English 203: HandOuts

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“A classic can only occur when a civilization is mature; when a language and a literature are mature; and it must be the work of a mature mind. It is the importance of that civilization and of that language, as well as the comprehensiveness of the mind of the individual poet, which gives the universality.”
T.S.Eliot, “What is a Classic?”

Address delivered before the Virgil Society

Homer’s The Iliad

Greeks (Achaeans, Argives, Danaans)

Achilles: central character of Iliad; the Greek’s greatest warrior; prince of the Myrmidons of Phthia, son of sea-nymph goddess Thetis and mortal Peleus

Agamemnon: Greek commander in the battle against Troy; king of Mycenae; older brother of Menelaus; son of Atreus

Patroclus: Achilles’ close friend and 2nd in command, who becomes a pivotal figure when he goes to war in Achilles’ armor, fights bravely and with great success; his death in Book 16 is a direct result of Achilles’ refusal to fight, the major factor in Achilles’ personal tragedy

Nestor: oldest of the Achaean leaders, who is portrayed as a clear-headed, good advisor; king of Pylos, one of the strongest kingdoms in Mycenean times

Diomedes: son of Tydeus, a great warrior, ever courageous and ruthless; famous scene of chivalry between him and Glaucus in beginning of Book 6

Phoenix: friend of Achilles; one of 3 Greek envoys (in Book 9) to Achilles to convince him to join the battle

Trojans (Dardanians)

Hector: head of the Trojan forces, son of Priam and Hecuba, husband of Andromache; Priam says he prizes Hector best of all his many sons

Paris: Trojan, self-centered, selfish son of Priam and Hecuba; cause of the war because he seduced Helen and took her to Troy, away from her Achaean husband Menelaus

Priam: King of Troy, father of Hector and Paris; an old man who, in Book 24, rouses Achilles’ sympathy

Briseis: woman Achilles had captured after killing her husband and brothers when he sacked the town of Lyrnessus; on the same expedition, he took Chryseis captive and killed the father and brothers of Hector’s wife Andromache. Agamemnon takes Briseis from Achilles, provoking Achilles to say he will not fight, which results in the deaths of many Argives.

Chryseis: daughter of the priest (Chryses) of Apollo; she is the war prize awarded to Agamemnon, who is forced to give her back to her father and subsequently takes Briseis, causing Achilles’ wrath

Sarpedon: son of Zeus and Laodamia; Trojan ally; killed by Patroclus

Aeneas: member of the royal family of Troy, son of Aphrodite, hero of the Aeneid

Gods in Homer’s The Iliad

Zeus: father of the gods; husband of Hera and father of Athena, Aphrodite, Ares, Apollo, and others; his spheres includes the sky and the weather, the punishment of injustice, the sending of omens, and the governance of the universe, controlled to some extent by Fate as well; Zeus liked the Trojans best but wanted to be neutral, because Hera was so disagreeable whenever he openly opposed her

Hera: queen of the Olympian gods, wife of Zeus; she is the greatest support for the Achaean army, which at times creates tension between herself and Zeus

Athena: daughter of Zeus; Athens was named after her; descends from the pre-Hellenic armed goddess of the home, but gradually, she became the goddess of the fortress; defensive and war-like goddess on the Achaean side

Aphrodite: goddess of sexual passion, daughter of Zeus, mother of Aeneas; she fights on the Trojan side

*In a beauty contest among the Olympian goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, Paris chose Aphrodite, in exchange for which she told him to pursue Helen, her counterpart in beauty among mortals. Paris’ subsequent theft drove the Achaians – led by Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon – to wage war upon the Trojans – led by Paris’ brother Hector. The Trojan War was fought for a woman's sake, and over a woman, Achilles quarreled with Agamemnon

Apollo: son of Zeus and Leto; most important divine supporter of the Trojans; archer god and patron of bowmen; god of plague and sickness as well as god of healing; fights for the Trojans; sends plague to punish Agamemnon’s refusal of Chryses’ ransom for his daughter (Chriseis); helps Hector kill Patroclus

Ares: son of Zeus and Hera; god of war; while he has promised to fight on the Achaean side, he fights for the Trojans; Ares always took sides with Aphrodite

Thetis: a sea goddess who was married to the mortal Peleus; mother of Achilles

Hephaestus: god of fire and patron of metalworkers; son of Zeus and Hera; when called by Achilles’ mother to create armor for her son, he creates a masterpiece

Poseidon: Lord of the Sea; favored the Greeks, a sea people, and always great sailors

Jason and the Argonauts

This story was well known to the audience that saw Medea, and it is the background against which the drama of Medea is played out.

