Homer At First Glance

The first few days of this class were absolutely nothing like what I expected. I signed up because I’d been flirting with the idea of majoring in classics, and loving classical mythology is the reason I started taking Latin in the first place, so a class structured around the study of homeric epics sounded right up my alley. I’ll also admit to a healthy curiosity about what taking a class with Owen Cramer would be like.

So far, this is what I’ve come up with:

Owen has forgotten more about the ancient world than I will probably ever learn in my lifetime. That isn’t me being modest- the man just knows about a billion more things than most people I’ve met. And that should be intimidating. (Okay, in all honesty, it IS a little intimidating- was he just born knowing things? How does one obtain encyclopedic knowledge? I WANT THE SECRET.) But it’s also incredible. He probably doesn’t actually know everything, but it often seems that way because he knows pertinent information about pretty much anything you ask him, and he’s honestly interested in exploring whatever topic you bring up. Class is tangential, but it all feeds back to the original topic. Trying to figure out how to organize my notes was interesting, but i’ve never been much of a note-taker anyway. I just wish I knew more things- today he asked if there were any botanists in the class who could talk to us about something that related to our discussion.

Also, he’s a Downton Abbey fan too, and references it in every class at least once, which makes me rather giddy with joy.

At the moment we are reading the Iliad, which has never been my favorite. It’s pretty graphic, and pretty much everyone you like is dead by the end. I always preferred the Odyssey- give me a roguish liar who uses all his wiles and cunning to get back to his wife over war and death and slavery any day. (If you couldn’t tell,  I’m sort of a happy ending kind of person.)

There is incredible beauty in the Iliad (although Homer’s simile’s crack me up- their descriptions are always about four times longer than whatever situation they are supposed to clarify) but it keeps coming back to the inevitability of fate, even when you have gods on your side. Stories about war aren’t supposed to be uplifting, i guess, but it’s difficult for me to tolerate. Homer doesn’t pull any punches- when people die here, it’s not Tarantino-style- he details where they are pierced by the spear or how the helmet sounds when it rolls under a passing chariot after it’s wearer is killed.

I don’t know what it is exactly- something about these descriptions feels so real to me. So often i feel like the books I read or the shows I watch are manipulating me- either killing off the most strategically acceptable character (so that I won’t give up on the story altogether) or setting someone up as the one who absolutely won’t die, and then killing them for shock value. I read a lot of science fiction and watch a lot of Netflix, so I often feel pretty desensitized. I’ve watched Saving Private Ryan, and I’ve read All Quiet On The Western Front, yes, I cried, but I got through them. But this is the third time I’ve been assigned to read the Iliad and I just DON’T WANT TO. I don’t know if it’s the relentless barrage of men killing each other in the most painful ways imaginable for no real reason (Pride? Greed? Lust? No one is justified in this war! It’s infuriating! No one is trying to save anyone, they’re just killing each other and killing each other. For NINE YEARS.) but I find the story unendurably frustrating and upsetting. Good job, Homer, I guess, you made me care in the same hopeless way as everybody actually fighting in the war. (Perhaps my literary optimism is the result of too much Harry Potter? What do you mean the hero dies in the end? Isn’t he coming back??)

The thing is, I know at the end Aeneas will lead the battered Trojans remaining on a journey that eventually leads to the founding of Rome, so maybe I’m just looking at this in entirely the wrong way. There isn’t just one hero here: there is a succession of heroes, and when one dies, the others weep for him, seeking revenge if they’re into that kind of thing, and then they keep going, trying to fill his shoes as best they can. It’s not a snapshot story, but rather an embellished history lesson.

Okay, rant over. Blog Post #1 COMPLETE.


One reply on “Homer At First Glance”

  1. Hi Susanna. So well done you make me want to read the Iliad, in English, of course. I’m glad you are swimming in wonder and Myth. Dive deep, then paddle, then lie on your back and float, and just keep breathing. Learning in such a rich atmosphere is to be valued. And you are doing so. 🙂

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