Review:

This lecture is divided into two sections, the first provides a summary of the Iliad and notes on reading Homer. In the second part, we turn to the historical problems of the period between the destruction of Troy and the revival of urban life in the 8th Cent. BCE.

Regarding the centrality of Homer in Greek culture and in the development of western civilization: The key issues are three. Homer articulated Greek values, and did so with such success that they continue to define our own. What are the values? and how did they affect the history and culture of the Classical period, and why do they continue to affect western civilization so profoundly?

What makes Homer special?

These components will be central to the discussion of the themes outlined in the first lecture; indeed they are the characteristics of the best of Greek literature.


PART I: Homer, the Iliad and Homeric Values: HOMER ...and a new discovery. Background: a highly sophisticated technique of composition (without writing) perfected by generations of epic singers. ILIAD: One short episode in the ninth year of the siege of Troy by the Greeks (the city and the site).

Book 1. Agamemnon, the supreme commander of the Greeks, takes back a prize of honor awarded by the army to Achilles, a lower-ranking but greater fighter. Achilles withdraws from the battle and asks his goddess mother Thetis to petition Zeus, king of the gods, for the defeat of the Greeks. Zeus agrees (not a question of right or wrong, but of obligation; note too that Achilles is not concerned with the welfare of all, but only with his honor).

In Book 2, Zeus encourages Ag. to attack, even without Achilles; and the forces arrayed on either side are described in detail.

Book 3. The Trojan Paris, abductor of Helen, challenges her rightful Greek husband Menelaus to a duel; Helen watches from the wall of Troy; as Paris is being defeated, the goddess Aphrodite picks him up, puts him down in his bedroom and leads the reluctant Helen to him. They go to bed together, while Menelaus hunts vainly for his victim. Note: Helen is a sex object, the prize in competition, the cause of the war, and a lonely, guilt-ridden woman, still unable to resist the irresponsible Paris in spite of her contempt for him. (In Books 4 and 5, the truce called for the duel is broken by a Trojan; the general battle begins, and the Greek Diomedes is made all-powerful by Athena.).

Book 6. Diomedes' exploits end in a friendly conversation. Hector returns to Troy, sends his mother Hecuba to pray to Athena, rousts out Paris, and takes leave of his wife Andromache and his baby son.Note: transient mankind compared to falling leaves. Contrast between Paris-Helen and Hector-Andromache, and a variant, and a another. Brilliant depiction (in speeches) of emotions at the parting--Andromache stressing her total dependence on her husband but advising him as an equal; Hector with gloomy forebodings (Andromache and Astyanax) of the future together with inconsistent (but natural) hopes for his son. His final expression of fatalism. Contrast at end between Hector's deep emotion and light-hearted Paris.

Book 7 has an inconclusive duel between Hector and Ajax (= Aias). In Book 8, the Trojans drive the Greeks back and encamp on the plain outside the city. Book 9. The disheartened Agamemnon sends an embassy of Odysseus, Phoenix and Ajax to offer magnificent gifts to Achilles if he will return. He refuses.Note: the great speeches. Too-clever Odysseus, offering a bribe; Achilles' increased isolation, anger and hurt; the affection and dismay of Phoenix; the disapproval of the simple, unimaginative Ajax. Achilles has now turned against the normal heroic code and is estranged from his fellow chiefs. There will be consequences. He should have responded (Homer seems to suggest) to the petition of his fellow warriors and humans.

After a night expedition (Bk. 10), the battle resumes; several Greek leaders are wounded (Bk. 11) and the Trojans break through the Greek wall (Bk. 12). The god Poseidon rallies the Greeks (Bk. 13), and Hera distracts Zeus by seducing him (Bk. 14). When he recovers, Zeus stirs up Hector and the Greeks are driven back to their ships.

Book 16. At the request of Patroclus, his great friend Achilles allows him to put on Achilles' own armor and lead their troops to rescue the desperate Greeks. He is successful and kills the Trojan ally Sarpedon but is himself killed by Hector.

