Classics 28 Midterm Review
Item Account (Background/larger context/meaning/role/significance)
Agamemnon Background: husband of Clytemnestra, father of Iphigenia. Commanded the Greek armed
forces in Trojan War. Theme: duty to state or duty to family.
Medea Niece of Circe. Combination of Nausicaa, Circe, Calypso. Lady with a knife (cuts open a root
that bleeds like human flesh/cuts her brother in pieces). Medea is a Euripedean variant.
Foreigner, viewed suspiciously by locals (Corinthians).
Foreign princess, helps Jason in his quest. Medea = Nausicaa? Choice – falls in love; Jason
vs. Family obligations. Role of father = obstruction, followed by brother and ambushes him,
chopping him into pieces forcing father (who is in pursuit) to pick up individual pieces.
Ending of Euripedes‘ Medea: revengeful wife – stereotype, but a distortion of Medea and her
real function. Deus ex machine. Perhaps Euripides's sympathy towards women is the reason
he lets Medea fly away. Medea's violence is the result of oppression, put upon by a male
dominated society and cast aside like old baggage. When faced with this incredibly unfair
treatment, Medea responds with bloody resistance. By killing her children, she rebels against
the dominant role of women in her time: motherhood. Children are both males. In a way, she's
stopping another generation of potential oppressors from gaining power.
Telemachus Son of Odysseus
Poseidon God of the Sea. Known for his volatile, quick temper
Ajax Went into sanctuary of Athena, found Cassandra and Raped her. Context: in a god‘s
sanctuary one should not be harmed. Disastrous things happen as a consequence; rape in a
sanctuary of a virgin goddess. Athena calls Posidon to help her punish the Greeks.
Consequence: as many as possible of the Greeks cannot get home. If they do find home, they
will find trouble awaiting them. **difficult to figure out a rationale in Greek mythic narrative.
Gods will mislead/betray/abandon, e.g. betray Greeks while a patron to Odysseus
Gaia Earth, motherly
Aitiology/etiology etiological myth where things/practices come from, world of connecting myth/the gods to
Athena Emerges from Zeus‘ head. Mother (metis: cunning) swallowed by Zeus, Athena therefore child
of cunning. Compared to Odysseus, explains her fondness for him
Iphigenia See Iphigeneia at Aulis
Penelope Like Odysseus in cunning. Spins web: told suitors that she would pick one of them to marry
once she finished weaving. Keeps undoing web. Perfect match for Odysseus: asks something
only he would know.
Achilles 14/15/16 years of age at Troy. Context: manhood/womanhood at puberty. Warfare an
appalling and destructive experience, Thetis hid away Achilles in island full of girls. Achilles
disguised as a girl (Greek myth explores nature of identity and gender).
Odysseus/Agamemnon look for Achilles: plan – present gifts e.g. jewelry, shield/sword.
Sounded war trumpets, all girls ran inside, one girl takes shield/sword read to fight. Warriors:
devious, try to avoid fighting unless forced to do so. Patroclus (cousin) goes to battle wearing
armor of Achilles. No immortal blood, gets killed by Hector. Achilles goes mad. Hector takes
armor of Patroclus, faces Achilles who goes berserk. Achilles plunges sword into own armor;
signs death contract. Defiles Hector‘s body. Hector‘s father petitions Achilles for the body
ofhis son. Takes Achilles out of mad state. SYMBOLISM: starts with a father petitioning for
return of daughter (Agamemnon‘s concubine) and ends with a father petitioning for return of
Circe Offers hospitality to crew (who are reminded of home), men turned into pigs. Why pigs?
Characterizes men, creatures with an appetite for almost anything. Experience Circe =
domesticity, satisfaction = appetite. Circe represents the domestic + dangers of domesticity
and forgetting the quest. Odysseus counters the domestic female, and they live as equals.
World of the female if balanced can be very nourishing and sustaining. Odysseus almost falls
into trap of domesticity. Circe makes no big deal of Odysseus leaving.
Sacrifice Greek myth and perversions of sacrifice (e.g. Medea)
Identity See Ion. Odysseus (disguise – Identity). King often returns in disguise; question of Identity.
Marks, tokens – proof. Scar: bathed by the nurse: scar Odysseus received from hunting a wild
Ouranos First king. Son Kronos cuts Ouranos‘ testicles off; Kronos = new alpha male. Represents savagery that repeats until Zeus, who represents organized civilization. Transition of power
can thus be seen as mankind‘s transition from savagery to organized civilization, under the
reign of Zeus.
Aphrodite Born when Kronos cut off testicles of Ouranos and tossed them into sea. From sea foam.
Ion Ion: someone who is going/coming. Theme: who am I? who are my parents? How does this
affect who I am? Heritage: very important, affects human nature
Autochthony ―born from the ground‖ – Ion
Hecuba Suicide; jumps off a ship, turns into a dog and dies. Tomb of the Dog – etiological myth where
things/practices come from, world of connecting myth/the gods to human world. Queen of
Troy before it fell to the Greeks. Hecuba, the main character, is an old woman who bewails
the destruction of her city and the loss of family members. She is to become a slave in the
household of Odysseus, one of the victorious Greeks.
