Ancient Seafarers & the Birth of Greek Mythology and Christian Mythology
Written or recited some 2700 years ago, The Iliad--an epic saga during the Bronze Age about glory-thirsty Achaean plunderers who raped and razed Troy, the rich seaport in Asia Minor--had been kept alive through orality until the Greeks developed their writing system and later survived in manuscript forms.
Homer presumably gave voice to the epic heroic narrative of The Iliad and The Odyssey during the advent of Classical Antiquity. The flourish of the Hellenistic civilization reaching from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean sea quickly waned when Alexander the Great died young. The Roman Empire (27 BC-AD 395) dominated the power vacuum left by his death and later the Byzantine Empire (AD 395-1453) kept the ember of the Hellenistic arts and literature alive.
In 1453, the Ottomans' conquest of Constantinople (the capital of the Byzantine Empire, formerly called Alexandria, and now called Istanbul) ended Christian Europe's control over Asia Minor. Following the fall of the Byzantine Empire, refugees--including scholars--from Constantinople settled in various Italians city-states. They also brought with them knowledge of the Ancient classics and precious manuscripts, including the first extant copy of The Iliad.
Even though the fall of the Byzantine Empire cost Europe its access to eastward trade and became the source of persistent conflict against and fear of the Islamic Sultanate, Europe started to consume voraciously the previously lost arts, philosophy, and literature of Classical antiquity. Waking up from the Dark Ages, Europe was ready and eager to revive the imagination and creativity of the ancient Greeks, which prompted the cultural revolution we now call The Renaissance (the rebirth).
The printing press, Johannes Gutenberg's 1450 invention, helped propagate ideas and texts: finally in 1488, the very first Italian translation of The Iliad was published in Florence, Italy. The renewed fascination and appreciation of Greco-Roman mythology are palpable even in the religious text written by Dante Alighieri and William Shakespeare freely intermingled Greek mythology and religious allusions to the Bible in his plays and poetry.
The map above-posted depicts how both Greek mythology and Christian mythology were conceived in the East and were appropriated by the Christian West as the two pillars that support the western civilization.
In Medias Res(meaning “in the midst of things” in Latin) is the practice of beginning an epic or other narrative by plunging into a crucial situation that is part of a related chain of events; the narrative then goes directly forward, and exposition of earlier events is supplied byflashbacks.
Book 1: Pride and Rage Setting: the ninth year of the Trojan War; within the Achaean encampment The speaker begins this epic poem with an apostrophe to the goddess Muse, imploring her to sing how Achilles' rage brings destruction to Achaeans. Here the apostrophe is a rhetorical device for the poet to command the attention of his audience in that the goddess Muse inspires him to tell the story of Achaean heroes (click this to learn about an apostrophe: www.drkaylee.us/figures-in-action/apostrophe-personification-pathetic-fallacy)
Why does the Archer God point his arrow at the Achaeans? How many days does Apollo's scourge against the Achaeans last? Before delivering his divine message, what guarantee does Calchas secure from Achilles? Why is Achilles enraged at Agamemnon? What does Thetis ask Zeus in favor of her son? Why does Hera take sides with the Trojans?
Book 2: "The Great Gathering of Armies" (the catalog of the army) Why does Zeus send "a murderous dream" (7) to Agamemnon? Before attacking Troy for the decisive victory, what doss Agamemnon propose to do to boost the Achaeans' morale? When the rank and file of the Achaeans rush to their ships, who dissuade them from fleeing?
Book 3: "Helen Reviews the Champions" What does Homer achieve by giving voice to the heroic qualities of the Argives through Priam and Helen? What is Homer's attitude toward Helen, who was a willing partner in crime that eventually razed the city of Troy? You may use the following excerpt in developing Helen's characterization. I know them all by heart, and I could tell their names . . . but two I cannot find, and they're captains of the armies, Castor breaker of horses and the hardy boxer Polydeuces, My blood brothers. Mother bore them both. Perhaps they never crossed over from Lacedaemon's lovely hills or come they did, sailing here in the deep-sea ships, but now they refuse to join the men in battle, dreading the scorn, the curses hurled at me . . . (281-8) What is the speaker's attitude toward Paris? How does Aphrodite manipulate Helen to join Paris in bed?
Book 4: "The Truce Erupts in War" Achilles has butchered the Trojans for the past nine years and now our of spite sits idly while his fellow Archaeans are slaughtered by the Trojans. On the other hand, the Olympians play intrigues and favoritism, which prolong the war beyond nine years. In your opinion, who are the worst warmongers in this never-ending epic narrative?
Book 5: "Diomedes Fights the Gods" While Achilles sabotages the war, who fills his shoes? Which Olympian aids Diomedes and how does this immortal guides Diomedes in the battlefield? Which Olympian saves Aeneas from a certain death? Single out one scene in which Homer describes a chariot race and analyze the passage.
Book 6: "Hector Returns to Troy" What does Helenus instruct Hector to do when the latter returns to Troy? In what ways does Homer's attitude towards Hector and Paris differ? Why does Hector hector Paris who has been idling the palace? In what ways does the family dynamics of Hector-Andromache differ from those of Helen-Paris?
Book 7 and Book 8: "Ajax Duels with Hector" and "The Tide of Battle Turns" Hector, the firstborn son of King Priam and the leader of the Trojan alliances, controls the tides of battles in these books. What specific actions does he take against the Achaeans? Using close reading, analyze the following excerpt and develop a characterization of Hector. But now, seeing the best of all Achaeans fill your ranks, let one whose nerve impels him to fight with me come striding from your lines, a lone champion pitted against Prince Hector. Here are the terms that I set forth--Let Zeus look down, my witness! If that man takes my life with his sharp bronze blade, he will strip my gear and haul it back to his ships. But give my body to friends to carry home again, so Trojan men and Trojan women can do me honor with fitting rites of fire once I am dead. But if I kill him and Apollo grants me glory, I'll strip his gear and haul it back to sacred Troy and hang it high on the deadly Archer's temple walls. But not his body: I'll hand it back to the decked ships, so the long-haired Achaeans can give him full rites and heap his barrow high by the broad Hellespont. And someday one will say, one of the men to come, steering his oar-swept ship across the wine-dark sea, 'There's the mound of a man who died in the old days, one of the brave whom glorious Hector killed.' So they will say, someday, and my fame will never die." (Book 7: 85-105)
There are two Ajaxes in The Iliad, Alex the great and Alex the lesser. What does the "great and little Ajax" (Ajax the lesser) give to Hector when their duel ends? What does Hector give Ajax? Which alliances are winning the war at this point and why?