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«Reading Group Gold The Iliad by Homer; Translated by Robert Fitzgerald; Introduction by Andrew Ford To the Teacher This teacher’s guide is keyed to the ...»

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Reading Group Gold

The Iliad

by Homer; Translated by Robert Fitzgerald;

Introduction by Andrew Ford

To the Teacher

This teacher’s guide is keyed to the Robert Fitzgerald translation of The Iliad.

Striking a balance between traditional poetic artistry and immediacy of

language, Fitzgerald gives students the full measure of the original epic’s

astonishing power.

ISBN: 0-374-52905-1 | 640 pages

Little is certain when it comes to the origins of The Iliad or its partner epic and sequel, The Odyssey. Both epics circulated from the dawn of Greek literature under the name of Homer, but who this fabled poet was, and when and where he lived, remain riddles. Already some ancient critics doubted a single poet wrote both epics, and most modern scholars prefer to ascribe the creation and initial shaping of both stories to oral tradition. As legends about heroes and their exploits were handed down from generation to generation over many centuries, bards developed highly formalized language to chant the stories in public performances. These singers had a large repertoire of tales from which they chose when aiming to satisfy a particular audience’s demand, or more likely the request of the local lord. The material was familiar and the language traditional, indeed formulaic, so that a good singer could always perform a song in proper style and meter to suit the performance situation in theme, episodes, details, scope, and tone. The songs gave audiences a vision of their ancestors, people more glorious and admirable (they believed) than they themselves, whether in victory or in defeat. In their greatness, in their heroic pursuit of glory and undying fame, the epic characters defined the heroic code the listeners, at least initially members of a warrior class, were to follow. What conferred undying fame was epic song itself: listeners of epic would have aspired to become the subject of song for subsequent generations.

There must have been many signal moments in the history of epic before The Iliad and The Odyssey achieved the forms in which we know them, but two appear, in retrospect, to have been supremely significant. Many towns and settlements were sacked as peoples competed for land and power in what is now Greece and Turkey, but it seems that a city known as Troy or Ilion, on the northwest coast of Asia Minor and near the strait called the Dardanelles—and for that strategic reason a significant power—was the frequent target of marauding attacks and sieges. One of the most devastating destructions it suffered fell shortly before or after 1200 B.C.E. Around this destruction there seem to have coalesced stories of a Greek army on a mammoth campaign to sack the fortified city that sat astride sea and land lanes to the richer east. What was the reason for the expedition? Not greed and power politics—so legend has it—but the drive to recover something yet more precious: Greek honor in the shape of Helen, the beautiful wife of Meneláos, king of Sparta. Helen, the story went, had been abducted by Paris, the handsome if spoiled Trojan prince.

And so the tale was spun backwards.

The legendary campaign against Troy took ten years. The Iliad, long though it is, narrates a crucial patch of the tenth year only, when the greatest hero of the Greeks, Akhilleus, fell out with the Greek commander-in-chief, Agamémnon, Meneláos’ brother. By the end of The Iliad, Akhilleus has lost his companion, Patróklos, but has killed the great Trojan hero, Hektor. Troy is doomed, even if its actual fall as well as Akhilleus’ death are narrated in the cycle of songs, now only fragments, that follow The Iliad. The storytelling cycle continued with stories of the homecomings

–  –  –

The other signal moment in the development of the two Homeric poems was, in fact, a series of moments, for only gradually did poems transmitted orally come to be written. By the middle of the eighth century B.C.E., there emerged singers—one, two, or more—who had so mastered the traditional material and style that they could spin out versions of these episodes of the Trojan cycle that were extraordinary in size, subtlety, and complexity of design, versions that increasingly became the models for performances of The Iliad and The Odyssey. The exact mode in which the Homeric poems were first written down remains obscure, but by the second half of the sixth century B.C.E., the technology of writing in an alphabet adapted from Phoenician letters had advanced to the point that written versions of the Homeric epics became at least thinkable. While we have evidence of considerable variation in written versions of the epics well into the Hellenistic Period—the era following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E.—and know of continued “live” performances at public festivals, the range of permissible variation was growing ever more limited. By the third century B.C.E., scholars were working on the epics as written texts, studying and annotating the Homeric poems and comparing different copies. By this date each epic was divided into twenty-four “books.” It is for all intents and purposes this text, after transcription from papyrus rolls to vellum codices and finally printed on paper, that we read, whether in scholarly editions of the Greek original or in translations in many languages like the one you have before you.