Jason's father, Aeson, was the rightful heir to the kingdom of Iolcus, in the north of Greece near Mount Pelion (line 3), but the throne was usurped by his half brother Pelias. Jason, who had been sent off to safety, came to Iolcus when fully grown to claim his rights. Pelias, who had been told by a prophet that his death would be brought about by his very own kin, persuaded the young man to set off in quest of the fabulous Golden Fleece, a treasured possession that belonged to the king of Colchis (line 2) that was guarded by a dragon (in the mountainous regions, residents use sheepskins to gather gold in the rivulets and streams. Thus, the fleece itself becomes the source of gold. This is likely the source of the legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece).

The king of Colchis (non-Greek region at the eastern end of the Black Sea), Aietes, was a son of Helios, the sun god (lines 403, 930); he had a daughter, Medea, and a young son.

Jason's adventure took place in the generation directly preceding the Trojan War, in the 13th century B.C. Jason assembled a company of heroes (called Argonauts after the ship Argo, the first long-range ship ever built) and set off on his adventurous journey to the east; one of the many dangers he faced was a passage through the clashing rocks (Symplegades, lines 2, 423), which may be a mythical representation of the narrow passage of the Dardanelles, the entrance to the Black Sea. Aietes welcomes Jason to Colchis with a banquet but then sets a trap to kill Jason, who requests the Golden Fleece. Jason had to face a series of ordeals – with Medea's help - before he could take possession of the fleece. He had to yoke a pair of fire-breathing bulls, plow a field with them, and sow dragon's teeth, which sprout up as warriors whom he would have to fight.

Meanwhile, the goddess Hera, who wanted Jason's quest to succeed, convinced Aphrodite to send her own son Eros (Roman Cupid) to Colchis, and Eros caused Medea to almost instantly fall in love with Jason. Medea gave Jason an ointment that would make him invulnerable, and he came through successfully; he provoked the armed men into killing one another by throwing a stone that each side thought had been thrown by the other.

Aietes suspected Medea's complicity and planned to attack Jason and the heroes in the night. Medea came to warn them, led Jason to the dragon's lair, killed the dragon so that he could take the Golden Fleece (lines 468ff.), and embarked with Jason and the heroes on the Argo in the night. When her furious father Aietes' ships came close in pursuit, she killed her brother (line 165) to facilitate the getaway and threw his limbs overboard one by one; Aietes' ships stopped to pick up the gory fragments for a proper burial. That way, the Argo was able to gain time and make it back to Greece with its prize. After a long voyage, Jason and Medea came to Iolcus, where Medea tricked the daughters of Pelias into killing their father; Medea cut up an old ram, then restored it to youth by boiling it in a cauldron with magic herbs. She then convinced the daughters of Pelias to do the same to him, but omitted herbs so that he remained dead. Jason did not, however, reap the rewards of Medea's action; Pelias' son drove Jason and Medea out of Iolcus, and they came to Corinth as refugees.

Virgil’s Aeneid


Juno: Latin name for Hera, queen of the gods. Juno is daughter of Saturn, and both wife and sister to Jupiter and devoted to the city of Carthage; she wants to stop Aeneas from founding Rome, and she functions as the divine opposition to Aeneas and his mission (Juno’s enmity to the Trojans derives from the judgment of Paris and from the seduction by Paris of Helen)

Jupiter: Latin name for Zeus, king of the gods; son of Saturn, whom he dethroned; in Aeneid, he functions as administrator, judge, director, and final arbiter of disputes, whether between mortals or immortals

Aeneas: member of the royal family of Troy, son of Venus, cousin of Hector, hero of the Aeneid; he fled West after the Trojan War, made his way to Italy, and founded a new people there; Trojan but also ancestor of the Roman people

Dido: founder and Queen of Carthage, leader of a band of Phoenicians from Tyre; she lost her husband the king under tragic circumstances, then fled from her homeland of Tyre, leading a resolute band of her people to found a new city at Carthage

Carthage: city in North Africa, strategically located just across from the western tip of Sicily. In historical times, it was a great naval and military power, Rome’s rival for the domination of the Mediterranean world. Carthage was defeated only after three bloody and costly wars that began in 264 B.C. and ended in 146 when Romans burned Carthage to the ground. Carthage was a Phoenician colony, settled by people from Tyre (“Punic” is a synonym for Carthaginian)

Sidon: a Phoenician city, the mother city of Tyre (ancient Phoenicia extended from the borders of Palestine northward along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, and modern Lebanon occupies a portion of the same section). Dido is sometimes called “Sidonian”

Cupid: son of Venus, god of love; he appears in the poem in the form of Ascanius, Aeneas’ mischievous small boy


