Homer Hesiod Hymns Tragedy Remythologizing Tools Blackboard Info
FAQ, Books 1-12
I don't see the term "Greek" anywhere.� What's going on?
  There was no "Greece" at this time.� City-states were the largest political units in modern-day Greece and Asia Minor (the west coast of present-day Turkey.)
  Pausanias explains why certain city-states and peoples have the names that they do.� Here (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.11.1), he tells us why the Spartans are often called the Lacedaemonians; here (7.1.1), he explains why the terms "Argives" and "Danaans" are often used for the Greeks; here (3.20.6), he says why the term "Hellas" is used for Greece.
(Book 1) Who were the Muses?
  In Greek mythology they were originally the Nymphs of inspiring springs, then goddesses of song in general, afterwards the representatives of the various kinds of poetry, arts, and sciences.� Homer considers them as goddesses dwelling in Olympus, who at the meals of the gods sing sweetly to the lyre of Apollo, inspire the poet and prompt his song. Hesiod calls them the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, born in Pieria.
The nine muses  Thracian settlers, in the Pierian district at the foot of mount Olympus and of the mountain named Helicon in Boeotia are usually mentioned as the original founders of the worship of the muses.� Archaeologists have found the oldest sanctuaries dedicated to the Muses at these sites. According to the general belief, the favorite haunts of the Muses were certain springs, near which temples and statues had been erected in their honor. The Athenians offered them sacrifices in the schools, while the Spartans did so before battle. As the inspiring Nymphs of springs they were early on connected with Dionysus, a god known for his ability to inspire frenzy; the god of poets, Apollo, is looked upon as their leader.� From this role, his is sometimes called, Mus-agetes which in Greek means "Muse leader."� With Apollo they share the knowledge of past, present, and future. As beings that gladden men and gods with their song, Hesiod describes them as dwelling on Olympus along with the Charites and Himeros. They were represented in art as virgin goddesses with long garments of many folds, and frequently with a cloak besides; they were not distinguished by special attributes till comparatively later times. The Roman poets identified them with the Italian Camence, prophetic Nymphs of springs and goddesses of birth, who had a grove at Rome outside the Porta Capena.
(1.218) What does Athena mean when she says, "Though I am no soothsayer or reader of birds"?
  Zeus often used birds as portents of his will and as acknowledgment of the acceptance of oaths and entreaties to him, as attested in the Iliad here.� Hence, a good prophet would be able to read well the flights of birds.
Who is Pallas?
  Pallas is another name for Athena.
(3.130) Who is Cronus?
Pass the salt?  In Greek mythology, the youngest son of Uranus and Gaea, who mutilated and overthrew his father, and, with the assistance of his kinsfolk, the Titans, made himself sovereign of the world. He took his sister Rhea as his wife, and became by her father of Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus. But his mother prophesied that one of his children would overthrow him. He accordingly swallowed them all except Zeus, whom Rhea saved by a trick. Zeus, when grown-up, obtained the assistance of the ocean nymph Thetis in making Cronus disgorge his children, and then, with the help of his kinsfolk, overpowered Cronus and the Titans. According to one version of the fable, Cronus was imprisoned in Tartarus with the Titans; according to another, he was reconciled with Zeus, and reigned with Rhadamanthys on the Islands of the Blessed. Cronus seems originally to have been a god of the harvest; accordingly, it happens that in many parts of Greece the harvest month was called Cronion. His name being easily confused with that of Chronos ("Time"), he was afterwards regarded as the god of time. In works of art he was represented as an old man with a mantle drawn over the back of his head, and holding a sickle in his hand. The Romans identified him with Saturnus, their god of sowing.
(4.593) What are the Elysian Fields?
  In Homer, Elysium is a beautiful meadow at the western extremity of the earth, on the banks of the river Oceanus. Favorites of Zeus, such as his son, Rhadamanthys, and Menelaus, his son-in-law, are carried there without dying first.� They live a life of perfect happiness—there is no snow, nor storm, nor rain, but the cool west wind breathes there forever. Hesiod probably speaks of the same region, when he mentions the "islands of the blest" by the Ocean, where some of the heroes of the fourth generation of men live a life without pain, and where the earth produces her fruits three times in the year. According to Pindar, all who have three times passed blamelessly through life live there in perfect bliss under the sway of Cronus and his assessor Rhadamanthys. Such are Cadmus and Peleus, and Achilles through the intercession of his mother Thetis with Zeus. Like Cronus, the Titans, after their reconciliation with Zeus, dwell on these islands. In later times Elysium with its bliss was localized in the world below, and regarded as the abode of those whom the judges of the dead had pronounced worthy of it.
