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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Revised in 2010 ©
Type of Work
.......The Iliad is an epic poem, a long narrative work about heroic exploits that is elevated in tone and highly formal in its language. It was composed in ancient Greek and transmitted orally before it was written down. Many modern translators present the Iliad in prose, making it
read like a novel.
.......The Iliad derives the first two syllables of its name from Ilios or Ilion (Greek for Troy) or, alternately, from Ilium (Latin for Troy). The suffix -ad means related to, concerning, having to do with, or associated with. Thus, Iliad means a
story concerning Troy.
Time of Action: About 3,200 years ago in recorded history's
infancy, when humankind's imagination peopled the known world with great heroes and villains and nature reflected the mood of the gods inhabiting the mountaintops, the seas, the forests, and the unseen worlds above and below. Homer fashioned The Iliad, the story of the Trojan War, about 600 years after the war ended. The story is a mixture of fact, legend, and myth.
Place of Action: The walled city of Troy and the surrounding plains in northwestern Anatolia, a region that is part of modern-day Turkey. Anatolia is west of Greece (across the Aegean Sea) and north of Egypt (across the Mediterranean Sea).
.......In archeological digs between 1870 and 1890, German-born American archeologist Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) appeared to prove that the ancient city of Troy was a fact, not a myth, as many had thought. However, the story of the Trojan War—as passed down to Homer—was a mixture of fact,
legend, and myth.
.......The Iliad ranks as one of the most important and most influential works in world literature in that it established literary standards and conventions that writers have imitated over the centuries, down to the present day. It also created archetypes that hundreds
of great writers—including Vergil, Dante, Shakespeare, Stephen Crane, and James Joyce—alluded to when in need of an apt metaphor or simile. In addition, the Iliad provided a mother lode of information about Greek customs and ideals and about Greek mythology. The Iliad was a truly remarkable accomplishment. Even though its
author had no similar literary model on which to base his work, he wrote a masterpiece that ranks with the greatest works of all time. No student of literature can ignore Homer. No writer's education is complete unless he has read Homer.
.......The meter (rhythmic pattern of syllables) of Homer’s epic poems is dactylic hexameter. A dactyl is a metrical foot consisting of one accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables, as in the words technical (TEK nik l), allocate (AL oh kate), and
harbinger (HAR bin jer). Hexameter is a line containing six metrical feet. Thus, dactylic hexameter is a scheme containing six dactyls, as in the following line: MAKE me a BEAU ti ful GOWN and a HAT fringed with TASS les of DOWN, good sir. For a full detailed discussion and explanation of meter and its forms, click
The Homeric Epithet
.......One of the hallmarks of the Homeric style is the epithet, a combination of a descriptive phrase and a noun. An epithet presents a miniature portrait that identifies a person or thing by highlighting a prominent characteristic of that person or thing. In English, the Homeric epithet usually
consists of a noun modified by a compound adjective, such as the following: fleet-footed Achilles, rosy-fingered dawn, wine-dark sea, earth-shaking Poseidon, and gray-eyed Athena. The Homeric epithet is an ancient relative of such later epithets as Richard the Lion-Hearted, Ivan the Terrible, and America the Beautiful. Homer repeated his
epithets often, presumably so the listeners of his recited tales could easily remember and picture the person or thing each time it was mentioned. In this respect, the Homeric epithet resembles the leitmotiv of opera composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883). The leitmotiv was a repeated musical theme associated with a character, a group of characters, an emotion, or an idea.
.......Homer established literary practices, rules, or devices that became commonplace in epic poetry written later. These rules or devices are now known as epic conventions. They include the following:
Attitude Toward the Afterlife
The invocation of the muse, a goddess. In Greek mythology, there were nine muses, all sisters, who were believed to inspire poets, historians, flutists, dancers, singers, astronomers, philosophers, and other thinkers and artists. If one wanted to write a great poem, play a musical instrument with bravado, or develop a grand scientific or
philosophical theory, he would ask for help from a muse. When a poet asked for help, he was said to be “invoking the muse.” The muse of epic poetry was named Calliope [kuh LY uh pe].
- Telling a story with which readers or listeners are already familiar; they know the characters, the plot, and the outcome. Most of the great writers of the ancient world—as well as many great writers in later times, including Shakespeare—frequently told stories already known to the public.