After a long fight over Patr.'s body (Bk. 17), the terrible news is brought to Achilles (Bk. 18). His mother Thetis tries to comfort him, but he vows to kill Hector, despite her warning that his own death must soon follow Hector's. New armor is made for him by the god Hephaestus He is reconciled with Agamemnon (Bk. 19) and goes into battle (Bks. 20, 21). There is a parody Battle of the Gods. Finally, all the Trojans flee into the city, and Hector is left alone facing Achilles.

Book 22. The duel between Hector and Achilles; Hector's death. Note: Hector's soliloquy; the technique of prolonging the description of the pursuit around Troy; the parallels between Hector's death and that of Patroclus', including the prediction of the death of his killer; the delaying of Andromache's lament, and the symbolic loss of her wedding head-dress.

Book 23 relaxes the emotional level with the funeral of Patroclus, and a very gracious Achilles presides over funeral games. Note the words of Patr.'s ghost. Book 24. Achilles' inconsolable grief. The gods send Priam to recover Hector's body from him. Achilles hands over the body, and it is buried by the Trojans. Andromache mourns. Note: the superb scene between Priam and Achilles, including Achilles' words about the futility of war and the sorrows of human life. Tension remains between the two, and the war will continue, with Achilles' death to come at the hands of Priam's son (Paris) and Priam's at the hands of Achilles' son (Neoptolemus). The last shot is of Hector's tomb. But the consolation given to Priam by Achilles--courage, endurance, and the respect inspired by both these--is not to be forgotten.


