Case study: Homer’s The Iliad



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Chapter 2: The Nature of Sources and Evidence



Case study: Homer’s The Iliad

SOURCE 1: ‘The Death of Hector’, from Homer’s The Iliad

While Hector stood engrossed in this inward debate, Achilles drew near him, looking like the god of war in his flashing helmet, girt for battle. Over his right shoulder he brandished the formidable ashen spear of Pelion, and the bronze on his body glowed like a blazing fire or the rising sun. Hector looked up, saw him, and began to tremble. He no longer had the heart to stand his ground: he left the gate, and ran away in terror. But the son of Peleus, counting on his speed, was after him in a flash. Light as a mountain hawk, the fastest thing on wings, when he swoops in chase of a timid dove, and shrieking close behind his quarry, darts at her time and again in his eagerness to make his kill, Achilles started off in hot pursuit; and like the dove flying before her enemy, Hector fled before him under the walls of Troy, fast as his feet would go. Passing the lookout and the windswept fig tree and keeping some way from the wall, they sped along the cart track, and so came to the two lovely springs that are the sources of Scamander’s eddying stream. In one of these the water comes up hot: steam rises from it and hangs about like smoke above a blazing fire. But the other, even in summer, gushes up as cold as hail or freezing snow or water that has turned to ice. Close beside them, wide and beautiful, stand the troughs of stone where the wives and lovely daughters of the Trojans used to wash their glossy clothes in the peaceful days before the Achaeans came. Here the chase went by, Hector in front and Achilles after him—a good man, but with one far better at his heels. And the pace was furious. This was no ordinary race, with a sacrificial beast or a leather shield as prize. They were competing for the life of horse-taming Hector; and the pair of them circled thrice round Priam’s town with flying feet, like powerful race horses sweeping round the turning post, all out for the splendid prize of a tripod or a woman offered at a warrior’s funeral games.

Background

Homer was a Greek poet believed to have lived in the 8th century BC.

 Homer’s epic poem The Iliad describes events of the Trojan War, which is dated to c. 1200 BC

 An epic poem is a long poem, originally spoken, that deals with a series of heroic events.

Questions



1 Explain what this source is about.

2 Describe both Achilles and Hector giving evidence from the source.

3 What evidence does the source give about methods of warfare and weaponry?

4 Why would historians find this source useful?

5 What aspects of this source make it unreliable?

Sources of evidence for Agrippina the Younger

Background

Agrippina the Younger was the daughter of the Roman Emperor Augustus, the wife of the Emperor Claudius and the mother of the Emperor Nero.

Tacitus and Cassius Dio were Roman writers from the period who wrote commentaries on Agrippina’s involvement in the politics of the time.

SOURCE 2: Tacitus, Annals, trans. by M. Grant, pp. 270–1

Nevertheless, Agrippina did not yet venture to make her supreme attempt until she could remove the commanders of the Guard, Lusius Geta and Rufrius Crispinus, whom she regarded as loyal to the memory of Messalina and to the cause of Messalina’s children. So Agrippina asserted to Claudius that the Guard was split by their rivalry and that unified control would mean stricter discipline. Thereupon the command was transferred to Sextus Afranius Burrus, who was a distinguished soldier but fully aware whose initiative was behind the appointment. Agrippina also enhanced her own status. She entered the Capitol in a ceremonial carriage. This distinction, traditionally reserved for priests and sacred emblems, increased the reverence felt for a woman who to this day remains unique as the daughter of a great commander and the sister, wife and mother of emperors.

SOURCE 3: Cassius Dio, Roman History, Vol. 8, trans. E. Cary, p. 17

Agrippina was training her son for the throne and was entrusting his education to Seneca. She was amassing untold wealth for him, overlooking no possible source of revenue, not even the most humble or despised, but paying court to everyone who was in the least degree well-to-do and murdering many for this very reason. Indeed, she even destroyed some of the foremost women out of jealousy; thus she slew Lollia Paulina because she had been the wife of Gaius and had cherished some hope of becoming Claudius’ wife. As she did not recognise the woman’s head when it was brought to her, she opened the mouth with her own hand and inspected the teeth, which had certain peculiarities.


Questions

1 Are these primary or secondary sources? Explain your answer.

2 What specific (not general) questions need to be asked about these sources?

3 What impression of Agrippina is given in these sources? List the qualities that you observe.

4 Which aspects of Agrippina’s character are common to all the sources given?

5 Do you think these accounts of Agrippina are realistic or exaggerated? Give your reasons.

6 How reliable are these extracts about Agrippina?

7 How useful are these extracts to the historian?

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