help with assignments due in 48 hours

Our papers are 100% unique and written following academic standards and provided requirements. Get perfect grades by consistently using our writing services. Place your order and get a quality paper today. Rely on us and be on schedule! With our help, you'll never have to worry about deadlines again. Take advantage of our current 20% discount by using the coupon code GET20

Order a Similar Paper Order a Different Paper

due in 48 hours


Week 2 Discussion Question 1

As you watched the video and read the excerpt, what stood out for you about the story of Gilgamesh?  Would you consider him a tragic hero?  Why do you think this story has survived since the time of the Sumerians when other stories from that time period have not?

Week 3 Discussion Question 1

Which activity did you choose to do for the Gilgamesh Activity One?  Why did you choose this activity?  What new information about Gilgamesh did you learn while doing this activity?

Week 4 Discussion Question 1

What difference did you notice between the ancient Hebrew Bible text and the Christian version when it came to events like the Great Flood?  What stands out the most to you after reading the Hebrew version of Genesis?

Week 5 Discussion Question

What did you know about Homer’s, The Odyssey before beginning this module?  What have you learned?  What stands out for you about this story?

Week 6 Discussion Question


Identify the play you chose to study.  Did you know the play before you chose it?  What stands out for you as you read it for class?  What message(s) does the play hold for someone reading or watching it in 2021?

Week 7 Discussion Question

This week you were asked to read the selections from the Aeneid:  Book VI ( and the selections from the Bhagavad-Gita ( (Links to an external site.)
or the Ramayana :  CANTO CXXX.: THE CONSECRATION ( (Links to an external site.)
).  Had you ever read any of those selections before this class?  What stands out the most to you about this week’s readings?  What message(s) do these selections hold for a reader today?

World Literature

Part of this course uses Anneni’s Invitation to World Literature web site.  I have attached the link in case I missed fixing a link that kept sending me to an Australian online gambling web site. (Links to an external site.)

You can also link out by one of these links.

Series Directory

Invitation to World Literature (Links to an external site.)

· 1 The Epic of Gilgamesh (Links to an external site.)

· 2 My Name Is Red (Links to an external site.)

· 3 The Odyssey (Links to an external site.)

· 4 The Bacchae (Links to an external site.)

· 5 The Bhagavad Gita (Links to an external site.)

· 6 The Tale of Genji (Links to an external site.)

· 7 Journey to the West (Links to an external site.)

· 8 Popol Vuh (Links to an external site.)

· 9 Candide (Links to an external site.)

· 10 Things Fall Apart (Links to an external site.)

· 11 One Hundred Years of Solitude (Links to an external site.)

· 12 The God of Small Things (Links to an external site.)

· 13 The Thousand and One Nights

Module 1: Research

Post an article or You tube video that taught you something new about Gilgamesh. Be sure to explain why you chose it. 


Task Three. Gilgamesh Activities.



Unit 1: Activities for Gilgamesh (TASK THREE) (Links to an external site.)

Select the Activity question you wish to respond to. Make a copy of the question to begin your Activity. Post your response here to Gilgamesh Task 3.  Please title your response “Gilgamesh Task 3.”  If you choose the Double Credit option, you must indicate that at the top of your essay and you must develop your ideas and supports substantially more fully than for a single credit Activity.


1) 0riginally, Enkidu was part animal and part man. Discuss how the harlot transformed Enkidu into a human being by first seducing him and then luring him to civilization. Develop your ideas by referring to specific incidents in the story.

2) As he lies dying, Enkidu curses the harlot, and then revokes his curse and blesses her. Do you think he was better off in his natural, animal, state, or as a civilized man? Support your opinion with specific examples from the story.

3) Underworlds are generally places of the dead, and/or of underground divinities. These places are dangerous and difficult for living persons to enter and hard to leave. Why does Gilgamesh go to the underworld, and what does he learn there? Use specific examples from the story to support your main points.

4) There are actually TWO underworlds in the story of Gilgamesh: 1) the underworld that Gilgamesh visits seeking immortality and 2) the terrible underworld of death that Enkidu sees in a vision as he is dying. Examine each underworld closely and then try to explain why you think there are two such different “underworlds” in this ancient story. Do they have different purposes? Is one only for immortals? Use plenty of specific examples from both underworlds to support your ideas.

5) Both Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven, yet the gods decide that Enkidu is the one who must die. Why? Support your argument with specific examples from the story, looking closely at the differences between gods and human beings.

6) There are a number of dreams in the story of Gilgamesh. List them and then explain what roles they play in the story. Use specific examples from the story to support your ideas. Be sure to look at the way Gilgamesh’s mother and Enkidu interpret Gilgamesh’s dreams. How is this different from the way people interpret dreams now?

7) Compare the characters of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Who was the more heroic? Why? Begin with an explanation of what YOU consider heroic and see if it is similar to what is considered heroic in the story. Support your argument with plenty of specific examples from the story.

8) Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s greatest adventures are against monstrous primary forces of nature: Humbaba and the Bull of the Sun, which are creatures of the gods. Discuss the role of monstrous creatures in Gilgamesh and pay attention to their close connections to the gods. Support your discussion with specific examples from the story.

9) Make a list of all of the female characters in Gilgamesh. Write a brief description of each and what she does in the story. Can you get any general ideas about the roles of women in ancient Sumeria from this? Explain, using specific examples from the story.

10) Review Utnapishtim’s story of the flood. What does Gilgamesh learn from this story about the nature of human beings and of the gods? Do you think there is a sense of divine justice for human beings here or not? Explain using specific examples from the story to support your ideas.

11) Although Gilgamesh wants to live forever, he cannot even stay awake for seven days, as Utnapishtim proves by having his wife bake seven loaves of bread while Gilgamesh sleeps. What is the point of this episode? What does Utnapishtim teach Gilgamesh about immortality? Would anyone really want this kind of immortality? Support your answers using specific examples from the story to support your ideas.

12) When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh nearly goes mad with grief. He sits by the body until it begins to decay, he puts on the skins of animals (such as Enkidu probably once wore), and he searches the wilderness and the underworld for the secret of immortality. Do you think this is because of his love for Enkidu and his desire to bring him back, or do you think this is because Gilgamesh has finally recognized his own mortality and is terrified? Support your answer with specific examples from the text.

13) Double Credit (if thoroughly done): Read Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. This modern (1927) German novel tells the anguished story of a man (Harry Haller) who perceives himself as part educated bourgeois man and part wolf. He longs for the far away gods (embodied for him primarily in the immortal characters of Goethe and Mozart), but he can get no happiness out of daily life because of the intense conflict between his two selves. He must go on a journey through fantasy and death in order to come to understand himself and realize that there is really no conflict between his animal and human natures. Your task is to compare/contrast this novel with the story of the man/beast, the man/god, and the role of death in human life in Gilgamesh. The concepts are remarkably similar in these two stories thousands of years apart.


Unit 1: Response Paper 2: TASK 3

Unit 1:  Response Paper 1:

Choose a prompt from 
Gilgamesh Activities (Links to an external site.)

Compose a five paragraph essay responding to the prompt.

Follow the guidelines below as you compose your essay:

– Your essay should be at least 250 words. 

– Be as specific as you can. Support your points with details from the text. Prove that you read the book!

– Indicate at the beginning of the essay which prompt you are responding to. 

– There is no requirement to include introduction and conclusion paragraphs, but you may if you wish.

Plagiarism Reminder

The essay should be in your own words. Do not copy an essay from an online source. If you use language from the texts, use quotation marks (Example: “Noah was a righteous man and blameless before the Lord.”)

Module 1: Response Paper 2: TASK 6

Task 6:  Module 1:  Response Paper 2: Compose a 5-paragraph essay responding to the following prompt:

Compare the story of The Fall in the Hebrew Bible as told in 
Genesis (Links to an external site.)
 with the episode of how Enkidu becomes fully human (by means of the harlot) in 
Gilgamesh (Links to an external site.)
 (pages 4-6). In both stories a woman is instrumental in causing a man to become fully human, and eventually to die, the fate of human beings. Discuss the similarities and the differences between the two stories, using specific examples from both to support your ideas.


Follow these guidelines as you write:

– Your essay should be at least 250 words. 

– You are not required to include an introduction and conclusion, but you may do so if you wish.

– Address at least three similarities and three differences. 

– What is the moral of each story? 

– Which story do you prefer?


Plagiarism Reminder 

The essay should be in your own words. Do not copy from online sources. If you use language from the texts, use quotation marks (Example: “No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all”). 

 Task 6. Activities for Greek Drama.

TASK 6. Read through all the Greek Drama Activities listed below under the title, Task 6. Then, select one of these questions to answer for Activity 4 and upload it here.



Task Six:  Activities for Greek Drama


Please read through all of these Activities before making your selection. Make a copy of the Activity question to begin your response. Upload your Activity here.  These Activity entries must be thoughtful; each one should be the equivalent of at least a full typed page or more in length (e.g. not less than 250 words).  They may be longer if you need to say more on your topic. You will not be able to do these Activity entries properly unless you have carefully read the assigned literature.



· The House of Atreus is one of the world’s most famous dysfunctional families. Look up each of the family members, write a brief biography of each, and then explain what the family’s main problems were. Support your ideas with specific examples from your reading. Bulfinch’s Mythology is a good place to start.


· Consider the scene where Clytemnestra persuades Agamemnon to walk into the palace on valuable tapestries. She is treacherous; he is arrogant. He has sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia; she has taken his cousin as her lover. So who is to blame for what happens next? Do you think her killing of Agamemnon is righteous vengeance or criminal murder? Support your position with specific examples from the play.


· What could be more dangerous than going off to war while a treacherous, adulterous woman stays at home? This is the threat of Clytemnestra. No matter how successful Agamemnon might be, he could not defend himself against his wife. She is one of the most feared and loathed women in Greek literature. List some of her interesting behavior patterns and explain why they make her seem so dangerous to Agamemnon and other Greek men of the time. You might want to look for background information using Diotima, which links to materials for the study of women and gender in the ancient world


· Discuss Agamemnon’s character as a king and as a husband in the play Agamemnon. Do you think he deserved to die? Why or why not? Support your comments with specific examples from the play.


· Lysistrata is about women seizing power and withholding sex in order to stop a war. However, it was written by a man during a period of history when Athenian women couldn’t even go to the marketplace on their own. Do you think a woman would have written this play differently? Why? How? Be specific in your answer and use examples from the play to support your ideas.


· Medea is betrayed by her mortal husband Jason. She responds by killing his father in law and new wife AND by murdering her own children who were fathered by Jason. Why do you think Medea kills her children? Use specific examples from the play to support your points.

· Medea is a woman, a foreigner, a witch, a scary, powerful creature. Do you think Euripides was sympathetic to her strangeness, or did he use it to show what a horrid being she was? Discuss and support your comments with examples from the play.


· Oedipus the King. The fate of the infant Oedipus was predicted at birth. No matter what he did in life, he would end up killing his father and marrying his mother. Contrast this to the conditional futures that Tiresias predicts for Odysseus when he visits Hades in Book XI of the Odyssey. If Odysseus does one thing, “A” will happen, and if he does something else, then “B” will happen. Compare the fixed fate of Oedipus with the fluid fate of Odysseus. Use examples from both texts to support your points.


· Oedipus the King. Discuss the relationship of Oedipus and Jocasta in Oedipus the King. Are there any indications that she is much older than Oedipus? That she might be his mother? Should Oedipus have been concerned about who she was when he married her? Do you suspect Oedipus of practicing DENIAL? Support your comments with specific examples from the play.


· Oedipus the King and Antigone. Both Oedipus in Oedipus the King, and Creon in Antigone rule Thebes with arrogance and bad temper. Yet as rulers, they exhibit some very important differences. How are Oedipus and Creon different? Which king is the better leader? Why? Support your answer with examples from the plays.


· There are a number of excellent films of Greek Dramas, including Agamemnon, Oedipus and Medea. If you can locate one of these films, watch it and write a critical review, describing how the film interprets the drama and comparing it to the text of the play (which you, of course, have read).


· Woody Allen’s film, Mighty Aphrodite, uses a Greek chorus which gradually moves from Greece to Manhattan over the course of the film. Compare his use of the Greek chorus to its use in a Greek drama that you have read. Be sure to support your ideas using specific details from both the Woody Allen film and the Greek drama.


· Both Oedipus and Job from the Hebrew Bible struggle with the question of the inscrutable nature of God’s will. Although the answers are quite different, each is disturbing, because there does not seem to be much room for human understanding, action, and freedom in relation to God and/or fate. Compare/contrast these two ancient heroes who struggle with divine power and support your ideas with specific examples from both texts.


· Consider two stories where a father is asked by a god to sacrifice his child: Abraham in the Hebrew Bible and Agamemnon in Iphigenia at Aulis (by Euripides). Discuss what the two stories have in common and important ways in which they are different, using specific details from both texts.


· Make up an interesting question of your own about a Greek Drama and answer it using relevant examples from the text(s).

Task 9. Virgil’s Aeneid/Indian Epic Activities.

TASK 9. Read through the Activities for Virgil’s Aeneid  and Virgil’s Aeneid/Indian Epic Activities. Then select one of these questions to answer for this Activity, and upload here.  These activities are listed below under the title, Task 9.  The readings from Task 8 are linked here:  the selections from the Aeneid:  Book VI ( and the selections from the Bhagavad-Gita ( (Links to an external site.)

) or the Ramayana :  CANTO CXXX.: THE CONSECRATION ( (Links to an external site.)


After completing Task 9, go on to Unit 3.



Activities for The Aeneid, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Ramayana (Task Nine) (Links to an external site.)

(Course created by Dr. Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI)


Please read through all of these Activities before making your selection. Make a copy of the Activity question to begin your response. . Upload your Activity here.


· Read the entire Book VI of the Aeneid. (The section in the text cuts out most of this important book.) There is a section in this Book that deals with the cycle of souls, from death to purification to rebirth. Compare this to the concept of rebirth in the Gita. What similarities do you find? What interesting differences? And, so what? Use examples from both texts to support your ideas. (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


· Read the entire Book VI of the Aeneid and read the Gita.  Aeneas discovers the purpose of his actions and destiny in this Book. Compare what he discovers to what Arjuna learns about the purpose of his actions and his destiny. (Worth double credit if very thoroughly developed and well-done. Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


· In the Ramayana, Rama is presented as the ideal king and hero of Indian literature. Like Aeneas, he is descended from a god; like Aeneas, he suffers adversity and travels through the wilderness. Rama always does what he is supposed to do, promptly, cheerfully and with kindness for others. Compare/ contrast Rama’s calm acceptance of adversity with Aeneas’ moans and groans about the “tears of things.” Which hero seems more “real” to you? Why? Develop your ideas using specific supporting examples from both texts. (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


· In the Ramayana, the forest is presented as “a place of pain,” where people go into exile to live as ascetics. This forest is contrasted with the pleasures and safety of life in the city. Think back to Gilgamesh and Enkidu and the complex relationship between city and wilderness in that story. Compare/contrast these two visions of wilderness and civilization and make some interesting point about them. Use examples from both texts to support your ideas.   (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


· In the Ramayana, Rama’s wife Sita is the perfect woman. She loves and obeys her husband, follows him cheerfully into the wilderness, and never questions her role. There is no perfect woman in the Aeneid, but there are quite a few imperfect ones, both human and divine, who stir up a lot of trouble. There are also some imperfect women who make trouble in the Ramayana, including the hunchback who provokes Kaikeyi to demand Rama’s exile. Compare/contrast some of the women in these two epics and come to some interesting conclusion. Support your ideas with specific examples from both epics. (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


· In the Ramayana, Rama insists that right action is obedience to his father. Right action for Sita, Rama’s wife, is to obey her husband. Compare/contrast this clarity of knowing what is right with the fog Aeneas seems to wander in, never quite knowing what he is supposed to do, except in brief moments when a god intervenes, such as Mercury telling him to leave Dido. Support your ideas with specific examples from both texts. (Be sure to post the Activity question  at the top of your essay.)


