CLA230H1S The Greeks History, Culture and Society Textbook Notes
Week 3 Chapters 6, 7,8
• Homer became the basis for Greek education and is our best source for how the
Greeks thought during the 8th C BC.
• Homeric Question- who was Homer? When did he live? Was there one author?
When were his works written down?
• Oldest surviving texts of Iliad and Odyssey date back to around AD. 1100,
separated from the poet by nearly 2,000 years.
• Pieces of ancient Homeric texts survived in Egypt, but only small parts- as Greek
speakers who settled in Egypt after the conquest of Alexander the Great in
333BC loved to read Homer.
• More papyrus fragments of Homer survive than of any other poet, and are
remarkably similar to the full texts later discovered.
• We have no primary source for Homer's life, who he was, where he lived etc.
Scholars believe he may have been Ionian, someone from Asia Minor- but we
Friedrich August Wolf
• Homer was a mystery even to those in the ancient world.
• 1795- Wolf published his "Introduction to Homer"- written in Latin by Wolf, a
German scholar who was deeply inspired by the bible, where it came from, how
old is it, who wrote it?
• Wolf realized there were inconsistencies within the bible, proof that Hebrew
scholars, in 6th C BC had evidently combined once independent written accounts
to fashion something like the bible that has come down to us, according to
modern biblical scholarship.
• Homer too contains similar inconsistencies, leading to theory they were
• Wolf argued Homer lived in an age in which writing wasn't invented yet, if he
didn't write- how did he write his poems down?
The "Pisistratean Recension"
• Many authors (beginning with Plato 4th C BC) connected the Athenian tyrant
Pisistratus to the performance and shape of Homeric poems.
• rhapsode= a "staff singer", a professional reciter who would memorize the
Homeric texts, among others, and perform them at the Athenian fesitval of the
Great Panathenaea held every 4 years. Pisistratus used this festival to further his
cultural program and enhance his political status- therefore leading to the spread
of Homeric poetry.
• Wolf concluded that the illiteracy of Homer's world, combined with the oral
traditions and performance at the festival in 6th C BC Athens led to edits of the
poems, influenced by Athenian culture at the time. Scholars call Wolf's
explanation the "theory of the Pisistratean Recension". • Cicero 1st C BC, (700 years after Homer) even remarks that Pisistratus
assembled the books of Homer together as one- as they had been scattered.
This supports Wolf's theory.
• Wolf believes they were separate songs, combined to make up the poems we
know today. There was no Homer, as an individual.
• Homer= can mean "he who fits things together".
• Homer is just a name applied to the texts fitted together by unknown editors,
probably in the 6th C BC, at least 200 years after Homer.
• **Most scholars have accepted Wolf's theory, dividing the poems into "early" and
"late" portions in an attempt to identify where one original song ended and
• Wolfgang von Goethe- believed one writer was responsible for all the texts- this
Milman Parry and Oral Poetry
• Milman Perry- died young, Greek scholar noticed the style of Homeric poetry
• each line consists of 6 units, each of which contains the three beats long-short-
short or the two beats long-long= a meter called Dictylic Hexameter. The end of
every line ends with a long-long fixed phrase like "swift-footed Achilles" or
"Hector of the shining helm"
• These fixed phrases are distinctive of Homeric style and are used not to clarify or
exaggerate a dramatic situation, but to fill in the beats in a poetic line. Eg.
Odysseus is called "godlike" to fill the last 5 beats, "much-knowing" to fill the last
7 beats etc.
• This formula became a defining feature of oral poetry and a major discovery in
the history of literary criticism.
• Above all, Perry discovered there is no such thing as a fixed text- every time a
poet sings the "same song" it is different, because nothing has been memorized-
the oral poet has listened to the song and remembered the basic plot and themes
(which are often highly stylized). The oral poet would know certain useful
formulas by heart and use them at convenient points in the "line" and improvise
the rest to create the basic story.
• The poet composes as he goes, in a special language, responding to the
audience (who can be attentive or distracted).
• The average length of an oral poem was around 700 lines= a couple hours of
performance- the Iliad is around 16,000 lines long.
• writing down the oral poems preserves the words, but doesn't preserve the
intonation, music, gestures or emphasis the oral poet had as well.
