Homer’s Iliad : Key Facts
Full Title: The Iliad
Type of Work: Poem
Language: Ancient Greek
Time and Place Written: Unknown, but probably mainland Greece, around 750 B.C.
Date of first Publication: Unknown
Narrator: The poet, who declares himself to be the medium through which one or many of the Muses speak
Point of View: The narrator speaks in the third person. An omniscient narrator (he has access to every character’s mind), he frequently gives insight into the thoughts and feelings of even minor characters, gods and mortals alike.
Tone: Awe-inspired, ironic, lamenting, pitying
Setting (time): Bronze Age (around the twelfth or thirteenth century B.C.); the Iliad begins nine years after the start of the Trojan War
SetiIng (place): Troy (a city in what is now northwestern Turkey) and its immediate environs
Prof agonist: Achilles
Major Conflict: Agamemnon’s demand for Achilles’ war prize, the maiden Briseis, wounds Achilles’ pride; Achilles’ consequent refusal to fight causes the Achaeans to suffer greatly in their battle against the Trojans.
Rising Action: Hector’s assault on the Achaean ships; the return of Particulars to combat; the death of Particulars.
Homer The Iliad : A Critical Study
Climax: Achilles’ return to combat turns the tide against the Trojans once and for all and ensures the fated fall of Troy to which the poet has alluded throughout the poem.
Falling Action: The retreat of the Trojan army; Achilles’ revenge on Hector; the Achaeans’ desecration of Hector’s corpse.
Themes: The glory of war; military values over family life; the impermanence of human life and its creations.
Motifs: Armourr; burial; fire.
Symbols: The Achaean ships; the shield of Achilles.
Foreshadowing: Foreshadowing is prominent in the Iliad, as the poet constantly refers to events that have yet to occur and to fated outcomes. Patroclus’s return to battle foreshadows Achilles’ return to battle, for example, and Hector’s taunting of the dead Patroclus foreshadows the desecration of his own corpse by Achilles. Also, Achilles and Hector themselves make references to their own fates—about which they have been informed; technically, only Hector’s references foreshadow any event in the poem itself, however, as Achilles dies after the close of the epic.
The Life and Works of Homer
Homer is traditionally considered the ancient Greek poet who composed the great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. These epics are regarded as the greatest of ancient Greece and among the greatest literary creations of Western Literature.
Little can be said about Homer. It is highly probable that Homer was a native and resident of some part of Eastern Greece or Asia Minor, for the dialect he used in his works is that of the Asian Greeks.
There. are some ancient “lives” of Homer, but they are worthless as historical sources. The only knowledge of him comes from inferences from the poetry. These suggest a date, now widely accepted, in the last half of the 8th century B.C.
To Homer were attributed also poems dealing with other phases of the Trojan War, the comic poems ‘Battle of Frogs and Mice,’ and the “Homeric Hymns”. These attributions are now generally believed to be false. Even the division of the Iliad and the Odyssey into 24 books each is a later, probably Hellenistic development.
The events in the Iliad ‘and the Odyssey occur during ad after the ‘Trojan War’. This war was fought between Greece and the city of Troy, perhaps in the mid-l200 B.C. Many scholars believe that the poems were composed between 800 and 700 B.C. They base these dates on references in the poem to social conditions at that time.
Archaelogists have discovered evidence in the ruins of Troy and ancient Greece that confirms the historical basis for some elements described in the poems. But the characters anevents of the poems— even if partly based on real people and historical incidents—were altered over the centuries in the retelling of folk tales and in the poems of singing poets called ‘bards’, The bards created a series of poems called the ‘Trojan cycle’ which told the entire story of the Trojan War. The Iliad and the Odyssey are the only surviving part of the cycle.
After Homer’s time, the two poems were recited as part of great religious festivals in Greece. Copies of the poems became the basic textbooks that Greek children used, to learn to read and to study the legends and myths of ancient Greece. As a result, the Greeks formed their religious views from Homer’s portrayal of the gods and goddesses.
The influence of Homer has been immense. He gave epic poetry its qualities of high seriousness and tragic comprehensiveness. He fixed in the epic tradition many of its conventions : dactylic hexameter (used by all subsequent writers of epic in classical times), divine machinery, extended similes, dreams, great speeches, duels, omens and oaths. His poems also furnished characters and plots for Aeschylus, Euripedes and Sophocles—the great tragic dramatists of the 400 B. C.
Virgil attempted to combine, the Iliad and the Odyssey into a single epic—the Aeneid which, in one sense, is the world’s finest commentary on the Homeric poems.
Even in the i8th the 19th, and the 20th centuries, Homer’s influence has been seen. In this respect Charles P. Segal writes:
“For the romantic generations of the late i8th and the early 19th centuries, and especially for Herder, Lessing and Winckelmann, Homer exemplified the ‘noble simplicity and calm greatness’ essential to classical art. For Arnold, Tennyson and Ruskin, Homer was a touchstone of the highest style, a bulwark against modern triviality and sentimentality. So the re-creations of the “Homeric” manner can be found in Arnold’s ‘Sohrab and Rustam’ and Tennyson’s “The Lotos Eaters” and Homeric myths have been reinterpreted by Joyce, Kafka, Giraudoux, Kazantzakis and Pound. Yeats, Wallace, Stevens and many other modern poet have written on themes directly suggested by Homer.”