· Read the entire Book VI of the Aeneid. Aeneas  has lost his homeland and must trudge onward to fulfill a destiny that is not of his choosing. He is somewhat consoled in the underworld (Book VI) by a vision of the future destiny of Rome and his descendents. In the Gita, Arjuna grieves because the coming battle will pit friends and relatives against one another, but Krishna teaches him that it does not matter, because every soul is eternal. Duty must be done, but with a pure, detached attitude. Compare/contrast these two very different notions of destiny and why a hero must act as he does. Support your comments with examples from both texts. (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


· Read the Book of Job (71-82) online –use link to Hebrew Bible) and compare/contrast Job’s vision of the unknowable God with Arjuna’s vision of Krishna’s totality. Do you see interesting similarities? Differences? And, so what? Use specific examples from both texts to support your ideas. (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)

· If you are interested in reading the entire Gita (there is only an excerpt in the textbook), it is on the www at The Bhagavad-Gita. Explore the character of Arjuna and compare/contrast him in some depth to the character of Aeneas. Support your ideas with examples from both texts. (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


· Consider all that Aeneas has to give up, including his wife, Creusa and his lover, Dido. Can you see similarities between the many losses that Aeneas suffers on the way to founding Rome and the Gita’s doctrine of discipline? Can you see interesting differences? So what? Support your ideas with examples from both texts. (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


· The ending of the Aeneid is very bitter–Aeneas kills Turnus, his violent enemy and the poem ends abruptly. Clearly there is no hopeful future for Aeneas, although Rome is promised to his descendents. Some people have commented that Roman paganism offered no “solutions,” to the problems of loss and death, which paved the way for the solutions offered by Christianity. Do you see any “solutions” for these problems in the Gita? If so, what, exactly, are they? Develop and support your ideas with examples from both texts. (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


· Read the Sermon on the Mount and compare/contrast its message with that of the Gita. Each offers a “solution” to the loss and pain of human experience, but in very different ways. Develop and support your ideas with examples from both texts.  (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


· Aeneas (Aeneid), Rama (Ramayana), and Arjuna (Gita) all learn what their heroic duty is, and all finally accept it. However, the “duty” each learns is different in interesting ways. Compare/contrast the different kinds of duty two of these heroes learn, and support your ideas with examples from the texts. (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


· Arjuna (Gita) and Isaiah (Hebrew Bible): Encounters with God. Read Isaiah 6 and compare/contrast his vision of the unknowable God with Arjuna’s vision of Krishna’s totality. Do you see interesting similarities? Differences? And, so what? Use specific examples from both texts to support your ideas. (Thanks to Sandra Del Cid for this question.) If you want to expand this question to include other examples from the Hebrew Bible, you can. (Be sure to post the Activity question at the top of your essay.)


Module 1, Reading Quiz 1

Module 1:  Reading Quiz 1: “Is Gilgamesh a hero?”


In Unit 1, we will focus on the Epic of Gilgamesh. You can read the epic here:

Read the epic and then post an answer to the following question: “Is Gilgamesh a hero?” 

Review the following guidelines as you compose your answer:

1. A good answer should be at least 200 words.

2. A few good points to include as you arrive at your answer would be:

– What is your personal definition of a hero?

– Does Gilgamesh fit your definition? Why or why not?

– What are his good qualities?

– What are his flaws? What is Gilgamesh’s biggest flaw?

– Can a flawed person be a hero?

3. Discuss examples from the text to support your answer. Prove to me that you did the reading!

A reminder about plagiarism:

– Answers should be in your own words. Do not copy an answer from the internet or from another student. If you quote language from the Epic, use quotations marks. (Example: “I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Gilgamesh.”)


Module 1: Reading Quiz 2

Module 1:  Reading Quiz 2: Compare/Contrast the Flood Stories in Gilgamesh and Genesis

Read the Story of the Flood chapter of Gilgamesh (Links to an external site.)
 carefully (pages 20-21 of the linked text). Then, read the Story of the Flood in Genesis (Links to an external site.)

Compare and contrast the two flood stories. 

Use the following guidelines to help you compose your answer:

– What are at least three similarities between the two stories?

– What are at least three differences between the two stories?

– These two stories come from very different cultures and time periods. Why do you think the stories are so similar?

– Good answers will be at least 200 words (feel free to write more!)

Plagiarism Reminder

Answers should be in your own words. Do not copy answers from online sources. I am interested in what you think. If you use words from the texts, use quotations marks (Example: “Noah was a righteous man.”)

Module 1: Reading Quiz 3

Module 1:  Reading Quiz 3:  Compare/Contrast Gilgamesh and Job as heroes.

Read the Epic of Gilgamesh (Links to an external site.)
 and the book of Job (Links to an external site.)

Compare and Contrast Gilgamesh and Job as heroes. 

Use the following guidelines to help you compose your answer:

– How are Gilgamesh and Job similar?

– How are Gilgamesh and Job different?

– What are each hero’s strengths?

– What are each hero’s weaknesses?

– Which of the two do you think is the ultimate hero?

– Good answers should be at least 250 words. 

Plagiarism Reminder

Answers should be in your own words. Do not copy answers from online sources. I am interested in what you think. If you use language from the text, use quotations marks (Example: “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job.”). 

Module 2: Reading Quiz 1

Unit 1:  Reading Quiz 3:  Compare/Contrast Gilgamesh and Job as heroes.

Read the Epic of Gilgamesh (Links to an external site.)
 and the book of Job (Links to an external site.)

Compare and Contrast Gilgamesh and Odysseus as heroes. 

Use the following guidelines to help you compose your answer:

– How are Gilgamesh and Odysseus similar?

– How are Gilgamesh and Odysseus different?

– What are each hero’s strengths?

– What are each hero’s weaknesses?

– Which of the two do you think is the ultimate hero?

– Good answers should be at least 250 words. 

Plagiarism Reminder

Answers should be in your own words. Do not copy answers from online sources. I am interested in what you think. If you use language from the text, use quotations marks (Example: “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job.”). 

Module 2: Reading Quiz 2

After reading The Odyssey and the Greek play you chose, compare and contrast the two works. 

Use the following guidelines to help you compose your answer:

– What are at least three similarities between the two readings?

– What are at least three differences between the two readings?

– These two stories come from the same culture and close in time period. How do you think the two works are shaped by the time they are written in?  Why do they still speak to us today in 2021?

– Good answers will be at least 200 words (feel free to write more!)

Plagiarism Reminder

Answers should be in your own words. Do not copy answers from online sources. I am interested in what you think. If you use words from the texts, use quotations marks (Example: “Noah was a righteous man.”)

Module 2: Reading Quiz 3

This Unit introduced you to material ranging from amazing adventures to philosophical questioning of good and evil, divinity and destiny. You learned about the different ways that mythic, “epic” material can be handled in different civilizations.  You read selections from two first century BCE epics, Roman Virgil’s Aeneid and one of two Indian epics: The Bhagavad-Gita or The Ramayana. These epics all deal with important religious and ethical questions about love, war, destiny, the nature of divinity and the nature of the universe.

Based on your readings, what did you come away with in regards to these epics all dealing with important religious and ethical questions about love, war, destiny, the nature of divinity and the nature of the universe?  Please explain your thinking.

– Good answers will be at least 200 words (feel free to write more!)

Plagiarism Reminder

Answers should be in your own words. Do not copy answers from online sources. I am interested in what you think. If you use words from the texts, use quotations marks (Example: “Noah was a righteous man.”)

Task One: Introduction to Gilgamesh



Gilgamesh Study Guide (TASK ONE)



Gilgamesh is one of the oldest recorded stories in the world. It tells the story of an ancient King of Uruk, Gilgamesh, who may have actually existed, and whose name is on the Sumerian King List. The story of Gilgamesh, in various Sumerian versions, was originally widely known in the third millennium B.C. After a long history of retellings, this story was recorded, in a standardized Akkadian version, in the seventh century B.C., and stored in the famous library of King Assurbanipal.


Later, the story of Gilgamesh was lost to human memory, except for occasional fragments. The story was rediscovered in the mid-nineteenth century A.D., and made available in translation to German by the beginning of the twentieth century. People were especially amazed when they read this most ancient of stories, and realized that the flood story in Gilgamesh was a close analogue of the flood story in the Hebrew Bible.




Mesopotamia was in the geographical area that is today called Iraq. The name we call it, “Mesopotamia,” is actually Greek for “between two rivers.” The two rivers were the Tigris and the Euphrates.


Mesopotamia was the site of one of three earliest urban civilizations (along with the Indus Valley in India and the Nile Valley in Egypt).


During the fourth millennium B.C., human settlements underwent a surprisingly rapid transformation from villages into developed cities with large populations, temples and palaces. During this period, “writing is invented, large buildings, temples and ziggurats, appear for the first time. . . . it was the organization of the canal system, of irrigation, that made the further developments possible.” (Kirk,98)


In Mesopotamia there were constant tensions between the radically new cities in the fertile river valley and the ancient ways of the nomadic and hill peoples outside of the cities. Some of these conditions still exist today, as can be seen in the conflicts between the cities and the outlying areas in modern Iraq. The basic conflict is between the ways of civilization and the ways of the  wilderness.


Mesopotamia was a land of intermittent drought and violent floods; this was not a kindly tame nature at all, as can be seen in the conflict between the wild Enkidu, who undoes traps, interfering with people’s livelihood, and the civilizing Harlot, who lures Enkidu into the delights and responsibilities of civilization. The taming of Enkidu by the Harlot can be seen as a metaphor for the taming of the land by the means of civilization, especially the system of canals that controlled the wild waters and allowed for predictable, irrigated farming.




The reason the recorded story of Gilgamesh survived thousands of years was that it was written on clay, in a set of symbols we call cuneiform, and then fired. “Clay … especially when fired…[is] the best–that is, the cheapest and most durable–writing material yet utilized by man, while papyrus, parchment, leather, wood, metal, and stone survive mainly by chance.” (Oppenheim, 229)


Another reason for survival of ancient Mesopotamian texts is that the language itself was very difficult to learn. There were schools for scribes that taught a set curriculum of texts to copy precisely and in a fixed order. This resulted in lots of copies being made of many stories, with few variations, because accuracy of transcription was highly desired.


This tradition of exact copies can still be seen in the copying of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), which is supposed to be a perfect copy.




Without a fixed written text, stories can be told for thousands of years, varying from teller to teller, adapted to this folk and that folk, with the names of kings, places, people added and subtracted to meet the needs and interests of a current audience. The story of Gilgamesh was originally part of such an oral tradition. “It is virtually impossible to determine when the material was first written down, let alone when it originated orally or how long it existed in an oral tradition. Rather it can be assumed, from the materials handed down from succeeding ancient peoples and languages, that it was not composed all of a piece and at one time but was added to gradually and varied by many tellers.” (Mason 98)




Originally, Gilgamesh was a Sumerian hero-king. But the kingdom of Sumer was eventually conquered by Akkadians, and became an Akkadian kingdom. Yet, the story of Gilgamesh continued to be told, now in the Akkadian language.


“In the transmission of some of the Gilgamesh stories . . . not only is there a change of language from Sumerian to Akkadian . . . but there is also a marked alteration of emphasis and detail. . . . But most of the apparently `new’ themes in the developed Epic of Gilgamesh look just like the old–like traditional, oral themes of myth or folktale that have just been shifted from one literary formulation into another. All in all . . . it seems likely that there was a broadly based popular tradition of myths, from which the literate and poetical versions we know derived their persistent strength and their capacity for apparently spontaneous variation. (Kirk, 87)”



The story of Gilgamesh was first discovered in the library of King Assurbanipal of Nineveh, written on twelve tablets. “Gilgamesh’s life and his adventures during his unsuccessful quest for immortality are told on eleven of the twelve tablets.” The twelfth tablet is “a description of the nether world, in which Gilgamesh rules after his death as divine judge over the shades, guiding and advising them. . .” (Oppenheim,257)




Although the oral tale of Gilgamesh could have been attributed to various rulers over millennia, the story we know is probably attached to a real king.   The “… Sumerian king list established a Gilgamesh as fifth in line of the First Dynasty of kingship of Uruk following the great flood recorded in the epic, placing him approximately in the latter half of the third millennium. He was supposed to have reigned a hundred and twenty-six years. He was known as the builder of the wall of Uruk, and his mother was said to be the goddess Ninsun, wife of a god named Lugalbanda, who however was not his father. His real father was, according to the king list, a high priest of Kullab, a district of Uruk, from whom he derived his mortality.”(Mason, 99)




The Epic of Gilgamesh touches people profoundly after so many centuries because it is about issues that touch all people in all times–the anguish of loss and death for all human beings


As Siduri the barmaid tells Gilgamesh: “‘You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.'” (Sandars, 34)


This absolute difference between the gods and human beings: that the gods live forever and humans must die, is also the key difference between the gods and human beings in the Homeric epics. Such gods are generally not kind and caring; they have their own immortal lives to pursue and generally give little regard to their human servants.


In such a world, only one attitude makes much sense, and again, Siduri gives Gilgamesh good advice for a human being: “‘As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.'” (Sandars, 34)


However, Gilgamesh is part god, although also part human. Thus, although he must die, because he is human, he also has the continuation of fame as a legendary king who had  the great walls of Uruk built to protect his people.


Because Gilgamesh is part god, as well as part human, his death carries a message about the death of the semi-divine king. “One of the purposes of this poem, or the original that lies behind it, was surely to emphasize that even the king, in spite of his divine associations, must die; and to assert that this was no anomaly reflecting on the king’s authority on earth, but the result of a solemn divine decree.” (Kirk,142)




Gilgamesh is the King of Uruk. His father is mortal and his mother is a goddess. However, because he is part mortal, Gilgamesh must eventually die, as he discovers and comes to accept during the course of the story. Gilgamesh is a bad ruler; he sleeps with all the women and takes away children from their families. His subjects ask the gods for help, and the gods have the goddess Aruru create a man, Enkidu, who will be almost Gilgamesh’s equal.


Enkidu comes to life in the wilderness. He is covered with hair, shaggy, wild like the wilderness. He eats grass with the gazelles and drinks water with the animals. A trapper is frightened by the sight of Enkidu and asks his father what to do, because Enkidu is freeing animals from the traps.


His father advises him to go to Uruk, find Gilgamesh, and tell him of the wild man. Then he should ask for a harlot from the temple and bring her back with him. She will seduce Enkidu, and then the wild animals will reject him and he can be lured to civilization.


The harlot does just that, seducing Enkidu, so the animals reject him. She teaches Enkidu some of the ways of civilization, such as wearing clothing, eating bread and drinking wine. Then she tells him of the strength of Gilgamesh. Enkidu wants to meet and challenge Gilgamesh to a contest of strength.


Enkidu hears how Gilgamesh is sleeping with all the women of Uruk, and he is shocked. He now wants to challenge Gilgamesh to conquer him and force him to behave properly. They struggle like equals, but finally Gilgamesh throws Enkidu, who loses his anger and recognizes Gilgamesh as a true king. They embrace and become best friends.


Gilgamesh longs to perform great deeds, so his name will be remembered. He wants to go to the cedar forest and slay its guardian monster, Humbaba. Enkidu is terrified, because he knows Humbaba, but Gilgamesh insists, and they prepare for the journey.


Enkidu’s hand is paralyzed when he touches the cedar forest gate, but Gilgamesh helps him to continue. They have disturbing dreams, but nonetheless cut down a cedar tree. Humbaba approaches and they fight; Humbaba begs for his life, but they cut off his head.


Gilgamesh washes himself and puts on clean clothes and his crown. He is so attractive that Ishtar, the goddess of love, wants to marry him. He refuses, quite rudely, pointing out how she had ruined the lives of her previous husbands. Ishtar is hurt and furious and she goes to her father, Anu, demanding that he send the Bull of Heaven (drought) to punish Gilgamesh. She threatens to smash down the gates to the underworld if her father does not comply. Anu sends the Bull of Heaven, but Enkidu catches it by the horns, and Gilgamesh kills it.


Unfortunately, as Enkidu discovers in a dream, the gods are holding a council to determine who should die for these attacks on divinity: Gilgamesh or Enkidu. Naturally, since Gilgamesh is part divine and part human, while Enkidu is part human and part animal, the sacrifice, the judgment falls on Enkidu, who sickens and dies, at first cursing the harlot who led him to civilization, Gilgamesh and death, but then blessing her for the joy of friendship with Gilgamesh.


Gilgamesh is distraught with grief and denial of death. First he keeps the body of Enkidu for a week, until the body became wormy. Then, he had him buried and wandered out from Uruk into the wilderness as a wild hunter, dressed in animal skins. Gilgamesh despairs for the loss of Enkidu, but also for his own death, which he now understands must come some day. Seeking to avoid death, Gilgamesh looks for Utnapishtim, the only human being who was granted eternal life by the gods. He wants to learn the secret of how to avoid death.


Eventually, Gilgamesh comes to the entry to the land of the gods, an otherworld, which is under a mountain, guarded by a Man-scorpion and his mate. Gilgamesh gains entrance to the mountain and travels for leagues in the dark until he arrives in the jeweled garden of the gods.


Gilgamesh continues in his search for Utnapishtim and the secrets of life and death. He meets a divine wine-maker, Siduri, who gives him shelter and advises him to accept his human fate and enjoy life while he can. But he insists that he must find Utnapishtim, so she tells him that the boatman Urshanabi can take him across the Sea of Death to the place where Utnapishtim lives with his wife.


After a complicated boat-trip, Urshanabi brings Gilgamesh to Utnapishtim, who tells his story. It is the story of the Flood (remarkably similar to the Flood story in Genesis). The point is, the Flood was a one time ever event, will never occur again, and the only reason Utnapishtim and his wife are now immortal is because the gods chose to make them so after they survived the flood. The final blow to Gilgamesh here is seven loaves of bread which Utnapishtim’s wife made, one each day that Gilgamesh slept. He could not even stay awake for seven days; how could he ever hope to live forever?


Utnapishtim’s wife takes pity on Gilgamesh and asks her husband to tell him about the plant that can make him young again, if not immortal. Gilgamesh dives into the sea to pick the plant, but loses it later, while bathing, because a snake slithers up and eats it.


