The ILIAD  The ODYSSEY   The Story of David  Oedipus/Antigone




These are the important names in Books 1 and 3 of the Iliad in the order of their first appearance. As you read, briefly identify each for yourself, noting whether the god or human is on the Greek side or on the Trojan. Consult the list of characters on pages 639-683 for help. The Greeks are referred to as Achaeans, Argives, Danaans. The Trojans are also called Dardanians, and Troy is also called Ilion or Ilium. The word Iliad means "the song about Ilion."

GODS - Book 1                                        HUMANS - Book 1

Zeus, son of Chronus                                    Achilles, son of Peleus
(Phoebus) Apollo                                          Achaians, Danaans, Argives
Hera                                                             Chryses & Chryseis
(Pallas) Athena                                              Agamemnon, son of Atreus
Thetis                                                            Calchas
Hephaestus                                                    Briseis

Book 3                                                         Book 3

Iris                                                                  Paris
Aphrodite                                                       Menelaus, son of Atreus
                                                                      Ajax, son of Telamon

Book 1: "The Rage of Achilles": READ.

Study Questions (SQs) for Iliad, Book 1 (No need to write answers for Study Questions to hand in. Rather, use these questions to focus your attention on important aspects of the text.):

--Note that Homer immediately seizes his theme, Achilles� anger, without preamble. He plunges into the middle of things ("in medias res"). Then he introduces a seemingly unrelated episode (Chryses�s prayer to Agamemnon). How does this episode lead back to his main theme? As a bonus, the Chryses episode is a preview of the whole story to come.

--Why do you think Agamemnon is so determined to get a prize to replace Chryseis? What might this woman represent for him? How are the other Greeks also guilty of Agam�s dishonoring of Achilles? What does Achilles ask his divine mother to do to them in return? Is this justice?

--There are two scenes of supplication: Chryses before Agam., Thetis before Zeus. How is each prayer answered?

--Note the rather testy relationship of Zeus and his wife Hera in the last part of this book.

Book 2: Zeus wants to dishonor the Greeks, so he sends a false dream to Agamemnon telling him the gods now favor the Greeks, so Agamemnon should organize his troops for immediate battle. Agam. tests his men to see if they are still willing to fight for him, and they almost go home! But he rallies them, and there follows the famous list of Greek heroes known as the catalogue of ships.  Book 2, 3, and 4 each introduce the main Achaean warriors, though in different ways, as if Homer wants to make sure his audience knows all the main characters right from the start.

Book 3: "Helen Reviews the Champions":  READ.

SQs for Iliad, Book 3: Helen is the cause of the Trojan War, yet Homer makes us feel sympathetic to her here. How does he do this? Why do you think he does so?

--Why do you think Homer has Helen describe the main Greek heroes for the old men of Troy?  Surely after so many years of war, they must know them by now.

Book 4:  "The Truce Erupts in War"   READ 

Important Name:  the Trojan Pandarus  (See names of some Greek warriors below.)  

SQs for Iliad, Book 4:  

A word on why the goddesses Hera and Athena hate the Trojans: The Judgment of Paris. At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (Achilles� parents), the goddess Strife (Eris) threw into the assembly a golden apple marked "for the fairest." The shepherd boy Paris was asked to judge among 3 goddesses: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Each promised him her attribute if he chose her: Hera - political power, Athena - battle prowess, Aphrodite - the most beautiful woman to love (Helen). He chose Aphrodite, who made it possible for him to steal Helen in return.

--Why does Athena get a Trojan to break the truce, not an Achaean? How does she lessen the impact of Pandarus� arrow? Think about how Pandarus� shot repeats the treachery of Paris.

--Agamemnon assumes that Zeus will eventually destroy Troy, ll. 184 ff. and 270 ff. Why?

--As Agamemnon goes through the army to rally the troops, we are introduced to the main Achaean warriors: Idomeneus, the two men called Ajax (Great or Telamonian and Little or Oilean; the plural of Ajax is Aeantes), old Nestor, Odysseus, and Diomedes. The last is appropriately Diomedes because he will have a great day in Book 5.

--Note how Agamemnon praises those who are ready to fight and mocks those who are not. For ex., why does he retell the story of Tydeus, Diomedes� father?

--How do the Trojan troops differ from the Achaean, ll. 502 ff.?

--Our first view of actual battle starts with an abstract prologue, ll. 510-16, Note that Strife is here too. Then we have a long simile, ll. 517 ff. In which the shepherd, like us, watches the strife from afar. Then we are introduced to all kinds of death-dealing as individual Achaeans kill individual Trojans and are then killed. The names aren�t as important here as the "tit-for-tat" nature of the fighting. Note esp. how the book ends, ll. 624-30. What is Homer implying there about war?

Book 5: Diomedes' brilliant display of courage (his "aristeia")

Book 6: "Hector Returns to Troy":  READ

Some Important Names in Book 6, all HUMANS:

Diomedes, son of Tydeus; Glaucus; Hecuba; Andromache

SQ for Bk 6:  Why do Glaucus and Diomedes agree not to fight each other and even to exchange their armor?  This episode shows us how important it was for these warriors to know exactly who they are fighting with: the greater the man one kills the greater is the killer's glory. 

How does Hector respond to each of the Trojan women he meets in the city?  How does each affect him?

--Note that the Trojans worship the same gods as the Achaeans.  They try to pacify Athena, but she is too set against Troy to listen.

--How are Hector and Paris in Bk 6 different from each other? Who seems nobler?

�Note that here too, Homer makes Helen rather sympathetic.

Book 7: Hector challenges any Greek to single-handed combat, and the great Ajax comes forward. But as night falls, both sides withdraw. The Greeks build a protective ditch and wall around their ships because the Trojans keep getting closer.

Book 8: Zeus remembers his promise to Thetis and warns the other gods not to intervene in the Trojan onslaught against the Greek ships. Hector causes vast destruction. Hera & Poseidon disobey Zeus and try to stop the Trojans, but Zeus angrily stops them.

Book 9: "The Embassy to Achilles":  READ

Some New Important Names in Bk 9:

GODS: Hades, Persephone, Artemis HUMANS: Phoenix, Meleager

SQs for Bk 9: Why are Odysseus, Ajax, and Phoenix chosen as the ambassadors sent to Achilles by Agam.? What means does each use to persuade Achilles to return? Why does each fail?  What is the point of Phoenix's long story about Meleager?

