Chryses, a priest of Apollo, journeys to the Achaian camp to request the return of his daughter Chryseis. Chryseis had been captured in a Greek siege and given to Agamemnon as a war prize. Chryses has brought many gifts as ransom for his daughter, but Agamemnon refuses to accept them and sends Chryses away. Apollo then revenges the ill treatment shown to his priest by sending a plague to the Greeks. The plague claims many lives, and a counsel is held to determine how to stop it. Through the advice of a seer, the Greeks agree that the return of Chryses is the only way to stop the plague from taking even more lives. Agamemnon, however, does not give up his prize willingly, and insists that he must have another man’s prize in exchange. He demands Briseis, the woman given to Achilleus in the same siege. Achilleus is so angry with Agamemnon for taking Briseis that he immediately withdraws himself and his troops from the fighting with Troy. He also asks his mother, the goddess Thetis, to plead with Zeus to help him avenge the wrong. Zeus agrees to assist the Trojans in their attack on the Achaians, thus showing Agamemnon that Achilleus is a great man, who would be necessary to succeed in battle.
Agamemnon gathers the rest of his army for a massive attack against the Trojans. The first day of battle opens with a duel between Paris and Menelaos, and a truce among the rest of the armies. After the duel, which ends with Paris being taken out of the battle by Aphrodite, the truce is broken by Pandaros, the Trojan, and the two armies engage in bitter fighting. At the end of the day, there is another duel, this time between Aias and Hektor, which is broken up before its end. The two sides retreat, and the Achaians build a wall around their encampment to protect their position and their ships.
When fighting resumes, Zeus pushes the Trojans to great triumph over the Achaians, and their victory seems certain. At this point, Agamemnon calls his leaders together and admits he was at fault in taking Briseis from Achilleus. He agrees to return her, along with a great deal of treasure and a sworn oath that he has not slept with her, if Achilleus will come back and fight with the Achaians. The message is brought to Achilleus by his good friends Odysseus, Aias, and Phoinix. Achilleus greets his friends warmly, but refuses to make peace with Agamemnon.
The next day the fighting resumes, and the Achaians fight well. However, over the span of the day, most of the best men are injured and taken out of the fight. These include Agamemnon, Diomedes, Odysseus, Eurypylos, and Machaon. The only remaining champion of the Achaians is Aias. Hektor then leads a strong drive by the Trojans, and they manage to break through the Achaian wall and fight all the way to the ships. As the Trojans attempt to set fire to the Achaian ships, the gods intervene and rescue the Achaians from almost certain destruction. At this point, Achilleus and his companion Patroklos become fearful for the fate of the Achaian army. While Achilleus still refuses to fight, he sends Patroklos out to the field in his own armor with a contingent of men to save the ships.
Because Patroklos and his army are rested and fresh, they easily drive the weary Trojans back to the city wall. Patroklos fights bravely and performs many courageous acts, but he pushes his luck and is eventually killed by Hektor. Hektor takes the famous armor of Achilleus from Patroklos, and a fierce battle is fought over his body. The Achaians manage to retrieve the body of Patroklos, but the battle has turned to the Trojan’s favor, and the Achaians retreat.
When Achilleus hears the news of his companion’s death, he is mad with rage against Hektor, but cannot rush into the battle without his armor. However, the gods transfigure him and when he shows himself on the battlefield the Trojans pull back and the Achaians escape. His mother Thetis acquires immortal armor from the god Hephaistos, and Achilleus announces to the assembled Achaians the end of his quarrel with Agamemnon. The next day the Achaians, mostly through the exploits of Achilleus, are able to drive the Trojans back inside their city walls. Hektor, however, refuses to go inside, promising to encounter Achilleus directly instead. His courage fails at the last minute and Achilleus pursues Hektor twice around the city walls. Hektor’s flight is finally halted through the trickery of Athene, and the two men duel. Hektor is killed and his body is dragged by the ankles behind Achilleus’ chariot back to the Achaian camp.
Achilleus then holds funeral games for Patroklos, giving many great prizes to the victors. Patroklos’ body is mourned and burned in a great pyre. In his grief over his friend, Achilleus has been dishonoring the body of Hektor, but the gods have kept it from mutilation. Priam is secretly guided by the gods to Achilleus to request his son’s body in exchange for a great ransom. Achilleus has pity on him, and returns the body. The Trojans then bury Hektor.
Background: The Homeric Tradition
While the Iliad is considered by many to be one of the greatest works of literature ever composed, surprisingly little is known of its author. The poet known as “Homer” is shrouded in mystery. Until the eighteenth century, tradition unquestionably held that Homer was a blind poet who told tales of a time long past even in his own day. It has generally been agreed that Homer lived and worked in the city of Smyrna, located in what is now Turkey. The earliest mention of the name “Homer” is in the work of Xenophanes of Colophon, a philosopher who wrote in the sixth century B.C. There are quotations from work attributed to him in the writings of Plato Aristotle and Herodotus among others (Vivante, 24). However, historians have been unable to find any hard evidence of his existence, in large part because he lived before the event of written history.
