Home » The Ancient Greek Hero » The Ancient Greek Hero – Hour One

The Ancient Greek Hero – Hour One

The Homeric Iliad and the glory of the unseasonal hero

The ‘hours’ in this course refer to chapters of the course book. Each of them refer to a reading that we do for that section. The ‘hour’ actually takes longer than that to fully absorb and understand. I must say that I have found the video lectures absorbing and I watched the readings several times.

The anger of Achilles.
Source: wikipaintings

For ‘Hour one’ we read some more of the Iliad. After each reading there was some discussion of the passage and what the importance of it was in itself and to the whole Iliad.

The two key words for this hour were kleos meaning glory and hora meaning the perfect time. These were explored in more detail with the readings.

Text A

My mother Thetis, goddess with silver steps, tells me that I carry the burden of two different fated ways [kēres] leading to the final moment [telos] of death. If I stay here and fight at the walls of the city of the Trojans, then my safe homecoming [nostos] will be destroyed for me, but I will have a glory [kleos] that is imperishable [aphthiton].  Whereas if I go back home, returning to the dear land of my forefathers,  then it is my glory [kleos], genuine [esthlon] as it is, that will be destroyed for me, but my life force [aiōn] will then  last me a long time, and the final moment [telos] of death will not be swift in catching up with me.

Iliad IX 410-416

Professor Nagy explained this passage . This is what I understood.

Achilles know that he has to choose between glory or home-coming. If he chooses homecoming then he can expect a longer death but there won’t be an Iliad. He is mortal because he has a mortal father. His mother, the goddess Thetis has explained the choices to him.

And this glory-I use the word “glory” to translate “kleos”-is not just glory. It’s the glory that comes from being featured in the medium of Homeric poetry as I introduced it in hour 0 in the introduction to Homeric poetry. So kleos is not just the glory of Achilles. It’s the glory that Achilles gets because he gets into the Iliad.

The word kleos for him is epic glory.

Text B

Apollo and the Muses. Source : wikipaintings.

Tell me now you Muses dwelling on Olympus,  who was the first to come up and face Agamemnon,  either among the Trojans or among their famous allies? It was Iphidamas son of Antenor, a man both good and great,  who was raised in fertile Thrace the mother of sheep.  Kissēs in his own house raised him when he was little. Kissēs was his mother’s father, father to Theano, the one with the fair cheeks.  When he [= Iphidamas] reached the stage of adolescence, which brings luminous glory.  He [= Kissēs] wanted to keep him at home and to give him his own daughter in marriage, but as soon as he [= Iphidamas] had married, he left the bride chamber and went off seeking the kleos of the Achaeans  along with twelve curved ships that followed him.

Iliad XI 218-228

Professor Nagy again:  In just a couple of verses, you can tell about a hero and how a hero fought and died and why he did it and what were the stakes.Whereas, for Achilles, who is the star of The Iliad, it takes 15,000 plus verses to say it.  A micro text inside a macro text.

The two texts are similar in that they show the hero’s obsession with dying a glorious death. The two heros both appear in the Iliad by dying a hero’s death.

Text C

Achilles and Agamemnon, scene from Book I of t...