  1. Homer must be treated with great care as historical evidence for the history of the Bronze Age It was the Greek 'bible' in that everyone knew the text in detail and quoted freely from it.
    1. Borders of states and national identities defined by relation to Homer.
    2. Privilege and responsibility (ESHAG No. 21, p. 195 = PHAG, p.21 lines 310-325: to stand in the front line of battle carries privileges)
    3. Intensity of the violence is not denied, but attempts to ameliorate its impact; depicts effects on women and children.
    4. The Homeric Questions:
      1. Who was Homer? and did he compose both epics? and how much did he rely on a vibrant and shared oral tradition? Similar questions have been raised about the authorship of the first books of the OT.
      2. Does Homer accurately describe a historical reality? and if so which one? PHAG provides a lengthy discussion of the options here. It is notable that scholars working with the same evidence come to quite different conclusions.
    5. My concern here is not so much with the classical 'homeric questions', but rather with the fact that the classical Greeks themselves believed this was a formative period.
  2. Analysis of Books assigned
    1. Homeric Values --the author's didactic statement esp on the meaning of heroism.
      1. Life is suffering: tragic that so many die and do so in prime; tragic too that so many more must lament
      2. Still, one can live with dignity and die with honor; one will then be remembered (ESHAG No. 25, p. 199).
      3. The agon: to gain control of resources, not just for personal consumption, but because it ensures survival of oikos and dependents (note Nestor at ESHAG, p. 199). Reputation for arete depends upon one's success in this competition.
      4. Arete also involves knowledge of how to live well...
        1. Respect for conventions and courtesy; accepting compensation and supplication.
        2. Giving and heeding good advice; role of knowledge and relationship to suffering. There is no "bliss" in ignorance.
        3. Honor through action.
    2. Attitude toward nature and supernatural
      1. gods not effective guarantors of justice.
      2. human can influence the gods to act [admittedly the effect is not always what one had anticipated]
      3. The divine world like the human: complete anthropomorphism
      4. centrality of the human being;
        1. whose anger counts?
        2. ethical behavior arises from human conventions, not from divine ordinance. No revealed truth.
      5. Again, as noted in A.4 above, the Homeric hero must respect gods, parents, suppliants and strangers. For the rest, his own conception of manliness (includes both courage and wisdom) serve as his guide while fame is the highest honor (also the most enduring) he can win.
    3. Specifically, and in contrast to the literature of the Ancient Near East, there were constraints on royal power.
      1. Only the warrior class/aristocracy counted.
      2. all power with king who consults his council; persuasion and eloquence are important components of discussion; the king may have the ultimate authority, but it is tempered by his dependence on the warrior class.
        1. Councilors have rights: to ratify treaties, arbitrate feuds; could be "kinglets" in own right (head of clans)
        2. warrior had obligations to his people. "Shepherd of his people" is most common descriptor. Implications??
      3. assembly for yes/no opinion, but consider the fate of Thersites [PHAG, 15, line 210]. Odysseus, when he came across a man from the demos, struck him and said listen to better men than yourself...you are a nobody either in fight or council [id. lines195-200]
  3. Trojans and Achaeans and Dorians --the late bronze age
    1. The end of the international age brought about by the movement of new, Greek speaking peoples, but they were less sophisticated than their predecessors. This is the "heroic age"; archaeologically marked by shift to cremation, more war implements, etc. Perhaps, too, by a breakdown in traditional social and religious bonds
    2. Troy had an important role to play in defense of Aegean, namely to protect the northern frontier. Note, too, as will be seen in slides, the massive defensive works.
    3. The Dorian Migration (ca. 1100-1000). The Migrations
      1. The last in a series of migrations which brought Greek speakers into Greece.
      2. Organization: tribal (family, clan and phratry), led by king elected from the ruling family. He was advised by a council of leading warriors and elders.
      3. Unlike the Bronze Age population, which settled around a citadel (= polis), the Dorians settled in open villages on a family basis, each group receiving a parcel of land (klaros). The klaros was worked by the enslaved Bronze Age population (helots) and was inalienable, forming (ultimately) the basis of citizenship.
      4. There is good reason to believe that there was considerable internal struggle between the conquerors and conquered and between the conquering families.
    4. Why did Mycenaean civilization fall? why do civilizations fall? In fact, the relatively sudden, extensive, and thorough eradication of Mycenaean palatial civilization is likely to have been caused by a combination of factors. In any case, no one of the theories addresses all of the questions inherent in a reconstruction of the Mycenaean collapse. These questions include, but are by no means limited to, the following:
      1. How stable was Mycenaean palatial civilization in the first place? Was it flexible enough to withstand substantial "shocks" (i.e., invasions by warrior bands)?
      2. Were there certain "shocks" that affected Mycenaean palatial civilization as a whole? or were the shocks 'localized'? Were these in every case ultimately responsible for the destruction of individual palatial centers by outsiders? or were such destructions often the final links in highly localized chains of causation?
      3. Why were the palaces never rebuilt?
      4. Why were regions of the Peloponnese including some of the richest agricultural zones in southern Greece so thoroughly depopulated during the century following the destruction of the palaces? What percentages of the population which disappeared / died in Greece of famine and disease or in battle, and what percentage migrated south to Crete? east to Cyprus? or west to Achaea and the Ionian islands ?
      5. In brief, probably a combination of internal and external factors for which we do not have sufficient evidence to give a definitive answer. Historians looking at the same data have weighed the evidence differently and come to strikingly different conclusions.
    5. The Aeolian and Ionian Migrations (1050-950; see map above)
      1. The Aeolians.
      2. The Ionians were the Bronze Age population of mainland Greece (probably of the Peloponnesus). The Dorian attacks were particularly devastating there, and much of the population was simply reduced to serfdom. Those who could escape, generally the aristocracy and retainers, settled first at Athens, which had successfully resisted the Dorian onslaught, and then some went further to south-west coast of Anatolia.
  4. Returning to the main question: My concern here is not so much with the classical 'homeric questions', but rather with the fact that the classical Greeks themselves believed this was a formative period. The story of the Oresteia. three plays, the Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers, and the Eumenides [shameful to kill your mother; shameful to let the murderer of my father unavenged...where will it all end? when will the violence cease? ][furies haunt Orestes for killing mother who killed father who killed his sister; 11Athenians and Athena; a hung jury=>acquittal on the grounds that mercy is preferably to the horror of vengeance]