Lesson 14: Beautiful and Doomed

In this week’s lesson, we started by looking at two particularly famous examples of Homeric epithets. One was “γλαυκῶπις” which  is often used to describe the goddess Athene, and is often translated at “grey-eyed” or “gleaming-eyed”. Another was “οἶνοψ” which is used to describe the sea, and is commonly translated as “wine-dark”.

Both these epithets, as well as being very beautiful in themselves, foreground one of the complexities for anyone translating ancient Greek, which is how to render colour. The Greeks seemed to describe colour in a very different way from us, so their word for grey, “glaukos”, could also mean green or even yellow (it is often used of honey). Whereas their word for dark blue could also mean violet, for example. The Greeks seemed to use words to describe whether something was light, dark, shiny or matte, rather than the hue itself. This has led some to think that the Greeks may have even been colour blind! There is a very interesting article here about Homer and words for colour.

After discussing these epithets, meeting the infinitive in Latin, and doing some practice sentences, we had a look at some of the particularly grisly descriptions of the moment of death in the Iliad, and thought about why these descriptions are so vivid. Examples included people holding their entrails, and warm brains oozing! You thought that they helped keep people’s attention, and we talked about how there is a natural curiosity for such things. We looked at how successful the warriors were at killing in battle – Hector was by far the best of the Trojans, but Diomedes actually kills the most people from the Greek camp (although Achilles does sit out for a lot of the poem). 
We looked at two clips from the film Troy, where characters are talking about the point of fighting and dying. Theirs was a culture obsessed with honour and glory, and Achilles points out to Briseis that life is intense and beautiful precisely because it is short and finite. 
Next week, we will look at the event that causes Achilles to return to the battlefield.