Good morning and welcome to llt121 Classical Mythology in which we take up probably the second oldest story in the book, the second oldest great epic in western literature, the Iliad of Homer



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Lecture 36

Good morning and welcome to LLT121 Classical Mythology in which we take up probably the second oldest story in the book, the second oldest great epic in western literature, the Iliad of Homer. The Gilgamesh Epic of the various Mesopotamian people is older. This is number two. It tries harder. When last we left off Achilles, was still pouting by the side of his swift, black ships with his friend Patroclus. You will remember that Achilles has already turned down one offer from Agamemnon for a complete apology, Briseis back, valuable prizes, the whole nine yards. “Just come back to us, Achilles. We need you.” Achilles says, “I’ve got two possible fates. One, I can die in battle, win lots of glory, and be famous forever after. Or B, I could live to a long, great old age, be real happy and leave behind no aritae or virtue and have no kleos or fame after my death. I might say number two is looking better.” So the Greeks get their butts kicked for another three or four books. Finally, Nestor the 300 year old guy who talks just about forever, comes up with an idea for Patroclus. “Patroclus, I’m going to try to persuade you to put on the armor of Achilles and go into battle.” Patroclus finally agrees to get Nestor to shut up and also, maybe, it’s not easy to be Gilligan, Scottie Pippen, or Ed McMahon, the number two banana. You want to stand in the limelight and do a few of those Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes commercials of your own.

Achilles says, “I don’t think it’s a good idea, Patroclus, but if you really want to do it, go ahead.” So Patroclus buckles himself in the armor of Achilles. He charges into battle, crying out Achilles war cry, which is, “I am Achilles, dammit.” I don’t know what it is. He’s just shouting and yelling, “I’m Achilles.” The Trojans, who have been having it pretty soft for the last few books think, “Oh my god, it’s Achilles.” Patroclus all by himself drives a whole bleeping Trojan army back to the city walls of the city of Troy, which looked like this. We also have a drawbridge and a moat. It’s a kind of medieval looking. They pull up the door. The Trojans all run in and they pull up the door. Patroclus is really feeling his oats. Three times he climbs to the top of the wall and says, “I’m going to get into the city and sack the city.” Three times Hector —but is it really Hector ?—pushes him off. This is an example of Homer making a character seem pretty sympathetic. Patroclus is no Achilles. I knew Achilles, and Patroclus, frankly, is no Achilles. He is a symbol, more or less, of everybody who wanted to accomplish a little bit more than they were cut out for. We’d all like to try to cover Michael Jordan or drive a Ferrari at 199 miles an hour down Glenstone Avenue in Springfield, Missouri. Very many of us would crash and kill. That is how life is. Well, at any rate, Homer says it really wasn’t Hector, It was Apollo in Hector ’s body, stopping him.

Does anybody want to guess here what it said as the cause of death on Patroclus’s death certificate? Come on. It said hubris. It was hubris. Now I know Achilles isn’t a god, but his mom was. Patroclus was pretending he was Achilles. He was doing a pretty good job. He was Achilles. In the long run, he was destined not to be Achilles, and he got killed, much as if I were to tackle Emmett Smith one on one. I could put on Derrick Thomas’s uniform. I could stuff some socks and towels in there until I was bulked up like Derrick Thomas. What happens when old Number 22 from the South American team barges into me? Squash. Thank you for the sound effect, Phil. I get squashed. It would have been well enough if they would have just left it there but Patroclus is starting to die. Hector and his guys come traipsing back out through the gangplank and Hector just totally disrespects poor old Patroclus. He said, “Ha, you’re going to be dead soon jerk. I tell you what, you can go to your grave saying the great Hector has killed you. Folks, announce to Patroclus’s old daddy living back in Greece that Hector the great has just turned his kid into road kill, you swine.”