Gilgamesh returns to Uruk with the boatman Urshanabi, and points out to him the mighty walls; this is the proper work of a human being, not the search for eternal life.


The final segment of the story tells of the death of Gilgamesh and the mourning for him of all the people of Uruk.




Utnapishtim’s wife — her role is like that of a servant, yet she is wise and compassionate. She is the one who persuades Utnapishtim to tell Gilgamesh about the plant, which restores youth.




There are two distinct places that are both “under” the world. One is the place of the dead, which Enkidu sees in his dream before he dies. This is a wretched place, where feathered dead mortals exist in darkness and dust. This underworld is as bleak as Hades in the Odyssey.  The theme of weakness, sleep and death is most extreme when Gilgamesh sleeps for seven days in Utnapishtim’s house.


The other underworld is really an otherworld, the place of the gods, under the mountain, including the Sea of Death, but containing no dead creatures, only divine and/or immortal ones, such as Siduri and Utnapishtim. Largely, it’s an empty place, where the sun goes at night when it descends down into the mountains in the west.




Gilgamesh is a bad king, exhausting his people with wall building and womanizing. Finally, the gods take responsibility and make Enkidu to create a balance. The appearance of Enkidu is occasioned by the hubris of Gilgamesh, who forces all the inhabitants of his city to work for him, building the very walls and temples, which at first we are asked to admire and which are eventually to secure him lasting fame; enraged, the gods create Enkidu in order to check Gilgamesh.


Gilgamesh and Enkidu upset the world order by destroying sacred monsters of nature: Gilgamesh killed Humbaba and Enkidu killed the Bull of Heaven). Therefore, one of them must die. Enkidu, the more innocent, yet lesser man, takes on the responsibility of dying for both of them.


Gilgamesh is finally only responsible for living well and building the walls of Uruk.




Gilgamesh as a heroic king. His traits: powerful, impulsive, sexually aggressive, wants to destroy/conquer wilderness, builds city walls.


Enkidu as heroic friend. His traits: innocent origins (wild, hairy, sexually innocent), as strong as Gilgamesh, knows nature of wilderness (Humbaba), is insolent toward the gods (bone flung at Ishtar; lack of courtly behavior?), can be wounded (by Humbaba) and killed (by the gods).




Gilgamesh as god/man


Enkidu as animal/man


Bull of Heaven — drought



Gilgamesh/Enkidu, heroic friendship, Achilles/Patrocles and death of hero-friend

Underworlds in Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid (don’t touch the dead)

Raging Ishtar in Gilgamesh, raging Medea, and raging Juno and Dido in the Aeneid

Wanderings of Gilgamesh and wanderings of Odysseus

Killing Humbaba plus insolence kills Enkidu; blinding Cyclops plus insolence nearly kills Odysseus

Flood story in Gilgamesh and flood story in the Hebrew Bible




Frymer-Kensky,Tikva. In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth. N.Y. Fawcett Columbine, 1992.


Heidel, Alexander. The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels: A translation and interpretation of the Gilgamesh Epic and related Babylonian and Assyrian documents. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1946; second edition, 1949; First Phoenix Edition, 1963.


Jacobsen,Thorkild.  The Treasures of Darkness: a history of Mesopotamian Religion. New Haven, Yale: 1976.


Kirk, G.S.  Myth: Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures. Cambridge U.P. and California U.P., 1970.


Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1981. Second paperback printing, 1990. Orig. published under title: From the tablets of Sumer: Indian Hills, Colo.: Falcon’s Wing Press, 1956.


Mason, Herbert. Gilgamesh. A Verse Narrative by Herbert Mason with an afterword by John H. Marks. A Mentor Book. N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1970.


Oppenheim, A. Leo.  Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. Revised Edition, completed by Erica Reiner. The University of Chicago Press, 1964,1977.


Sanders, Nancy K., Trans. “Gilgamesh.” In The Norton Anthology: World Masterpieces, Expanded Edition, Volume I: 10-41.

(Study guide created by Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI)

Task One: The Gilgamesh Video

TASK 1. Read the Gilgamesh Study Guide, which will give you background information on Gilgamesh to help you to understand this ancient story. (The study guide is found in The Introduction to Gilgamesh in this Module 1).  Then watch the Gilgamesh video at the link below. (Links to an external site.)


The Gilgamesh video includes the following sections:

1.1 The Epic of Gilgamesh: Map & Timeline (Links to an external site.)

1.2 The Epic of Gilgamesh – Getting Started (Links to an external site.)

1.3 The Epic of Gilgamesh – Read the Excerpt (Links to an external site.)

1.4 Experts’ View: Enkidu’s Death (Links to an external site.)

1.5 Exploring Literary Translation (Links to an external site.)

1.6 The Epic of Gilgamesh: Connections (Links to an external site.)

1.7 The Epic of Gilgamesh – Key Points (Links to an external site.)

Key Teaching Points and Discussion Prompts (Links to an external site.)


Transcript: The Epic of Gilgamesh Video Transcript (Links to an external site.)

Transcript (Links to an external site.)


Gallery: The Epic of Gilgamesh – Slideshow (Links to an external site.)

Slideshow (Links to an external site.)

Gilgamesh Task 2. Read Gilgamesh.



If you have not already read the Excerpt from Gilgamesh in Task 1, please do so now.

Read Gilgamesh at the link (Links to an external site.)

Task Four: Introduction to the Hebrew Bible



Hebrew Bible Study Guide (TASK FOUR)


Sections of this study guide were adapted from three lectures by Professor Hayes from her course RLST 145: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), which appears on Open Yale Courses, an open educational resource provide by Yale University. They are clearly attributed below. Following the the Open Yale Courses guidelines, this Study Guide is also available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license (, which allows users to repurpose these materials in noncommercial environments with proper attribution to Yale. The license also stipulates that the repurposed materials must also be shared under the same license.


Note that there are quotations from scholars who are NOT part of any creative commons agreement, so you cannot simply copy that material without attribution.




For the purpose of this course, we will not be considering the Hebrew Bible as a sacred text, although of course it is just that for millions of people. Nor will we be considering it as the earlier part of the Christian Bible, which includes the “Old Testament” along with the “New Testament.” We will be considering the Hebrew Bible as an ancient literary text that is both embedded in history and tells of its own history, the story of the origins and formation of the Hebrew people and their special, intense and difficult relationship with Jahweh, the God of the Hebrew Bible. That will allow us to make interesting comparisons with other literary texts that we will study in this course, including the Story of Gilgamesh, and the Aeneid.


This approach can be quite challenging to people who have grown up approaching the Hebrew Bible as a sacred text and/or as a precursor to and predictor of Christianity and/or Islam. This approach requires that people suspend their learning and belief about the Hebrew Bible and try to approach it as one of many literary texts studied in this course.


An example of the challenge of this approach is the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, a story of the origins of humanity that explains (among other things) the difficulty of childbirth and the hardship of wresting a living from the earth. Within Genesis and within the Hebrew Bible, this is NOT a story of original sin, which is a later, Christian concept. However, if one studied the story of Adam and Eve in a Christian Sunday School or Bible Study group, it was almost certainly taught as the explanation of original sin as the cause of the fallen state of humanity. This interpretation owes much to St. Augustine, not to the Hebrew Bible, as Elaine Pagels points out convincingly in Adam, Eve and the Serpent (131).


So, for the purpose of this course, try to suspend your beliefs about the nature and meaning of the Hebrew Bible and attempt to read it as freshly as possible, as an ancient story you have never read before. I think, whatever your beliefs about the Hebrew Bible, you will discover new and interesting ways of thinking about it, and you will also discover exciting ways to compare stories in the Hebrew Bible to other ancient stories that, while perhaps not considered sacred texts (or at least not any longer), tell of the wills of gods, the connections of human destiny to those gods, and the long and painful nature of historical destiny.




Various people and groups wrote the Hebrew Bible over a long time. It combines oral stories, many with roots in the ancient Middle East, with more specific and possibly factual history about the Hebrew people’s origins, wanderings, sojourn in Egypt, more wanderings, invasion of Canaan, development of the monarchy, dispersal to Babylon, return to Israel, etc. As Robert Alter writes: “Any literary account of the Hebrew Bible must recognize…this quality of extreme heterogeneity. … From one point of view, it is not even a unified collection but rather a loose anthology that reflects as much as nine centuries of Hebrew literary activity, from the Song of Deborah … to the Book of Daniel (second century B. C. E.). The generic variety of this anthology is altogether remarkable, encompassing as it does historiography, fictional narratives, and much that is a mixture of the two, lists of laws, prophecy in both poetry and prose, aphoristic and reflective works, cultic and devotional poems, laments and victory hymns, love poems, genealogical tables, etiological tales, and much more (12).” Yet, Alter goes on to say that “…the idea of the Hebrew Bible as a sprawling, unruly anthology is no more than a partial truth, for the retrospective act of canonization has created a unity among the disparate texts…” (13).


Canonization is the process of deciding which parts of a text or set of texts are the “correct” parts and which can be discarded as non-essential or even false. According to Frank Kermode, “Even the most learned explanations of how the constituent books found themselves together in a canon are highly speculative and have to deal with an intractable mixture of myth and history. Once a sacred book is fully formed, deemed to be unalterable and wholly inspired, it acquires a prehistory suitable to its status and related only very loosely to historical fact or probability. The real history involves all manner of external influences: for example the closing of the Jewish canon must be in some sense consequent upon the waning of Hebrew as a spoken language, and upon the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., when the book rather than the Temple cult became central to religion…. Thus canon formation is affected by what seem on the face of it to be political, economic, and technological forces without immediate religious or literary relevance…” Kermode explains that there is a legendary account of the formation of the Hebrew Bible “…that tells of the destruction of the sacred books during the Babylonian Captivity and their reconstruction by the divinely inspired memory of Ezra.” However, Kermode goes on to remark “[a] more scholarly account would say that the importance of the Law after the return from Babylon speeded the process by which all the disparate material in the Pentateuch acquired final form and authority…” Scholars generally agree that the canon of the Hebrew Bible was set around 100 C.E.  (600-601).




The Bible is the product of minds that were exposed to and influenced by and reacting to the ideas and cultures of their day…. [C]omparative study of the literature of the Ancient Near East and the Bible reveals the shared cultural and literary heritage at the same time that it reveals great differences between the two. In the literature of the Bible some members of Israelite society … broke radically with the prevailing norms of the day…. The persons responsible for the final editing and shaping of the Bible, somewhere from the seventh to the fifth or fourth century BCE … were members of this group…. they had a specific worldview and they imposed that worldview on the older traditions and stories that are found in the Bible. That radical new worldview in the Bible was monotheism.


Cuneiform tablets that were inscribed with the great literature of Mesopotamian civilizations were uncovered and when they were deciphered they shed astonishing light on biblical religion. …. Scholars delighted in pointing out all of the parallels in theme and language and plot and structure between biblical stories and Ancient Near Eastern stories. So more than a thousand years before the Israelite legend of Noah and the ark you have Mesopotamians telling the stories [of] Ziusudra, or in some versions Utnapishtim who also survived a great flood by building an ark on the instruction of a deity, and the flood destroys all life, and he sends out birds to scout out the dry land, and so on. So with parallels like these, it was argued, it was clear that the religion of the Israelites was not so different from the religions of their polytheistic or pagan neighbors. They also had a creation story. They had a flood story. They did animal sacrifices. They observed purity taboos. Israelite religion was another Ancient Near Eastern religion and they differed from their neighbors only over the number of gods they worshiped: one or many. It was just a more refined, more highly evolved, version of Ancient Near Eastern religion.


[T]his evolutionary view, or evolutionary model, was challenged by … Kaufmann in the 1930’s. … Kaufman asserted that the monotheism of Israel wasn’t … the natural outgrowth of the polytheism of an earlier age. It was a radical break with it. It was a total cultural and religious discontinuity. It was a polemic against polytheism and the pagan worldview. That’s implicit, he says, throughout the biblical text. It’s been said that Kaufman replaces the evolutionary model with a revolutionary model.


Now in Kaufman’s view the similarities…between the Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern religion and cultures … were in the end similarities in form and external structure, appearance…. They differed in content. Sure they both have animal sacrifice. Sure they both have ritual purity laws. Sure they share certain stories and legends. But these have been adopted by the Israelites and transformed … into vehicles that convey the basic ideas of the monotheistic worldview. So a similarity in form doesn’t mean a similarity in function…. The ritual cult of the Israelites may look like that of their neighbors but it functioned very differently; its purpose was drastically different from that of Israel’s neighbors. The Israelites like their neighbors may have set up a king over themselves. But Israelite monarchy differed from Canaanite monarchy in significant ways because of their monotheism….the meaning and function of Israel’s cult, of Israel’s king, of its creation stories or any of its other narratives–they derive from the place of those items within the larger cultural framework or worldview of Israel and that larger framework or worldview is one of basic monotheism.


[Professor Hayes presents and analyzes both views about the formation of the Hebrew religion–the evolutionary one and the revolutionary one. This is an area open for study and discussion; there is not a single correct answer. If you are intrigued and want to know more, go to her wonderful Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), from which this is abridged. It is an Open Source Course at Yale, which means that anyone is free to audit the lectures.]


(This section is abridged from the lecture by Professor Hayes, “The Hebrew Bible in Its Ancient Near Eastern Setting: Biblical Religion in Context,” from her course RLST 145: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), an Open Source online offering from Yale University.)




Part One: Torah (Instruction, Teaching)



        Chapters 1-11–God’s creation of the world, the first humans, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the flood, Babel, etc.

        Chapters 12-50–stories of the ancestors of the Israelites, the story of Joseph, and the arrival of the Israelites in Egypt


        Story of Moses, from Egypt to Mount Sinai

        God’s covenant with Israel

        Instructions for building God’s tabernacle


        Instructions about sacrificial cult and priestly rituals

        Initiation of Aaron and his sons as priests

        Laws about purity and impurity (ritual and moral)


        Israelites wander in the wilderness

        More instructions


        Three speeches by Moses before the Israelites enter Canaan

        Moses dies


Part Two: Nevi’im (Prophets)


    Former Prophets (Joshua through 2 Kings)

        Joshua –invasion of Canaan and distribution of land to Israelite tribes

        Judges–heroic “judges” who led Israelites to military victories

        1 Samuel–the last judge and a prophet; anoints the first king, Saul; Saul and David

        2 Samuel–King David’s affair with Bathsheba; revolt of his son Absalom

        1 Kings–David’s last years and the reign of Solomon

            Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem

            Ten northern tribes separate to form kingdom of Israel

            Two southern tribes are kingdom of Judah

            Elijah promotes Yahwism in north and conflicts with king Ahab

        2 Kings–Elijah and Elisha

            overthrow of Ahab

            succession of kings in Israel

            destruction of kingdom of Israel by Assyrians in 722 B.C.E.

            southern kingdom destroyed by Babylonians in 587 B.C.E.

    Latter Prophets (from mid 8th to 5th century)


        Jeremiah–end of southern kingdom

        Ezekiel–in Babylon

        The Book of the Twelve














Part Three: Ketuvim (Writings)





    The Five Scrolls

        Song of Songs








        1 Chronicles

        2 Chronicles


(following Christine Hayes’ lecture, “Synopsis of the Contents of the TaNaKh (the Jewish Bible)” from her course,  RLST 145: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), an Open Source online offering from Yale University.)




    1800-1700       Abram (Abraham)

    1700-1600       Descent of Israel into Egypt

1. 1280     The Exodus

2. 1250-1200 Conquest of Canaan

3. 1020-1000 Samuel and Saul

4. 1000-961 United Monarchy of David

5. 961-922 Empire of Solomon

6. 922 Death of Solomon; division of the kingdom

7. 722-721 Fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria)

8. 650-600 Deuteronomy

9. 587-538 Fall of Jerusalem; the Babylonian Exile

10. 538 The Return

11. 520-515 Rebuilding of the Temple

12. 450-400      Ezra and Nehemiah


(adapted from The Book of J, 7)




In the mid-eighteenth century…Jean Astruc ….argued…Moses was drawing from two separate long documents, which he identified as J [Jahweh] and E [Elohim]. They used different names for God, and he was drawing on those in his composition of the Torah.


[In] 1878…Julius Wellhausen…wrote…The History of Israel, and he presented…the Documentary Hypothesis….that the historical or narrative sections of the Bible—Genesis…through 2 Kings–is comprised of four identifiable source documents that have been woven together….he argued that these documents date to different periods and reflect very different interests and concerns. These four prior documents, he says, were woven together by somebody or some group…to form the narrative core of the Bible.


Wellhausen argued that these sources therefore do not tell us about the times or situations they purport to describe, so much as they tell us about the beliefs and practices of Israelites in the period in which they were composed…. So although the sources claim to talk about events from creation…forward, Wellhausen says, no, they really can only be used to tell us about the beliefs and religion of Israel from the tenth century, which is when he thinks the oldest was written, and forward.