Thus, in such stories, there were no unexpected plot twists, no surprise endings. If this sounds strange to you, the modern reader and theatergoer, consider that many of the most popular motion pictures today are about stories already known to the public. Examples are The Passion of the Christ, Titanic, The Ten Commandments, Troy, Spartacus, Pearl Harbor,
- Conflict in the celestial realm. Divine beings fight and scheme against one another in the epics of Homer and Vergil, and they do so in John Milton's Paradise Lost on a grand scale, with Satan and his forces opposing God and his forces.
- Use of epithets. See "Homeric Epithet," above.
.......The here and now concerns the Greeks at Troy more than the afterlife, for they generally believe that the abode of the dead is dark and dismal. Consequently, their main purpose in life is to achieve immediate rewards and to live for the moment. The idea of a heaven that will requite them for
good deeds, whether on or off the battlefield, is of less importance to them. However, they generally do revere the gods of Olympus, who take sides in the war. Offending the gods could incur their wrath and affect the outcome of the war.
Achilles: Temperamental Greek warrior and king of the Myrmidons, who were soldiers from Thessaly in Greece. Achilles, the protagonist, leads the Myrmidons against the Trojans. He is revered as the greatest warrior in the world; no man can stand against him. Achilles is the son of Peleus, the former king of the Myrmidons,
and a sea nymph named Thetis.
Agamemnon: Commander-in-chief of the Greek armies and son of Atreus, the king of Mycenae. He incurs the wrath of his greatest warrior, Achilles, by taking the latter's prize of war, the beautiful
Menelaus: King of Sparta and brother of Agamemnon. After his wife, Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, was taken by a Trojan named Paris, the Greeks declared war on Troy.
Helen: Wife of Menelaus, paramour of Paris, and the most beautiful woman in the world.
Odysseus (Roman Name, Ulysses): King of Ithaca
and brilliant strategist. He is unsurpassed in cunning.
Aias the Great (Roman Name, Ajax the Great): Hulking giant who is second only to Achilles in battlefield prowess. Many translators of the epic use his Roman name, perhaps because of the force of its
Aias the Lesser (Roman Name, Ajax the Lesser, or the Locrian Ajax): Leader of the Locrian archers on the Greek side.
Patroclus: Greek warrior and beloved companion of Achilles.
Diomedes: Greek warrior of extraordinary valor and ability.
Calchas: Greek soothsayer who advises Agamemnon.
Nestor: Wise old king who advises Agamemnon.
Diomedes: Powerful Greek warrior.
Idomeneus: King of Crete, who leads a Greek contingent against the Trojans.
Machaon: Greek physician wounded by Paris.
Automedon: Chariot driver for Achilles.
Elderly Greek warrior and trusted friend of Achilles.
Briseis: Beautiful captive of Achilles.
captive of Agamemnon. He is forced to give her up.
Eudorus: Myrmidon commander under Achilles.
Neoptolemus: Son of Achilles. He arrives at Troy in the last year
Stentor: Greek herald.
Priam: King of Troy.
Hecuba: Wife of Priam and queen of Troy.
Hector: Bravest and most accomplished of the Trojan warriors; son of Priam. Achilles slays him.
Andromache: Hector's noble and dedicated wife.
Astyanax: Son of Hector and Andromache.
Paris: Trojan who took Helen From Menelaus.
Aeneas: Brave and powerful Trojan warrior.
Polydamas: Wise Trojan commander.
Glaucus: Great Trojan warrior.
Dolon: Trojan spy who reconnoiters the Greek camp.
Pandarus: Trojan archer.
Antenor: Advisor to King Priam. He argues that Paris should return Helen to the Greeks, but Paris will not give
Sarpedon: Leader of the Lycian allies on the side the Trojans. He fights bravely but dies at the hands of Patroclus. Sarpedon was the son of Zeus and Laodameia, a human.
Laocoön: Trojan seer.
Deiphobus: Trojan warrior and son of Priam.
Gorgythion: Trojan warrior and son of Priam. He dies by an arrow
meant for Hector.
Cebriones: Chariot driver for Hector.
Helenus: Trojan seer and son of Priam and Hecuba.
Pandarus: Trojan archer.
Euphorbus: Trojan soldier who wounds Patroclus.
