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Homer's Iliad, Books XIX-XXIV
(click for: Books I-XIIDiagram: Structure of Bk. IBooks XIII-XVIIIBooks XIX-XXIV Book XVIFinal wrap-up)


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      He took the old man's hand and pushed him
gently away, and the two remembered, as Priam sat huddled
at the feet of Achilleus and wept close for manslaughtering Hektor
and Achilleus wept now for his own father, now again
for Patroklos. The sound of their mourning moved in the house...

                                      Iliad, XXIV: 508-512

Our final discussion of the Iliad will focus on the human milestones of the last half of the poem: the aristeia of Patroklos (in particular, his killing of Sarpedon and his own death at the hands of Hektor); the arming and aristeia of Achilles, and the death of Hektor; and the extraordinary embassy of Priam, in person, to Achilles' tent to ask for his son's body back.

We will give particular attention to Books 16, 18, 22 and 24. If we have time, we will come back to Book 23 to discuss the funeral games for Patroklos: as you read these, consider what they reveal about the participants (the Greek heroes), and how they may relate, symbolically or thematically, to other parts of the poem.

Keep in mind the "Big Questions" of the poem: can there be any compensation for death? How can "we" (that is, the inhabitants of the poem) live in such a way as to make sense of death? Can grief ever end?

And, now that you have the whole epic at your disposal, look for overall structural techniques. For example: Do you see any parallels/reflections/resonances between the first and second halves of the poem? How about between Book 24 and Book 1? Is there ring composition involved in the way events are distributed and narrated? And so on. If you give these questions serious consideration, you may make some surprising discoveries.

To get an idea of the kind of thing I mean, click here to see a diagram I made of Book I. (Click on the diagram itself to enlarge it; click again to make it smaller.) You'll see I've charted the parallels and reflections that exist in the thematic material of that book alone. Try it with other books, or with the epic as a whole, and see what comes up!


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