From Homer to Menander: Forces in Greek Poetic Fiction

By L. A. Post | Go to book overview

II
The Tragic Pattern of the Iliad

WE HAVE SEEN that the Odyssey satisfies Aristotle's canon that a work of fiction should be a single organic whole. It was well described by Alcidamas as a fair mirror of human life, though Aristotle considered the metaphor too bold. The surge and thunder of the Odyssey are indeed distant and reflected; they entertain and delight because they do not stir us too deeply. There are dangers on the outskirts of the world, and even in the homeland there are wicked men who make trouble; but heaven helps the clever and brave and self-controlled who have right on their side. The question what is right is taken for granted, and it is taken for granted that when right prevails everyone will be happy. The universe that it depicts is comfortable and full of solid virtues; men ask nothing better than to live out their lives in peace. The Odyssey is a magic mirror that makes life seem cheerful and bright.1

Longinus says that the Iliad was the work of Homer's youth and the Odyssey of his old age. We must not forget though that the old age was that of Homer, and that the setting sun has often an attraction that makes us welcome it after the intensity of the orb of midday. Longinus' examples of sublimity in Homer are taken chiefly from the Iliad. The Iliad is full of elemental forces. Its characters are men of destiny who have no intention of resting quietly at home. From the youthful Achilles to the aged Nestor they seek glory in battle and in debate. The gods are treated with respect some of the time when it suits Homer, especially Zeus, Apollo, and Athena, but no one looks to the gods for salvation, except in minor

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1
For notes to chapter ii see pages 276-280.

-27-

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From Homer to Menander: Forces in Greek Poetic Fiction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • To Five Great Teachers v
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • 1- The Pattern of Success 1
  • II- The Tragic Pattern of the Iliad 27
  • III- The Social Consciousness of Aeschylus 56
  • IV- Sophoclean Tragedy 88
  • V- Euripidean Tragedy 122
  • VI- Propaganda, Idealism, and Romance 156
  • VII- Vacillation, Burlesque, and Variety 186
  • VIII- The Comedy of Menander 214
  • IX- Aristotle and the Philosophy of Fiction 245
  • Notes 271
  • Index 323
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