Book 10: Agam. asks Nestor's advice since Achilles refuses to come to the Greeks' aid. Nestor suggests they send spies to reconnnoiter the Trojan camp just outside the Greek wall. Odysseus and Diomedes volunteer & go.

Book 11: The next day, battle resumes. Agam.'s "aristeia"; but Agam., Odysseus and Diomedes, plus many other Greeks, are wounded. The Greeks are being defeated while Achilles watches.

Book 12: The Trojans finally break through the Greek wall. The Greeks are retreating.

Bk. 13: The Trojans are fierce, but Poseidon, disobeying Zeus, stirs up the Greeks on the left side of the wall where the Trojans, led by fierce Hector, rage, nearing the Greek ships.

Book 14: "Hera Outflanks Zeus":  READ

SQs for Book 14: Why does Agamemnon want to launch all the Greek ships, ll. 77 ff.? Why does Odysseus reject that idea? What alternative does Diomedes suggest?

�What does Hera decide to do? What lie does she tell Aphrodite, ll. 240 ff.?

--Do you think that Homer trivializes the gods here?

Book 15: Zeus awakens in wrath and immediately sends Apollo down to heal Hector's wound. The Trojans again break the Greek wall with Zeus giving them courage, while he fills the Greeks with panic. Yet Zeus promises only to allow the Trojans to set fire to the ships. The Greeks will still have the final victory.

Book 16: "Patroclus Fights and Dies":  READ

Some New Important Names in Bk 16:

GODS: Hermes, Ares             HUMANS: Automedon, the Myrmidons, Sarpedon

SQs for Bk 16: How does Achilles belittle Pat�s action/words in the beginning of Bk. 16? Why? Consider Pat�s actions later in that book. From the book as a whole, do you think Pat. is more like or unlike Achilles?

--Here, Achilles, struggling with his love and hate, dooms his friend. Note the irony in Achilles� prayer to Zeus, ll.233 ff. Why must Pat. die? How does Homer reduce Hector�s role in that death? Why?

Book 17: The struggle over Patroclus�s body: Trojans and Greeks fight all day over the corpse, the Trojans wanting to dishonor it, the Greeks to bring it to Achilles. Hector puts on Pat.'s armor, but can't get Achilles's chariot.

Books 18-24: READ

SQ for Bks 18-22: Note how Achilles is described in Book 18, lines 213-30. Keep your eyes open for other, later fiery or light-filled descriptions of Achilles in battle.

SQs for Book 18: What does Pat�s death teach Achilles?  Why is it unfair to Pat to think of his death as wholly Achilles' fault?  How does Achilles act when he learns that Pat is dead?  How is he himself "dead" now too?

--Note the wonderful shield that the god Hephaestus makes for Achilles, ll. 652 ff.  What does Hephaestus portray on it?  Why is it appropriate for Achilles to carry all that on his shield?

SQs for Book 19: How does the assembly here contrast with the one in Book 1? Why is it necessary for Agam. to apologize, return Briseis, and give Achilles gifts? Note Agam.'s position once he enters the assembly, ll. 58-60 and 88.  Is Agam. supplicating Achilles here?

A New Important Name in Book 20: HUMAN: Aeneas, son of Anchises and Aphrodite

SQs for Book 20: Zeus allows the other gods to go down to the battlefield again, now that Achilles is returning to the war. Why, then, do they decide to withdraw and just watch, ll. 156 ff.?

--Why do you think Homer delays the final meeting between Achilles and Hector? Why does he have Achilles fight Aeneas, who escapes?

�Note that Poseidon, who normally favors the Achaeans, saves the Trojan ally Aeneas. Note the prophecy he makes about Aeneas in ll. 347 ff.

�How is Hector saved 4 times from Achilles� onslaught, ll. 501 ff.?

SQs for Book 21: Note the supplication scene here of Lycaon. Achilles calls him "friend." How is Lycaon Achilles� friend? Or is this just sarcastic? How do you feel about Achilles after this scene?

--The ancient Greeks believed that a god lived in every river. Why does the god Xanthos in the river Scamander rise up against Achilles? Why can�t the great hero defeat Xanthos?

--How is the warfare of Achilles against the Trojans different from the warfare of the gods among themselves in Bk. 21? What do you think of the gods in this section and in the Iliad in general?

SQs for Book 22: Note which Trojans call out to Hector to return into the city and how they supplicate him in vain. Why won�t Hector retreat to safety? Note his "brooding thoughts," lines 115-48.

--The ancients thought that the god Pan caused "panic," a kind of mad fear. Is this why Hector runs? Is he a coward?

--In what ways is Hector�s fight with Achilles unfair? (Is life fair?)

SQs for Book 23: Why does Achilles maltreat a corpse? Is he crazed?

�Remember the review of the Greek heroes in Books 2, 3, and 4? Homer reviews them again, though now in a more peaceful context, the funeral games for Patroclus.

--Why do you think athletic contests were thought to be a good way to honor the dead?  How is sport often like war?

SQs for Book 24: We have read other scenes of supplication that are unsuccessful. How is Priam�s supplication to Achilles in this last book similar to those others? Then, why is it, unlike those others, successful? What signs of change do you see in Achilles after he has seen Priam?

--How is Book 24 similar to and different from Book 1?

--In the games of Bk 23, Homer reviews all the main Greek heroes, just as he did in Book 2. Now think back to Book 1: How do the events of Book 24 repeat, relate to, or reverse the events in Book 1?


STUDY AIDS for The Odyssey

For a more thorough guide than I provide here, go to

BOOKS 1-4:

1. These are important names in the first four books of the Odyssey. What family relationships (for ex., husband and wife) or political relationships (for ex., allies in war, king and subjects) exist among them? Jot these down in your journal.

Antinous Helen
Odysseus Poseidon
Athena Hermes
Orestes Proteus
Calypso Menelaus
Penelope Telemachus
Eurymachus Nestor
Pisistratus Zeus

2. Which characters in the list above are gods? How are gods different from humans in the Odyssey?

3.  Look up the word "epithet" in a good college dictionary.  Then find epithets Homer uses to describe one character.

4.  On his journey for news of his father, Telemachus learns both information and ways of acting in Greek society. What is some of the info he gathers and then, what are some of the social activities he learns how to participate in?

