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by Karim Attia.

Another essay I wrote for my ‘Homer’ module…based on a close reading of Homer, The Iliad (translated by Robert Fitzgerald; OUP 1998) probably the best English-language translation of the Iliad.

Vaguely inspired by my interest in both Achilles and Hector, I was drawn to this, the twenty-first book of the Iliad, by the sudden realisation of just how peculiar Homer’s treatment of the encounter between his leading men was.  In pursuing an answer as to why this should be, I have discovered, what is to me, a whole new Iliad.

To treat the ideas and themes in this book bit by bit and, perhaps, out of order, would detract from the organic progression originally intended by Homer’s organisation and introduction of them in his composition.  To lose, or diminish, the drama is, I feel, too great a sacrifice of both the impact and effectiveness of the sequential analysis which follows.

An analysis, which focuses so predominantly on one book of the Iliad, must be especially careful to extract itself from the pages to which it has been confined.  Our experience of the Iliad is wildly different from the experience of those for whom it was originally composed and these differences will, even with the best of preparation, generate barriers to complete empathy.  Mine is a modern experience of the Iliad.  I read the tale from a printed page, the voice, most often, remains unheard and is, in any case, always my own.  I read alone and as and when is convenient for me.  I read as an alien to the culture described; a fact nowhere more obvious than in the language – modern English used to transmit a poem of ancient Greek derivation.  Of course, the Iliad still works, despite these multitude inhibitions, and has done so for all the people who have experienced it, in whatever ways, throughout its (speculated) twenty-seven hundred year history.

Time’s passage has erased much of the associated knowledge needed to achieve an ‘authentic’ understanding of the Iliad – propagating speculation and controversy in its wake.  Currently it is believed that Homer was a single bard (a term in itself open to debate) and that he composed the Iliad (if not the Odyssey) c.750BC.  Greece, as we know it, did not exist in Homer’s day; the geography being divided amongst various kingdoms.  These kingdoms, in common with most of Europe at this time, maintained their cultural integrity without the aid of a written language relying instead on the services of a highly trained caste of bards or poets; sometimes attached to a particular court, or else itinerant.  Without writing, the history and laws of a people was retained solely in the copious memories of these esteemed men.  This is not to say, however, that they performed exclusively for the upper echelons of society.  In Ireland and Yugoslavia the oral tradition survived until relatively recent times and in both these places was, in fact, denigrated by the upper classes while at the same time being embraced by the rural poor, which is where the survival predominated.  History records that this was not always so and, indeed, within the epics themselves [1] the attitude of the upper classes toward the poets and their tales was one of extreme reverence.  We can imagine the trainee, or journeyman, poet practising his skills and looking for patronage by wandering from court to court, repaying the hospitality of those who shelter him along the way with the telling of his tales.  There are accounts of the great excitement, created in a village, by the visit of such a poet – all the people gathering to listen and, perhaps, to join in with the telling.  Given this scenario, one would expect the poems/tales to be of a length commensurate with an evenings re-telling, which is, indeed, the case with, for example, the Ulster Cycle of tales.  However, a non-stop performance of the Iliad would take approximately fifteen hours [2].  From this observation we could infer that the audience had plenty of leisure time – not something we would expect of the working classes.  However, it should be noted that it was perfectly acceptable for an audience to request only particular episodes of a poem [3].  A further problem with this hypothesis is that subsistence in the Greek lands is/was based on gathering and animal husbandry, neither of which are prohibitively time consuming, indeed, shepherds were traditionally noted for their skills in music and poetic composition.

So then, for whom was Homer composing?  The Iliad makes few and cursory references to anyone outside of the ruling class, but this is no bar to its popularity or importance for those in that invisible and unheard majority.  Even now, it is in the interests of the ruled to be aware of their rulers and the codes propagated by them and, by the same token, it is in the interests of the rulers to have their codes propagated.  Certainly poetry was used for eulogy and also as an early form of propaganda, indeed, much revision of tales can be traced back to this cause, but Homer seems not to have been overly concerned by these considerations.  There is no chief character, or group, that escapes the tale unblemished least of all the purported heroes of the piece – the Achaeans – nor is Homer always particularly subtle in his criticism and ridicule.

