Essays On The Iliad Selected Modern Criticism


The required translation is:

Homer The Iliad, tr. M. Hammond (Penguin 1987)

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(i) Brief: P.V. Jones Homer's "Iliad" : a commentary on three translations (London 2003);

N. Postlethwaite Homer's Iliad : a commentary on the translation of Richmond Lattimore (Exeter 2000);

M.M. Willcock A Companion to the Iliad (Chicago 1976)

(ii) Detailed: The Iliad. A Commentary ed. G.S. Kirk (Cambridge 1985-1993)

(iii) Individual books: there are useful commentaries on book 1 by S. Pulleyn (Oxford 2000), book 9 by J. Griffin (Oxford 1995) and on book 24 (with a good introduction) by C.W. Macleod (Cambridge 1982).

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Reference works

A.J.B. Wace and F.H. Stubbings (ed.) A companion to Homer. (London 1963) [somewhat dated]

B.B. Powell and I. Morris (ed.) A new companion to Homer (Leiden 1997)

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Brief introductions and surveys

E. Barker and J. Christensen, Homer : a beginner's guide (London: Oneworld 2013) [highly recommended]

C.M. Bowra Homer (London 1972) [not recommended]

W.A. Camps An introduction to Homer (Oxford 1980)

J.M. Foley (ed.), A companion to ancient epic (Oxford: Blackwell 2005)

R. Fowler (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Homer (Cambridge 2004)

J. Griffin Homer (Oxford 1980)

J.B. Hainsworth Homer (Greece & Rome New Surveys 3, Oxford 1969)

B. Powell Homer (Oxford 2004)

R.B. Rutherford Homer (Greece & Rome New Surveys 26, Oxford 1996)

M. Silk Homer: The Iliad (Cambridge 1987)

C.A. Trypanis The Homeric epics (Warminster 1977)

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Collections of essays

D.L. Cairns (ed.) Oxford Readings in Homer's Iliad (Oxford 2001) [the introduction gives an excellent overview of themes in modern study of Homer]

C. Emlyn-Jones (ed.) Homer : readings and images (London 1992)

I. McAuslan and P. Walcot (ed.) Homer (Greece and Rome Studies 4, Oxford 1998)

G.S. Kirk (ed.) The language and background of Homer : some recent studies and controversies (Cambridge 1964)

B. Reay and P. Parker (eds) Blackwell Guide to Epic Poetry (Oxford 2005)

G.M. Wright and P.V. Jones (ed.) Homer : German scholarship in translation (Oxford 1997)

J. Wright (ed.) Essays on the Iliad : selected modern criticism (Bloomington 1978)

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Critical works: overviews

M.W. Edwards Homer : poet of the "Iliad" (Baltimore 1987)

J. Griffin Homer on life and death (Oxford 1980)

G.S. Kirk The Songs of Homer (Cambridge 1962)

G.S. Kirk Homer and the Epic (Cambridge 1965) [an abbreviated version of The Songs of Homer]

M. Mueller The Iliad (London 1984)

O. Taplin Homeric soundings : the shaping of the "Iliad" (Oxford 1992)

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Critical works: specific topics

J.S. Clay Homer's Trojan theater (Cambridge 2011)

K. Crotty The poetics of supplication : Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" (Ithaca 1994)

D.E. Eichholz ‘The propitiation of Achilles’ The American Journal of Philology. 74 (1953) 137-48

B. Fenik (ed.) Homer, tradition and invention (Leiden 1978)

A. Ford Homer : the poetry of the past (Ithaca NY 1992)

R. Friedrich, ‘Odysseus and Achilleus in the Iliad’, Hermes. 139 (2011), 271-290

B. Graziosi and J. Haubold Homer : the resonance of epic (London 2005)

J. Griffin ‘The epic cycle and the uniqueness of Homer’ The journal of Hellenic studies. 97 (1977) 39-53, reprinted in D.L. Cairns (ed.) Oxford readings in Homer's Iliad (Oxford 2001) 365-84