Ajax carries Achilles' corpse from Troy.(5.312) What's Odysseus talking about, "the desperate fight for Achilles' dead body"?
  Near the end of the Trojan War, the Trojan Paris shot Achilles in the heel with a poison arrow, guided by Apollo.� Odysseus and Ajax together managed, with much difficulty, to pull Achilles' corpse and armor away from the battle.
(7) What's so special about Arete?� Why would Odysseus supplicate her and not Alcinous?
  It is the mark of an eminent and greatly distinguished woman to have such good sense and judgement displayed so publically, or even to be bold enough to walk through town, as Athena describes her. (7.82-86)� Most Greek women would stay inside all day doing indoor tasks, only occasionally going out, and usually to aid in some chore in the house.� But Arete not only goes about business like men, she even settles their disputes.� Arete is taking on all the qualities that the Greeks usually associated with a man; hence, a good choice for Odysseus to supplicate.
(10.513) Who is Persephone?
  She is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. As the wife of Hades, she is the dreaded queen of the world below. As a maiden while plucking flowers (near Enna in Sicily, according to the story common in later times), she was carried off into the lower world by Hades on his car, with the consent of her father.
To appease her mother's wrath, Zeus sent Hermes to bring her back; but, since she had eaten part of a pomegranate given to her by Hades (i.e. had already become his wife), she could only spend two-thirds of the year in the upper world with her mother. At the end of that time she always had to return to her husband, and rule as the dark goddess of death; whereas, while with her mother, she was regarded as the virgin daughter, and the helper of the goddess who presides over the fertility of the earth. Hence Persephone is emblematic of vegetable life that comes and goes with the changing seasons. In spring, when the seeds sprout up from the ground, she rises to her mother; when the harvest is over, and the vegetation dies, and the seed is laid again in the dark grave of earth, she returns to her subterraneous kingdom. From this notion of the seed buried in the dark earth and again rising to light was developed the conception of the myth as an image of immortality which lies at the base of the Eleusinian mysteries. To express her rising and descending, her festivals were celebrated in spring and after the harvest. In spring she was worshipped at the lesser Eleusinia in Attica, and at her flower-festival of the anthesphoria, in the Peloponnesus, but more especially in Sicily. In autumn, there was held in Attica the great Eleusinia; i.e. the wedding-feast on her marriage with the god of the lower world. She was generally worshipped together with her mother; hence they were spoken of as "the two goddesses." In the Eleusinian mysteries she was also connected with Dionysus, who, under the mystic name Iacchus, was regarded as her son, brother, or bridegroom In later times she was confused with other divinities, especially Hecate, as the goddess of night and of the world of spirits. She was represented either as the young and beautiful daughter of Demeter, with cornucopia, ears of corn, and a cock, the emblem of her rising in spring, or as the grim spouse of Hades, with rich adornments and the symbolic pomegranate.� The Roman name Proserpina is regarded by some as an altered form of the Greek Persephone; by others as a native name only accidentally similar to the Greek, denoting a goddess who assisted in the germination (proserpere) of the seed, and, owing to the similarity of the two goddesses, transferred to Persephone after the introduction of her cult as the divinity of the lower world.
(10.514) Who is Tiresias?
  The famous blind soothsayer of Thebes, son of Eueres and Chariclo, and a descendant of the Spartan Udaeus. The cause of his blindness has been variously stated. According to one tradition, the gods took his sight away when he was seven years old, because he revealed to men things which they ought not to have known. According to another, he became blind when, on his seeing Athene in the bath, she splashed water into his eyes. When invoked by his mother, the goddess could not restore his sight, but endued him with a knowledge of the language of birds, and presented him with a staff, by means of which he could walk like a man with perfect vision. According to a third account, he was blinded by Hera, because in a dispute between her and Zeus he decided against her, and Zeus compensated him by granting him the gift of prophecy and a life seven (or nine) times as long as that of other men. He is also said to have been changed into a woman for a short time. He plays an important part in the story of Oedipus and the wars against Thebes. In the wars of the Seven against Thebes he declared that the Thebans would be victorious if Creon's son Menoeceus were to sacrifice himself. In the war of the Epigoni he advised the Thebans to enter into negotiations for peace, and to avail themselves of the opportunity thus afforded to take to flight. During the flight, or else at the conquest of Thebes by the Epigoni, he was made a prisoner, and with his daughter Manto, who also possessed the gift of prophecy, was consecrated to the service of the Delphian Apollo. He died at the well Tilphossa, near Haliartus, where his grave was pointed out, while he was also honored by a cenotaph in Thebes. Homer (9.90-151) represents him as carrying his golden staff as soothsayer even in the world below, when Odysseus consults him as to his way home; and of all the shades, he alone, by favour of Persephone, possesses unimpaired memory and intellect (10.495). He had an oracle at Orchomenus in Boeotia, which is said to have ceased to give responses after a plague.
