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Thread: The Iliad, The Odyssey, and 'Origin Texts'

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    The Iliad, The Odyssey, and 'Origin Texts'

    I've just read The Iliad and The Odyssey (Robert Fitzgerald translations) and have been really surprised by how much of their influence I can see around me in Western culture, especially literature. I would like to read more about how these texts or similar 'origin texts' have or have not shaped the West. Am I even right to think of them as 'origin texts' of the Roman/Western world? Does the West look and behave the way it does today because so much of its culture is influenced by these texts, or do these texts look the way they do because the seeds of the West had already taken shape in Ancient Greece and that's how it looked? What are the East's origin texts? Do I just think they are important and see their influence everywhere because the world I live in is also the one they influenced, albeit a far smaller world in actuality than I might think..

    I am an adult learner studying and reading in my limited free time. Don't assume I've read much! Opinions and recommendations for further reading equally much appreciated.

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    Hi scotttw.

    If you trawl back in the General Literature Section, I and others wrote quite a bit on this in a thread titled "Aspects of Homer."

    Here is the start of it.


    In a sad sense, of the personality of Homer, the generally attributed writer of the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey," those great epic poems which were the common heritage of all Greeks, we have little knowledge.

    Tradition pictures him as blind and old. Seven cities claimed to be his birthplace. Probably he lived in the ninth century BC, since the particular stages of social life which he portrays probably belong to that era. Beyond this, a lot is conjecture. The poems were not written down till a later date, when their authorship was already a matter of tradition; and when what we may call the canon of the text of the epics was laid down in the sixth century BC, it may be readily supposed that they were not in the exact form which the master-poet himself had given them.

    Of the "Iliad," it suffices to say that it relates events immediately preceding the fall of Troy, at the close of the tenth year of the siege undertaken by the Greeks on account of the abduction of Helen from Menelaus by Paris.

    Let us examine the Illiad first of all.

    Achilles' anger with Agamemnon is the main theme of Homer’s “Iliad” which recounts the last year of the Trojan War, during which Achilles first withdraws from battle and then, enraged by the death of his beloved comrade Patroclus, brings the Greeks the body of Troy’s greatest warrior, Hector.

    One cannot but be impressed by, not so much the influence, as of motivational factors in the story of the Illiad, We have already mentioned the abduction of Helen. Then, in the tenth year of the Greek campaign against Troy, we have Agamemnon, the leader of the Achaeans, forced to give up his concubine Chryseis to appease Apollo and put an end to a plague sent by the god among the Greeks. In return for this, Agamemnon demands another hero’s war-prize – namely, Achilles’ concubine, Briseis. Very much a case of “cherche la femme.”

    Furious to be dishonored in such a way, Achilles withdraws from battle, even asking his mother, the sea goddess Thetis to convince Zeus to help the Trojans, so that Agamemnon and the Greeks recognize promptly the severity of the loss of their greatest warrior.

    Zeus nods in agreement and, pretty soon, the Trojans manage to successfully drive the Greeks towards their ships. Agamemnon realizes his mistake and sends Odysseus, Ajax, and Phoenix to Achilles’ tent with an apology and a promise of many fine gifts. Achilles accepts neither: educated by his mother that he is destined to either die at Troy as a glorious warrior or live a long life in obscurity at home, he informs Agamemnon’s embassy that he has now chosen the latter.

    Fearing ultimate defeat, Patroclus asks Achilles for his armor and, disguised as his treasured friend, he leads a successful attack against the Trojans.

    However, taken by the moment, he goes a step too far and is subsequently killed by the fearless Trojan prince, Hector.

    Enraged by his friend’s death, Achilles rejoins the battle and, adorned with new armor made by Hephaestus, he tracks down Hector and kills him in a face to face duel. Still burning with anger, Achilles drags Hector’s lifeless body with his chariot for eleven days straight, until the gods intervene and help Priam, Hector’s father, to reach Achilles’ tent and beg for the body of his son. Achilles is moved to tears by this act and agrees to give Priam his son’s body.

    We will come back to further aspects of this tale later.

    But in the meantime, a couple of extracts:

    “Achilles' baneful wrath resound, O goddess, that impos'd
    Infinite sorrows on the Greeks, and many brave souls loos'd.
    From breasts heroic; sent them far to that invisible cave
    That no light comforts; and their limbs to dogs and vultures gave;
    To all which Jove's will gave effect; from whom strife first begun
    Betwixt Atrides, king of men, and Thetis' god-like son.”

    “So Peleus' son, swift-foot Achilles, at his swift ship sate,
    Burning in wrath, nor ever came to councils of estate
    That make men honour'd, never trod the fierce embattled field,
    But kept close, and his lov'd heart pined, what fight and cries could yield,
    Thirsting at all parts to the host.”

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    A good first primer on this that I still have from my LSE days is "The Greeks" by H.D.F. Kitto.

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