Thursday, 19 February 2015

 The Iliad    -      Homer                                         

One of the finest achievements in Western literature, Homer’s ILIAD tells us the story of the darkest episode of Trojan War. At its centre Ahilles, the greatest warrior-champion of the Greeks and his conflict with his leader King Agamemnon. The story centres on the critical events in four days of the 10th and final year of the war between the Greeks and Trojans that led to Achilles killing Hector the leader of the Trojans. The Iliad is written in the 10th year of the Trojan War.
The great heroes on the Trojan side are: Aeneas, Hector and Paris (Alexanderous). On the Spartan(Greek) side are: Ajax (there were two Ajaxes), Achilles, King Agamemnon, Menelaus and Odysseus.   
Greek and Roman conceptions of myth. Mythology was at the heart of everyday life in Ancient Greece. Greeks regarded mythology as a part of their history. They used myth to explain natural phenomena, cultural variations, traditional enmities and friendships. It was a source of pride to be able to trace one’s leaders’ descent from a mythological hero or god. The profound knowledge of the Homeric classics was deemed by the Greeks the basis of their acculturation.  Homer was the “education of Greece”. But Plato the great Greek philosopher expelled the study of Homer of the tragedies and of the related mythological traditions from his utopian ‘Republic’.
After the rise of philosophy, history, prose and rationalism in the late 5th century B.C. the fate of myth became uncertain, and mythological genealogies gave place to a conception of history which tried to exclude the supernatural such as the Thucydidean history, while poets and dramatists were reworking the myths, Greek historians and philosophers were beginning to criticise them. A few radical philosophers like Xenophanes of Colophon were already beginning to label the poets’ tales as blasphemous lies in the 6th century B.C. Zenophanes had complained that Homer and Hesiod attributed to the gods “all that is shameful and disgraceful among men; they steal, commit adultery, and deceive one another”.  This line of thought found its most sweeping expression in Plato’s ‘Republic” and “Laws”.  Plato created his own allegorical myths (such as the vision of Er in the Republic), attacked the traditional tales of the gods’ tricks, thefts and adulteries as immoral, and objected to their central role in literature.

Plato’s criticism was the first serious challenge to the Homeric mythological tradition, referring to the myths as “old wives’ chatter. Nevertheless, even Plato did not manage to wean himself and his society from the influence of myth; his own characterization for Socrates is based on the traditional Homeric and tragic patterns, used by the philosopher to praise the righteous life of his teacher.  But perhaps someone might say, “Are you then not ashamed, Socrates, of having followed such a pursuit, that you are now in danger of being put to death as a result?” But I should make to him a just reply. “You do not speak well sir, if you think a man in whom there is even a little merit ought to consider danger of life or death, and not rather regard this only, when he does things, whether the things he does are right or wrong and the acts of a good or a bad man. For according to your argument all the demigods would be bad who died at Troy, including the son of Thetis, who so despised danger, in comparison with enduring any disgrace, that when his mother (and she was a goddess) said to him, as he was eager to slay Hector, something like this, I believe, My son if you avenge the death of your friend Patroclus and kill Hector, you yourself shall die”; for straightway, after Hector, is death appointed unto you”. Achilles, when he heard this, made light of death and danger, and feared much more to live as a coward and not to avenge his friend’s death and said “Straightway, may I die, after doing vengeance upon the wrongdoer, that I may not stay here, jeered at beside the curved ships, a burden of the earth.

The story of ILIAD begins with the quarrel between Achilles and King Agamemnon over a beautiful young girl called Briseis. She was given to Achilles by the Achaeans when they plundered the city of Thebes as his share of the loot. Achilles, the tower of strength of the Greek army loved the girl and she also was in love with the great Greek warrior and stayed with him in his tent in the ship. King Apollo sent pestilence upon the host (the Greek people who had come to the seashore of Troy in many ship and anchored in the sea around the city of Troy) The Greeks have been fighting with the Trojans for the last ten years over the issue of Helen, the wife of Menelaus who had been abducted by Paris (Alexandrus), the youngest son of King Priam of Troy. Menelaus is the brother of Agamemnon, the King of Greek people. Paris is the brother of Hector of Troy.