(11) Who are the Greeks whom Odysseus meets from the Trojan War?
  Agamemnon was the king of Mycenae, the son of Atreus, the brother of Menelaus, and the husband of Clytemnestra.� Although each of the Greek heroes commanded the troops he brought with himself, Agamemnon was the leader of all the Greek forces at Troy.� As recounted earlier in the Odyssey, he was murdered after returning home by his wife and her lover.
  Achilles is the son of Peleus (king of the Myrmidons in Thessalian Phthia) by the Nereid Thetis, grandson of Aeacus, great-grandson of Zeus. In Homer he is duly brought up by his mother, in close friendship with his older cousin Patroclus.� To make her son immortal, Thetis anoints him with ambrosia during the day, and holds him in the fire at night, to destroy whatever mortal element he has derived from his father, until Peleus, coming in one night, sees the boy baking in the fire, and makes an outcry; the goddess, aggrieved at seeing her plan thwarted, deserts husband and child, and goes home to the Nereïds. According to a later story she dipped the child in the river Styx, and thus made him invulnerable, all but the heel by which she held him.
  Achilles and PatroclusBefore Troy, Homer makes him the chief of Greek heroes, whom the favour of Hera and Athena, and his own merit have placed above friend and foe. He is graced with all the attributes of a hero: in birth, beauty, swiftness, strength, and valor, he has not his peer; none can resist him, the very sight of him strikes terror into the foe. His anger may be furious, his grief immoderate; but his deepest nature is kind, affectionate, and generous, even to his enemies.�� His love for his parents is touching, especially his mother, and his devotion to his friends. In the first nine years of the war he leads the Greeks on their many plundering excursions around Troy, and destroys eleven inland and twelve seacoast towns. The events of the tenth year, brought on by the deep grudge he bears against Agamemnon for taking away Briseïs (daughter of Brises), form the subject of Homer's Iliad. When he and his men withdraw from the fight, the Trojans press on irresistibly; they have taken the camp of the Greeks, and are setting their ships on fire. In this extremity he lends Patroclus the arms his father had given him, and lets him lead the Myrmidons to battle. Patroclus drives the Trojans back, but falls by Hector's hand, and the arms are lost, though the corpse is recovered. Grief for his friend and thirst for vengeance at last overcome his grudge against Agamemnon. Furnished by Hephaestus, at the request of Thetis, with splendid new arms, including the shield of wondrous workmanship, he goes out against Hector, knowing well that he himself will die soon. He makes frightful havoc among the enemy, till at last Hector is the only one that dares await him without the walls, and even he turns in terror at the sight of him. After chasing him three times round the city, Achilles overtakes him, pierces him with his lance, trails his body behind his chariot to the camp, and there casts it for a prey to the birds and dogs. Then with the utmost pomp he lays the loved friend of his youth in the same grave-mound that is to hold his own ashes, and founds funeral games in his honour. The next night Priam comes secretly to his tent, and offers rich gifts to ransom Hector's body; but Achilles, whom the broken-down old king reminds of his own father, gives it up without ransom, and grants eleven days' truce for the burying. After many valiant deeds, he is overtaken by the fate which he had himself chosen; for the choice had been given him between an early death with undying fame and a long but inglorious life. Near the Scaean Gate he is struck by the shaft of Paris, guided by Apollo. According to a later legend he was wounded in the one vulnerable heel, and in the temple of Thymbraean Apollo, where he had gone unarmed to be wedded to Priam's daughter Polyxena.� Greeks and Trojans fight furiously all day about his body, till Zeus sends down a storm to end the fight. Seventeen days and nights the Greeks, with Thetis and the sea-goddesses and Muses, bewail the dead; then amid numerous sacrifices the body is burnt. Next morning the ashes, with those of Patroclus and of Nestor's son, Antilochus, whom Achilles had loved in the next degree, are placed in a golden pitcher, the work of Hephaestus, and gift of Dionysus, and deposited in the famed tumulus that crowns the promontory of Sigeum. The soul of Homer's Achilles dwells, like other souls, in the lower world, and is there seen by Odysseus together with the souls of his two friends. According to later poets Thetis snatched her son's body out of the burning pyre and carried it to the island of Leuke at the mouth of the Danube, where the transfigured hero lives on, sovereign of the Pontus and husband of Iphigeneia. Others place him in Elysium, with Medea or Helena to wife.