Part of the Iliad’s success may lie in its impartiality: a quality that reduces the incidence of people, group, or event specific references which lose their meaning and impact as their origins are forgotten – i.e. the tale is self-contained (especially likely if the tale was to travel, as indeed it most probably was).  Nevertheless, as unlikely as it is, the possibility that the Iliad does work on the level of a political and/or social satire of a particular time and place, just as Gulliver’s Travels does, should not be dismissed out of hand – it certainly has that potential and Homer is certainly up to the task.

Homer’s evident compositional freedom may derive from a natural respect/fear of poets (– reputations were transmitted and thus made, or broken, by the poet), which in his case will have been intensified by the very evident skill, and thus reputation, that he possessed.  He increases his freedom by choosing a tale derived from events played out some five-hundred years previous [4], and which were thus remote enough to be re-interpreted with some flexibility.  That the events Homer bases the Iliad on ever happened is, in the face of the wealth of archaeological evidence [5], widely accepted.

The survival of these distant events is a testimony to the robustness of oral transmission, which was, after the loss of writing around the time that the Mycenaean culture collapsed, the only way in which they could have been preserved; as writing was not re-invented/discovered until Homer’s day or just after.  As for the Iliad’s survival, that too, was, until around the fifth-century BC, preserved orally; from which point on its transcription onto scrolls and then codices gradually usurped the oral tradition.  Such is the nature of oral transmission that, while it lasted, it gave rise to variations.  With the adoption of Greek culture by the Romans came a move, sometime in the first or second centuries BC, to standardise the Homeric texts these subsequently becoming the basis for our modern texts.  At some point in the process of confining the performance to the page it was decided to divide the poem into twenty-four books: this number intended to signify the poem’s all-encompassing/universal nature by corresponding to the number of letters in the Greek alphabet.  It is with the twenty-second of these artificially imposed divisions that I am drawn and with which this essay is chiefly concerned.

Bearing the above in mind, to begin coldly at the juncture stipulated would be to interrupt the continuity of Homer’s performance.  To avoid this, it is necessary that we recollect, in brief, the events just prior to those of our particular episode.  A quarrel amongst the gods sees Athena overmaster her bother and sister – Ares and Aphrodite.  In the same scenario Apollo is drawn against his uncle, Poseidon, whose authority he wisely refrains from challenging, extricating himself with a sentiment that Homer makes a keynote of the interaction between the gods and men:

‘We should give up our fighting over men.
Let men themselves contend with one another.’

His capitulation attracts the scorn of his sister, Athena, but she, in her turn, by advocating physical revolt against one’s elders incurs the wrath of her greatest ally, Hera, wife of Zeus – who scolds her as one might an impudent child.  This concern with maintaining the natural hierarchy, and the identification of older generations with greater power, is a recurrent theme in the work of Homer, as are the antics of the gods.

Apollo, meanwhile, looks in on his Ilium and, finding Achilles running amok and the Trojans routing, stirs up Prince Agenor’s courage; inspiring him to stand and fight.  Having been induced to cease his flight he awaits god-like Achilles, the fear of him at once tempting him to resume his flight and, at the same time, rooting him to the spot.  The only occasions when anyone actually chooses to face Achilles in single combat is when, as in this case, the conflict is engineered by divine agency.  The parallels between this encounter and that involving Hector are not confined to the flight and the divine intervention.  Homer indulges both with a rare internal dialogue; allows the challenge to be issued by the weaker party; and causes the spear casts of the attackers to rebound off of Achilles’ armour.  The key difference is, of course, that the divine intervention in this prelude is benign – Apollo whisking Agenor out of trouble at the appropriate moment and then assuming his likeness to draw Achilles away from the Trojans.  In the later episode Athena’s actions are malignant: not only duping Hector into facing Achilles by assuming the likeness of his brother, Deiphobus, and then deserting him at the appropriate moment, but then acting as Achilles’ squire – retrieving his lost spear.