Chryses is the priest of  God Apollo and prayed to the God that he was dishonoured by the King Agamemnon. The old man had gone to the King Agamemnon and requested him to get back his daughter Chryseis and he was willing to give him ransom but the King was angry with the old priest and said that he would not free her and she would live in the household of King Agamenon. This is why King Apollo sent pestilence on the Greek people and they died in hundreds and thousands. An assembly was held and Achilles asked King Agamemnon to free the girl to her father. But Agamemnon demanded the girl Briseis from Achilles. Thus they quarrelled over the girl and she was taken away by force from the tent of Achilles by King Agamemnon. Achilles is the son of mortal Peleus and his mother is the Silver-footed Thetis a goddess. She is the daughter of old Merman of Oceanus and lives with her father in the Oceanus. Goddess Juno is the sister and wife to Father Jove, the dread son of Saturn. Juno has a son called Vulcan, the lame footed semi god, who is the smith of Olympus. King Apollo is also known as Foebus Apolo is the son of Jove and lovely Leto. Apollo is always seen as a hunter with a silver bow and a quiver upon his shoulder. When he shoots arrows one by one pestilence struck man, animals alike and fall dead like rain drops.
Furious at this insult, Achilles returns to his tent in the army camp and refuses to fight in the war any longer. He is now very angry with Agamemnon and the Achaean forces and asks his mother the sea-nymph Thetis to get the help of Zeus, king of the gods for the victory of Trojans. The Trojan and Achaean sides have declared a cease-fire, but now the Trojans violated the treaty and with the help of Zeus, they began to kill hundreds of Achaean soldiers. Several days of fierce conflict continues including the duels between Paris and Menelaus and between Hector and Ajax. The Achaeans make no progress: even the heroism of the great Achaean warrior Diomedes proves fruitless. Finally the Trojans pushed the Achaeans back, forcing them to take shelter behind the ramparts that protect their ships. A night mission formed by Diomedes and Odysseus walked to the camp of the Trojans to get information about their plans also failed. The next day several Achaean commanders become wounded and the Trojans attacked the Achaean ramparts and set fire to one of their ships. Now all the Achaean soldiers were frightened with fear because they cannot return home to Greece if their ships are destroyed in fire.

On seeing the defeat and destruction of the ships of the Achaeans, Achilles agrees to a plan proposed by Nestor, the old man in Achaean camp. Achilles allowed his beloved friend Patroclus to take his place in battle and thus help the Achaeans against the Trojans. Achilles gave Patroclus his own armour. Achilles warned Patroclus not to fight with Hector in the absence of Achilles. It would be the glory of Achilles alone to kill Hector. Patroclus agreed to this and marched to the battle field.  Patroclus is a great warrior, second only to Achilles in the Achaeans army. With the help of Patroclus, Achaeans pushed the Trojans away from the ships and back to the Troy city walls. But Patroclus forgot the advice of Achilles and went forward to fight alone against Hector. God Appollo knocks Patroclus’ armour to the ground and it was easy for Hector to kill Patroclus. Fighting was stopped and both sides try to lay claim to the body and armour of Patroclus. Hector put on the armour of Achilles which had been given to him by his mother the sea-nymph Thetis. But he cannot take the body of Patroclus. It was taken away by Menelus and others and managed to bring the body back to Achaean camp. When Achilles learns that his beloved friend Patroclus was killed by none other than Hector, Achilles was immersed in the sea of sorrow. He cried aloud like a child for a long time sitting by the dead body and finally Achilles is determined to reconcile with Agamemnon and rejoin the battle. Thetis goes to Mount Olympus and persuades the semi-god Vulcan to forge a new suit of armour for her beloved son Achilles which she presents to him the next morning. Achilles then rides out to battle at the head of the Achaean army.

Meanwhile, Hector, not expecting Achilles to rejoin the battle, has ordered his men to camp outside the walls of Troy. But when the Trojan army glimpses Achilles, the greatest warrior of the Achaean army, it flees in terror back behind the city walls.

 Achilles told Agamemnon that that he was going to battle to avenge the death of Patroclus and he would fight fasting and without food till Achaeans avenged the Trojans. Meanwhile Jove of many delled Olympus bade Themis gather the gods in council, whereon she went about and called them to the house of Jove. Jove told them that he would watch the fight of the Achaeans and Trojans and all other gods and goddesses can join either Achaeans and Trojans as they wished, but don’t fight against Achilles. Juno, Pallas Minerva, earth encircling Neptune, Mercury bringer of good luck and excellent in all cunning- all these joined the Achaeans. With them also the lame god Vulcan joined. On the Trojan side, Mars, Apollo, Diana, Leto ,the river god Xanthus and Venus stood. God Apollo encouraged Aeneas to fight against Achilles and they fought against each other like two lions. Aeneas drove his spear at the great and terrible shield of Achilles, but Aeneas’ spear did not pierce the shield, for the gold, gift of the god stayed the point. Achilles in his turn threw and struck the round shield of Aeneas and Achilles could have easily killed Aeneas, but Neptune helped Aeneas, because Jove loved Aeneas above all the sons born to him of mortal women. Noble Anchises for his father and Venus for his mother. Now Jove hated the blood of Priam, while Aeneas shall reign over the Trojans, he and his children’s children that shall be born hereafter.

