Iliad of Homer

Course No. 301
Professor Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
Whitman College
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Course No. 301
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Course Overview

When John Keats first read Chapman's translation of the epics of "deep-brow'd Homer," he was so overwhelmed, so overcome with the joy of discovery, that he compared his experience to finding "a new planet." When you join Professor Elizabeth Vandiver for these lectures on the Iliad, you come to understand what enthralled Keats and has gripped so many readers of Homer.

Dr. Vandiver is a recipient of the American Philological Association's Excellence in Teaching Award—the most prestigious teaching award available to American classicists—and several other major honors for teaching excellence.

Her compelling look at this epic masterpiece—whether it is the work of many or indeed the "vision" of a blind poet who nevertheless saw more deeply into the human heart than almost anyone before or since—demonstrates why she is held in such immense regard.

Share Homer's Compelling Meditation on the Human Condition

Professor Vandiver makes it vividly clear why, after almost 3,000 years, the Iliad remains not only among the greatest adventure stories ever told, but also one of the most compelling meditations on the human condition ever written.

Indeed, it is probably true to say that only the Bible rivals Homer for sheer depth and scope of cultural and literary influence.

How is this so?

At first glance, the Iliad tells of a long-dead epoch that seems utterly alien to us. Indeed, the Bronze Age Aegean was a distant memory even to the original audience for this great work.

Yet the grandeur and immediacy of the Homeric world seem to defy time and space.

  • He depicts a legendary era in brilliant, unforgettable hues.
  • He peoples it with towering heroes who thirst for honor, fight shattering wars, and deal face-to-face with gods.
  • He acts out, in words memorized and passed on verbally long before they were ever set to paper, mankind's awesome passions for glory, love, and vengeance.

An Inquiry into Timeless Human Issues

Or perhaps age seems only to burnish the luster of the Iliad precisely because of its very strangeness and distance, which throw so sharply into focus the timeless human issues it raises.

These issues are evoked by the power of a single dramatic question: Why does Achilles rage?

Around these questions Homer weaves a narrative that makes us ask many questions:

  • What are the limits of our freedom?
  • Who or what shapes our actions and our ends?
  • Is there a common humanity that we share, or is life only "a constant seeking of power after power"?
  • What holds people together and keeps them going in extreme situations such as war?
  • Why do we love our own so strongly?
  • Where is the line between justice and revenge?
  • And above all, what does it mean to be alive?

Meticulous and Insightful

Professor Vandiver builds her analysis skillfully around meticulous, insightful examinations of the most important episodes in the Iliad.

  • She explains the cultural assumptions that lie behind Homer's lines, and you join her in weighing the basic critical and interpretive issues.
  • She probes the relationship of this great epic to the tradition of orally transmitted poetry and surveys the archaeological evidence for an actual conflict.
  • She repeatedly visits the Iliad's overriding theme of what it means to be human and what the Iliad has to say about the human condition.

She explains with passion and clarity why Homer remains our contemporary.

Moreover, with her skillful organization and way of looking at the events and intents of this great masterpiece, she gives you a key to heightened enjoyment and comprehension in all of your encounters with literature.

A Clearly Organized and Comprehensive Examination

Lecture 1 sets the stage for our reading of the Iliad by providing an introduction to the plan of the course and summarizing the mythological background assumed by both the Iliad and the Odyssey (also available as a course taught by Dr. Vandiver).

Lecture 2 addresses the question of the 400- to 500-year gap between the events described in the Iliad (and, subsequently, the Odyssey) and the time when they were first written down.

It describes the Iliad's relationship to traditional orally transmitted poetry, and considers the implications of that oral tradition for the question of who "Homer" was.

Lectures 3-12 address the plot, characters, and interpretations of the Iliad itself. Each focuses on a particular scene, character, or theme as we read through the Iliad.

Lecture 3 introduces the cultural concepts of kleos (glory) and timê (honor) and explains their significance for understanding the wrath of Achilles.

Lecture 4 moves inside the walls of Troy to discuss Homer's presentation of the Trojans as sympathetic characters, rather than stereotypical enemies.

Lecture 5 looks in detail at Book IX of the Iliad, where three of Achilles's comrades try to persuade him to return to battle, and discusses how the concepts of kleos and timê factor into his refusal to do so.

Lecture 6 is devoted to a fuller discussion of the concept of kleos, which demonstrates that it is one of the key elements in the Iliad 's examination of the human condition.