The reactions of the two men, Achilles and Hector, to the realisation that they have been led awry by the gods is illustrative of the difference between them: Achilles exhibits the self-indulgent spite that bears no respect for anyone or anything else (similar to the attitude previously exhibited by his patroness, Athena); while Hector resigns himself to his fate with the inevitability of one who accepts and respects the laws and powers that rule his world (like his patron, Apollo).

Books XXI and XXII hinge at the point when the fleeing Trojan troops reach the Scaean Gates (XXI), which they then enter (XXII).  Homer describes the Trojans as ‘deer’, implying that, unlike a lion, their only defence is flight and that their Achaean pursuers are hunters.  The ‘sweat’ and ‘thirst’ is not only from the heat of day and battle, but from fear, especially fear of THE HUNTER – Achilles.  We can imagine the Trojan hearts fluttering as some quarry narrowly escaped from death; the relief of the ‘cool stone’ being both from the implacable sun and the equally merciless Achilles.  As for Hector, he is cut out from the herd, cut out by ‘fatal destiny’; he the mighty stag who, precisely because he is at the peak of his powers, is the greatest of prizes, the trophy-head most sought after.  The sheltering stone offers Hector no relief, being a physical barrier between himself and his people to add to those created by his pride, sense of duty and his destiny.

The stage is set, all men, ourselves included, waiting for Achilles to perform his dance of death.  The magnitude of his character, the doom of him, looms large, obliterating the presence of lesser creatures.  His end achieved, Apollo reveals his deception teasing Achilles, reminding and warning him that, despite being so much greater than Diomedes [6], he is still a mere mortal and that he, Apollo, is ‘no man’s quarry’.  This encounter reminds us of the limits of Achilles’ power, reaffirms his role as hunter and shows his susceptibility to blood-lust, which, as Apollo points out, has led him to forfeit the slaughter of ‘a hundred’ routing Trojans in the blind pursuit of one.

Achilles bites his lip.  This is a physical action at the polar extreme of all the strenuous exertion that has gone before.  It marks an abrupt change in the scale and pace of the action.  Sudden awareness prompts this pathetically human action, which is the physical exclamation of Achilles, not as god-like hunter of men, but as human plaything of the gods.  The biting of the lip is a self-inflicted pain – a deprecation by oneself of one’s failure: in this case duped into a poor tactical decision that strips Achilles of the glory accorded to both the great warrior and the great commander – his lack of control makes him neither.

By his own admission – powerless – Achilles returns to the pursuit of mortals in which role he is ‘magnificent’; Homer restoring his image with an equine simile.

It is fitting that Hector’s father, Priam, is the first to see Achilles approaching the city, approaching like a heavenly body – like a star.  But no ordinary star: ‘Orion’s dog’, hunter in his own right and helper of the great hunter, Orion, son of Poseidon, is a baleful omen; especially so to Priam whose advanced age and righteous fear of Achilles, destroyer of so many of his sons, makes him one of the ‘frail men’ on whom this star brings ‘fever’.  Achilles blazes ‘pure and bright’ like the consuming flame of a pyre – he is a spark to the tinder that is Troy – the city fated to be a very pyre for its own people.  Continuing this theme Priam cries out, shouts, groans and strikes himself like a mourner at a funeral, but ‘Lord’ Hector’s nobility is unmoved by his father’s fears.

