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Archaistic relief showing five divinities: Zeus, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, and Apollo
Roman, 25 B.C.- A.D. 14 (Yale University Art Gallery)
So-called Mask of
Agamemnon
Mycenaean, 16th century BCE
National Archaeological
Museum (Greece)
Achilles Greets the Ambassadors of Agamemnon
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1800
(Ecole nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, France)
King Priam asks
Achilles for the body of
his son, Hector.
From an archaic Greek
bronze relief, ca. 570–
560 B.C.E.
Achilles slays Hector. From a red-figured volute-krater
(a large ceramic wine decanter), ca. 500–480 B.C.E.
Features of Homeric Epic
•
•
•
•
•
Invocation of the muse: “Sing, goddess, Achilles’ rage.”
Heroic Characters, Vast Settings
Verse Form: Dactylic Hexameter
Begins “in medias res”
Epic Similes:
– As a serpent in its den upon the mountains, full fed with deadly poisons, waits
for the approach of man—he is filled with fury and his eyes glare terribly as he
goes writhing round his den—even so Hector leaned his shield against a tower
that jutted out from the wall and stood where he was, undaunted (Iliad XXII.
103-110, trans. Samuel Butler, 1889).
• Epithets (ἐπίθετον): Stock phrases that describes a character or a
setting: “Achilles, the great runner”; “white-armed goddess” (Hera);
(Lombardo avoids the clichéd “rosy-fingered dawn” by translating
“Dawn came early, a palmetto of rose” [I.506])
• Epic catalogues: of ships, troops, armor, etc.
Topics for Discussion
• Compare and contrast the Homeric gods, as they are depicted in
the Iliad, with the biblical god and the gods in Gilgamesh.
• Discuss the nature of conflict as it occurs between men and men,
gods and men, and gods and gods. How do the sources of their
conflict differ? How do they resolve conflict?
• We know from the opening lines that Iliad is going to be largely
about μῆνιν Ἀχιλῆος––“the rage of Achilles.” What are the sources
of his rage and how is it characterized in the epic? Can you predict
how Achilles’s rage will effect the outcome of the war?
• A feature of epic verse, from Homer to Virgil, is that it begins in
medias res––in the middle of things. What is the effect of beginning
in the midst of the Trojan War without any of the exposition we
would expect from, say, a Victorian novel?
• Stanley Lombardo’s popular translation renders the dialogue in a
refreshingly colloquial manner. Find some examples and describe
how his translations choices effect characterization.
Topics for Discussion
• Ceremonies and Formalities
–
–
–
–
Sacrifice: Agamemnon’s men sacrifice to Apollo (I. 485-505)
Insult: Achilles to Agamemnon (I.221)
Supplication: (I.530-541
Welcome and Hospitality
• Genealogy
– Glaucus and Diomedes (VI.148-216) pg. 247
• Domestic Life
– Paris & Helen pg. 251
– Hector and Andromache (VI. 400-528)
– Achilles & Patroclus (IX 186-228)
• Similes pg. 255 & 256
• Honor
– Diomedes, Achilles, Hector and Agamemnon
Topics for Discussion
• Look at the epic similes in Book VI. On how many levels does the
comparison work?
• Discuss the nature of conflict as it occurs between men and men,
gods and men, and gods and gods. How do the sources of their
conflict differ? How do they resolve conflict?
• We know from the opening lines that Iliad is going to be largely
about μῆνιν Ἀχιλῆος––“the rage of Achilles.” What are the sources
of his rage and how is it characterized in the epic? Can you predict
how Achilles’s rage will effect the outcome of the war?
• A feature of epic verse, from Homer to Virgil, is that it begins in
medias res––in the middle of things. What is the effect of beginning
in the midst of the Trojan War without any of the exposition we
would expect from, say, a Victorian novel?
• Stanley Lombardo’s popular translation renders the dialogue in a
refreshingly colloquial manner. Find some examples and describe
how his translations choices effect characterization.
As a serpent in its den upon the mountains, full fed with
deadly poisons, waits for the approach of man—he is filled
with fury and his eyes glare terribly as he goes writhing
round his den—even so Hector leaned his shield against a
tower that jutted out from the wall and stood where he
was, undaunted (Iliad XXII. 103-110, trans. Samuel Butler,
1889).

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