Clytemnestra Kills Agamemnon as revenge for Iphigeneia‘s death. Plots with her lover. Masculine,
vengeance. Like Helen, chooses lover over husband, changes history by doing so.
Furies (furies) emerged from the drops of his blood, created by an act of violence between two family
members. Purpose: exact justice on that act. E.g. Orestes avenging father‘s murder by
murdering mother, thus pursued relentlessly by Furies
Nausicaa Prompted by Athena. Nausicaa sets this into motion by making her own choice. Awakenings
of her own sexuality upon encountering Odysseus in the river. Odysseus dependent on
whatever Nausicaa can do for him – ‗supplicating‘ (only when one kneels to the person with
one‘s life in their hands). Compares Nausicaa to Artemis virgin goddess. Nausicaa: ‗midwife‘
that delivers Odysseus‘ rebirth.
Power and authority Odyssey: conflict; different possibilities in handing down power; different interests jostle one
another (e.g. suitors, Penelope, Telemachus).
Theogony: generation of gods struggling for power
Calypso No possibility of leaving – complete isolation. Offer of immortality to Odysseus – island that is
always temperate, being with a goddess. However, immortality never works – you cannot
cross over. Never trust a god (e.g. Selene and Ondymion). Death = go to underworld and
Hades, only thing worth having is people remembering you. Calypso complains that she does
not get what she wants because she is female.
1. Homer – Odyssey
Odyssey's encounter with Nausicaa (xenia, supplication, Odysseus's cunning/metis, foreign
Nurse (Eurykleia) discovering Odysseus's scar (identity)
Penelope trying to trick the beggar/Od. with the detail about their bed (identity,
cunning/metis to match her husband's)
Any one of the episodes in which we ask as an audience, "Is this enough?" - Calypso,
Adventure: Life is a great adventure fraught with perils and abounding with rewards. The Odyssey, in a
way, symbolizes every human being's journey through life. There are many setbacks, to be sure, but
there are also many triumphs for those with the courage and fortitude to stay the course.
Brains Over Brawn: Intelligence and ingenuity are superior to physical strength. One of the greatest
assets of Odysseus is his intellect. He uses it time and again to overcome foes of superior strength, such
as the Cyclops, Polyphemus.
Fidelity: Odysseus remains committed to Penelope even though a sea goddess offers herself and
immortality to Odysseus. For her part, Penelope refuses the offers of all the suitors at her doorstep,
remaining faithful to Odysseus even after decades have passed since Odysseus left for Troy. To stall the
suitors, she tells them she will not marry again until she has woven a shroud for Laertes, the father of
Odysseus. Every day, she weaves and every night she unravels what she has woven. This scheme
works for three years. Then a disloyal serving maid betrays the scheme.
Familial Love: This theme, which is related to the previous one, demonstrates that familial love and
happiness are more desirable than glory, sexual conquest, and everlasting ease. Odysseus rejects
pleasures of every kind—and even an offer of immortality—so that he may go home and grow old with his
Taking Risks: Odysseus realizes that great risk is often the price of knowledge and wisdom.
Consequently, he repeatedly risks everything to learn about the world and its ways. Perseverance: Odysseus never gives up in his struggle to return home. Penelope and Telemachus never
abandon their dream that Odysseus will one day return.
Loyalty: As discussed under "Fidelity," Odysseus and Penelope remain loyal to each other. In addition,
Telemachus remains loyal to his father, going out to search for him at Pylos and Sparta instead of
pursuing his own interests.
2. Euripides – Trojan Women
Cassandra's prophecy with its wedding imagery
Chorus of Trojan women singing about the sack of Troy (c. 530ff.)
The Horror of War: The central theme of the play is the horror of war. Troy is in ruins. Corpses lie about
the battlefield. Trojan women young and old huddle together as they lament the loss of husbands and
children and shudder at the thought of becoming slaves in a land across the sea. Hecuba, once a great
queen, is to become a lowly servant in the house of the Greek warrior Odysseus. The rape victim
Cassandra, a prophetess of Apollo, is to become the property of Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek
One of the most painful moments in the play is the death of Little Astyanax—the son of the dead Trojan
leader, Hector, and his wife, Andromache. The Greeks throw him from the walls of Troy in the belief that
he would have sought vengeance as an adult.
Dread: The captive Trojan women dread the future. All they know for certain is that ships will carry them
across the sea to a strange country, a different culture, unfamiliar faces, and a degrading way of life.
There will be no family members to comfort them, no pay for the work they do.