Priam rants, stressing Achilles’ god-like aspect, that he is an instrument of ‘doom’ and thus pitiless as the Fates, and that he is of the stock of Zeus.  He invokes his love and fear for Hector, the fate of his other sons, the pain of the mother and the need of his strength by the people of Troy.  Finding Hector unmoved, Priam changes tack, gently asking his ‘child’ to respect his father’s wishes.  Hector, of course, does no such thing as to do so would be to rescind his adulthood, to become a child again.  Addressing Hector’s pride, Priam tries to convince him that continuing the fight from behind the walls would incur no diminishment of honour, and that beyond them, all the glory would devolve to Achilles.  Hector’s silence confounds Priam’s entreaties who, nevertheless, continues; listing the atrocities expected to be suffered by himself, his family and his people, and laying the responsibility for these horrors on Hector’s persistence on a course of action that he deems virtual suicide.  Priam’s words are devoid of hope or confidence in Hector, they are the words of an old man very much closer to his mortality than his vigorous son, words inspired by love, but pregnant with fear and death.

Hecabe, Hector’s mother, in her efforts to draw him back from death, exposes her pitiful breast to both shame him and to emphasise the debt of love owed to her by him.  Only in passing does she make reference to Hector’s wife, and no mention at all is made of his child.  It seems strange that such a strong card is so underplayed and I can only suggest that this omission is due to her dramatic role – not to cry hysterically from the top of high battlements, but reserved for tender, intimate and sensitive exchanges.  Moreover, she has, in book VI, already had the opportunity to lay her fears before him, whereas this is the first time his parents have expressed their misgivings.

A feature of both Priam’s and Hecabe’s discourses is the reference to dogs despoiling the corpses of the vanquished.  As well as being prophetic this allusion links the hound of Hades, Cerberus, with the world of the living and injects a degree of reality that, in hideous fashion, counterbalances the romanticism inherent in tales of battle.  In this and in many other ways (the avenues of expression explored by Homer being one of his great strengths) Homer plays opposites off on one another, thereby creating the tension that is the breath within the Iliad.

His parents having verbalised their inner fears for Hector and themselves, Homer now directs us to the man himself.  He introduces Hector with an analogy to some venomous serpent coiled, waiting in its lair.  On one level this can be read as a reference to Apollo with whom the snake was traditionally associated.  Another, concurrent, reading is that Hector is here personifying Python.  This latter reading would cast Achilles in the role of his grandfather, Zeus, who, along with Athena, destroyed the dragon/serpent making this a parody, or revelation, of the battle to come.  Yet another concurrent reading is that Homer is employing the serpent’s native attributes of calm, dispassionate patience and unfathomable, expressionless exterior to emphasise those self-imposed by the man.  The fragility of the calm is revealed when Homer takes us into the troubled mind of Hector whose own fears for himself are now expressed in an internal dialogue.  Note, however, that Hector is not allowed the luxury of sharing his fears – his burden – with others; his is the isolation of a leader upon whom all look as an example of what one should aspire to.  Hector is the symbolic embodiment of his society and thus, when his society is threatened he must either abandon it and save his life (which route would cost him the respect of that society) or else hazard his life; thereby proving the society’s value irrespective of whether he lives or dies.  Simply put: the value of a society to its members is measured by the level of sacrifice they are willing to make to preserve it.

Already, Hector has led many of his men to their deaths and knows that if he does not now show himself willing to make the same sacrifice no one will follow him again.  He knows too that without followers he would cease to be ‘Lord Hector’ – would, in fact, cease to be.  Moreover, he would be dishonouring the shades of his comrades.  Not facing Achilles would thus require him to break covenant with his people and relinquish everything that defines him as both an individual and as a member of his society.  For these reasons, Hector cannot seriously heed the prayers of a frantic old man and woman nor the quaking of his mortal heart.  It would be utterly ridiculous to criticise, or to infer that Homer is criticising, Hector for what is an experience common to all humans.  Indeed, for Hector not to feel fear would be unrealistic, or else make him a creature more akin to an Achilles than a man.  In this instance: isolated, alone, reliant only on his native strength of mind, body and spirit, Hector is everyman.  The isolation stems from the fact that we are all masters of our own fate (except when the gods take a hand), each choice we make carrying a measure of both jeopardy and reward.  Through Hector, Homer explores the relationship between dignified existence and mere existence.  By facing his fear, rather than succumbing to it, Hector chooses to risk his existence for the sake of his dignity; the implication being that: without dignity life is not worth living.