Now his work created a sensation. It undermined…traditional claims about the authorship of God and the work of Moses. It’s still disputed by conservative groups and Roman Catholic authorities, although Roman Catholic scholars certainly teach it and adopt it.


The four sources…identified by Wellhausen are…the J source and the E source…P, the priestly source, and D, which is primarily the book of Deuteronomy.


Source critics were able to come up with a list of what they believed were the main characteristics of the various sources. So the main characteristics of the J source, which begins with the second creation story…are:


    (1) that it uses a personal name Yahweh for God from the time of creation…;

    (2) It describes God very anthropomorphically. It’s the J source that has God shut the door of the ark after Noah. It’s the J source that has God smelling the sacrifice after the Flood, the sacrifice that Noah offers…;

    (3) J has a very vivid and concrete earthy style; and,

    (4) It uses the name Mount Sinai to refer to the place where the Israelites with Moses will conclude the covenant with God.


…source critics felt that a clue to the dating of the J source could be found in the passage in which God promises a grant of national land to the Israelites. The boundaries of the land are given there as the River of Egypt, the Nile, and the Euphrates. It was argued by some that those were basically the borders of the Kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon. … The argument is that under David and Solomon the empire reached that boundary and so clearly this is a writer from the tenth century who’s seeking to justify Israel’s possession of its kingdom from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates; it’s presenting that kingdom as a fulfillment of a promise of land that God made to Israel’s ancient ancestors. For that reason source critics thought J must date to about the tenth century and to the time of perhaps King Solomon.


The E source, which source critics say begins around Genesis 15 is really the most fragmentary. It seems to have been used to supplement the J source…. sometimes it seems very difficult to isolate, and there’s a lot of debate over this, but the E source’s characteristics are that


    (1) it uses Elohim… [to refer] to the God of Israel;

    (2) it has a much less anthropomorphic view of God;

    (3) God is more remote. There aren’t the direct face-to-face revelations in the E source; most communications from the divine are indirect. They’ll be through messengers or dreams and;

    (4) there’s also an emphasis on prophets and prophecy in the E source….;

    (5) The style is more abstract, a little less picturesque, and;

    (6) the E source uses a different name for the mountain where the covenant was concluded…. Horeb.


The E source seems to be concerned primarily with the northern tribes, therefore the northern kingdom. And so source theorists decided that it was most likely composed in the northern kingdoms about the ninth century.


And then, according to this hypothesis, the J and E sources were combined, primarily J with E being used to supplement it, probably somewhere in the…late eighth century; and that was the backbone of the Pentateuchal [Torah] narrative. It covers the early history of humankind, of Israel’s early ancestors known as the patriarchs and matriarchs. Their stories are told in Genesis. It contained the story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt in the book of Exodus, and the stories of the wandering in the wilderness that are found in the book of Numbers. The anonymous scribe or editor who combined these sources didn’t care to remove any redundant material or contradictory material….


Now there are two other sources… D and P. D, which is the Deuteronomic source, is essentially the book of Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy … purports to be three speeches delivered by Moses as the Israelites are poised on the east side of the Jordan River…. But according to the source theorists it clearly reflects the interests of settled agrarian life. It doesn’t reflect the interests of people who have been wandering around nomadically…. D is the one source in the Bible that clearly insists that one central sanctuary only is acceptable to Yahweh…. Jerusalem is not actually mentioned in Deuteronomy, that’s a later reading, but the place where God will cause his name to dwell, and only at the temple there, can there be sacrifices…. There are other books…where it’s clear that there are local shrines, local sanctuaries, local priests who are offering sacrifices for people throughout the land. But Deuteronomy insists: one central sanctuary. All of the outlying alters and sacred places must be destroyed.


P is the Priestly source…found mostly in the books of Leviticus and the non-narrative portions of Numbers. Now the major characteristics of P, the Priestly source, are


    (1) a great concern with religious institutions, with the sacrificial system, with the Sabbath, with holidays, with rituals like circumcision, the Passover, dietary restrictions… the system of ritual purity and impurity, and also holiness, ethical holiness and cultic or ritual holiness….

    (2) God is transcendent, and even perhaps remote…

    (3) [interest] in covenants, in censuses, in genealogies.


…And because P elements often serve…as a bridge between stories…the source critics felt that priestly writers were probably responsible for the final editing of the Bible, bringing together J and E and D and adding their materials and finally editing the work.


…[A]ccording to Wellhausen…the priestly school drew together all of this older material, added some of its own editorial material–bridges, introductions, conclusions–inserted the large priestly documents of Leviticus and Numbers, and so the Torah…is really the result of five centuries of religious and literary activity. And this of course is a very…different portrait from traditional claims about the authorship of the Pentateuch by one man, Moses, in approximately the fourteenth century B.C.E.

[T]he documentary hypothesis… posits hypothetical sources, traditions and documents to explain the current shape of the Torah the way we have it…. As a next step the sources are assigned relative dates…and then they’re analyzed to reveal the different stages of Israel’s religious history. And so source criticism is also known as historical criticism because it’s a tool for getting at the history, not just at the text, but ultimately a history of Israelite religion….


It needs to be remembered that the documentary hypothesis is only a hypothesis…. none of the sources posited by critical scholars has been found independently: we have no copy of J, we have no copy of E, we have no copy of P by itself or D by itself. So these reconstructions are based on guesses. Some of them are excellent…guesses, very well supported by evidence, but some of them are not.


So most biblical scholars today do accept some version of Wellhausen’s theory–yes, we feel the Bible is composed of different sources. We don’t always have tremendous confidence, though, in some of the finer details and conclusions of his work and the work of other scholars who followed after him.


(The above section is abridged from the lecture by Professor Hayes, “Critical Approaches to the Bible,” from her course RLST 145: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), an Open Source online offering from Yale University.)


According to  Marc Zvi Brettler, one of the editors of The Jewish Study Bible, “We do not know how these various sources and legal collections, which now compose the Torah, came together to form a single book. … Certainly not all ancient Israelite traditions were preserved in the Torah. Much was probably lost. Without knowing what was lost, we cannot suggest how and why the redactor(s), R, made their selection and by what principles they ordered their materials….” (Brettler, 6).


All we really need to keep in mind for the purposes of this course is that the Torah was composed by many different people or groups of people, over several hundred years, long after the events described, and that despite the many authors, the Torah has a surprisingly powerful unity of focus and purpose.




The Torah, which consists of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible  “…most likely completed during the Babylonian exile (586-538 BCE) or soon thereafter in the early Persian period, was … a very long book, narrating what must have been felt to be the formative period of Israel, from the period of the creation of the world through the death of Moses. The events narrated in Gen. chs 1-11 describing the creation of the world and its population by many nations serves as an introduction to the singling out of one nation, Israel. The stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ancestors of Israel, form the national prehistory. Israel comes into existence as a nation in Exodus, and the foremost events of its national history are the exodus from Egypt, the revelation at Sinai, and the coming to the promised land. These events are central to Exodus-Deuteronomy” (Brettler, 6).


In literature, we look for a protagonist (the hero), agonists (those who resist the hero), and struggle. When we consider the Torah as literature, the central struggle is rooted in the constant tension between God and His chosen people, the Israelites, who continually learn and fall back and learn and fail. God is unequivocally the hero of the Torah in this sense. He is not only a hero, but a passionate artist, a creator, a lawgiver, a teacher of morality, and a mentor of an entire people over a long period of time. Perhaps the most powerful lesson in the Torah from this point of view is that when the Israelites do not obey God, very bad things will happen to them, such as the killing of Aaron’s sons, the destruction of the Temple and the exile to Babylon. However, when the Israelites do obey God, He protects them and they thrive (although there can be a long time-lag, as in the years as slaves in Egypt before the Exodus), and ultimately they will gain nationhood in the land promised by God–Canaan.


There are heroic figures in the Torah, such as Moses and Joshua, but they are heroes because God selects them as heroes, they only succeed when they follow the will of God, and their success is brought about by the power of God, not by their innate abilities. These at times reluctant heroes are quite different from the eager heroism of Homeric heroes such as Achilles who leap into conflict seeking personal glory. The Israelites invade and capture Canaan because God gave it to them. This is remarkably different from the Greeks invading and destroying Troy because of a fight over a woman (Helen) and the property rights that came with her. The Greeks do have some of the gods on their side (and the Trojans have some on their side), but Homeric Troy is not really destined to fall. It falls because the Greeks and the gods on their side are ultimately more powerful than the  Trojans and the gods on their side. Human morality is not an essential issue.


So, as you read sections of the Torah for this course, try to focus on what happens, who does what to whom, what are the consequences, etc. Try to NOT think about the interpretations you have learned in religious school. The challenge here is to treat the Torah as literature and it is not an easy challenge given the immense amount of interpretation it has undergone in the past millennia.




The Torah is a document prepared over centuries by the Hebrew people, and they have been continuously studying and explicating it ever since. For the past two thousand years, the Torah has also been part of the Christian Bible and Christian scholars have been continuously studying and reinterpreting it according to their own religious insights.


Nahum Sarna, writing from a Jewish perspective, explains the sin of Adam and Eve in these terms: “The conversation between the serpent and the woman shows that the most seductive attractions that the creature could offer was the potentiality of the forbidden fruit to make humans like God….Now the imitation of God is indeed a biblical ideal. Man was fashioned in the divine image and “to walk in God’s ways” is a recurring admonition of the biblical writings. But true godliness is an expression of character, an attempt to imitate in human relationships those ethical attributes the Scriptures associate with God. The deceptive nature of the serpent’s appeal lay in its interpretation of godliness, which it equated with defiance of God’s will, with power, rather than with strength of character.


            “Yet God Himself testifies that “man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (3:22). In other words, man does possess the possibility of defying the divine word, and therein lies the secret of his freedom. The Garden of Eden incident is thus a landmark in the development of the understanding of the nature of man, his predicament and destiny. Man is a free moral agent and this freedom magnifies immeasurably his responsibility for his actions. Notice how each of the participants in the sin was individually punished. Freedom and responsibility are burdens so great for man to bear that he is in vital need of discipline…. man is free to disregard the moral law, should he wish to, though he must be prepared to suffer the consequences. In short, we are being told by the Garden of Eden story that evil is a product of human behavior, not a principle inherent in the cosmos. (28) Man’s disobedience is the cause of the human predicament. Human freedom can be at one and the same time an omen of disaster and a challenge and opportunity.” (26)


According to Elaine Pagels’ Adam, Eve and the Serpent, the modern interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve as the fall of humanity based on sexual sin became church doctrine in the 4th century. She explains that  “…the majority of [early] Christians … rejected the claim made by radical Christians that the sin of Adam and Even was sexual—that the forbidden “fruit of the tree of knowledge” conveyed, above all, carnal knowledge. On the contrary, said Clement of Alexandria (c. 180 C.E.), conscious participation in procreation is “cooperation with God in the work of creation.” Adam’s sin was not sexual indulgence but disobedience; thus Clement agreed with most of his Jewish and Christian contemporaries that the real theme of the story of Adam and Eve is moral freedom and moral responsibility. Its point is to show that we are responsible for the choices we freely make—god or evil—just as Adam was.” ( xxiii)


She goes on to explain that “…for nearly the first four hundred years of our era, Christians regarded freedom as the primary message of Genesis 1-3—freedom in its many forms, including free will, freedom from demonic powers, freedom from social and sexual obligations, freedom from tyrannical government and from fate; and self-mastery as the source of such freedom. With Augustine…this message changed” (xxv).


 “In a world in which Christians not only were free to follow their faith but were officially encouraged to do so,  Augustine came to read the story of Adam and Eve very differently than had the majority of his Jewish and Christian predecessors. What they had read for centuries as a story of human freedom became, in his hands, a story of human bondage. Most Jews and Christians had agreed that God gave humankind in creation the gift of moral freedom, and that Adam’s misuse of it brought death upon his progeny. But Augustine went further: Adam’s sin not only caused our mortality but cost us our moral freedom, irreversibly corrupted our experience of sexuality (which Augustine tended to identify with original sin), and made us incapable of genuine political freedom….


            “Augustine’s theory of original sin … offered an analysis of human nature that became… the heritage of all subsequent generations of western Christians and the major influence on their psychological and political thinking. Even today, many people, Catholics and Protestants alike, regard the story of Adam and Eve as virtually synonymous with original sin. During Augustine’s own lifetime…various Christians objected to his radical theory, and others bitterly contested it; but within the next few generations, Christians who held to the more traditional views of human freedom were themselves condemned as heretics” (xxvi).


Once we compare the Jewish interpretation of the sin of Adam and Eve, as presented by Sarna, with the Christian interpretation of the sin of Adam and Eve developed by Augustine, it becomes very clear why it is difficult for anyone living now to write about Adam and Eve as if it were just a story. Millennia of interpretation accompany this rather simple story, and depending on how we were raised and educated religiously, we have been trained to bring very different interpretations to it. Our training was often as young children, so it became part of the story, not a critical add-on that we are aware of.


Nonetheless, this is the challenge of this section of our course: we need to try to read the Torah selections intelligently, but suspending as much as possible everything we think we know about them. Furthermore, this challenge of suspending our preconceptions is actually a valid exercise in reading and writing about many texts, especially those from other times and places.


For example, when students compare the story of Adam and Eve to that of Enkidu and the Harlot in the Sumerian epic, The Story of Gilgamesh, they frequently fall into the trap of thinking the Harlot is sinful, a fallen woman who destroys Enkidu’s happy life among the animals. However, within the context of ancient Sumerian civilization, the Harlot was NOT sinful. The notion of sex as sin had not yet been really developed. Once that is realized, then the question of whether or not Enkidu really fell from happiness or was elevated to civilization becomes easier to think about.




Alter, Robert. The Old Testament. “Introduction.” In The Literary Guide to the Bible. Edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode. Cambridge: Harvard U. P. 1987. 11-35.


Bloom, Harold. “Chronology.” In The Book of J. Translated from the Hebrew by David Rosenberg; Interpreted by Harold Bloom. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990. 7


Brettler, Marc Zvi. “Introduction.” The Jewish Study Bible. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. Jewish Publication Society. TANAKH Translation. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 2004. 1-7.


Greenfield, Jonas C. “The Hebrew Bible and Canaanite Literature.” In Alter and Kermode. The Literary Guide to the Bible. 545-560.


Kermode, Frank. “The Canon.” In Alter and Kermode. The Literary Guide to the Bible. 600-610.


Hayes, Christine. RLST 145: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). an Open Source online offering from Yale University, Fall 2006.


Pagels, Elaine. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. New York: Random House, 1988


Sarna, Nahum M. Understanding Genesis: The World of the Bible in the Light of History. New York: Shocken, 1966.

Material compiled by Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI (Links to an external site.)


Task Five: Reading Selections from the Hebrew Bible

TASK 5. Read the selections from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).   Link is (Links to an external site.)

Pay special attention to “The Flood,” since it is clearly related to the story of the flood in Gilgamesh. Or you might focus on another selection from the Hebrew Bible that will make an interesting compare/contrast with Gilgamesh. For example, Job is interesting in relation to Gilgamesh, since both deal with the wills of deities and the fates of human beings. Another good choice might be Jonah who, like Gilgamesh, tries to avoid divine will, or perhaps Joseph, who is a culture hero of the Hebrews, in contrast to Gilgamesh who is a culture hero of the Sumerians.

You may wish to read other sections of the Hebrew Bible, but please do NOT use a Christian Bible to do so; the texts are actually somewhat different. This is a course in ancient literature and we want to use the ancient version of the bible for that reason. (Links to an external site.)

Another Option: Watch this amazingly good free online course from Yale: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) with Professor Christine Hayes. A wonderful free ecourse from Yale. You might just watch the opening sessions on Genesis or want to watch the entire course. She is a great teacher.  The link is (Links to an external site.)

Module 2 Tasks

To-do date: 9 Feb at 23:59

TASK 1.  Read the Homer Study Guide, which will give you background information on the Troy Cycle and Homer’s epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.  It is connected to this document.


You may choose to watch the Homer’s Odyssey Video instead. It contains the same information. (Links to an external site.)


TASK 2.  Read the Odyssey at (Links to an external site.)
). This is, by far, the longest reading assignment you will have for this course, but it is a delightful story. Just allow yourself plenty of time. If you find it unbearably long, you may select an activity below and then focus your reading on the section of the Odyssey that deals with that question.


TASK 3. Read through all the Homer’s Odyssey Activities listed below in this document under the title, Task 3. Then, select one of these questions to answer for Activity 3, and upload it.


TASK 4. Read through the Greek Drama Study Guide listed below in this document under the title, Task 4.  This will guide you as you select and read a Greek Drama. .


You may choose to watch the Greek Drama Video instead. It contains the same information. Home Page. (Links to an external site.)


If you decide to read this play, here is a link to its text under the Read tab: (Links to an external site.)


TASK 5. Select and read a Greek Drama. The choices are: Agamemnon by Aeschylus, Oedipus the King by Sophocles, Antigone by Sophocles, Medea by Euripedes or Lysistrata by Aristophanes.


Option: You may access free etexts of these epics: Agamemnon, Oedipus the King, Antigone, and Medea at The Internet Classics Archive: (Links to an external site.)