5.  A "hecatomb" is a large sacrifice of animals to a god. Homer uses the name "Achaians" to refer to all the Greeks. Sometimes he also calls the Greeks "Argives."

BOOKS 5-8:

1. What do you think of the meeting between Odysseus and Nausicaa? What does it reveal of both their characters?

2.  How can we tell that the Phaeacians are especially favored by the gods?

3.  How do the Phaeacians treat this nameless stranger?  Why do you think Odysseus doesn't tell them who he is? 

BOOKS 9-12:

1. These are the important names in Books 5-12 of the Odyssey. Identify each briefly as you read. Which are places? Which illustrate the theme of hospitality? the theme of appetite and proper vs. improper eating?

Aeolus the Sirens
the Laestrygonians Helios
the Cicones Scylla and Charybdis
the Phaeacians Ithaca
Circe Thrinacia
Polyphemus Tiresias

2. On the time-line handed out in class, list the main adventures in Books 1-12 of the Odyssey in CHRONOLOGICAL order, starting with the fall of Troy and ending with Odysseus' homecoming.

3. Choose one of Odysseus' adventures from the tale he tells the Phaeacians. In a long paragraph, say what aspects or features of his character are revealed to us by his words and actions in that adventure.

 BOOKS 13-16:

1. Contrast the behavior of the Phaeacians toward Odysseus with that of Polyphemus toward Odysseus. Refer to specific actions of each.

2. What do you think of the meeting of Odysseus and Athena on Ithaca? In what ways are they suited to each other?

 BOOKS 17-24:

1. For this last part of the Odyssey, here are the important names for you to identify as you go along. Which of these are slaves? Which are free townsmen, nobles, kings? Which seem for Odysseus, and which seem against?

Amphinomus Irus
Antinous Melanthus
Eumaeus Melantho
Eurycleia Philoetius

2. Note how the different people in the above list treat Odysseus as the beggar.

3. In Book 19, some readers say Penelope does recognize Odysseus when they talk. Others violently disagree. What do you think? Make a persuasive case for your position.

4. Review the actions of the suitors since the beginning of the Odyssey. Homer uses this behavior to justify their deaths. What do you think? Is their slaughter justified?

5. Review some of Penelope's actions from the beginning of the poem to their final reunion that show her to be a fitting wife for the clever Odysseus.



    The Greek audiences for which Sophocles wrote his plays would come to the theatre already knowing the stories on which he based his plays. They would not know how he intended to treat them or what meanings he would pull out of them, but they would know the basic plots. And so should you, so here they are:

The Basic Story:
    Oedipus (ED-i-pus) is king of Thebes, having come to the throne because he solved the riddle of the Sphinx, which was devouring the city's inhabitants till that point. So the city considers him its savior. What he doesn't know is that he is married to his own mother, Iocaste (or Jocasta).
     Oedipus' father was told by Apollo's prophet that he would have a son who would kill him and marry his mother. So when Oedipus was born, his father ordered him to be abandoned on the mountain. But the servant gave the baby to a shepherd, who gave it to the king and queen of Corinth. They raised him as their own son. When he had grown up, he heard from Apollo's oracle that he would kill his father and marry his mother, so he ran away from Corinth. On his travels, he was assaulted by an older man, so Oedipus killed him in rage, not knowing this man was his real father. He then came to Thebes, solved the Sphinx's riddle and married the widowed queen, with whom he had four children, two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene. When he finds out the truth, he blinds himself.
     Later, he wanders the earth, accompanied only by Antigone, without a home because no one wants to take in a parricide. But his sufferings ennoble him, and he leaves the earth a blessed man.
     Meanwhile, his two sons agree to share the throne of Thebes, each ruling for a certain number of years. Eteocles (E-TEE-o-cleez) is the first ruler, but he refuses to give up the throne when it is Polyneices' turn. So Polyneices (Poly-NY-sees) gathers six other famous warriors to attack his own city and wrest the throne from his brother. These warriors are called the "Seven Against Thebes." Thebes is able to fend off these attackers, but in the battle, the two brothers fight and kill each other.
      Onto the scene comes Creon, their uncle (brother of their mother Iocaste (or Jocasta). He decrees that only one brother shall be buried, Eteocles, because he died defending his city. But the body of Polyneices shall lie on the ground unburied because he was a traitor. Anyone who tries to bury him will be executed. Only Antigone (An-TIG-o-nee) is brave or foolish enough to try to bury Polyneices' body. For this, Creon vows to wall her up in a cave to die. She thus dies, but not before Creon himself suffers family losses too.

Other Pointers:
    Greek plays are not divided into Acts, but different parts of the dialogue are separated by songs, called odes. These were sung and danced to by a Chorus especially trained for the play. Often themes of the play are displayed in these choral odes. The leader of the Chorus is called Choragos (choral director) or the Elder. He sometimes speaks lines in the play, but usually the Chorus acts as spectators. In Oedipus Tyrannus they are the suffering citizens of Thebes. In Antigone, they are the important citizens of Thebes.
     Besides the characters mentioned above, there is in both plays the famous prophet of Apollo, Teiresias (Ty-REE-zee-us), who is blind. Finally, the ancient Greeks believed that a crime like parricide or matricide could cause physical illness from its contagion or "miasma."



For even more help with the Oresteia than provided below, go to

Aeschylus' play Agamemnon is difficult. Before reading it, read the assigned pages in the Introduction. Also, use the notes at the bottoms of pages as you read. Finally, here are some questions and notes to consider as you read (the abbreviation "ll." means "lines," and "ff." means "and following," so "ll. 83 ff." means you should look in the play starting with line 83 and continuing till the sentence or thought is finished):

1. The play opens with a Watchman on the palace roof, where he has been for years looking for the beacon fire from Troy that will signal it has been conquered. He sees it (!!), and goes in to tell Clytemnestra. Why do you think he will not speak to the returning king about what's been going on at home, lines 35-39?

2. The Chorus, men too old to go to Troy, enter. They sing about the Greek expedition to Troy. Who do they refer to by "vultures" in line 49?

3. A Fury, line 59, is an avenging spirit. The Chorus addresses Clytemnestra in ll. 83 ff. What do these lines suggest she is doing as the Chorus sings here?

