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The Iliad

Structure, Myth, and Meaning

Bruce Louden

Publication Year: 2006

Extending his distinctive analysis of Homeric epic to the Iliad, Bruce Louden, author of The "Odyssey": Structure, Narration, and Meaning, again presents new approaches to understanding the themes and story of the poem. In this thought-provoking study, he demonstrates how repeated narrative motifs argue for an expanded understanding of the structure of epic poetry. First identifying the "subgenres" of myth within the poem, he then reads these against related mythologies of the Near East, developing a context in which the poem can be more accurately interpreted. Louden begins by focusing on the ways in which the Iliad's three movements correspond with and comment on each other. He offers original interpretations of many episodes, notably in books 3 and 7, and makes new arguments about some well-known controversies (e.g., the duals in book 9), the Iliad's use of parody, the function of theomachy, and the prefiguring of Hektor as a sacrificial victim in books 3 and 6. The second part of the book compares fourteen subgenres of myth in the Iliad to contemporaneous Near Eastern traditions such as those of the Old Testament and of Ugaritic mythology. Louden concludes with an extended comparison of the Homeric Athena and Anat, a West Semitic goddess worshipped by the Phoenicians and Egyptians. Louden's innovative method yields striking new insights into the formation and early literary contexts of Greek epic poetry.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Sometime after having finished my previous study, The Odyssey: Structure, Narration, and Meaning (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), I was in the early stages of a book on Greek myth, when I realized that the techniques I had developed for analyzing the structure of the Odyssey could also be applied to the Iliad. Accordingly, the first four chapters of this book...

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pp. 1-13

Any analysis of structure in the Iliad is, at least in part, a study of repetition, since the epic exists almost entirely as a series of repetitive elements.1 Words repeat as a group, lines repeat in groups and type-scenes recur; even interlocking sets of type-scenes and motifs repeat together. Such fundamental use of repetition in an ancient narrative suggests that the text descends...

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CHAPTER ONE: The Principal Narrative Pattern

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pp. 14-52

In analyzing the principal narrative pattern, the string of connected motifs that underlies books 4–7 and 20–24,1 I especially note parallels between the aristeiai of Diomedes and Akhilleus, and Hektor’s duels with Aias and Akhilleus. The precise order of the narrative pattern’s motifs is not completely fixed in the different sequences—for example, Diomedes and Aias...

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CHAPTER TWO: The Overture

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pp. 53-79

Book 3 is usually thought to serve a retrospective function, recounting episodes through which the Iliad replays and evokes issues associated with the beginning of the war. Though it undoubtedly does serve such a function, this is not its only purpose. While evoking earlier events, book 3 simultaneously introduces many of the poem’s central structures, the motifs and...

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CHAPTER THREE: The Middle Sequence: Parody of the Narrative Pattern

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pp. 80-111

Much as parts of book 3, the middle sequence employs the motifs of the narrative pattern in inverted form, and a type of parody, though not necessarily comic, prevails in books 8, 11–17.1 The Greeks suffer repeated defeats, and Hektor is victorious. Zeus’ intervention in book 8 establishes the new tone. Whereas Diomedes and Akhilleus are unequivocally victorious in...

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CHAPTER FOUR: The Introductory Pattern: The Best of the Akhaians Calls an Assembly

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pp. 112-148

Chapters 1–3 established and analyzed the Iliad's principal narrative pattern as it underlies books 4–7 and 20–24, how book 3 provides a miniature preview of it, and how books 8, 11–17 offer it in an inverted form. We now consider those books that begin the three sequences. Books 1–2, 9–10, and 18–19, share a number of parallels. Thetis appears only in books 1 and 18,...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Subgenres of Myth in the Iliad I

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pp. 149-182

The Iliad is set against a background of siege myth,1 a myth depicting a hostile force encamped before a city intending to sack it. Frequent elsewhere in Greek myth—for example, Heracles’ earlier sack of Troy and traditions of the Seven against Thebes—siege myth probably existed in Greek culture at least as early as the Mycenaean era, as depictions of sieges on the silver...

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CHAPTER SIX: Subgenres of Myth in the Iliad II

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pp. 183-239

Far from framing its plot as a simplistic tale of good (Greeks) versus evil (Trojans), the Iliad provokes considerable sympathy for such Trojan characters as Andromakhe, Priam, and Hektor. So skillful at engaging our sympathies is the poem that occasional readers fail to see the less sympathetic traits with which the poem also colors theTrojans.1 While the Iliad suggests...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: The Iliad's Divine Economy, the Goddess Anat, and the Homeric Athena

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pp. 240-285

This final chapter explores the Iliad's divine economy from three perspectives. First, I argue that three central deities in epic divine economies (Zeus, Athena, Apollo for the Iliad) function as an ‘‘epic triangle’’ around the hero.1 Second, I note the chief functions Iliadic gods serve, how they relate to each other and to the chief mortal characters. Third, I place the...

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pp. 286-290

This study has sought to provide two sets of tools, two different contexts, for understanding the Iliad. The first context, and tool, is the narrative pattern, introductory and principal, in its three sequences. The thrice-recurring string of interconnected type-scenes and motifs provides a context for interpreting a given episode by offering three parallel scenes for...


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pp. 291-315


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pp. 317-318


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pp. 319-329


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pp. 331-337

E-ISBN-13: 9780801889189
E-ISBN-10: 0801889189
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801882807
Print-ISBN-10: 080188280X

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 213306040
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Iliad

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Homer. Iliad.
  • Epic poetry, Greek -- History and criticism.
  • Achilles (Greek mythology) in literature.
  • Trojan War -- Literature and the war.
  • Rhetoric, Ancient.
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