Zeus (Roman names, Jupiter and Jove): King of the gods, who prefers to remain neutral in the war but intervenes after a plea for help. Themes
Hera (Roman name, Juno): Queen of the gods,
who favors the Greeks.
Athena (Roman name, Minerva): Goddess of wisdom and war, who favors the Greeks.
name, Neptune): God of the sea, who favors the Greeks.
Hephaestus (Roman name, Vulcan): God of the forge, who favors the Greeks.
Aphrodite (Roman name, Venus): Goddess of love and beauty, who sides with the Trojans.
Apollo (or Phoebus Apollo): Highly revered and feared sun god, who sides with the Trojans.
Ares (Roman name, Mars): God of war, who sides with the Trojans.
Artemis (Roman name, Diana): Goddess of archery and hunting, who sides
with the Trojans.
Hades (Roman Name, Pluto): God of the Underworld.
Hermes (Roman Name, Mercury): Messenger god. He
guides Priam to Achilles' tent to ransom the body of Hector.
Thetis: Sea nymph who is the mother of Achilles.
Theme 1:.The wrath of Achilles. The main focus of the Iliad is the anger of the Greek warrior Achilles and the revenge he seeks against those who wrong him, including the general of the Greek armies, Agamemnon, and the Trojan
Theme 2:.Glory and honor are everything. The war begins because a Trojan offended Greek honor by absconding with the wife of a Greek king. The war continues—for fully 10
years—in part because the combatants seek glory on the battlefield. In this respect, the combatants are like modern athletes, actors, and politicians who compete for Heisman Trophies, Academy Awards, and votes. Achilles withdraws from battle on a point of honor; King Priam reclaims his son's body for the same reason.
Theme 3:.Revenge. The Greeks seek revenge against the Trojans because one of the latter has taken the wife of a Greek king. Chryses and Apollo seek revenge because Agamemnon has defied them. Achilles seeks revenge against Agamemnon because the latter has insulted him.
Later, after he reenters the battle, Achilles seeks revenge against the Trojans in general—and Hector in particular—for the death of Patroclus.
Theme 4:.Persistence pays. For 10 years,
the Greeks fight a foreign war. Although they long for their families, although they have lost many men, they refuse to abandon the battlefield. Ultimately, their pertinacity enables them to gain the upper hand, setting the stage for ultimate victory.
5:.Women play important roles in motivating action and shaping the future. Helen is the immediate cause of the Trojan War. Chryseis is the cause of the rift between Agamemnon and Apollo's priest, Chryseis. Briseis is the cause of the rift between Agamemnon and Achilles. Athena, Aphrodite, Hera, and the sea-nymph mother of
Achilles—Thetis—all affect the action of The Iliad significantly. Sometimes these goddesses get the better of their male counterparts.
Mythology Background and Plot Summary
.By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
.......In the ancient Mediterranean world, feminine beauty reaches its zenith in Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Greece. Her wondrous face and body are without flaw. She is perfect. Even the goddess of love, Aphrodite, admires her. While Aphrodite competes with other goddesses in a beauty contest—in
which a golden apple is to be awarded as the prize—she bribes the judge, a young Trojan named Paris. She promises him the most ravishing woman in the world, Helen, if he will select her, Aphrodite, as the most beautiful goddess. After winning the contest and receiving the coveted golden apple, she tells Paris about Helen and her incomparable pulchritude. Forthwith, Paris goes to Greece, woos
Helen, and absconds with her to Troy, a walled city in Asia Minor (in present-day Turkey). ......Essay Topics and Discussion Questions
.......The elopement is an affront to all the Greeks. How dare an upstart Trojan invade their land! How dare he steal the wife of one of
their kings! Which Greek family would be next to fall victim to a Trojan machination? Infuriated, King Menelaus and his friends assemble a mighty army that includes the finest warriors in the land. Together, they cross the sea in one thousand ships to make war against Troy and win back their pride—and Helen. But the war drags on and on. Weeks become months. Months become years. Years become a
decade. It is in fact in the tenth year of the war that Homer picks up the thread of the story and spins his tale, focusing on a crisis in the Greek ranks in which the greatest soldier in history, Achilles, decides to withdraw from battle and allow his fellow Greeks to fend for themselves. It is Achilles who is the central figure in The Iliad.