Remember it’s an important part of aritae that all of the aritae in the world, the number of people you’ve killed or messed with for messing with you. All the aritae in the world doesn’t count unless somebody knows about it. All the wonderful deeds go out. You get no kleos in the long run if you don’t advertise what you’ve done. So Hector boasts terribly over the body of deceased Patroclus. Then he strips off the armor of Achilles. Then he puts it on because he has killed Achilles. He really hasn’t. He’s symbolically killed Achilles. Don’t they notice when they take it off it’s not him? Did they not know what he looks like? Yeah they know it’s Patroclus in there because Hector is yelling. “Yo, Patroclus, I killed you.” Well, let’s say that your dad owns a bitchin Camaro that goes 200 miles an hour. You ask him, “Can I drive it dad?” He doesn’t really want to, but he figures you’re his daughter. You’ve got the old genes in you. You were born to run, too. You take it out and drag race me out on Glenstone. I’m driving my wife’s Tercel. I beat you because you’re not that good of a driver. See what I mean, but I won your car. What am I going to drive around in? A, the 1980 Tercel or B, the bitchin Camaro from hell with the really cool tunes in the back. I send your corpse back home. How is your dad going to feel? Yeah, he’s going to be mega-pissed. Why? I set you up for that didn’t I? Number one, I’m driving around in his excellent Camaro that only he can drive. Why else? Because I killed his little baby girl. Yeah, I boasted about it. “Ha, ha that woman driver, etc.”

This is exactly what goes on in very human terms in the award winning Iliad of Homer because Achilles is upset. Achilles is just number one; there’s pain because his best friend Patroclus has died. He should have said, “No Patroclus. You can’t wear my armor.” He’d still be alive then. Okay, number two he misses his suit of armor. The mighty armor of award winning Achilles, it wasn’t something he picked up over at Wal-Mart or K-Mart on a Blue Light Special. This was good stuff and now all that’s gone, too. Not only that, everybody knows it. Everybody knows that Achilles’s best friend has gotten killed and that Yahoo your dad knows is driving up and down the streets of Springfield in his bitchin’ Camaro. Right, as if it is mine, which it is. What are you going to do? Matt. He knew it would really make Achilles mad. No, I liked that story. It was pretty good. So Achilles thinks, “Well, I’ve got two possible fates. I could die young, be famous. I could live just about forever with no fame whatsoever. He decides to go kill Hector, He makes this decision in the full knowledge that it's going to mean his death. Why does he do it? It is not for the honor of the Greek war effort. He couldn’t care less. He’s proven that time and again. He doesn’t care whether Agamemnon and his team produce a winner. He doesn’t care whether Menelaus gets his wife back. He doesn’t care about Ajax the Greater. He only cares about his own bad self, his own reputation and, as it turns out, Patroclus. He wants to kill Hector because he’s mad at Hector, He’s wanted to kill Hector for a long time. I mean that comes with the job. It’s just that the one thing that tipped him off the deep end is the loss of Patroclus, his friend, his buddy.

There’s this really touching scene in which his mom Thetis realizes that her son has made his decision to go off and fight Hector, It means her son, who used to be her little baby that she dipped in the river Styx, is going to go off, fight and get killed. Have you ever had the joy of saying goodbye to somebody you knew you would never see again? You knew for a fact? Well, that is what happens here. She goes to Hephaestus, the god of metal and says, Please make for Achilles a new suit of armor. Hephaestus makes this really cool, spiffy suit of armor complete with a shield. I should talk about a minute here about the shield. The shield is no ordinary shield. It has embossed on it all sorts of scenes. Well, one side is people engaging in cattle raids and slaughtering each other and splitting each other’s heads open from ear to ear. This side, here, in effect, has a lawsuit going on. That is to say mediation instead of war. It has a festival going on. People trampling graves and drinking wine, feasting and partying. Guys chasing girls around and girls chasing guys around. He’s supposed to be able to look at the shield. Homer never spells this out. I’m spelling this out for you. He looks at both sides of the shield and realizes this side has war. People dying, people rotting out in the sun after they’ve been killed, having their severed genitalia eaten by dogs. Homer mentions this. Over here we’ve got life, fun, common sense, reason. These are the two choices in Achilles life. The heroic death in war versus life. What does he pick? He picks up the shield, looks at it, slings it over his shoulder and goes off to kill Hector, which he does. However, there is five more books left in the award winning Iliad of Homer. There’s one scene in the book that I especially like in Book 19 I think it is, where Achilles invades Troy. It’s really cool.

