Unit One Section A


ZEUS: King of the Gods

The Riddle of the Sphinx

Oedipus was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. He leaves his foster parents hoping to avoid that fate. As he travels, Oedipus faces several dangers. How does he handle the riddle of the Sphinx?

The Riddle:
What is it that goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?

The Story:

This is the riddle of the Sphinx, one of the oldest and most famous riddles in the world.
The Sphinx was a monster with a beautiful maiden's head, wings, and the body of a lion. Armed with an unguessable riddle, she was sent to the ancient city of Thebes in Greece by the goddess Hera.
The Sphinx sat on a huge rocky cliff outside the city and asked the riddle of everyone who came her way. Whoever could not answer it, she dragged off and devoured.
Nobody knew the answer.
Finally the people of Thebes announced that the first lucky man who guessed the answer to the riddle of the Sphinx would be made king of Thebes and would marry the queen.
One by one the brave men of Thebes went forth to face the Sphinx, hoping to solve the riddle and thus to save the city. One by one they failed-and perished.
Year after year this went on. The Sphinx continued to terrify the city and all travelers approaching it.
Then one day along came Oedipus, young and brave, on his travels through the world. He had never even heard of the Sphinx, so he was not afraid when she stopped him and asked: What is it that goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening? "That," said Oedipus, "is Man! He crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two legs as a man, and in old age walks with two legs and a stick. "
It was the right answer. The Sphinx gave a shriek and hurled herself off the cliff, and that was the end of her. Thebes was saved, and Oedipus became king and married the queen.
Developing Comprehension Skills:
1. Describe the appearance of the Sphinx.
2. What happens when a person answers the Sphinx's riddle incorrectly?
3. Why isn't Oedipus afraid to approach the Sphinx? Is his reaction still surprising con- sidering the way the Sphinx looks?
4. Considering the risks, why do you think the men of Thebes continued to face the Sphinx? Were they brave or foolish? Explain.

Introduction to The Iliad
No Discussion Questions

Hundreds and hundreds of years ago --perhaps 3,500 years--there was a proud trading city called Ilium or Troy.
Now across the Aegean, on the mainland we call Greece, and on many of the islands dotted about that small sea, were other cities and rugged towns whose men also traded by sea. There was rivalry between these cities and Troy for many years. At last there was a long and terrible war. This is how, according to old legends, that war came about.
King Priam of Troy and his wife Queen Hecuba had many sons and daughters. But when one of these babies was about to be born, the queen dreamed that he would grow up to be a flaming torch and would destroy the city. In those days people believed strongly in dreams; so the sad father and mother, when a fine baby son arrived, decided that he must be left on the slopes of nearby Mount Ida to die to save the city they loved.
They entrusted the sad task to a shepherd. But the shepherd was a kindly man, and had no children. So he kept the baby and raised him as his own.
The boy was named Paris, and he grew up a strong, handsome shepherd lad with no thought that he was the son of a king. But your fate, so people thought in those days, was something you could not escape. And so young Paris' destiny caught up with him at last.
Up on Mount Olympus, where men's fates were often decided by the immortal gods, three goddesses quarreled one day. The three were Hera, queen of the gods, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and Aphrodite, goddess of beauty. They quarreled as to which of them was the most beautiful, and they decided to put the choice to a mortal man.
Down went the three to the slopes of Mount Ida, and whom should they find there but Paris, quietly tending his sheep. The goddesses asked him to choose between them; but then, quite unfairly, they began to offer him gifts. Hera offered him the greatest of powers over armies and men, if he would only choose her; Athena offered him all knowledge; but Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world for his wife if he would choose her, so he did.
Now Paris was no longer satisfied with his quiet life on the Mountainside. Down into the city of Troy he went to seek the fortune the goddess had promised him. There his charm of face and manner and his skill at games soon brought him to the court of the king. It was not long before his story came out, and his happy parents, pushing aside their fears, welcomed back their long-lost son. Soon Paris was sent off with a fleet of his own to trade and see the world.
That was where the trouble came in. Paris had not forgotten the promise the -goddess had made, and wherever he went he looked for the beautiful woman who had been promised to him.
He soon heard of a woman who was famed far and wide as the most beautiful in the world. She was Helen of Sparta. So to Sparta he went, and he found that the stories were true. Paris fell in love with Helen at once, and when he sailed away he took her with him, home to Troy to be his wife.
Now this would all have been very well, but for the fact that Helen was married already. Her husband was the red-haired Spartan king, Menelaus by name. And he was angry when his wife sailed away to Troy.
Menelaus went at once to his brother, Agamemnon, king of golden Mycenae. Together the two planned their revenge. From island to island, from town to town they sailed, visiting every city-state of Greece, building up an army and a fleet of ships to win back Helen and to punish Troy.
They beached their boats at last on the Trojan shore. Then, in a sweeping curve around their boats, they threw up a great wall of earth as a shelter for their camp. Behind this wall, close to the high-prowed boats, they built themselves huts, and built them well. And those huts were to be their homes through ten long, weary years of war.
First one side, then the other had victories through the years. But the Trojans could never burn the Greek boats, or force them out to sea. And the Greeks could never break through the city waus to win back Helen from Troy.
So it is at the end of the ninth long year of war that Homer's story begins.

