General Remarks on the Iliad

  • Reading the deaths of Patroclus and Hector (and much else in the poem), it may be useful to bear in mind these words of E. R. Dodds, in The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley, 1951), p. 7:
    "To ask whether Homer's people are determinists or libertarians [by which Dodds means believers in free will] is a fantastic anachronism: the question has never occurred to them, and if it were put to them it would be very difficult to make them understand what it meant. What they do recognize is the distinction between normal actions and actions performed in a state of ate [blind, destructive thoughtlessness]. Actions of the latter sort they can trace indifferently either to their moira [personal destiny] or to the will of a god, according as they look at the matter from a subjective or an objective point of view. In the same way Patroclus attributes his death directly to the immediate agent, the man Euphorbus, and indirectly to the mythological agent, Apollo, but from a subjective standpoint to his bad moira. It is, as psychologists say, 'overdetermined.'"

  • In a recent book, David Denby describes taking a break from his professional life as a film critic and going back to school to take the 'Great Books' course at Columbia. He admired in Homer,

    "The brute vitality of the air, the magnificence of the ships, winds and fires, the raging battles, the plains charged with terrified horses... the ravaged longing for home and family and ... the rituals of peace leading at last to an instant of reconciliation."

    How well does this match your own experience of the poem?

    (Bonus question: How does Mr. Denby's style in the above attempt to mimic or suggest the style of Homer?)

    Return to Reading Guide

    Return to home page