A river resists him. The river is angry at Achilles because Achilles has been filling it up with dead bodies of Trojans who used to swim in it once upon a time when they were little boys. So, it fights him. It turns itself on fire and fights him. I mean in the days before lavish, special effects, Homer’s doing what he can to describe Achilles fighting the burning river Scamander. It’s really neat. To make a long story short, just like any western that is worth a darn, it boils down to one on one battle between the white hat and the black hat, the good and bad guys. The best western of all time has the white hat was a black guy named Clevon Little. Do you know what the best western of all time was? Blazing Saddles, it was really hilarious. Cat Ballew is also a very excellent western. If you haven’t watched it, go watch it. It’s going to be Achilles and Hector. It would be the easiest thing in the world to make Achilles the guy who is doomed, who is going to die in battle because he misses his friend Patroclus and has become disillusioned with this whole heroic aritae and kleos fit. Achilles, don’t be a hero. Don’t be a fool with your life. Versus Hector, the guy who killed Patroclus, the guy who bragged about killing Patroclus, the guy who dissed Patroclus as Patroclus dragged his wheezing last breath with deep sea divers and all of that stuff. It would be so easy to do. It’s like Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Just once I’d like to see her throw an iron skillet at Sully. Go upside the head of that one kid of hers with a rock, say, “No, I don’t treat drunken people who smell. Take him to another state.” I’d just like to see her do that once.

Hector gets a good send off. It’s really touching. In this last scene where Hector is about to go off to fight Achilles one on one. He knows he’s going to die. He says goodbye to his wife Andromache, whose name means manly valor, manly battle. Andromache knows what is coming up, too. She says to him, “Hector you really don’t have to go. You have proven yourself enough.” Hector says, “Honey, I’m going to kick his butt.” Hector knows he is not going to kick Achilles’s butt. He’s just saying that, which is okay, because Andromache doesn’t believe him, either. That I could deal with. What I can’t deal with this. “Please bring me our son, Astyanax, who before this class is over today will be pitched from the walls of Troy.” It so happens, though, the he’s wearing his scary helmets. These helmets were meant to look scary. He forgot to take off his helmet before they brought the little baby boy in. Andromache can deal with it. Her name is manly battle. The little baby kid takes a look at his dad all dressed up in his war gear and just screams bloody murder. He’s terrified. So Hector takes off his helmet, sets it on the table and says son it’s just me, your dad. It looks like I’m not going to be here to see you grow up. Learn your manliness, your aritae and your kleos and fame from your dad, but please learn your luck from somebody more fortunate than me. He goes off, out the door to fight Achilles. Achilles and Hector face each other. We know Hector is going to die. Zeus, up on Mount Olympus weighs the battle on scales of blood. Hector ’s goes down the way it always does which means Hector has to die. The problem is how are you going to make Hector look good. How are we going to make Hector look brave?

Homer the poet sends a goddess. Athena disguises herself as Hector’s brother. Hey, Hector come here. As everybody from Troy watches from the parapets of the city of Troy, Hector looks at Achilles and he sees his brother. You know, somebody who likes him, as opposed to somebody who’s going to kill him. So he goes over to his brother Deiphobus. Deiphobus disappears. It was Athena playing a trick. Now he’s turned his back, so he might as well start running. Achilles kills him. He stops him down in front of the city of Troy and Hector says, “Please have a care for me. Please have a care for my aged parents, my wife and my son. I know that you’re going to kill me and I understand why, but please do not dishonor my body or anything like that.” So much for Hector. So much for Book 22 of the Iliad.

