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The Iliad | Study Guide


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The Iliad | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How is Athena's clothing symbolic both before and after she changes in Book 5 of The Iliad?

Athena's robe before she changes represents her role as the goddess of artistic crafts. It is rich and supple, and Homer points out she made it with her own hands. The battle gear she changes into represents her role as the goddess of war. Her shield is symbolically decorated with aspects of war—panic, hate, defense, and assault. In the middle of the shield is the head of a Gorgon, a terrifying female monster with snakes for hair whose glance turns people to stone. Both her battle-shirt and the Gorgon are connected to her father, Zeus, the most powerful of the gods, signifying her power. The many fighting men on her helmet represent her strength in battle. This change in Athena's clothing marks the beginning of her aristeia, or "best work" in battle in the poem, in which she fights directly with Diomedes to wound two gods, Aphrodite and Ares.

How is the relationship between Helen and Paris different from the relationship between Hector and Andromache in Books 3 and 6 of The Iliad?

Helen doesn't respect Paris. In Book 3 she calls him a coward and says she doesn't want to share his bed. In Book 6 she wishes she had either died before marrying him or, because the gods dictated the marriage, he had turned out to be a better man, "someone/alive to outrage, the withering scorn of men." Yet she also seems concerned for his safety, telling him not to battle Menelaus again. She eventually convinces Paris to do the honorable thing by joining the fight that he started. Paris doesn't seem to care all that much that she has a low opinion of his bravery, mainly focusing on his desire for her. In contrast, Hector and Andromache show respect and affection for one another. Andromache says Hector is everything to her, especially now that the Achaeans have killed her family, and she is overcome by the thought of losing him. Hector takes Andromache's concerns about his safety seriously, agreeing she has a point—although she is not taking into account the demands of honor. He is most concerned about what will happen to her if and when Troy falls, and he notices her distress and comforts her.

In Book 6 of The Iliad, how does Nestor's advice to the army relate to the themes of honor and war?

Nestor tells the Achaean army not to waste time stripping armor off of bodies and dragging it back to their ships—they should concentrate on winning first. Once they have won, they can gather plunder at their leisure. Although collecting war prizes is important to gaining honor, winning is even more important. More than once in the poem a fighter is killed trying to loot the body of a fallen enemy, illustrating the potential cost of prioritizing plunder over fighting. In the hierarchy of honor, fighters must remember that winning is more important than prizes. Hector makes the same point as the Trojans make their final push to the ships in Book 15.

How is the unequal exchange of armor between Diomedes and Glaucus in Book 6 of The Iliad significant?

After Diomedes and Glaucus discover their families's guest-friendship, they exchange armor, a rare display of humanity in the midst of war. However, Homer says Zeus "stole Glaucus' wits away," blinding him to the fact that the armor he is giving away is worth ten times more than the armor he is getting in return. These few lines introduce a shadow of doubt about the sincerity of the exchange. Diomedes, who declares their friendship, is the one who gets the better of the armor swap. However, there is no other indication he might be trying to trick Glaucus, and they do seem to uphold their pledge, never fighting each other again in the remainder of the poem. It is also possible that the prize value of the exchange is of less importance to the two men than the familial connection that it represents.

How does Book 9 of The Iliad serve to develop Achilles's character?

Through most of the poem Achilles's character is developed primarily through conflict and battle. However, Book 9 provides insights into his past, present, and future. Phoenix's story of Achilles's earlier life includes touching scenes of him as a small child. Achilles's responses to Agamemnon's representatives and to the offer of extravagant current and future treasures reveal that he is looking for respect from Agamemnon more than for riches. On the other hand his refusal to consider any compromise and his continued determination to sacrifice his own army makes his point of view less sympathetic. Achilles also tells of the two fates his mother has foreseen for him—a short life with glory that "never ends" or a long life without glory and honor. Although he threatens to choose the second path by sailing away, by the end of the section he is again talking about when he will reenter the battle, indicating he will take the path of glory and a short life.

How does Phoenix's story about Meleager in Book 9 parallel situations in The Iliad?