The Hector we have loved through the eyes of a mother, a father and a wife we now watch, as though from the ramparts of Troy, or from the top of mount Olympus; and we fear for him.  Achilles approaches…no longer as a man, but a ‘god of war’ armed and armoured with divine weapons and blazing like a star – the hero-light of battle, the light of victory upon him.  Hector breaks and runs.  Shock and surprise attend this action: if he, the best of the Trojans, cannot stand his ground before Achilles what hope have the rest?  The answer is, of course, none – we know there is no hope for them; they do not.  And what of this vaunted dignity?  Surely little can remain for the now tragicomic figure cut by Hector as his ‘flashing knees’ carry him three times round his city’s walls – time enough for all to witness his shame.

Hector’s flight is not from a man, but from a demigod: as martial and cruel as an Athena and as bloody as an Ares; decked in divine gear and aided, in fact, by a true god.  Hector knows, without needing to be told that it is crazy ‘to vie with gods’ [7].  But, just as Achilles is not quite a god, nor is he quite human.  Instead of raising him above other men, the admixture of divine blood has diluted/corrupted his humanity – his actions and desires appear bestial (the frequent similes with animals is no mere coincidence).  Achilles belongs nowhere, is lost between the races of the gods and man.  Freed from the constraints felt by other men and freed from the fear of having to face the consequences of his actions, he has never needed to exercise the self-restraint, discipline and control that are the signal qualities of an adult human living within a society of like creatures.  Achilles is a murderous animal, slave to his desires, subject to selfish excesses, heedless of others.  This hunger and ignorance is what allows him to remorselessly inflict pain on all those around him.  With power comes responsibility – the danger of abrogation being the loss of one’s humanity…’absolute power corrupts absolutely’ [8].

Homer suspends the denouement by giving the audience time to absorb events (also sharpening their anticipation) and by fleshing out their imaginations with descriptions of how earth and heaven are oriented toward the coming battle.  The horror and the fearful excitement of conflict are made tangible to the listeners by Homer’s description of the features that the runners pass: features that would have been common to most settlements and thus familiar to audiences.  Involvement is further enhanced by the analogy with the chariot racing, which was a significant feature of Greek culture.

When one attempts the superhuman, or a similarly challenging, or important undertaking, as Hector does by facing Achilles, one must, of necessity, acquire the aid of a superhuman entity – a god – or else fail.  There is always the hope that the gods will favour you and that you will succeed, but one never knows until one has tried.  Hector tries and, as we and even the very first audience will have known, fails; but before the action is completed Homer reveals, with more than a touch of the sardonic, the weighty process by which the gods arrive at their decision.

Hector’s plight arouses Zeus’ pity, who, in view of Hector’s diligent and excellent offerings, suggests perhaps bending the rules a bit for him – altering his fate (most irregular behaviour).  However, this warm-hearted, if ludicrous idea, is quickly quashed by his vindictive daughter, Athena; on whom he dotes, like some foolish old man.  Reminded by her that such an abuse of power would disgust his fellow gods he relents, abdicating the decision process to a set of ‘golden scales’ (little better than flipping a coin).  Even this ceremony is an empty gesture, Hector’s ‘doom’ having been, as Athena points out, ‘fixed long ago’ [9].

It seems likely that Homer is here illustrating the futility of trying to gain the favour of gods who are, in any case, as impotent to alter fate as any man [10].  However, in his defence he might posit that the complexity and inconsistency of their behaviour is a reflection of just how unfathomable the divines are and that, therefore, no mortal is in a position to judge, or criticise, what is so far beyond his understanding.  While this is a valid argument it has far too much to contend with, in the burlesque and slapstick performances of the, largely, emotionally retarded gods, to be particularly convincing.  Homer follows up the comic antics of the gods with another unsympathetic, but far less amusing, example of divine behaviour.  Athena’s deception of Hector gives him the false hope that encourages him to stop running and face Achilles.