Does Achilles listen to Hector? No, Achilles does not listen to Hector. What he does is he takes Hector ’s body strips it of its armor. He pierces the body of the late Hector by a thong through his dead feet and drags him back to his camp. Actually he will drag Hector a lot more effectively if Hector goes in this direction and the thongs go in this direction. He drags him back to the camp where, every day for twelve days, he takes Hector for a ride. He drags him around the camp. The ultimate in disrespect. No amount of this is going to make Patroclus come back. The gods sprinkle magic gook on Hector’s dead body so that he doesn’t start to putrefy and rot, but they can’t save him. That is to say they can’t make Achilles stop dragging him. Meanwhile, back in Troy, Priam the king of Troy, and Hecuba his wife, the mother of Hector sit there and discuss, “Well, we can’t let this happen. You know our son deserves better than this.” “Sure, but what are we going to do?” Finally, the gods put it into Priam’s mind that he will go into the Greek camp and ask Achilles very nicely, “Can I have the body of my son Hector back?” Now based on Achilles’s past track record, the chances of this are slim to none. Achilles is just as likely and would be allowed under the rules of the game to chop Priam in half just for poking his nose into the lordly Greek camp. What happens? Priam is conducted to Achilles’s tent. He makes his request. “Achilles, you killed my son in fair fight. I ask only that I can have his body back for burial.” Achilles says, “Yeah, you can have it back, but you have to shake my hand first.” They shake hands. Priam knowing that I am shaking the hand that literally dispatched my son Hector to the land of the dead. Achilles knowing that he’s going to be heading for these parts pretty soon himself.

It’s as if to say, now that Achilles has acquired all the aritae that a Greek can possibly acquire, now that Achilles has acquired all the kleos or fame that any Greek could ever hope to acquire, now that he’s been confronted with the fact of his own death, he’s killed Hector, he’s going to die pretty soon and he knows it. I mean that piercing Hector’s body through the feet, through the Achilles tendons. You can’t get much better irony than that. It’s as if to say, “Life’s too short to behave like warring buffoons. Sure, take your sons body back and bury him with proper honors. I’ll try to get on with my life over here, too. I miss Patroclus a lot. You bury Hector in Troy and I’ll bury Patroclus here.”



In Book 24 we have a whole bunch of funeral games. Achilles puts on funeral games for Patroclus. The Trojans put on funeral games for Hector. On that note, the Iliad ends. There is no Trojan horse, no sacking the city. Just with this set of competitions races, boxing matches, ship races, which very closely approximate war. What is it good for? I think Homer is trying to make the point, absolutely nothing. By placing the funeral games of Hector, let’s say, at the very end of the Iliad, he’s saying, “All right you testosterone laden numbskulls. If you really must go out and bust heads to win glory and stuff like that. Do it on a football field. Go play hockey, box, or race, but for god’s sake don’t mobilize as one nation to go fight to the death against men of another nation because that’s just dumb. There is a more civilized way of doing things.”

