Week 7 of a Greek Lit Course: And A Pause for the Mid-Term

Last week we finished our last discussions of the Iliad and this week we took a test. I’m writing this having just finished taking our first essay exam. It was not as difficult as I expected and I may use this journal to just discuss what I did to study and even explain my answers for the exam (I have the questions and the answers are still fresh in my mind). We didn’t have class Tuesday of last week and so the essay exam was moved to today since it was supposed to be Tuesday. On Thursday the class was mostly used for review and Dr. Sandridge explained an interesting method for studying. He called it “content mastery via networked information,” which is a fancy way of saying spider/web charts. He suggested that we use themes, events, or characters in the center of the chart and branch out with names, ideas, terms, etc. The list of themes he suggested included: gender, gods and mortals, heroism, and aristeia. We made a chart with a character in the middle, but I don’t remember who. As soon as he suggested it I began planning my study session. After doing a bit of review using the spider chart, we only had enough time to discuss Priam’s supplication to Achilles in detail from book 24.

The entire scenario was so pitying and demeaning. Priam, the king of the Trojans, does not even supplicate a fellow king, but a warrior: “[Priam] caught the knees of Achilleus in his arms, and kissed the hands that were dangerous and manslaughtering and had killed so many of his sons,” (24.478–80). Priam goes between the legs of his greatest enemy, kissing the hands that murdered so many of his children and even more of his people. Dr. Sandridge tried to help us to understand the degradation that Priam must have felt. He told us to imagine a person who we may totally detest. Imagine going to that person and begging them for something. Perhaps begging them to give you something back that is yours, something that you love or need, but the only way you can possibly retrieve it is by sacrificing all of your pride and going up to this person in the most deferential way possible. This is what Priam had to do to Achilles. Luckily, Achilles began to see his father in Priam and showed the king of the Trojans respect. Still Priam had to offer his neck to Achilles first. By catching the knees, it means to hold the back of someones legs, looking down at the ground, with between the legs of the greater. The supplicator is completely defenseless. Priam’s deference is cringe worthy but attests to the importance of love in the Iliad. Although so much of the Iliad focused on menis, that is wrath without pity, here in the final book we finally see pity. We see Achilles, as prodded by the gods, not only returning Hektor to his father, but trying to protect him from other leaders who may want Priam as a captive. The supplication gets worse when Priam speaks: “Honour then the gods, Achilleus, and take pity upon me remembering your father, yet I am still more pitiful; I have gone through what no other mortal on earth has gone through; I put my lips to the hands of the man who has killed my children,” (24.503–506). Not only has he completed such defacing actions, but he has articulated them, now self-declared pitiful. This may be the most heart wrenching speech in the Iliad only comparable to Andromache’s plea to Hektor in book 6, in which she tries to get him to stay for fear of she and her son’s futures. The book does come full circle. From Achilles merciless anger at first the Greeks, then the Trojans, to his pitying of the Trojan king.

We then spent a bit of time discussing the similarities between Briseis’ lamentation of Patroklus and Helen’s lamentation of Hektor. In both cases, the women’s lovers were close comrades (one a best friend and the other a brother) to the deceased. Both women were also taken from their homes and forced into relationships with the current lovers. That being said, they both lament the deaths of their captors. Their lamentations are something akin to stockholm syndrome, but considering Briseis’ other option is likely sex slavery, this is her best bet. Helen on the other hand challenges her position throughout the Iliad. In book 3, Helen says to Aphrodite who tells her that she must go to Paris, who just lost a battle over: “Is it because Menelaos has beaten great Alexandros and wishes, hateful even as I am, to carry me homeward, is it for this that you stand in your treachery now beside me?” (Il.3.403–05). Here, Helen passively accuses the goddess of cheating the duel, which she did, but there’s is no way that you should accuse a goddess of anything. Helen goes further and basically says to Aphrodite, “If you like Paris so much, you go marry him.” Aphrodite of course does not let that fly and tells Helen to act her race — mortal — and Helen checks herself. She is obviously no fan of Paris, but understands that fighting against the marriage is a fight against both the Trojans, which can easily result in death, and the gods, which can result in something worse than death. Although Helen tries to advocate for her freedom, she, like Briseis, is stuck in a poor situation and both of them are still appreciative of the trickle of light that Hektor and Patroklos, respectively, are for them. Briseis thanks Patroklos for his kindness and his ability to console her after Achilles, ironically, killed her whole family. She also thanks him for being the only person to advocate for her legal marriage to Achilles. In Helen’s case she grieves over a loss of a defender: “…then you would speak and put them off and restrain them by your own gentleness of heart and your gentle words. Therefore I mourn for you in sorrow of heart and mourn myself also and my ill luck,” (Il.24.771–774). Hektor would stop the other citizens from talking down at Helen. Helen also challenges her relationship with Paris again when she discuses her “ill luck,” wishing to have died prior to ever coming to Troy. Both must lament over those who were prior enemies, but as women in ancient Greece (and surrounding lands), they have very little control over their positions and must pragmatically grieve.