Lecture 7 turns to an examination of the gods in Homer, discussing what types of beings they are and what their presence in the narrative adds to the Iliad.

Lectures 8 and 9 give a detailed reading of the most important events of the day of Hektor's glory and Patroklos's death—the Iliad 's longest day, which lasts from Book XI through Book XVIII—with Lecture 8 focusing on Hektor and Lecture 9 on Patroklos.

Lecture 10 covers Achilles's return to battle, discussing the implications of his actions, his divinely made armor, and his refusal to bury the dead Patroklos.

Lecture 11 examines Hektor and Achilles together, highlighting the contrasting elements in their characters and the inevitability of their final encounter in battle.

Lecture 12 concludes the course with a discussion of the resolution of the Iliad, which is brought about by Achilles's encounter with his dead enemy, Hektor's aged father, King Priam.

The encounter of these two enemies offers one final opportunity to take from this great work a true understanding of the nature of mortality, the Iliad's constant underlying theme.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction to Homeric Epic
    What is an epic? How should we go about reading such a work? What is the "back story" of the Trojan War with which Homer's listeners were familiar? x
  • 2
    The Homeric Question
    Here is one of the great literary debates of all time. For centuries, experts have been asking: How were the Homeric epics created? Is there really an individual genius named Homer behind these awesome works, or are we dealing with conglomerations of shorter poems from the hands of many bards? How, why, and by whom were these stories first written down? What role did they play in ancient Greek society? x
  • 3
    Glory, Honor, and the Wrath of Achilles
    What wider themes does the bard open up as he sings the wrath of Achilles? What is the cultural background against which we must understand Achilles's anger and its implications? What do timê (honor) and kleos (everlasting fame or glory) mean to Homeric heroes? x
  • 4
    Within the Walls of Troy
    Homer's portrayal of the Trojans is sympathetic and subtle. Trapped in an unsought war of annihilation, they fight not just for honor and fame, but for all they hold dear, and even their very lives. Here are some of the most deeply moving scenes in all of Homer. x
  • 5
    The Embassy to Achilles
    After Achilles's quarrel with Agamemnon and subsequent withdrawal from combat, the absence of their greatest captain becomes an ever-graver problem for the Greeks. This lecture examines the embassy and offer of vast gifts that Agamemnon sends to Achilles, and the latter's refusal in a remarkable speech that reveals much about his character even as it calls into question the entire ethos of his society. x
  • 6
    The Paradox of Glory
    Kleos is the only kind of immortality available to a Homeric hero. Every major warrior in The Iliad strives for it, often in a scene of conspicuous combat prowess called an aristeia. But as the character of Achilles reveals, a kind of paradox lies at the heart of the quest for kleos. x
  • 7
    The Role of the Gods
    The Olympians are actively present at every turn in the Homeric narratives. What sorts of divinities are they? How does their ageless, deathless nature serve as a device through which the bard can dramatize the human condition and its stakes? Finally, what is fate, and what does it mean for gods and humans alike? x
  • 8
    The Longest Day
    This lecture continues our comparison of gods and mortals by examining the dual narratives, divine and human, of Iliad XI-XV, the books which lead up to and feature Hektor's great display of martial prowess. x
  • 9
    The Death of Patroklos
    In this lecture we focus on Books XVI-XVII. The lecture begins by discussing Patroklos's character and his role as Achilles's substitute in battle. We then examine Patroklos's aristeia and death, the turning point of The Iliad. x
  • 10
    Achilles Returns to Battle
    We examine Achilles's reaction to Patroklos's death, his re-entry into the battle, his divinely forged armor, and his fixation on vengeance. Why does Homer use language and imagery that suggest Achilles is a god and that he is a dead man? x
  • 11
    Achilles and Hektor
    In this lecture, we examine the characters of Achilles and Hektor. The lecture addresses both the bard's characterization of the two champions and their interactions. What do their differences tell us? What do we learn from the scene in which Achilles kills Hektor? How is their conflict crucial for the final resolution of The Iliad? x
  • 12
    Enemies' Tears—Achilles and Priam
    This lecture focuses on the meeting of Achilles and Priam, and the closing of The Iliad. Priam seeks the return of his son's body, which Achilles has been trying to defile, but what does his visit do for Achilles? We look closely at the meeting between these two enemies and consider the impact of their encounter for an understanding of The Iliad's great underlying theme. x

