Week Seven Exercise: Iliad and Beowulf
You must find all of your answers in the lectures on the Iliad and Beowulf, the texts (with introductions
and notes) for those two works in your anthology, and the Glossary. I advise you not to turn to the
Internet first or at all, as you may not get the answer you need. Use the internet only to lead you to
answers you can validate in the assigned sources of answers just mentioned. Again, your answers MUST
come from these works or the lectures and other information I’ve given you that is related directly to
them. Nothing else will count. If you think you can get the answers by not reading the texts of these two
epics and relying instead on the several wretched film versions, including the 2004 Troy and 2007 CGI
Beowulf, you will get the wretched grade you deserve.
Any errors in title form, quotation or parenthetical reference in your answers will cost you ½ point each.
Other errors in mechanics will count ¼ to ½ point each. And be especially careful since you need to
distinguish the character Beowulf from the literary work Beowulf that also carries his name. You do not
have to cite (quote and provide a parenthetical reference) for any answer unless I specifically direct you
to do so. It is always in your best interest to give as complete an answer as the question requires, but
not to do more. If you write more than is necessary, you leave yourself open to making needless errors
or leaving unclear what you understand in the question I’m asking. Anything more or less than a
complete but concise answer may result in lost points.
Regular Questions (2 points each):
1. Towards which two men is Achilles’ anger most directed?
2. Explain where (give the page numbers only—no line numbers) 28 women are twice used to
demonstrate a heroic age culture’s objectification of women.
3. Explain how those 28 women also demonstrate part of the oral formulaic hypothesis.
4. What does the year 520 C.E. approximately have to do with the Beowulf?
5. Using the number of lines featuring them as your measure, list in order the three most prominent
females in Beowulf.
6. Place these relatively modern contributors in order of first to last for their contribution to our
knowledge of these two epics: a. Allen Frantzen, b. Heinrich Schliemann, c. Milman Perry, d. Dorothy
Whitelock (you may use the letters or the last names in your list).
7. Give an example of an epithet from the Iliad for the sea and an example of a kenning from Beowulf for
the sea. Just give the phrasing for the epithet and kenning found in the readings, lectures, or
supplementary materials you study for this exercise; you don’t need to provide parenthetical references.
8. In what way were Beowulf and Beowulf harmed by fire?
9. Whose head and whose arm and shoulder get taken as trophies?
10. What is extraordinary about the parentage of Sarpedon, Achilles, and Helen?
11. In what book of the Iliad and in whose form and for what purpose does Apollo appear in disguise?
12. In what book of the Iliad and in whose form and for what purpose does Apollo’s sister Athena
appear in disguise?
13. What feature of epic poetry do the instances in questions 11 and 12 best demonstrate?
14. (two points). Explain the roles of Eris and Iris in the story of the Iliad. Make plain which one does
15 (two points). Provide a parenthetical reference (just the page and line number[s], no quotation) for
the first epic simile in Book IX of the Iliad.
16 (two points). Who foretells the death of Achilles before the Scaean gate of Troy? And who does the
killing of Achilles?
17 (two points). Indicate any of the following that is/are true: a. the Iliad and Beowulf have the
traditional epic feature of fatalism, b. the Iliad and Beowulf have the traditional epic feature of heroic
similes, c. the Iliad and Beowulf open with the traditional epic feature of an announcement of the
theme, d. the Iliad and Beowulf open with the traditional epic feature of an invocation of the muse, e.
the Iliad and Beowulf have the traditional heroic feature of trophy-taking, f. the Iliad and Beowulf have
the traditional heroic feature of long set speeches, g. the Iliad and Beowulf have the traditional epic or
heroic feature of revenge as a motivation, h. all are true, i. none is true?
18 (two points). Explain in a few sentences or brief paragraph how it is wrong to say that Homer wrote
19 (two points). What two interpretations did I use to explain why Achilles’ shield in Book XVIII gets so
Bonus Questions (1 point each):
Bonus 1. This tribe of Germanic people settled mainly in the southwestern part of what became AngloSaxon England.
Bonus 2. Which of these does not appear alongside the others: the eagle, the wyrm, the raven, the wolf.
Bonus 3. Find the epithet for Hector closest to the end of Book XXIV and quote the line containing it
here with a full and correct citation.
