Homer, The Iliad
1. As you begin reading, note what elements of the Iliad are unique to epic — how is it unlike novels, lyric poems, fairy tales, etc.?
2. Study the words and actions of Agamemnon carefully. What is the basis of his authority?
3. In Book 3, the two sides are massed for a mighty conflict, but the poet turns to a single duel between Menelaus and Paris. Why hasn’t this duel occurred before? What function does it have in the story?
4. Do the interactions among the gods parallel those among the humans? In what ways? What do the gods do here that the humans do not?
5. Consider the differences between Ares and Athene; they are both war-god/dess, but why have two?
6. Book 6: This is Hector’s book. Here we see who, what and why he is. How does the narrator seem to feel about Hector? Compare and contrast his heroism with Achilles. Consider his relations with women. Note his self-consciousness about the inevitable fate of Troy and his family (520). What, exactly, motivates him to keep fighting? Do you see anything potentially wrong or self-contradictory with his reasoning? Don’t sentimentalize his hopes for his son too much.
7. Book 8: Zeus signals the Greeks’ collapse, but still pities (280ff.): is he confused? Given that the proem told us that these events are the will of Zeus, what does Zeus really want?
8. Book 9: An important book. Agamemnon admits his error and sends an embassy to Achilles, consisting of Odysseus, Phoenix and Ajax. Consider why these three in particular go. Compare Agamemnon’s instructions with what actually happens, focusing in particular on the conduct of Odysseus.
9. Which characters do you feel the most sympathy for and why? Explain.
10. What do you think is the purpose of Diomedes’ and Odysseus’ excursion? What do they achieve, both during and as aftermath?
11. Book 12: Sarpedon and Glaucus (compare this scene with Glaucus and Diomedes in Book 6) give the most complete statement of the heroic code. Why do heroes risk their lives? Note how the awareness of mortality changes everything. Compare their ethos with Achilles’ speech in Book 9.
12. Look for ways in which this book and the next [12 & 13] set the stage for Hector’s fall, as his success makes him progressively more reckless. Look for warnings Polydamas gives Hector, and note where and why he stops listening.
13. Think about the effects anger has on events. What positive and negative effects result from anger? Why do characters get angry? Is their anger justified or not? Explain.
14. What roles do the gods play? Where are they more symbols (of what?) and where are they more like “people”? What is your opinion of these characters as gods?
15. Since the epic is set during a war, obviously martial values are most on display. What other social and personal values are expressed or demonstrated?
16. Pay particular attention to the scenes in Books 11-16 with Patroklos; what character traits do we see most clearly? How does Patroklos complement Akhilleus?
17. Patroclus kills Sarpedon, Zeus’ son, whom Zeus considers saving. Why doesn’t he? What happens to Sarpedon? This is the first important death in the epic, beginning the sequence that leads to Hector’s death. Look for changes in the narrative tone and level of elaboration.
18. What happens to Patroclus after killing Sarpedon? Look at the descriptions of his mind and emotions.
19. Is Patroclus diminished in the end? Is Hector’s conquest of him glorious. Note that, despite the intention of tricking the Trojans that Achilles has returned, they never think that. Why do you think this is so? What effect would it have had on the story if Hector had bent over the dead Patroclus and said, “It’s only Patroclus.”
20. Hector says he will give Patroclus’ corpse to the vultures; consider the ramifications. And does Hector has a realistic idea of his role in the death of Patroclus?
21. What do we learn from Thetis’ trip to Hephaestus? How does this episode play into furthering Akhilleus’ fate?
22. The new shield of Achilles allows Homer a delineation of normal human life, of which the heroic is an exceptional part. Think about the shield and what is represented. What image of life does Homer provide? What does the shield evoke? Can you draw the shield based on Homer’s description?
23. Which characters do you feel the most sympathy for by this point, and why? Has this changed over the course of the epic? Explain.
