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homer. writer of two Epic Poems – the Iliad and the Odyssey Long – each 24 books of average 500 lines each (12,000 lines) narrative (tells a story) – not about feelings emotions hymns etc about lofty characters – heroes and gods. a single writer? Traditionally Unity of poetic vision

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writer of two Epic Poems – the Iliad and the Odyssey

Long – each 24 books of average 500 lines each (12,000 lines)

narrative (tells a story) – not about feelings emotions hymns etc

about lofty characters – heroes and gods

Who what was homer

  • a single writer?

    • Traditionally

    • Unity of poetic vision

  • Compiled from many shorter poems by many poets

    • Lack unity

    • Inconsistencies about continuity etc

    • Repetitions of v similar episodes


More likely

More likely

  • Evolved orally over generations

    • dactylic hexameter: -.. -.. -.. -.. -.. -.. (sung or chanted)

    • Dialect of the poem is unique, and a blend that existed over time in a variety of places.

    • Repeated formulaic epithets “swift footed Achilles”, “grey eyed Athena”, which are common building blocks in oral traditions.

    • Repeated whole speeches.

    • Repeated formulaic discriptions of certain scenes (e.g. putting on armour, sacrifice scenes).

    • Still a SINGLE POETIC GENIUS in its final formulation.

How might it have happened

How might it have happened?

  • A single bard (Homer) gathered, sorted out , and gave a single unified quality to many of the episodes about.

  • Here is an example of an episode from World War I (by Robert Service)

  • Note it is

  • Heroic (larger than ordinary life in its subject)

  • Set to verse to aid memory (8 beats rather than Homer’s 6)

  • Sung/chanted (very simple 3-3 note sequence)

  • Uses extended images which make visualising the picture easy

    • .

This way of telling a story lends itself to epic conventions

This way of telling a story lends itself to epic conventions

  • This begins with an introduction “oh ye whose hearts are resonant…. oh hearken let me try to tell the tale of Jean Desprez” as do both Iliad and Odyssey

  • It has higher language than would be chosen if you just told the story in conversation both words (“lost to hope am I”) and content (“Spirit of the french”).

  • Extended descriptions – the childhood delights of the french contryside

  • Epithets like “wolves of war” or “slaughter sloping” and rythmn/rhyme would make it much easier to remember long poems

  • Suspense – Desprez doesn’t even enter the story till the second half

  • If Jean Dupress had gone on to become a national figure with many stories, this might hav ebeen one episode in a long epic song about him.

    • .

Story cycle

Story cycle

At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (parents of Achilles – divine origins – of course)

Eris (discord) not invited but tosses in an apple “for the fairest”

Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite each claim it.

Zeus asked to decide, but pikes out and picks a poor mortal to do it

Paris prince of Troy chooses Aphrodite (best bribe – he can have the most beautiful woman in the world

Helen (daughter of Zeus and Leda)

The war

The war

Paris steals back to Troy with Helen

Husband Menelaus of Sparta get Br Agamemnon of Mycenae, and all the Achaeans to retrieve her.

10 yr siege with no side winning and the gods interfering to protect their favourites at various points

Great heroes on both sides

Gk – Achilles, Ajax, Odysseus;

Trojan – Hector

Trojan horse (an idea of Odysseus) used to break the siege

After the war

AFTER The war

Many stories of the difficulties the heroes had after the fall of Troy

Most famous Odysseus (told in the Odyssey) Circe the witch, Cyclops, Lotus eaters, wife’s suitors, Reunited with his son Telemachus.

Aeneas - a Trojan – son of Aphrodite - escapes with his father and son

Eventually founds Rome – Caesar traced descent from him (told in Virgil’s Aeneid)

Historical traces


Schliemann – great discoveries, but over the top claims the war starts

Archaeological work shows there were such cities, and warfare between them.

The iliad


Focuses on a short episode in the final year of the war, not the whole story

The rage of Achilles at being insulted by Agamemnon, then hector

Agamemnon takes Achilles war-prise so he leaves the fighting

Things go bad for Gks so Agamemnon asks him to return (in vane). Bk9

His friend Patroclus fights in his armour to restore Gk confidence BK16

Patroclus killed by Hector and Achilles finally returns to battle to avenge dead friend BK20

He kills Hector, and defiles the body

Priam king of Troy ransoms the body of his son Hector from Achilles and the Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector. Bk24

Universal themes


What motivates heroic behaviour

Individual’s duty to society

Cooperation verses competition and conflict

Place of fate in men’s live

Interaction of the gods (God) in human affairs.

How best should mortals live their lives esp in the face of imminent death


MAC RAP in dactylic octameter

not exactly heroic –

but shows the hopnotic effect of rhyme and rythmn in story telling

Some samples bk1 line 1 the rage of achilles

SOME SAMPLESBk1 line 1:the rage of Achilles

Sing, Goddess, sing of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus—

that murderous anger which condemned Achaeans

to countless agonies and threw many warrior souls

deep into Hades, leaving their dead bodies

carrion food for dogs and birds—

all in fulfilment of the will of Zeus.