I.J.F. de Jong Narrators and Focalizers: the presentation of the story in the Iliad (Amsterdam 1987)

G.P. Kelly, ‘Battlefield supplication in the Iliad’, The classical world. 107 (2013-2014), 147-167

J. Kim The pity of Achilles : oral style and the unity of the Iliad (Lanham 2000)

C.W. Macleod ‘Homer on poetry and the poetry of Homer’ in Collected essays (Oxford 1983) 1-15, reprinted in D.L. Cairns (ed.) Oxford readings in Homer's Iliad (Oxford 2001) 294-310

R.M. Muich, ‘Focalization and embedded speech in Andromache's Iliadic laments’, Illinois classical studies. 35-36 (2010-2011), 1-24 

G. Nagy The Best of the Achaeans (Baltimore 1979)

R. Nünlist, ‘Nestor and speaking silence in the Iliad’, Philologus. 156 (2012), 150-156

A. Parry ‘The language of Achilles’ Transactions of the American Philological Association. 87 (1965) 1-7, reprinted in The language of Achilles and other papers (Oxford 1989) 1-7

J. Redfield Nature and Culture in the Iliad (Chicago 1975)

R.B. Rutherford ‘Tragic form and feeling in the Iliad’ The journal of Hellenic studies. 102 (1982) 145-60, reprinted in D.L. Cairns (ed.) Oxford readings in Homer's Iliad (Oxford 2001) 260-93

S. Schein The mortal hero : an introduction to Homer's Iliad (Berkeley & Los Angeles 1984)

R. Scodel Epic facework : self-presentation and social interaction in Homer (Swansea 2008)

R. Scodel, ‘Narrative focus and elusive thought in Homer’, in R. Scodel and D.L. Cairns (ed.), Defining Greek narrative (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), 55-74

M. Scott ‘Pity and pathos in Homer’ Acta classica. 22 (1979) 1-14

S. Scully Homer and the sacred city (Ithaca NY 1990)

C. Segal The theme of the mutilation of the corpse in the Iliad (Leiden 1971)

L.M. Slatkin The power of Thetis : allusion and interpretation in the Iliad (Berkeley 1991)

K. Stanley The shield of Homer : narrative structures in the "Iliad" (Princeton 1993)

O. Taplin ‘Agamemnon’s role in the Iliad in C.B.R. Pelling (ed.) Characterization and individuality in Greek literature (Oxford 1990) 60-82

O. Taplin ‘The Shield of Achilles within the Iliad’ Greece and Rome. 27 (1980) 1-21, reprinted in D.L. Cairns (ed.) Oxford readings in Homer's Iliad (Oxford 2001) 342-364

A. Thornton Homer's Iliad : its composition and the motif of supplication (Göttingen 1984)

J-P. Vernant ‘A “Beautiful Death” and the disfigured corpse in Homeric epic’, in D.L. Cairns (ed.), Oxford readings in Homer's Iliad (Oxford 2001) 311-341

C.H. Whitman Homer and the Heroic Tradition (Cambridge, Mass., 1958)

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L. Bruit Zaidman and P. Schmitt Pantel Religion in the ancient Greek cityISBN: 0521423570; 0521412625 (Cambridge 1992)

W. Burkert Greek Religion (Oxford 1985)

B.C. Dietrich Death, fate, and the gods : the development of a religious idea in Greek popular belief and in Homer(London 1965)

J. Griffin, ‘The divine audience and the religion of the Iliad’, The Classical quarterly.ISSN: 0009-8388 28 (1978), 1-22, reprinted in Homer on life and deathISBN: 0198140266; 0198140266 (Oxford 1980), 179-204

