The World of Homer, The Odyssey

About the Tour

This audio tour through the Ancient Greek Art galleries at the Metropolitan Museum is keyed to study of The Odyssey. By focusing on objects embodying or displaying ancient Greek values and cultural practices, the tour helps students better understand Homer’s poem. For example, vase paintings of women getting married or weaving correlate with depictions of Nausicaa or Penelope in The Odyssey. On this tour students can also see objects that illustrate, exemplify, or embody the Greek gods, warfare, the mythical past, the importance of honor and fame, the nature of ancient armor, and the high value placed on poetry and song. Short, relevant passages from The Odyssey are read aloud to make the connections to the poems even clearer.

Annotated Bibliography of Printed Resources
Boardman, John.  The History of Greek Vases: Potters, Painters, and Pictures. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001.
This book details the history of collecting, making, using, and trading of Greek pottery.  The first chapter is an extensive history of Greek vases, suitable for students.  Two other chapters provide a useful survey of the kinds of scenes painted on vases.  Boardman explains both how and how not to read these scenes to understand the culture that made and used the pottery.
Boardman, John.  Greek Art. 4th edition. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
An authoritative survey from the Bronze Age to Hellenistic Art, this book has been so popular that it has gone through five editions, and in each, Boardman has taken account of new areas of scholarship.  But it remains a useful, accessible survey for newcomers to the field.  The illustrations in color and black and white on almost every page make the book a pleasure to browse through.  Also includes a chronological chart and selected bibliography.
Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Ottawa, IL: Greenhill Press, 2006.
Although this book focuses on the Greek city-states at war and on Macedon, it is full of informative photographs of Greek armor and weapons and of Greek terrain.  There are, for example, charts showing the evolution of Greek helmets and swords that would help students of Homer visualize his heroes in combat.
Edwards, Mark W.  Homer, Poet of the Iliad. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.
This book is both “a general introduction to Homer and a commentary on the Iliad.”  Part One discusses such matters as the nature of oral poetry; story patterns; Homer’s use of type-scenes, speeches, and similes; the gods; and the nature of Homeric honor.  Part Two is a book-by-book commentary on the Iliad.  An excellent resource for students new to Homer.  Very full bibliography.
Finley, M. I. and Bernard Knox.  The World of Odysseus. New York Review of Books, 2002.
Originally published in 1959, this is still a good introduction to the culture and values of the ancient Greeks in Homer’s era.  Finley discusses the poetic tradition that commemorated ancient heroes, the ways wealth was distributed in the Homeric period, the social organization of families and communities, and  their morals and values.  Two appendices added by Bernard Knox for the 2002 edition re-assess Finley’s remarks and evaluate Schliemann’s discovery of Troy 100 years after that fact.
Hanson, V.D.  The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Ancient Greece. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000.
This is an original look at the Greek way of waging battle after the development of the hoplite (infantryman and citizen soldier) and the phalanx.  Hanson discusses what it was like to wear armor and fight in a phalanx.  He analyzes the importance of the “strategos” or general of the phalanx, and describes typical battle array, the clash of the phalanxes, and the aftermath of a battle.  Although battles in the Iliad are of an earlier type, Hanson’s discussion of armor and of the Greek attitude toward warfare are useful for readers of Homer.  Students interested in contrasting Homer’s warfare with the later Greek phalanx will find this study compelling. Selected and supplementary Bibliographies.
Hurwit, Jeffrey M.  The Art and Culture of Early Greece, 1100-480 B.C. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985.
In analyzing the main periods of early Greek art, beginning with the Bronze Age and ending with the late 6th century B.C., Hurwit weaves together what was happening in the culture with what we see in the art.  For example, in the Late Geometric period, we see the importance of “cosmos” or order in the highly stylized art of the period’s vases and temples, but we also see its importance in the Iliad, where order is disrupted, and in the Odyssey, where it is restored.  Hurwit provides an excellent general understanding of the ways ancient Greek culture is manifested in its art.  But he also discusses specific aspects of the art, such as the “kouros,” the Ionian temple, and the development of black- and red-figure painting.  Ample illustrations and a glossary of technical words.
