceive the same hero differently” (1912: 12), and Geoffrey Kirk maintains that “the depiction of the heroic character is limited both by the technique and aims of oral poetry and by the simplicity of heroic virtues and vices” (1962: 265).2 Bruno Snell's influential study of the early Greek mind is largely responsible for the notion that Homer could not perceive of the ‘individual’, and although there is some truth to this idea—γνω̑θι σεαυτόν does not mean ‘know your inner self’ but ‘know that you are a mortal human being’ (Burkert 1985: 148)—, one should...
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Baldick, Julian. “The Iliad.” In Homer and the Indo-Europeans: Comparing Mythologies, pp. 46-98. London: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 1994.
Traces extensive narrative and thematic resemblances between the Iliad and a selection of Indo-European mythological texts, especially the Sanskrit epic the Ramayana.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Homer's The Iliad, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, 160 p.
Collection of nine essays by various contributors on such subjects as Homeric fantasy, characterization, and style.
Clark, Matthew. “Chryses's Supplication: Speech Act and Mythological Allusion.” Classical Antiquity 17, no. 1 (April 1998): 5-32.
Elucidates the opening scene of the Iliad involving Chryses and his request that the Greeks release his daughter, drawing parallels with Priam's supplication to Achilles at the close of the epic.
Davies, Malcolm. “Agamemnon's Apology and the Unity of the Iliad.” Classical Quarterly 45, no. 1 (January-June 1995): 1-8.
Studies Agamemnon's speech in the Iliad (at 19.95ff), noting a range of stylistic traits that point toward the tragic unity of the epic and its theme of human suffering.
Due, Casey. “Achilles's Golden Amphora in Aeschines's against...
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