You will have to select the name of the author, choose the play title, and then the script will come up.


Lysistrata by Aristophanes will be found at the Gutenberg Press: (Links to an external site.)


TASK 6. Read through all the Greek Drama Activities listed below under the title, Task 6. Then, select one of these questions to answer for Activity 4 and upload it.


TASK 7. Read through the Virgil’s Aeneid Study Guide located below in this document under the title Task 7. This will give you background information on Virgil’s Roman civilization and his epic poetry.

You may choose to watch the Virgil’s Aeneid Video instead. It contains the same information. (Links to an external site.)


TASK 8. Read the selections from the Aeneid:  Book VI ( and the selections from the Bhagavad-Gita ( (Links to an external site.)
) or the Ramayana :  CANTO CXXX.: THE CONSECRATION ( (Links to an external site.)


TASK 9. Read through the Activities for Virgil’s Aeneid  and Virgil’s Aeneid/Indian Epic Activities. Then select one of these questions to answer for Activity 5, and upload it.  These activities are listed below under the title, Task 9.

After completing Task 9, go on to Unit 3.

Task One:  Homer Study Guide

To-do date: 9 Feb at 23:59



Task One:  Homer Study Guide

TASK 1.  Read the Homer Study Guide, which will give you background information on the Troy Cycle and Homer’s epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.  It is connected to this document.


You may choose to watch the Homer’s Odyssey Video instead. It contains the same information. (Links to an external site.)

Homer and Troy by Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI

Homer is the main reason we still know about the war at Troy. He composed two magnificent epic poems about the Trojan War, the Iliad and the Odyssey, around the eighth century BCE. This was about five hundred years after the war may have taken place. Probably one reason that the Trojan War became so important to later Greeks such as Homer was that they considered the Greek victors their ancestors. Another reason was that the Trojan War, if it occurred, came at the time that the Mycenaean Bronze Age collapsed. Thus, its fall represented, at least in story, the last great victory of the Mycenaean Greeks before the collapse of their civilization. Homer lived in a less glorious age. Although Greeks had colonized Asia Minor after the Trojan War, they were no longer as prosperous (or as piratical) as during the Bronze Age. There still was a town of Troy in Homer’s day, and Homer may have lived in the vicinity, earning his living by telling stories about the glorious past of the Greek conquerors.


Homer was said to be blind, but his vivid images and stories of Troy have survived and thrived for nearly three millennia. Homer’s Troy is a mixture of some fairly accurate details of the Bronze Age, mixed with details from his own time, and bound together by poetic imagination and elegant, swift-moving language. The Iliad and Odyssey have been so frequently praised, criticized, translated, borrowed from, adapted and imitated that a study of Homer and his literary descendants can easily become a study of the history of Western literary culture, from Troy to the twenty-first century. People have continued to read and imitate Homer because he was a wonderful poet.


The Iliad is the poem of Troy; it takes place in the Greek camp, below the walls of Troy, and within the city itself. It is the ninth year of a ten year siege. Achilles, a Greek leader and hero, quarrels with Agamemnon, the high king of the Greek army. They fight over women war-prizes—Chryseis and Briseis. Achilles pushes Agamemnon to return his war-prize woman, Chryseis, to her father, a priest of Apollo, in order to stop plague in the Greek camp. Agamemnon, furious, takes Achilles’ war-prize woman, Briseis, as his compensation. Achilles, even more furious, vows to stop fighting until the Trojan warriors push through the Greek camp up to their ships at the shore. Achilles also gets his goddess mother, Thetis, to petition Zeus to keep the Trojans killing the Greeks until this happens. Zeus agrees and the game is set. Many Greeks are killed, Achilles sulks in his tent, finally Achilles’ best friend Patroclus is killed and then at last Achilles rampages, slaughtering Trojans. Even the gods get into the battle, fighting one another until Zeus declares a stop to the chaos. The poem ends rather peacefully with two funerals, one for Hector, who killed Achilles’ friend Patroclus, and one for Patroclus. Soon Achilles will die; next year Troy will fall.


Clearly, Achilles and Agamemnon are not suitable role models for more civilized societies, and this became a problem for later generations. Even worse, stories of the gods quarreling and even engaging in wild battles, became unacceptable to more pious generations. And Homer’s vision of the relationship of mortals to gods is chilling—to Zeus, human beings are like the poppies of the field, they bloom briefly and die. The gods are rather like spectators betting on a violent football game that gets out of hand until Zeus finally calls an end to it. But Homer’s language, the power of the narrative, and Achilles’ heroic character are unforgettable, and have not only survived, but flourished, carrying memories of Troy into the twenty-first century.


Homer’s Greeks are winners; his Trojans, losers, yet the Trojans and Greeks share many traits, such as the love of warfare, excellence, gold, adventure, trade, women, and horses. In the Iliad, Trojans often seem more civilized than the Greeks. Priam is a better king and father than Agamemnon; Hector a kinder man than Achilles; Andromache a far better wife than Helen. Nonetheless, Homer’s Troy is not Greek. Priam is an oriental ruler who has fifty sons and twelve daughters, some by his wife, Hecuba, and many by his concubines in an oriental harem.


There is something exotic and decadent about Troy. The Trojans are not as politically astute, nor as aggressive, as the Greeks. Paris is a no-brain fop, but the Trojans allow him to act in ways that are disastrous for their city. Helen is pure trouble, yet the Trojans let her stay, even though her presence dooms them. Hector is the finest Trojan warrior, yet in his final test of will against Achilles, Hector breaks and tries to run away. Troy is rich, ancient, past its prime, even effete, an oriental kingdom to admire and plunder.


Even the gods have decided that Troy is ripe to fall. Zeus is ultimately on the side of the Greeks. Elsewhere in the Troy Cycle, there are stories of Priam’s father, King Laomedon, who was mean spirited and politically foolish. He tried to avoid paying his debt to the gods and refused hospitality to Jason and Hercules. Troy, for all its power and elegance, has smudges on its reputation. Excellence, and therefore victory, is clearly on the side of the Greeks.


However, the Trojans must display sufficient excellence to provide glory to their conquerors. And so they do. Indeed, they are good enough to inspire later civilizations to make them into their ancestral heroes. This is a wonderful irony of the Troy stories–the winners become transmuted into losers, the losers into winners, in the great culture wars of later civilizations.

The Story of the Troy Cycle by Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI


There were two Trojan Wars: 1) when Laomedon was king of Troy, and 2) when his son Priam was king of Troy. The first occurred when Jason, Hercules and the Argonauts were seeking the Golden Fleece. They stopped off at Troy for rest and refueling, but King Laomedon refused them hospitality and forced them to leave. Some versions say that Laomedon tried to cheat Hercules out of promised pay for contracted heroic deeds. After successfully completing the Golden Fleece quest, Jason and Hercules gathered an army of Greeks, returned, and destroyed Troy to punish King Laomedon. Priam, Laomedon’s son, survived and rebuilt Troy.


The underlying cause of Homer’s Trojan War is told in the Cypria, of which only fragments remain. The burden of too many human beings disturbed the earth and Zeus conceived of the Trojan War to lower the population and relieve the earth. He did this by allowing Eris (Strife) to attend the wedding banquet of Peleus and Thetis, where Eris stirred up conflict between the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite over who was the most beautiful.


The three goddesses asked Paris, a rather foolish, lady-loving son of King Priam of Troy, to judge which of them was the most beautiful. Each goddess offered her own special bribe. Paris chose Aphrodite’s bribe, possession of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Helen happened to be married to King Menelaus, one of the regional Greek kings, so Paris set off to Greece with a war party, seized her (perhaps with her cooperation), and brought her back to Troy, where they were married.


Menelaus then went to his brother Agamemnon, the High King of the Greeks, and asked for help retrieving his wife from Troy. Agamemnon assembled warriors and ships from all over Greece Divinely controlled unfavorable winds prevented the Greek fleet from sailing for Troy until Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia. The Greek army then besieged Troy for ten years.


During the ninth year of the siege, Achilles, the best of the Greek warriors, and Agamemnon quarreled bitterly over who got to keep Achilles’ woman war-prize, Briseis. Feeling shamefully dishonored, Achilles withdrew his men, the Myrmidons, from the fighting, resulting in the deaths of many Greeks, including Achilles’ dearest friend, Patroclus. Achilles and Agamemnon finally reconciled and Achilles reentered the battle, killing Hector, the greatest Trojan warrior, although Achilles knew that he himself would die shortly after Hector’s death. The story of Achilles’ wrath is told in Homer’s Iliad.


In the tenth year of the siege, the Trojans were deceived by the hollow Trojan Horse (its wooden belly full of soldiers) into letting Greeks inside their walls, and Troy fell. The city was burned, many Trojans slaughtered, and the women and children taken away as slaves.


The victorious Greeks began returning home, some quickly, some less so. Helen returned to Greece and resumed her marriage with Menelaus. We meet them living comfortably together when Odysseus’ son Telemachus visits their palace in the Odyssey. Agamemnon returned to his wife, Clytemnestra, who conspired with her lover, Aegisthus, to trap Agamemnon in a net and kill him. Odysseus was the last Greek warrior to return home from Troy. The Odyssey tells the story of his amazing voyage as well as his victory over the wicked suitors who were camped in his palace, devouring his supplies and intimidating his virtuous wife, Penelope.


There were also stories about Odysseus’ later adventures in the Telegonia, a sequel to the Odyssey composed by Eugammon of Cyrene in the sixth century BC. The Odyssey ends with the implication that Odysseus’ worst troubles are over; not so according to the Telegonia. Odysseus continues his infidelities and wanderings until Telegonus, his son by Circe, kills him.


The Story of the Odyssey, Briefly Retold by Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI


Books 1-4: When Odysseus sailed for Troy, he left behind his clever wife Penelope and his infant son Telemachus. A few years before Odysseus returns, a large group of suitors try to force Penelope to marry one of them by moving into her palace for an endless party devouring the food and drink belonging to Odysseus.


Shortly before Odysseus returns, Athena, disguised as Mentor, shows up on Ithaka and arranges for Telemachus to travel to the mainland seeking word of his father Odysseus. Telemachus hears that Odysseus is alive, but stuck on Kalypso’s island. The suitors try to ambush and kill Telemachus as he returns to Ithaka, but Athena arranges for him to get home safely.


Books 5-8: Meanwhile, Athena has also arranged with Zeus to release Odysseus from Kalypso’s island and allow him to return home. Odysseus leaves the island on a raft, which Poseidon wrecks in a storm as a final act of vengeance because Odysseus blinded his son, the cyclops Polyphemos. Nearly dead with exhaustion, Odysseus washes up on Scheria, land of the Phaiakians, and collapses in a bed of leaves to sleep. In the morning he encounters the princess Nausicaa and her girl friends who (inspired by Athena) have come to the beach to wash their linen. Nausicaa tells Odysseus the way to her parents’ palace, where he is nobly hosted.


Books 9-12:  While feasting at the palace, Odysseus retells the stories of the fall of Troy and his amazing adventures since he left Troy. These are stories from the ancient oral tradition of sailors’ adventures to strange places, often beyond the boundaries of the real world.

Task 2. Read the Odyssey.

TASK 2.  Read the Odyssey at (Links to an external site.)
). This is, by far, the longest reading assignment you will have for this course, but it is a delightful story. Just allow yourself plenty of time. If you find it unbearably long, you may select an activity below and then focus your reading on the section of the Odyssey that deals with that question.

Task 4. Greek Drama Study Guide.


TASK 4Read through the Greek Drama Study Guide listed below in this document under the title, Task 4.  This will guide you as you select and read a Greek Drama. .


You may choose to watch the Greek Drama Video instead. It contains the same information. Home Page. (Links to an external site.)


If you decide to read this play, here is a link to its text under the Read tab: (Links to an external site.)


Task Four:  Greek Drama Study Guide





Greek theatre was something new in its time; it developed out of a mixture of ancient myths, stories and religious rituals, contemporary lyric poetry, the genius of a remarkably few men, and the Greek love of theatrical spectacle.


This theatre developed in some relation to the god Dionysus. Although scholars disagree about just how classical Greek theatre was involved with the religion of Dionysus, they generally agree that the early forms of Greek theatre stem from poems and dances performed for Dionysus, a rather disorderly god of mixed blessings.


Whether we see the fully matured Greek theatre as Dionysian or not, we can certainly look for and see the elements of Dionysus in Greek tragedy and comedy: insanity, violence, intoxication, wildness–these are properties of Dionysus as well as of the theatre that developed in Greece. And we do know that performances of dithyrambs (poems celebrating Dionysus), as well as satyr plays, tragedies and comedies, took place at the festivals of Dionysus in Athens.





Dionysus         god of wine and madness

Dithyramb       (“twice-born”) – dance/poems in honor of Dionysus

Satyrs male worshippers of Dionysus – wore animal skins, horses tails and ears

Maenads          female worshippers of Dionysus – nursed infant male animals; also hunted and ate them raw

Goat  (“tragos”)          the sacred animal of Dionysus


Dionysus was “the god who gave man wine. However, he was known also as the raving god whose presence makes man mad and incites him to savagery and even to lust for blood…he was also the persecuted god, the suffering and dying god, and all whom he loved, all who attended him, had to share his tragic fate.” (W. Otto)


Dionysus had a difficult birth; he was snatched from his mother’s womb and secreted in the thigh of his father, Zeus, until he was ready to be born. Because of this, he was called “Dithyramb” or twice-born. His sacred animal was the goat whose Greek name, “tragos” is included in the word tragedy.




The satyrs joined the maenads in wild dances in honor of Dionysus.


Many scholars, although not all, trace the development of tragedy back to such wild dance rituals worshipping the god Dionysus.


Bieber suggests that “The worshippers of Dionysus danced around the goat, singing the dithyramb; they then sacrificed it, devoured its flesh and made themselves a dress…out of its skin, or they threw it around their shoulders like the maenads. Then they felt themselves to be goats….the maenads and satyrs….were endowed with goat nature through a change of dress, by taking the goatskin as a costume.”


This ecstatic changing into someone else was supposedly the beginning of acting, of playing a character other than oneself.


Not everyone agrees with her and Brian Vickers thinks that whatever was Dionysian in early Greek theatre was gone by the classical period of the fifth century. He also comments that probably the “tragos” goat was the prize for the winning play, not the disguise of the dancers. Whatever the case, these elements were related in some way in the early development of Greek drama.



1. Ecstatic dancing and singing in honor of Dionysus (men dressed as satyrs wearing animal skins, horse’s ears and tails and animal-like masks).

2. Satyr play–the leader of the chorus represented someone other than himself, usually a character from heroic saga, but still wore a satyr mask.

3. The leader of the satyr chorus wore the mask of a god or hero.

4. The leader of the satyr chorus was entirely separated from the chorus as an actor.


Following Bieber, The History of the Greek and Roman Theater



1. Thespis placed a separate actor opposite the leader of the chorus.

2. Spoken dialogue developed between this actor and the leader of the chorus.

3. The subject-matter was taken from heroic saga.

4. The chorus changed into various citizens of the heroic age according to the story of the play.

5. Thespis brought this form of drama, probably by wagon, to Athens in 534 B.C.


Following Bieber, The History of the Greek and Roman Theater



Aeschylus       the second actor (more dialogue); 524-456 BC: a definite actor’s costume; large, dignified masks; magnificently decorated theater

Sophocles        the third actor (still more dialogue); 496-406 BC: scene painting

Euripides         a prologue explaining preceding events; 480-406 BC: the deus ex machina ending


Following Bieber, The History of the Greek and Roman Theater


The theatres themselves were out of doors, with seating built around the slopes surrounding a circular arena. Behind this arena was a skene or backdrop building, which gradually became more elaborate over the years.


A day of theatre would begin in the early morning and include a series of three tragedies, three separate comedies, and perhaps a satyr play.




Greek tragedies are intensely emotional and focus on the horror of murder and violent death, often within the family. The characters are noble, often kings and queens, not ordinary folk. The chorus, representing the society as onlookers, worries and bewails events, but is helpless in the face of the disasters befalling the main characters.


According to Aristotle, such intense emotions on stage make us experience pity and fear, and hence purge us of those emotions. This process of purgation is called catharsis.


There has been enormous controversy over the centuries as to exactly what Aristotle meant by this term, catharsis, but the only issue we need to think about in this context is: do we feel somehow calmer, if not wiser, after experiencing one of these tragedies? If so, that calmness may be called the effect of catharsis. Or does witnessing one of these tragedies in fact upset us and leave us in a more disturbed frame of mind than before we experienced it?


Today we ask whether or not violence in the media is making people more violent, or in fact allowing them to release their tensions vicariously, so that their actual daily lives are calmer. People seem to be inclining to the position that watching violence in fact makes people more violent.


However, it is important to recognize that while Greek drama dealt with emotional violence, it never showed physical violence on stage. Further, the violence it dealt with was witnessed by a sorrowing society in the form of the chorus, and the plays ended with some form of resolution.


