Reading Homer: Film and Text

Reading Homer: Film and Text

Reading Homer: Film and Text

Reading Homer: Film and Text


These nine new essays on Homer's epics deal not only with major Homeric themes of time (honor), kleos (fame), geras (rewards), the psychology of Homeric warriors, and the re-evaluation of type scenes, but also with Homer's influence on contemporary film. Following the introduction and an essay which sets the historical background for the epics, four essays are devoted to fresh analysis of key passages and themes while another four turn to a discussion of the film Troy and Homer's influence on two other genres of American cinema.


Kostas Myrsiades

ALMOST 3,000 YEARS AGO, A BLIND POET(S) LIVING AT THE DAWN OF civilization recited/composed two epic poems, the Iliad, recounting the wrath of Achilles, and the Odyssey, about the ten-year-long adventures of Odysseus. Today the Homeric epics as they are known to us, are read and taught throughout our colleges and universities, and ultimately they will probably become known in one form or another to most educated people around the world. What is it about these two poems that makes them the most read works, except the Bible, in Western civilization?

The answers are many. Historians use Homer’s works to piece together Mycenean society and the world as it existed during the poet’s life, usually placed around the end of the eighth century B.C.E.; anthropologists and sociologists study the epics for their wealth of information on everyday Homeric life; psychologists focus on Homer’s heroes to probe people’s need for moral values and religion; and folklorists search the texts as an encyclopedia of classical mythology.

Alexander the Great reportedly carried a copy of the Iliad with him wherever he went because for him the poem represented the epitome of heroism and the way a warrior had to conduct himself. Leo Tolstoy believed the Homeric epics were the closest thing to nature itself. Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold found them the best cure for a headache.

Beginning with Aristotle, students of Homer tended to become bogged down with linguistic disagreements until 1795, the year the German philologist F. A. Wolf published his Prolegomena ad Homerum, which argued that Homer’s epics were products of an illiterate age. With the publication of this book, Wolf was able to legitimize what up to his time was taken to be a heretical and minority view. Wolf’s book defined the course Homeric studies were to take from that point on—that Homer was an oral poet (an aoidos) whose epics were . . .

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