E. Kearns, ‘The gods in the Homeric epics’, in R. Fowler (ed.), The Cambridge companion to Homer (Cambridge 2004), 59-73

W. Kullmann ‘Gods and men in the Iliad and the Odyssey’ Harvard studies in classical philology. 89 (1985) 1-23

D. Lateiner, ‘Homeric prayer’, Arethusa. 30 (1997), 241-72

H. Lloyd-Jones The Justice of Zeus (ed. 2, Berkeley 1983) chs 1-2

D. Ogden (ed.), A companion to Greek religion (Oxford 2007) [use the index to locate material on Homer or the Iliad]

S. Price Religions of the ancient GreeksISBN: 0521388678 (pbk.); 0521382017; 9780521382014 (hbk.); 9780521388672 (pbk.) (Cambridge 1999)

E.J. Stafford, ‘Brother, son, friend and healer: Sleep the god’, in K. Dowden and T. Wiedemann (eds) Sleep (Nottingham Classical Literature Studies, vol. 8; Bari 2003), 71-106

J. Whitman Allegory : the dynamics of an ancient and medieval technique (Oxford 1987)

M.M. Willcock ‘Some aspects of the gods in the Iliad’ Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of London.ISSN: 0076-0730 17 (1970) 1-10

M.M. Willcock ‘Ad hoc invention in the Iliad’, Harvard studies in classical philology. 81 (1977), 41-53

N. Yamagata, 'Disaster revisited: Ate and the Litai in Homer's Iliad' in E.J.Stafford and J.E. Herrin (eds) Personification in the Greek world : from antiquity to Byzantium (Centre for Hellenic Studies series no. 7; Aldershot) 21-8

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A.W.H. Adkins Merit and responsibility : a study in Greek values. (Oxford 1960)

A.W.H. Adkins ‘Honour and punishment in the Homeric Poems’ Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of London. 7 (1960) 23-32

A.W.H. Adkins ‘Homeric values and Homeric society’ The journal of Hellenic studies. 91 (1971) 1-14

D.L. Cairns Aidōs : the psychology and ethics of honour and shame in ancient Greek literature (Oxford 1993)

D.L. Cairns ‘Affronts and quarrels in the Iliad’, Papers of the Leeds international Latin seminar. Vol. 7 1993, Roman poetry and prose, Greek rhetoric and poetry (1993) 155-67, reprinted in D.L. Cairns (ed.) Oxford readings in Homer's IliadISBN: 019872182X (pbk); 0198721838 (hbk.) : £55.00 (Oxford 2001) 203-219

W. Donlan ‘Reciprocities in Homer’, The classical world. 75 (1982) 137-75

N. Fisher Hybris : a study in the values of honour and shame in ancient Greece (Warminster 1992)

M. Gagarin ‘Morality in Homer’ Classical Philology. 82 (1987) 285-306

C. Gill, N. Posthlethwaite, R. Seaford (ed..) Reciprocity in ancient Greece (Oxford 1998) [includes: G. Zanker ‘Beyond reciprocity: The Akhilleus-Priam scene in Iliad 24’, 73 –92, and N. Postlethwaite ‘Akhilleus and Agamemnon: generalized reciprocity’, 93-104]

J.P. Gould ‘Hiketeia’ The journal of Hellenic studies. 93 (1973) 74-103, Myth, ritual, memory, and exchange : essays in Greek literature and culture (Oxford 2001) ch. 2

J. Griffin ‘Heroic and unheroic ideas in Homer’, in C. Emlyn-Jones (ed.) Homer : readings and images (London 1992) 21-31

J.T. Hooker ‘Gifts in Homer’ Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of London. 36 (1989) 79-90

J.T. Hooker ‘Homeric society: a shame-culture? ’ Greece and Rome. 34 (87) 121-5

A.A. Long ‘Morals and values in Homer’ The journal of Hellenic studies. 90 (1970) 121-39

G. Most ‘Anger and pity in Homer's Iliad’, in S. Braund and G. Most (ed.), Ancient anger : perspectives from Homer to Galen (Yale Classical Studies 32, Cambridge 2003), 50-75

