Homer's Illiad (Translated by Robert Fagles)

| February 7, 2016

Homer’s Illiad (Translated by Robert Fagles)
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write an essay on The Iliad that speaks from your experience with Homer’s epic and that calls upon your academic understanding to explore and express something significant and/or useful about this particular literary artwork.

Pick one of the following topics treating Homer’s Iliad and provide an appropriate essay, 5 full pages in length, double-spaced, with 1-1.5” margins. Quote selectively and for best effect. (If you quote copiously, subtract Homer’s lines from your page total, please.) You must contribute beyond what was covered or considered in class discussion.

Aim at a full, thoughtful response to the epic; avoid a too simple or too short presentation.

Read the “General Reminders” that follow the topics for helpful guidance.

*Note: If you use any aids to understanding this play, such as films or SparkNotes or whatever, please declare and document such assistance in a Postscript to your essay.


____ 1. Characters & Relationships.

I’ll use the words of one student in our English 1B to set this one up. “An interesting topic for the next essay would be to write on how certain character’s relationships—to quote you [me]—‘deepen the meaning of the story.’ I really like Diomedes and Odysseus, but one could also write about Achilles and his relationships with others.”

For this topic, you look at a set of characters that seem to be a sort of team or in a sort of tension, and then dig into that set of characters as your essay focus. Diomedes and Odysseus are one such team. Others: Achilles and Patroclus? Achilles and Hector? Achilles and Briseis? Paris and Helen? Whom else would work for this topic?

____ 2. Character Analysis.

I’ll adapt the words of another student in our class: Choose a character and describe him or her. Tell how he or she is important to the epic as a whole, but also how he or she interacts with or help the reader understand other characters and Greek culture. I’ll add that the best character analyses are grounded in very specific passages—moments of action and description—that reveal true qualities and true significance to the story as a whole. You may select human or divine characters, of course.

____ 3. Homer as artist.

Write an essay that analyzes Homer’s craft with words, that explores how clever, complex, and effective Homer really is with how he tells this story. Consider Homer’s work as an artist in large and small ways, from structure and plotting to the power of a speech or an epic simile in the right place. Consider how Homer shapes our experience, our thoughts and feelings, in specific ways for specific effects. For this topic, you don’t have to talk about everything that Homer does, but you do have to find a way to analyze Homer’s skillful use of words in significant, concrete ways.

____4. Focus/Pattern.

Find something to dig into, to hook onto, that will allow you to write this five full page essay. Consider a string of incidents from the epic that make sense when you put them together for your reader. Consider a string of images or epic similes or a string of minor characters or a string of related speeches . . . . Find a focus or a pattern that you can name, explore, and analyze to help us to understand in this particular way how the epic tends to work. You may want to select one incident, one image or epic simile, one minor character, or one speech to use as the anchor for the essay, and then to relate other instances (incidents, images/epic similes, minor characters, speeches) that you can then connect to your anchor and build a larger sense of the focus or pattern and any larger significance that grows from paying close attention.

____5. Intense Explication.

With this topic, you would find one moment or one speech or one action or one something to use as the key and heart to your essay. For example, I could imagine picking Nestor’s advice to his son Antilochus before the chariot-racing as a speech that reveals so much of Nestor’s character, of his relationship with his son, of this alien Greek culture, and of Homer’s crafty skill with words. Which moments or speeches or actions would you pick for an intense focus that warrants five full pages?

____6. Answer a critical question about The Iliad.

For example, readers and scholars have often asked “What is Homer’s attitude toward war?” and “How can we understand the gods in Homer’s epic?” Or, the question may be a series of related questions and lines of thinking. For example, “What should we really think of Achilles’ withdrawal from the field? Was that justified and appropriate or did he betray his own side and cause the death of his best friend? How can we see what the Greeks believed from looking closely at the epic?” Or, for another set of related questions: “How does Homer use minor characters effectively in his epic? How does Homer use minor characters in such variety and to specific effects to give life to the action, to express themes and beliefs, and to elicit sympathy or lack of sympathy from the reader?”

For this topic, set up a question or a set of questions that will take us into the heart of the epic, into some aspect or aspects worth exploring at length, and then answer that question or question-set as best you can using the evidence of the poem at hand.

Note: asking a series of random or unrelated questions will not produce a unified essay, so be careful. If the questions might seem random to your reader (me), show me the unified quality, the connectedness, through your essay itself.

____7. Research Approach.

This essay-assignment is not a research assignment, unless you want it to be one. In that case, you may research some aspect of the epic that interests you. Bring that academic article or articles, that chapter or chapters from a scholarly book, back to The Iliad and she me using your own words, your own parallel evidence and examples how that research material can help us to see the epic (or part of the epic) clearly.Or, what about those similes, those constant poetic comparisons?

____8. Make up your own topic? But for this one, you have to get my permission ahead of time. If there’s some way you want to dig into this epic that doesn’t fall under any of the topics above, let me know.


First, remember to select a topic that will challenge you in the best ways and that will reward us both; degree of difficulty will matter even as clarity of expression and of explanation matters. Recall that “significance” is a matter of judgment and persuasion; if you cannot articulate whey we should spend 5 full pages on your selected topic and subsequent focus, then you should select differently.

Second, this is not a summary essay, but an argumentative and analytical essay. You may use summary as a tool to help you with your larger argument and with your specific analysis, but don’t just retell the story. Use such summarizing details selectively for best effects.

Third, you are writing for an audience that has read the epic. You must remind your reader of significant details that support your points; you do NOT need to remind me of general facts about Homer or The Iliad or Greece and so forth. Get right to work.

Fourth, This is NOT a research paper. The topics demand that YOU look closely at the text. I’d rather see how well you read and think than see how well others read and think. Read carefully and cohesively. Also, the evidence is there; find what works for you. (However, there is one topic that involves research, if you select that topic, though I will still want to see what you think about that research in relation to the epic.)

Fifth, I will reward essays that hold my attention. I expect correctness in terms of grammar, spelling, references, and spacing.

Sixth, if you do seek aid from outside sources, I expect to get an accounting of such in a “Postscript” to your essay, as noted on the first page. (Your “Postscript” is not part of your 5 full pages.)

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