Because of stylistic similarities, it has been proposed that the Iliad, the Odyssey, and several other minor works were composed by the same poet, known as Homer. By tradition these poems were handed down over many centuries. Who that poet might have been—and whether or not this is even true—is a matter of debate. One theory is that there was a gifted poet named Homer who composed the skeleton of the works, but that the final version is the result of many different poets expanding and editing the poem over time. Another theory is that the Iliad represents the work of many poets and as many as 18 separate poems that were compiled into a coherent whole. It could also have been an expansion of one or more shorter poems by the same author. Evidence for these theories is based on certain inconsistencies within the epic, as well as the existence of some of the material elsewhere, indicating that it must have been borrowed.
Other possibilities certainly exist, and the debate will most likely never be resolved. What is certain, however, is that the Iliad and the Odyssey are among the world’s best known and most influential achievements, together forming the base of a tradition that later included Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Commedia, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and many others.
List of Characters
Achilleus(also called the son of Peleus, or as “of Aiakos’ stock”)— Achilleus is the best warrior on the Achaian side. His feud with Agamemnon is central to the plot. Achilleus has the distinct advantage of having been made invulnerable as an infant when his mother submerged him in the River Styx. The only place he is vulnerable is where his mother held him as she dipped him in the water—his heel.
Agamemnon (also called the son of Atreus)—Agamemnon, Menelaos’ brother, is the king of Mycenae, and Menelaos chooses him to be the leader of the Achaian armies in the campaign against Troy. His feud with Achilleus causes great losses to the Achaian army and is central to the plot.
Aias (also called the son of Telamon)—Aias is an elite Achaian warrior, renowned for his courage and strength in battle.
Aias the Lesser (also the son of Oileus)—An Achaian warrior.
Antilochos—Nestor’s son and a brave Achaian warrior.
Automedon—Achilleus’ chariot driver and squire.
Briseis—Briseis was abducted when the Achaians raided Thebes. She was given as a war prize to Achilleus and later taken by Agamemnon.
Chryseis—Chryseis is the daughter of Chryses, a priest of Apollo from Thebes. She was abducted as a war prize and given to Agamemnon.
Diomedes (also called the son of Tydeus)—An elite Achaian warrior known for his level-headed and courteous manner as well as his skill and bravery in battle.
Idomeneus—An Achaian; ruler of Crete.
Kalchas—An Achaian prophet.
Menelaos (also called the son of Atreus)—King of Sparta and husband of Helen.
Menelaos launches the Trojan War in an attempt to revenge himself and to retrieve
Helen from Paris, who has run off with her.
The Myrmidons—The Myrmidons are the army of Achaian soldiers under Achilleus’ command.
Nestor—The oldest of the Achaian warriors, and a valuable counselor.
Odysseus—One of the elite Achaian warriors renowned for his bravery and strength,
Odysseus is chosen by Menelaos to return Chryseis to Thebes.
Patroklos (also called the son of Menoitios)—Closest friend of Achilleus and a strong Achaian warrior.
Thersites—Obnoxious, insubordinate Achaian.
Aeneas—A nobleman, high-ranking in the Trojan army.
Andromache—Hektor’s wife, who tries to convince him not to return to the fighting.
Antenor—A Trojan nobleman who argues that Helen should be returned to Menelaos in order to bring an end to the fighting.
Antiphos—Son of Priam and strong Trojan warrior.
Astyanax—Son of Hektor and Andromache.
Cassandra—Prophetess of Apollo, and daughter of Priam and Hekuba.
Dolon—A nobleman of Troy sent out to spy on the Achaian camp. He is captured by Diomedes and Odysseus who are on a similar mission spying on the Trojans.
Glaukos—A Trojan prince and warrior.
Hektor—Son of Priam and Hekuba, and head of the Trojan armies. Hektor is a responsible and just ruler, as well as the best warrior on the Trojan side.
Hekuba—Wife of Priam and mother of Hektor.
Helen—Helen is said to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She is the wife of Menelaos, but has run off with Paris, and is living as his wife in Troy.
Helenos—A seer, Helenos is another of Priam and Hekuba’s sons.
Idaios—Herald who urges Priam to make a truce with Agamemnon.
Pandaros—Trojan warrior responsible for breaking the truce between the two armies.
Paris (also known as Alexandros)—Son of Priam and Hekuba, Paris runs off with Helen, thereby causing the Trojan War. Paris is a coward who is accused many times of shirking his responsibility to fight in the conflict that he caused.
Poulydamas—A high-ranking Trojan warrior who gives good advice that is rarely followed.
Priam (also known as “Dardanian Priam” or “stock of Dardanos”)—King of Troy, husband of Hekuba and father of Paris, Helenos and Hektor. Priam is a good man, and quite old. Legend says that Priam fathered 50 sons and 12 daughters.
Sarpedon—Trojan warrior who urges Hektor to rally his troops.
Teukros—Achaian warrior who kills many Trojans.
Gods and Goddesses
Aphrodite (also known as Kypris)—Goddess of Love, mother of Aeneas and Zeus’ daughter, Aphrodite helps the Trojans, and is the champion of Paris.