Thymoetes: a Trojan, he is shown at the front line of defense at the Trojan camp

Minerva: Latin name for Pallas Athena goddess of war, wisdom, learning, and the household arts; in Aeneid, her warlike aspect is of primary importance

Laocoon: Trojan priest of Neptune who warned the Trojans about the Greek “gift” (wooden horse)

Sinon: Greek infiltrator who gained asylum in Troy with his story of having fled because Ulysses was plotting to have him offered up as a human sacrifice; he released the Greek soldiers from the wooden horse

Pyrrhus: son of Achilles (another name for Neoptolemus); on the last night of Troy, he killed Polites, young son of Priam and Hecuba, before their very eyes; then he killed Priam himself at his own altar. He carried off Andromache (Hector’s widow) and Helenus (another son of Priam) as prizes

Neptune: the god of the sea; in the story of Troy, he figures as an opponent of the Trojans, since their king had refused to pay him the reward that had been promised him for his assistance in building the walls of Troy

Anchises: Aeneas’ father, who interprets omens and plays the role of prophet on occasion

Creusa: first wife of Aeneas, daughter of Priam, mother of Ascanius

Ceres: sister of Jupiter, daughter of Saturn; goddess of agriculture, especially of grain (therefore, English “cereal”)


Sibyl: name given to prophetic priestesses in various parts of the ancient world; priestess of Apollo; she prophecies Aeneas' future (terrible wars, bloodshed, Juno's continued anger at Aeneas) and tells him he must go down to Hell to find a way to Rome

Cumae: a Greek settlement on the Western coast of Italy, just north of the Bay of Naples; by tradition, the site of one of the entrances to the Underworld and the home of the Sibyl

Shades: spirits of the dead

Styx: river that is the dividing line between worlds of the living and the dead

Charon: the ferryman of the Underworld, who transports the shades of the dead who have received the proper rites of burial or who, lacking these rites, have worked out their time by waiting 100 years on the near shore. Charon transports the shades across the river Styx (the principal river of the Underworld). Refuses to take Aeneas (or any living man) across unless they have the golden bough

Palinurus: pilot of Aeneas’ fleet; among the dead, he seeks Aeneas’ help to get him across the Styx to reach his ultimate place in the Underworld

golden bough: a passport, a talisman that Aeneas and Sibyl must take with them to the Underworld as it will open the gates of Hell for them (the trek down is easy, but the journey upward is laborious); if Aeneas breaks the golden bough off the tree, one will grow back

Cerberus: the 3-headed dog who guarded the gates of Hades

Deiphobus: one of the sons of Priam; after the death of Paris, he married Helen, who betrayed him to the Greeks when Troy was captured; he was killed and mutilated

Tartarus: region of the lower world where the souls of criminals and sinners are endlessly tortured; here, punishment is inflicted on the shades of the guilty

Elysium: section of the Underworld set apart for the souls of the good and the great; the Blessed Groves are where the blessed and the good will receive their rewards

Vulcan: Latin name for Hephaestus, god of fire and metal-working; he makes a shield and outfit for Aeneas; Vulcan’s home and smithy are located in the caverns of Vulcania, an island just off the northeastern corner of Sicily (his name gives us the word “volcano”)

Pallas: Aeneas’ young protégé and charge; overeager at his first fight, he attracts Turnus’ attention, who spears the boy through the chest and, unforgivably to Aeneas, glories in his kill, tearing away Pallas’ special sword belt (Book 10)

Turnus: Aeneas' rival for the hand of Lavinia; Etruscan warlord and champion of Italy against the invader, he traces his descent back to Agamemnon’s city of Mycenae; dies the death of Hector and was predicted by the Sibyl to become an Achilles (was born of a goddess as was Achilles). At the end of Book 12, Turnus likewise pays the penalty for his own wrong act – the insolent treatment of the body of Pallas

Outline/ Analysis of Dante's Inferno

Cantos 1, 2: Intro. to the entire Divine Comedy
1. Dante in the dark forest
2. Dante's dialogue with Virgil; Dante decides to visit the world of the dead
3. Dante's courage fails; Virgil encourages him; tells him of Beatrice; Dante again decides to
follow Virgil
4. Three blessed ladies: Virgin Mary, Beatrice, St.Lucy

Canto 3: Ante-Hell
1. Hell Gate
2. The entrance hall; the neutrals
3.The river Acheron

Canto 4: Limbo; 1st Circle of Hell
1. The unbaptized and virtuous pagans
2. Christ's Harrowing of Hell
3. Homer with other great poets & Aristotle w/ other non-Christians in a “noble city”

Canto 5: 2nd Circle; sexual sinners tossed by violent winds
1. Minos: judge of unrepentant sinners
2. Dido and other sexual sinners
3. Francesa and Paolo