H. Roisman Loyalty in early Greek epic and tragedy (Meisenheim am Glan 1984)

C.J. Rowe ‘The nature of Homeric morality’, in C.A. Rubino and C.W. Shelmerdine (ed.) Approaches to Homer (Austin 1983) 248-75

P. Walcot Envy and the Greeks : a study of human behaviour. (Warminster 1978)

B. Williams Shame and necessity (Berkeley 1993)

N. Yamagata Homeric morality (Leiden 1994)

G. Zanker ‘Loyalty in the Iliad’ Papers of the Leeds international Latin seminar. Vol. 6 1990, Roman poetry and drama, Greek epic, comedy, rhetoric (1990) 211-28

G. Zanker The heart of Achilles : characterization and personal ethics in the "Iliad" (Ann Arbor 1994)

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A.C. Geddes ‘Who’s who in Homeric society? ’ The Classical quarterly. 34 (1984) 17-36

J. Haubold Homer's people : epic poetry and social formation (Cambridge 2000)

A.M. Snodgrass ‘An historical Homeric society? ’ The journal of Hellenic studies. 94 (1974) 114-5

C.G. Starr The aristocratic temper of Greek civilization (Oxford 1992)

H. van Wees Status warriors : war, violence and society in Homer and history (Amsterdam 1992)

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E.H. Cline. The Trojan War : a very short introduction (New York 2013)

M. Finley The World of Odysseus (ed.2, Harmondsworth 1979)

L. Foxhall amd J.K. Davies (ed.) The Trojan War : its historicity and context : papers of the first Greenbank Colloquium, Liverpool, 1981. (Bristol 1984)

J.V. Luce Homer and the heroic age (London 1975)

D. Page History and the Homeric Iliad (Berkeley 1959)

M. Wood In Search of the Trojan War (London 1985)

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Oral poetry and composition

J.M. Bremer et al. (ed.) Homer : beyond oral poetry : recent trends in Homeric interpretation. (Amsterdam 1987)  

C.M. Bowra Heroic Poetry (London 1952)

B. Fenik Typical battle scenes in the Iliad : Studies in the narrative techniques of homeric battle description. (Wiesbaden 1968)

R. Finnegan Oral Poetry (Cambridge 1977)

G.P. Goold ‘The nature of Homeric composition’ Illinois classical studies. 2 (1977) 1-34

J.B. Hainsworth ‘The criticism of an oral Homer’ The journal of Hellenic studies. 90 (1970) 90-98

R. Janko ‘The Homeric poems as oral dictated texts’ The Classical quarterly. 48 (1998) 1-13

G.S. Kirk Homer and the oral tradition (Cambridge 1976)

H. Lloyd-Jones ‘Remarks on the Homeric Question’ in H. Lloyd-Jones etc. (ed.) History and Imagination (London 1981) 15-29, reprinted in Greek epic, lyric, and tragedy : the academic papers of Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones. (Oxford 1990) 3-20

A.B. Lord The Singer of Tales (Cambridge MA 1960)

M. Parry The Making of Homeric Verse (London 1970)

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The epic tradition

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i) The Epic Cycle

J.S. Burgess The tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle (Baltimore 2001)

M. Davies Greek epic cycle (Bristol 1989)

M.L. West ‘Iliad and Aethiopis’, The Classical quarterly. 53 (2003) 1-14

M.L. West Greek Epic Fragments (Cambridge, Mass. 2003) [Loeb Classical Library online]

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ii) The relationship between Homer and the visual arts

A. Snodgrass Homer and the artists : text and picture in early Greek art (Cambridge 1998)

R. Kannicht ‘Poetry and art: Homer and the monuments afresh’, Classical antiquity. 1 (1982) 70-92

S. Lowenstam ‘Talking vases: the relationship between the Homeric poems and archaic representations of epic myth’, Transactions of the American Philological Association. 127 (1997) 21-76

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iii) Visual representations of scenes from the Iliad

