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Classical Studies 3612F/G Lecture Notes - Chryses, Troy Book, Thersites

Classical Studies
Course Code
CS 3612F/G
Richard Brown

of 17
Books divisions made by Alexandrian editors (24 letters in Greek alphabet)
Potentially broken into 3 oral performances
Book I
Proem (prelude): first several lines of the poem
Thought that the poems should bring us in medias res (into the middle of the matter)
Invocation to Muses to start
First word (Greek) is wrath theme of poem; also treatment of bodies/mutilation of
corpses; conflict (especially between Agamemnon & Achilles); banquet perversion;
divine apparatus; objectivity of women; time; fathers and sons
First word of Odyssey is “man”
“Muse” connected to memory
Poems are largely massive feats of memory
Symbol of the knowledge of past famous deeds & people
Agamemnon is king of Argos
Attack on Troy is one of Greek kings
Agamemnon considered most important because of the power of Mycenae at the
Anax (Wanax) is a lord or reader; used to refer to Apollo & other gods
Thetis (Achilles’ mother) tried to hide him from the war by dressing him as a daughter of
King Lykemedes
Poem is extremely objective (little emotion expressed)
Mention of wrath sets the stage for a longer description later (feature of Homeric epic)
Wrath of Achilles changes throughout poem
First directed against Agamemnon, but later against Hector
Treatment of bodies after death also a common theme
Banquet perversion also appears several times (Odyssey uses very different connotations
of hospitality & feasting)
Divine apparatus
Gods very involved
Consequences of god’s actions not as serious because they’re immortal
More anthropomorphic than cults would have us believe
Aphrodite named as daughter of Zeus (makes her subordinate to him) rather
than being born from the castrated genitals of Ouranos (Theogony)
Sympathetic to Trojans has a temple on Acropolis of Troy, as does Athena
Time is an important aspect of the poem
Measurement of worth; acknowledgement of worth
Often involves war spoils
Looting communities in the area & dividing the spoils between Greeks
Division based on prestige of each individual
Priests, like Chryses, demand a certain amount of honour
Agamemnon dishonours Chryses
Chryses brings goods to exchange to buy his daughter back from
Chryseis represents a portion of Agamemnon’s worth, so he feels he
should be compensated for giving her up
Word for ransom is literally exchange, suggesting an appropriate price; objects are
Homeric society
Someone was valued based on the opinions of others
Shame culture
One’s honour is ratified by some sort of public judgment
Agamemnon takes advantage of his power as king of kings to avoid judgment of
Relationships (including those with the gods) involve reciprocity
Apollo sends a plague (arrow plague) into the Achaean army because Agamemnon does
not supplicate Chryses (prophet of Apollo)
Disease seen as external forces in Greek society
Kalchas (best of bird-seers) explains why the plague has struck the army
After the Prometheus story in Theogony, gods communicate with men
through other means, most commonly through birds
Plague like a flock of birds (both sent from the gods)
Divine knowledge = knowledge of what is, was, & will be
Knowledge still finite (idea of infinite didn’t appear until Classical
Says that Kalchas was the one that guided the ships to Ilion
Wrath of Artemis had to be appeased by sacrifice
Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, so that the Achaeans
could leave (explains Agamemnon’s hostility toward Kalchas)
Kalchas expresses fear over revealing his prophecy because he knows he will anger
Achilles says that he will protect Kalchas, even if he means Agamemnon
Reminds Agamemnon that his position is open to challenge
Kalchas reveals that Apollo punishes the Achaeans for dishonouring Chryses
Agamemnon is angered by Kalchas’ statement
May indicate underlying anger resulting from the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis
“. . .never yet have you told me a good [can be translated as true] thing.”
Belief in Greece that fate can occur in a number of different ways
Thus, seers may be giving us a pessimistic realization of what is fated
Conflict between Agamemnon & Achilles
Recognizes the necessity in listening to Kalchas; wants his people to be safe;
but he wants to be repaid with a prize (1.118); this public allocation of prizes
reflects his status, such that his being deprived would undermine his status
Rank in the Achaean army is mediated by possessions (e.g. women)
Ignores the fact that his decision to reject the ransom was a bad one
Sees Agamemnon’s decision as greedy; thinks it unseemly for prizes that
were given to be called back; instead, promises to repay Agamemnon 3-4
times over once they conquer Troy
Agamemnon rejects this idea because he needs to address his status now
Achilles becomes a threat at this point because he challenges Agamemnon’s
Agamemnon tries to delegate his tasks to his men; turns Achilles idea on its head
Achilles responds to this piece with anger because he has not been given the
authority/recognition that he believes he deserves
Feels that charis has broken down (feelings of positive reciprocity); means of
regulating society the absence of kinship ties between non-related members
of Greek society; people very strongly identified with their families
Characterizes all of society (e.g. prayer, supplication, friendships, etc.);
binds society together; Agamemnon threatens to short-circuit it by
taking away gifts given to others; breaks down the alliances
Achilles feels that his prize symbolizes what he has done in war
Agamemnon makes it seem like Achilles is a coward
Anger = anger & pain (1.188)
Achilles has 2 choices
1. Kill Agamemnon
2. Check his anger
Athena comes down to calm Achilles because Hera tells her to
Both Athena & Hera are sympathetic towards the Greeks; Athena is
protector of heroes
Athena exercises her power by grabbing Achilles by the hair; she appears only to him
What we see here is a decision being made by him without any divine help; perhaps
an attempt to lessen the impact of the gods
She appears as herself (i.e. not in disguise)
Makes checking his anger seem more compelling; Achilles needs this forceful
divine intervention because naturally he would have killed Agamemnon
She allows him to abuse Agamemnon
“you wine sack, with a dog’s eye, with a deer’s heart” (1.225); accusation
about cowardice & gluttony
“king who feed on your people” (1.231); exploitation of his people & gluttony
Nestor tries to intervene when Achilles says he will no longer fight; voice of wisdom;
symbol of continuity (aged); long-winded; misunderstands both sides
Speech to Thetis
Tells Achilles’ side of the story
She intervenes with Zeus & convinces him to do what she wishes (that is to make
the Greeks suffer); Hera will be upset
Hera objects; Zeus threatens violence; Hephaestus defuses situation by limping
around palace & making all the gods laugh
Zeus has caused Greeks to lose, so by the end of Book 1, we expect that to happen
Book II
Tells us about the lead-up to the war while keeping the narrative intact
Exploration of Agamemnon
Zeus sends a [false] Dream to Agamemnon that gives him the hope that his army
can now take Troy
Decides to test the morale of the troops before he sends them into battle
Harsh light set on him; flawed leader; his relationship with other warriors creates
problems for his leadership; despite structural obligations, he makes poor judgment
Fissures that open up in the host mirror problems with Agamemnon’s leadership
Homer refers to laos (host; rank/file of soldiers) often
Thersites seems to emerge from the laos
Good speaker; disputatious; very ugly; not a member of the basileis
(captains) supports Achilles in this case, though Achilles is often the target of
his arguments
Take away the ugliness & he might be Achilles, but because he is not
Achilles, he is not as important & is intrinsically less valuable than