  Antilochus was the son of Nestor, who accompanied his father to the Trojan War, and was distinguished among the younger heroes for beauty and bravery. Homer calls him a favorite of Zeus and Poseidon. The dearest friend of Achilles next to Patroclus, he is chosen by the Greeks to break the news to him of his beloved companion's fall. When Memnon attacks the aged Nestor, Antilochus throws himself in his way, and buys his father's safety with his life. He, like Patroclus, is avenged by Achilles, in whose grave-mound the ashes of both friends are laid; even in the lower world Odysseus beholds the three pacing the asphodel meadow, and in after times the inhabitants of Ilium offered to them jointly the sacrifices due to the dead on the foreland of Sigeum.
  Patroclus was Achilles' close friend and companion.� Though Achilles refuses to fight during most of the Iliad, he does relent somewhat and allows Patroclus to wear his own armor and join the battle.� It is the death of Patroclus that finally spurs Achilles to rejoin the fighting and turn the tide of battle in favor of the Greeks.
  Ajax dies.Ajax was the son of Telamon of Salamis, and half-brother of Teucer: called the Great Ajax because he stood head and shoulders higher than the other Greek heroes. He brings twelve ships to Troy, where he proves himself second only to Achilles in strength and bravery; and while that hero holds aloof from the fight, he is the mainstay of the Achaeans, especially when the Trojans have taken their camp by storm and are pushing the battle to their ships. In the struggle over the corpse of Patroclus, he and the other Ajax cover Menelaüs and Meriones while they carry off their fallen comrade. When Thetis offered the arms and armour of Achilles as a prize for the worthiest, Odysseus, not Ajax, won.� Trojan captives bore witness that the cunning of Odysseus had done them more harm than the valor of Achilles. Ajax thereupon, according to the post-Homeric legend, killed himself in anger, a feeling he still cherished against Odysseus even in the lower world. The later legend relates that he was driven mad by the slight, mistook the flocks in the camp for his adversaries, and slaughtered them, and on coming to his senses again, felt so mortified that he fell on his sword, the gift of Hector after the duel between them. Out of his blood sprang the purple lily, on whose petals could be traced the first letters of his name, Ai, Ai.
  Neoptolemus was the son of Achilles and Deidamia.� After Achilles' death, he was taken by Odysseus to Troy, since, according to the prophecy of Helenus, that town could be taken only by a descendant of Achilles. Here, like his father, he distinguished himself above all by a courage which none could withstand. He slew Eurypylus, son of Telephus, and was one of the heroes in the Trojan Horse, where he alone remained undaunted. Later legend depicted him as fierce and cruel: at the taking of Troy he killed the aged Priam at the altar of Zeus, and hurled Hector's son. Astyanax, down from the walls, and offered up Polyxena upon his father's tomb. In Homer he arrives safely with much booty at Phthia, his father's home, and weds Menelaus' daughter Hermione, who was promised to him during the siege of Troy (4.5).
(12.72) What's the Argo?
  The Argo is the ship of those who sailed with Jason a generation before the Trojan war, to Aea, which in later times was understood to be Colchis, lying at the farthest end of the Black Sea. As the legend goes, their voyage took place before the time of Homer's Odysseus and has many parallels to the plot of the Odyssey.� As in the Odyssey, a group of heroes make a journey through fabulous lands and bump into all kinds of strange gods, people, and monsters.� The object of the Argo's expedition was to fetch back the golden fleece of the ram on which Phrixus the son of Athamas had fled, from his father and his stepmother Ino, to the magician Aeetes, king of Aea.
  For the full story, click here.
Timeline of Relevant Events
Relevant genealogical information:
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