The Great Courses – Iliad and Odyssey of Homer

Ancient Greece was a very different time and place than our modern world, and the Homeric Epics are very different from the movies and books that we watch and read today.  This is a foreign country, and a guide is helpful to truly understand their culture and mindset.

Professor Elizabeth Vandiver is an excellent guide through the world of the Homeric Epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.  She is a captivating lecturer, she weighs in on the scholarly debates on these epics, she brings the ancient Greeks to life, her enthusiasm for the Ancient Greek culture is contagious.  The Iliad and the Odyssey were engaging character studies, and Professor Vandiver brings out the conflicts and interactions between the various characters in these epics, and discusses what they tell us about the ancient Greeks.

How does Professor Vanderbilt bring to life the struggles of the ancient Greeks, their fears, their anxieties, their hopes, their dreams, their joys, their frustrations?

Homer shaped Greek culture, to read and recite Homer, for the Greeks, was the essence of being Greek.  Scholars believe the Iliad and the Odyssey were first composed as oral tradition, before the introduction of writing, and some scholars believe that the Greek alphabet was developed so these epics could be written down and preserved.  How was it that the bards were able to recite from memory epic poetry chanted over several days of a religious festival?  What was it like to listen to these bards?

The Iliad was about war, and about the warriors and their mighty deeds as they fought the war, but it was also about how war affected Greek culture, how it affected the families and wives and children of the Greeks and Trojans.  How different was this ancient warrior culture?

The Iliad had a very different type of hero, Achilles, who in his rage against his king decided to sit out the war, until the Trojans fought to the edge of the water and started burning the Greek ships.  What does this tell us about our hero, and about the Greek’s conflicting attitude towards war?

The hero of the Odyssey, Odysseus, wily Odysseus, angers Poseidon, the god of the sea, and is forced to wander for many years before returning.  All of the Greek heroes are forced to wander for angering the gods for their outrages committed in the sacking of Troy.  What were his adventures during these wanderings, and what do they tell us?

Odysseus is forced to think on his feet, weaving tall tales to mislead his enemies, much like he came up with the idea of the Trojan Horse to fool the Trojans so the Greek army could sack their city.  Odysseus constantly fabricates long and intricate stories about who he is and how he came to be wherever he is at the moment.  How do these wily tales affect his adventures?

Greek heroes suffer from their acts of hubris, their acts of arrogance, their overreaching that angers the gods.  What were these acts of hubris by Achilles in the Iliad, and by Odysseus in the Odyssey?  What do they tell us about our heroes, and about Greek culture?

Odysseus returns to his native Ithaca in disguise, all the noble men in the city have been courting his wife the past three years, since they believe that Odysseus has been lost at sea and will never return.  How did the prolonged absence of the men King Odysseus brought with him to fight the war, with Odysseus being the only survivor of the long trip home, cause the dysfunction in the society of Ithaca?  How is Odysseus, with only the help of his son and a few faithful servants, able to overcome the hundred plus suitors who are plotting to kill his son, and Odysseus too, if they see through his disguise?

These are very intriguing questions that teach us a lot about the ancient Greeks, and also ourselves, and Professor Vandiver points out many of these questions that maybe we would not see due to our lack of familiarity with the Greek world, and she does so in a very interesting and captivating way in her lectures.

About Bruce Strom 142 Articles
I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. I made the mistake of reading works written by Luther, he has a bad habit of writing seemingly brilliant theology, but then every few pages he stops and calls the Pope often very vulgar names, what sort of Christian does that? Currently I am a seeker, studying church history and the writings of the Church Fathers. I am involved in the Catholic divorce ministries in our diocese, and have finished the diocese two-year Catholic Lay Ministry program. Also I took a year of Orthodox off-campus seminary courses. This blog explores the beauty of the Early Church and the writings and history of the Church through the centuries. I am a member of a faith community, for as St Augustine notes in his Confessions, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you worship God in the walls of the Church, unless persecution prevents this. This blog is non-polemical, so I really would rather not reveal my denomination here.

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