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Iliad: Final Wrap-Up and Study Questions
(click for: Books I-XIIDiagram: Structure of Bk. IBooks XIII-XVIIIBooks XIX-XXIVBook XVIFinal Iliad wrap-up)


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"For a man must some day lose one who was even closer
than this.....And yet
he weeps for him, and sorrows for him, and then it is over,
for the Destinies put in mortal man the heart of endurance."
            (Apollo speaks, Iliad XXIV: 46-49)

In our last class on the Iliad,
we talked about the deaths of Sarpedon (killed by Patroklos, XVI: 482-453) and of Patroklos (killed by Hektor, XVI: 783-861), and about what each of these episodes signifies for the epic. (For a recap of some of the things we discussed, click here.)

When we talk about what an episode "signifies," we mean the following (using Patroklos's death as an example):
      (a) its dramatic significance (what subsequent events "happen because of," i.e. are dramatically motivated by, the fact and manner of Patroklos's death? Is there dramatic irony associated with these events, or with the speeches made by the participants? ...etc.)
      (b) its symbolic significance (what aspects of P's death resonate with other moments in the poem? It takes Homer several pages to narrate P's death [which is one of the "squiggles" that tell us it is significant]; does the poet include imagery in this narrative that is echoed elsewhere in the poem? Is there foreshadowing involved? What about that moment where Achilles's helmet [which P. has borrowed] rolls in the dust, for the first time ever [as Homer tells us, line 796]? What about the fact that P. is killed by Hektor while posing as Achilles? ...etc.)
      (c) its structural significance (why does it occur in book 16 out of 24 [i.e., 2/3 of the way through]? Are there events earlier and/or later in the epic that balance or mirror this one? The Iliad is a notably "architectural" poem--that is, it is built according to a very well-thought-out structural design, with an artistic symmetry comparable to that of the Parthenon. How does Patroklos's death contribute to the architectural design of the poem? ...etc.)

We can ask these same questions of any major event in the poem (and even quite a few of the minor ones).

In the "free time" generated by our not having class on Tuesday, I would like you to ask similar questions about certain "highlights" of Books 18-24, focusing especially on the following:

Hektor's death, XXII: 248-375.
Compare this episode with that of Patroklos's death (XVI: 783-861). Consider the way each of the two bodies is treated by the victor(s), using Andromache's description of the way Achilles treated her father's corpse (VI: 414-421) as a blueprint for the way heroes' bodies ought to be treated. Consider also the prophecies that feature in the dying men's final speeches: How do they contribute (structurally/symbolically/dramatically) to the poem? How are these speeches received by the victors, and what does that reveal about the character of each? In other words, how do Patroklos and Hektor measure up as victims; and how do Hektor and Achilles measure up as victors, respectively? How do Hektor's answer at XVI: 859-61 and Achilles's at XXII: 365-66 reflect their actions and characterization throughout the epic? Do the two of them stand for (represent, symbolize) anything (apart from "Troy" and "Argos," respectively)? How does Hektor's deliberation (lines 98-130) reflect a scheme of values different from what we have seen evolving in Achilles? At the crisis, how do these values stand up to heroic confrontation (lines 136ff.)? Athene's trick (pretending to be Hektor's brother) seems cruel and underhanded to the modern reader. Keep in mind that, among other things, such Olympian "helpers" may act as symbols of the hero's arete (not a substitute for it). More importantly, why is Athene's trick a fitting one, given the characters, situations and symbolic resonances involved?

Finally, in relation to all these death scenes (Sarpedon's, Patroklos's, Hektor's), what events outside the scope of the poem seem to be inscribed in this trajectory? The fall of Troy is not depicted in the Iliad; how does Homer gesture towards it, using Hektor's death and its repercussions? Similarly, Achilles is not to die within this narrative: do you see symbolic and dramatic portents of his death encoded in the narrative?

Be sure to track Achilles's armour. What is the significance of the fact that when Patroklos kills Sarpedon, he is dressed as Achilles? What about the fact that Patroklos then goes on to "act out" Achilles's own death--while wearing A's armour and fighting for A's kleos? When Achilles, in turn, confronts Hektor, Hektor is wearing Achilles's own armour. How many layers of significance can you wring from the fact that Achilles is therefore, in effect, killing himself (in effigy/surrogate)? From Achilles's perspective, he's killing the man he holds responsible for Patroklos's death--any irony there?
Give some thought to helmets while you're about it: from Hektor's in Book 6, to Achilles's in Books 16 and 22, to Andromache's headdress at XXII: 467-72, head-coverings seem to have particular significance here. What does this motif contribute to your reading?