Canto 6: 3rd Circle: gluttons in rain and mud
1. Cereberus
2. Ciacco on Florentine affairs
3. Torments after the Last Judgment

Canto 7: 4th Circle; avarice and prodigality
1. Plutus, god of riches
2. The miserly and the wasteful rolling stones
3. Virgil explains Fortune, God's servant
4. The swamp of Styx

Canto 8: 5th Circle; the angry in Styx
1. The burning high towers
2. Phlegyas the boatman
3. Filippo Argenti among the angry in the swamp
4. Poets' entrance to gates of Dis refused by devils on the walls

Canto 9: The Gate of the City of Dis
1. The Furies and the Gorgon
2. A supernatural being/ angel forces the devils to let the travelers enter

Cantos 10 and 11: 6th Circle: heretics
1. The sepulchers of the damned
2. Epicurus and his followers
3. Farinata degli Uberti and Cavalcanti
4. A promise that Beatrice will explain Dante's future
5. Pope Anastasius is a heretic

Canto 12: 7th Circle, first ring; violence against neighbors
1. The Minotaur
2. Virgil tells of Christ's descent to Hell River of boiling blood, watched by Centaurs, where bloodshed is punished; Chiron, Achilles' tutor; Pyrrhus, Achilles' son

Canto 13: 7th Circle, 2nd ring; those violent against themselves
1. Trees inhabited by souls of suicides; Harpies
2. Pier della Vigna's narrative of princely ingratitude; Wasters of their property torn by dogs

Cantos 14, 15, 16, and 17: 7th Circle, 3rd ring; those violent against God
1. Horrible justice on burning sand in fiery rain
2. The proud Capaneus
3. Virgil explains the rivers of Hell, flowing from a statue, the Old Man of Crete
4. Brunetto Latini
5. The abyss; Dante finally removes the cord that he has been wearing, with which he had hoped to take the leopard in Canto 1, thus finally – and symbolically - removing the final vestiges of his ties to his native Florence
6. Florentine usurers
7. Geryon appears from the abyss, and the poets descend, riding on Geryon's back

Canto 18: 8th Circle, 1st pouch; pimps and seducers scourged by devils
1. Malebolge
2. Caccianemico; Jason, leader of the Argonauts
3. Flatterers wallow in excrement (2nd pouch)

Canto 19: 8th Circle, 3rd pouch: simonists upside down in narrow pits
1. Popes Nicholas III, Boniface VIII

Canto 20: 8th Circle, 4th pouch; wizards and fortunetellers with twisted bodies
1. Dante rebuked for pitying those justly punished by God
2. Virgil names Tiresias, Calchas, and others

Cantos 21 and 22: 8th Circle, 5th pouch; barrators in boiling pitch; comic devils; Malebranche
Virgil and Dante escape from the angry devils

Canto 23: 8th Circle, 6th pouch; hypocrites wearing gilded, leaden garments
1. Caiaphas and his father-in-law lie crucified on the ground

Cantos 24 and 25: 8th Circle, 7th pouch; thieves tormented by serpents
1. Vanni Fucci tells of his crime and predicts woe for Florence; he defies God

Canto 26: 8th Circle, 8th pouch; wicked strategists enclosed in flames
1. Ulysses tells of his last voyage

Cantos 27, 28, 29: 8th Circle, 8th pouch; fraudulent counselors, and 8th Circle, 9th pouch; sowers of discord & division slashed with a sword
1. Bertran de Born's punishment for setting son against father
2. Guido de Montefeltro tells of his deception by Pope Boniface and his consequent damnation, because he did not repent

Canto 30: 8th Circle, 10th pouch; falsifiers and counterfeiters punished by sickness
1. Myrrha, Master Adam, and Sinon the Greek

Canto 31: 9th Circle; the giants like towers surrounding the lowest pit of Hell
1. Nimrod
2. Antaeus transfers Dante and Virgil to the pit

Canto 32: 9th Circle, 1st and 2nd rings; Caina where betrayers of relatives are fixed in ice (Cocytus) and Antenora, where betrayers of their country share the same predicament
1. Bocca degli Abati

Canto 33: 9th Circle, 3nd ring; Ptolema, where betrayers against their guests are fixed in ice
1. Count Ugolini in the “Hunger Tower” and Archbishop Ruggieri

Canto 34: 9th Circle, 4th ring; Judecca, where betrayers against their benefactors are chewed and clawed by Lucifer
1. Judas, Brutus, and Cassius
2. Virgil assists Dante as they descend down Lucifer's body (climbing up heavenward), and they emerge on the island of Purgatory

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