Well, I’ve been encouraged very nicely by some Goodread’s friends to host a the Iliad read-along in 2020. Because of my love of Greek literature and always wanting to share that love, I’ve agreed to do it. It’s probably crazy, piggybacking it on my The House of Mirth read-along, never mind The Art of Loving and The Four Loves read-alongs before that, but those who know me will agree that it’s not surprising. Ha, ha!
So here we go ….!!!!
The Judgement of Paris
Eris, the goddess of discord, is not invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thera, and in retaliation for the snub, she arrives bearing a Golden Apple. Claiming it is a prize of beauty, Hera, Aphrodite and Athena move to claim it. Zeus is appointed judge of the contest, but unwilling to favour one goddess over another, he gives the honour to Paris, a Trojan prince. Meeting on Mount Ida, each of the goddesses tries to bribe Paris to choose her: Hera offering the kingdoms of Europe and Asia, Athena offering wisdom and great skill in war, and Aphrodite offering Paris the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris choses Aphrodite, this fateful choice later linking to the kidnapping by Paris of Helen of Sparta, wife of Menelaus, and the beginning of the Trojan war. It also explains the enmity of Hera towards the Trojans in the Iliad.
Helen and her Suitors – the Oath of Tyndareus
When Helen was going to be wed, a number of suitors turned up to win her hand. Through an agreement between Odysseus and Helen’s father, Tyndareus, the suitors finally pledged an oath to defend the winner of Helen’s hand in marriage, who turned out to be Menelaus. This circumstance was the reason that so many Greek heroes participated in the war against Troy to have Helen returned.
The Sacrifice of Iphigenia & Agamemnon
After the kidnapping of Helen by Paris, prince of Troy, Menelaus appeals to his brother, Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and other Greek heroes who had previously agreed to protect Helen. They plan to sail for Troy, however Agamemnon offends the goddess, Artemis, and she causes them to continually have unfavourable winds. To atone for the insult, Agamemnon must sacrifice his only daughter, the innocent Iphigenia. This act culminates in a tragedy after the end of the war which is referenced in the play by Aeschylus, Agamemnon.
Now on to the Iliad itself …..
The Iliad, or in Greek, Ἰλιάς, is one of the first full-scale epic poems in Western literature and served as a model for later epics. It comes out of an oral tradition of storytelling and is attributed to the blind poet, Homer. The events in the Iliad take place in the 12th century B.C., near the end of the Trojan War.
The Iliad is not a story as we understand it in a modern context. Although the war against Troy lasts for ten years, the poem covers only on a short period of time during the last year of the war, and its focus is on warrior ethos, in particular the two important themes in Greek life, fame or glory (kleos) and honor (timê). These themes are crucial to the understanding of most Greek literature, as kleos is what is spoken about the person or what other people say about them, and their extent of kleos often depends on timê, which is the war prizes each warrior accumulates and represent a tangible, physical expression of their honour. Finally, kleos represents the only true form of Greek immortality and is how a man’s reputation lives on, once he is dead. Their influence on ancient Greek worldview and people’s actions cannot be stressed enough.
It’s important to pay attention to the first words of this poem, “Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians.” So while the poem does give us an episodic view into The Trojan War, its basis is the anger of Achilles and its effect on those around him, a human and psychological focus instead of a narrating of practical events. Make note of the cause of Achilles’ anger and the consequences of his quarrel with Agamemnon. In fact, the type of Achilles’ wrath in Greek (μῆνις Ἀχιλλέως, mênis Achilléōs) is usually only used to reference the gods.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as we travel through the poem:
- Does our freedom have limits? If so, what are they?
- Who or what forms our deeds and our goals or ends?
- Is there a collective humanity that we share, or is our life circumstance only “a constant seeking of power after power”?
- What unites people and makes them persevere in dire circumstances such as war?
- Why do we love our personal attachments to people, country, etc. so intensely?
- Where is the boundary between justice and revenge?
- What does it mean to be alive?
I hope I’ve included everything pertinent to beginning the read and that it helps us navigate this wonderful Greek epic! Bon voyage!
…………………………………….. The Iliad – A Schedule and a Note on Translations ⇒