These differences are worth thinking about when asking whether the emotional violence of Greek tragedy is in any way like the emotional and physical violence of modern film and television.


Greek tragedies are often family tragedies: Agamemnon, for example, harks back to the sacrifice of a child (Iphigenia), enacts the murder of a spouse (Agamemnon), and looks forward to the murder of a parent (Clytemnestra). This stress on violence within the family is typical of Greek tragedy and stems from the great importance of the family in Greek life. Brian Vickers points out that since “The Greek expected to live on not in an afterworld so much as in this world, in the memory and continuous homage of his descendants….the most serious crimes for the Greeks were those which struck against the very basis of family existence: parricide, matricide, all `shedding of kindred blood’, and incest” because such crimes interfered with the continuity of the family.(110-14)




After Homer, Greek attitudes towards the Trojan War and its heroes changed. The individualistic behavior and violence of Homeric heroes such as Achilles and Odysseus became less acceptable in civilized fifth century Athens. The wild violence of heroic age women such as Clytemnestra, already a problem in Homer, became even more unacceptable. Yet, the stories remained popular. A number of plays surviving from fifth century Athens are based on Trojan War material. They include:

Aeschylus       Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides

Sophocles        Ajax, Electra, Philoctetes

Euripides         Hecuba, Andromache, The Trojan Women, Iphigenia in Tauris, Helen, Electra, Orestes, Iphigenia at Aulis


Most of these plays are concerned with events before and after the war, rather than with the war itself, and a surprising number center on women, many suffering, some evil, rather than on the ancient heroes.


Greek legends about the heroes and heroines of the Trojan Cycle were plentiful and varied; different stories about the same event or character might even contradict one another, especially in the details. For example, in one version of the legend of Iphigenia, she is sacrificed by her father Agamemnon at Aulis so that Artemis will allow favorable winds for the Greek fleet to sail to Troy. This sacrifice is used in the Agamemnon as a motive for Clytemnestra’s murder of her husband.


In an alternate version of the legend, Iphigenia is saved at the moment of sacrifice by Artemis, who snatches Iphigenia away to Tauris and replaces her on the altar with a sacrificial deer. Euripides wrote two melodramatic plays about this happier variant, Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia in Tauris. Consequently, although the stories used for Greek dramas were often based on stories about the Trojan War, the treatment of the stories was up to the individual dramatist. The legends of Troy were there for the taking, available to be made into plays that met the needs and interests of Athen’s rapidly changing civilization.




The Oresteia by Aeschylus consists of three plays:

Agamemnon   Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus, kill Agamemnon when he returns home from the Trojan War.

The Libation Bearers Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, kills Clytemnestra, his own mother, to avenge her murder of Agamemnon.

The Avenging Furies OR Kindly Spirits        Orestes now must deal with the consequences of his murder of his mother and, with divine help, appease the furies who exact vengeance for matricide.



Agamemnon   King of Mycenae; husband of Clytemnestra; father of Electra, Iphigenia and Orestes; sacrificed Iphigenia; murdered by Clytemnestra

Aegisthus        lover of Clytemnestra; cousin of Agamemnon

Apollo             god of purification

Athena            patron of Athens; established Court of Aeropagus which voted to set Orestes free from blood guilt for killing his mother

Cassandra        daughter of Priam; war-prize of Agamemnon; speaks truth and is not believed; murdered by Clytemnestra

Clytemnestra   wife of Agamemnon; sister of Helen; mother of Electra, Iphigenia and Orestes; lover of Aegisthus; murders Agamemnon and Cassandra

Furies ancient demonic goddesses that uphold blood rights, especially those of motherhood

Iphigenia         daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra; sacrificed by Agamemnon to receive favorable winds to sail to Troy

Orestes            son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra; brother of Iphigenia; murders Clytemnestra; driven mad by Furies; cleansed by Apollo; set free by Court of Aeropagus




The Oresteia tells the story of the resolution of an ancient myth-family tragedy, the blood guilt of the House of Atreus. This conflict started with the two sons of Pelops, Atreus and Thyestes, quarreling over the kingship of Mycenae. Atreus became king and banished his brother Thyestes. However, when Atreus discovered that Thyestes had secretly committed adultery with Atreus’ wife Aerope, he hid his rage, inviting Thyestes to return home for a banquet. Atreus murdered two of Thyestes’ children and then served their bodies as meat to Thyestes at the banquet. After Thyestes had eaten, Atreus displayed their bloody heads, hands and feet on another dish. Thyestes vomited and cursed the seed of Atreus. Agamemnon and Menelaus are the sons of Atreus.


The curse worked itself out through:


    Agamemnon, who sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia

    Clytemnestra, who murdered her husband Agamemnon

    Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, who murdered his mother, Clytemnestra.


The Furies pursue and torment Orestes because he avenged one crime with another more forbidden crime. The Furies are the mythic enforcerers of ancient blood vengeance law, for whom the greatest crime is matricide, since the closest blood tie was between mother and child.


Orestes, seeking purification from his guilt, petitions Apollo, who advises Orestes to seek help from Athena. She sympathizes with Orestes, because she was not born of a woman herself, but sprang from her father Zeus’ head. Athena arranges a trial, using Athenian citizens as jurors to weigh the claims of mother blood guilt versus Clytemnestra’s crime killing her husband. The Furies agree to abide by the decision of the jury. They put forth their claims of the primary right of the mother.


However, Apollo asserts that the mother is simply a passive vessel, so that the child is really connected by blood to the father alone. This would mean that matricide is not a blood guilt crime at all! His arguments only persuade half the jury, which gives a tie vote. However, the tie frees Orestes, ending his blood guilt. Athena then placates the Furies, persuading them to become the Kindly Ladies, benevolent powerful spirits of the city of Athens, tucked underground, safely out of sight.




Early Greek tragedy can be difficult for a modern audience to appreciate. Practically nothing happens in Agamemnon except an offstage murder of a man we have just met by a woman we don’t like.


Because Greek dramas developed originally out of the lyric satyr choruses, they have large sections of lyric poetry (the choruses) interspersed with sections of dialogue. Agamemnon’s lyric sections are especially long. They are supposed to be especially beautiful in the original Greek; unfortunately, the translations I’ve read have not been particularly attractive. Frankly, as a modern reader, I wish the choruses of this play were shorter and the dialogue longer. If you have a chance to see a film or play of Agamemnon, do so; It can be more accessible with real actors than as a text.




Agamemnon is the first of three plays which display the unending and terrible consequences of a private blood feud which continues from one generation to the next until it is finally stopped by instituting a public legal process to replace private revenge.


Agamemnon focuses on Clytemnestra’s murder of Agamemnon. She wants vengeance because Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia at Aulis ten years earlier in order to placate the goddess Artemis. This goddess had been sending contrary winds to prevent the Greek Armies from sailing to Troy. It is easy for us to be horrified at what Agamemnon did and want to excuse Clytemnestra, but the play offers no excuses for her–she is presented as thoroughly dislikeable, wicked, and dangerous.


The play starts at night with a watchman awaiting a fire signal passed from hill top to hill top to indicate that the Trojan War has ended. Clytemnestra has arranged for these fires which cross many miles between Troy and Greece. She is a clever woman as well as a dangerous one, and even worse, she has the heart of a man in her woman’s breast, as the watchman tells us at the very start.


There is not much action in Agamemnon; the first half of the play is spent anxiously awaiting the arrival of Agamemnon. Here, the real action begins, centered on an argument between Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra which displays Agamemnon’s conceited pride and Clytemnestra’s treachery. She wants him to walk into the palace on a valuable blood-red tapestry; he objects that this would be an act of excessive pride. Their argument, which is the only time we see them together in the play, reveals each of their characters.


Philip Harsh remarks that “the essential weakness of [Agamemnon’s]…character is only too apparent in this clash with the strong-willed Clytemnestra…. In attempting to make Agamemnon accept her base flattery and walk upon the blood-red tapestry, Clytemnestra is attempting to cause him to commit an act of insolence …which will evoke the disgust and hatred of men and the vengeance of the gods.” (69)


Agamemnon surrenders to his wife and, walking on the blood-red tapestry, enters the palace, shortly to die. Now the most intense scene of the play occurs, the raving prophecy of the prophetess Cassandra outside the palace, predicting murder most foul, while Clytemnestra, with help from her lover Aegisthus prepares to murder Agamemnon within. Agamemnon’s death cries follow and the play is essentially over. Agamemnon has been murdered, but there will be more murder to avenge his death. Murder is not able to solve the problems of this cursed household; indeed that is the whole point of the trilogy. Murder only begets murder; setting up a court of law is the only way to stop the series of bloody feuds. This is a message about the need for civilization, but it is not yet made in Agamemnon, so we are left with only darkness and death. For this reason, the three plays of this trilogy should be read as a set; Agamemnon is really only the first act of a three act play.




Modern audiences appreciate this play, but the more we think about it, the more troublesome it becomes. Oedipus Rex is difficult for us to cope with, because we believe so deeply today in the idea of freewill and the potential for both human and divine justice. But these concepts are not particularly relevant to Sophocles’ play about a man who was born fated to kill his father and marry his mother. Everything that matters has already happened before the play begins.




Before Oedipus was even conceived, the oracle of Apollo prophesied that Oedipus would kill his father Laius and marry his mother Jocasta, who were the king and queen of Thebes.


This dire warning led Jocasta to give the infant Oedipus to a shepherd to expose to wild animals in the hills. The shepherd felt pity and gave the infant to another shepherd who took him to a distant city where Oedipus was adopted by the childless king and queen and raised as their son.


Growing to adulthood, Oedipus heard a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Horrified, he left the city to prevent these awful events from occurring.


On his travels, he met a carriage and several men at a crossroad. The man in charge was rude and threatening and Oedipus killed him, not knowing the man was his real father, Laius.


Oedipus then encountered the Sphinx and answered her riddle; this won him the reward of marrying Jocasta, Queen of Thebes.


The play opens many years after these events. Thebes is being devastated by plague, sent by Apollo because there is pollution in the city. King Oedipus is determined to find out the source of the pollution and drive it out of the city in order to stop the plague. The play focuses on Oedipus’ urgent drive to know the truth. Being an impetuous man as well as a powerful king, Oedipus is rude and hostile toward anyone who seems to interfere with his search, especially the seer Tiresias who knows the truth but does not want to tell it to Oedipus.


The terrible irony of this play is that Oedipus himself turns out to be the source of pollution, the cause of the plague, the murderer of his father and the husband of his mother. He finally discovers the truth, and knowing it destroys his life as king of Thebes.


Oedipus responds to this terrible knowledge by blinding himself and at the end of the play he is prepared to leave Thebes and wander in the wilderness, knowing himself and knowing that his entire life was spent fulfilling his fated destiny.




We must be careful not to blame Oedipus for what he did, nor to think of his final exile as punishment. As Rohde points out, the stain of pollution “is not `within the heart of man’. It clings to a man as something hostile, and from without, and that can be spread from him to others like an infectious disease. Hence, the purification is effected by religious processes directed to the external removal of the evil thing.” Oedipus must leave Thebes, but that does not mean he is guilty, merely that he is polluted and a source of disease for the city.


Pollution is a fascinating index of a true difference between our contemporary culture and that of classical Greece. Our system of morality and justice is based firmly on the idea that each sane person is or can be responsible for his or her own actions, and that those actions can be “paid” for. E.g., a robber can pay for his crime by going to jail. We simply cannot accept the notion that a person could carry a moral disease like a virus without being personally responsible for it, and that this moral disease could sicken others just as physical viruses carry the flu from one “innocent” person to the next. The only exception we generally make is for insanity, which is why some people tried for crimes plead “insanity” to explain that they were NOT responsible. However, Oedipus is absolutely sane; there is no question here of insanity. It is useful to notice where other times and places are genuinely different from ours and pollution is a good example of such a genuine difference.




Medea is a revenge tragedy about a woman who murders her own children to punish her ex-husband. This is a difficult situation for us to identify with, yet Medea is an easy play to read and relate to because of the powerful psychological presentation of the mad, murderous, yet grieving mother.


Medea is a powerful, dangerous witch. After committing various criminal acts including several murders to help her lover, Jason, Medea has fled into exile with him to Corinth. Here Jason deserts her and marries the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth.




The actual play starts at this time. It begins with the Nurse worried about Medea’s children; she evidently knows Medea well and fears for their lives. Creon, the King of Corinth and father of Jason’s new bride intends to drive Medea and her children by Jason out of the city into exile. Medea pleads with Creon for one day’s time before she leaves.


Next comes a really disgusting scene in which Jason, an unbelievably smooth and egotistical rat, says that if Medea had only behaved nicely, she could have stayed in Corinth. He further claims to have married the princess in order to consolidate the position of his and Medea’s children. Medea doesn’t buy that lame excuse.


Medea schemes to prepare her revenge on Jason. First, she arranges for her own safety by promising the childless King Aegeus of Athens that if he gives her refuge she will enable him to have children.


Next, Medea sends her own children to Jason’s new bride, carrying rich gifts of a robe and tiara, supposedly to soften the princess’ heart so that she and her father will let Medea’s children stay in Corinth, even though Medea must leave. But the gifts are in fact poisoned, and when the princess puts them on, not only does she die, but her father embraces her and he too dies from the poison.


Finally, Medea leaves Corinth in a dragon wagon, taking the bodies of the two dead children so that Jason won’t even have the satisfaction of burying them. Not only is this her ultimate touch of revenge, but it is a good example of a deus ex machina ending. Medea’s actions had made so much trouble that there was no way she could escape by natural means, so Euripides provided her a wagon pulled by a dragon.


Euripides makes Medea strangely sympathetic in her murderous sufferings. She loves her children and yet she is finally willing to kill them in order to complete her total revenge against their father.


The most disturbing aspect of this play to modern readers is that Medea gets away with murdering her own children as well as Jason’s new wife and her father. This was certainly disturbing to  playgoers of Euripides’ time, too, but they would have been more able to understand the outcome, because Medea was related to the sun god and such creatures did not have to operate strictly in terms of human morality. Niobe is an example of what the Greek gods did to human beings when offended. Niobe was a proud mother of many children and she bragged that she had more children than the goddess Leto, whose only two children were Apollo and Artemis. Leto was offended. To soothe their mother, Apollo and Artemis killed all of Niobe’s children.


Morality is for human beings; the gods are always potentially dangerous to impious, unwary, and even totally innocent humans (e.g. the unborn Oedipus). Although the gods, at times, seem to have ideas of right and wrong, these ideas may be quite different from human ideas of right and wrong.




Old Comedy was the form of comedy written and presented in the fifth century B.C. in Greece. It is quite different from later kinds of Greek Comedy.



1. Main character conceives an absurd happy idea (e.g. no sex in Lysistrata)

2. Violent opposition to happy idea

3. Happy idea conquers opposition in a debate

4. Test of happy idea in practice

5. A series of scenes between the main character and various figures who have been affected

6. A satisfactory climax including a party


Following Harsh, A Handbook of Classical Drama, 258-259




Lysistrata is set in contemporary Athens during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. This war eventually destroyed the Athenian democracy. The title character, Lysistrata reveals her happy idea of a sex strike to force the men to stop fighting and make peace. She convinces the other women that this is a good idea and the women seize the Acropolis, where the money for the war effort was kept.


Then two half-choruses enter, one of old women and one of old men. Their clash represents the dramatic clash of the entire play.


Next, the Magistrate tries to get the women to behave. He is a typical pompous Athenian male. After he is thoroughly humiliated, Lysistrata chastises the Athenians for their destructive warlike behavior which is destroying both Athens and Sparta. Then the two choruses clash again providing low comic contrast to Lysistrata’s serious advice.


A few days pass and then Lysistrata announces that the women are undermining her revolt. The two half-choruses express their hatred of one another. The men are getting pretty horny by now, and we have the wonderful scene of Cinesias begging his wife Myrrhina for sex, while she teases and refuses him and he finally leaves.


The Spartan Herald arrives and announces that the Spartan men are in the same fix as the Athenian men, and finally a meeting and truce is arranged. Lysistrata makes a moving appeal for pan-hellenism, reminding each side of the debt they owe to the other. Naturally, all ends with a banquet, singing and dancing.




Lysistrata: organizes a revolt of women against men

Clytemnestra: takes a lover while her husband is at Troy; murders her husband when he returns home


Medea: a witch; murders many people, including her own children; gets away with it all

Jocasta: tries to have her infant son killed; marries her unrecognized adult son; kills herself


The plays Lysistrata and Agamemnon both make much of role reversal: in both plays women seizing power act as men. In the case of Lysistrata, it is all very amusing, but in the case of Clytemnestra it is the deadliest of dangers, as we saw earlier in the Odyssey, where Clytemnestra’s murder of Agamemnon was a constant warning to Odysseus of what can happen to a homecoming soldier if he can’t trust his wife.


The actual role of women in classical Greece was extremely limited, especially in Athens where women were not even allowed out of the house to go marketing. They were tightly controlled to insure that the male head of the family had male heirs which were truly his own. Beyond this, women were not much valued. Certainly they did not behave like the women in these plays. It is fascinating to wonder why a culture that so-controlled its women would write plays about such powerful and disturbing women…was it memories of being an infant dependent upon a woman, or was it memories of an earlier time when women had had a more active role in the society?