Now onto the midterm. I decided that it would be easiest for me to simply create a spider chart using the books of the Iliad. I wanted to be able to recall the events as they pertained to the books. If I understood the Iliad chronologically, I thought I would best be able to understand what happens and who happens. I used my notes, the text, and online summaries to compile charts that would allow me to remember how each book ensues. I also named the each book for its most important event. Following are my book names:

  1. Achilles Deserts
  2. The Catalogue of Ships
  3. Menelaus vs Paris
  4. Council of the Gods: Resetting the War
  5. Diomedes’ Aristeia
  6. Hektor Says Farewell to Troy
  7. Hektor vs Aias
  8. Zeus Destroys the Greeks
  9. The Embassy of Achilles
  10. Infiltration
  11. Agamemnon Joins the Battle
  12. Hektor Breaks the Wall
  13. Poseidon Intervenes
  14. Hera’s Aristeia
  15. Zeus Dictates the Battle
  16. Patroklos’ Aristeia
  17. Protecting the Lifeless Body of Patroklos
  18. Achilles’ Lamentation
  19. Achilles Ready for Battle
  20. The War Between Gods
  21. Achilles Fights a River
  22. Achilles Kills Hektor
  23. Funeral Games
  24. The Lamentation for Hektor

After attaching themes, characters, events, and terms to each book I would have 24 in-depth charts of networked information. This would ultimately allow me to write almost 6 pages for my mid-term. I answered a question concerning Andromache, whose lamentation emphasized the sparing pity in the epic, which in turn bolsters Achilles’ menis. Another question asked about Menelaus’ glory. The only time Menelaus was injured (and he was definitely a major part of the battles), was a sneak attack by Pandarus in book 4. He also was seen almost pitying warriors and destroying Paris in battle. I ranked Hektor at least in the top 10 greatest Greek warriors of the Iliad, after Achilles, Aias, and Diomedes. I could not determine whether or not he was more or less powerful than Patroklos or Odysseus, who proved powerful in battle, but did not have enough comparable evidence to lean one way or the other.

The last question I answered asked me to discuss who the most humane gods and goddesses are. I said Poseidon, Thetis, Hephaestus, and Aphrodite. Poseidon entered the battle late with the intent to cut off the advantage Zeus arbitrarily gave to the Trojans. He was also the only partial god to save a member on the other side. Although on the Greek side of the war, Poseidon spares Aeneas from Achilles in book 20. He also tries to make a truce with Apollo for they shared an experience of slavery under Priam’s oppressive father. Poseidon is the only god who attempts to work with reason and mercy. Hephaestus’ neutrality and his sympathy for Thetis got him into the top 4 most humane gods. He simply did as he was asked and even consoled Hera in book 1 after she tries to speak out at Zeus. Thetis simply plays the role of a very caring and loving mother to Achilles. She just wants to see the best for her son, but stays out of battle. She even coddles him like an infant twice in the Iliad. Aphrodite is just nice. She only intervenes when she seeks to save a Trojan and she even gives her enemy, Hera, loveliness and desire, although Hera has every intention to indirectly use them against her. These gods and goddesses prove that they are not in the war for revenge, but for love and trust, so they are the most humane.