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The Lack Of Credibility In Homer's Iliad

1405 words - 6 pages


    Much of the criticism of Homer's Iliad is focused on the events of the story: the significance of the images, symbols, the role of the Greek Gods, the characters of the story. It seems that many of the critics have forgotten the very important role of Homer as the narrator of the events. His narration undermines the story. He is the medium through which the story is told.  Perhaps the ambiguity of not knowing exactly who Homer is, and the fact that it was an oral story long before it was written in the form it is today, is the cause of oversight of the narrative qualities of Homer's Iliad by many critics.

The narration of the story has, however, been noted as a classic example of in medias res. "The term is derived from Horace, literally meaning `in the midst of things'. It is applied to the literary technique of opening a story in the middle of the action and then applying information about the beginning of the action through flashbacks and other devices for exposition" (Holman 247). This term only partially describes the narrative of The Iliad, and seldom do critics attempt to understand the reason behind the use of in medias res. A thorough description of the initial narrative act and the ideologies that determined the narrative act can be beneficial in interpreting the story. With the help of modern schools of criticism, it may be easier to describe his narrative act. There are many schools to choose from, as the recent number of them have increased dramatically in the last several decades (Miller 67). I will borrow some narrative concepts from the Formalists, who are more concerned with the structure of the text rather than the meanings of text. Then I will draw conclusions about the ideologies, "..The ways in which what we say and believe connects with the power structure and power-relations of the society [in which the narration, or author, of a story occurs]" (Eagleton 25). First, I must dispel the myth that Homer is, as Wayne C. Booth of the Chicago Aristotlians describes the different types of narrators, a "reliable" narrator. The story is not related by an omnicient, unbiased narrator. Homer is "present" or behind all of the words and judgements of the characters related in the story. Homer passes judgments on the events and characters of the story. Even though his presence in the story is never as blatant as using the self-referent "I" in the story, he does manage, at several points in the story, to remind us that he is present. For instance, he describes Achilles as "brilliant Achilles" (Fagles 98). The fact that Homer describes, indirectly, Achilles as "brilliant Achilles" shows that Homer admires the character of Achilles. We, as readers, take Homer's judgement to be "THE truth", but the real person Achilles (assuming he existed) may not have been "brilliant".

Homer is, then, an artificial authority, as he does not simply present the events and characters of the story with complete objectivity. Therefore, to assume...

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