In this second of three classes on the Trojan War we move from the general background of the war to the conflict itself. We will cover the general events before the war as episodes–the gathering of the armies, the becalming at Aulis, the battle before Mysia–but we will spend the bulk of the class discussing the themes that surround the Homeric Iliad.
The Iliad does not tell the whole story of the Trojan War; instead, it evokes the whole narrative arc through 60 days of battle. This epic is sophisticated and challenging: it does not focus on conflict between the Trojans and Achaeans as much as it emphasizes political conflicts within each group. In focusing on how the Achaeans fail to get along, the epic explores the foundations of a polity and the conditions necessary to work together towards a common goal. The epic also affords deep compassion to the ‘adversaries’: the most tender and arguably ‘human’ moments in the poem occur among the Trojans, where we get to see families facing together the inevitable destruction of their home.
At its core, the Iliad announces itself to be a poem of rage (“menis”) but through the exploration of rage it is also about violence, the worth of a human life inside and outside a community, the impact of longing and loss, and what, if anything, is worth dying for. Ultimately, the Iliad provides a prolonged and dynamic rumination on the meaning of human life. It does not provide answers, of course; instead, it furnishes multiple opportunities for thinking about how we construct meaning out of relationships, actions, and stories.
The Iliad is not ‘myth’ in the same way as other stories we have studied this semester: it draws on heroic myth and prior storytelling traditions in an effort to create a master narrative, appealing to many but satisfying to few.
Ancient Authors Discussed
Homer, Archaic Age
Hesiod, Archaic Age
Apollodorus, Roman Imperial Period?
Some Suggested Course Texts
Hesiod’s, Works and Days
Apollodorus on the Trojan War (E.2.16-7.40)
Ovid on the Trojan War
Iliad, book 2
Iliad, book 19
Iliad, book 22
Iliad, book 24
A Few Terms
Links to Blogposts
Modern Authors Mentioned
Other Articles for Additional Reading
Mary R. Bachvarova. 2005. “The Eastern Mediterranean Epic Tradition from Bilgames and Akka to the Song of Release to Homer’s Iliad.” GRBS
J. Christensen. 2015. “Trojan Politics” GRBS.
Leonard Muellner, The Anger of Achilles
Laura Slatkin, The Power of Thetis
Dean Hammer, “Who Shall Readily Obey?”
Kenneth J. Reckford. 1964. “Helen in the Iliad.” GRBS
Rachel Herzog. “Reading Consent into the Liad: The Stakes of Writing from Briseis’ Perspective.” Eidolon Dec. 10, 2018.