The story of Meleager that Phoenix tells in Book 9 most obviously parallels Achilles's situation. Like Achilles, Meleager is the strongest fighter for his people but out of anger at his mother refuses to fight. They both reject pleas and gifts to increase their honor until the enemy is about to defeat their people. Only then are they persuaded by a loved one—Meleager by his wife, Cleopatra, and Achilles by his comrade Patroclus—to rejoin the fight. Meleager hiding in his room with his beautiful wife also echoes Paris's tendency to be found in his bedroom with Helen rather than on the battlefield.

To what is Agamemnon compared in the epic similes in Book 11 of The Iliad, and what is the effect of these similes?

Agamemnon is most often compared to a lion mauling and devouring prey animals. In the first simile he is like a lion mauling young deer while their mother can't do anything to protect them. Later he is compared to a lion chasing fleeing cattle and catching and devouring a straggler from the herd. He is also compared to a "devouring fire" that rampages through dead timber when it is whipped up by the winds. These similes create the impression of overwhelming and irresistible power. Like the mother deer, family members cannot protect each other from Agamemnon's rampage as when he kills both of the sons of Antenor. He overcomes and destroys his enemies like a wind-driven fire burning through dry wood. Running away doesn't protect the Trojan army from Agamemnon's killing power as he catches and kills stragglers.

In Book 12 of The Iliad, what does Sarpedon's appeal to Glaucus reveal about the theme of honor?

When Sarpedon appeals to Glaucus to step to the forefront of the battle at the Achaean wall, he points out that honor isn't all glory and prizes—it comes with responsibilities, too. The Lycian people give them the best of everything and treat them like gods during peacetime, but when war calls they must repay those honors by risking their lives to fight for their country and its allies. They have answered that call, fighting bravely against the Achaean army that has invaded their part of the world, and Sarpedon eventually pays the ultimate cost for honor. Even being the son of Zeus does not save him.

How well does Patroclus's rampage in Book 16 of The Iliad fit the typical pattern of an aristeia?

Patroclus's aristeia, or "best work," in battle contains most of the typical features of the form: the inspiration of a god, a sequence in which he arms and armors himself for battle, an expression of enthusiasm before he advances and kills many enemies, and a nonfatal wound. However, rather than the typical triumph of the hero, Patroclus's aristeia ends in his death. Because he is fighting for Achilles, Achilles is the one who invokes Zeus's divine inspiration for Patroclus before he goes into battle. Patroclus then arms himself with Achilles's gear in a sequence similar to many others in The Iliad. He expresses enthusiasm in a rousing speech to fire up the Myrmidons before attacking the Trojans. He goes on a long and successful killing streak, taking down 27 fighters in his final charge against Hector. The first wound that he suffers is not immediately fatal. However, rather than going on to triumph, he is killed by Hector.

For what purpose does Homer shift multiple times to second-person narration in Book 16 of The Iliad?

Homer breaks from the third-person narration he uses in the rest of the poem to address Patroclus in the second person during his final battle, often addressing him as "O my rider." The first time, he addresses Patroclus to tell how he attacked the Trojans to avenge a comrade's death. The second time, the poet appeals to Patroclus to tell whom he slaughtered. In this instance Homer also mentions his impending death, creating the effect of appealing to Patroclus's spirit to answer from the dead. The third and fourth times Homer addresses Patroclus in the second person is in his fight with Hector over his driver's body, which Patroclus wins. The second-to-last occurrence is as Patroclus suffers his first spear wound in the back, telling that it did not bring him down. Homer addresses Patroclus directly the final time before his death speech, lamenting his choice to pursue Hector and Achilles's inability to save him. This direct address creates a personal connection between the poet and the character. It seems as though Homer himself is mourning the death of Patroclus, not unlike how Achilles and Briseis soon will. It both highlights Patroclus's glorious exploits and signals to the audience that his prophesied death is approaching. It will be a momentous event, one that serves as the catalyst for Achilles returning to battle and the beginning of the end for Hector and Troy.

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