Ancient World Now:Daughter of Son of Bride of Odysseus in the Underworld

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The towering figure of Clytemnestra dwarfs all other infamous gals from the ancient world. Here she is standing over Agamemnon’s body. What was her beef? She got steamed when Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter so the guys could get a fair wind for Troy all those years ago. Clytemnestra’s skills with the battle-axe were also the death of the prophetess slave and princess of Troy, Cassandra, as shown below on this piece of pottery.

Go back to the ancient tragedians to see the full-on misery of the house of Atreus unfold, or check out the powerful trilogy of films by Michael Cacoyannis, starring the spellbinding Irene Pappas as Electra.  Electra (1962) by Michael Cacoyannis. Not to spoil the story or anything, but Electra finally gets hers when she convinces her long-lost brother Orestes to assist her in the plot to avenge their father’s death and murder Agamemnon’s killers!

Clytemnestra tries to defend Aegisthus from Orestes, while on the right of this vase Electra’s happy arms welcome the act! In desperation, Clytemnestra even bares her breast to her son, hoping to dissuade him from killing his own mother. Alas! Puts our modern tabloids to shame.

Ancient World Now:Son of Bride of Odysseus in the Underworld

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Where is the justice for Ajax??? These images tell the story. To the right Odysseus and Ajax quarrel over the arms of Achilles, and to the left, on the vase, they get physical with each other. After Achilles’s death, his arms were to be awarded to “the best of the best”, but as you remember, Athena fixed the voting & Odysseus got  the goods. Ajax was  driven to suicide, as shown on this British Museum vase.

Here, finally, is Tecmessa, daughter of the Phrygian king Teuthras, covering the body of her beloved Ajax. This drinking cup is at the Getty Villa. Tears me apart just to look at it…..

And after all this, Odysseus thinks he can just stroll into Hades  and everything will be right between them. I don’t think so!

Ancient World Now:Bride of Odysseus in the Underworld

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Today’s episode is dedicated to my loyal listeners in Michigan! Turns out the Detroit area is home to a slew of ancient world groupies! A free autographed copy of my book to the first 5 fans from Michigan to give me a shout-out at gwen@gwenminor.com. Thanks for listening!

Today I show you how to read an epic. You’ll learn how to break it down so you can analyze it in chunks, be it for fame, fortune, or fun! Impress your friends with your newfound ability to distinguish between an aristeia and a prolegomena! Actually, these two topoi are more readily found in The Iliad, than The Odyssey, which is our epic du jour.

The “sacrifice & prayers” topoi is one of the most common of topoi, along with the “catalogue or parade” of something or other. Book XI of The Odyssey begins with both. To the right you can see Odysseus with sword in hand, the blood gushing from the sacrificial animal, and Teiresias, the famous seer, getting ready to tell Odysseus “what it is”.

And like the sweet segments of an orange, whose nectar prevents scurvy, so too, Gwen Minor will separate out the various epic segments. Let’s roll!

Ancient World Now:Odysseus in the Underworld

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Today I begin our reading of Book XI of The Odyssey, wherein Odysseus travels to the Underworld. He is one of a number of mortals to complete a round-trip to Hades and live to buy a round of drinks in celebration-Orpheus and Aeneas being a couple of others.

Over the next five weeks we will be studying this, one of the most famous books, of the most famous adventure story ever told.

Week 1: I read from Richmond Lattimore’s translation, lines 1-384.

Week 2: commentary on the reading

Week 3: I read from Richmond Lattimore’s translation, lines 385-640.

Week 4: commentary on the reading

Week 5: Death & The Underworld in Ancient Greece

Part of my commentary will be aimed at teaching you how to approach reading and analyzing a book in any ancient epic, such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, or The Aeneid.

So, sit back and enjoy!

Ancient World Now:Andromache & Hector

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The parting of Hector and Andromache ranks as one of the most touching scenes in literary history, if not the most. In Book 6 of The Iliad, before going on to the battlefield for the last time, Prince Hector says goodbye to his tearful wife, Andromache, and their son Astyanax. When Hector approaches, the baby screams with fear at the sight of the bronze helmet with its horsehair crest. Both mother and father burst into laughter at the sight. The deep tragedy of their situation is cut through with this stroke of humanity.

