Topics for Further Study

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  • What role do the gods play in the Iliad? Compare and contrast this role with the role of the divine in a contemporary religious tradition (your own or another that interests you).
  • In his book Homer: The Poet of the Iliad, Mark Edwards writes:“From the very first lines Homer will raise the origins of human suffering.” What does Homer conclude about those origins? Contrast Homer’s conclusions about “the origins of human suffering” with the precepts of modern psychology or anthropology.
  • Consider the interaction between Glaucus and Diomedes that begins at line 119 of Book 6. Compare this story with the story of Baucis and Philemon in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book 8, 619ff.), the story of Abraham at the oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-8), or the reception of Telemachus by Nestor (Odyssey, Book 3, 31ff.) or Menelaus (Odyssey, Book 4, 3Off.). What can you conclude about the proper relationship between hosts and guests from these stories? Does Diomedes treat his guest-friend fairly? How does Homer comment on their interaction?
  • Pay careful attention to the treatment Homer gives the character of Helen. Do you think Helen really regrets leaving Menelaus, or is she making it up? How do you think Homer wanted his audience to look at Helen? What does the way in which her character is portrayed suggest to you about the role of women in Homeric society?
  • Consider the following passage, taken from Pericles’ funeral oration for the Athenian dead in the first year of the Peloponnesian War (431-430 BC), as recorded by the historian Thucydides (The Peloponnesian War, Book II, chapters 42 and 43, adapted from the Crawley translation published in 1982 by the Modern Library): “For there is justice in the claim that steadfastness in his country’s battles should be as a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; for the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual. . . . These men, therefore, died in a manner befitting an Athenian. . . . The offering of their lives in a common enerprise gained for each of these men a fame that never grows old; instead of a tomb in which to lay their bones to rest, they gained the most noble of all shrines, in which their glory is placed, to be remembered on every occasion which calls for a commemoration of that glory, whether by word or action. For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb; and in lands far from their own, where the column with its epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in every breast an unwritten record, with no tablet to preserve it except that of the heart.” Do you agree with Pericles that excellence in war (or other civic service) should “make up” for a person’s shortcomings? Why or not? What do you think Pericles might have said about some of the Homeric heroes such as Hector, Achilles, Patroclus, or Agamemnon?

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