Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
in 2010 ©
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.
derives the first two syllables of its name from Ilios or Ilion
(Greek for Troy) or, alternately, from Ilium (Latin for Troy).
-ad means related to, concerning, having to do with,
associated with. Thus, Iliad means a story concerning
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
Iliad, the story of the Trojan War, about 600 years after the war ended.
The story is a mixture of fact, legend, and myth.
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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, and
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
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
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.
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 Briseis.
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.
Wife of Menelaus, paramour of Paris, and the most beautiful woman in the
(Roman Name, Ulysses): King of Ithaca and brilliant strategist. He
is unsurpassed in cunning.
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 emphatic consonants.
Aias the Lesser (Roman
Name, Ajax the Lesser, or the Locrian Ajax): Leader of the Locrian archers
on the Greek side.
Greek warrior and beloved companion of Achilles.
Greek warrior of extraordinary valor and ability.
Greek soothsayer who advises Agamemnon.
Wise old king who advises Agamemnon.
Powerful Greek warrior.
King of Crete, who leads a Greek contingent against the Trojans.
Greek physician wounded by Paris.
Chariot driver for Achilles.
Elderly Greek warrior and trusted friend of Achilles.
Beautiful captive of Achilles.
Female captive of Agamemnon. He is forced to give her up.
commander under Achilles.
of Achilles. He arrives at Troy in the last year of fighting.
Stentor: Greek herald.
King of Troy.
Wife of Priam and queen of Troy.
Bravest and most accomplished of the Trojan warriors; son of Priam. Achilles
Hector's noble and dedicated wife.
Son of Hector and Andromache.
Trojan who took Helen From Menelaus.
Brave and powerful Trojan warrior.
Wise Trojan commander.
Great Trojan warrior.
Trojan spy who reconnoiters the Greek camp.
Advisor to King Priam. He argues that Paris should return Helen to the
Greeks, but Paris will not give her up.
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,
warrior and son of Priam.
warrior and son of Priam. He dies by an arrow meant for Hector.
driver for Hector.
Helenus: Trojan seer
and son of Priam and Hecuba.
soldier who wounds Patroclus.
(Roman names, Jupiter and Jove): King of the gods, who prefers to remain
neutral in the war but intervenes after a plea for help.
(Roman name, Juno): Queen of the gods, who favors the Greeks.
(Roman name, Minerva): Goddess of wisdom and war, who favors the Greeks.
(Roman name, Neptune): God of the sea, who favors the Greeks.
(Roman name, Vulcan): God of the forge, who favors the Greeks.
(Roman name, Venus): Goddess of love and beauty, who sides with the
(or Phoebus Apollo): Highly revered and feared sun god, who sides with
(Roman name, Mars): God of war, who sides with the Trojans.
(Roman name, Diana): Goddess of archery and hunting, who sides with
(Roman Name, Pluto): God of the Underworld.
(Roman Name, Mercury): Messenger god. He guides Priam to Achilles'
tent to ransom the body of Hector.
Sea nymph who is the mother of Achilles.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Background and Plot Summary
Michael J. Cummings...©
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).
Topics and Discussion Questions
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.
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 onward.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Achilles and Hector
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.
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?
You Admire or Despise
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 characteristics?
Role of Women
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
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.
Gods of Olympus
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.
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.
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.
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:.
(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.
(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.
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.
(Mars): God of war and the son of Zeus and Hera.
(Neptune): God of the sea and brother of Zeus.
(Pluto): God of the underworld and brother of Zeus.
(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.
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
(Diana): Goddess of the hunt. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto
(see Apollo) and the twin sister of Apollo.
(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.
(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.
(Vesta): Goddess of the home and hearth and sister of Zeus.
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
Abode of the Gods
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.
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 Olympus.
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.
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 Greek Mythology and Characteristics of the Gods
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.
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 literature.
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.
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.
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
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
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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