As Achilles presides over the funeral games of Patroclus, I don’t doubt that he sniffles a little bit for Patroclus, thinks these thoughts, “My god, what if we channeled our natural aggression into games, sports and competitions of that sort?” He says to himself, “Arti manthano. Now I get it.” I pause here for your questions. That is it for the Iliad. If not, you will notice that Troy hasn’t fallen, nobody has tried to go home yet. We haven’t even had an Odyssey. Let us say hypothetically, since we know that Troy fell around 1200 BC, that on December 6, 1159 BC about 3 a.m. a battalion of the Spartan archers, followed by a large siege machine made of oak timbers to a height of 250 feet, weighing roughly 300 pounds. That is the point Elizabeth. It is making me yawn saying this. It sounds suspiciously like a history exam. As we come into the exam season, there are no doubt people in this very room are thinking to myself, “I wish he wouldn’t have reminded me of that. Bushel baskets full of names, dates and facts that meant something to somebody a long time ago, but no time you can identify with and you’re being expected to remember it. Let’s say I was trying to tell you people that you have to throw your notebooks away and be tested next month on the precise campaign which resulted in the fall of Troy. The 17th Argive Regiment… it would put you in a coma. What if I said they went into a great, big huge horse? You would remember the horse wouldn’t you? Let’s say that what you really had was a large siege machine and actually ancient siege machinery was very highly developed, even by 1200 BC. What you would have here is a large, wooden parapet built on a tower, a large counterweight back here because this is very heavy. To keep the wood from burning. there would be animal skins here that were soaked in oil perhaps. or something that was known to be fire resistant. It’s going to have a platform here. The idea is that you roll it up against the walls of Troy. When you get it rolled up against the walls of Troy everybody climbs up to the top and runs across. The ancients did use siege machines like this. It was 217.3 meters high. It weighed, when loaded, 8000 pounds. Ah, to heck with it. It was a horse. You squint your eyes and look at the beautiful drawing you could almost mistake it for four wheels, four legs, a nose that comes out, a long neck, animal skins on the side to keep it from burning. Over centuries of retelling this story, you get a lot better results when you say the thing is a big old horse. It allows you to make cheap jokes like, “Yes, the Greeks got in there and they hid in the horse until nightfall. If you ever see a cartoon with guys going, “Oh, I got to go to the bathroom,” that joke is about 3200 years old. The idea is that Odysseus said, “Hey let’s build a big, hollow horse and we can all hide in it. Then what we will do is we will send out in front of it, by the way our best source for the actual fall of Troy is Vergil’s Aeneid, more about which next time. This guy by the name of Sinon comes out and says, “Boy am I glad to see you Trojans. These Greeks were going to offer me up as a human sacrifice, but then they found out that Athena was mad. So they built this great big huge horse as a sacrifice to Athena and they went home. If nobody takes this into the city of Troy, Athena will be satisfied with the Greeks and she will allow them to get home. But if you Trojans take it into your city here, Athena will be happy with you and you will win the war.” Well, of course, this is a complete lie, but remember that whom the gods wish to destroy they first drive mad. They fall for this line. Why shouldn’t they? It’s been ten years. Achilles has been killed. Did I tell you that? Paris killed Achilles. Paris shot him right through the heels. It was pretty funny. Well, he deserved it. He killed Paris’s brother. Did I tell you that after Achilles got killed there was a big competition for his armor? No, I guess I didn’t tell you that. Everybody wanted to wear the armor of Achilles after Achilles died.

So finally, they decided there were two finalists for the armor of Achilles, Ajax the Greater and Odysseus. Guess how they compete? They have a debate. You can say that odds were kind of stacked. Odysseus words falling like snow. Therefore you will have to admit will you not Ajax the Greater that you are a buffoon and a wretch. So that lying sack of poop Odysseus gets to win the award winning armor of Achilles. Ajax the Greater goes berserk and kills a whole bunch of sheep, thinking they are enemies. Now that you’ve had your cheap and nasty laugh at Ajax the Greater, keep in mind that, like all of the Greeks and the Trojans in the Trojan War, Ajax the Greater is a killing machine. Kill or be killed. His reaction is one of violence. He has just lost a debate with Odysseus. He is probably so dumb that he thought he stood a chance. So how’s he going to react to it. He’s going to literally lose his mind. Once he has killed the sheep and, if you think this is a totally abnormal psychosis, think about these poor, sick, diluted people who go into crowded places with weapons and kill other people, thinking that they are Vietnamese or Germans or Hessians. This psychosis exists. It often exists in the mind of people who have spent some part of their life as hired, trained killers. Well, he kills himself. Ajax the Greater kills himself in shame.

