Epic Poetry and The Iliad

Lecture 2 Notes & Reading Assignment

Epic Poetry and The Iliad

1. Learn the characteristics of epic poetry:

  • An Epic Poem is a long, narrative poem which tells the story of a hero.
  • The writer begins with calling upon the muse of epic poetry for inspiration. See lecture 1 notes for an explanation of the MUSES.
  • The story begins in medias res which means the story does not actually start at the beginning of the story. It begins somewhere in the middle of the action.
  • There is a use of the supernatural; gods mingle with human beings and intervene in their lives.
  • The writer uses stock epithets. These are descriptive phrases which help the reader visualize material better. A good example is the phrase “swift-footed Achilles” or “wine-dark sea.”
  • The writer uses a great deal of repetition.
  • The writer uses long similes taken from nature and animal life.
  • The writer uses lengthy speeches. There is little if no rapid dialog.
  • In both The Iliad and The Odyssey, we see the writer Homer as an expert in plot and character development. These are his strengths. In the stories, humans obtain benefits from the gods by prayer and sacrifices. The future is revealed by omens, dreams, oracles, and soothsayers.

2. Learn the following background story for The Iliad.

    All the gods and goddesses are invited to a wedding of a popular couple except the goddess Eris (Discord), the goddess of strife and trouble.  This angers her, and she goes to the wedding anyway in order to cause trouble.  At the wedding party, she throws out among the guests a beautiful golden apple with the inscription “for the fairest.” Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, who are all jealous of each other, naturally want the apple.  They go to Zeus to decide who should receive it; however, Zeus, wise as he is, appoints Paris, a prince from the city of Troy, to be the judge and choose the winner of the apple.  Each goddess tries to persuade him, but Aphrodite’s offer is the most convincing.  She tells him that he will have the most beautiful woman in the world for his own if he chooses her as the winner of the apple. Therefore, Aphrodite is awarded the prize.  The most beautiful woman is Helen, but she is already married to Menelaus, King of Sparta.  Aided by Aphrodite, Paris journeys to Sparta, runs off with Helen, and takes her back to Troy.  Angered, Menelaus contacts his brother Agamemnon, who is the leader of the Greek army.  He persuades his brother to gather the army together and sail away to Troy to win back his wife. 

    The army assembles at the seaport town of Aulis.  While hunting food for his army, Agamemnon kills a sacred deer of the goddess Artemis.  Angered, Artemis stops the winds from blowing so the army cannot sail to Troy.  A soothsayer, Calchas, tells Agamemnon that Artemis will keep the winds from blowing unless he sacrifices his eldest daughter, Iphigenia.  He does so, and his wife Clytemnestra never forgives him for this action.  The Iliad begins in the 10th and final year of the war. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/iliad/context.html (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

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