Homer is not on the side of the Greeks or on the side of the Trojans. Homer is on the side of humanity and wants us to feel the pain of war. Andromache, for thousands of years, has been the epitome of the loving wife. Her sad plea for Hector to remain with them is for naught. He must go out to fight. Though she has lost both parents and all of her brothers to war, Andromache has two more loved ones to lose. Hector, of course, is killed in a mad rage by Achilles, and Astyanax is ripped from his mother’s arms and thrown from the walls of Troy by the Greek soldiers.

The most touching moments in The Iliad bloom up from scenes involving the Trojan royal household. Walk with me through Book 6 & Book 22 of The Iliad to sample the literary techniques Homer uses to take us to the war inside the hearts and minds of the non-soldiers, from the dutiful maidservant to playboy Prince Paris. Have tissues handy!

Ancient World Now:Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy

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So many of you have asked me: What do you think of Wolfgang Petersen’s film Troy?

Well, filmmakers always tamper with characters and situations from the original story, and Petersen is no exception. But I ask where,  in Homer’s name, is the real tale of the death of Ajax? And where, indeed, is Laocoon, the great seer, who with his sons was dragged to his watery death by a sea serpent when he tried to tell King Priam that the wooden horse would bring about the end of Troy?

The “greatness” of great story lies in the portrayal of the depth of human character. That a director has 180 minutes in which to show the scope of human triumph and tragedy is unrealistic. One must go to the source of these great stories in order to learn from them.

And how do we as humans display character? By the small things we do each day. In times of peace, it might be something as simple as nodding to the driver who yields their right of way. Or by patiently accepting the customer service routine from eager teen clerks because they are in training. And in times of crisis and war, we might reveal our character by resolving not to look at images of humiliation, or by remaining speechless in a time of sorrow and shame. These minor actions and inactions reveal the complexities of the human mind, heart, and spirit in ways, that in the rush of our lives, we often fail to see. It is precisely the lack of these simple human gestures that keeps modern film epics from attaining greatness. Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy is by its very nature crippled in its attempts. But, hey, using technology to create the image of the “launch of a thousand ships” was pretty cool! And then Brad Pitt as Achilles, well, what can I say?

Listen to this week’s podcast to find out how Petersen’s film differed from the original epic. Enjoy!

Ancient World Now: The Odyssey

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Today you meet Nausicaa, “of the white-arms”. One of my favorites. Referred to as “discreet”, you can see why. This young princess is down by the seashore playing ball & washing clothes, when her handmaids find a naked man washed up on the shore! Yikes! Her ladies try to stop her from going down to see what all the ruckus was about, but she insists—because she is Nausicaa, who knows her own mind. She treats him like any other stranger they might meet along the road, is absolutely unruffled and unmoved, and gets him a tunic & some refreshments from their mule cart. What a queen she will be!

In fact, it is known that Sophocles wrote a play about her. But, alas, as so many things from the ancient world, it is lost…..

I love Homer’s passages about this girl. This one in particular, when Odysseus first sees her and cannot tell whether she is mortal or goddess: “I have never with these eyes seen anything like you, neither man nor woman. Wonder takes me as I look on you. Yet in Delos once I saw such a thing, by Apollo’s altar. I saw the stalk of a young palm shooting up…And as, when I looked upon that tree, my heart admired it long, since such a tree had never yet sprung from the earth, so now, lady, I admire you and wonder, and am terribly afraid to clasp you by the knees.”
From Richmond Lattimore’s translation.

Enjoy the second installment of The Odyssey!

Ancient World Now….seven days…..

Podcast launch date: Monday, June 14, 2010.

First episode: The Iliad 20-30 minute podcast.

Hector takes leave of his wife and son before going into battle. Already in mourning, Andromache reminds her husband that her father, mother, and seven brothers were long ago killed and he is her only family. She pleads with him. From the Richmond Lattimore translation:

Hektor, thus you are father to me, and my honoured mother,
you are my brother, and you it is who are my young husband.
Please take pity upon me then, stay here on the rampart,
that you may not leave your child an orphan, your wife a widow…..

The baby cries with fear at the horsehair crest on the peak of Hector’s helmet. Hector, laughing, takes it off. One of the most poignant scenes in The Iliad. Find out the fate of Hector, Prince of Troy, in the maiden podcast of Ancient World Now.

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