24. Critics have always liked the scene between Akhilleus and his horses; what makes it unique and significant?
25. Explain how in Book 20 Homer builds up to the big fight between Hektor and Akhilleus.
26. How is Achilles’ aristeia similar to and different from others?
27. How do you feel about Hector, Achilles, and the other Achaeans during Hector’s death and shortly after? Achilles’ vengeance is now complete, but the book has shown us little of his thought and much of Hector’s. The plot is now complete, and thus Achilles’ continuing rage is stressed even more. Why is Achilles still angry?
28. Read the passage about Patroklos’ funeral pyre carefully; why do you think the detail is important? What symbolic significance might this fire have?
29. Why does Akhilleus return the body? Consider several possible motives.
30. Are you satisfied with how and where the epic ends? Explain. What, if anything, would you change?
Homer, The Odyssey
1. How is Odysseus described before we meet him? How or how not does he live up to that characterization?
2. Consider the queens we meet or are told about. What traits do they share in common and which are unique? Which queen is most admired? In general, what role(s) do women seem to play in Homeric society?
3. What kinds of repetition do you notice? How do they function in the development of the narrative?
4. The story of Agamemnon is repeated several times. Why do you think this story is important with regard to Odysseus?
5. Consider the older men we meet. For what characteristics are they most admired and respected? Do these characteristics differ much from those admired in younger men?
6. Discuss how the portrayal of Telemakhos develops as he travels; what steps do you see in his maturity-journey?
7. Describe the different ways the theme of hospitality is expressed in this epic.
8. How does Homer portray the role of the gods? How do they relate to each other? to men? What themes are connected with the gods and their role(s)?
9. Compare the different “homecomings” that Odysseus receives on Ithaca – what is significant about each?
10. What motives might Penelope have for promoting the bow test? Which motive is most likely, do you think?
11. Odysseus punishes the suitors and servants; do his actions seem just to you or excessive?
Perikles — Funeral Oration
1. This speech was delivered at a public “mass funeral” for war dead. How does Perikles approach the mourners and validate their losses throughout the speech? What is Perikles’ ultimate purpose in this speech? What responses does he want to engender in his audience?
2. What aspects of Athenian life and society does Perikles celebrate? How does Perikles characterize non-Athenians? What specific traits separate Athenians from their enemies?
3. What image of Perikles do you get from this text? Pick out some sections which you think reveal his personality or attitudes and explain how they reveal character.
1. Pick out some animal images which are used to symbolize people or events in the play and follow how they develop over the course of the drama. How do these images contribute to the meaning of the play?
2. The chorus is made up of the old men of Argos; as a group, what are their characteristics? How do these characteristics tie into the plot of the drama?
3. Note the comments made about male/female roles; what does this tell you about Agamemnon and Clytemnestra?
4. What importance does the carpet scene hold for Agamemnon and Clytemnestra?
5. Clytemnestra has several different motives for plotting against Agamemnon; which do you think is her strongest motive, and why?
6. What is the effect of Cassandra’s ability to see the future on the chorus? on the audience?
7. In some versions of the myth, Aegisthus kills Agamemnon; do you think this would be more or less effective if the play presented that version (explain)?
8. What is your opinion of Aegisthus? What lines contribute to your opinions? Why do you think Aeschylus portrayed him this way?
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
1. Who and what did Prometheus object to and rebel against? Discuss the different levels of his rebellion; might his rebellion have a “higher purpose”, i.e., trying to change something for the better?
2. Why would the gods be stingy with fire? What could fire be symbolic of? (it can be symbolic of more than one thing…)
3. What reasons are given for Zeus’ attitude? Can his attitude be defended? Explain.
4. What must Zeus learn? What must Prometheus learn? Would your attitude toward Prometheus change if he were human rather than a god?