• *oral poems are never passed on word for word, they are composed afresh every
The Oral Poet in Homer
• Greeks called oral poets = aoidoi= "singers" • The Odyssey tells of how after a banquet the guests would be amused by a
singer who would sing a poem accompanied by his lyre- reflects a real 8th C BC
Heinrich Schliemann and the Trojan War
• 1860's scholars had convinced academics that "Homer" was an amalgam of
different poets and that the Trojan War was just fiction.
• German Schliemann determined to prove them wrong.
• Hill called Hissarlik in NW Turkey- found Bronze Age treasure, was rough with his
• At Troy he found great walls surrounding a citadel on a hill overlooking the plain
and the Hellespont, just as Homer had described= Schliemann + others
concluded the Trojan War was real afterall.
• We know know the city of Hissarlik was in fact violently destroyed (whether by
war or earthquake- we're not sure) around 1200 BC, just when Troy supposedly
• Hittite tablets refer to a place called "wilusa", which may be the equivalent to
"ilion" the Greek name for Troy. Another tablet makes reference to "Alexander"
another name for the Trojan prince Paris. *other parallels have been found in
Hittite accounts and named in the Greek tradition*
• Probably there was a great seige at Troy, (there had to be some reason why
stories clustered around this one particular city)- but Homer's account may have
little (if anything) to do with an actual war, although classical education was
based off Homers account, and educated men and woman took the poems very
The Tragic Iliad
• Iliad takes place over 53 days in the 10th year of the Trojan War.
• Only 5 days pass between books 2 and 22 (out of 24 books).
• The first word of the poem is "anger", Homer sets out to explain to us that the
Iliad is about the wrath of an angry Achilles. The topic being anger, a life-
preserving force on the field of battle (enhancing courage in combat) but within a
group, and to the individual anger brings about destruction.
TimÉ and Geras
• Moral systems can be ranged along a spectrum from shame cultures to guilt
• Homeric society= shame culture. Shame comes from falling short of an ideal
pattern of social conduct, if your companions think less of you, you have "lost
face/honor". If you lose enough, you may feel like your life has lost meaning.
• Guilt, is the consequence of transgression against internalized norms, often
understood as the laws of God.
• The sanctions of shame are external, physical and tangible while the sanctions of
guilt are internal, feelings of remorse when the individual behaves "badly".
• "timÉ"= translates to honor, respect, value, price. Every warrior strove for "timÉ" • The external sign of having honor was "geras" or "prize"- mainly a material
• A man couldn't have honor without a prize, one implied the other.
• Homer doesn't calls the besiegers of Troy Greeks, he calls them
• Half of Homers poetry is in direct speech, in which is characters argue and
interact with one another.
The Iliad Summary
• Iliad starts with Chryses (a Trojan priest of Apollo) going into the Greek camp and
begging Agamemnon for his daughter Chryseis back who has been taken in a
raid. The assembled Greeks agree the girl should be returned to avoid conflict
with the dangerous prophet, but Agamemnon, the man basileus in charge of all
other basileus who have come to fight as the "Greeks" together had won the girl
as his concubine in a division of spoils after the raid. She was his geras "prize"
and to lose her would be to lose his time "honor", his reason to strive for
achievement in life- so he refuses to return her. Chryses prays to Apollo in
anger, and a plague is sent to the Greek camp in retaliation by the God, killing
the Achaeans in large numbers.
• Achilles (another basileis) speaks before a second assembly urging they consult
a prophet to seek and end to this plague. Calchas (a prophet) declares it has
come about because of Agamemnons refusal to surrender his geras, the girl to
her father. Agamemnon announces he will give up the girl by taking someone
elses geras to replace the one he is losing. (Because it would be unseemly for
the head basileus to be seen without "time" (honor) because he is giving up his
gift.) He chooses a woman that has been gifted to Achilles, who although he has
less political power than Agamemnon, deserves the same amount of "time"
because of his amazing achievements in battle. Achilles is angered by
Agamemnon taking away his girl, therefore dishonoring him- and draws his
sword to attack and kill him. The goddess Athena intervenes, promising him 3X
the "time" in the future if he restrains himself. Achilles prays to his mother, the
goddess Thetis asking her to beg Zeus to make the Greeks lose the battle while
he refuses to fight with them to make Agamemnon sorry for dishonoring him.
Agamemnon's men take Achilles girl, Briseis from him.
