Lecture Two Homer, Iliad
Lecturer: Wu Shiyu
1. Before the events of the Iliad take place, the story began with a dispute among the gods. The goddess of discord brought to a banquet a golden apple to be given to the fairest goddess. The gods requested that Zeus decide which one was the fairest, and he delegated the decision to Paris. Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena offered bribes to Paris, and Paris chose Aphrodite, who offered him the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris thereby incurred the wrath of Hera and Athena. Helen, the wife of Menelaus, eloped with Paris.
2. Agamemnon, the brother of Menelaus, led the fleet that was to sail to Troy to retrieve Helen. However, the ships could not leave because there was no wind. A soothsayer indicated that the gods were outraged and would not be satisfied unless Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon, was sacrificed. The winds came up, and the fleet sailed to Troy. The struggle lasted 10 years, during which the Trojans were too bound by honor to give Helen back and the Greeks were too bound by honor to return home.
3. What began as an expedition to retrieve honor became a 10-year war in the Middle East.
4. Homer’s poetic genius was such that he chose one episode in the war to crystallize all the great themes.
5. The story of the Iliad begins with the outrage of Achilles about the wrong done him by Agamemnon. Achilles believed that he had been dishonored and refused to fight; after his withdrawal, the Trojans came near to victory. To save the honor of Greece, Patroclus, a friend of Achilles, put on the armor of Achilles and died at the hand of Hector, the noblest of the Trojans. Achilles, motivated by the death of his friend and driven by honor and anger, then went into battle and killed Hector. He finally returned Hector’s body at the request of Priam, Hector’s father, and the story itself ends with the funeral of Hector.
1. Homer was a polytheist, believing in many gods.
2. For Homer, these gods were real, not silly creations of mythology. These real gods embodied powerful forces.
3. Polytheists define a divinity as a being capable of rendering supernatural benefits to the community. These powers could do good or harm.
4. Mythology is a means of expressing a higher truth.
5. The god Zeus, the king of gods and men, represents a seed of development that leads to an idea of one all-powerful and all-controlling god.
1. Agamemnon’s wife murdered Agamemnon because he had acquiesced in the sacrifice of their daughter.
2. Hybris, defined as outrageous arrogance by which power is used to inflict pain upon the innocent, is a moral wrong.
3. Acquiescing in this sacrifice represented an act of hybris.
4. Agamemnon believed his duty was to conquer Troy and return home in glory. The gods had made him morally blind. His absence of moral vision led him to commit hybris.
5. The gods do not forget such outrages. His judgment would come. Agamemnon might come home, but he would die.
1. Homer and the Bible agree that fear of god is the beginning of wisdom.
2. The omens of the gods should be taken seriously, because they are the means by which the gods make their will known.
1. Achilles attained wisdom when Priam came to claim his son; Achilles realized that the concept of honor could be pushed too far.
2. Each person has an ideal that he or she prizes and will do anything to hold onto that concept.
1. Achilles learned by suffering, that is, by the loss of what was dearest to him.
2. Zeus willed that we learn and gain wisdom only through suffering.
3. All generations must read the same books, repeat the same errors, and fight the same wars.