Writing About the Iliad

We have spend the better part of three classes listening to The Iliad. In our overly fast-paced society, that may have felt like a long time, but when delving into Greek history, it is important that you have a sense of the story and perceive at least some of its deeper meaning. Remember, this, along with The Odyssey, served as moral guidebook, historical narrative, religious tale of cosmology, and just plain good entertainment around a fire, enjoyed while quaffing wine and feasting on grilled meat.

You will be asked now to assemble a coherent and cogent thesis — that means a convincing argument that is supported by specific evidence from the story — and write an expository essay about The Iliad. You will have 65 minutes to construct and write a thoughtful and text-informed essay on some aspect of the Iliad. This is not a test or quiz about information, but rather an opportunity to craft a significant and measured response to one of the more important texts of Western Civilization.

Here’s how to prepare:

  1. Make sure your notes are in order so that names, concepts, and even quotations are organized and readily retrievable.
  2. Review the main story line (at least what we covered in class) / discuss it with a friend to be sure you’ve got it straight.
  3. Think about what messages are contained in the story. What is the ‘truth’ of it all? What deeper meaning about life?

Here a some quotations that you may have missed in class.

  • Sing, goddess, of Achilles’ ruinous anger
    Which brought ten thousand pains to the Achaeans,
    And cast the souls of many stalwart heroes
    To Hades, and their bodies to the dogs
    And birds of prey.
  • No, for your pleasure, you shameless dog-face, we followed to try and win compensation, for you and Meneleus, from the Trojans. And you neither see nor care; and even threaten to rob me of my prize, reward for which I labored. When the Achaeans sack some rich Trojan city, it’s not I who win the prize. My hands bear the brunt of the fiercest fight, but when the wealth is shared, yours is the greater, while I return, weary with battle, to the ships, with some small fraction for my own.” (Achilles to Agamemnon)
  • “Of all the god-beloved princes here you are most odious to me, since war, contention, strife are dear to you. If you are the greatest warrior, well, it was some god I think who granted it. Go home, with your ships and men: I care naught for you, or your anger.” (Agamemnon to Achilles)
  • “I am disgraced indeed, by that son of Atreus, imperious Agamemnon, who in his arrogance has seized and holds my prize.” (Achilles)
  • ‘It is wrong to be so perverse, nursing anger in your heart, while your friends die at the gates of the city.” (Hector to Paris)
  • “So the battle was pulled taut on equal terms, until the moment when Zeus gave the great glory to Hector.”
  • “No one can hurry me down to Hades before my time, but if a man’s hour is come, be he brave or be he coward, there is no escape for him when he has once been born.” Hector
  • “Come, Friend, you too must die. Why moan about it so?
    Even Patroclus died, a far, far better man than you.
    And look, you see how handsome and powerful I am?
    The son of a great man, the mother who gave me life–
    A deathless goddess. But even for me, I tell you,
    Death and the strong force of fate are waiting.” (Achilles to Scamander)
  • “It is entirely seemly for a young man killed in battle to lie mangled by the bronze spear. In his death all things appear fair.”

 

A full excerpt of Hector confronting Paris in Troy after PAris had been whisked away from the battlefield by Aphrodite.

Book Six

As Hector the Bright-Helmed reached the oak-tree just outside the Scaean Gate, a crowd of Trojan women ran up, pestering him with inquiries about husbands, brothers, sons, and friends. His sole reply, ‘Pray to the Gods!’, gave them little comfort. He strode on towards the polished stone colonnades of the Royal Palace…. Hector’s mother, Hecuba the Beautiful, met him, accompanied by Laodice, his sister. ‘My son,’ cried Hecuba, seizing him by the hand, ‘why have you deserted the battlefield? To invoke Zeus from the Citadel? The accursed Greeks must be pressing us hard if that is your mission! Wait while I fetch you some sweet wine — first for a libation to Zeus and his family, and then for your own refreshment.

Hector answered: ‘I appreciate your kindness, Mother, but wine would cripple my courage and rob me of strength. Besides, I should be ashamed to pour libations with such filthy, blood-stained hands as these — nobody should ever do so before washing himself! Now, please assemble the noblewomen of Troy in Athena’s temple on the Citadel; then unlock the holy inner shrine, cover the knees of the divine image with the largest, loveliest, grandest robe you possess — the one you prize most — and vow Athena the Bright-Haired Spoil-Winner a sacrifice of twelve oxen if she consents to save the city, its women and children. The goddess will perhaps restrain Diomedes, whose terrible spear has been the main instrument of our defeat.

