Some Features of Homer’s Style
• Special formulaic language of the aoidos such as
fixed and recurring epithets and type scenes
• Exaggerated, leisurely pace of story-telling
• Dislike of suspense
• Fondness for lists (genealogies, catalogues), may
derive from an oral way of organizing information
• Similes - far more common in the Iliad than the
Odyssey; a way of stopping the action,
commenting on it, enriching or judging it.
Homer and Plot
• Aristotle analyzed plot as a literary representation
of a single action (praxis): its beginning, middle,
• The action of the Iliad: the anger of Achilles.
• Modern films have 3 parts separated by a “plot
point” (an incident that changes the direction of
the story). Primary plot points of a 120 minute
film appear at minutes 30 and 90, with a
subordinate plot point at minute 60, the midpoint
of the film.
Homeric epic’s tripartite structure
• The Iliad
Plot point 1: the quarrel between Achilles and
Agamemnon, who takes away his concubine
Secondary plot point: the embassy to Achilles
Plot point 2: the death of Patroklus (Achilles
avenges him and abandons his anger).
Time frame of the Iliad
• The entire span of the
epic is 51 days, but
almost the entire poem
is devoted to 4 days
• Invocation: “The
Anger of Achilles”
• Homer places the
theme before us, in
fact, in the first word.
• He begins not such
much in medias res
but at the beginning of
his story (the anger).
“Ransom of Chryseis” (1.8-611)
• Key concepts to know:
geras (prize; visible
time (honor, value,
kleos (immortal glory)
menis (superhuman rage)
What sets off the quarrel?
• Book 1.1-300: one of
the greatest action
sequences in literature.
Homer defines the
story of the double-
bind, or Catch-22: no
matter which way a
character turns, he is
Motif: the helpful mother
• No common goal can
• To whom does
Achilles turn for help?
“The False Dream” (2.1-210)
• Direction of action changes completely.
• The sequence that follows Achilles’ withdrawal
must show how Zeus brought the Achaians defeat
(his promise to Thetis).
• Homer now gives us the “story of the Trojan War”
- the sequence of scenes gives us the sense that
time is passing & things are happening as Achilles
sits out the fighting.
Agamemnon’s Foolish Plan
• Why does Agamemnon
tell his troops that they
will never conquer Troy?
• What happens then?
• Anti-war themes in Greek
• Who retrieves the
• What does the Thersites
scene do for the narrative?
“Catalogue of Ships” (2.441-887)
• To magnify the
Homer lists the
• One of most famous
similes - comparison
of troops with birds
• First geography of the
Catalogue of Ships
• The information given here doesn’t always
agree with that in the rest of the poem. The
catalogue was probably a traditional song
• Homer starts his description with the
Boiotians, then spirals first counter-
clockwise, then clockwise.
The Trojan Catalogue
• Shorter than the Greek.
• Organized first from N to S, from Troy to
Caria, then follows the southern coast of
Asia Minor to Lycia.
The sheer mass of names in the catalogues
gives us a feeling for the immensity of the
war about to unfold.
“Helen on the Wall” (3.121-244)
• Before the armies
clash, we now meet
Hektor, the major
Trojan hero, who
proposes a duel
between Menelaos and
Paris (belongs to first
year of war)
• Helen goes out to
watch from the walls.
• Helen joins the gathered Trojan elders on
• Kindly Priam reassures her, then asks her to
identify the Greek heroes below. This action
belongs to the first year of the war, also.
• Menelaos is beating Paris when Aphrodite
spirits him away, forces Helen to go to him.
“Treachery of Pandarus” (4.1-219) &
“Marshalling of the Host” (4.220-363)
• At the end of narrative units, Homer tends
to get the action going again via type
scenes: divine assemblies, arming, feasting,
and sacrifice scenes.
• How do the gods get the fighting going?
• Homer delays the outbreak of fighting with
a second catalogue of Achaians. What do
we learn from this?
“Glory of Diomedes” (4.364-5.909)
• First major fighting
• Homeric fighting -
between individual heroes.
The hero kills and gets the
• aristeia: a sequence of
scenes glorifying a hero
(moment of excellence).
• The story is supposed to be telling us how
the Trojans defeated the Achaians by the
will of Zeus and request of Achilles, but in
fact the Greek heroes are driving back the
Trojans. Probably shows influence of rich
tradition of tales telling of Achaian
victories, and a poor tradition of telling of
• Homer tells us, as each man dies, enough
about him to make us feel the pathos of his
• This engages readers and makes them
appreciate the human cost of war.
“Glaucus & Diomedes” (6.1-236)
• The meeting of Glaucus from Lycia and
Diomedes from Argos gives us a respite
from the gore of war and a quiet end to
• Features one of Homer’s great similes
(generations of leaves; ephemeral nature of
• Brings the bond of xenia back to forefront.
“Hektor and Andromache”
• Shows us life in the Trojan city
• Shows us Hektor as brother, son, brother-in-
law and husband (not just warrior).
• Reminds us what is at stake.
• Gender roles: “I have learned to fight in the
forefront of battle”
• Hektor must fight, no matter the
Women as Delayers
• Women seek to delay Hektor
Hecuba - wine
Helen - seat in women’s quarters
Andromache - for my sake, don’t go
out and fight again.
The scene of Hektor and Andromache at the
Skaian Gate is one of most famous in
• The family scene of Hektor, Andromache
and Astyanax is contrasted with the fruitless
union of Paris and Helen - built on lust, it
leads nowhere but to death. Their
selfishness and enslavement to personal
pleasure will bring the doom of city and
“The Duel Between Hektor and
Ajax” (Book 7)
• The first day of fighting hasn’t yet finished
when Hektor returns to the plain with Paris.
• At Apollo’s instigation, Hektor suddenly
issues a challenge to duel (belongs in first
year of war).
• Ajax wins the lot.
• Duel is stylized: verbal insults, javelins,
stones; duel is stopped before swordfight.
End of the Day
• Nestor asks for truce for collection of dead;
recommends the Achaians built a wall
before the ships (1st year of war).
• Trojan council recommends Paris return
Helen and treasure; he refuses to give back
Helen (1st year of war).
“Trojans Triumphant” (Book 8)
• Homer needs to prepare for the midpoint of the
plot, the embassy to Achilles, so we need to see
the Greeks in deep trouble to motivate it.
• Zeus sends bolts to frighten Achaians, even so,
• Zeus forbids other gods to interfere; makes
prophecy which keeps our minds on the master