At any rate, Medea is a powerful, dangerous witch woman. And one cannot feel good about Jocasta although her troubles were largely beyond her control. One gets the feeling that classical Greek playwrights were not comfortable with powerful women. None of these women are in any way normal, and are as much monsters as female in the way they are presented. Lysistrata is an amusing monster; Jocasta a disturbing one; Clytemnestra and Medea intensely dangerous.




This play is wonderfully controversial. Oedipus Rex is probably the single best document we have for thinking and arguing about ideas of fate and freedom in classical Greece. I have selected just a few comments by contemporary scholars to give a sense of the ideas this play stirs up.


“There is no suggestion in the Oedipus Rex that Laius sinned or that Oedipus was the victim of an hereditary curse, and the critic must not assume what the poet has abstained from suggesting….we think of two clear-cut alternative views–either we believe in free will or else we are determinists. But fifth-century Greeks did not think in these terms….” (Dodds 40)


“From Homer to Aristotle both poets and philosophers tended to ask not `was he free?’ as we might do, but `is he responsible …?’…the ancient question, is answered in the affirmative if it can be shown that the men involved acted according to their characters…” (Gould 52)


“Sophocles has provided a conclusive answer to those who suggest that Oedipus could, and therefore should, have avoided his fate. The oracle was unconditional (l. 790): it did not say “If you do so-and-so you will kill your father”; it simply said “You will kill your father, you will sleep with your mother.” And what an oracle predicts is bound to happen.” (Dodds 39)


Oedipus’ “lack of freedom in the past needs to be emphasized since it is the assurance of his innocence in the present. Had he had the faintest suspicion of his true identity and relationship to Laius and Jocasta then he would indeed be an `inhuman monster'”. (Vickers 499)




        Agamemnon in Agamemnon


        Oedipus in Oedipus Rex


        Jason in Medea


Greek kings were pretty arrogant by modern standards and this was ok under most circumstances. Be careful not to impose our ideas of a nice guy on them. However, Agamemnon was perhaps a little too haughty for his own good, and gets in trouble in the Iliad because of his hot temper and pride which incite him to quarrel with Achilles. This pride is important in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon too. As Philip Harsh points out:


    “The pride of Agamemnon…is…spectacularly symbolized by Agamemnon’s triumphant entrance in his chariot with followers and fanfare. He is …too proud of his utter destruction of Troy. His conceit entirely prevents him from properly understanding the veiled warnings of the chorus. From his haughty and contemptuous response to Clytemnestra’s hypocrisy, it is obvious that he despises her; but…he pathetically underestimates his adversary. ” (69)


Oedipus too is arrogant, but there is no doubt in the play that he has been a good king and is sincere in his attempts to root out the source of plague that is harming his country. And once Oedipus discovers the terrible truth about his life, his arrogance totally disappears. It would be interesting to compare the characters of Oedipus and Agamemnon to distinguish between two kinds of kingly pride, one excessive even in fifth century Greece.


As for Jason, he is a self-seeking, egocentric rat and deserves to die, but of course it is not Jason, but his children, who are killed. His smarmy speeches to Medea explaining why he “had” to marry the king’s daughter to protect his and Medea’s children are masterpieces of disgusting rationalization that would be perfectly at home in a modern context. Jason could be a villain on a daytime TV show.












Cassandra and Medea are both female, foreign, monstrous, and closely connected to things sacred. Cassandra has troubles because she deceived Apollo; her punishment is to prophesy truly while no one believes her, which she does while Agamemnon is about to be murdered. She uses her supernatural gift “to draw again and again the connection between crime and retribution, linking past, present and future in the house of Atreus.” (Vickers 374) The chorus just listens to her and goes oh woe and such but nobody takes a step to help Agamemnon or to keep Cassandra from going into the palace to be herself murdered.


Medea, on the other hand, gets away with everything, because she is descended from the sun god. Indeed, “one of the chief difficulties which Euripides faced in writing this play was in the humanization of Medea, for the Medea of popular legend was both the most famous witch of antiquity and the cold perpetrator of barbaric murders.” (Harsh 177) For all this, Euripides transforms the mythical witch into a passionate woman who can weep bitterly while she murders her own children.


Oedipus is also foreign and monstrous. He becomes a sacred monster, especially after he blinds himself and prepares to leave the city as a wanderer. In a later play by Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, we are told that Oedipus’ final death was a sacred event bringing blessings on the place where he died.


Tiresias is an interesting character; he is the seer who gives Odysseus good advice in the underworld about how to get home safely. Tiresias lived part of his life as a man; part as a woman. He was ancient, wise, a sacred monster. In Oedipus Rex, Tiresias is still alive, blind, yet able to see the truth, something Oedipus cannot do until after he loses his physical eyes. Much of the irony of the play lies in the contrast between the physically blind who can see and the mentally blind who cannot see even though their eyes function perfectly.


Indeed, the development of Greek drama out of the rituals of Dionysus suggests much of the foreign and monstrous inherent in the very fabric of the early dramatic ritual. Dionysus was known as the god who came from elsewhere, forcing his way into Greece, overcoming resistance, driving people mad who refused to worship him. This is described at length in The Bacchae by Euripides. Dionysus’ powerful ritual mixture of ecstasy and suffering, dance, song, wine and death, is eminently suitable for the god of Greek tragedy, a theatre of intense, complex emotion, great suffering and final calm.




Margarete Bieber. The History of the Greek and Roman Theater.


E.R. Dodds. “On Misunderstanding the Oedipus Rex.” In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Ed. by Harold Bloom.


Thomas Gould. “The Innocence of Oedipus: The Philosophers on Oedipus the King.” In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Ed. by Harold Bloom.


Philip Whaley Harsh. A Handbook of Classical Drama.


Walter F. Otto. Dionysus: Myth and Cult.


Erwin Rohde. Psyche: The Cult of Souls and Belief in Immortality among the Greeks.


Brian Vickers. Towards Greek Tragedy: Drama, Myth, Society.

Task 5. Select and read a Greek Drama.

TASK 5. Select and read a Greek Drama. The choices are: Agamemnon by Aeschylus, Oedipus the King by Sophocles, Antigone by Sophocles, Medea by Euripedes or Lysistrata by Aristophanes.


Option: You may access free etexts of these epics: Agamemnon, Oedipus the King, Antigone, and Medea at The Internet Classics Archive: (Links to an external site.)

You will have to select the name of the author, choose the play title, and then the script will come up.


Lysistrata by Aristophanes will be found at the Gutenberg Press: (Links to an external site.)

Task 7. Virgil Study Guide.

TASK 7. Read through the Virgil’s Aeneid Study Guide located below in this document under the title Task 7. This will give you background information on Virgil’s Roman civilization and his epic poetry.

You may choose to watch the Virgil’s Aeneid Video instead. It contains the same information. (Links to an external site.)



Virgil Study Guide (Task Seven) (Links to an external site.)

(Course created by Dr.  Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI)


VIRGIL’S LIFE — (70-19 BC) — A First Century Roman Citizen


Not much is known about Virgil’s life. He was born in 70 BC and raised in a rural area near Mantua, Italy; he was well educated; his family farm was seized as a political spoil. From his thirty-first year on, Virgil lived either in Rome or near Naples, associated with his patron, Maecenas, Octavian’s minister of internal affairs. Virgil was a court poet, whose well-being depended on pleasing powerful members of the ruling class. He evidently did this quite well, since Maecenas and other wealthy patrons supported him financially, allowing him to spend his life writing poetry.




A brief example of Virgil’s Latin from the opening sentence of the Aeneid shows how the words are arranged more like a mosaic than in the linear fashion we are used to nowadays:


    Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris




    Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque venit








Or, in normal English word order:


    Arms I sing and the man who first from the coasts of Troy, exiled by fate, came to Italy and Lavinian shores.


In the Latin original, each word has a meaning that may not become clear until several more words have been read. This is an elegant, complex, literary language that does not end itself to translation.


The Main Characters in the Aeneid are grouped below into five categories: Roman Deities; Greeks; Trojans; Tyrians; and Others

ROMAN DEITIES IN THE AENEID (and their Greek parallels, if any)

Allecto            a Fury who instills the poison of irrational rage into her victims, especially Amata and Turnus

Apollo             (same name in Greek) sun god; son of Jupiter and Latona; the god of prophecy; brother of Diana

Cupid (Eros) son of Venus

Diana (Artemis) goddess of the moon, the hunt and the woods; daughter of Jupiter and Latona; sister of Apollo

Iris       rainbow goddess; Juno’s messenger

Juno    (Hera) wife and sister of Jupiter; daughter of Saturn; god of marriage; chief goddess of Carthage; hates Trojans because of Judgment of Paris

Jupiter (Zeus) chief deity; husband and brother of Juno; son of Saturn

Lares   household, hearth-centered, ancestral gods, which Aeneas brings along with the Penates from Troy to Italy; these, along with the Penates, are small enough for Anchises to carry while Aeneas carries him

Penates            household gods or gods of the state; Aeneas brings the Trojan state gods with him from Troy to Italy

Mars    (Ares) god of war; son of Jupiter

Mercury          (Hermes) messenger

Minerva          (Athena)-goddess of wisdom, battle and household arts such as weaving

Neptune          (Poseidon) god of the sea; brother of Jupiter; helped build the walls of Troy, but King Laomedon, Priam’s father, refused to pay him, so he became an enemy of Troy

Saturn (Chronos) previous chief god; father of Jupiter, who deposed him

Venus (Aphrodite) mother of Aeneas and of Cupid; goddess of love; she constantly worries about her son Aeneas, despite Jupiter’s assurances that he will be fine

Vulcan            (Hephaestus) husband of Venus, god of the forge and fire



Pyrrhus            son of Achilles, also named Neoptolemus; during the destruction of Troy, he killed a son of Priam and Hecuba in front of their eyes, and then killed Priam at his own altar; he also captured their daughter Andromache, Hector’s widow, as his concubine

Sinon   a deceitful Greek who pretended to flee from the Greeks to the Trojans, told lying tales about the Trojan Horse and how, if it were taken into Troy, Troy could not be taken; he then released the soldiers from inside the Trojan Horse to destroy Troy

Ulysses            (Odysseus)- the treacherous fellow who devised the Trojan Horse that destroyed Troy; a brilliant, cruel, self-seeking manipulator



Aeneas            Trojan prince, son of Venus and Anchises, father of Ascanius, lover of Dido, ancestor of the Roman people

Anchises         Aeneas’ father; carried by Aeneas from fallen Troy

Andromache   widow of Hector, captured at fall of Troy by Pyrrhus; eventually married Helenus

Ascanius         (also Iulus) son of Aeneas and Creusa

Camilla           female warrior, ally of Turnus in Latium

Creusa             Aeneas’ wife who dies during the flight out of Troy

Euryalus          Trojan warrior; friend of Nisus; killed during a brave sortie with Nisus after killing many Latin enemies; Nisus and Euryalus became a model of loyal, brave friendship

Hecuba            queen of Troy, wife of Priam

Helenus           a son of Priam; a prophet; eventually married the widowed Andromache and became king in Epirus

Laocoon          Trojan priest; tried to warn the Trojans about the Trojan horse by thrusting a spear against it; killed by serpents

Nisus   Trojan warrior; friend of Euryalus; killed during a brave sortie with Euryalus after killing many Latin enemies

Priam king of Troy; killed by Pyrrhus

Polydorus        Trojan who was treacherously killed by the king of Thrace; buried under a bush which bled when Aeneas tried to tear off a branch; his ghost warns Aeneas to flee from Thrace



Anna   Dido’s sister; encouraged Dido in her affair with Aeneas

Dido    queen and founder of Carthage, widow of Sychaeus; falls in love with Aeneas; kills herself when he leaves; also called Elissa

Sychaeus         Dido’s dead first husband; they are reunited in the Underworld



Amata queen of Latium; wife of Latinus; mother of Lavinia; wanted Turnus to marry Lavinia

Evander           a good Greek; Aeneas’ ally; founder of Pallanteum; father of Pallas

Latinus            king of Latium, husband of Amata, father of Lavinia

Lavinia            daughter of Amata and Latinus; loved by Turnus; destined to be Aeneas’ wife to join the two warring peoples (Trojans and Latins) in peace

Pallas young warrior, son of Evander, ally of Aeneas, killed by Turnus

Sibyl    Apollo’s priestess; guides Aeneas into the Underworld where he meets his dead father and learns the future of the Roman race

Turnus             king of the Rutulians; heads opposition to Aeneas in Italy; wants to marry Lavinia; kills Pallas; killed by Aeneas




Virgil deliberately patterned the Aeneid on the Odyssey and the Iliad. The first half of the Aeneid (books 1-6) adapts the plot of the Odyssey: the fall of Troy, hostile gods, lengthy wandering, woman troubles, the underworld, seeking home. The second half (books 7-12) mirrors the wrath and warfare of the Iliad.


    Book 1: Aeneas, a prince of Troy is struggling to find his ancestral homeland, but Juno opposes him. She hates the Trojans because of the Judgment of Paris, which insulted her beauty, the theft of Helen, which violated Juno’s position as the goddess of marriage, and the future fall of Carthage, her favorite city. After seven years of confused wandering, Aeneas has gotten near his goal of Italy, but Juno interferes. She arranges for a storm to drive him toward North Africa and Carthage. Dido, founder and queen of Carthage welcomes Aeneas and his companions. Although Jupiter assures Venus that her son Aeneas will prevail and found the Latin race in Italy, Venus is a worrier, so she sends Cupid to poison Dido with love for Aeneas, so she will not harm him.


    Book 2: Dido is gracious to Aeneas and his companions and interested in the story of the fall of Troy. Aeneas tells her how the Greeks created the deception of the Trojan Horse and how the gods confused the Trojans when a priest, Laocoon, struck the Trojan Horse with his staff and was promptly devoured by serpents. A treacherous Greek, Sinon, released the Greeks from the Horse, now inside the city of Troy, and the slaughter began. Aeneas relates the final battle, and his furious fighting until his mother Venus revealed to him that the gods themselves were destroying Troy and instructed him to leave Troy with his father (Anchises), son (Ascanius) and the household gods of his family and of Troy. While fleeing Troy, Creusa, Aeneas’ wife was parted from them and killed.


    Book 3: Aeneas tells Dido how his band of Trojans searched for a new Troy. First they went to Thrace where they encountered the Trojan Polydorus in the form of a bleeding bush that warns them of treachery. They perform funeral rites for Polydorus and quickly leave Thrace. Next they travel to an island where a prophetic voice advises them to “seek out your ancient mother.” However, they don’t know for sure where that is. Anchises thinks it’s Crete, where they try to found a city, but soon they start dying of pestilence.


    The household gods appear to Aeneas to tell him that Italy is their true ancient mother. Then they encounter the horrid Harpies in the Strophades. Caelano, a Harpy prophetess of sorts, warns them that when they get to Italy, they’ll be so hungry they’ll eat their plates. Next they land at Actium in N.W. Greece, where they hold Trojan Games. After this, they sail to Buthrotrum, where the Trojan Helenus, Apollo’s priest, directs them to Italy, but first Aeneas must go to the Cumaean Sybil and the Underworld. They safely pass through the Sicilian Ulyssesland: Cyclop’s island, Skylla and Charybdis. But before they can reach their goal of Italy, Anchises dies and then the storm, concocted by Juno, drives them to Africa. So here they are in Carthage.


    Book 4: The Dido Affair. Dido had been married to a Tyrian, Sychaeus, who was treacherously killed by her brother. Dido fled Tyre with a band of followers and came to North Africa, where she acquired land to found the city of Carthage. Poisoned by Cupid, Dido fell madly in love with Aeneas, which conflicted with her vow to her dead husband Sychaeus to remain faithful to him. Juno and Venus cooperate, each thinking to further her own cause. Juno wants to keep Aeneas from founding Rome, which will eventually conquer Carthage; Venus wants to keep her son safe from Dido’s potential treachery. So, Juno and Venus set up the “marriage.” Dido and Aeneas are out hunting, there is a storm, they seek refuge in a cave. Here they mate, while Juno sets off lightning and nymphs cry out. Dido calls it marriage; Aeneas does not.


    The lovers are negligent of their duties; Dido ceases working on her city; Aeneas forgets his destiny. Finally, Jupiter sends Mercury to chide Aeneas about his neglected duty to his son and their future descendants in Italy. Immediately dutiful to the will of the gods and Destiny, Aeneas secretly arranges his departure. When Dido discovers that he is leaving, she begs him to stay. He cannot, will not, so she raves and rages, curses the Trojans and kills herself on a pyre heaped with Aeneas’ belongings and items of witchcraft. Meanwhile, Aeneas and the other Trojans are in their boats sailing away.


