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The Iliad and Odyssey: Historical Background Who, What, Where: These epic stories are about the

Mycenaean or Bronze Age, ancient Greeks, who flourished from about 1600-1100 BC. This is roughly about the time Moses led the Israelites from Egypt through the time David ruled a united Jewish nation; by most accounts, Moses led the Jews out of Egypt and Troy fell somewhere around 1200-1300 BCE. (See our timeline) These "Greeks" are relative late-comers to the area we now call "Greece" and likely originated to the East of Black Sea, around the area now called the Caucasus (between the Black and Caspian seas, where Russia, Turkey and N. Iran meet). The story of Prometheus -- shackled to mount Caucus -shows strong connections between their original culture and that of the Sumerians etc. These people also probably invaded India, to the East/South at roughly the same time (discuss Pramantha/Prometheus mythology). So these Mycenaean people were both influenced by and influenced other great civilizations even before there was written history (or, for that matter, writing). Before the Mycenaeans arrived in the region, earlier "Greek" cultures worshipped ancient fertility goddesses probably related to Ishtar, Aphrodite, even Athena and Hera, and appear to have lived a rather peaceable, agricultural lifestyle (we assume this because archeological digs show these preMycenaean people lived without military weapons or fortifications...until they were invaded by the Mycanaeans). In contrast to "the locals", the Greek legends we read celebrate war; this is the literature of military conquerors, so the Mycenaean people had as much in common with the later Vikings as with the later philosophical, "civilized" Greeks: this is a culture of raiders, of looters and pillagers. From this perspective, The Iliad is a work of military propaganda that justifies Mycenaen control of the most valuable sea passage of age (the Bosporus), and The Odyssey justifies colonizing Italy and Sicily to the West. So, like the Hebrew scriptures -- or our own "Westerns" (cowboys/us vs. Indians/them) -- these Greek legends justify the invasion and domination of earlier "native" inhabitants. These Ancient (and even Classical) Greeks are best viewed as a culture rather than as a unified people or "nation". When we speak of "the Ancient Greeks" it's the same way we view Western Culture as referring to Europe, Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia. Achilles is a king in his own right, as is Odysseus, and Achilles goes to great lengths to point out that Agamemnon is not his king; Agamemnon is simply the commander of a federation of independent city states. Troy is believed to have fallen around 1184 BC and The Iliad and Odyssey were not written down until c.800-700 BC, so although they are based on vaguely real historical events, they are events that transpired hundreds of years before the author even lived; they are history that has morphed into mythology. We still say they were written by the blind poet Homer, but thats as much myth as the stories themselves; theres really no reason to believe that a man named Homer ever wrote any of these stories, or that he was blind. We can assume that this is a compilation of various oral tales and that much of the narration describes what Greek life and warfare was like in 750 BCE, not 1184 BCE.