4. Choral songs or odes, like this first one, are often divided into 3 parts: the Strophe, or first stanza, the Antistrophe, or answering stanza, and the Epode, the third part that "is sung after." A choral ode can have many stanzas. The Chorus may have divided in half to sing these parts, and they danced as they sang. The word "orchestra" means dancing floor.

5. In the first Strophe, what omen did Zeus send the Greeks before they sailed for Troy, ll. 111-120? In line 113, "the kings of birds" are eagles; "the kings of the ships" are Agamemnon and Menelaus. How does the prophet Calchas interpret this omen, ll. 123-37?

6. What goddess is upset by that omen, ll. 134-37? Until she gets a certain sacrifice, she will keep the Greek ships from sailing to Troy. The prophet describes the sacrifice as "unspeakable." The Chorus does not get any more explicit till Antistrophe 4.

7. The "First Sea Lord of the Greek ships," Agamemnon (Antistrophe 3), does not make the sacrifice, and so Artemis causes the wind to blow the wrong way, and the ships cannot sail (Strophe 4).

8. In Antistrophe 4, Agam. talks more explicitly of the sacrifice. He decides to make it. Why do you think he agrees to make it, ll. 211-27? Does he have another choice?

9. The rest of the song describes the sacrifice of Agam.'s daughter. Why do they gag her, lines 236-37?

10. How has Clyt. gotten such quick news of the fall of Troy, ll. 281-316? Hephaestus is the god of fire.

11. The Chorus' next song, pp. 17 ff., is about Paris and the fall of Troy. The "she" in l. 403 is Helen. Why are the citizens angry in Strophe and Antistrophe 3? What must happen to "men who bring slaughter," ll. 462 ff.? This refers to Paris. But who else might it also refer to?

12. Why does the Chorus not believe Clyt.'s "burning signal" that Troy has fallen, ll. 479 ff.?

13. The Herald reluctantly talks about the Greeks' trip home. Why is he reluctant to tell bad news, ll. 636-48? What happened on the sea, ll. 650-80? Why do you think it is necessary to the plot that Menelaus NOT return now?

14. The Chorus' next ode, pp. 28-31, is about Helen, whose name recalls the Greek word "hele," to destroy. The translator relates her name to the English word "hell." What kind of marriage did she bring to Troy, Antistrophe 1? In Strophe 2, Helen in Troy is compared to a lion cub. How was she like that, Antistrophe 2?

15. In Antistrophe 3, the Chorus disagrees with the old saying that too much good fortune leads to a downfall. Where do they say evil comes from instead? In Strophe 4, "Outrage of old" refers to Paris taking Helen, but it could also refer to Agam., no? What outrage did he commit? What does the chorus say happens to those who commit outrage?

16. Watch the tremendous irony of Clytemnestra's welcome. What is her real reason for being so happy that Agamemnon is home? Remember that in Agamemnon's absence, Clytemnestra has taken his cousin Aegisthus as lover. Why does the Chorus NOT tell Agam. this?

17. How was Clyt.'s wait for Agam's return painful?  See ll. 855-75. What excuse does Clyt. offer Agam., ll. 876-86, for the absence of their son Orestes? What other child might her lines 876-77 refer to?

18. Why does Agam. at first refuse to walk on the tapestries, p.35? How does Clyt. get him to change his mind, pp.35-36?

19. The Chorus' next song is full of their foreboding that something terrible is about to happen. Why are they so frightened here? What does the Chorus mean in ll. 1025-29 that "our destinies clash to keep us in check"?

20. Cassandra is Agam.'s war prize. She has been doomed by Apollo, whose advances she spurned, to prophesy the truth but never have anyone believe her. Now as Agam's slave, she resists Clyt.'s attempts to persuade her to come inside. She seems more "free" here than Agam. She has visions of the fate of Agam., of herself, and of the whole house of Atreus. What vision does she see, ll. 1125-29? What does she say is "Over this House," ll. 1186-93? What vision does she see in ll. 1217-22? She then repeats her prophecy of Agam.'s murder. Why do you think the Chorus does not understand her?

21. How is Agam.'s blood like "dew" and "rain" to Clyt., ll. 1387-92? Note how she justifies herself, ll. 1412-25.

22. Why has Clyt. killed Cassandra too, ll. 1438-47?

23. Note in pp. 56-62 how the Chorus' song alternates with Clytemnestra's answers to their charges. What "pact" does Clytemnestra try to make with the "spirit" of the house, ll. 1568-76?

24. On pp. 63-64, how does the Chorus insult Aegisthus after his speech of justification? In answer, what sort of king does Aegisthus say he will be, ll. 1616-24 and 1638-42? How does he justify not killing Agam. himself, ll. 1636-37?

25. Why does the Chorus mention Orestes at the end?



1.  The second play of the trilogy  opens several years after Agamemnon's death with Orestes returning to Argos from exile with his friend Pylades. He prays at his father's tomb, on stage near the palace.  What does he place on it?  Why do you think he does this?  Remember what Achilles places on Patroclus' funeral pyre?

2.  When they see approaching the tomb a procession of slave women dressed in black and led by Orestes' sister Electra, all bearing libations (liquid sacrifices of wine and honeyed oil) the young men hide. In Strophe 1, the women describe their sorrow.  In Antistrophe 1, they describe without names nightmares.  Who do you think has had the bad dreams?  Where do they think these dreams are from, ll. 39-41?

3.  In Strophe 2, they say why they have come to the tomb.  Do they think the libations will be effective?  In Antistrophe 2, they warn of dire consequences to come.  This idea is continued in the next Strophe/Antistrophe.  What do they refer to in "the virgin's defilement," l. 70?  In the Epode, what do they reveal about themselves? 

4.  Why is Electra uncertain how to pray at her father's grave, ll. 87-99?

5.  How does Electra react to the lock of hair on the tomb?  to the footprints?  Then why doesn't she recognize Orestes when he comes forth?  How does he finally prove to her who he is?  Remember the importance of fabric in the first play?

6.  How is Orestes "four loves in one" for Electra, l. 238?

7.  What metaphor does Orestes use for himself and his sister in his prayer to Zeus, ll.247-63?  Remember this metaphor in the first play?