• Losing the battle, thanks to Thetis asking Zeus for help, Agamemnon calls an
assembly, and he and the other war-leaders decide to attempt to persuade
Achilles to return to battle with the, or they will all die soon.
• Odysseus, Ajax and Phoenix (Achilles boyhood tutor) are sent to speak to
Achilles. Agamemnon offers Achilles lots of geras (including the hand of his own
daughter in marriage upon their arrival home to Greece) if he helps them fight the
war. Achilles rejects the offer.
• Achilles rejects the system on which heroic culture was built. He has internalized
his sense of value, it doesn't matter what the other men think of him, because he
receives his "time" from Zeus. By refusing the offer Achilles isolates himself from the other warriors, essentially making himself a tragic hero- progressively
isolated and utterly alone in the face of impeding death.
• Achilles good companion (in later traditions, his male lover) Patroclus begs
Achilles to let him join the battle, Achilles reluctantly agrees to lend him his armor.
At first Patroclus kills many men, then under the walls of Troy he is killed and his
armor taken by Prince Hector- the main fighting champion on the Trojan side.
• When Achilles hears of his good friends death, overwhelmed with grief and rage
at Hector he attacks the Trojan forces single-handedly, cornering Hector under
the walls of Troy and killing him, binding his corpse to his chariot and dragging it
back to the Greek camp.
• Achilles accepts Agamemnons gifts after Patroclus's death, but with little interest.
Still burning with hate he drags Hectors corpse behind his chariot thinking to
himself if he had returned into battle, his friend would still be alive.
• Old King Priam of Troy sneaks into the Greek camp accompanied and protected
by the God Hermes to beg Achilles for his son's body back. Emotional scene in
which Achilles pities this old man who has lost so many of his sons in battle.
Achilles invited Priam to eat with him, they admire one another. Achilles accepts
Priams ransom. Poem ends with burial of Hector. Achilles is still alive- the city of
Troy still stands.
• **Achilles abandons his anger against his companions and against his most bitter
enemies, essentially rejecting 8th C BC values based on "geras" and "time" by
which all others lived.
• Homer shows us Achilles finding a common humanity in both King Priam and his
own father, united by the terrible suffering that human life brings.
Homer and the Invention of Plot
• Homer's poems are the oldest surviving examples of Western literature.
• In Near Eastern literature, events are strung together one after another, Homer is
the first poet who worked with a recognizably modern plot.
• Aristotle (4th C BC) was the first to notice that a plot had 3 parts: a beginning,
middle and an end, describing plot as a Homeric invention.
• Beginning= setup= we learn who the main character is, and what his/her
dramatic need is. Also establishes the dramatic context, the backdrop against
which the main character functions.
• Middle= plot-point= something happens that gets the action/story going. Conflict
normally dominates the middle of a story. Midpoint is second plot point of the
story 2/3 in, turning the story again in a new direction- towards the resolution
• End= solution. Eg. Iliad first word is anger, poem ends with Achilles being able to
give up his anger and forgive those who have wronged him to find inner peace.
The Comic Odyssey
• First word is "man" describes a man who journey's far, suffers much, then returns
to his proper place in society. • Odyssey= pattern of renewal and reintegration into society, comic ( a story
ending with harmony and acceptance)
• Iliad= progressive alienation, tragic.
• Odysseus described for his cleverness, while Achilles is described for his
strength in battle.
• No episode described in Iliad is repeated in the Odyssey, which provides lots of
information about the Trojan War which is left out in the Iliad (including the story
of the Trojan horse, funeral of Achilles and return of Helen to Sparta).
• Scholars can agree the Odyssey was composed after the Iliad, by a man who
knew the Iliad very well. Since there was no writing/libraries or reading public in
8th C BC, this man must have been Homer.
The Quest for Truth
• Mesopotamian epic "Epic of Gilgamesh"2,000 years old during Homer's time-
story of a man who wanders seeking immortality before coming back home.
Opening of Gilgamesh Epic similar to opening of the Odyssey.
The Odyssey and History
• Homer may have inherited the basic outline for the story from Near Eastern tales
such as Gilgamesh, but the text is massively influenced by 8th C BC Greek
• Colonial movement was an important theme. Between 730-650 B, 30,000 Greeks
settled all over Italy and Sicily. Taking the boat was an adventure, no surprise the
Odyssey features many magical sea monsters.
• Greeks settled in the west not for adventure, but for profit- reflected in the first
book of the Odyssey.
