Showing posts with label Homer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homer. Show all posts

Monday, December 9, 2013

“The Iliad” as a Primary Epic

An epic has been generally described as a long narrative poem, on a grand scale, about the deeds of warriors and heroes, kings and Gods. It is  majestic both in theme and style. It is a polygonal heroic story incorporating myth, legend, folktale, religion, and historical events of national or universal significance, involving action of broad sweep and grandeur. Epics are mostly of national significance in the sense that they embody the history and aspirations of a nation in a lofty or grandiose manner. An epic is a cultural mirror with a fixed ideological stance, often reflecting the best and the noblest principles of a nation’s ethos.

“The Iliad” is an epic poem by the ancient Greek poet Homer, which recounts some of the significant events of the final weeks of the Trojan War and the Greek siege of the city of Troy. Written in the mid-8th Century BC, “The Iliad” is usually considered to be the earliest work in the whole Western literary tradition, and one of the best known and loved stories of all time. Through its portrayal of the epic subject matter of the Trojan War, the stirring scenes of bloody battle, the wrath of Achilles and the constant interventions of the gods, it explores themes of glory, wrath, homecoming and fate, and has provided subjects and stories for many other later Greek, Roman and Renaissance writings.

Epic poetry falls into two distinct categories: primary and secondary epic. The Iliad belongs to the former. A primary epic  begins in medias res. In Medias Res is Latin for "it begins in the middle of things" and then has flashbacks to explain action leading up to that point. In THE ILIAD, for example, the story begins after the war between the combined forces of Greece and the forces of the walled city of Troy and their allies has been in progress for nearly ten years.

Like other primary epics, The Iliad also begins with an invocation to a god or gods. The poet, who in those days would have been reciting the epic to an audience, say, at a banquet, began by calling for a blessing--for a god or gods to attend this effort of his. They probably literally believed that the called upon god or muse came into them and, therefore, that it was not the poet who recited, but the god in the poet's body. Poet's, then, were considered very sacred, for they could call down a god and have the god in them, at least temporarily. We continue to have remnants of this belief, of course.We often think of poets or of any true artist as being different or touched by a special hand.In the case of the beginning of THE ILIAD, the poet says something like

"Sing, goddess of epic poetry, the story of the anger of Achilles."

In a primary epic the theme is usually stated at the beginning of the epic, because these poems are so long and so complex, although the basic stories would have been familiar to the audiences, the poet would begin with announcing what the recitation was to be about. The theme or central interest of The Iliad is the wrath of Achilles, which is stated at the beginning of the poem.

A primary epic usually has many epithets. These epithets are re-namings of the characters, gods, or things by stock phrases. An example is the re-naming of Agamemnon and Menelaus as "Atreus' two sons" or "the twin eagles." It is important for us to notice these epithets, first,because they add description, and second, because we get confused about who is doing what if do not recognize the epithets as well as the names.

In a primary epic, there are catalogues of things and characters; there are many lists, both long and short. Just as the Old Testament has catalogues of genealogies--you remember all those begets--just so do ancient epics keep track of the lists of history. In one book of THE ILIAD, for example, there is a list of the ships that sailed from Greece to Troy.

There are long and formal speeches by many characters. You will not have any trouble spotting these. Sometimes they happen in the heat of battle and other seemingly inappropriate times, but more often they occur at various kinds of meetings, as in an assembly of the chieftains.

In a primary epic, Gods intervene in the affairs of human beings in these stories. For example, in Book I of THE ILIAD, Achilles, getting very angry at Agamemnon, starts to pull out his dagger to kill him. Suddenly, a goddess rushes to the side of Achilles to warn him not to be so hasty.

The setting of an epic is vast. The setting of The Iliad is also vast encompassing both the Greek and Trojan islands.  

Epics use the epic simile. An epic simile is a long comparison of two things that are in different classes. They make vivid an image and describe or clarify. An example can be found in the long comparison of Paris Alexander, a Trojan prince, to a fine horse that has been manger fed a long time in a stable. When released to pasture, it races out with quick, sure strides, neck arched, knees high, mane flowing, proud it its beauty and strength , to race to drink from a clear flowing stream. So Paris ran to battle.

The heroes embody the values of their civilization. The physical strength and stamina of Achilles, for example, is made much of. The lifting of the latch of the door of his stockade requires the strength of three soldiers, but Achilles lifts it with one hand. His spear, thrown so lightly, is eighteen feet long. He is a power machine. Today, we all know, a tiny female can have more killing power than Achilles ever dreamed of. We have created compensations--weapons.