8.  All the words in italics on pp. 81-88 are in a dancing and singing rhythm in the Greek.  Here, Orestes and Electra, urged on by the Chorus, who want revenge against their oppressors, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, are working themselves up to a murderous fever pitch.  In the course of this wilder and wilder chanting, they call on their father's ghost to appear to help them gain revenge.  When they return to non-singing speech, they continue to call on their father.  Be sure to read the footnotes on l. 439 and l. 487.

9.  On pp. 90-91, the Chorus explains why Clyt. sent them to the tomb.  How does Orestes interpret Clyt's dream, ll. 540-550?

10.  What is Orestes' plan for getting into the palace without being recognized,  ll. 554-84?

11.  In the Chorus' song, pp. 93-95, they recall several stories of women who killed their men.  Who killed her son? Who her father? Who her husband?  At the end of their song, Orestes and Pylades start for the palace.  They refer to Orestes as a sword.  Why?

12.  In his first speech to Clyt., Orestes shows he has added another twist to his plot to trick her.  What is it?  Why do you think Clyt. reacts so despairingly to the "bad news" Orestes brings her, ll. 691-99? In what sense is Orestes the hope of the House of Atreus?

13.  What is the code of hospitality?  Remember how Achilles treated Priam in his hut?

14.  Orestes' old nurse Cilissa says Clyt. was "all doom and gloom, but her eyes were smiling," l. 737.  Why would Clyt. be secretly happy?

15.  In their next song, the Chorus urge on Orestes and call on gods to help him.  If Orestes is like Perseus, who is like the Gorgon, Medusa, ll. 831-37?

16.  Why does the playwright have Orestes kill Aegisthus first?

17.  What does the Messeger's riddle mean, l. 886?  Clyt. understands its meaning immediately, and she sees how fitting it is for her to be killed by deceit.  How does she try to escape her death, ll. 896-98?

18.  In his only words in the play, what does Pylades tell Orestes, ll. 900-02?

19.  What are some of the reasons Clyt. offers Orestes for why he shouldn't kill her?

20.  In the Chorus' triumphant song, pp. 108-109, they praise the "double lion" that forced "this to its end," ll. 937-41.  What do they mean by "this"?  Do YOU think the "mighty curb that yoked the House has been lifted," ll. 962-63?

21.  How is the final scene of Orestes over the bodies he's slain like the scene in Agamemnon, starting at l. 1372, p. 55?  To what things does Orestes compare Agamemnon's shroud, now wrapped around the bodies of his killers, ll. 997-1006?

22.  But Orestes is not calm about the murders he's committed.  Who does he say told him to do it, and where does he say he'll go, ll. 1030 ff.?  What will he be carrying?

23.  At the end, the Chorus says he has beheaded two snakes, but he sees snaky monsters coming after him.  Who are they?  Where have they come from?  



The play's title, Eumenides, is Greek for "the kindly ones." It is an ironic name for the terrible Furies pursuing Orestes for revenge of his mother's murder, but during this play, Athena, at the conclusion of the "first-ever" criminal trial, will persuade them to become goddesses of blessing rather than Curses. Here are a few questions and notes to help you in your reading:

1. The play opens outside Apollo's temple at Delphi as his priestess tells the story of how he achieved his power in a peaceful transition from older, female deities. She enters the temple, and exits immediately in shock at what she has seen within. Note her description of the repulsive sleeping Furies, ll. 46-59. What wakens them, pp.121-23?

2. Where does Apollo, ll. 78-84, tell Orestes to go for help, and how will Apollo aid him when he gets there?

3. In the Furies' first ode, pp. 123-24, note how they contrast themselves with "these new gods," specifically Apollo. What do they accuse these new gods of? How does Apollo feel about the Furies, pp. 125-27? What do they say is their ancient right, p. 126?

4. When the Furies find Orestes in Athens, they sing a magical "binding song," pp. 130-33, to prevent him from escaping them again. Note that they realize that Zeus and the other "new gods" hate them. Why do you think this is the case?

5. Before jury trials, the only way a man could escape revenge was to "swear the oath of innocence," which Orestes cannot do--no mitigating circumstances allowed. Why does Athena find this less than fair? See her dialogue with the Furies, pp. 134-36. Note that the Furies, l. 435, agree to let Athena adjudicate their case against Orestes because, unlike Apollo, she respects them. After this dialogue, why does Athena decide to set up a jury of mortals, p. 137?

6. If Orestes is exonerated, the Furies in their next ode, pp. 138-40, see "the collapse of the house of Justice." Why?

7. What strange argument does Apollo make, p.145, to justify Orestes' killing his mother? This was a new "scientific" theory in Aeschylus' day, and the audience would have recognized it, but they probably would no more have accepted his reasoning than we do.  He is clever, this Apollo, the Johnnie Cochran of his day.

8. In ll. 681-710, Athena formally establishes the court of the Areopagus (Ares' hill) in Athens. (A short time before these plays were written, this court in real-life Athens had been established as the venue for homicide trials.  Aeschylus may be offering a mythic justification here for this.)  As the voting takes place, the Furies and Apollo taunt each other. Why does Athena vote to exonerate Orestes, ll. 734-41?

9. When Orestes wins and quickly leaves, the Furies are furious (pun intended!). What do they threaten to do to Athens? What new powers and rights does Athena offer the Furies to turn them away from blood vengeance, pp.150-53? Note that she uses persuasion just as Clytemnestra did in the first play. What is different, however, about Athena's use of persuasion? Why do the Furies accept her offer?

10. What color are the robes Athena brings for the "Kindly Ones," p.159? Make a connection between these robes and the one in the first two plays.



Here are some aspects of biblical writing, especially in the complex story of David, that you need to know before you start reading:

          The story is in PROSE, not poetry. Occasionally, David will sing a poetic song, but in general, the story follows the rhythms of speech. It will therefore seem very simple, but much is going on under the surface. We will read this story for its literary qualities, not its religious significance, just as we read the Iliad.

 ●          Biblical prose is very lean; that is, there are very few adjectives or other descriptive elements. So when a description, such as a feature of the person�s appearance or an article of clothing someone is wearing, appears in the text, it is meaningful. Pay attention to these few meaningful descriptive words to see what the writer is telling us about the character or situation.

         Oftentimes, a character will be associated with a particular description, gesture, article of clothing, or other thing, and it will reappear at important moments in the story to emphasize some meaning about the character. I will call these repeated elements motifs. For example, Saul�s royal cloak appears at key moments in his struggle with David. Pay attention, then, to such motifs, and try to figure out what they might mean.