So that’s why he’s not in the horse. The rest of them are. Over here on the Trojan side people are saying, “Well, we should bring the horse in. We’ve been fighting for ten years. We just might win this thing. Ajax the Greater and Achilles are dead. We just might have a chance, here. In the background, all you can hear is, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” Cassandra says, “Guys, this horse is full of Greek soldiers who are going to pop out and kill all of us.” “Mellow out, Sandy.” Helen of Troy, formerly Helen of Sparta, walks around the horse imitating, supposedly, the wives of the guys in there. “Agamemnon, baby it’s me, Clytemnestra,” and stuff like that to try to get a rise out of the guys. It doesn’t work. Finally there’s this priest by the name of Laocon, the priest of Apollo who is yelling the same thing. “I fear Greeks bearing gifts.” He says it in Latin, because Virgil records it for us. You get the point. “I don’t like these darn Greeks. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” He throws a spear at the horse’s side to prove a point that the darn thing is hollow and filled with Greeks. Just as the spear leaves his hand, two giant serpents slither up from the sea and kill Laocon’s two kids first and then kill him, a particularly nasty death. First he has to watch his kids die. Then they kill him, too. Anybody who is watching this has got to put two and two together in such a fashion like this: Laocon must have been very hated by the gods for saying these terrible things about this wonderful horse whose going to stop our war. Yes? Well, they were still working over Laocon and his two sons. Vergil records that it did hit with a hollow thunk, but didn’t matter. They broke down the walls. They brought the horse in. They partied like it was 1999. Late that night, when everybody had drunk themselves to sleep except for Cassandra, who probably cried herself to sleep. I would if I were her. The Greeks stole out, torched the city, turned it into a parking lot, killed all the guys, threw little baby Astyanax off the wall because he was the heir to the throne.

Achilles’s little boy, Neoptolemus, the 10 year old wunderkind of war gets credit for killing Priam. Pretty good, huh? I’ve known 10 year olds who could probably pull that off. Even Philoctetes is there to use the bow of Hercules. You know how they managed to get Philoctetes off that island? It was pretty funny. They sent back to him. “Philoctetes, come join the Greek war effort.” “No, why don’t you all go perform an impossible biological feat upon yourselves?” They kidnapped him. So they burn the city down. The men are all slaughtered like swine. The women are all taken as slaves. One of them, Polyxena, who is a daughter of Priam and Hecuba, is slaughtered on Achilles’s tomb as a human sacrifice. The only Trojan of any importance who runs out is Aeneas. Aeneas is going to run out. In later legend, he will be accounted as the founder of Rome. Aeneas gets a break. He gets to run out because his mom is Aphrodite.



I pause for a question here. I still believe that nobody won the Trojan War. Wait until you hear about what happened to these people when they got home. In my closing remarks today I will segue off of Crystal’s excellent question. True, nominally the Greeks did win the Trojan War. They got Helen back and all of that. The story of how they won the Trojan War, in particular the Iliad, was counted by the ancient Greeks to have been the high point of their literature. There are things I’ve read in ancient Greek that I have enjoyed a lot more, but this is what the Greeks themselves consider the high point of their literary achievement. So they had to have sequels. Does that make sense? What Rocky are we on now? 56? Someday your grandchildren may watch Rocky 107 and watch a cyber Rocky brought back from the dead. He’ll engage in a debate with the severed head of Apollo Creed. The ancient Greeks did this, too. There were lots of little sequel poems known as the nostoy. This will be on the test, which explain what happened to the various Greek heroes as they went home. Some of them didn’t make it home. They perished under pretty interesting circumstances. A whole lot of them got home and found out, as I hinted to you a couple classes ago, that things had changed in the ten years since they went off to war.

Nostoy means returns. When you are aching to go home, you have nostalgia. You are aching for a return home. Then you get home, and you think, “Oh this is weird. What was the big deal about?” Wait until you get home like me and it happens to you. Most of these nostoy poems are about ancient Greek heroes who return to home. They are very depressing and sad and have very unhappy endings. We’ve already heard about what happened to Agamemnon when he got home. He got killed. Then his wife killed him. So his son had to kill his wife. There’s an example of a nostos. Agamemnon does not count among the winners of the Trojan War. It messed up his life pretty severely. Yes? Is the Odyssey considered a nostoy? Yes, it is Mitch. It is the very best nostos story because I think it has the very best hero, that lying, wheedling finagling backstabbing Odysseus, who was faithful to his wife the entire time of the Odyssey. Odysseus story had more potential for development along these lines. For better or worse, I mean the Greeks who came home from the Trojan War had their life so screwed up in a number of ways that I’ve always maintained that nobody won the war.


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