Phoebus Apollo came upto Hector and said. ”Hector, on no account must you challenge Achilles to single combat; keep a look out for him while you are under cover of the others and away from the thick of fight”. But when Achilles killed Polydorus, the youngest brother of Hector, he could not control himself and fought against Achilles. Hector stood outside the gate of Troy city. But old King Priam asked every Trojan to get inside the gate and he wanted to shut the gate against Achilless. But Hector alone stood outside the gate of Troy city for he decided to battle with Achilles. King Priam again and again begged Hector to go inside the gate and not to fight with Achilles. “Hector, the old man cried, stay not to face this man Achilles, alone and unsupported, or you will meet death hands of Achilles, for he is mightier than you. Come, then, my son within the city to be the guardian of Trojan men and Trojan women, or you will both lose your own life and afford a mighty triumph to the son Peleus. Have pity on your unhappy father”. The old man tore his grey hair as he spoke, but he moved not the heart of Hector. His mother nearby stood and wept. “Hector, she cried, weeping bitterly the while, “Hector, my son, spurn not this breast, but have pity upon me too”. On hearing the words of beloved parents, Hector thought for a while with the heaviness of his heart that if he did not fight against Achilles all Trojans would blame him. Suppose Hector tries to settle with Achilles by giving Helen and all the wealth taken from Greece, Achilles would not accept them because he wanted to kill Hector, he alone wants the glory of it. So it is better to fight against Achilles and die a heroic death.

 At that moment Achilles rushed to Hector at it were Mars himself and he brandished his terrible spear and Hector fled in dismay before the gates while Achilles darted after him at his utmost speed. As a mountain falcon, swiftest of all birds, sweeps down upon some cowering dove, the dove flies before him but the falcon with a shrill scream follows close after- Achilles make straight for Hector with all his might, while Hector fled under the Trojan wall as fast as his legs could take him. They ran for a long time along the waggon-road, hills and valleys. All the gods watched them and Jove said that his heart was full of pity for Hector. “So let gods decide whether we should save him or let him fall”. Then Minerva said to Jove, “Father Hector’s death is already decreed by you and you can do as you like, but we don’t feel pity for him” Then Jove said “it is your will shall be done”. On hearing this Minerava is happy and flew down to the plain of Troy and approached Achilles who is still running after Hector and said “You stay here and take breath while I go upto him and pursued Hector to make a stand and fight you”. Achilles obeyed her gladly. Then Minerva disguised herself as Deiphobus, the dearest brother of Hector and spoke to Hector in his voice “Dear brother, I see you are running for a long time and Achilles is chasing you at full speed round the city of Priam, let us wait and attack Achilles, we together”. Hector trusted the words of his brother and faced Achilles boldly. Achilles hurled his spear at Hector but Minerva snatched the spear and gave it back to Achilles without Hector’s seeing her. Hector hurled his last spear at Achilles, but it missed its aim and there was no weapon and cried for the help of his brother Deiphobus for a spear, but there was no man, then he saw the truth and said to himself “Alas! the gods have lured me on to my destruction” He took his sword and rushed to Achilles to kill him, but Achilles struck him with his sword on the neck of Hector and Hector fell headlong. Achilles then lashes the body of Hector to the back of his chariot and drags it across the battlefield to the Achaean camp. Upon Achilles arrival, the triumphant Achaeans celebrated Patroclus’ funeral with a long series of athletic games in his honour.  Each day for the next nine days, Achilles drags Hector’s body in circles around Patroclus’s funeral bier.

At last, the gods agree that Hector deserves a proper burial befitting to the great hero of Trojans. Zeus sends the god Hermes to escort King Priam who is Hector’s father and the ruler of Troy into the Achaean camp. Priam tearfully pleads with Achilles to take pity on an old father who lost his son.  He reminds Achilles of his own mortal father Peleus. On hearing the lamentations of Priam, Achilles is deeply moved, finally relents and returns Hector’s corpse to the Trojans. Both sides agree to a temporary truce, and Hector receives a hero’s funeral at Trojan city.

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