.......Homer begins with a one-paragraph invocation requesting the Muse (a goddess) to inspire him in the telling of his tale. Such an invocation was a convention in classical literature, notably in epics, from the time of Homer
.......Ten years have passed since the Greek armies arrived in Asia minor to lay waste Troy and win back their honor. Yet in all those years, neither side has gained enough advantage to force a
surrender. The Greeks remain encamped outside the walls of the city, their nighttime fires mocking the glittering firmament while their generals plot stratagems and their warriors hone weapons.
.......Among the Greek leaders,
bloodstained and hardened to war, are Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief; Menelaus, king of Sparta and brother of Agamemnon; Odysseus, king of Ithaca and a military genius of unparalleled cunning; and Aias the Great, a giant warrior of colossal strength. With sword and spear, with rocks and fists, the Greeks have fought the Trojans—led by the godlike Hector, their mightiest warrior, and Aeneas, a
war machine second only to Hector on the Trojan side—to a standoff. In time, the Greeks believe, they will prevail. They have right on their side, after all. But even more important, they have Achilles. He is the greatest warrior ever to walk the earth—fierce, unrelenting, unconquerable. When Achilles fights, enemies cower in terror and rivers run with blood. No man can stand against him. Not
Hector. Not an army of Hectors.
.......But, alas, in the tenth year of the great war, Achilles refuses to fight after Agamemnon insults him. No one can offend the great Achilles with impunity. Not even Agamemnon, general of generals,
who can whisper a command that ten thousand will obey. The rift between them opens after Agamemnon and Achilles capture two maidens while raiding the region around Troy. Agamemnon’s prize is Chryseis, the daughter of a priest of the god Apollo. For Achilles, there is the beautiful Briseis, who becomes his slave mistress.
.......When Chryses, the father of Chryseis, offers a ransom for his daughter, Agamemnon refuses it. Chryses then invokes his patron, Apollo, for aid, and the sun god sends a pestilence upon the Greeks. Many soldiers die before Agamemnon learns the cause
of their deaths from the soothsayer Calchas. Unable to wage war against disease, Agamemnon reluctantly surrenders Chryseis to her father.
.......Unfortunately for the Greeks, the headstrong king then orders his men to seize
Briseis as a replacement for his lost prize. Achilles is outraged. But rather than venting his wrath with his mighty sword, he retires from battle, vowing never again to fight for his countrymen. On his behalf, his mother, the sea nymph Thetis, importunes Zeus, king of the gods, to turn the tide of war in favor of the Trojans. Such a reversal would be fitting punishment for Agamemnon. But Zeus is
reluctant to intervene in the war, for the other gods of Olympus have taken sides, actively meddling in daily combat. For him to support one army over the other would be to foment celestial discord. Among the deities favoring the Trojans are Ares, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Artemis. On the side of the Greeks are Athena, Poseidon, and Hera—the wife of Zeus. There would be hell-raising in the heavens
if Zeus shows partiality. In particular, his wife’s scolding tongue would wag without surcease. But Zeus is Zeus, god of thunder and lightning. In the end, he well knows, he can do as he pleases. Swayed by the pleas of Thetis, he confers his benisons on the Trojans.
.......However, when the next battle rages, the Greeks—fired with Promethean defiance and succored by their gods—fight like madmen. True, their right arm, Achilles, is absent; but their left arm becomes a scythe that reaps a harvest of Trojans. Aias and Diomedes are especially magnificent. Only intervention by the Trojans’ Olympian supporters save them from
massacre. Alas, however, when the Trojans regroup for the next fight, Zeus infuses new power into Hector’s sinews. After Hector bids a tender goodbye to his wife, Andromache, and little boy, Astyanax, he leads a fierce charge that drives the Greeks all the way back to within sight of the shoreline, where they had started ten years before. Not a few Greeks, including Agamemnon, are ready to board
their ships and set sail for home. Such has been the fury of the Hector-led onslaught.
.......Then Nestor, a wise old king of three score and ten, advises Agamemnon to make peace with Achilles. The proud commander, now repentant
and fully acknowledging his unjust treatment of Achilles, accepts the advice and pledges to restore Briseis to Achilles. When representatives of Agamemnon meet with lordly Achilles, the great warrior is idly passing time with the person he loves most in the world, his friend Patroclus, a distinguished warrior in his own right. Told that all wrongs against him will be righted, Achilles—still
smoldering with anger—spurns the peace-making overture. His wrath is unquenchable. However, Patroclus, unable to brook the Trojan onslaught against his countrymen, borrows the armor of Achilles and, at the next opportunity, enters the battle disguised as Achilles.
