Monday, October 14, 2013

Mormonhermitmom's bits and pieces of stuff, especially The Iliad, by Homer

I haven't stopped reading.  I just stopped reviewing books that were, "eh, no biggie."

While perusing my local library, I happened upon a series by Encyclopedia Brittanica called Great Books of the Western World.  It is a collection of classic works by plenty of dead authors, many of whom I heard about in college, but never really took the time to really read their stuff.  Except for Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes, etc., and only because they were Greek dramatists, I haven't read anything from the likes of Robespierre, Locke, and I don't know how many others.  So I decided to read the series.

I've finished the volume on Homer.  The Iliad and The Odyssey were both works I had read before in college but I couldn't remember much more than The Iliad was about the Trojan War and The Odyssey was about a guy named Odysseus who was trying to get home after the Trojan War.  If you have no intention of ever reading these works, I'll leave it at that.

If you think you might, here's a little more but you need to know a little bit in advance.

No one can agree if Homer was one guy, or a girl, or if the works of Homer are bits and pieces of several related stories that have been written by different people and strung together.  You also have to know that when these stories were being told, there was no television, no internet, no mass communication of any sort, and most people went to bed at sundown and those who didn't were either partying around a campfire or getting into mischief or both.  Today's youth are going to have a hard time staying awake because the storyteller was very verbose.  Even I could only take short doses every once in a while and it was best that I did the reading at night so I was already in bed when my eyes shut down on their own.  And lastly, the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses figure very prominently in these stories, so even though many archeologists agree that there WAS a Trojan War, and there WAS in fact a Helen of Troy, this is a fictionalized account.

Okay, so a brief summary of The Iliad:
The story takes place outside the city of Troy, aka Ilium, during year ten of a ten year war.  The reason for the war is because the son of Priam, aka Alexander, stole Helen from her husband, King Menelaus and Menelaus wants her back.  He wants her back badly enough that he got his brother King Agamemnon to join him.  These two kings, aka the Atridae, because they are sons of Atreus, gathered a large host of Greek warriors from all over Greece to join them with promises of war spoils when the city of Troy was sacked.  You would think after nine years they would just go home.  No.  Can't do that, because that would be like admitting they lost and they can't go home having spent all that time and resources and then give up.

So the Greeks, aka the Danaans, aka the Argives, aka the Achaeans, (oh yeah, between all their names it rivals the character list of a Russian novel) are sitting on the beach near Troy.  Agamemnon had taken a girl who was a daughter of a priest of Apollo and the priest wanted her back or he would curse the Greek army.  Agamemnon is pretty full of himself, but he knows he has to give her back as well as perform the requisite sacrifices.  He feels cheated of the prize, and declares that one of the Greek generals will give up one of his slave girls to compensate Agamemnon for the girl he had to give up.  The guy that gets to give up his own slave girl is Achilles.

Achilles, son of a demigoddess, is pretty peeved and decides to sit out the war until Agamemnon gives her back along with an apology.  Agamemnon is too proud to do such a thing.  Achilles' mother goes to Zeus and asks him to make sure the Greeks don't prosper until Achilles is properly treated and given great glory.  Zeus complies.

For most of the rest of The Iliad, we read about the battles between the Greeks and the Trojans and how the gods and goddesses interfere with the battles.  The advantage goes back and forth and back and forth with plenty of details about who kills whom, how they were killed ("the spear went in to the left of the nipple"), whose armor was taken from them (apparently after you kill someone, you take their armor off and keep it with your other war booty) and which god/goddess helped which warriors escape certain death.

On the Trojan side is one of King Priam's sons named Hector.  For a good long while, Hector has Zeus' favor and he slaughters a good many Greeks.  The Trojans get the Greeks pinned down on the beaches where their ships are and some Trojans even break through to a couple of the ships and try to start them on fire.  One of Achilles' best friends, now I can't remember his name, goes to Achilles and begs him to help the Greeks out.  Achilles says no, but gives his friend his special armor made by Hephaestus to go fight him.  Achilles' friend is killed by Hector and an even fiercer battle breaks out because Hector wants that fancy armor, but the Greeks want to get it back to Achilles in the hope that Achilles will rejoin the fight.  The body is dragged back and forth for a while, and finally the Greeks get the body, but Hector gets the armor.

When Achilles realizes that he let his friend go out to fight alone, he wails with grief.  He washes the body of his friend, he makes sacrifices, he insists on tending to the funeral rites that night. The other Greeks try to convince Agamemnon to give Achilles a bunch of prizes and gold and slave girls as an apology.  Agamemnon finally relents and Achilles finally accepts.  But before they go back to fighting the Trojans, Achilles hold some games in his friend's honor and gives out prizes of his own to the victors.  Yeah, I didn't get that part either.  There's a war on and they are having chariot races, wrestling and boxing matches, and sparring sessions with each other.

In the meantime, Achilles' mother goes to Hephaestus and asks him to make Achilles more armor since Hector took his first set.  Hephaestus does and Homer goes into nauseating detail about the decorations on the armor and what all the pictures on them mean.

Once in his new, god-made armor, Achilles goes out with the Greeks to fight the Trojans again.  This time the Trojans are beaten back to their city and Achilles chases Hector around Troy for a bit until Hector decides it would be better to stand and face Achilles.  Achilles kills Hector.  But. The Greeks still haven't won the war yet.  We don't even get the story of the Trojan horse, or how Achilles was eventually killed, which his mother knew was going to happen soon, and Achilles knew it too.

Maybe Homer, or whoever was supposed to Homer, wanted to leave a cliffhanger and then finish the story in The Iliad 2?  Who knows.


One last caution for parents:  Women are treated as possessions.  Those who lose their husbands in the war, can easily become the possession of the warriors who made them widows.  Apparently it was also considered proper that a warrior could use his slave girls for sex if he wanted to and he wasn't betraying his wife at home by doing so.  Zeus is notorious for having illegitimate children with mortal women or demigoddesses, and his wife Hera knows full well that he does it.  Hera also uses sex to distract Zeus from the battle long enough for some change to happen to her liking.  Parents might want to talk to teenage children about mutual respect for others and the effects of slavery.

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