Kurtz, Donna and John Boardman.  Greek Burial Customs. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971.
Kurtz and Boardman present archeological excavations of cemeteries and funeral monuments in order to survey Greek burial practices.  The first half of the book is chronological, from the end of the Bronze Age to the Hellenistic period, and covers excavations in Athens and surroundings.  The second half, arranged by subject, brings in information from excavations in other parts of Greece, but always in reference back to Athens.  One chapter on funeral rites is especially useful for students.  Illustrations and drawings throughout.
Pomeroy, Sarah, Stanley Burstein, Walter Donlan, & Jennifer Tolbert Roberts. Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Four scholars collaborate in this excellent overview of Greek culture from its mythical beginnings to the Roman conquest.  Each chapter presents a particular historical period in sufficient detail to give a thorough grounding in all aspects of Greek culture.  The chapter on the Dark Ages is a very usefull introduction to the Greece of Homer.  This is a much more complete overview than that in Finley’s book.
Seaford, Richard.  Reciprocity and Ritual: Homer and Tragedy in the Developing City-State. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.
This book, which examines the junction of religion and politics and posits the origins of tragedy in rituals that promoted the emerging city-state, is valuable for its examination of the importance in Homeric society of gift exchanges, supplication, and guest-friendship.  As tragedy begins to emerge, these are replaced by public rituals.  Yet even in Homer’s world, there was the need for something to transcend the family to create a larger community.
Snodgrass, A.M.  Arms and Armor of the Greeks. London: thames and Hudson, 1999.
Snodgrass uses available literary, archaeological, and artistic evidence to piece together a picture of ancient Greek arms and armor from the Mycenaean period through the campaigns of Alexander the Great.  He is particularly strong on the development of the hoplite and the use of the phalanx, but for Homeric Greece, the info on Mycenean and Dark-Age warfare is especially useful.  The book is crammed with excellent illustrations.
Annotated Bibliography of Web Resources
This digital library contains every surviving ancient Greek and Latin text in the original and in annotated translations. More importantly, its “Art and Archeology” library contains thousands of images of ancient classical artifacts and archeological sites, all of them described and annotated.
One can search, for example, for vase paintings of a particular character like Achilles or Odysseus, of for photographs of a particular place like Troy or Pylos. This is the place to begin a search. The scholarly completeness of this site can make it a bit daunting for undergraduates to use comfortably, however.
The Metropolitan Museum’s Timeline of Art History (Under “Thematic Essays,” click on “Greek and Roman Art.”) includes an invaluable collection of essays on various aspects of ancient classical art, written by resident experts and linked to illustrations of artifacts from the museum’s collection. This is the place to start for informative essays on such subjects as “Women in Classical Greece,” “Greek Gods and Religious Practices,” and “Warfare in Ancient Greece.” Each essay also includes a very useful selected bibliography for further research.
This commercial site provides an excellent array of images, mostly from ancient artifacts like vase paintings and sculptures, of ancient gods, heroes, giants, monsters, and other mythical creatures from Homer’s epics. Each image is fully described and linked to other pages both within and outside the site. It is very user-friendly.
This is my own website. If you click on “Literature 230" and then on “Pictures,” you will find some key images of scenes in both the Iliad and Odyssey, though without much description or commentary. Images of scenes from the Iliad can be used with my “Collaborative Looking and Writing Exercise.” Click on “Useful Links” for links to other classical sites. Besides Perseus and the Metropolitan Museum links, I also provide links to the Greek government site for interactive tours of archeological sites and to the University of Pennsylvania site, which often has special online exhibits about such matters as the ancient Olympic games.

Additional Materials, Activities and Exercises

Slow Looking Exercise with Greek Funeral Monuments (.pdf)

Collaborative Looking & Writing Exercise: Iliad Scenes on Greek Vases (.pdf)

The Iliad and Museum Tour Paper Topics. (.pdf)

Sites: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ancient Greek Art galleries

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