The Iliad

Class Notes – The Epic Epic. An extended narrative poem recounting actions, travels, adventures, and heroic episodes and written in a high style (with ennobled diction, for example). It may be written in hexameter verse, especially dactylic hexameter, and it may have twelve books or twenty four books.   Characteristics of the classical epic include these: 1.  The main character or protagonist is heroically larger than life, often the source and subject of legend or a national hero  2.  The deeds of the hero are presented without favoritism, revealing his failings as well as his virtues  3.  The action, often in battle, reveals the more-than-human strength of the heroes as they engage in acts of heroism and courage  4.  The setting covers several nations, the whole world, or even the universe  5.  The episodes, even though they may be fictional, provide an explanation for some of the circumstances or events in the history of a nation or people  6.  The gods and lesser divinities play an active role in the outcome of actions  7.  All of the various adventures form an organic whole, where each event relates in some way to the central theme   Typical in epics is a set of conventions (or epic machinery). Among them are these:
  • Poem begins with a statement of the theme ("Arms and the man I sing")
  • Invocation to the muse or other deity ("Sing, goddess, of the wrath of Achilles")
  • Story begins in medias res (in the middle of things)
  • Catalogs (of participants on each side, ships, sacrifices)  
  • Histories and descriptions of significant items (who made a sword or shield, how it was decorated, who owned it from generation to generation)
  • Epic simile (a long simile where the image becomes an object of art in its own right as well as serving to clarify the subject).
  • Frequent use of epithets ("Aeneas the true"; "rosy-fingered Dawn"; "tall-masted ship")
  • Use of patronymics (calling son by father's name): "Anchises' son"
  • Long, formal speeches by important characters
  • Journey to the underworld
  • Use of the number three (attempts are made three times, etc.)
  • Previous episodes in the story are later recounted
  • Homer, Iliad
  • Homer, Odyssey
  • Virgil, Aeneid
  • Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered
  • Milton, Paradise Lost

The Iliad by Homer

 Background information:  Pages 100 – 122 

1.  When did the Olympics begin?  What was their original purpose? 

2.  When did Homer write the Iliad? 

3.  Describe the Peloponnesian War. 

4.  What were the dates of Mycenean Civilization?  What is the Heroic Age?  How were the

     characters in the Iliad viewed? 

5.  What are the two earliest surviving works of Greek poetry?

6.  When did the Greeks develop an alphabet? 

7.  Describe Greek city-states.

8.  What can you infer regarding Greek religion by Walter Burkert’s quote on p. 109? 

9.  What is lyric poetry? 

10.  How were Athens and Sparta different?

11.  What led to the rise of the Athenian Empire? 

12.  According to Edith Hamilton, how is our view of “things” different from the Greeks?

13.  According to Socrates, what does “Wisdom” begin with?  What does “philosopher”


14.  What led to the start of the Peloponnesian War? 

15.  Look at the map on page 113. 

            15.1.  Locate Athens.  Why would Athens be a strong naval force?

            15.2   Locate Sparta.  Why would the Spartans be a formidable land force?

16.  Who preserved and spread Greek knowledge to the West? 

17.  How might Frank C. Bourne’s statement about Rome apply to our civilization? 

18.  Name three Western European values derived from Roman values. 

19.  Where did the founding fathers of the U.S. look for a model of government? 

20.  Who was Hannibal? 

21.  Look at the painting on p. 115.  Based on their architecture, what qualities do you think

       the Romans admired? 

22.  Who and what caused the “breakdown” of the Roman Republic?

23.  How does Virgil’s Aeneid connect Greece and Rome? 

24.  What does “arete” mean?  Why is it important for Greeks? 

25.  Contrast the causes of the Trojan War (probable history vs. Homer). 

26.  Name the 5 conventions of the Homeric epic. 

27.  What is foreshadowing?  What is a flashback? 

28.  What are the “three key beliefs” of Homer’s ancient warriors?