          The writing is also lean in that it seldom explains how we should feel about a situation or character. We have to read between the lines. This silence about meaning has led to many, many volumes of interpretation by scholars down the centuries. Join in on the speculation by trying to figure out for yourself what a character or situation might mean. But as with any good textual analysis, support your conclusions by referring to the text.

          Dialogue is very important in biblical writing as a way to convey character and motivation. Pay particular attention to the first words that a person utters because the writer uses these to reveal the speaker�s character. Notice that long speeches often alternate with short responses. Here too, this contrast in length of speech sheds light on the two speakers� characters and intentions. Also notice silence, that is, places where you expect a person to speak but he/she does not. For ex., sometimes, the other person remains silent, and the speaker has to speak again. What might the silence mean? What might be the speaker�s intentions? There is sure to be healthy disagreement among us!

Now here is some specific information about the story of David itself:

          The books in which David�s story appears are named after the prophet Samuel, who first finds and anoints a king in response to the people�s pleas, but he is skeptical about the ethics of wanting a king because it calls into question the rule of God through his spokesmen, the prophets. At this time, the people are organized into 12 tribes, one for each of the sons of Jacob (see the first book of the bible, Genesis, for his story). They are herdsmen living in the hills of modern-day Israel and Jordan, without a standing army, and beleaguered by the powerful Philistines, who live in cities on the coast and who are constantly trying to move into Israelite lands. The people have no formal government and bring disputes to the prophets and priests for judgment.

          The first king is not David but Saul, who is a reluctant ruler at first. Later, David becomes his son-in-law and rival because Saul loses favor with God, who then favors David instead. Saul and David are contrasted, especially on the theme of knowledge: Saul is deprived of it, but David is favored with it. This first rivalry of leaders who are also family is a theme that is repeated throughout the rest of David�s story.

          David is not a simple hero. Rather, he adapts and reacts to various situations, often in unpredictable ways, and cannot be classified as �this� or �that� kind of person. Also, we see David�s whole life from his youth to his death as an old man, and like a living person, he is not the same in all stages of his life. Because he is not glorified by the writer, but rather depicted with all his faults, we assume he was a real, historical king who established a dynasty around the 10th century bc that lasted several generations. Just as the writer does not make David into a glorified mythical figure, he also makes his portrait realistic by seldom telling us David�s motivations for what he does. In real life also, how often do we know why someone else did this or that? As the scholar Robert Alter puts it, this story gives us �an unflinching insight into the cruel processes of history and into human behavior warped by the pursuit of political power.�

          The division of the book of Samuel into 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel was made many centuries after the story was written. In the 3rd century bc, when it was translated into Greek, the whole story could not fit onto one scroll. The two, together with 1 Kings 1-2, are one story. Scholars think that the original story was written close to David�s reign, around the 10th century bc, and the writer thought of himself as a historian, but one who shaped his narrative the way the Greek historian Thucydides shaped his, using techniques like interior monologue and repetition of motifs that we associate with fiction today. The whole history was edited in the 7th century bc by another writer more interested in religious reform and doctrine than the original writer. We call this editor the Deuteronomist because the book of Deuteronomy best describes his pious intentions. Biblical writing is marked by chapter and verse numbers. These divisions were added much later in the Middle Ages. A verse is usually a sentence long. When referring to a biblical passage, then, use both numbers, separated by a colon. 1 Samuel 8: 1-5 thus refers to the first five verses of chapter 8 in the book titled 1 Samuel.

          Translations of the original Hebrew vary widely. Please read the story in a modern English translation, either the Revised Standard edition version online at, or the one in the Good News Bible (about $5.00), or the most recent one by Robert Alter called The David Story (W.W.Norton, 1999) (about $16.00, but great notes). Use these Study Aids as you read so that you�ll know what to look for as you read.


1 Samuel 8-18

Chap. 8: I suggested you skip the first 7 chapters of 1 Samuel to save time. In those skipped chapters, we are told the story of the birth and education of Samuel as a prophet, replacing the prophet Eli, whose sons were corrupt. Samuel is depicted as a man who hears the voice of God and responds to it immediately and completely. Note in Chap. 8 why the people want a king. This is a repetition of the motif of corrupt sons. What does Samuel tell the people that a king will do? Why does he think a king is a bad idea?

9: We are introduced to Saul. From his dialogue with his servant, what kind of man does he seem to be? What physical characteristic in Saul is noted? How does Samuel know that Saul is the one God has chosen? Does Samuel explain this to Saul?

10. Anointing with oil is the biblical ritual of conferring kingship. Note that Samuel does it in secret. This is the first of 3 times when Saul is �made� king. The �band of prophets� that Samuel tells Saul he will join were professional ecstatics who would whip themselves into a frenzy with the rhythms of the music mentioned. As in other enthusiastic religious sects, they would dance, whirl, and speak in tongues, possessed by God�s spirit. By being seized with the same spirit, Saul will be transformed. 

Verse 17 begins the second account of the calling of Saul to be king, this time in public. Where is Saul when he is chosen by lot? How does this action agree with his character in his first dialogue in chapter 9? A word here about how the people of Israel figured out what God wanted them to do: They cast lots. Sometimes, their priests used objects called the �Urim and Thummim,� which may have been special stones or tokens with lettering on them attached to the priest�s garment called an �ephod,� to divine God�s intentions. The question posed had to be a yes or no, x or y question. However, God speaks directly to his prophets.

11: What do you think of Saul�s way of drafting men into his army to battle the Philistines? Here too, Samuel and the people reaffirm Saul�s kingship a third time. Why do you think they do this?

12. Here Samuel basically defends his years of service to the people. How does Samuel make his point here?

13. What mistake does Saul make here? Why does Samuel say it is so serious? Notice near the end of the chapter how the Philistines have kept weapons out of the Israelites� hands.

14. Here we see a contrast between Jonathan�s practical military tactics and Saul�s reliance on divination (oracles, casting lots) to figure out what he should do. Jonathan�s method wins out. Later in the chapter, Saul forces his army to fast�again, not a very practical way to gain victory�and again, Jonathan has a great victory. When Saul again tries to get info from God by divination, he fails, while Jonathan, who unknowingly broke his father�s command to fast, is victorious in battle. The motif here, then, is that Saul constantly seeks knowledge of the future and is denied it. Note at the end of this chapter how Saul consolidates his power as king.

