Myth into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Greece

By H. A. Shapiro | Go to book overview

2

EPIC

HOMER’S ILIAD: THE TROJAN WAR

The Iliad opens in the tenth year of the Greek siege of Troy, brought on by the theft of Helen, wife of King Menelaos of Sparta, by the young Trojan prince Alexandros (Paris). The poet announces in the first verse that he will sing “the wrath of Achilles,” and this motif does indeed provide the structure of the entire poem, until its final resolution in Book 24, when Achilles returns to Priam the body of his son Hektor. By this point, the source of Achilles’ wrath had changed to something far more devastating in its effect on him, the death of his beloved friend, Patroklos, at the hands of Hektor.


Book 1: Briseis

Initially, the wrath of Achilles had been caused by the insult to his honor of having his slave-girl, Briseis, taken away from him by the Greek commander, Agamemnon. Through the early scenes of Iliad 1 the hostility between the two heroes builds to a crescendo of hatred and name-calling that goes far beyond the matter at hand and suggests that nine years of fruitless siege have strained relations between them to the breaking-point. Agamemnon has learned that he must return his own prize, Chryseis, to her father, a priest of Apollo who had prevailed upon the god to bring down a plague on the Greek camp; but Agamemnon, as the most powerful of the Greek chieftains, cannot be without a suitable prize. To Achilles’ reasonable assurance that, there being no extra, unallocated booty (i.e. slave-girls) on hand, Agamemnon can expect a much richer reward once Troy is taken, the latter reacts testily, threatening to help himself to another hero’s girl, “your own, or that of Aias, or that of Odysseus” (1.138). This in turn provokes Achilles to vent long-pent-up frustration, that Agamemnon always claims the lion’s share of the spoils while he, Achilles, does most of the hard fighting. He threatens to leave Troy and go home, a challenge to Agamemnon’s authority that only stiffens his resolve to have Briseis, “that you may learn well how much greater I am than you” (1.185-86). Only

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Myth into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Greece
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xix
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Epic 11
  • 3 - Lyric 71
  • 4 - Drama 124
  • Bibliography 183
  • Index 192
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