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Your professor

Elizabeth Vandiver

About Your Professor

Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
Whitman College
Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver is Professor of Classics and Clement Biddle Penrose Professor of Latin at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She was formerly Director of the Honors Humanities program at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she also taught in the Department of Classics. She completed her undergraduate work at Shimer College and went on to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Texas at...
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Iliad of Homer is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 144.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Story! The Iliad is a great story, and the kecturer's explanation was VERY useful! Bob
Date published: 2019-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, esp. for beginners I’m new to Greek history and very new to the Iliad. I love this course, particularly because the professor explains everything very clearly, never assuming the “students” are knowledgeable of any aspect of the subject matter, which I certainly was not, making the course very informative and enjoyable. I’d also recommend the two excellent courses on ancient Greek history, as historians believe the Trojan War, which is involved with the Iliad, was connected with the collapse of the Aegean/Mediterranean Bronze Age.
Date published: 2019-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthusiastic Professor I have listened to all of Professor Endiver's courses. She is an exceptional lecturer on the classical period. Sh is highly knowledgeable and easy to listen to. Her courses are recommended to anyone with an interest in classical studies.
Date published: 2019-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I was captivated. I had a week-long work trip ahead and was going to be doing a lot of driving. These lectures were just what the doctor ordered! The structure of the lectures was great. She starts out broad and narrows in on important episodes of Homer's epic. You can tell she is clearly a master of the material. I absolutely loved how she brought the material to life. I can't wait to check out her other lectures.
Date published: 2019-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! The lectures were first-rate. I learned much to give me a deeper appreciation of the Iliad.
Date published: 2019-03-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Scholarly Look at the Iliad One can approach a course on the Iliad in various ways: as a professor of literature would critique a work of fiction; as an historian might analyze what one might glean about actual history; as a study in ancient Greek culture, etc. Professor Vandiver does not confine herself to any one perspective but has something to say about all of them. Don't expect some kind of audio-visual "Cliff Notes" on the story. She does spend time discussing specific events related which have an especially powerful impact, but generally sort of gives an overview from many perspectives: how old the story may be, the relation to actual history, the argument over whether or not there was a "Homer", reasons why it became the prototypical Greek mythology, what it tells us about their culture and mores, and so forth. I believe the course is best appreciated after reading the story itself (the English translation is the best I can do) but it would still work to view this course first and then read The Iliad after viewing the course.
Date published: 2019-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Recommended Wonderful course. Superb Professor. Her Great Courses lectures on the Odyssey and Herodotus are terrific as well.
Date published: 2018-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Iliad, by Homer I read Iliad 50 years ago in college but I wanted to know ABOUT Iliad. Professor Vandiver knows her topic and gives to me ABOUT the Iliad that I wanted. I found my copy and the same highlighted passages from college were featured by Professor Vandiver. I had listened to her CDs on Greek Tragedy and ordered the same Greek Tragedy in DVD. I will watch her lectures on Tragedies next.
Date published: 2018-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great Course for a study of Classics I have used three of Professors Vandiver’s courses as part of my study of Classics. I am studying Attic Greek and Latin from a professor of Classics over Skype and since I do not live near a University that offers Classics it has been a slog to find good sources. The Great Courses has filled that vacuum. And there are a sufficient number of professors with differing views to provide good points for my own research. With theses courses and my Professor’s mentoring my knowledge is increasing. The Great Courses is GREAT
Date published: 2018-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course I bought this course over the summer, and it revolutionized my understanding of ancient literature and the Iliad in particular. The professor is accomplished and comes with amazing credentials; but beyond that, she creates clear, understandable lectures that enrich the listener.
Date published: 2018-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from There's no mistaking what this course is about. In the 1970s a renowned scientist referred to the Iliad as a historical fossil. Well, if so, Professor Vandiver brings this fossil to life again. If you've never read this epic, you'll want to do so after taking this course. The classics from ancient Greece have survived partly because they have much to tell us about the human condition. Professor Vandiver gives some riveting examples from Homer. Her presentation is fast-paced and superbly organized. The scholarship is masterful. Of the dozens of courses I've taken from the Teaching Company, this is one of the best.
