The Iliad Discussion
Please write at least 300 words (in total for three discussions), and Reference in the end.
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Book: Volume A of the Norton Anthology of World Literature
- The Invocation/Proem and the Identity of Homer
Review the biographical information about Homer and the background on his two great epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, both dating from 8th Century BCE Greece (which was not yet Greece, but a variety of city states with diverse governments that shared a common language – Ancient Greek – and a common cultural heritage – the Hellenic culture). Then look at the opening stanza of Book I of the Iliad, commonly called “the Invocation” or the “Proem.”
Who, or what, is being invoked here? Does this invocation remind you in any way of other ancient texts you might be familiar with, i.e. other epic poems or the Bible?
Who was Homer, and what is known about him? Why do we think of him as being the “author” of the Homeric poems, when, as with, for example, the epic of Gilgamesh or the Old Testament, much of the source material – the various myths and stories – were a preexisting part of the oral culture, in this case the 8th century BCE Hellenic world? In what way was Homer an author? How is his work in the production of the Iliad and the Odyssey different from that of the unnamed compositor(s) of Genesis, for example? How can thinking about Homer and his invocation help us to understand what it might mean, in western culture, to be an author?
As usual, use these questions to develop an idea for discussion. You need not answer all of them, of course; they’re just to prompt your response to the text. You may want to use a quote or two from the Iliad (or one of the other works) to support your ideas.
2.Cause and Effect Storytelling in the Iliad
Review all the compressed events relayed in Book I, and look at the “General Questions” handout (available under the “Course Materials” tab) under “Exposition and Setting.” What kind of background information is given in Book I that sets the story in motion? What would happen to the story if one of the chain of events were removed from the story? What role does the idea of cause and effect play in the narrative, and how might that presentation of a fictional world influence contemporaneous (that is, Homer’s 8th Century Hellenic audience) “readers” (really, Homer’s audience would have listened to a recitation of the poem, in song form, as most of the audience would not have been literate)? In other worlds, what kind of a world is Homer introducing in the Iliad? How is that world different in its nature from the worlds presented by other ancient epics?
As usual, you should use these questions to develop an idea for a response, and use one or more brief quotations as you develop your discussion.
3.The Ancient Greek Gods
Thinking about the Iliad, what is the role of the gods in the story? What kind of forces do they represent? And what kind of relationship do they suggest between mankind and the divine? What agency (that is, what power to control or shape events) do people have? What agency to the gods have? What is the ultimate power? Does Homer give his audience any help as they struggle to understand their place in the universe? In other words, if you were looking for answers to the big questions about the meaning of life, what conclusions might you draw from the cosmology presented by Homer in the Iliad?
You may want to review some important passages that include the gods (the invocation; Apollo’s plague, in Book I; Achilles prayer to his mother, Thetis, a demigod; the drama between Thetis and Zeus and Hera; the role of Zeus as father of Sarpedon; the creation of the shield of Achilles by Hepheastus; any of Athena’s many interventions in the war) and ask yourself how we are supposed to understand the dynamic role of these gods in the story? Are they metaphorical interventions? You may also want to compare these gods as they are presented by Homer and by his contemporary Hesiod.
As usual, use these questions to come up with an idea to write about and use a quote or two in your discussion.