Blithely ignorant of the true nature of both the gods and his opponent, Hector, that paragon of decency, invokes the disingenuous gods as divine arbiters of the chivalric code he propounds to Achilles.  Hector’s gesture of charity and mercy he offers to an archenemy whose actions and spirit are the antithesis of his – a noble act, but showing just how deluded he is.  ‘Terrible Achilles’, of course, refuses this ‘grace’ explicating his refusal to honour the corpse of the fallen, with analogies to the combat of ‘men and lions’, ‘wolves and sheep’.  In effect, Achilles is proclaiming and accepting his bestiality even going so far as to invoke that despised, marginally sane god, Ares.

Once Hector realises Athena’s treachery he knows the hour of his death is at hand and so decides to die gloriously; performing ‘some action memorable to men in days to come’.  This is, of course, ridiculous, as his undignified flight before Achilles, while ‘memorable’, could hardly add to his reputation.  With cynical tongue and wry smile, Homer exposes the idealism of Hector who, once his lordly mask is stripped from him by fear, sports a heart as prone as the meanest of his subjects; will, when pressed, hazard dignity rather than life; and would rather sacrifice others for the sake of his society.

At the point of conflict Homer suddenly alters the pace, beginning to describe in meticulous detail both the combatants as though in slow motion.  As befitting Achilles’ skill, he vanquishes Hector with an amazingly well placed thrust of his spear; directly into the only part of Hector left exposed through (poignantly) Patroclus’ armour [11] – the neck.  As so often before, Homer betrays a fondness and knowledge of anatomy when he allows that Achilles’ spear thrust ‘did not cut the windpipe’.  By virtue of this device Hector is able to reiterate, with his dying breath, his plea that his corpse be respected and allows Homer to emphasise, even more forcefully than before, Achilles’ weakness in the face of his passions.  His propensity for excess and his inhuman lack of mercy describe a humanity too weak to overcome the beast within.  Indeed, Achilles is so affected by blood-lust that he sees Hector not as a man, but as a ‘whining dog’ and rues that his madness – he calls it ‘passion’ – were not greater, such that it would drive him to the cannibalism of Hector’s corpse.  Achilles: the dog of war, feasting on the fallen [12].

Here then, scant hours after Achilles left his dolorous tent, the pillar of the Trojans lies broken.  The encounter, anticipated from the very beginning of the performance, over in the flash of an eye.  Anticlimax? Review: any audience listening to this tale, even on its first outing, will have known of Achilles, will have, most likely, formed an image of him as the mightiest and best of heroes.  It seems to me that Homer is challenging this.  Regard the contrast between the great names and titles of the Achaeans and their very much less than great conduct.  Regard, most especially, the absence, from thirteen of the tale’s twenty-four books [13], of its greatest player – Achilles.  This absence allows others to grow, allows other themes and ideas to breath, allows us, the audience, to come to regard the lesser figure of Hector with a new and greater love and esteem.  Homer raises Hector from being merely the premier victim of Achilles (which is probably what his status was in those tales of Troy prior to Homer’s) to being the best of men – a true knight in the chivalric mode.

Of course, building up Hector’s stature serves to confer the greater glory on his slayer.  Or, at least, it would do if there were any glory to be had, or if there were anyone interested in acquiring it.  Repeatedly we are assured of Hector’s worth in every respect; yet he runs from Achilles.  No protracted clash of titans – epic and dazzling, something to inspire others to war – merely a chase followed by three alternating spear thrusts.  Glory, is a chimera.  The effortless slaying of Hector shows that there is no glory in simple slaughter: just as a butcher is not fêted for killing a lamb, so the god (for Achilles is no less in his pursuit) gains little from his killing of the man (Hector).  For Achilles the motivation is revenge for the slaying of his friend, Patroclus, not glory.  The death of Patroclus is Achilles’ first encounter with the pain of mortals.  This pain finds expression in the excess of his remorse and his anger, but also, later, in his unprecedented act of mercy towards Priam – the bereaved father suing for his sons remains [14].