M.J. Anderson The fall of Troy in early Greek poetry and art (Oxford 1997)

T.H. Carpenter Art and myth in ancient Greece : a handbook (London 1991)

K.F. Johansen The Iliad in early Greek art. (Copenhagen 1967)

H.A. Shapiro Myth into art : poet and painter in classical Greece (London 1994)

K. Schefold Gods and heroes in late archaic Greek art (Cambridge 1992)

D. von Bothmer ‘The death of Sarpedon’, in S.L. Hyatt (ed.), The Greek vase : papers based on lectures presented to a symposium held at Hudson Valley Community College at Troy, New York in April of 1979 (New York 1981), 63-80

S. Woodford The Trojan War in ancient art (London 1993)

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Later reception

H. Clarke Homer's readers : a historical introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey (London 1981)

S. Gillespie English translation and classical reception : towards a new literary history (Malden MA 2011)

B. Graziosi Inventing Homer: the early reception of epic (Cambridge 2002)

B. Graziosi and E. Greenwood (ed.), Homer in the twentieth century : between world literature and the western canon (Oxford, 2008)

L. Hardwick and C. Stray (ed) A companion to classical receptions (Malden MA 2011)

R. Lamberton & J.J. Keaney (eds) Homer's ancient readers : the hermeneutics of Greek epic's earliest exegetes (Princeton 1992)

J.L. Myres Homer and his critics (London 1958)

J. Shay 'Learning about combat stress from Homer's Iliad'. Journal of traumatic stress. 4 (1991), 61-79

J. Shay, Achilles in Vietnam : combat trauma and the undoing of character (New York, 1994)

G. Steiner, ‘Homer in English translation’, in R. Fowler (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Homer (Cambridge 2004), 363-75

J. Tatum The mourner's song : war and remembrance from The Iliad to Vietnam. Chicago 2003

E. Vandiver Stand in the trench, Achilles : classical receptions in British poetry of the Great War (Oxford 2010)

M.M. Winkler (ed.) Troy : from Homer's Iliad to Hollywood epic (Oxford 2007)

This list was last updated on 24/09/2017

Reading lists home

Homer is hailed as the father of all poetry, and the Iliad survives as a masterpiece for all time. The Iliad, taking place within a three-day period of the Trojan War, tells the story of the wrath of Achilles against King Agamemnon. The battle episodes reveal the characters of the warriors, their strength and their weaknesses. These figures step out of unrecorded history as human beings, not of one era but of all eras and for all time. The earliest extant work of European literature, the Iliad is also one of the most enduring creations of Western culture. Of the author, or possibly authors, nothing is known for certain. Tradition says that Homer was a Greek of Asia Minor. Herodotus surmised that Homer lived in the eighth century b.c.e., which seems reasonable in the light of modern scholarship and archaeology. The poet drew on a large body of legend about the siege of Troy, material with which his audience was familiar and that was part of an oral tradition. Homer himself may not have transcribed the two epics attributed to him, but it is probable that he gave the poems their present shape.

The Iliad was originally intended to be recited or chanted rather than read. Its poetic style is vivid, taut, simple, direct, full of repeated epithets and elaborate visual similes. The treatment is serious and dignified throughout, and the total effect is one of grandeur. The poem has a classical structure, with a beginning, middle, and end.

Homer’s greatness also reveals itself in the action of the Iliad, in which, within the scope of a few weeks in the tenth year of the siege of Troy, Homer gives the impression of covering the whole war by a few deft incidents. The appearance of Helen on the walls of Troy reminds the reader that she is the cause of the war. The catalog of ships and warriors calls to mind the first arrival of the Greek army at Troy. The duel between Paris and Menelaus would properly have come in the first years of the war, but its placement in the poem suggests the breakdown of diplomacy that leads to the bloodbath of fighting. Hector’s forebodings of his own death and of the fall of Troy as he talks to his wife, not to mention his dying prediction of the supposedly invincible Achilles’ death, all point to the future of the war and its conclusion. Homer thus gives the rather narrow scope of the poem’s events much greater breadth.