However fascinating the history of its transmission, the story The Iliad tells is more compelling still. It is the story of a great military campaign, one that seeks redress for a grievance; when it ends, that redress is all but certain, though already the ultimate victors have paid terrible and unanticipated penalties almost as grievous as those the vanquished will pay.

The Iliad offers another perspective as well. High above the plain of Ilion, and usually invisible, the gods are at work—and play. The story of Paris’ abduction of Helen, the justification for the Greeks’ siege and sack of Troy, turns out to be a secondary effect of wrangling among the gods. This may be the strangest feature of the poem for modern students, for many reasons. For starters, apart from Zeus, none of the gods seems to be in the least “godlike.” Zeus’ consort Hêra, his daughter Athêna, his brother Poseidon, Aphrodítê, and Apollo, along with other deities, including lesser ones (such as Thetis, Akhilleus’ mother), all jockey for power and standing. They have favorites and enemies among the mortals and openly take sides in the struggle between the Greeks and Trojans.

Helen herself was Aphrodítê’s reward to Paris for his having declared her the winner in the heavenly beauty contest between her, Hêra, and Athêna, in which each blatantly sought to bribe the judge with a promise of a fabulous reward. The gods, then, are hardly models of ideal behavior and values. The gods enjoy a world in which passions can be indulged at will and virtually without check. Virtually, that is, because ultimately, Zeus has the power to bend happenings to his will, even if he, too, must accept the loss of his mortal son Sarpêdôn. He grants Hektor and his Trojans great glory up to a point—at the cost of the lives of many Greeks—honoring his promise to Thetis, but he sets limits on Aphrodítê and Apollo’s support of the Trojans, for its destruction is decreed.

But the great wonder of The Iliad is the poem itself. Homer—whether we think of him as a single creative power or the name we give to the tradition that evolved this particular combination of episodes from the last year of the Trojan War—is a virtuoso of prolongation, devising ways to extend the basic line of the plot and include within it bravura variations of detail, tempo, and tone. From within the temporal frame of a relatively few days he includes the history of the Trojan War—indeed, the history of Troy and the lineages of dozens of heroes, with episodes from earlier generations—just as he brings into a military setting, via myriad similes, worlds of hunting and farming, Contact us at readinggroup@macmillanusa.com | www.readinggroupgold.com Don’t forget to check out our monthly newsletter!

Reading Group Gold To the Teacher fishing and weaving. Though this is an epic of war, peace—or the dream of peace—is never far distant, whether in flashbacks to earlier, happier times or in scenes on the divinely wrought shield of Akhilleus. At the beginning of the poem, Homer asked the Muse, guarantor of epic memory, to sing through him. The Muse still sings in the pages of your book, and she is eager to begin. Attend her, and wonder.

Preparing to Read The questions, exercises, and assignments that follow are designed not only to guide your students through The Iliad and to help them approach it primarily as a compelling narrative that speaks to us directly today, but also to unlock an artifact from another time and place and culture that challenges us to consider what is human and universal, what is culture-bound and relative. The Iliad is at once an archaeological treasure and a great read, an adventure story and a time machine. As a compelling narrative, its human dimension will speak immediately and directly to students. What must the Trojans think of Helen? What must Meneláos think of her, and what must everyone think of him? Could any slight to someone’s honor be so great as to justify a general refusing to go into battle? What must Akhilleus think after his petulance leads to the death of his Patróklos? Or, right at the start, what must Brisêis feel, “dumped” and—if one really wants to imagine a contemporary situation—traded from one gang leader to another?

To prepare your students, you may want to show them images from Greece and other Eastern Mediterranean cultures from ca. 2000 B.C.E. to 500 B.C.E. to help them visualize the world in which the Homeric heroes and Homeric audiences lived. If you can arrange a field trip to a local museum that has a collection of Greek antiquities, so much the better. You may also want to have them develop a time line from the Bronze and Iron Ages to the present, on which you can help them plot the fall of Troy and the final phases of the development of the Homeric poems against the events of other cultures. Independent of such specifics, one should ask what it means for readers today to overhear the voices of so fundamentally “other” a culture. To what extent should we be prepared to suspend our own deeply ingrained moral expectations and accept the fact that both Greeks and Trojans owned slaves? That captured women were booty? That animals were sacrificed to gods? That even humans were slain in memory of Patróklos? How does The Iliad itself present us with questions of cultural difference?

As an epic meant to commemorate a culture’s heroes, The Iliad is dense with names and details. Encourage your students to keep a journal of their reading and to bring to class any and all questions that occur to them as they read.