Internecene Iliad, Othering Odyssey: The Iliad: The Iliad tells the final chapter in the story of two major Bronze Age Greek alliances battling each other. It ends when the Achaeans (people mainly from what we now call Greece) sack Troy (located in modern day Turkey). Both in scope and type, consider the Trojan war as similar to that between different European factions in WWI and WWII, or between the North and South in the American Civil War: this was a seminal, history-shaping event, and an intra-cultural war, a war fought among people of the same basic culture: although the two sides are protected by different gods, all the gods belong to the same basic pantheon or family of what we now call Greek gods. The Odyssey, in contrast, mainly takes place outside of that common culture and describes contact with pre-Mycenaean Mediterranean cultures. So The Iliad describes the clash between two equally brilliant and beautiful groups of Greeks, and The Odyssey describes contact with the Other, represented as monsters and witches. Profound Impact: Were interested in part in how familiar and "normal" these stories feel, how unexotic they are, because they are the foundation for how Western culture thinks of storytelling, and how this storytelling in turn shaped our conception of what it means to be a human being. While the Jews gave Western culture its religious foundation, the Greeks gave us our culture, the parts of our lives we don't even notice because it is the very air we breath our sense of heroism, of the individual, of the individuals relationship to others, or our very means of expressing our emotions and the way we tell stories. Jewish stories opened our way of conceptualizing God, but the Greeks gave us our way of thinking about ourselves as human beings. The word for this is "humanism" or Greek Humanism. ILIAD On the tenth year of the Trojan War, tensions rise so high among Achaians. First, Chryses, a priest, asked King Agamemnon to release his daughter but the king refused. Chryses prayed to Apollo to send a plague to the Achaians. After nine days of plague, the Achaians demanded Agamemnon to release Chryses's daughter. He agreed with a condition that Achilleus, the greatest warrior of the Achaians will give him his girlfriend, Briseis. Though he was so mad, he just gave his girlfriend. He prayed to his mother Thetis, a goddess, to connive with the other gods so that the Achaians will lose their battles and they'll realize how much they depend on him. Thetis spoils Achilleus so she talked to Zeus. The next day, the Trojans counterattacked to the Achaians led by Hektor, their greatest warrior. After several days of violent battles, Patroklos, Achilleus's best friend asked permission to take the place of Achilleus. Achilleus agreed and even led Patroklos his armor. But Hektor, with the help of Apollo and Euphorbos, a minor Trojan warrior, killed Patroklos. When Achilleus knew this, he experienced terrible grief and swore revenge. He asked his mother to give him new suit of armor especially made by Hephaistos, the fire god. The next day, Achilleus joined the battle and killed many Trojan warriors including Hektor on a one-on-one battle But Achilleus isn't satisfied. For the next few days, he continually abused Hektor's body in brutal ways, even after Patroklos received a proper funeral. The gods didn't like this, and sent a message down to Achilleus telling him to give up the body. When the Trojan King Priam, Hektor's father, came

unarmed, by night, to ask for his son's body, Achilleus agreed. They ate together and experienced a moment of shared humanity. Achilleus granted the Trojans a grace period to perform their funeral rituals. Then it ended with the funeral of Hektor - though we know that soon Achilleus will die. ODYSSEY Odysseus battles internal and external conflict to take part in the Trojan War. It is at a time when his son Telemachus, is only a month old. Twenty years after the war, Odysseus retraces his steps back home. By that time, Telemachus is twenty and living with his mother Penelope in Ithaca. His mother has to deal with 108 suitors, who are boisterous and adamant that she should agree to marriage. Athena, Odysseus's guardian, decided with the King of Gods according to Greek mythology, Zeus, to take the form of Mentes, a Taphian chief and speak to Telemachus. She urged the boy to look for his father. Telemachus and Athena witness Phemius the bard entertaining the rowdy suitors with "Return from Troy". Even as Penelope objects, urged by Athena, Telemachus ordered Phemius to read on. Athena provided Telemachus a ship and crew and helped him to depart for the mainland. Welcomed by the Nestor family, Telemachus then embarked on a land journey alongside Sparta, Nestor's son. He chanced upon Helen and Menelaus bear witness of a meeting with sea-god Proteus. They informed Telemachus that his father has been captured by Calypso, a nymph. Odysseus, meanwhile, spent seven years in captivity. He is released only to incur the wrath of Poseidon, the sea god who was not present on Mount Olympus when Athena and Zeus interacted. Escaping the wreckage, Odysseus swam ashore exhausted and fell asleep. He then sought the hospitality of Arete and Alcinous. Odysseus struggled through a situation where his identity was always in doubt. A raid on his twelve ships by storms, lotus eaters and blinded with a wooden stake, left the hero a broken man. A boon from Aeolus, the wind god helped Odysseus harness all the winds. However, with destiny playing truant, Odysseus did not retain the only 'safe' wind that could blow him homeward. His escapades with the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses, a treacherous sailor, Laestrygones the cannibal, Circe, the witch goddess and the spirit of Tiresias, left Odysseus spent and longing for home. Odysseus' lucky meeting with the Phaeacians, buys him a homebound journey. Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus learned about his family. He met Penelope with the intention of testing her love for him. Eurycleia, the housekeeper, discovered Odysseus' identity and all is well when he stringed his own bow as part of the suitor competition set by Penelope.