- the Poem
- In the Iliad text a consistent thematic (ring-)structure can be found that suggests the following:
- The poem is an organic unity: there are no significant superfluous parts.
- It is an oral composition by one poet. I say this because said structure looks like a framework,
a 'map of ideas' for organising and keeping a handle on a large scale composition in memory.
Corresponding parts of this structure are related by likeness or contrast. This can be helpful in the interpretation of the poem.
While mostly regular, some anomalies in the structure may indicate localised expansion or recomposition of the Iliad text.
- the Narrative
- The poetry has a definite intention: it is persuasive rhetoric.
- The narrative is not surface-only. It uses techniques like allegory, parable, simile, rewriting of myth, irony to create a second 'hidden' layer of meaning that comments on relevant subjects.
- The surface layer is literal and works by pathos, the 'hidden' layer is argumentative.
- The target is the poet's own contemporary world, Ionia, its people and
- The political subject under discussion being the (failure of) the Ionian migration.
- Its main source is the preexisting Trojan cycle of myths.
- A crucial hypothesis here is that the 'abduction of Helen' myth was actively used as a
charter myth, a political banner, in Homer's day.
- This manner of storytelling and the subject matter of the Iliad suggest an original target
audience within the warrior class exclusively ('sympotic language').
- the Heroes
- The protagonists of the story are not fully 3-dimensional people: they are generic (types).
- Except Hector, the main actual character of the Iliad.
- The chief heroes of the Achaeans each are 'a partial Achilles' i.e. they each highlight an aspect of our universal hero.
- As such, they are about us, the ancient Greek audience (see 2.3). The 'learning curve' of
teaches us the ethics of the polis.
- the Gods
- Likewise, the pictures of the gods acting and reacting are about us. Homer's gods are
move us, make us act as we do...
- ...subjectively. This implies that in the depiction of the gods there is also focalization
(both primary and secondary).
- In this acting upon us, each of the gods and goddesses act only within their own specific
domain. The paradigm for this is the 'Judgement of Paris' myth.
- So the gods are what we obey. There are two kinds of things that we may obey (or not):
rules and desires. Rules are the domain of male gods, desires are the domain of the goddesses.
- There is a direct line from Homer's view of the gods to Plato's philosophy, especially his
'three parts of the human soul'.
- the Poet
- There is a special relationship between the poet and the god Apollo with his attributes: bow & arrows, lyre, healing, prophecy.
- In the Odyssey the self-reflexivity is developed further, around the key concepts of aoidic performance, exile and anonymity ("my name is Nobody").
next page: introduction