‘Do this without delay, while I persuade Paris to resume the battle. O that the earth would open and swallow that brother of mine! The tender protection afforded him by Aphrodite has brought nothing but grief on our noble father, all his sons, and subjects. A glimpse of Paris’ shade descending to the Gates of Hades would, I confess, make me happy! Hecuba called her maids of honor frm the Palace hall, then descended to her fragrant store-room where she kept the embroidered robes which Prince Paris had looted on his return from Sparta with Helen. Hecuba chose the largest and most beautiful robe of the whole pile, took it up to the Citadel, followed by her flock of women. There Athena’s priestess unlocked the inner shrine and the company raised their hands in lamentation to Athena:

ATHENA, guard this Citadel!     ATHENA, fair beyond compare, I pray you guard it wel!     Snap Diomedes’ spear, let Fate cause him to fall, in sight of all, Dead at the Scaean Gate!     Twelve oxen which have never yet suffered the yoke, to you are owed — Think not we shall forget!     But when Troy’s soldiers call on you, Guard well their lives, Guard well their wives, Their small children too!

Athena, however, stubbornly disregarded the prayer.

Hector stopped at the fine mansion which the best masons and carpenters in Troy had build for Paris. Hector hurried up the stairs, preceeded by his bronze sper-point with its gold socket-band — the spear measured nearly fourteen feet in length — and entered the bedroom. He found Paris polishing his handsome breast-plate, arms, and shield. Helen sat nearby, with her maids, embroidering liner cloth. Hector said bitterly: ‘I cannot regard your grudge against Troy as being a decent one. It is for you alone that our people are dying in defence of these walls — their shouts must surely have reached your ears?

Paris, now busily testing his bow, answered: ‘Sharp words, though not unreasonably so. Allow me to explain that I bear no grudge against Troy, but feeling a little sad, I wanted to enjoy a good cry on the chair in my bedroom. My wife has suggested that I should fight again, and I am taking her advice, because one never knows who will win the next round. Wait while I re-arm….

Hector left the house, but on reaching his own hall, could not find Andromache, his wife…. Hector retraced his steps, down the well-paved street leading to the Scaean Gate and the plain beyond. Andromache intercepted him before he passed out, behind her came the nurse-maid carrying Scamandrius, Hector’s son, a child of starlike beauty and universally knicknamed Astyanax, ‘King of the City,’ because Hector, upon whose shoulders rested the defense of the Troy, felt such affection for him. As Hector stood gazing at Scamandrius with a smile, Andromache clung to his hand and sobbed: ‘Dear husband, this reckless courage will be your undoing! Have pit on me an dthe boy! What if the Greeks make a mass rush at you? I would rather die than become your widow! Once you are gone, only sorrow awaits me. Achilles killed my father — he showed proper respect, I admit, by burning the corpse without removing the fine armor, and raised a royal barrow over the ashes. In the same raid, however, Achilles slaughtered all seven of my brothers, out in the fileds among the cows and sheep, and captured my mother, whom he brought to the Greek camp with the rest of his booty. So, dear Hector, you are not now merely my husband — you are father, mother, and brother too!

Hector answered: ‘Your forebodings weigh heavily on my heart, yet I should lose my self-respect if the Trojan nobles and their women caught me malingering. I could not bring myself to do so, in any case. I have always fought courageously in the front ranks for my father’s glory and my own. But let me tell you this: it is my conviction that our holy city must soon fall, and that every man in Troy must die around King Priam….He stretched out his hand towards little Scamandrius, who shrank away from the bronze armor and the horse-hair plume that nodded fiercely from its crest. Hector smiled and removed the great helmet, laid it shining on the ground, took Scamadrius in his arms, kissed him, and then prayed:

O ZEUS, Sole Ruler of the Sky, and all you other gods on high, Grant that my sone may live to gather the greatest fame. Reserve, i beg you, for this boy, a bold, strong heart to govern Troy. And shine as once his father shone. May the entire city sing of his feats, as often as the chariot brings him spoil-laden home from war, splatted with the blood of his foes, to cheer his mother’s heart once more. Then let all say, if they can: “His father was the lesser man!”

The prayer done, he handed Scamadrius to Andromache, stroked her shoulders pityingly and whispered. ‘Dearest wife, control your grief. No Greel will kill me unless Heaven permits him. And what mortal, whether he be courageous or a coward, can escape his fate? Go home now, attend to your women and weaving. War is a man’s task, and especially mine as the Trojans’ leader. You must leave it to me.’ With that, Hector fell silent, picked up the great plumed helmet, set it on his head again, and made for the gate.

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One response to “Writing About the Iliad

  1. Pingback: Homework for the week of 10 Nov 2014 | Cities and Civilization

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