Hector is the embodiment, amongst other things, of a naïve, romantic ideal of the chivalric knight and the clean, decent, polite war.  Homer destroys this illusion with Achilles rabidly cleaving his bloody and merciless path through the ranks of the naïve and the polite, generating a bounty for the unclean creatures of the battlefield – dogs and kites – who are the only winners in war.  Homer illustrates conclusively the corruptive influence of unrestrained power on the human soul – the inhumanity of the ‘hero’ taken to its logical extreme – ACHILLES.

The many ways in which Homer deflates this most anticipated encounter – the comedic gods, the flight, the effortless victory and the brutality [15] – add to the cause of the deflation itself, which is to deny pleasure to those who think such a feeling can be derived by a human being from the murder of another.  In war the gods play out their petty squabbles with the lives of men; some of whom are butchers and enjoy the blood, and some of whom are the fools that provide the blood.  In the end, however, all mortals die – the earth, rivers and sea soaking up what the dogs and birds miss.  That Homer disguises this possibility behind, what is a masquerade of metaphors and analogies, and that he even needs to express this point, suggests that his was a society in need of his humanity.

As is fitting, the artist – the poet – reveals truths.  Homer reveals war to be ugly and the romanticism surrounding it baseless.  He personifies the former in the extreme that is Achilles and the latter in the extreme that is Hector.  When the two meet it is in fact a contest between reality and fancy – the latter realising its error only in its dying breath:

Then at the point of death Lord Hector said:

‘I see you now for what you are…’



[1] Odyssey, book VIII.
[2] It took me a little under two minutes to read aloud a full page, which, multiplied by the 443 pages gives this approximate answer. In no way does this figure take account of individual style, breaks or, indeed, the difference created by execution in Modern English as opposed to Ancient Greek.
[3] Odyssey, book VIII.
[4] The Mycenaean period, which ended in the twelfth-century BC.
[5] Heinrich Schliemann excavated Troy at various times between 1870 and 1890, since when nine main and numerous sub-strata, have been identified; of which levels VI and VIIa are the prime candidates for being the city of the Iliad.
[6] Diomedes attacks, amongst other gods, Apollo. See book V.
[7] Apollo to Diomedes, p.84.
[8] John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902).
[9] Athena refers to the three Moirae, or Fates, who spun, wound and cut the threads of individual’s lives and with whom the gods dared not interfere, to do so being to imperil the universal equilibrium.
[10] The philosophers amongst us would, at this point, begin discussing predestination and free will.
[11] Almost as though Patroclus’ spirit had cursed it.
[11] Recall the words of Hecabe: ‘dogs will devour you by the Argive ships’, p.383.
[13] Books: 2-8, 10, 12-15, and 17.
[14] Book XXIV.
[15] Note how Homer illustrates this with the contrast between Hectors beautiful corpse and its defilement by the Achaeans.


Homer, The Iliad (translated by Robert Fitzgerald). OUP 1998.

Homer: Readings and Images (edited by C. Emlyn-Jones, L. Hardwick and J. Purkis). The Open University 1996.

T.B.L. Webster, From Mycenae to Homer. Methuen 1958.

Moses I. Finley, The World of Odysseus. Penguin 1991.

A New Companion to Homer (edited by Ian Morris and Barry Powell). Leiden, etc., Brill 1997.

Ruth Finnegan, Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance and Social Context. CUP 1992.

J. Griffin, Homer on Life and Death. OUP 1983.

Pierre Grimal, Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Penguin 1991.

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