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Perfidy and Passion

Reintroducing the Iliad

Mark Buchan

Publication Year: 2012

Homer’s Iliad is often considered a poem of blunt truthfulness, his characters’ motivation pleasingly simple. A closer look, however, reveals a complex interplay of characters who engage in an awful lot of lies. Beginning with Achilles, who hatches a secret plot to destroy his own people, Mark Buchan traces motifs of deception and betrayal throughout the poem. Homer’s heroes offer bluster, their passion linked to and explained by their lack of authenticity. Buchan reads Homer’s characters between the lies, showing how the plot is structured individual denial and what cannot be said.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-xiv

In a review of one of the many scholarly “Companions” to Homer, Richard Janko noted that in over eight hundred pages of scholarly analysis there was almost no effort “to appreciate the greatness of Homer’s poetry and of his vision of humanity.” Janko echoes the frustration...

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Introduction: Riddles of Identity in the Iliad

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pp. 3-28

Critics take for granted Homer’s skill in portraying memorable characters. The opening book offers vignettes giving access to the protagonists’ flaws and desires: the arrogant king who rejects a suppliant, the impetuous warrior who angrily challenges authority...

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1. The Tragedy of Achilles: The Iliad as a Poem of Betrayal

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pp. 29-52

The belief that the Iliad is straightforward has been partially fuelled by identification with the poem’s protagonist, Achilles. Though in this case, at least, even in antiquity there was some hesitation. Was Achilles really so truthful? When the embassy arrives to lure him...

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2. Comedy and Class Struggle

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pp. 53-72

The Iliad begins with anger, but Book 1 ends with “Homeric laughter.” As Zeus and Hera embark on a quarrel that mirrors the one between Achilles and Agamemnon, Hephaestus intervenes. He counsels his mother to yield to his father, and then busies himself...

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3. The Politics of Poetry

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pp. 73-93

A well-known and puzzling detail about the shield of Achilles is that it has no boss. For all the worries about its shape and the relationship of this object put together by Hephaestus to either historical shields or shields depicted elsewhere within the...

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4. The Poetry of Politics

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pp. 94-113

Homer returns to the illusions of the shield, the “as if” mode on display in the representations of life, in the funeral games of Book 23. The games are not just “play,” but play as politics. They take the form of politics, but without the direct political...

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5. Couples: The Iliad on Intimacy

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pp. 114-129

The Iliad creates a crescendo of couples. Agamemnon and Chryseis, Achilles and Briseis, Helen and Paris, Hector and Andromache, Achilles and Patroclus—all move in and out of narrative focus, bringing with them their different versions of love. So when...

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6. Flirtations

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pp. 130-141

The commitment of war shadows the commitment of marriage. The latter is a primal act of trust, and cultural making, which bridges the gap between two people but also attaches them to the broader world. Hector and Andromache’s marriage- talk fades into...

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7. The Afterlife of Homer

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pp. 142-152

The poem fits well with what remains of Mimnermus’s poetry. He obsesses over aging and death while celebrating beauty and transient youth, though even this is tinged with melancholy. The gloomy view from the end of a life reflects on lost desires that promised to give...

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Conclusion: How to Sum Up the Iliad in a Riddle

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pp. 153-180

So who really killed Homer? If Homer’s death, for Victor Davis Hanson at least, signifies the demise of Greek wisdom in all its clarity, then perhaps Homer has always been dead. For knowledge in the Iliad, to borrow a phrase from another Greek poet, comes...


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pp. 181-184


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pp. 185-187


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pp. 189-196

E-ISBN-13: 9780299286330
E-ISBN-10: 0299286339
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299286347
Print-ISBN-10: 0299286347

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2012