• Tiny Island of Ithica where Odysseus was from was on a major trade route the
Greeks used on the way to Italy. Many other references in the Odyssey to places
the Greeks would travel by boat during exploration or on the quest to trade along
the route to Italy.
• It would be no surprise if Homer himself had made this journey, as he shows a
good familiarity with the island of Ithica, seems to have known it firsthand.
The Odyssey and Folktale
• As a trickster, Odysseus has parallels in folklore throughout the world.
• The poem itself is a type of folktale, following a common pattern: hero, reduced
to the lowest social class (a beggar in his own household), overcomes enormous
odds (In Odysseus's case over 100 suitors attempting to marry his wife) to
become King and marry the Queen.
• The Odyssey's inner meaning= a man who went to the other world and returned
reborn, is also a folklore motif in which heroes' greatest enemy is Death, who he
meets many times in different guises (ogres, Cyclops, monsters).
• Poem= study of female types. Those who help him and try and bring him down. • Folklore contains morals about how one should act, and they appeal to the
universal instinct that the wicked must be punished/destroyed.
• Theme: Mortals are responsible for their own actions and shouldn't not blame the
Gods when things go wrong. ( we don't find this in the Iliad, where men are dying
daily because the God's have chosen their fate).
Telemachus, Son of Odysseus
• Telemachus is under siege by the rowdy suitors who wish to marry his mother
and become the new basileus. Athena (in disguise) urges him to leave his
father's house and go into the world to learn his father's fate. In his travels
Telemachus learns nothing about his father's location, but by being thrown into
the world he becomes a man, fit to stand at his father's side and to eventually
inherit his father's house and power.
The Adventures of Odysseus
• Odysseus has been imprisoned for 7 years on an island by Calypso. He builds a
raft and sails away, but his enemy Poseidon stirs up a big storm- breaking his
raft. Odysseus swims for 3 days, finally coming to the island Phaeacia, where
King Alcinous rules. The virgin princess Nausicaa meets him on the shore, taking
him to the palace. At a banquet someone requests the "aoidos" to sing a song of
Troy, and Odysseus beings to weep hearing of the Trojan horse, admitting his
• There are more than 20 "recognition" scenes in the Odyssey, a common motif in
folklore. There are no recognition scenes in the Iliad.
• Odysseus recounts his wanderings at the banquet to all the Phaeacians- his
journeys are presented in patterns of three (first two short tales, and then a long
• After leaving Troy with 20 boats and his men they went to the land of the
Thracians (NW of Troy), lost many men in the raid. Caught in a storm, boats
driven to Island of Lotus Eaters, a drug in which once eaten you forget your
purpose to go home again. Next they stumble across island of Cyclops,
imprisoned in a cave sealed by a huge stone. His men are eaten alive, Odysseus
tricks the giant by saying his name is "nobody" and blinds him. The other Cyclops
yell asking what is wrong and the giant responds "nobody stabbed me" and they
leave. Odysseus and some men escape on the giants sheep's underbellies from
the cave. After some more random adventures Odysseus comes to island of
Circe with only his 1 boat left of the 20 that originally left Troy. The witch Circe
turns his men into pigs, Odysseus defeats her with help from Hermes, she
releases the men from her spell. They spend a pleasant year on the island, until
they decide to leave. Circe warns him he must cross the river Ocean (which
surrounds the world), consult the dead prophet Tiresias to learn what else awaits
him on his journey. Odysseus sails away to a "misty land" where he does a ritual
and speaks to ghosts of the underworld in a pit. Speaks to Agamemnon who
warns him about returning home, as woman are untrustworthy. Travelling more
they pass the island of the Sirens, who sing and lure sailors to their death. Odysseus stuff's his men's ears with wax to avoid hearing the song and tells
himself to the mast to not give in to their temptation- he alone hears their song
and survives. He must pass between the monster Scylla and the whirlpool
Charybdis, losing 5 men to the monster they escape to island of Helios Hyperion,
the Sun. Circe had warned them not to eat the god's cattle that grazed there,
they disobey **folklore motif of violated prohibition** While they sail away Zeus
blasts their boat for disobeying and Odysseus alone escapes, swept into
whirlpool Charybdis and almost killed. At last he comes to island of Calypso,
where the poem had began.
• Unlike Iliad that moves forwards in plot, the Odyssey moves in spirals.