Look closely at how the folks back in Troy react to news of Hektor's death (XXII: 405 to the end).
Do you see a parallel between Priam's wallowing in the dirt (ln. 414, out of grief for Hektor) and Achilles's refusal to eat (XIX: 213 and 305-308, out of grief for Patroklos)? How does their grief over a loved one's death threaten to sever each of these heroic men from the ongoing process of living? How do they overcome this "disconnection" to return to life by the end of Book 24?
Why do you think Priam's response here is emphasized more than Hekabe's?
Note especially how Andromache finds out about her husband's death (ln. 437ff.). Homer really turns on the pathos here: how does he do it (i.e., what emotions does he draw on to wring a tear from his audience)? How does she finish, here, the story Hektor started to tell back in Book 6?

The Funeral Games for Patroklos (Book 23) give us additional insights into Achilles's character in general, and his capacity for dealing with grief in particular; however, they do interrupt the "main" storyline a bit. Why do you think Homer takes the time to narrate the Games so lovingly?

Priam's extraordinary midnight embassy to Achilles in Book 24 is, in a way, the emotional climax of the whole work. Why does Achilles finally agree to give Hektor's body back--that is, how do the dramatic, symbolic, structural and philosophical layers of the poem come together here to produce the logic according to which Achilles (under Homer's direction) acts? What kind(s) of closure is Homer offering us here?

Some important things you might want to consider about this scene:

--Thetis, sent by Zeus, appeals to Achilles on the gods' behalf (note how the direction of communication here reverses what we saw in Book 1). What is the structural value of this?

--There is something fundamentally cruel and disorderly about the idea of children dying before their parents (cf. Thetis's laments dirented at her mortal son)...how does this play into Priam's status vis-a-vis Achilles?

--In Book 9, we saw Achilles's philosophical quest for some kind of meaning in death; at XXIV: 550, he seems to acknowledge that there is no compensation for death as such. (To review the models of compensation that have been suggested by various characters in the Iliad, click here.) Notice the 2-phase model of consolation Apollo suggests in his speech at XXIV: 46-49, quoted at the very top of this page. How does this model play out in the exchange between Priam and Achilles? (Hint: Achilles himself summarizes, in the opening and closing of his paradeigma speech about Niobe, lns. 599-620.)

-- Note that Priam is the only one who has suffered more than Achilles (lns. 505-506). He appeals, as a grieving father, to Achilles's memory of his own father. Why is this especially poignant--and effective?

--Achilles has, in fact, been something of a curse on fathers: Priam, Hektor, Peleus. At the same time, we have seen him surround himself with a number of "surrogate" father figures: Agamemnon ("I'm taking away your prize because you've been a naughty boy..."), Phoinix, Patroklos (whose name means "glory of the fathers"), and now Priam. How do you see this "quest" for a father figure playing into the dramatic, symbolic and structural design of the poem?
[By the way, Achilles does have a son, Neoptolemos, whom he conceived while disguised (by Thetis) as a girl to avoid being sent to Troy (read about it here). This son receives almost no attention from Homer (though he will loom large in Virgil's retelling of the fall of Troy, in the Aeneid). Why do you think Homer downplays him?]

--Note our last sight of Achilles (lns. 675-676). How many layers of significance can you wring from the fact that we leave him precisely here?

Finally, Hektor's burial rites (ln. 710 to the end): compare Andromache's lament (lns 723-745) with Thetis's for Achilles (XVIII: 52-63). Note that when Thetis visits Achilles at XVIII: 71, she holds his head in her arms--as Andromache holds Hektor's here, in a traditional mourning posture. How does Homer use Thetis's gesture as a symbolic tool?
Back at Hektor's funeral: what is the point of giving Helen the last word (lns. 761-775)? And finally, why is it appropriate (or is it?) that we end this epic with the burial of Hektor--not some event in the Greek camp? How do you see this ending fitting in with Homer's architectural design?

Design in the Iliad
Do your best to schematize for yourself the overall structure (what I've been referring to as "architectural design") of the epic. I will go over this with you later (be sure to bring your Iliads to class on Thursday AS WELL AS the Hymn to Demeter).

Note: your discussion contributions on the questions I've asked above (which will be graded as your class participation for Tuesday) are due by midnight Tuesday (that is, 13 hours after our class would normally end).

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