Thus, we see that as an epic The Iliad fulfills almost all the requirements of a primary epic.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Homer's Use of Humor and Comic Elements in 'The Iliad'

Homer's humors in The Iliad are related with his treatments of gods, men and war. Homer is a realist and finds his humors in the very texture of reality. Whenever he introduces a humorous scene he introduces it to reflect the reality. Most of the times he introduces humors to point out the foibles and weaknesses of gods and men and his humorous become savage. But the most noticeable thing in his treatment of humors is that he has portrayed two distinct worlds- the world of gods and the world of men and he introduces humorous in these two worlds separately. When he makes the gods laughable, the humans are not concerned and when the humors are related with men, the gods are not concerned. So the humorous elements are introduced solely when gods are shown together in sympathetic or in hostile action, but when dealing with mankind they are for from being amusing.

Homer's sense of humour is seen in his treatment of Olympus in the Book I. He introduces us to the Olympian court and household. There is a patriarchal family, which consists of father all seeing Zeus, mother Ox-eyed Here and their daughters and sons. The head of the family Zeus is not care free as he has many obligations to fulfill. Thetis of the silver feet comes to Zeus and implores him to help her son Achilles by giving a victory to the Trojans. At first he does not answer and she appeals again. The pathetic appeals move Zeus but he is afraid of his wife Here.

“This is a sorry business, you will make me fall foul of here.. Trave me now, or she may notice us. ”

It is absolutely humorous that Zeus- the father of men and gods is constantly bothered by the thought of his prying and nagging wife here. And soon we see that the husband and wife are quarreling each other and Zeus- the authoritative husband threatens to beat his wife. But Hepaestus, their lame son comes between them and tries to console his mother Here.

Homer's sense of humor is also seen in his portrayal of Hepaestus- the great artificer. He limps, but he is active on his slender legs. He serves in the banquet of the gods with nectar which he drew from the mixing bowl, and a fit of helpless laughter seizes the happy gods as they watch him bustling up and down the hall. That the gods laugh at the deformity of another god is humorous, though if becomes savage.

Homer also introduces the humorous seen in his portrayal of the battlefield. In the book II, Thersites the ugliest man that had come to Ilium becomes the source of humors. Through him Homer satirizes men's attitude to war. Thersites throws insults at Agamemnon, and he is stopped savagely by Odysseus. It is supposed that Therisites is half witted but we see that his words contain the very truth. And when he is struck by Odysseus on the back and shoulders everybody laughs at him. This kind of humors may distress us, as Thersites is laughed by all for his physical deformity, but this kind of physical deformity has always been an object of humor and the gods were constantly laughing at lame Hephaestus.

In the Book V Aphrodie and Ares also become the source of amusement. In this book, Diomedes, encouraged by Here attacks Aphrodite and Ares violently. Aphrodite reaches Olympus and implores Zeus that she has been injured by mortal. Zeus instead of punishing the offender smiles at her and says that fighting is not her business. She is in charge of wedlock and the tender passions. Again, Ares the war god, injured by Diomedes travels rapidly and reaches the high Olympus. He shows Zeus the immortal blood pouring from his wound and tells his story in a doleful vice. He accuses Zeus saying that he is indulging Here to do such havoc. But Zeus enraged by such accusation rebukes Ares severely. Zeus tells Ares that he hates him more than any god on Olympus. In a counter attack Zeus tells Ares that it is not Zeus but Ares and his mother Here are coursing all the troubles. So in this attack and counter attack among gods we find the touch of comic relief before the ultimate tragedy.

In the Book XIV Here's seducing of her husband Zeus also provides helpless laughter. Poseidon is helping the Greeks and Here wants to prolong this help. She dressing in her first garments and borrowing the magic girdle of Aphrodite flies of to Mount Ida to seduce her husband so that his attention is diverted. Zeus ,the father of men and gods is coaxed by the feminine charm and forgets his duty. And when he wakes up and takes Here to task, she lies. These scenes on the Olympus really add comicality to the story.

Home's another humorous treatment of war is seen is the Book XXI, where the immortals engage in combats on the human issue. Apollo and his sister Artemis put up a ludicrous show when they are at war with their uncle Poseidon and their father's consort Here. Apollo avoids fighting with his uncle on the ground that it will be improper thing to come to blows with his uncle. Artremis is also boxed on the ears by Here. And this scene is the final comic relief; we get before the tragic death of Hector.

So considering all the humorous scenes we can rightly conclude that Homer's sense of humor is very acute and realistic. He blends humor in his characterization of Heaven and earth. He uses humor sometimes to contrast between these two worlds and sometimes just to provide comic relief.