Important Themes in the Adventures of Odysseus
• symbolism of rebirth governs the narrative of the Odyssey. The Iliad, by contrast,
never tells a story through action that has symbolic meaning.
• Sea+ Poseidon= Death, Sleep + Lotus= also stop him from going home
• Cyclops- customary in real Greek society to welcome a stranger of the proper
social class with courtesy and food, a custom called Xenia. The Cyclops reject
Odysseus and Homer
• After returning home to Ithica, Odysseus plans the revenge of the basileus, the
resolution of the conflict that has been brewing since the beginning of the poem.
• First reveals himself to a swineherd, then his son, then is recognized by his old
dog, then his nurse, the suitors recognize him after he strings a poweful bow, (an
act Penelope declared she would choose her next husband from).
• Using this bow he kills them all, Penelope gratefully offers him his old bed to
sleep in, the request is a trick as Odysseus built the bed himself out of a tree
growing out of the ground and it cannot be moved. They are reunited.
• Order is restored to the oikos and to the world, a comic version of optimism/
affirmation. Triumph of right over wrong, relieves the bleak uncertainty of the
Ch7- Religion and Myth
• understanding religion is fundamental to understanding the Greeks
• Greeks generally refused to believe that anyone had privileged access to the
supernatural, giving them the right to rule human society.
• Classical Greek religion seems to have taken shape largely 8th C BC.
• Myth= mythos, "thoughts", could mean a saying, plot.
Definitions of Religion and Myth
• religion + myth= forms of symbolic thought, expressed through speech, music,
dance, art, ritual
• religion= a set of practiced based on belief in supernatural beings, implying
acceptance of the reality of non-human, usually invisible beings. • 5th C BC intellectuals had begun to distinguish history- the rational search for
truth about the past, from myth- a story without rational claims to the truth.
• Thucydides (400 BC) = first author to describe false stories as "mythical" as he
critizes Herodotus's "Histories", which had appeared a couple years earlier and
contained many fanciful tales.
• Myths may contain historical elements but are not concerned with the truth about
the past as such.
• religion= a set of practices based on belief in invisible non-humans
• myth=a story that matters within a community, and is retold for that
reason(sometimes about "gods", sometimes not)
• 3 types of myth 1-Divine- stories in which gods are important, creating the
universe, establishing it's rules 2-Legends- (sagas) stories about heroes and the
human past, analogous to our history 3-Folktale- recognized as fictional, though
they may contain moral advice.
• Religion and myth are inextricably intertwined.
Hesiod's Myth of the Origin of the Gods- Theogony- created circa 700 BC
• Hesiod distinguishes between true and false stories, because he wishes to
emphasize his own story is true, inspired by the Gods. He describes how Zeus
came to power and established the customs that make up the world as we know
• First there was "Chaos" (gap,chasm), out came "Gaea" (Earth), under which
"Tartarus" also sprang from "Chaos". "Eros" (sexual desire that creates living
things) came from "Chaos" as well. Gaea produced Uranus (sky) (male sky god +
female earth goddess= common theme). Gaea + Uranus= Titans. Uranus kept
the children beneath Gaea, wouldn't let them out. Gaea fashioned a sickle out of
steel and Cronus castrated his father, freeing himself and his siblings from
beneath their mother.
• Uranus's blood + Gaea= " Furies" or Erinyes, angry persecuting spirits who
haunted those who killed their own family members. + Giants also born- a
bloodthirsty race who would one day oppose Zeus in the Gigantomachy.
• Aphrodite (sexual attraction) born from the foam of Uranu's genitals cast out to
sea. Danger of sexual attraction and women, who uses sexual attraction as a
weapon against the male **Central theme in Greek myth and culture**
• Cronus becomes a bad father like his was. Swallowing his children to avoid them
getting strong enough to take his power. Rhea saved her last child, Zeus and
gave Cronus a stone to eat instead of the child. (2 Titans) = Zeus, Hera, Hestia,
Demeter, Poseidon, Hades.
• Zeus raised on island of Crete in a secret cave, came into power by overthrowing
his father, and freeing his siblings.
• Greek religion= polytheistic "having many gods" and anthropomorphic "imagining
gods in the form of humans".
• There are 2 broad categories of religion Evolutionary and Revealed • Evolutionary= embraces the totality of things feared by a social group at any one
time and has no specific origin, always polytheistic, though not always