5. Why is Io brought in?
6. Do the powers of prophecy that Prometheus has affect your attitude towards his actions and his punishment?
7. What role does “Necessity” or “Fate” play in events?
8. Is Prometheus’ revolt (and/or his punishment) tragic? Explain.
1. The translators of Oedipus have added all the stage directions (the ancient Greek text provides none). Imagine having to create these from the clues in the text. What kinds of information do stage directions provide and how do they help? What more would you add?
2. How would Sophocles answer this question: Is our destiny a result of fate or of our own personality and decisions? both? neither? Explain.
3. What symbols and metaphors unify the drama? Which two are the most prominent? Explain their significance.
4. What advantages and disadvantages does the play have from adhering to the three unities?
5. What is the function of the chorus? Does it seem like a unified character or a collection of characters? Why?
6. At what point did you realize who Oedipus was looking for? Was this before or after he did? How does this affect your opinion of Oedipus?
7. Is Sophocles’ message here religious or political? Why?
8. Is Oedipus justly punished? If so, for what crime? If not, why not?
9. Why do you think Aristotle valued the conjunction of peripety and recognition that occurs in Oedipus, among other plays?
10. Is knowledge always good? (This play seems to be the ultimate example of “don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to”.)
1. What are Antigone’s character strengths? Weaknesses?
2. Explain the purpose of Ismene’s character – how does she function in the unfolding of the plot? of Antigone’s character?
3. What do we learn from the chorus sections that adds to a portrait of Creon? of Antigone?
4. Although the gods never appear as characters in this drama, they play an important role — explain.
5. Analyze what the basic conflict is between Creon and Antigone; what values does each represent?
6. Is the main “message” of the drama religious or political? Support your view.
7. How does Haimon affect our perception of events? What does his character add to our perspectives on Creon and Antigone?
8. Agree or disagree, and support: Antigone’s basic theme is justice.
9. Who is the “tragic hero” of this play, Antigone or Creon? Is it more useful to think in terms of protagonist/antagonist for this play? Why or why not?
10. Consider what Sophocles promotes here as “heroic” qualities, and contrast these with the epic “heroic” qualities (of Akhilleus, for example). How has the concept of a hero (not?) changed?
1. List and define the six elements of tragedy that Aristotle discusses.
2. How does Aristotle distinguish between tragedy and history? Do you think his distinction is valid (explain)?
3. What is katharsis (or catharsis)? How does tragedy, ideally, produce katharsis? What religious purpose might it serve?
4. Explain what the Three Unities are and why Aristotle would encourage their use in writing a play.
5. Define hamartia. What is its function in a tragedy?
Aristophanes, The Clouds + Socrates through Plato & Xenophon
1. Find 3 similarities and 3 differences between Greek tragedy and Greek comedy.
2. Is Aristophanes condemning rhetoric in general, or specific kinds of rhetoric? Explain.
3. What would you say are Aristophanes’ views on traditional religion?
4. What universal (anywhere, anytime) subjects for satire are found in this play? What specific (local in time & place) subjects?
5. Note places where Aristophanes seems to appeal to the audience and involve them; what is the purpose?
6. What comic techniques are found in this play? Describe an example of each from the play.
7. From your knowledge of Socrates, do you think Aristophanes is being malicious, mischievous, or friendly in his portrayal?
8. Which scenes amuse you most (explain)?
9. Do you think it’s realistic that a normal, upstanding citizen could confuse education with corruption? Explain.
10. Compare/contrast the portrait of Socrates in the play to the impression you get of him from Plato and Xenophon.
1) Although treated comically, the play expresses serious themes: name two and discuss how the play treats them.
2) What is the function of obscenity (including double meanings) in the play?
3) Identify/explain at least one instance in the play where the following comic techniques are used: reversal of roles, double meanings, stereotyping (including stock characters), physical antics, addressing/involving the audience, exposure of faults, deflating the “superior”, contemporary (to the author) references.
4) Describe the characteristics Aristophanes attributes to women. What is his opinion of women, and what are their proper roles?