The Chief Characters

Gods Supporting Greeks:
Zeus, the chief ruler
Hera, Zeus's wife
Athena, goddess of wisdom and defensive warfare
Poseidon, god of the sea
Hephaestus, god of the fire and the forge
Hermes, messenger god
Gods Supporting Trojans:
Apollo, god of light and truth; the sun-god
Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty
Ares, god of war
Artemis, goddess of the hunt
Thetis, Achilles's mother; a sea-nymph; daughter of Poseidon
Leto, mother of Artemis and Apollo
Iris, goddess of the rainbow
Main Greeks Soldiers:
King Agamemnon
Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon
Odysseus, king of Ithaca
Nestor, aged king of Pylos
Ajax, a strong, brave Greek warrior
Machaon, surgeon
Diomedes, Greek warrior
Achilles, champion of the Greeks
Patroclus, Achilles's friend
Antilochus, son of Nestor
Main Trojan Soldiers:
King Priam
Queen Hecuba, Priam's wife
Prince Hector, noble warrior; son of Priam
Prince Paris, son of Priam
Pandarus, archer
Helenus, Trojan warrior
Polydoros, youngest son of Priam
Laocoon, priest

The Iliad Part 1

”The Quarrel” From The Iliad Part One

Both human heroes and the gods are drawn into the Trojan War. How do their jealousy and pride affect the progress of the war?

This is the story of one man's anger, of all the troubles it brought to the Greeks, and of all the warriors it sent down to Hades in death.
Achilles was the man, and his anger rose when he quarreled with the great King Agamemnon. It happened that the Greeks took as prisoner Chryseis, the daughter of a priest of Apollo, and she was given to King Agamemnon. Her father offered rich ransom for her, but Agamemnon rudely sent him away.
The old man went, but when he reached the shore of the sea, be lifted his hands in prayer to Apollo and asked a curse on the Greeks.
Down from Olympus charged Apollo, bow in hand, quiver of arrows on his back. Into the Greek camp he sent arrows of sickness, until day and night fires burned for the dead.
"Apollo is angry," said the Greeks' seer, "because the daughter of his priest was not returned home. He will not stop shooting his arrows of sickness until she is returned and proper offerings are made."
Now Agamemnon leaped up in anger. "Let the girl be returned, for the safety of the army. But I will not be done out of my prize. Let something of equal value be found for me, or I shall send men to Odysseus’ tent, or to Ajax's, or Achilles', and take one of their prizes for my own.”
"You greedy schemer," Achilles sneered. "I will take my ships and sail back home rather than stay here to be insulted and pile up riches for YOU."
"Go home with your ships and men," replied Agamemnon. "I will not beg you to stay. But now, to show you who is the stronger, I shall send to your tents and take the girl Briseis, who is your prize. Then others will know enough not to cross me this way."
This stabbed proud Achilles to the heart. He turned on Agamemnon with searing words. "You good-for-nothing, with the eyes of a dog and the heart of a frightened deer! Listen now, while I take a solemn oath. As surely as this staff I hold will never grow again, never again put forth twigs and leaves--just as surely the day will com le when all you Greeks will miss Achilles. And as your men fall by hundreds before Hector of Troy, you will beat your breasts in sorrow for having trampled on the best man of all."
With these words Achilles flung down his gold-studded staff and sat down in his place, while Agamemnon glared at him.
After this the assembly was dismissed, and Achilles, followed by his men, went off to his ships and huts.
Agamemnon promptly sent Chryseis home by a ship under Odysseus' command. But he did not forget his quarrel with Achilles. He sent two unwilling heralds to the hut of Achilles, to bring Briseis to him.
When the men had led the weeping Briseis away, Achilles, sad at heart, walked down beside the sea. And he cried out to his mother, the sea-nymph Thetis, as she sat beside her father, the god of the sea. Up she came, rising like a gray mist from the water. Sitting down beside her son, she gently stroked his hand.
"My son," she said, "tell me why you weep, so that I may sorrow with you."
So, although as a goddess she knew everything, Achilles told her all that had happened that day.
"Go to Zeus," he begged when he had finished his story. "Clasp his knees and persuade him, if you can, to help the Trojans--to fling back the Greeks to their ships with heavy slaughter. That would show Agamemnon how foolish he was to insult his best warrior."
Thetis went at once to the sky. There, finding the father of the gods seated by himself on the highest peak of Olympus, she sank down at his feet and clasped his knees.
"Father Zeus," she begged, "if ever I have done anything for you, grant me this boon: honor my son, who is fated to die so young, and who now has been insulted by Agamemnon. Favor the Trojans until the Greeks pay Achilles the honor which is due him."
Zeus sighed unhappily. "This is a trouble- some thing," he said. "It is sure to get me into a quarrel with my wife, Hera, who already fusses because she says I favor the Trojans too much. Do go away before Hera sees you. But first, to show that I grant your plea, I will nod my head."
As Zeus swung his great head in a lordly nod, all of cloud-crowned Olympus shook.