.......The stratagem works for a while as Patroclus chops and hacks his way through the Trojan ranks. But eventually Hector’s spear fells brave Patroclus with no small help from meddlesome Apollo. The Trojan hero celebrates the kill with an audacious coup de grâce: He removes and puts on Achilles’ armor. Grievously saddened by the death of his friend and outraged at the brazen behavior of Hector, wrathful
Achilles—with a new suit of armor forged in Olympus by Hephaestus at the behest of Achilles' mother, Thetis—agrees to rejoin the fight at long last.
.......The next day, Achilles rules the battlefield with death and destruction,
cutting a swath of terror through enemy ranks. Trojan blood mulches the fields. Limbs lie helter-skelter, broken and crooked, as fodder for diving raptors. Terrified, the Trojans flee to the safety of Troy and its high walls—all of them, that is, except Hector. Foolishly, out of his deep sense of honor and responsibility as protector of Troy, he stands his ground. In a fairy tale about a noble
hero with an adoring wife and son, Hector would surely have won the day against a vengeful, all-devouring foe. His compatriots—and the gallery of sons and daughters and wives peering down from the Trojan bulwarks—would surely have crowned him king. But in the brutal world of Achilles—whose ability to disembowel and decapitate is a virtue—Hector suffers a humiliating death. After Achilles chases
and catches him, he easily slays him, then straps his carcass to his chariot and drags him around the walls of Troy. Patroclus has been avenged, the Greeks have reclaimed battlefield supremacy, and victory seems imminent.
.......However, old Priam, the king of Troy and the father of Hector, shows that Trojan valor has not died with Hector. At great risk to himself, he crosses the battlefield in a chariot and presents himself to Achilles to claim the body of his son. But there is no anger in Priam's heart. He understands the ways of wars and warriors. He knows that Achilles, the greatest of the Greek soldiers,
had no choice but to kill his son, the greatest of the Trojan warriors. Humbly, Priam embraces Achilles and gives him his hand. Deeply moved, Achilles welcomes Priam and orders an attendant to prepare Hector's body. To spare Priam the shock of seeing the grossly disfigured corpse, Achilles orders the attendant to cloak it. Troy mourns Hector for nine days, then burns his body and puts the remains
in a golden urn that is buried in a modest grave.
.......(The Iliad ends here. Homer's audience was aware of the outcome of the war: the defeat and destruction of Troy by the Greeks. When Troy fell, so did Achilles—from
the wound of arrow shot by Paris and guided by the god Apollo. In his other great epic, the Odyssey, Homer tells the story of the Greek hero Odysseus on his harrowing sea voyage home from Troy.)
Compare/Contrast Achilles and Hector
.......Achilles and Hector are alike in some ways but different in many others. For example, each is the greatest warrior of his army—Achilles, the Greek champion, and Hector, the Trojan champion. In addition, both exhibit human flaws—Achilles, vengeful rage, and Hector, impetuosity, as when he
persuades Trojan warriors to leave the safety of Troy's walls shortly before Achilles returns to battle. However, they are unlike in many ways. Whereas Hector is a loving family man, Achilles has no wife or children. He seeks only one thing: battlefield glory. Write an informative essay or hold a discussion that compares and contrasts Achilles and Hector. Consider their personalities, their
motivations, their intelligence, their leadership qualities, their relationships and standing with those around them, their skills as soldiers, their physical characteristics, and their moral and ethical values.
.......Is the central conflict of the Iliad an internal or external one—that is, does the epic concern itself more with a conflict inside a person (or persons) or more with a conflict outside of a person (or persons) him, such as the war?
Character You Admire or Despise
.......Which character do you most admire? Which character do you least admire? Is your selection based on qualities the character shares with you or on qualities of the character that you would like to have but lack? Overall, what does your choice say about your own personality and
The Role of Women
Investigate and report on the role of women in ancient Mediterranean society. Does the treatment of women by Agamemnon, Achilles, Paris, Hector, or any other character reflect the prevailing values of ancient society in Greece and nearby lands?