Achilles and Agamemnon, scene from Book I of the Iliad, Roman mosaic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then, the king of men, spoke up at their meeting,  right there from the place where he was sitting, not even standing up in the middle of the assembly.  “Near and dear ones,” said he, “Danaan [= Achaean] heroes, attendants [therapontes] of Arēs!  It is a good thing to listen when a man stands up to speak, and it is not seemly to speak in relay after him. It would be hard for someone to do that, even if he is a practised speaker. For how could any man in an assembly either hear anything when there is an uproar  or say anything? Even a public speaker who speaks clearly will be disconcerted by it. What I will do is to make a declaration addressed to [Achilles] the son of Peleus. As for the rest of you Argives [= Achaeans], you should understand and know well, each one of you, the words [mūthos] that I say for the record. By now the Achaeans have been saying these words [mūthos] to me many times, and they have been blaming me. But I am not responsible [aitios]. No, those who are really responsible are Zeus and Fate [Moira] and the Fury [Erinys] who roams in the mist. They are the ones who, at the public assembly, had put savage derangement [atē] into my thinking [phrenes] on that day when I myself deprived Achilles of his honorific portion [geras].  But what could I do? The god is the one who brings everything to its fulfillment [teleutân].  That goddess Atē, senior daughter of Zeus – she makes everyone veer off-course [aâsthai],  that disastrous one [oulomenē], the one who has delicate steps. She never makes contact with the ground of the threshold, never even going near it, but instead she hovers over the heads of men, bringing harm to mortals. In her harmfulness, she has incapacitated others as well [besides me], and I have in mind one person in particular.  Yes, once upon a time even Zeus veered off-course [aâsthai], who is said to be the best among men and gods. Even he was deceived; Hērā did it, with her devious ways of thinking, female that she is. It happened on the day when the mighty Hēraklēs was about to be born of Alkmene in Thebes, the city garlanded by good walls.  He [= Zeus], making a formal declaration [eukhesthai], spoke up at a meeting of all the gods and said: “hear me, all gods and all goddesses, and let me say to you what the heart [thūmos] in my chest tells me to say. Today the goddess who presides over the pains of childbirth, Eileithuia, will help bring forth a man into the light, revealing him, and he will be king over all the people who live around him. He comes from an ancestral line of men who are descended from blood that comes from me.” Thinking devious thoughts, the goddess Hērā addressed him [= Zeus]: “You will be mistaken, and you will not be able to make a fulfilment [telos] of the words [mūthos] that you have spoken for the record. But come, Olympian god, swear for me a binding oath:  swear that he will really be king over all the people who live around him, I mean, the one who on this day shall fall to the ground between the legs of a woman  who is descended from men who come from your line of ancestry, from blood that comes from you.”  So she spoke. And Zeus did not at all notice [noeîn] her devious thinking,  but he swore a great oath. And right then and there, he veered off-course [aâsthai] in a big way.  Meanwhile, Hērā sped off, leaving the ridges of Olympus behind, and swiftly she reached Achaean Argos. She knew that she would find there the strong wife of Sthenelos son of Perseus. She was pregnant with a dear son, and she was in her eighth month.  And she brought him forth into the light, even though he was still one month short. Meanwhile she put a pause on the time of delivery for Alkmene, holding back the divine powers of labor, the Eileithuiai. And then she herself went to tell the news to Zeus the son of Kronos, saying: “Zeus the father, you with the gleaming thunderbolt, I will put a word into your thoughts:  there has just been born a man, a noble one, who will be king over the Argives. He is Eurystheus son of Sthenelos son of Perseus.  He is from your line of ancestry, and it is not unseemly for him to be king over the Argives.” So she spoke, and he was struck in his mind [phrēn] with a sharp sorrow [akhos]. And right away she grabbed the goddess Atē by the head – that head covered with luxuriant curls – since he was angry in his thinking [phrenes], and he swore a binding oath that never will she come to Olympus and to the starry sky never again will she come back, that goddess Atē, who makes everyone veer off-course [aâsthai]. And so saying he threw her down from the starry sky, having whirled her around in his hand. And then she [= Atē] came to the fields where mortals live and work.  He [= Zeus] always mourned the fact that she ever existed, every time he saw how his own dear son was having one of his degrading Labors [āthloi] to work on. So also I [= Agamemnon], while the great Hector, the one with the gleaming helmet,  was destroying the Argives [= Achaeans] at the sterns of the beached ships,  was not able to keep out of my mind the veering [atē] I experienced once I veered off-course [aâsthai].  But since I did veer off-course [aâsthai] and since Zeus took away from me my thinking,  I now want to make amends, and to give untold amounts of compensation.”

Iliad XIX 76-138

Professor Nagy: Here you have an inferior person, an inferior hero, who has clearly been upstaged by now by the superior hero, who is Achilles. I’m talking about Agamemnon, who is socially superior to Achilles, but who is heroically inferior to him. And by the time we reach scroll 19 here, it’s clear that even Agamemnon has to admit, OK, I really messed up. And he does it in a very ungracious way, and he’s not a good speaker. Whereas Achilles, even when he’s really angry, he’s still gracious when he needs to be.   

Comparing text and film

The first clip we looked at was a 1951 production of “The Tales Of Hoffman”. The clip is a story with the main story. As with reading B above it is the micro narrative within the macro narrative.  It tells the tale of  Zachory in love with an unobtainable beautiful ballerina  This opera uses a number of different arts including song , ballet and poetry, again very similar to the Ancient Greeks.

The next film clip was from “Blade Runner” . The clip was the final death scene. Roy makes an emotional speech when he knows he is dying . He express the intensity of his life, Baudelaire would have liked him. He talks of all the moment in his life being lost, his life will not be written in a poem or a song. He says “all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain,” followed by “time to die.”


  1. […] The Ancient Greek Hero – Hour One (louisecharente.wordpress.com) […]

  2. […] to recalling the songs in Homeric poetry.  We also looked at a clip towards the end of the film in hour one. The clip was of the death scene where Roy talks about all the moments of his life being lost. […]

  3. […] of being hēsukhos’ hieros ‘sacred, holy’ hōrā, plural hōrai ‘season, seasonality, the right time, the perfect time’ […]

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