Some samples bk1 158 achilles agamemnon

SOME SAMPLESbk1/158 Achilles & Agamemnon

“You insatiable creature, quite shameless.

How can any Achaean obey you willingly— [150]

join a raiding party or keep fighting

with full force against an enemy?

I didn’t come to battle over here

because of Trojans. I have no fight with them.

They never stole my bulls or horses

or razed my crops in fertile Phthia, 170

where heroes grow. Many shady mountains

and the roaring sea stand there between us.

But you, great shameless man, we came with you,

to please you, to win honour from the Trojans—

for you, dog face, and for Menelaus.

You don’t consider this, don’t think at all.

Some samples bk 4 473 ajax kills simoisious

SOME SAMPLESbk 4/473 Ajax kills Simoisious

Then Ajax, son of Telamon, hit Simoeisius,

Anthemion’s son, a fine young warrior. 550

He was born on the banks of the river Simoeis,

while his mother was coming down Mount Ida,

accompanying her parents to watch their flocks.

That’s why the people called him Simoeisius.

But he did not repay his fond parents for raising him.

His life was cut short on great Ajax’s deadly spear.

As he was moving forward with the men in front, [480]

Ajax struck him in the chest, by the right nipple.

The bronze spear went clean through his shoulder.

He collapsed in the dust, like a poplar tree, 560

one growing in a large well-watered meadow,

from whose smooth trunk the branches grow up to the top,

until a chariot builder’s bright axe topples it,

bends the wood, to make wheel rims for a splendid chariot,

letting the wood season by the riverbank.

That’s how godlike Ajax chopped down Simoeisius,

son of Anthemion.

Some samples bk 5 860 889 ares wounded insulted

SOME SAMPLESbk 5/860, 889 Ares wounded & insulted

“Father Zeus,

aren’t you incensed at this barbarity?

We gods are always suffering dreadfully

at each other’s hands, when we bring men help.

We all lay the blame for this on you. 1000


Scowling at him, cloud-gatherer Zeus replied:

“You hypocrite, don’t sit there whining at me.

Among the gods who live on Mount Olympus,

you’re the one I hate the most. For you love war, 1020

constant strife and battle. Your mother, Hera,

has an implacable, unyielding spirit.

It’s hard for me to control how she reacts

to what I say. You’re suffering because of her,

through her conniving, that’s what I think.

But I’ll leave you in pain no longer.

You’re my child—your mother and I made you.

But if you’d been born from any other god,

by now you’d be lower than the sons

of Ouranos—you’re so destructive.” 1030

Some samples bk6 441 466 hector s leaving family

SOME SAMPLES bk6/441,466 Hector’s leaving family

With these words,

glorious Hector stretched his hands out for his son.

The boy immediately shrank back against the breast

of the finely girdled nurse, crying out in terror

to see his own dear father, scared at the sight of bronze,

the horse-hair plume nodding fearfully from his helmet top. [470]

The child’s loving father laughed, his noble mother, too.

Glorious Hector pulled the glittering helmet off 580

and set it on the ground. Then he kissed his dear son

and held him in his arms. He prayed aloud to Zeus

and the rest of the immortals.

Some samples bk23 70 ghost of patroclus


So let the same container hold our bones, 110

that gold two-handled jar your mother gave you.”

Swift-footed Achilles then said in reply:

“Dear friend, why have you come to me here,

telling me everything I need to do?

I’ll carry out all these things for you,

attend to your request. But come closer.

Let’s hold each other one short moment more,

enjoying a shared lament together.”

Saying this, Achilles reached out with his arms, [100]

but he grasped nothing. The spirit had departed, 120

going underground like vapour, muttering faintly.

Achilles jumped up in amazement, clapped his hands,

and then spoke out in sorrow:

“How sad!

It seems that even in Hades’ house,

some spirit or ghost remains, but our being

is not there at all.

SOME SAMPLES bk23/70 Ghost of Patroclus

The ghost spoke to Achilles, saying:

“You’re asleep, Achilles. 80

You’ve forgotten me. While I was alive, [70]

you never did neglect me. But now I’m dead.

So bury me as quickly as you can.

Then I can pass through the gates of Hades.

The spirits, ghosts of the dead, keep me away.

They don’t let me join them past the river.

So I wander aimlessly round Hades’ home

by its wide gates. Give me your hand, I beg you,

for I’ll never come again from Hades,

once you’ve given me what’s due, my funeral fire. 90

We’ll no more sit together making plans,

separated from our dear companions.

The jaws of dreadful Fate are gaping for me,

ready to consume me—my destiny

from the day that I was born. You, too,

godlike Achilles, you have your own fate, [80]

to die under the walls of wealthy Troy.

I’ll say one more thing, one last request,

if you will listen. Achilles, don’t lay your bones

apart from mine. Let them remain together, 100