The Iliad is not a mere chronicle of events in the Trojan War. It deals with a specific and crucial sequence of the war: the quarrel of Achilles with his commander, Agamemnon; Achilles’ withdrawal from the war; the fighting in his absence; Agamemnon’s futile attempt to conciliate Achilles; the Trojan victories; Patroclus’s intervention and death at Hector’s hands; Achilles’ reentry to the war to avenge his friend’s murder; the death of Hector; and Priam’s ransom of Hector’s body from Achilles.

This sequence is important in its effect on the war as a whole for two reasons. Without Achilles, the ablest fighter, the Greeks are demoralized, even though they have many powerful warriors. It is foretold that Achilles will die before Troy is taken, so the Greeks will have to capture Troy by means other than force. The second reason is that the climax of the poem, the killing of Hector, prefigures the fall of Troy, for as long as Hector remains alive the Greeks are unable to make much headway against the Trojans.

Achilles is the precursor of the tragic hero according to Aristotle’s definition. Young, handsome, noble, courageous, eloquent, generous, and of unsurpassed prowess, his tragic flaw lies in the savage intensity of his emotions. He knows he will die young. In fact, he has chosen to die at Troy and thereby win a lasting reputation rather than to grow old peacefully. It is precisely his pride, his supreme skill in warfare, and his lust for future glory that make him so ferocious when he is crossed. He has a hard time restraining himself from killing Agamemnon and a harder time bearing Agamemnon’s insult. He puts pride before loyalty when his Greek comrades are being overrun. Only when the war touches him personally, after his friend Patroclus enters the combat and is slain, does he come to terms with Agamemnon. Then his rage against the Trojans and Hector consumes him, and he is merciless in his vengeance, slaughtering Trojans by scores, gloating over Hector’s corpse and abusing it, and sacrificing twelve Trojan nobles on Patroclus’s funeral pyre. His humanity is restored in the end when, at Zeus’s command, he allows old King Priam to ransom Hector’s body. Trembling with emotion, he feels pity for the old man and reaches out his hand to him. It is the most moving moment in the epic.

Achilles lives by a rigid code of personal honor and fights to win a lasting reputation, so he has nothing to lose by dying. Life is worthless to him except insofar as it allows him to prove his own value. Yet, paradoxically, this very ethic makes his life more intense and tragic than it might have been. Hector, by contrast, is fighting on the defensive for a city he knows is doomed, and his responsibilities as a leader tend to burden him. He has others to think about, even though he foresees their fate, and all of this hinders his becoming a truly effective warrior such as Achilles. Whereas Achilles’ life seems tragic, Hector’s life is one of pathos, but the pathos of a man fighting heroically against overwhelming odds.

The gods play a prominent part in the Iliad, and they are thoroughly humanized, having human shapes, sexes, and passions. Although they have superhuman powers, they behave in an all-too-human fashion—feasting, battling, fornicating, lying, cheating, changing their minds, protecting their favorites from harm. Just as the Greek army is a loose confederation under Agamemnon, so the gods are subject to Zeus. As the gods behave like humans, so the link between god and human is surprisingly direct; superhuman and human forces interact constantly. Divinity penetrates human action through oracles, dreams, visions, inspiration; it shows itself in inspired warfare, in which a hero seems invincible, and in miraculous interventions, in which a wounded hero is spirited away and healed. Moreover, the gods are not omnipotent. Zeus can merely delay the death of a person but in the end must bow to Fate. Further, men have free will; they are not mere puppets. Achilles has deliberately chosen his destiny. Humans, finally, have more dignity than the gods because they choose their actions in the face of death, while the gods have no such necessity, being immortal. It is death that gives human decisions their meaning, for death is final and irrevocable. The Iliad is a powerful statement of what it means to be human in the middle of vast and senseless bloodshed.

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