Bonus 4 (two points). How does Priam’s kissing the hand of Achilles both violate and exemplify the
Lecture Nine, Homer’s Iliad
We’re at a work so long and complex that there is no way to treat it in detail. That’s typical of survey
courses. By necessity, a great work like Homer’s Iliad will get only superficial treatment for much of it—
more’s the pity. The work has twenty-four divisions in it called “books,” some of which the editors didn’t
include, and parts of those assigned will get little or no mentioning in the lecture. Nevertheless, do read
all of the selections in the anthology. I’ll emphasize its epic and heroic features mainly.
Let’s start with the heroic code as an essential concept to understanding the epic. Here’s much of the
definition from the Glossary:
Heroic code: The concept of the heroic code has leant its name to other related terms you’ll
often hear: “the Heroic Ideal,” and “the Heroic Age,” a period through which all great cultures
apparently pass as they develop from a tribal people into a nation. The Heroic Age is an age of
heroes to put it simply, and in the literature covered by this course you can find examples in
the Ancient and Classical Ages and the early part of the Middle Ages. The heroic society is at
first organized by families with the head of the family as chief of his close kinsmen. Over time,
the family grows larger and intermarries with others so that a sort of confederated group of
families comes to be united under a single superior chieftain or “king” (the modern English
word derived from the Anglo-Saxon word cyning for “chieftain”). These larger groups would
still number only a few hundred members. Only in times of crisis caused, say, by invasion or
famine and the need to migrate would the political identities grow larger into anything
resembling a nation. And usually once the crisis passed, the “nation” would break apart again
into squabbling tribes. Other features of heroic culture include an intensely male-dominated
perspective. Women, when mentioned at all in the literature of heroic culture, are often
simply objectified, part of some man’s collection of prized possessions. Women or wives might
be counted among a warrior’s number of swords, utilitarian objects like bowls, animals such as
cattle and horses, land and even food storehouses as evidence of his prowess and successes.
Blood-revenge, especially for slain or injured or humiliated family members, was essential.
Recourse to payment made by a person being pursued for revenge was sometimes an option.
We’ll see it in Priam’s payment as a ransom to Achilles in exchange for the body of Hector. And
in Beowulf, we’ll see several times this same concept of payment to escape being pursued for
revenge where it is called wer-gild in Old English meaning “man-price.” The idea of kingship
was also important. The king must be a preeminent hero if his people are to succeed; if his
powers fail, so do the hopes of the people he leads. The heroic ideal was excellence; the
hero/king had to do better than any others and at all pursuits. Skill and courage were the
foremost qualities of the hero, whether he was a warrior or a king; but story-telling, political
judgment, extravagant feasting and rewarding of followers were also important. The heroic
ideal had two chief aims: 1. to lead to the practical success for a hero and his people during his
lifetime and 2. to guarantee a fame that would live on after the death of the hero (almost no
heroic cultures had religions like Christianity which promised an afterlife). Given the
importance of fame in and after a lifetime, the bard who could tell the tales of deeds of
prowess was especially prized.
An Old Engraving Showing Heroes of the Trojan War
As you read the work, notice how Homer’s poem illustrates the essential features of the heroic ideal,
but don’t be surprised to find that some of the features aren’t perfectly represented in that epic. As you
study the Iliad, look also for features of the epic, including epic similes. The Glossary definitions of the
epic and epic simile, slightly abbreviated, follow:
Epic: An epic is a long narrative (story-telling) poem in elevated style presenting characters of
high position in adventures and forming an organic whole through the characters’ relation to a
central heroic figure and through the development of episodes important to the history of a
nation or a race. Epics with no known or an obscure author are called folk epics. Epics written
in conscious imitation of folk epics but by poets whose existence we can be sure of are known
as art epics. Homer’s two epics, because of the poet’s obscure role in them, are said to be folk
epics, like the anonymous Beowulf. Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s
Paradise Lost with their clearly known authors are art epics. Both folk and art epics share
common characteristics: 1. the hero is a figure of imposing stature, of national or international
importance, and of great historical or legendary significance; 2. the setting is vast for the
culture which produced it; 3. the action consists of deeds of great valor or requiring
superhuman skill; 4. supernatural forces—gods, demons, angels—involve themselves in the
actions and intervene from time to time; 5. a style of sustained elevation and grand simplicity
is used; and 6. the epic poet recounts the deeds of heroes with a measure of objectivity. To
this list (some of which are omitted in particular epics) may be added another list of common
devices or conventions used by most epic poets. The poet opens by stating the theme, invokes
a muse, and begins the narrative in medias res (literally, “in the middle of things”)—this last
device is not used in Homer’s Iliad but is used in his Odyssey, which I didn’t assign. The poet
includes catalogs or lists of items or persons like warriors, demigods, ships, or armies. The poet
also gives extended speeches to the main characters and makes frequent use of epic simile.