    Book 5: This book is the prelude to the world of the dead. First, Aeneas goes back to Sicily where he arranges Memorial Games for Anchises, who has been dead for a year. Here, Aeneas displays his skills as a leader, carrying out rituals, presiding at the games, encouraging his men, restraining anger, preventing injuries. Meanwhile, Juno has been biding her time. She sends her messenger, Iris, to inflame the Trojan women with fury, encouraging them to burn the Trojan ships so they will not have to travel any further. A torrential rain saves all but four of the ships. Aeneas leaves the reluctant behind; the remaining Trojans continue on toward Italy and the underworld


    Book 6: The Cumaean Sibyl gives prophecies about Aeneas’ future in Italy and leads Aeneas into the underworld. Unlike Homer’s dim and wretched Hades, Virgil’s Hades is a place of remediation and rebirth, where the lifetime deeds of the dead are examined and judged. They are chastised, as need be, punished and purged until they are purified. Then these cleansed souls can wander happily in Elysium, the groves of blessedness, until after a thousand years it is time to be reborn. Aeneas meets the shade of his father Anchises in Elysium, where Anchises tells him about the World Soul and rebirth, and shows Aeneas a procession of his descendants over twelve centuries, culminating in Augustus. Aeneas now knows his Destiny–to found the Roman people.


The second half of the Aeneid, Books 7-12, tells the story of the escalating wrath inspired by Juno that forces Aeneas to go to war in Italy.


    Book 7: Aeneas finally arrives in Latium, where he is welcomed by King Latinus, whose only child is Lavinia. A powerful neighbor, Turnus, King of the Rutulians, wants to marry Lavinia, but omens and oracles have foretold that a stranger would become her husband, so Latinus is willing to marry his daughter Lavinia to Aeneas. Juno is not ready to give up her struggle against Destiny, although she knows she cannot win. She fetches the Fury Allecto from the underworld and urges her to stir the Latins into frenzy. Allecto instills poisonous rage into Amata, Lavinia’s mother and into Turnus, Lavinia’s suitor. Then she sets up Ascanius (Iulus) to shoot a pet deer belonging to Sylvia, a local peasant girl; Allecto blows her hellish horn, stimulating the local farmers to attack the Trojans. Latinus tries to avoid the conflict, but Juno opens gates of war. Lines of alliance are drawn and the troops start to gather.


    Book 8: Aeneas travels to the king of the Arcadians, Evander, seeking alliance. Evander welcomes him, introduces him to the ancient rural piety of the region, and offers Aeneas troops led by his own son Pallas. Meanwhile, Venus persuades her husband Vulcan to make new armor for Aeneas. The shield portrays critical moments when Rome was saved. At the center of the shield is the Battle of Actium. As in the underworld, where the procession of descendants leads from Aeneas to Octavian, the shield connects the beginning of Roman history in Aeneas to its culmination in Octavian’s decisive battle at Actium that finalized the Augustan peace.


    Book 9: Here, the battle goes on at Trojan Camp; Aeneas has not yet returned from seeking alliances. Two best friends, Nisus and Euryalus, foray into the sleeping enemy camp and slaughter many before being killed themselves. Ascanius gets his first real taste of battle and kills his first man, Numanus. Turnus gets into the Trojan stockade and rages furiously, slaughtering men. Finally the Trojans rally and Turnus, exhausted, jumps into the river and escapes.


    Book 10: Jupiter wants peace, but Juno and Venus are still bickering, so he lets the battle continue, since “the Fates will find their way.” Finally Aeneas returns with numerous allies. Turnus and Aeneas both rage in battle. Pallas fights bravely, but is finally killed by Turnus, who strips off Pallas’ heavy decorated belt as a trophy. Juno recognizes by now that it’s about over, but begs Jupiter to let her spare Turnus’ life for a little while. He agrees and Juno fashions a phantom resembling Aeneas which lures Turnus out of the battle onto a ship which then drifts away carrying the bewildered Turnus to safety while the battle continues without him.


    Book 11: Aeneas learns that Pallas has died, and he prepares to send him back to his father for his funeral. Both sides bury their dead. The Latins hold a quarrelsome council over whether or not to sue for peace. King Latinus wants to make peace and share his land and rule with the Trojans. Turnus is in favor of continuing the war, which resumes. Camilla, a woman warrior ally of Turnus, enters the fray, fights bravely, and is killed.


    Book 12: Turnus challenges Aeneas to a duel that will settle the war. Meanwhile, Juno tells the nymph Juturna, Turnus’ sister, to help him if she can, because Turnus is no match for Aeneas in single combat. Juturna provokes the Latins into general battle. Aeneas seeks Turnus, but Juturna, disguised as Turnus’ charioteer, races around, not letting Turnus stop and fight. Aeneas is now furious. He starts to burn down King Latinus’ city, to root out the resistance once and for all. Queen Amata hangs herself. Turnus tells his sister to stop interfering, because fate has won, and he wants to fight Aeneas honorably before he dies.


    Turnus and Aeneas begin to duel, and Jupiter holds up his scales to confirm their fates. Turnus’ sword breaks; he panics and runs away, Aeneas pursuing. However, gods are still interfering. Juturna hands the fleeing Turnus a sword, while Venus pulls Aeneas’ spear free from a tree it had lodged in. Jupiter is fed up by now and confronts Juno, who finally gives up, asking only that the ensuing people be called Latins and the Trojans lose their identity. Jupiter agrees to create a single Latin race from the two warring peoples. Jupiter sends two Furies to chase Juturna away from Turnus, and Aeneas throws his spear, wounding Turnus. Turnus begs for his life, but Aeneas sees the belt of dead Pallas on Turnus and, enraged, kills Turnus. End of story.





Aeneas’ dominant trait is piety. Piety for Aeneas did not mean faith so much as obedience and careful attention to the will of the gods, especially Jupiter, so that he could do the right thing in the right way. This piety expressed itself in right relations to the gods, to ones family, and to the state, as well as in carrying out rituals in a correct, thoughtful manner. Aeneas is:



Pious   Aeneas carries his household gods from Troy to Italy; he holds Memorial Games for Anchises; he immediately obeys Mercury’s message to leave Dido.

Steadfast          He feels Dido’s grief, but is unmoved in his actions.

Compassionate            He stops the boxing match when Entellus is overwhelming Dares; he grieves for his dead soldiers.

Fair      He awards the prizes fairly during the memorial games.

Brave He fights bravely at Troy, only stopping because Venus tells him to leave; he is equally brave combating Turnus in Latium.

Willing to cooperate with Destiny     He learns the future in the Underworld and acts willingly to bring it about.

Paternal           It is Aeneas’ fatherly duty to Ascanius to leave Dido and found a new nation for his descendants.

A Leader         Aeneas soothes his weary followers after the storm, “our god will give an end to this as well”; he is concerned with feeding and comforting them; in Italy he forms alliances and leads the fighting.

Sensitive         When Dido asks him to tell about the fall of Troy, he tells her “O Queen–too terrible for tongues the pain/you ask me to renew”(II 4-5); he is exquisitely aware of the “tears of things,” the pain of human life.

Emotional        Aeneas narrates the fall of Troy with great feeling, such as, “the first time savage horror took me” (II 751).


THE DIDO PROBLEM:: Passion and Politics


Dido is not just a nice lady who has hard luck with love. Not only does Virgil explain that Cupid poisons Dido with love, but he also gives us plenty of hints about Dido’s potential for danger to Aeneas, such as her fury when she is about to kill herself:


        And could I not have dragged his body off, and scattered him

        piecemeal upon the waters, limb by limb?

        Or butchered all his comrades, even served

        Ascanius himself as banquet dish

        upon his father’s table? [IV 826]


This sinister echo of how Atreus fed Thyestes’ children to him does not suggest that poor Dido is merely upset over her disappearing lover. Indeed, Dido’s funeral pyre itself is chock full of elements of witchcraft, not approved practice in Roman court circles.


However, Virgil also portrays Dido’s love for Aeneas with such sympathy that readers appreciate her love, hate Aeneas for leaving her, and mostly ignore the negative undertone. Dido is largely modelled on two ancient, very bad women–Cleopatra and Medea in the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius.


Cleopatra was the Egyptian queen who fought alongside Roman Mark Antony against Octavian at the Battle of Actium. Virgil presents her as the epitome of the decadent, treacherous Orient (as opposed to the noble Roman West). She and Antony are part of the center of the shield of Aeneas, with their barbarian troops and barbaric gods, opposing the true leaders of Rome and the household gods brought to Italy by Aeneas. At one level, Aeneas’ affair with Dido is the crossing point–he has left the Orient (Troy), and is delayed by one last Oriental experience (decadent passion), before going forth to become the Latin ancestor of the Roman people.


Medea, in the Argonautica, fell quickly and madly in love with Jason and betrayed her father to please Jason, helping him through trickery and witchcraft to acquire the Golden Fleece. Afraid of her father’s anger, Medea ran off with Jason; she also lured her half-brother Apsyrtus to Jason who killed him. This was just part of her notorious career as a passionate woman and a witch. A Roman reader would have recognized unpleasant echoes of Medea in Virgil’s Dido.




The other passionate characters in the Aeneid are mostly deplorable. The list is headed by the raging goddess Juno and the raging warrior Turnus. It includes the Harpies, Allecto, Amata, the Trojan Women burning their ships, and the Latins in general when in battle frenzy. Even Aeneas is touched by passionate fury twice: during the sack of Troy and during the battle in Latium, especially at the final moment when he kills Turnus. Passion spreads like a virus. Venus uses Cupid to infect Dido with the passion of love. Juno uses Allecto to infect Amata, Turnus and the Latin masses with the passion for war. In every case except for, perhaps, Aeneas’ final passionate killing of Turnus, passion opposes the will of Jupiter, Destiny and Fate. This alone shows us how little Virgil approved of such intense emotion.




Jupiter knows and affirms fate. But there is also Destiny, the notion that there is a necessary future to strive towards. This is the fate that Jupiter upholds, a pattern that is not a simple working out of conflicts.


Juno and Venus act in opposition to the necessary path of the fates. They know perfectly well what must come to pass, because Jupiter tells them, but each has her own passionate agenda, one the irrational, intense love of a mother for her son, the other raw frenzied hatred of the Trojans whose descendants will destroy Carthage. They must both lose, but gracefully, as goddesses lose, finally accepting the will of Jupiter. Similarly, on a human level, Dido, Amata and Turnus resist the fates, acting counter to the will of Jupiter. They must be destroyed, just as Octavian destroyed Antony and Cleopatra.


Aeneas, who spends his life trying to do what he should, not only has many painfully confusing experiences as he misinterprets omens and follows wrong leads, but his final cooperation with fate leads him to relinquish every shred of personal happiness. He lost his beloved wife, his city, almost everything he cared about at Troy. He left his comfortable liaison with Dido. He will marry a woman he does not choose, whose people he has slaughtered; he will create the foundation for the next twelve hundred years of Roman history, but die still outside the promised land of Rome.


Task 8. Aenid, Bhagavad-Gita, and the Ramayana Reading Selections.

TASK 8Read the selections from the Aeneid:  Book VI ( and the selections from the Bhagavad-Gita ( (Links to an external site.)
or the Ramayana :  CANTO CXXX.: THE CONSECRATION ( (Links to an external site.)



Activities for Virgil’s Aeneid (Task Eight)


Read through the Virgil Study Guide and all of the listed Activities before making your selection. Make a copy of the Activity question to begin your response. Post your Activity to the Forum in Unit 2 in JICS. These Activity entries must be thoughtful; each one should be the equivalent of at least a full typed page or more in length (e.g. not less than 250 words).  They may be longer if you need to say more on your topic. You will not be able to do these Activity entries properly unless you have carefully read the assigned literature.


· In Book I of the Aeneid, Aeneas is presented as a new kind of hero, who wills to do what he has to do. Compare/contrast Aeneas to Odysseus or Gilgamesh, who do what they please and even get the gods to cooperate at times. Do you have any ideas about why they are such different sorts of heroes? Use specific examples from the Odyssey, Gilgamesh and/or the Aeneid to support your ideas.


· Compare Kalypso and Kirke in the Odyssey (Books V and X) to Dido in the Aeneid (Book IV). Concentrate on how they delay the hero’s journey. Do you see any similarities? Differences? Explain and support your ideas using examples from both texts.


· Being beloved by a deity has advantages, but can also create problems. Compare the relationship of Odysseus with his patron goddess Athena to Aeneas’ relationship with his goddess mother Venus. Do you see any interesting similarities? Differences? What do these relationships tell you about the nature of the Greek and Roman gods? Explain your ideas using supporting examples from both texts.


· Irrational, “anti-fate” behavior in the Aeneid is mostly concentrated in the females, human and divine. Select several of these females to consider. List each one with a brief explanation of her irrational actions and attributes. Do you think Virgil is saying something about women’s behavior in general? What? Be specific and support your ideas with examples from the text. You may want to explore the website Diotima for background information about women in the Aeneid.


· Book VI of the Aeneid presents the Underworld as a place for purification, punishment, prophetic information, rest and recreation between lifetimes. The Odyssey presents Hades as a vague and boring place where everyone goes after death and no one leaves. However, the dead have some kinds of knowledge that the living do not. Compare/contrast these two visions of the underworld and try to make some interesting point about their differences. Support your ideas with specific examples from Book VI of the Aeneid and Books XI and XXIV of the Odyssey. Note: the textbook does not include all of book VI of the Aeneid, so if you choose this Activity, go to the Course Materials Table on the Course Home Page to get the electronic text of the full book VI.

· Virgil was cherished throughout the Christian Middle Ages as a most virtuous poet, even though he died in 19 BCE., a few years before Jesus was born. Virgil was concerned with issues of divine will and how a good man could align himself with that divine will, and these were issues that medieval Christians also were interested in, although their answers were quite different.


· Read the Sermon on the Mount (Volume 2, 1209-1213) OR online (see Course Materials table on Course Home Page) and compare the ideas of how to be a good human being presented there with the ideas about how to be a good human being that you find in the Aeneid. Note that these ideas are VERY different from Virgil’s, yet both are deeply serious thoughts on how a good person ought to act. Support your ideas with plentiful examples from both readings.


· Compare Aeneas’ journey to the underworld with that of either Gilgamesh or Odysseus. In what ways are they similar? How are they different. So what? Support your ideas with plenty of specific examples from the two stories you choose to write about.


· The Aeneid ends abruptly when Aeneas kills Turnus in Book 12. Why do you think Virgil ended his epic like this? What point was he making? Or do you think he would have changed the ending if he had lived to complete his revisions of the Aeneid? Develop your ideas using specific examples from the Aeneid to support them.


· What about poor Dido? Do you think she was to blame for what happened to her? Was Juno? Venus? Aeneas? Explain your answer with examples from the story. If you choose this Activity you should read at least Books 1-4 of the Aeneid before writing about it.


· Reread the scene of Dido’s suicide carefully. Notice all the witchcraft involved. Do you think that Virgil uses this to make us less sympathetic to Dido? If so, why? Is Dido dangerous? Can you find echos of Circe or other negative women or goddesses in her? Support your ideas using specific examples from the story.


· Fate is a crucial concept in the Aeneid. Start by getting a good definition of fate from a dictionary. Be sure to copy it in quote marks and cite the source. Then look in the Aeneid for several places where fate is mentioned and discuss each example, explaining what you think Virgil meant by “Fate.” Do you think his concept of fate is like the dictionary definition? How? Be specific and support your ideas with plenty of examples from the Aeneid. Is either the dictionary concept of fate or Virgil’s like yours? How or how not? Give specific examples to support your insights here.


· Aeneas developed a tainted reputation among some medieval writers. Among other things, he was reputed to be homosexual and reputed to have collaborated with the Greeks to betray Troy, so that he could escape from the conquered city. Can you see any aspects of Aeneas in the Aeneid that might have led to such a degrading of his character? Do you think Virgil meant to include any negative traits? If so, what do you think they were? Be very specific, supporting your ideas with examples from the Aeneid.


· Go to Roman Power and Roman Imperial Sculpture. Read through the text and think about how the Aeneid was a product of this world. Augustus was, in a sense, the real world hero of the Aeneid, as well as the ultimate patron for whom Virgil wrote. Look through the images and select a few that seem to you especially relevant to the world of the Aeneid. Identify and describe them and explain in specific detail how these images affect your understanding of the Aeneid.


· Virgil’s Aeneid and Exodus from the Hebrew Bible both tell about a somewhat reluctant, god-selected hero who leads his people out of disaster through many dangers and difficulties to the ultimate goal of a promised country (which must be fought for) and a great heritage. Compare the characters and experiences of Moses and Aeneas to see what they have in common and see if you can identify any profound ways in which they are different. This is a complex topic and you must use specific examples from both the Aeneid and Exodus to support your ideas. Use a version of Exodus from the Hebrew Bible. Use the link to the Hebrew Bible in Module One.

We offer the best essay writing services to students who value great quality at a fair price. Let us exceed your expectations if you need help with this or a different assignment. Get your paper completed by a writing expert today. Nice to meet you! Want 15% OFF your first order? Use Promo Code: FIRST15. Place your order in a few easy steps. It will take you less than 5 minutes. Click one of the buttons below.

Order a Similar Paper Order a Different Paper