William A. Johnson                                                                                                     Greek 076

Office: Allen 229B  • MW 4-5, by chance, or by appt. •  684-2082  •

Introduction to Homer’s Iliad

The history of Greek poetic writing begins properly with the Iliad and Odyssey, which represent however not only the beginning of the written tradition of Greek poetry but also the culmination of a lengthy tradition of orally-transmitted verse. Thus Homeric poetry constitutes something of a paradox: on the one hand, direct, traditional, and seemingly unselfconscious; on the other hand, complex in intertextual associations, sophisticated in organization and deployment of artistic devices. No historical curiosity this, but high art deserving of our most serious attention.

The principal goal of our course will be to learn how to read the Iliad in the original language. We will also make a prolegomenal [cf. προλεγόμενον] investigation into some of the difficulties and rewards of interpretative study.

The course will emphasize understanding of the Greek in all its subtlety, complexity, and beauty. But we will also concern ourselves with gaining some fluency in our reading of Homeric Greek. To that end, we will gradually speed up the pace of the readings, at first through the use of instructor-prepared help sheets. By the end of the term we expect to have a firm feel for the flow of the epic language, that joyous sense of the "loft and carry that sweeps along the listener" (Fagles). We will read in Greek all of the first book, the end of the last book, and as many of the intervening selections from Benner as we can manage. Students are also expected to read the entirety of the Iliad in translation.

Course requirements: There will be occasional, often individual, written and oral assignments on secondary literature, and early on one or two quizzes. The quizzes will be designed to check understanding of grammatical points and to acquaint you with my style of examination. There will be three one-hour examinations. Examinations will test your ability to understand and analyze passages read and discussed in class, with emphasis on comprehension of the Greek. You will also be asked to memorize a couple of bits of Homer.

Graded material will be weighted as follows:

Presentations, short papers, class work          34%

One-hour examinations (3)                           66%



Allen Rogers Benner, Selections from Homer’s Iliad. 1903, reprinted many times.


R. J. Cunliffe. Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect.  Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1980. Benner contains a useful short vocabulary, but Cunliffe is essential for exploring Homeric vocabulary in detail. Autenreith’s lexicon, not quite as good, is however available on-line and free of charge (also through the Lexiphanes iPhones application). On reserve in the Classics library.

Companion texts.

W. B. Owen and E. J. Goodspeed. Homeric Vocabularies.  Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1979. Electronic resource: see library catalogue. Word lists organized by frequency.

I. Morris and B. Powell, ed. A new companion to Homer. Brill, 1997. Useful for exploring general topics relating to the Iliad, as currently constructed in Homeric criticism. On reserve in the Classics library.

G. S. Kirk et al. The Iliad, a commentary. Cambridge (in six volumes, 1985-93). The standard large-scale commentary on the Iliad.  Each volume starts with a set of essays on general topics, the collection of which forms an outstanding introduction to the Iliad. On reserve in the Classics library.

For reading the intervening books in translation, I recommend these, readily available in bookstores and in the library:

R. Fagles, Homer: the Iliad (translation). More readable; a fine poetic translation that is my standard choice for courses in translation.

R. Lattimore, The Iliad of Homer (translation). Less immediately accessible, but masterfully close to the Greek.