5) What attitudes toward war are expressed in the play, by whom?
6) Explore some information on the Peloponnesian War, keeping in mind that the play was written in 411 BCE. Analyze how current events might have influenced the play.
7) What are the Magistrate and Lysistrata debating in the passage where she mentions spinning? How does this tie in to the plot movement?
8. What serious messages, other than a general anti-war message, are expressed in the play, and by whom?
9) Name 3 reasons why this play can be classified as a comedy, according to Aristotle’s definition.
10) If, as one critic claims, “comedy has something subversive about it,” what do you think was (or is) most subversive about this play?
Aristophanes, The Birds
1. Pisthetairus and Euelpides start out with the idea of founding a utopia — what are the key elements in their “ideal state”?
2. Identify and explain examples of these comic techniques at use in the play: (a) visual effects [you’ll have to imagine how scenes would be performed, costumes, etc.], and (b) the normal world turned topsy-turvy.
3. Compare/contrast the comic chorus with the tragic chorus; how are the functions of the two alike and different?
4. Explain how the birds are presented as an improvement over the gods.
5. What sorts of moral ambiguities does Aristophanes represent in the play? How might these create discomfort on the part of the Athenian audience?
6. How does the utopian dream pan out? Does it end up utopia, dystopia, something else? Explain.
7. You’ll find a number of references to “current events” (for ancient Athens) in the play. Discuss in what ways the comedy is undermined by these, and how the comedy still comes through in spite of not knowing all the details of the references.
8. If you took Aristophanes’ picture (given through the mouths of the characters) of Athenian life and government seriously, what would it have been like?
9. Look back at Aristotle’s definition of comedy in the Poetics and explain how this play fits it.
10. If, as one critic put it, “comedy has something subversive about it,” what do you see as most subversive about this play? Explain.
1. In Greek tradition, Theseus is usually seen as an heroic figure. What is left of that heroic image, and why do you think Euripides altered it?
2. One virtue that the Greeks extolled was epieikeia [ep-ih-ay-KAY-uh], which included traits such as fairness, decency, reasonableness, flexibility, and clemency. Which character(s) are the best representatives of this virtue, and why? How is this virtue tied to the sense of tragedy in the play?
3. Look up Sophism; how does Euripides use the ideals of this philosophy as a dramatist?
4. Who is the tragic hero in this play? Justify your choice.
5. What is the key conflict in this play? Are the gods relevant to the conflict or not? Explain.
Euripides, The Trojan Women
1. Note the order in which people appear; what significance do you see? How does the opening scene with the gods influence your opinion on the subsequent events?
2. Euripides’ audience would have known Homer well; what characters has Euripides chosen to elevate, and which seem “smaller” in comparison to their stature in Homer?
3. Why do you think Euripides focuses on the women? what is Euripides’ attitude, in general, toward women?
4. Given the portrayals here, what would you say is Euripides’ attitude toward war?
5. What are the key points Euripides makes through his portrayal of the following [choose 3]: Hecuba, Talthybius, Menelaus, Helen, Andromache?
1. What are Jason’s motives for taking a new wife? [Keep in mind that in Athenian law, only a marriage between two Athenian families is a valid marriage; Medea is a foreigner and hence her children could not be citizens.]
2. Explain what human interest is added via the Nurse and the Tutor.
3. What can we admire about Medea? Do you think Athenians of Euripides’ time would have admired any of her traits? How are we invited to feel compassion for her position?
4. Identify the scene where Medea decides to take revenge against Jason by depriving him of his children; what ideas expressed by Jason drive her to this decision?
5. Euripides offers some views on women’s position in his society; where do we see these views expressed, and what does he think?
6. Why didn’t Euripides just have Medea run off with the children? How would your response to the play be different if he had?
7. Describe how Medea fills the role of tragic hero. How is it necessarily different from how a male character (like Oedipus) is a hero?