The Trojan War
.......How much of the Trojan War, as presented by Homer, is fact and how much legend or myth? As a starting point, look up the name Heinrich Schliemann (or Henry Schliemann) on the Internet or in an encyclopedia. Schliemann (1822-1890), who changed his first name to Henry after
moving from his native Germany to America, conducted archeological digs in Turkey (the country where the fabled city was said to be located) in an attempt to prove that Troy really existed. What he found startled the world.
The Gods of Olympus
.......Encyclopedias and mythology books generally list twelve deities as the chief gods in Greek mythology and as residents of Mount Olympus. However, two of these important deities spent most of their time in the domains which they governed, the sea and the underworld. In addition, the Greeks of one era sometimes differed with the Greeks of another era on who were the most important
gods. Consequently, the list of the favored twelve sometimes changed, omitting one god in favor of another.
.......The Olympian gods were the successors of an earlier dynasty of gods known as Titans. The Titan ruler, Cronos, believing
that one of his children might attempt to overthrow him, swallowed each of them after his or her birth. However, one child, Zeus, was rescued by his mother and hidden on the island of Crete. Later, Zeus forced his father to vomit the other children from his stomach. Then, with the help of his siblings, he overthrew Cronus to become lord of the universe.
.......The names of the chief Olympian deities are listed below. Writers in ancient Greece—such as Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides—used the original Greek names, the English transliteration of which appears at left in the list. Writers in ancient Rome
and its dominions used the Latin version of the names, the English transliteration of which appears in parentheses.
.......Some English language writers, past and present, use the transliteration of the Greek version; others
prefer the transliteration of the Latin (or Roman) version. For example, William Shakespeare uses the transliteration of the Latin version in his plays and poems. Instead of referring to the king of the gods as Zeus (the transliteration of the Greek name), he refers to him as Jupiter and Jove, the transliterations of the Latin names (Iuppiter and Iovis). Here are the names of the
Olympian gods and a brief description of each:.
Zeus (Jupiter and Jove): King and protector of the gods and humankind. As ruler of the sky, he made rain and thunder and wielded lightning bolts. Zeus was the youngest son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea.
Hera (Juno): Queen of the gods and protector of marriage. She was the wife of Zeus and, as the daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, also his sister.
Athena or Pallas Athena (Minerva): Goddess
of wisdom and war. She was born fully grown in a suit of armor, issuing from the forehead of Zeus. The Greeks highly revered her and built many temples in her honor.
Ares (Mars): God of war and the son of Zeus and Hera.
Poseidon (Neptune): God of the sea and brother of Zeus.
Hades (Pluto): God of the underworld and brother of Zeus.
Hephaestus (Vulcan): God of fire and metalwork who built the palaces in which the Olympian gods lived. He also forged their armor and made their jewelry. He was the son of Zeus and Hera.
Apollo, Phoebus Apollo, or Phoebus (Same as Greek Names): God of prophecy, music, poetry, and medicine. His alternate name, Phoebus, means brightness, and he was thus also considered the god of the sun. He was the son of Zeus and Leto, the daughter of Titans. The Greeks highly revered him and built many temples in his honor. One such
temple at Delphi was the site of a famous oracle, the Pythia, who pronounced prophecies as the mouthpiece of Apollo.
Artemis (Diana): Goddess of the hunt. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto (see Apollo) and the twin sister of Apollo.
Aphrodite (Venus): Goddess of love and beauty. According to Homer, she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione, the daughter of a Titan; according to the Greek poet Hesiod, she was born from the foam of the sea.
Hermes (Mercury): Messenger god who wore a winged hat and winged sandals. He was also the god of science, luck, commerce, and cunning. He was the son of Zeus and Maia, the daughter of a Titan.
Hestia (Vesta): Goddess of the home and hearth and sister of Zeus.
.......Other lists of the major Olympian gods omit Hades in favor of Hebe, a cupbearer of the gods. Still others rank Dionysus (Roman name, Bacchus), the god of wine and vegetation and a patron of the arts, as one of the elite twelve.
The Abode of the Gods
.......The Olympian gods lived in palaces constructed by Hephaestus on the summit of Mount Olympus, the highest peak (9,570 feet) in a mountain range between Macedonia and Thessaly near the Aegean Sea. Mount Olympus is sometimes called Upper Olympus because it lies just north of a lesser peak (5,210
feet) known as Lower Olympus.
