Okay, like, so how does it end?

We finished the Iliad in my humanities section today and--as always--I find myself hating to move on from it. The Iliad is such superb material; it's so much fun to teach, especially to students who have never read it before. I've yet to see it fail to capture the students' interest.

I realize that I am deeply passionate about the poem and that this may account for my good experiences teaching it. Passion certainly goes a long way in this business, but I really do think Homer's genius is what makes it work for all kinds of audiences. I have told an oral version of the Iliad to my son for many years. We do this on long trips or sometimes just to pass the time. He will say, "Tell that Golden Apple story." Sometimes it takes weeks to tell during car rides home from school. And sometimes I find myself having these amazing conversations with him about the characters and events in the poem. One day his first grade teacher told me she overheard him asking a fellow six-year old if Ajax should have gotten Achilles' armor instead of Odysseus. Apparently his friend just stared back at him befuddled.

One night last spring I sat up telling the story to the boy my wife and I have volunteered to mentor. He's a fidgety kid and doesn't have an especially long attention span, but he sat for over an hour listening with interest. I think the Iliad awakens in us our primal hunger for narrative. It certainly had that effect on my humanities section. How do I know? Because I received the ultimate teaching compliment today: several students hung around after class excited to discuss the poem just a bit more. Most of all they wanted to know what happened next. How did Achilles die? How did the Greeks take the city? What happened to Andromeda? Priam? Hecuba? What? Really? Achilles had a son!

I wish I could take credit for this, but I know it was Homer.


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