January 14, 2009

#01-209: The Iliad: Homer - Part II

a Greek soldier seems to be quarreling with a royal type as a woman in a crested helmet and bearing a spear tries to influence him; other soldiers look on, and ships lie in the distance
The Wrath of Achilles

Note: The first of Homer's two "Great Books" was about the Trojan War; Troy was also called "Ilium," so the book is called The Iliad.

Get Ready: How do you think war has changed between ancient times and today? What, today, is the importance of any single individual in a battle?

In Lesson #01-208 we talked about the Great Books of Western literature, and I introduced the epic poet Homer. Today, we'll look at the first of his two great works, The Iliad.

The story begins when Prince Paris abducts Helen (now called "Helen of Troy"), wife of Menelaus, and takes her to his home city of Troy. This sets off the struggle known as "The Trojan War." "Trojan" is an adjective form of "Troy."

Homer focuses on only a few weeks of the war's final (tenth) year. "Ilium" was another word for "Troy," so Homer's story is called The Iliad. It is about a confederation of Greeks attacking the city of Troy in an attempt to retrieve Helen and return her to her husband.

The hero of this story is Achilles, a psychologically complex character whose pride causes him to withdraw from the fight. Without him, the other Greeks are weakened, and the Trojans gain the upper hand.

The leader of the Trojan forces is Hector, son of King Priam of Troy and brother of Paris. He harasses the Greeks on all sides. Through a series of events, Achilles rejoins the battle and faces Hector one-on-one, slaying him.

The English word "hector" was originally a noun describing a great warrior: "The general was a regular hector." Later, it came to be a verb, meaning to bully or intimidate: "The boss was constantly hectoring his workers."

Two of the best-known events near the end of the war are not given in The Iliad at all, and both have given us well-known expressions.

Achilles' mother was a nymph named Thetis. She dipped him in the river Styx to give him magical protection. However, she held him by his heel, which thus remained unprotected.

And sure enough, near the end of the Trojan War, Paris shot Achilles in the heel with an arrow. From this story we get the expression "an Achilles heel," meaning a weak point. We can say someone's arrogance, for example, was his "Achilles heel."

The other phrases come from the event that ended of the war. You probably know the story: The Greeks hid some men in a large wooden statue of a horse and, leaving it as a "gift" at the gates of Troy, seemingly departed. When the statue was taken inside the gates, the men came out at night and opened the gate to let the attacking Greeks in.

The first phrase we get from this is the term "Trojan Horse," now used in computer lingo to describe a program that hides in your system until a predetermined date and then unleashes problems in your computer.

And the other is a proverb: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts."

In Lesson #01-210, we'll look at a sort of "sequel" to The Iliad: The Odyssey.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliad

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. abducts
  2. confederation
  3. harasses
  4. intimidate
  5. lingo
  6. nymph
  7. predetermined
  8. sequel
  9. slaying
  10. unleashes

  1. "part 2" (or 3, or 4...): a work that comes after a previous one
  2. kidnaps; "steals" a person
  3. a lesser goddess, usually a beautiful young woman living in a natural setting
  4. jargon; specialized language
  5. frightens; threatens
  6. sets loose
  7. bullies; annoys
  8. an association; a cooperative group
  9. decided in advance
  10. killing

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 14, 2009

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. h; 3. g; 4. e; 5. d; 6. c; 7. i; 8. a; 9. j; 10. f