.......Minor goddesses called the Seasons maintained watch at the entranceway of Mount Olympus, a gate of clouds which opened and closed whenever a god left or returned to
.......In their lofty domain, the gods breathed only pure air, or ether. They took their meals in the palace of Zeus, eating ambrosia to sustain eternal life and drinking a delicious beverage called nectar, served by
Hebe. Near the throne of Zeus sat lesser goddesses known as Muses, who were nine in number. They regaled the gathering with songs of the gods and of earthly heroes and history. These daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, learned under the tutelage of Apollo.
.......Other lesser gods on Olympus included the following: (1) Eros (Cupid), god of love and son of Aphrodite who shot arrows that impregnated humans with love. (2) Iris, messenger goddess of Zeus and Hera who created rainbows when she flew across the sky. (3) Themis, a companion of Zeus who was the goddess of justice. She holds scales on
which she weighs the claims in a suit of law. (4) The Charites, or Graces, goddesses of joy and beauty. (5) Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance and punishment. (6) Aidos, the goddess of conscience......
Influence of Greek Mythology and Characteristics of the Gods
.......Since ancient times, western literature has lived at the foot of Mount Olympus, the nearly two-mile high colossus that was believed to be home to important Greek gods. Writers of every age and every genre have invoked the magic of Olympus to make fire and thunder with words—or to perfume them with the breath of Venus.
.......The Greek writers Hesiod (born in the 7th or 8th Century B.C.) and Homer (born in the 8th or 9th Century B.C.) immortalized the Olympian gods—Hesiod in the Theogony and in Works and Days, Homer in The Iliad and The
Odyssey. The Theogony presents a creation myth and a genealogy of the gods, along with accounts of their exploits. The Works and Days advises farmers how to prosper, through honest toil and righteous living, without incurring the disfavor of the gods. Homer’s Iliad tells the story of the final year of the Trojan War, between Greece and Troy, focusing on the greatest Greek warrior, Achilles, and on the machinations of Olympian gods who take sides and attempt to influence the outcome of the war.
The Odyssey narrates the adventures of Odysseus (known as Ulysses to the Romans), a hero of the war who designed the famous Trojan horse to breach the walls of Troy, on his long sea voyage home after the war. While sailing home, the Olympian gods alternately help or hinder his progress. The Iliad and The Odyssey, both epic poems, are among the greatest works in world
.......Every great writer since Hesiod and Homer—including Sophocles, Vergil, Ovid, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton—has climbed Olympus to retrieve metaphorical divinities or one of their qualities to
illumine, clarify, or beautify his or her language.
.......Though everlasting and supernal, the gods of Olympus exhibited humanlike behavior. They could be loving and generous, wise and forbearing. They could also be petty and base,
fickle and vile. And, they could be quick to anger. In Book I of The Iliad, the Olympian god Apollo descends the great mountain in a rage after the Greek general Agamemnon captures a beautiful maiden and refuses to give her up to her father, Chryses, a priest of Apollo.
[Apollo] came down furious from the summits of Olympus, with his bow and his quiver upon his shoulder, and the arrows rattled on his back with the rage that trembled within him. He sat himself down away from the ships with a face as dark as night, and his silver bow rang death as he shot his arrow in the midst of them.
First he smote their mules and their hounds, but presently he aimed his shafts at the people themselves, and all day long the pyres of the dead were burning. (English translation by.Samuel Butler)The gods could also be quick to laugh. In Book 8 of The Odyssey, the blacksmith god, Hephaestus (Vulcan)—a lame and ugly hunchback—fashions an invisible chain to ensnare his beautiful wife, Aphrodite (Venus), and her inamorato, Ares (Mars), after they rendezvous to make love. In bed, they become hopelessly entangled in the
chain. Hephaestus then invites other gods to look upon his unfaithful wife and her paramour caught—like wasps in a spider’s web—in his trap.
On this the gods gathered to the house of Vulcan. Earth-encircling Neptune came, and Mercury the bringer of luck, and King Apollo. . . . Then the givers of all good things stood in the doorway, and the blessed gods roared with inextinguishable laughter, as they saw how cunning Vulcan had been. . . . (English
translation by Samuel Butler)
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