Hope: Andromache says she would be better off dead. But Hecuba says that where there is life there is
hope for a better tomorrow. Having lived long enough to know that situations change, she says, ―Fortune,
like a madman in her moods, springs towards this man, then towards that; and none ever experiences the
same unchanging luck.‖
Revenge: Athena turns against the Greeks after Aias the Less rapes Cassandra in Athena's temple. To
gain revenge, Athena persuades Poseidon to help her sabotage the Greek ships. Cassandra herself later
speaks of retribution when she says, "I will slay [Agamemnon] and lay waste his home to avenge my
father's and my bretheren's death." Meanwhile, the Greek king Menelaus plans to kill Helen, his wife, for
having run off before the war with Paris, a prince of Troy. "My purpose is . . . to carry her to Hellas in my
seaborne ship, and then surrender her to death, a recompense to all whose friends were slain in Ilium."
The Trojan women agree with his decision to kill her, for they regard her as the source of all their
3. Euripides – Iphigenia at Aulis
Choral song about 1) moderation in life and in a god's attentions and 2) the judgment of Paris (c. 550ff.)
The main conflict centers on the opposing forces in Agamemnon's mind. On the one hand, his conscience
urges him to ignore the decree of Calchas. On the other, his ego urges him to carry out the decree to
appease his men and thereby maintain his lofty position as general of the Greek armies.
Iphigenia at Aulis is a tragedy centering on an army general who is deciding whether to sacrifice his
daughter to a goddess in order to gain favorable winds for a sea voyage to Troy.
Pride: Agamemnon would rather sacrifice his daughter than suffer a blow to his pride. He prizes his
position as general of the Greek armies, which makes him a king of kings, and well knows that refusing to
follow the advice of Calchas would lower his standing in the eyes of his war-hungry men. The thousands
of soldiers gathered at Aulis from around the country would regard him as weak and spineless. He might
even lose the generalship. When he has second thoughts about sending for Iphigenia, he does the right
thing when he dispatches a message directing his wife to keep Iphigenia home. But after intercepting the
message, Menelaus rebukes his brother as a weakling and plays on his ego when he says,
When thou camest to Aulis with all the gathered hosts of Hellas [Greece] . . . the want of a favourable
breeze filled thee with consternation at the chance dealt out by Heaven. Anon the Danai [Greeks from
Argos] began demanding that thou shouldst send the fleet away instead of vainly toiling on at Aulis; what
dismay and confusion was then depicted in thy looks, to think that thou, with a thousand ships at thy
command, hadst not occupied the plains of Priam [King of Troy] with thy armies! And thou wouldst ask my
counsel, ―What am I to do? what scheme can I devise? where find one?‖ to save thyself being stripped of
thy command and losing thy fair fame.—Translation by Edward P. Coleridge (1863-1936).
At that moment, Agamemnon realizes that his august status and his reputation as a leader are in
jeopardy. Nevertheless, he still holds out against the demands of his brother. However, after Clytemnestra arrives with Iphigenia and Orestes, he changes his mind. He knows that the soldiers will
likely discover why Iphigenia is in camp. To avoid their wrath—and the loss of his dignity—he resolves to
go through with his plan to sacrifice his daughter.
Courage and Cowardice: Agamemnon yields to the will of Calchas and sacrifices his daughter to appease
his army and preserve his ego. His cowardice contrasts sharply with the courage of his daughter.
Although she at first pleads for her life—as anyone in her place surely would—she eventually accepts her
death sentence but exhibits no bitterness toward her father. She is noble, gracious, and brave to the end.
After she dies, her father attempts to assuage his guilt and pacify his wife by promoting the story that
Iphigenia enjoys a privileged and happy life among the gods.
Deceit: Agamemnon lies about why he wants Iphigenia to come to Aulis. After she arrives with her mother
and brother, Agamemnon continues to lie about his intentions.
Revenge: Revenge against the Trojans motivates the Greek soldiers. They wish to visit retribution upon
the Trojans for an outrageous offense committed against the Greeks by Paris, a Trojan prince. He ran off
to Troy with the wife of Menelaus, Helen.
Ungodly god: Clearly the author sympathizes with Iphigenia. She is a young, innocent, noble girl who
must be sacrificed to the goddess Artemis so that the latter will send favorable winds to fill the sails of the
Greek fleet. Euripides appears to frown on a culture that places faith in such a goddess.
4. Aeschylus – Agamemnon
Chorus singing about the sacrifice of Iphigenia
Red carpet scene
Retribution and Revenge: The gods of ancient Greece required humankind to pay for its sins. Sons and
daughters of sinners could inherit the sins of their parents, just as the descendants of Adam and Eve
were destined to inherit original sin in Christian theology. But of course each Greek also had free will,
enabling him or her to choose good or evil. Agamemnon inherited the sin of his father, Atreus, in the form
of a curse pronounced on Agamemnon by his brother, Thyestes. In the Aeschylus play, Agamemnon thus
seems doubly cursed. On the one hand, he bears the guilt of his father; on the other, he bears his own
guilt for sacrificing his daughter, Iphigenia, and for participating in the destruction of Troy‘s holy places.
.......One could argue that the circumstances forcing him to decide whether to sacrifice his daughter arose
as a result of the curse pronounced on the House of Atreus by Thyestes. Whatever the case,
Agamemnon lives under the weight of inherited sin and sin that