Finally, don’t forget that The Iliad was, and in your translation is, poetry. Have each student select and prepare one or more passages he or she finds particularly significant or intriguing and then read them aloud to the class with feeling and dramatic gesture. You could also have pairs or small groups of students do a concerted reading or even perform certain key scenes from the text—for example, the initial confrontation between Agamémnon and Akhilleus, Hektor’s leave-taking of Andrómakhê, the embassy to Akhilleus, Priam begging Akhilleus to release Hektor’s body, or any one of several divine councils.

Contact us at readinggroup@macmillanusa.com | www.readinggroupgold.com Don’t forget to check out our monthly newsletter!

Reading Group Gold Questions for Basic Understanding

BOOK I:

What is the cause of the quarrel between Akhilleus and Agamémnon? Why does Akhilleus want to kill Agamémnon, and why doesn’t he? How does Akhilleus want his mother Thetis to help him, and why does he expect Zeus will be inclined to listen to her? What problems does Zeus have with his wife Hêra?

BOOK II:

What dream does Zeus send Agamémnon? How does Agamémnon respond? How and why do Hêra and Athêna rally the troops? What special talents of Odysseus are revealed by this entire episode? What is the portent at Aulis that he recalls for the Akhaians? Does Agamémnon already rue his quarrel with Akhilleus? Who are the Muses, and why does the poet call on them again shortly after the middle of Book II (line 567)? What extended passage does this introduce?

BOOK III:

Why does Aléxandros (Paris) offer to engage Meneláos in single combat when the former knows he is no fighter?

Why does Priam hold Helen blameless for the suffering she has brought on both Trojans and Greeks? Why does Priam go back to the city before the duel? How does Paris escape death at Meneláos’ hands? What is Helen’s reaction to Aphrodítê’s invitation? How does Agamémnon interpret Paris’ disappearance from the battle field?

BOOK IV:

Who among the gods supports the Greeks, who the Trojans? Why is Hêra not content with the outcome of the single combat? How and why do the gods see that the truce is broken, and why do they arrange for it to be broken by the Trojans first? How do both Agamémnon and Meneláos react? What strengths of Agamémnon as a military leader emerge in the ensuing crisis?

BOOK V:

What is special about Aineías’ team of horses? How and why do the gods take special care of Aineías? What happens when Aphrodítê enters the fray? Are other gods and goddesses better fighters? Why is the encounter between Tlêpólemos and Sarpêdôn so fraught for Zeus? What is the outcome of their fight? Which side overall gets the better of the fighting in Book V?

BOOK VI:

How do Meneláos and Agamémnon differ in their views of taking Adrêstos as a prisoner for ransom? Why do Glaukos and Diomêdês abstain from battling each other? Does Athêna listen to the prayers of the Trojan women?

How does Helen address Hektor, and what opinion does she claim to have of Paris? What reason does Andrómakhê have to hate Akhilleus in particular? What future does Hektor imagine for her?

BOOK VII:

Which gods arrange for the truce between the Akhaians and the Trojans? Who volunteers to fight Hektor? How is it decided who will stand up against him? Why don’t the Trojans do as Antênor suggests and return Helen to the Greeks?

BOOK VIII:

How does Zeus turn the tide? In what terms does Hektor insult Diomêdês? What sign does Zeus send that heartens the Greeks, and indicates that he has heard and granted Agamémnon’s prayer? Are Hêra and Athêna of a mind to obey Zeus’ command? How does he thwart them?

Contact us at readinggroup@macmillanusa.com | www.readinggroupgold.com Don’t forget to check out our monthly newsletter!

Reading Group Gold Questions for Basic Understanding

BOOK IX:

Why is Agamémnon now eager to make peace with Akhilleus? Does Agamémnon admit he was wrong and take full responsibility? What is Odysseus’ role in the embassy? How does Akhilleus respond to him and why? Who is Phoinix and what is his role in the embassy? Is the embassy successful?

BOOK X:

What is the purpose of the Greeks’ night expedition? What of the Trojans’? What happens when they meet?

BOOK XI:

Why does Zeus still favor the Trojans? Does this mean the Trojans suffer no losses? How does Zeus “manage” the battle to his liking? What moves Akhilleus to send Patróklos to the Greeks? What is the purpose of Nestor’s lengthy narrative?

BOOK XII:

What is the omen or “bird-sign” that frightens the Trojans? How is it or should it be interpreted? What is Sarpêdôn’s particular role in storming the ramparts? Why does he have such special protection?

BOOK XIII:

What does Poseidon, god of the sea and bringer of earthquakes, undertake to rally the Greeks? In what various ways do the mortal fighters perceive his divine force? What in particular moves Aineías to face Idómeneus in battle?

BOOK XIV:



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