The Epic Cycle
The Iliad and the Odyssey are only two of the many epics that were recited before introduction of writing into Greece. There were two major epic cycles the first one dealing with the heroes of Troy and the second one dealing with the heroes of Thebes. Homer’s Iliad’ is the chief work of the first Epic Cycle. We know of other epics now lost, that fill out the story from the judgement of Paris to the tale of Telegonus, a sequel to the Odyssey. Our main source for these epics is Proclus, a grammarian of the second century A. D. who summarized their plots in his book ‘Chrestomathy’. These stories form the first epic cycle and are as follows:
a. The Cypria’: It is a lost poem of the cycle. It is named after Cyprus (another name for Aphrodite) It is attributed to Homer, Creophylus, Cyprias, Stasinuss and Hegesias. This epic opens on Olympus where Zeus and Themis (the goddess of custom) are planning the forthcoming Trojan War. Hera, Athene and Aphrodite dispute among themselves who of them is the prettiest; they choose Alexander (Paris) to be the judge, Alexander gives his verdict in favour of Aphrodite solely because she promises that he can many Helen, wife of Menelaus the ruler of Sparta if he selects her ‘the fairest’.
Aphrodite directs Alexander to build ships in order to set about for Sparta, She also orders her son Aeneas, a mortal, to accompany him. After consulting his brother Helenus who could predict future, Alexander sails to Sparta and visits Menelaus’ palace. But Menelaus sails to Crete, foolishly leaving Helen behind with Alexander. Helen feels an attraction for the new corner. She and he waste no time in getting together and set sail for Troy. When they reach their destination, they get married.
Very soon Menelaus comes to know what has happened. He comes home back. He discusses the situation with Agamemnon, his elder brother and Nestor, the oldest reigning king in Greece. Then the trio plans a punitive expedition against Troy. They travel through Greece and gather a fighting force and start out for Troy from Aulis. But a storm disperses their ships and they are forced once more to gather in Aulis.
Before their second departure, Agamemnon enrages Artemis, with his boast of hunting. Later, Caichas, the prophet suggests that Agamemnon should appease her with the sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia.
The Greeks set sail again and this time reach their destination. the unknown poet describes some battle scenes in which Achilles Inys the major role. Zeus plots to have Achilles withdraw from the tihting. It is to be noted that the Iliad of Homer, continues where the Cypria ends.
b. The Aethiopis: This poem is also not extpt. It is generally nacrihed to Arctinus of Miletus. In this poem, the a’tion of the Trojan War is continued from the point, where the Iliad ends. The Aethiopis tells the story of Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons of Thrace who anie to Troy to be killed by Achilles. Daughter of the wargod, Priithesilea was the leader of the women warriors. Achilles is said to have been bewitched by her beauty only after her death, while he was trying to possess her helmet. In the second part of the story, Memnon of Ethiopia the son of Dawn, is slain by Achilles for avenging the death of Anfilochus.
C. The Little iliad: it is another lost poem. Perhaps it was composed hy Leschos of Mitylene. In this epic, the arms of Achilles (killed by Paris with the aid of Apollo) are awarded to Odysseus. At this Alas becomes ii ugiy and mad and commits suicide. Epeius builds the wooden horse. fllysseus then disguises himself as a beggar so that he may enter Troy lln(letected and plot with Helen the taking of Troy. This pic ends with the Trojans taking the wooden horse inside the wall of Troy.
d. The Sack of Troy: It is attributed to Arctinus. Here we find that the trick of the wooden horse suceeds; Troy is burnt down, Priam s mercilessly killed and the long war is over.
e. The Return : Perhaps it was composed by Agias. In this epic, the homecomings of alj major Greek generals except Odysseus are related. thu. return of Odysseus is elaborately described in the Odyssey.
f. The Telegonia : Eugammon of Cyrene composed it. It is a haphazardly plaunned continuation of the Odyssey wherein Odysseus indulges in many adventures and even marries again, although his wife Penelope is stifi living. Telegonus, his son by Circe (see The Odyssey, Book X) comes to Ithaca to find Odysseus and unwittingly kills him.
The Homeric Question
The problem of the authorship, origin, and composition of the Homeric erns is an old one and includes the following main categories:
(i) Inconsistencies or anomalies of plot : For example, in the iliad the sea-wall of the Greeks, which logically should have been built early in the war is not constructed until the 9th year. A warrior killed in Book 5 of the Iliad is alive again in Book 13. The conversation between Zeus and Athene in Book 1 of the Odyssey is repeated at the beginning of Book 5.
(2) Linguistic difficulties especially the mixture of late and early forms of Greek.
() Anachronisms revealed by archaeological dating of such detail as military tactics, armour and weapons, utensils, religious observances, house plans, and places and people mentioned.