15. Here Saul is again given a command by Samuel that he breaks, with dire consequences. The command in verse 3 is to kill everything in Amalek, animals, men, women, children. What happens as a result of Saul�s failure to kill everything?

16. We meet David here. What physical characteristics does he have? Note that again Samuel anoints him in private (why?) and that the spirit of God grips David, but turns away from Saul. The evil spirit that grips Saul in verse 14 seems to be a deep depression, followed by paranoia. Why, then, does David first come into Saul�s court? Note here too, as earlier in chap. 9, Saul asks his servants for help. This story associates David with power over the spirit through song.

17. The famous story of Goliath, a folktale of the same type as Jack and the Beanstalk. But the biblical writer has drawn the story into the world of politics and has made David an individual. Here, David is introduced as if Chap. 16 hadn�t happened. There were probably two versions of how Saul first met David, and, as is often the case in the bible, the writer uses both. What powers does this story add to the portrait of David in the preceding chapter?

What two things do David�s first spoken words tell us about him? Why doesn�t Saul�s armor fit David? Again note Saul�s ignorance at the end of the chapter.

18. Note that Jonathan loves David the way Achilles loves Patroclus, even giving him his own armor. Why does the women�s victory song anger Saul? Note the repetition of language throughout this chapter for God�s favor/disfavor. How does Saul use his daughter Michal to try to get rid of David?

19.  What does the repetition here of Saul throwing a spear at David, as he did in chap. 18, tell us about Saul?

Note that Michal risks a great deal to save David from her father. Note also that we do not know what David is thinking here.

MOTIF: Royal robe: Remember chap. 10, when one of Saul�s initiations as king was falling into ecstasy among the prophets? Here he does so again, but this time he goes naked, stripped of his royal robe. Look for other references to Saul�s royal garments as you continue reading.

20. Contrast David�s first words to Jonathan with what the writer says about Jonathan�s feelings about David in chaps. 18 and 19.

What does Jonathan finally realize about his father�s feelings for David in this chapter? What does Jonathan again vow to David, v. 14-18?

21. David, fleeing from Saul, gets help from the priest Ahimelech: Why do you think the priest "trembles" at seeing David alone? David then flees to the one place he can be safe from Saul, enemy territory. Gath is the town of Goliath, and David tries to go there incognito, but he is recognized. What does David do to protect himself, v. 13-15?

22. Who joins David in hiding? How does Saul find out that Ahimelch helped David? How does he punish Ahimelech and his family? How does David find out about this outrage? Here Saul exacts the punishment against his own priest that he was supposed to exact against the Amalekites in chap. 15.

23. Note here that, though Saul has just destroyed 85 priests, who wear the "ephod" through which God communicates with kings, one of the priests, Abiathar, escapes so that David continues to have the military intelligence he needs before battle when Abiathar consults the ephod. David is forced to hide out in the wilderness or desert, that is, not in any towns, so that no one can turn him over to Saul. Note that while Saul is busy pursuing his rival, he has forgotten to defend his land against the real enemy, the Philistines.

24. MOTIF: Royal robe. Contrast David�s long speech, full of complex political aims, with Saul�s short response here. How does David show Saul 1) that he had power over Saul and 2) that he would never harm Saul? What does Saul here admit about David?

25. Story of Abigail. Remember that it is unusual to have any physical descriptions of a person, so when they occur, as here describing Abigail and Nabal, we know they will be meaningful in the story. Nabal�s name means "base fellow" or "fool" in Hebrew.

Sheep-shearing day is a day of feasting and merriment. David�s message to Nabal asserts that he and his armed men did not attack Nabal�s flocks and may have protected them from marauders, so they deserve to be fed. Note Nabal�s harsh reply. How does Abigail foresee David�s reaction and prevent it? Examine her speech to David: Find 2-3 key points that she makes. How does her speech work in her favor later?

Remember that polygamy was the standard practice in this society. When Saul gives his daughter Michal, David�s wife, to another man, it is a political move so that David can�t claim the throne through his marital connection to the royal family.

26. David scouts out Saul�s army, which has come to kill him. He takes along his nephew Abishai, and they get up close to Saul�s sleeping quarters. (David�s three nephews from his sister Zeruiah are the two impetuous ones, Abishai and Asahel, and the third, David�s military commander, the ruthlessly calculating Joab.) What does David refuse to do to Saul in this scene? Why? What does he take instead? When David calls out, challenging Saul�s men, note Saul�s answer, v. 17. Where else did Saul say this? Why do you think David does not "return" as Saul urges him to do in v. 21?

27. For the first time here, we get to know what David is thinking because his decision to go over to the enemy is huge, momentous, and the writer wants to explain it fully.

David lies to King Achish in v. 10 when he tells him that he�s raiding other Israelites. So Achish thinks that David will be his vassal forever because he won�t be able to go home again.

28. When Achish tells David that David must join the Philistine army attacking Israel, David in v. 2 is evasive. Interpret his words there in two different ways. When Achish makes David his bodyguard, what two different ways might that be interpreted?

MOTIFS: Saul�s lack of knowledge/ Saul�s royal garments. As he should by God�s law laid out in the biblical book of Leviticus, Saul has outlawed all wizards and mediums who call up the spirits of the dead. Biblical views about the dead vary�sometimes, as in this chapter, the dead are viewed as shadows who can be called up, something forbidden by God. But here Saul shows his need for knowledge again by breaking this law. Note that he takes off his kingly garments to disguise himself.

The woman of Endor screams as soon as she sees the spirit of Samuel in v. 12 because she realizes that the man in disguise is Saul, who could legally kill her for calling up a spirit.

What is Samuel�s awful prophecy?

29. In this chapter, how is David prevented from having to prove himself to Achish by attacking his own people? We don�t know what he would have done if he had to fight against Israelites.

30. What do David and his men discover when they return to Ziklag? How does David find out if he should go after the Amalekite raiders?

The Egyptian in v. 11 is one of several foreigners who will appear in David�s story to give him needed info.

Why is it a good idea for a military commander to do what David does in v. 23-26 with the spoils or plunder seized from the Amalekites? Remember how the Greek army at Troy divided up the plunder they seized from others.

