Homer the Artist

Homeric descriptions of singers in action:
Od.8.62ff.. Demodocus: leans against a pillar, plays his lyre, and sings "as the Muse rouses him to sing". The subject matter is "deeds of gods & men, such as bards sing of" Od.1.337-8.
Achilles sings: Iliad 9.186-191.

The effect of a successful performance:
"They were all silent, held by enchantment in the shadowy hall", Od.11.333-4.

Singers are universally welcome:
Od.17.382-5.

A singer speaks:
"I am self-taught, and (but) the god has planted all sorts of paths of song in my mind" (Phemius), Od.22.347-8.
"Sing, Muse": Il.1.1. "Tell me, goddess": Od.l.l
."The Muses are goddesses, they were there, they know all about it; while we hear only rumour & know nothing": Il.2.484ff. Muses are daughters of Memory.

The shape of the Iliad.
Book 1, the quarrel; then scene of dispute, then harmony, on Olympus.
2, list of the Achaean warriors.
3, the first duel: Paris & Menelaus. Priam on the wall of Troy. The goddess Aphrodite intervenes to help her favourite by stealth. Domesticity of Paris & Helen. mirroring
22, the last duel: Hector & Achilles. Priam on the wall of Troy. The goddess Athene intervenes to help her favourite by stealth. Domesticity of Hector & Andromache.
23, all the Achaean warriors take part in the funeral games.
24, resolution of the quarrel of Priam & Achilles; preceded by scene of dispute, then harmony, on Olympus.

Three old men in supplication:
1, Chryses (brief; harshly rebuffed).
9, Phoenix (at greater length; rebuffed, but with emotion, 9.612f).
24, Priam (a whole scene, the deepest in the poem: accepted).
The killings in the second half of the Iliad are more ferocious & elaborately described than those of the first. Effect of crescendo.

The Odyssey falls into three:
Books 1-4, Telemachus: 1-2, on Ithaca; 3-4, on his travels.
5-12, Odysseus: away from Ithaca: 5-8, narrated by the poet;
9-12, reported by the hero.
13-24, Odysseus on Ithaca: 13-15, without Telemachus; 16-21, recognised but not proclaimed by Telemachus; 22-24, with Telemachus.
A central division of the Odyssey: 13.70-92, Odysseus on the Phaeacian ship: recalling l.lff: "Sing, Muse, of the man who wandered far... many were his sufferings on the sea..."

The Odyssey is influenced by the Iliad: e.g. the absence of the hero from the stage until Book 5 (compare Achilles); two books follow the climactic killing (Book 22 in each poem), & the Od., too, ends with a god-driven reconciliation. Also the Iliad people recur in Od.; even the dead ones.

Pace and variety:
Iliad 1: 1-7 General proem: the theme is the dread wrath of Achilles, death of heroes, heroes unburied: that was the will of Zeus 8-52 Chryses comes to ransom his daughter, is rebuffed, prays to Apollo; the god comes down "like night" & shoots his bow (3 short speeches, 2 changes of place)
53-343 The quarrel ot Agamemnon & Achilles, & the taking of Briseis (17 speeches, of varied length)
344-492 Achilles narrates the events to his mother Thetis; & Chryseis is returned to her father Chryses at Chryse.
493-611 2 scenes in heaven: 1) Zeus & Thetis; 2) All the gods.
Change of pace & also of intensity in these scenes: getting the audience quickly into the story; expanding on the quarrel; shift to gentler & more repetitive manner. The psychology of the quarrel carefully depicted.

Another dialogue scene:
The embassy to Achilles, Iliad 9. Six speeches, forming a shapely scene, with important psychological development:
--Odysseus: statesmanlike listing of Agamemnon's lavish offers. (long)
-Achilles: passionate rehearsal of his wrongs & determination to go home in the morning. (long)
--Phoenix: appeal by his proved love of Achilles; illustrative stories. (long)
--Achilles: Don't upset me: you ought to be on my side! In the morning we'll decide whether to go or stay. Make up the beds. (short)
--Ajax: We'd better be going; Achilles is pitiless. - How can you treat your friends like this? (short)
--Achilles: I know you're right; but when I think how he treated me, I can't do it! But when Hector reaches my ships, I fancy he'll have his hands full. (short)

Penelope in the Odyssey, her complexity:
Appears to the Suitors, 18.158ff. Her motivation unclear.
Her dream, 19.536ff. Dreams of Odysseus, 20.87-90; while he seems to see her standing by his bed, 91-94.
Her unexpectedly self-willed behaviour at the recognition scene with him, Book 23: developing the idea implicit in the traditional story of the Web, that she really was like Odysseus.

The range of the epics.
The battle-field of Troy; and scenes on the Trojan walls, & in Trojan houses; and the places of the gods, Olympus, and Mount Ida, & the places from which slain warriors come; sports day, Book 23; the women of Troy, Books 3, 6, 22, 24; gods' eye view of Troy (shared by us), 4. 1-72; 22.166, all the gods looked on at the pursuit of Hector - though it wasn't strictly a race.

The Odyssey includes both Olympus & also the lower world; travels in recognisably human & also in monstrous & unknown places; seductive goddesses; giants; the Cyclops; etc (mostly vouched for by Odysseus, not by the poet). Odyssey is also interested in women, beggars, servants, manners & courtesy, pirates, dogs.

The similes draw images from activities: angling, animal sacrifice, baby-sitting, blacksmithy, butchery, courtship, dispute over boundaries, diving for cuttle-fish, driving chariots, driving donkey out of a field, felling trees, fowling, funeral, gardening, gilding silver, giving birth, herding, homicide on the run, horse racing, hulling peas, hunting, keeping geese, keeping in a fire, metal working, milking, ploughing, potter's wheel, reaping, recovery from sickness, rennet, return of a son, sailors, sand castle, sausage making, ship-building, singer, staining ivory, stringing a lyre, tanning, threshing, trumpeters, weaving, weighing out wool, woodwork. As well of course as storms, lions, wolves, wild boars, trees, clouds, the sea.

On the Shield of Achilles are depicted also: cattle rustling, dancing, droving, herdsmen, law case, lyre playing, piping, ploughing, pottery, preparation of a meal, reaping, sheep, singing, vintage, wedding.

Beauty:
many words in Homer for different kinds of shining; heroes are of course good-looking, and Achilles was the most beautiful of all, Iliad 2.674. His approach to kill Hector, Iliad 22.313-320.

Jasper Griffin Balliol College, Oxford

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