Abstract: What Does the Iliad Tell Us About War and Why?


Lecture summary:  The Iliad of Homer is the end result of a centuries of songs being sung about wars, how and why they are fought, and what effects they have on human beings and human societies. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Iliad has been read both as a pacifist document revealing how the force of war destroys and dehumanizes human beings and as glorious proof of “why men love war” and always will.       

In this talk we shall think about the contexts in which early songs in the epic tradition must have been sung—the late C.J. Ruijgh has isolated lines that may go back to the 16th century BCE and John Younger has gathered and discussed the rich evidence for musical instruments and performances in the Bronze Age archaeological record.

We shall also consider how and why the Iliad has the features that it has, what it and songs like it were trying to convey to, and inculcate into, communalized audiences in the highly militarized societies of the Mycenaean palatial period and later Greek poleis. Here we shall consider the psychological impact of the Iliad and analyze how scholars have interpreted its extraordinary features and how those features would have been received in the greater Greek worlds of late prehistory and early historical times.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

—T.  Palaima and L. Tritle, “The Legacy of War in the Classical World,” in B. Campbell and L. Tritle eds., The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World  (2013) 726-742

—Ken Dowden, “The Epic Tradition in Greece,” in R. Fowler ed., The Cambridge Companion to Homer (2004) 188-205

—R. Osborne, “Homer’s Society,” in R. Fowler (above), pp, 206-219.

—J. Younger, Music in the Aegean Bronze Age (1998)

—J. Shay, Achilles in Vietnam (1994)

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