Date published: 2018-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course I have purchased many courses from the Great Courses company. I have thoroughly enjoyed most of them, but this is the first time I have been moved to write a review. I just finished this course and was deeply moved. My only complaint is that it ended so soon. I have started reading the Illiad, but have a long way to go. In a sense the lectures are better than the book. Professor Vandiver has a marvelous, smooth delivery and masterful command of the subject. The scenes she chooses to highlight where tremendously moving, and the crucial background information she provides was invaluable in bringing out the culture and the importance of the fine details in each of the scenes. I have also purchased the companion lectures on Classical Mythology, the Odyssey, and the Aenied. I had finished the lectures on Classical Mythology two weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed them. I can hardly wait to start the Odyssey next. A quick aside, I had read another review before purchasing these courses that complained about Professor Vandiver's enunciation. It does sound like she may have a slight lisp and compensates by occasionally over emphasizing some consonants in some words. However, the delivery is so smooth and the command of the subject so powerful, that this was not a problem for me in the slightest. Again, I highly recommend this course and the companion course on Classical Mythology. I had read one of the review
Date published: 2018-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from AWESOME!!! Simply awesome. I loved listening to these lectures. Professor Vandiver did an excellent job of bringing The Iliad to life for me. She created a real sense of excitement and really communicated the pathos of this great work. I purchased these lectures in anticipation of reading the Iliad, after listening to these lectures I could not wait to get home and dive right into reading it. Great Job Professor Vandiver!!!
Date published: 2018-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Off the scale fabulous There are very smart people who teach the Great Courses. However, this course's instructor Elizabeth Vandiver is so good, that in the dictionary definition of "scholar", her picture should be there. She is so knowledgeable and so passionate about understanding the material that she excites you to the subject. She states at the beginning that she fits her lectures on the Iliad to the time she is given, which she has done in this course in a very professional way. But she could present it full days for a full year and still have lots of material left untalked about. With her professional guidance, you see depths of human interaction in the Iliad that I think rival Shakespeare and other great writers. This is a great and interesting course for anyone, even if you aren't interested in ancient Greek history in particular. Elizabeth Vandiver is so powerful as a scholar-lecturer, that it is worth seeing this course just to see the high bar scholar-lecturers need to reach to be in her league.
Date published: 2018-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Helpful This course is helpful in that it tips you off as to what to look for when you read this seminal epic poem, probably the oldest work in western literature. Professor Vandiver provides a good combination of narrative and explanation or analysis. Using this course is better than just reading Homer with no guidance. However I did find Homer's portrayal of Achilles to be a bit different than Vandiver's analysis of Achilles. First of all his irrational hatred of Agamemnon and refusal to join the other Achaeans in their mission because Briseis taken from him was childish as when a favorite toy is taken away. Then his overdone grief over the loss of Patroclus and his obsession for revenge would lead one to believe that Achilles and Patroclus might have been homosexual lovers. After all many ancient Greek men were bisexual. By all means buy and use the course and read the book and draw your own conclusions.
Date published: 2018-01-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Mostly plot summary--with errors in literal readin Mostly workmanlike plot summary. Not for anyone who has actually read the book and is seeking for high-school, much less college-level, insight. She's not bad at unpacking the ramifications of individual Greek words, but the close reading is so defective it contains outright plot errors (she suggests Homer may not have known about the Judgment of Paris--which he refers to explicitly at the beginning of Book 24; she says Agamemnon calls the council in Book 1, when it is "Akhilleus, prompted by Hera"; etc.etc. Overall a seriously misleading bias against Akhilleus as the hero (whom Homer calls "a greater man by far" than Hektor), to the point of entirely omitting Akhilleus' moment of tragic recognition in Book 18!
Date published: 2017-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very clear presentation. The narration of the important scenes and the analysis of the themes were well balanced. This presentation has motivated me to read the Iliad further.
Date published: 2017-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Majestic This is a terrific course. Professor Vandiver is erudite. Interesting. Passionate. She brings the world of the Trojan War to life, and situates it in the world we live in today. Even without reading The Iliad, the course still gives you a rich understanding. I cannot recommend Professor Vandiver, or her course, highly enough.
Date published: 2017-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Gem Professor Vandiver always does a wonderful job presenting information in an academic manner. She doesn't assume the reader has any prior knowledge of the subject and provides background information as necessary. I like how she presents a variety of viewpoints and presents their strengths and weaknesses. She does this in a very factual way and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.
Date published: 2017-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Analysis I liked the fact that Professor Vandiver was very well organized for each lecture, wove themes throughout the lectures and clearly stated her analysis as well as opposing views. I also liked the fact that she clearly likes to teach, not just relay the findings of her latest research project.