Epic Simile: An epic simile (also called the Homeric or heroic simile) is an elaborated
comparison. Because it is a simile, an epic simile will contain the words “like” or “as,” thus
distinguishing itself from a metaphor in which two things are equated rather than compared.
The epic simile differs from an ordinary comparison in being more involved, ornate and
lengthy. In the following passage from the Iliad, Paris’ anxiousness to rejoin the battle is
described through an epic simile as the mettlesomeness of a proud horse:
Nor did Paris linger in his high-roofed house,
but when he had put on his glorious armor, elaborate in bronze,
then he sped through the city, confident in the swiftness of his feet.
As when a horse confined to a stall, fed on barley at the manger,
breaking his tether runs with pounding feet across the plain
to immerse himself in the fair-flowing waters of his accustomed river,
triumphant, and he holds his head high, his mane
streaming about his shoulders; emboldened by his beauty,
his knees bear him lightly to the pasture and places horses love;
so Paris, son of Priam, from the heights of Pergamos
set out radiant in his armor like the sun,
laughing out loud, his swift feet carrying him. (p. A255, ll. 503-514)
To make plain the actual epic simile in this passage I’ve used a burnt orange font color for it.
Note also that in the next-to-last line of this passage, you have a simple simile: “like the sun.”
This isn’t an epic simile or part of one—just an everyday simile such as we commonly use.
The thing being compared is Paris; the thing to which he is being compared is the stallion. Note
in this example how in an epic simile the description of the thing to which the comparison is
made (the stallion) is so arresting that it threatens to distract the reader from the awareness
of the thing (Paris) which first evoked the comparison.
Look also for the subtle ways Homer gave this long poem its design. One is the way he draws
comparisons between the Greeks and Trojans and between the mortals and the gods. Consider, for
example, how women figure importantly, though somewhat in the background, as the cause for much of
the poem’s action. The Trojan War, after all, came about by Paris’ abduction of Helen, wife of a Greek
king Menelaus. The poem also opens with fateful disputes over Chryseïs and Briseïs, two women taken
as war prizes. Then there’s the strife in Olympia mainly between the god Zeus and the goddesses Hera
and Athena that keeps the lives of the mortals in turmoil.
As the introduction to the Iliad indicates, the poem opens near the end of the ten-year-long Trojan War.
And as you’ll see, the Iliad ends before the fall of Troy, and many of the most memorable features of the
Trojan War (Achilles’ heel, the Trojan Horse) aren’t included in Homer’s Iliad. A few get recounted in The
Odyssey; still others in Greek plays and other sorts of narratives. However, the end of this war, including
the Trojan Horse episode, was best told by Virgil in his Roman epic Aeneid.
Book I (The Wrath of Achilles), pp. A232-246:
Many of what follow are epic features such as those found listed in the Glossary definition above. The
Homeric poems of the Iliad and the Odyssey are where many of those epic features first appeared.
Having been recorded there, the features became conventional because almost all of the western epics
derive from or were imitative of these two Homeric poems. Beowulf, the only other epic we study this
term, however, is not clearly derived from the Homeric tradition, and for that reason you won’t find a
few of the key epic features like the invocation of the muse and announcement of the theme in the
opening or the epic simile in Beowulf.
The Iliad opens with two epic features, the invocation of the muse and the announcement of the theme,
p. A232. Invoking the muse was a sort of gesture of modesty. It was the poet’s way of suggesting that he
or she got divine help or inspiration from a muse. The muses were the nine daughters of Memory,
known to the Greeks as Mnemosyne, who presided over nine areas of literary, scientific, and musical
art. Calliope, the muse of epic and heroic poetry, is the one invoked (prayed to for assistance) here (p.