The Greek people came to know about Homer’s poems by hearing them recited or by reading handwritten copies of them. In making copies, writers sometimes made mistakes or deliberate changes in the text. By 300 B.C. many slightly different versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey existed in Greece.
From about 300 B.C. to about 100 B.C., the Egyptian scholars tried to correct the changes in the two poems and restore them to their original form. A few of the scholars came to believe that the poems were the work of two different poets. The scholars, known as the separatists felt that the language, point of view, and subject matter of the two poems differed so greatly that they could not have been created by one person.
For many centuries the question of who composed the Iliad and the Odyssey was almost forgotten. Then in 1795, a German, named Friedrich August Wolf revived the issue. He noted that archaeologists could find no evidence that the Greeks knew how to write when Homer was supposed to have lived. He argued that such long poems as the Iliad and the Odyssey could not have been composed without the knowledge of writing. Wolf led a school of critics called ‘analysts’ who developed a theory that Homer had never existed. They insisted that inconsistencies in the stories and variations in language indicated many authors were involved.
A second group of scholars called the ‘Unitarians’ opposed the ‘analysts.’ This group insisted that both poems were the works of one poetic genius or, at most, of two great poets. They stressed the unified overall plan of the poems and the consistent character portrayals. The dispute between the ‘analysts’ and the ‘Unitarians,’ became known as the ‘Homeric question’.
The Homeric question today has been greatly influenced by our increased knowledge of how oral poetry is created. During the 1930s, an American scholar, named Milman Party began studying the illiterate bards (unable to read or write) of the then Yugoslavia who composed poems orally. These bards did not memorize their poems. ‘l’hcy recreated them in slightly different form at each recitation. In 1reating their plots these bards used and reused many traditional plii.ises, lines and scenes. Parry, pointed out that the Iliad and the dqssey share these characteristics, though on a much larger scale.
Mr. Parry’s studies have been developed by other scholars into a I lieoiy that Homer sang the stories of the Iliad and the Odyssey on iiinny occasions. Towards the end of his life, writing was introduced Into Greece, Homer then dictated the Iliad and the Odyssey to some nie. The poems were written in a form of Greek that oes not belong to any particular city or historical period. This fact h’as complicated II u attempts to trace Homer’s life.
Most scholars today agree that the Iliad and the Odyssey reflect ii n oral tradition But they still disagree over details of how the poems were composed or preserved.
Archaeology and the Iliad
11w story of the Iliad unfolds toward the end of the Trojan War, a war between the Greeks and the Trojans. But is there any truth to the lute of this war? Is it merely a story that gained great popularity in ;reece though it has no historical basis? The Greeks after Homer believed in his geography, even to the point of assigning actual locations to places that are a part of Homer’s fairyland. But for many years during the modern era, people thought that there had never been a city named Troy.
There was one person however, who did believe in Troy. I h’inrich Schliemann had read Homer as a boy and had gained a ient enthusiasm for the Iliad and the Odyssey—an enthusiasm that ‘inyed with him for the rest of his life. He excavated what he believed to be the site of Troy at Hissarlik in northern Turkey in the early IH7os. His conviction that he had found Homer’s Troy has been vindicated by all the subsequent research into the evidence. Since S Itliernann’s excavation, other archaeologists, have dug up other (ieek cities of the time of the Trojan War, and have returned to Troy In ttidy in greatet detail the city that Homer described more than I wenty six hundred years ago. Archaeologists can now tell us where itinny of Homer’s cities were.
rlie archaeologists recognized that there had been more than one sIv built at the location of Troy. In fact nine levels, indicating nine towns, were discovered.
Homer The Iliad : A Critical Study
As any fortress built on this site could control all shipping traffic through the Dardanelles, the waterway leading from the Aegean Sea to the Euxine Sea, the site had been occupied almost continuously from 3200 B.C. until the present time. The first settlement was quite small. In course of time, it was completely destroyed by fire.
The second level, Troy II, as it is designated by the archaeologists, was built upon the ruins of Troy I immediately after the fire. But in course of time, it too was destroyed by fire. Troy II was followed logically enough by Troys III, IV and V. Each of these levels last about a hundred years and was inhabited by the same race of people.
The next level, built about the year 1900 B.C was inhabited by a new race of people. This fact can be demonstrated by the remains of their buildings and of their pottery which differ in many ways from those of the previous levels.
This sixth settlement had substantial fortifications and monumental walls. Troy VI was destroyed by an earthquake about the year 1275 B.C. The next level, designated as Troy VII by archaeologists was built soon after the destruction of Troy VI. There are several facts about the remains of this level which may be of great interest to the readers:
(i) All houses had huge storage jars, as if they needed to maintain a lot of food while they were being besieged.
(2) The town was destroyed by fire, the usual fate of a conquered city.
(3) Two skeletons were found lying out with the appearance of having been killed by a weapon;
() The probable date for destruction of this town is 1250 B.C., the very date given for the Trojan War by Herodotus, a Greek historian of the fifth century B.C. It is certain, therefore, that if there ever was a Trojan War, this is where and when it was fought.