Date published: 2017-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I looked forward to listening to Elizabeth Vandiver explain and analyze the Homeric question and the role of the gods and the humans in The Iliad. I'm now moving on to her course on Classical Mythology. Anyone with an interest in the ancient world will enjoy this course and Dr. Vandiver's engaging presentation of the material.
Date published: 2017-06-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from What It Means to Be Human A great overall analysis on the Illiad’s events and themes. By focusing on the theme of what it means to be human and how it relates to the subject of death and immortality, the processor is able to make this ancient story timeless, relevant, and its mythical characters relate-able. Pluses: • The focus on the theme of what it means to be human and how it relates to the subject of death and immortality was covered with excellence • The professor was easy to listen to (almost every sentence was easy to understand and there was an avoidance of flowery language or academic jargon that can hinder understanding Minuses: • The professor tended to explain the same point multiple times and seemed to repeat sentences (the point could’ve been made in less sentences) • Not every book of the Iliad was summarized Professor Vandiver is a great teacher and I have yet to take a sub-par course from her. She is definitely in the upper echelon in The Great Courses stable.
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Iliad of Homer Years ago I found the Iliad to be to gory to like. But after the Professors explanation of the mores of Homeric Greek culture that this is the book which is the highlight of Homer's talents. His sympathy for some of the slain turns it into great literature. His characters are full blooded heroes whom greatly reveal the human condition. Thank you Professor Vandivers for bring this book back to life for me. I recommend this course to anyone who had qualms about this book as you will only understand with the help of this course.
Date published: 2017-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation Purchase any course by Dr. Vandiver - you will not be disappointed. At the beginning of each lecture, she outlines what she will cover in the allotted time. This teaching technique is crucial in helping students follow the lecture as it sets up a purpose for listening. She is my favorite professor! I only wish this course was longer. Although she does pack a lot of information in these 12 lectures, she states that there is so much more she could cover. What a shame! I would love to know all of her insights! All serious students of Homer MUST have this course.
Date published: 2016-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First time with The Illiad Prof. Vandiver does an outstanding job. This is the third course from her that I have listened to and I will get any by her. I had somehow missed the Illiad in my education and the depth of background and explanation from Prof. Vandiver is wonderful. I will now go read the Illiad and understand what I am reading thanks to her.
Date published: 2016-11-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Near Perfect. Because of time constraints, my review will have to be abbreviated. Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver is an excellent communicator, and it's obvious that she knows the subject backwards and forwards. Her genuine enthusiasm for the subject is evident. Frankly, I never have acquired an interest in the Iliad or Odyssey as literature, but she presented the course in such a way that it kept my maximum possible attention. My interest lies in the topic of the oral composition and oral transmission of the Homeric corpus. I don't remember that being covered at all or, if so, only very briefly. But perhaps it's asking too much to cover both that and the content of the Iliad, too, in the short amount of time allotted to the subject. I also have purchased and listened to The Great Courses' The Odyssey, taught by Dr. Vandiver, too. Everything that I said about The Iliad course holds true for the Odyssey course as well.
Date published: 2016-08-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough, solid, meaningful treatment of a classic I read The Iliad my freshman year in college, and I liked it, but I wasn't sure why. I was left intrigued but confused, bogged down by the many characters, long battle scenes, and ancient concepts. That is *not* how I felt after this course. Professor Vandiver distills what makes this text a timeless classic -- the themes of immortal glory, friendship, revenge, death, and heroism. The course directs you to pivotal scenes that illustrate these themes, helping you to form an emotional connection with the text and the characters. I also enjoyed the lectures about the bardic tradition and the authorship controversy. I wish I had been able to listen to this before I read the book in college -- I would have gotten a lot more out of it. I'm so glad to have listened to it now and revisited and relearned a great classic.
Date published: 2016-07-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Clear, Concise Overview Densely packed lectures provide wealth of information, if at times overwhelming--pause/rewind required! Excellent value.
Date published: 2016-06-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Waste of Time There's nothing much in these lectures but plot summary. Read the Wikipedia entry and you'll get as much information as in this class. Where's the analysis and interpretation of this classic text? Where's the engagement with centuries of scholarship on the great poem? The only commentary provided is banal. I sent these lectures back as a total waste of time and money. Same with this professor's lectures on the Odyssey. Thank goodness for the company's generous return policy!
Date published: 2016-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Prof. Vandiver is fascinating, detailed and does such a great job at putting things in historical perspective. All of her courses I have listened to have been superb.
Date published: 2016-03-11
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