'Homer' and oral poetry



Mycenaean Palace Culture on the mainland of Greece; centralized political and economic organization; writing system called "Linear B."


Complete collapse of palace culture, including writing system; impressive ruins remained.


Dark Ages of Greece; the important institution that developed during this period was the polis, or, city-state; Phoenician alphabet adopted and adapted for writing Greek.


Traditional date of the first Olympic Games. Panhellenic (know this term!) festivals were also the context in which epic poems, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, were performed and took their distinctive form.


Traditional date of "Homer" and the writing of the Iliad and Odyssey (your instructor takes a different position)

2) GREEK EPIC IS ORAL POETRY, meaning it was originally orally composed in performance, using traditional stories and formulaic elements.

  • You should know the effects of panhellenic festivals on the composition of the Iliad and Odyssey.
  • You should know that epic is composed in lines of DACTYLIC HEXAMETER.
  • You should know that formulaic elements include phrases, lines, and even entire scenes (see for example the noun-epithet formulas and the type-scenes discussed in the study guide)

3) You should be familiar with the MYTHOLOGICAL BACKGROUND TO THE ILIAD:

  • Zeus and Poseidon vied for the hand of Thetis, a sea-goddess, but Zeus decided to force her to marry a mortal when he heard of an oracle that related to the son whom Thetis would bear (her son would be stronger than his father). Zeus wanted to avoid the kind of violent succession that had happened with his grandfather, Ouranos, whose genitals were cut off by Kronos, and with his own father Kronos, whom Zeus himself had deposed.
  • Strife (Eris) came to the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, cast forth a golden apple inscribed "I belong to the most beautiful," and thus incited a contest between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite.
  • Alexandros (aka Paris) decided the contest, and chose Aphrodite because she promised him the most beautiful woman in the world. Helen, the most beautiful woman, was, unfortunately, already married to Menelaos, King of Sparta.
  • Alexandros journeys to Sparta and violates Menelaos' hospitality by carrying off his wife. Menelaos summons the Greeks to an expedition, led by his brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, to bring Helen back.
  • The preparations for the expedition take long enough that Thetis' and Peleus' son, Achilles, is old enough to go on the expedition and he is, in fact, the Greeks' greatest warrior.
  • THE UPSHOT: Zeus displaces strife leading to succession from the immortal realm to the mortal by causing Thetis to be married to Peleus; the wedding of Thetis and Peleus not only produces the greatest conflict in Greek imagination--the Trojan War--, but also produces the war's greatest hero. Zeus in essence purchases order in the heavens and his own eternal sovereignty with Achilles' mortality; put another way, Achilles must pay for Zeus' security with his own life.
  • It is with this notion of Achilles, as the mortal who COULD have been divine sovereign but isn't, that we come to the story of the quarrel between Achilles and the mortal king, Agamemnon.

<< Return to Calendar

<< Return to Homepage