Agamemnon's False Dream

In keeping with his plan to destroy many Greeks on the battlefield for the glory of Achilles, it seemed best to Zeus to send a false dream to King Agamemnon. So he called to him from the house of Sleep one of the Evil Dreams, and sent it to tell King Agamemnon that victory was at hand.
Away went the dream with all speed to the camp. It sought out Agamemnon, asleep in his tent.
"Asleep?" it said to him. "This is no time to sleep, when the immortals have at last decided to let you capture Troy with its broad streets."
Then the dream slipped away, and Agamemnon awoke. He sat up quickly. He put on a fine new tunic, flung his cloak over his shoulders, laced up his sandals, and slung his sword over his shoulder. With his royal sceptre in his hand, he set out among the ships.
First he called a meeting of his leaders, torn from sleep, to give them the false good news. They in turn called the soldiers to assembly. Like a vast swarm of bees the men rushed out from their huts on the sands. So great was the roar that it took nine heralds, shouting loud, to quiet them enough to listen to their leader’s words.
When at last they were all seated, Agamemnon arose, leaning on his royal sceptre.
"My friends, heroes of Greece, warriors all! " he greeted them. "Soon the city of King Priam will bow her head, captured and sacked by the hands of the Greeks. There will not be another day's delay. But first, men, dismiss, have a good meal and make ready for battle.
"Sharpen your spears, adjust your shields, feed your horses well, and see that your chariots are ready for action.
"For this will be a long day. We shall fight without pause, until your shield straps are stuck to your breasts with sweat and your hands are heavy on the spears. As for any shirker who lingers by the ships, he shall be food for the vultures and the dogs!"
The Greeks welcomed this speech with loud cheers, like the roar of the sea breaking on a rocky coast. Then the assembly broke up, and the men scattered among the ships, to build their fires and prepare their meal. Each man made an offering to his favorite god, and prayed that he might be alive when the battle ended that night.
Agamemnon, too, made his sacrifice, a fine five-year-old bull, to Zeus. And he prayed that Troy might fall in flames that day, and its hero Hector and his friends roll in the dust.
Zeus accepted the sacrifice. But he did not grant the prayer, for he planned death and suffering that day for the Greeks.
When the meal was finished, Agamemnon sent out his clear--voiced heralds to sound the battle cry. At once the men poured out from the ships and huts, clan after clan in battle array. Captains brought their companies into battle order, there on the river Scamander's plain. And Zeus made Agamemnon stand out from the rest as one great bull in a herd of cattle.
Out marched the men, with a dazzle of bronze that shone like a forest fire on the mountains. And the earth shook beneath their tramping feet.
Meanwhile, Zeus had sent swift Iris, goddess of the rainbow, to Troy in the form of a Trojan scout. She found the leaders gathered at the city gates, and there she addressed King Priam and his son, Prince Hector.
"Sir, you still go on talking here," she said to Priam, "as if we were back in the days of peace. But a death struggle is upon us, for a force is at this moment rolling over the plain, in numbers like the leaves of the forest or the sands of the sea. Hector, I beg you, have your allies draw up their men in companies and go forth to battle!"
Hector recognized the goddess's voice in this warning. He dismissed the meeting swiftly and sounded the call to arms. Soon with a great din the Trojan army and its allies were pouring through the city gates to a mound in the plain.
Developing Comprehension Skills:

1. What caused the Greeks and Trojans to go to war?
2. Why does Apollo punish the Greeks? What must the Greeks do to end the punishment?
3. Why do Achilles and Agamemnon quarrel?
4. Achilles asks his mother to persuade Zeus to help the Trojans. Why does Achilles make this request? What does this request reveal about Achilles?
5. What is the false dream that Zeus sends to Agamemnon? How does Agamemnon react? Think about the reaction of Agamemnon and his warriors. What can you conclude about the importance of dreams in their society?
6. How does Zeus get information to the Trojan army? What is his message?
7. Do you agree with Zeus's decision to help the Trojans? Did Agamemnon's actions justify this kind of punishment?