A232, l. 1). But here’s a list of all nine: Calliope (the ‘beautiful of speech’): chief of the muses and muse
of epic or heroic poetry; Clio (the ‘glorious one’): muse of history; Erato (the ‘amorous one’): muse of
love or erotic poetry, lyrics, and marriage songs; Euterpe (the ‘well-pleasing’): muse of music and lyric
poetry; Melpomene (the ‘chanting one’): muse of tragedy; Polyhymnia or Polymnia: muse of sacred
song, oratory, lyric, singing and rhetoric; Terpsichore (the ‘[one who] delights in dance’): muse of choral
song and dance; Thalia (the ‘blossoming one’): muse of comedy and bucolic poetry; Urania (the ‘celestial
one’): muse of astronomy.
The second epic feature in the opening is the announcement of the theme: the rage of Achilles—here
called “the ruinous wrath of Peleus’ son Achilles” (p. A232, l. 1). The theme traditionally appears simple
and direct, but as the epic continues, it takes on complications. You’ll see in Book I that Achilles’ rage is
directed, ironically, at his fellow Greeks and his commander-in-chief Agamemnon in particular for
depriving Achilles, the Greek’s champion or greatest warrior, of Briseïs, a woman taken as a war-prize.
Later in the poem, Achilles’ rage is redirected away from Agamemnon and towards Hector for killing
Achilles’ great friend Patroclus.
The story’s opening is fairly clear, but I will summarize some. An epizootic (man- and animal-killing)
plague (p. A233, ll. 48-53) has been visited on the Greeks, a punishment for Agamemnon’s blustering
dismissal of Chryses, an important Trojan-allied priest of Apollo, who had come to ask the Greek
commander to return Chryses’ daughter Chryseïs. Agamemnon refuses haughtily, and Chryses prays to
Apollo, the god of health, to punish them, and the god obliges. (By the way, Homer never calls the
Greeks the “Greeks”; to him they are Achaeans, Argives or Danaans; and they are also sometimes known
by their tribal identities: Menelopians, Ithacans, Myceneans, and so on). Because of the plague crisis
caused by Agamemnon, the other Greeks meet in a war-council at which they naturally defer to Achilles,
their greatest warrior, and he is chosen to confront their commander. Agamemnon is a proud man and
belligerent in the face of any threat to his authority. Achilles begins his appeal reasonably enough, but
the two soon descend into wrangling that has all of the subtlety of two teenagers disagreeing on the
neighborhood basketball court (pp. A234-235, ll. 130-171), and Agamemnon says in effect he’ll go home
and take Achilles’ ball with him: “And you can’t do anything about it. Nyah, nyah, nyah!” Actually, since
Agamemnon realizes he must give up Chryseïs to end the disastrous plague, he tries to save face by
appropriating Briseïs, another woman taken as a war-prize, from Achilles.
Achilles’ impulse is to draw his sword and run Agamemnon through, but he is stopped by Pallas Athena
the goddess of wisdom who appears only to him and tells him if he’ll restrain himself to only telling
Agamemnon off, he’ll get three times the reward as compensation for his commander’s arrogance (p.
A236, ll. 197-214). This instance is an interesting and distinctly mythological one of the intervention of
the gods, another typical epic feature. Athena is the goddess of wisdom, and one way of understanding
her visitation is not as a literal visit but as Achilles’ reconsideration of what to do and decision to be
patient. We’d say that “he used his better judgment or wisdom,” and perhaps that’s all that happened
here if we’re to rationalize the moment, but Achilles and Homer prefer to see it as submitting to the
influence of the goddess who can induce a man to act wisely.
This incident also connects to other features of the heroic code and epic. Heroic warriors are immensely
proud and are concerned about their standing among fellow warriors. This is an occasion when Achilles
has to “lose face,” an expression from Chinese traditional culture. He must give up a war prize, a
measure of his value as a warrior, and do so to an arrogant commander he doesn’t respect who is being
high-handed in an obvious power play because Agamemnon is also anxious not to lose face.
Athena’s intervention, as already mentioned, is an instance of a typical epic feature: supernatural
presence and influence. It is also an instance of the macrocosmic/microcosmic connection in the work.
That thoroughly Greek term translates as “large world” / “small world,” and it means the way things in a
larger setting reflect things in a smaller setting and vice-ver ...
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