31. Why does Saul in v. 4 want his armor-bearer to kill him? Who else dies? How is the Philistine treatment of Saul�s corpse reminiscent of Achilles� treatment of Hector�s body? What do some Israelites do to remedy this?


Remember that the division of Samuel into two books was due to the lengths of scrolls when the text was copied in the 3rd century bc. The original writers saw no division between what happens in 1 Samuel 31 and 2 Samuel 1.

1. Here is another foreigner bringing David news. Why would this Amalekite lie to David about how Saul died? What advantage might he think it gives him with David?

When David has the Amalekite killed for killing Saul, how is he also protecting himself?

David�s poetic lament for Saul and Jonathan marks a transition from Saul�s story to David�s story that follows. How does this song also serve a political purpose for David? Poetically, how does the end of the lament recall its beginning?

2. How does David present himself here as Saul�s successor? Note that it�s Abner who makes Saul�s weak son Ishbosheth king. The strange ritualized, but deadly combat in v. 12-17 predicts the civil war to come, Saul�s men under Abner against David�s men under Joab.

What does Joab�s brother Asahel force Abner to do? What do you think Abner means in v. 26 by "the end will be bitter"?

3. When a man takes sexual possession of another man�s woman, he is making an implicit claim to that man�s power. (Remember that Agamemnon takes Achilles� girl, though he doesn�t sleep with her.) So Ishbosheth is right to be angry with Abner in v. 7. What does Abner�s angry response imply? (Which of the two men has real power?)

How does David�s demand for Michal to be returned to him as wife support his claim to rule over ALL the tribes of Israel, even Saul�s tribe of Benjamin? Note how much we learn about Paltiel in how few words, v. 15-16.

Abner seems to be negotiating to have David become sole king over all Israel, maybe to end civil war, and David agrees�and why wouldn�t he! How does Joab interpret Abner�s negotiation with David? Why does Joab call Abner back to Hebron? Why does David curse Joab, v. 29?

Note that David and others fast in v. 35 to honor a dead man, much as Achilles does after Patroclus dies. Note also that although David curses Joab and his brother, he doesn�t get rid of them and continues to use them as strongmen. He wants to have his cake and eat it too!

4. Here the killers of Ishbosheth are foreigners who have become naturalized members of Saul�s own tribe, so Ishbosheth is betrayed by his own tribesmen. Also, two brothers kill him, repeating the pattern of the preceding chapter.

How does David show he is not guilty of the death of Ishbosheth?

Dismembering a corpse was a common ancient Near Eastern practice, but it also suggests the mayhem and political dismemberment to come in the kingdom that David is about to rule.

5. The tribes referred to in v. 1 here are the northern tribes loyal to Saul. Now that Ishbosheth is dead, they turn to David as king. To consolidate his reign, David does several things: he conquers Jerusalem, a Jebusite city in the middle that belongs to none of the 12 tribes of Israel�in other words, a neutral place to set up his capitol. Then he builds a house, takes more concubines and wives, and strikes down the Philistines twice.

6. Finally, David brings the Ark of the Covenant into the city. This is the portable tent in which lie the twelve tablets of the law given to Moses and in which the spirit of God dwells among men. In an archaic story that shows how much power the people thought God within the Ark had, God kills a man who touches the Ark to prevent it from falling.

Note that David sings and dances before the Ark in v. 5 and later in v. 15, where he�s also dressed in the priestly "ephod." So he is acting both as priest and king. When she sees him, why does Michal "despise him in her heart"? Her words to David in v. 20 are sarcastic ("honor"!) and are echoed by his words "contemptible" and "debased" in v. 22. Even when the kingdom is joyful and united, as here, it is not a simple or unambiguous triumph.

SKIP 7 and 8.  Chapter 7 explains why David doesn't build God a temple.  Chapter 8 explains the consolidation of David's power over his neighbors, a process that must have taken many years.

9.  Here, why do you think David brings Saul's last son, the crippled Mephibosheth, to live with him and eat at his own table?  Remember how David entered Jerusalem in chapter 6?  It's ironic that the last son of Saul should enter it crippled "in both his feet."

10. Note that from here on, David is no longer the military king who leads his army into battle.  Rather, he sends out others to fight for him.  He has become a sedentary king.  MOTIF: Watch for the repeated verb "sent out." 

11.  The Bathsheba Story: This and the next chapter are the turning point of the whole David story.  Pay close attention to what David does here and what its consequences are.  Note that in verse 1, it's the time of year when  "kings usually go to war," but David stays home, sending his army out under Joab.  MOTIF: "sent"

In many Mediterranean countries, it is customary during hot weather to sleep, bathe, and eat on one's roof for cool air.  Also, David's palace would have been at the top of the hill so that he would be able to look down on the roofs of other houses.  David's adultery can scarcely be a secret at the court since he uses messengers for the comings and goings. Given that, there is real ambiguity in this story:  Does Uriah know about the adultery or not? If he finds out once he arrives at the court from the war, is he pricking the king's conscience in v. 11?  Or in that verse is he rather the noble soldier as opposed to the treacherous king?  Now David compounds his adultery with bloodshed.  How does Uriah die?  Note that Joab's servant doesn't wait for David to get angry as Joab predicted but tells him of Uriah's death right away, showing us that everyone in the court knew what David had done.  Bathsheba marries David even more quickly than Queen Gertrude marries Claudius in Shakespeare's Hamlet!  Note that moral judgment is passed only after all of David's actions, v. 27.

12.  Who "sends" whom in v. 1?  The story that Nathan the prophet tells is a parable, a traditional tale with a moral that parallels David's actions.  David's angry reaction to Nathan's story is a self-condemnation.  Pay close attention to the dire prophecy that Nathan makes about David's house in v. 10-11 and in v. 14.  The retribution will all be open and public, while David tried to conceal all his evil actions.  What would we expect a man to do after his son dies?  What does David do after Bathsheba's son dies in v. 20?  Look carefully at David's response to his servants in v. 22-23 because here he speaks for the first time without politics, but simply and painfully human.

13.  The Rape of Tamar: Here follows the unfolding of the curse pronounced by Nathan on David's house, and note that it begins with sexual transgression within the royal household, again because of a beautiful woman, and again leading to murder.  This story is played out as a series of 7 interlocking scenes with two characters each, one of whom appears in the next scene (It might be fun to act this out!).