Apollo—Zeus’ son, God of Archery, Prophecy, and Poetry. Apollo helps the Trojans.
Ares—Son of Zeus and Hera, God of War. Ares helps the Trojans.
Artemis—Zeus’ daughter, Goddess of Chastity. Artemis helps the Trojans.
Athene—Zeus’ daughter, Goddess of Wisdom. Athene helps the Achaians.
Hades—Ruler of the underworld, and God of the Dead.
Hera—Zeus’ wife and sister who ardently supports the Achaians, sometimes against the wishes of her husband.
Hermes—Messenger of the gods, Hermes has links to the underworld and helps the Achaians.
Iris—A messenger of the gods.
Poseidon—God of the Sea, and Zeus’ brother, Poseidon helps the Achaians.
Paieon—Healer God who treats Ares’ wound.
Thetis—Goddess of the Sea, and Achilleus’ mother, Thetis beseeches Zeus’ aid in revenging the wrong done to her son by Agamemnon.
Xanthos—God of a Trojan river, and Zeus’ son, Xanthos helps
Zeus (also called The son of Kronos)—King of the gods, Zeus’ role is the fulfillment of Destiny, and he is not aligned with either side.
Estimated Reading Time
Allow an hour or slightly more to read each chapter, or book. There are a total of 24 books in the Iliad, totaling roughly 24-26 hours of reading time. Note: These eNotes are based on the 1951 Richmond Lattimore translation of the Iliad.
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Though the myths describe the Trojan War as a thirty-year cycle of preparations, conflict, and homecomings, the chronological period that the Iliad covers is actually quite restricted, not more than ninety days in the final year of fighting. Despite its focus on the quarrel of only two of its warriors, both of them Greek, Homer nevertheless conveys the full range of human emotions that prevails in war, even as he provides a vivid portrait of Mycenaean culture. The result is that his Iliad, bold and all-encompassing though it is, remains essentially quite limited; that is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive features of Homer’s epic. Homer makes the limits of his intentions clear from the outset. His...
(The entire section is 1662 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Book 1 Summary and Analysis
Achilleus: greatest warrior of the Achaian army
Agamemnon: head of the Achaian army against Troy
Chryses: priest whose daughter was abducted as a war prize by the Greeks
Chryseis: Theban woman given to Agamemnon as a war prize
Kalchas: seer who offers advice
Athene: goddess who restrains Achilleus from slaying Agamemnon
Nestor: old Achaian warrior who offers advice
Odysseus: one of Agamemnon’s counselors
Talthybios: herald and servant of Agamemnon
Eurybates: herald and servant of Agamemnon
Briseis: Theban woman given to Achilleus as a war prize
(The entire section is 1817 words.)
Book 2 Summary and Analysis
Thersites: obnoxious, insubordinate Achaian
Iris: messenger goddess sent by Zeus to warn Trojans of attack
Book Two opens with Zeus’ plan to aid Achilleus in his revenge. Zeus sends Agamemnon the message that the gods are now on the Achaian side, and that they will be victorious in their campaign against Troy. To convey the message, Zeus sends Dream in the form of Nestor.
Agamemnon wakes from his dream convinced that the Achaians will now defeat Troy. At the same time, Zeus sends his messenger Rumour among the armies to urge them on to battle. The armies are called together and Agamemnon tests them by telling them to give up...
(The entire section is 935 words.)
Book 3 Summary and Analysis
Alexandros (Paris): abductor of Helen and cause of the war; basically a coward
Aphrodite: Goddess of Love and mother of Aneas
Helen: wife of Menelaos and mistress of Paris
Priam: father of Paris and King of Troy
Idaios: herald who urges Priam to make a truce with Agamemnon
Antenor: accompanies Priam to make truce with Agamemnon
The Trojans and Achaians approach each other to do battle. As they prepare to fight, Alexandros (Paris) challenges the best of the Achaians to a duel. However, when Menelaos agrees to fight, Paris cowardly shrinks back into the ranks. Hektor derides Paris for causing...
(The entire section is 920 words.)
Books 4 and 5 Summary and Analysis
Pandaros: the Trojan who breaks the truce by shooting an arrow at Menelaos
Talthybios: herald of Menelaos who summons Machaon to heal Menelaos’ wound
Machaon: healer who treats Menelaos’ wound
Idomeneus: leader of the Cretan forces who pledges loyalty to Agamemnon
Diomedes: one of the strongest Achaian warriors
Stethenelos: companion of Diomedes
Ares: God of War who helps the Trojans
Antilochos: first Achaian to kill a Trojan warrior
Telamonian Aias: one of the strongest Achaian warriors
Antiphos: son of Priam and strong Trojan warrior
Hektor: son of Priam and leader of...
(The entire section is 931 words.)
Book 6 Summary and Analysis
Adrestos: a Trojan fighter who pleads with Menelaos to take him alive rather than kill him
Helenos: son of Priam who urges Hektor to gather the Trojan women to beseech Athene
Glaukos: Trojan warrior who exchanges a promise of friendship with Diomedes
Hekabe: Priam’s wife and Hector’s mother, who chooses her best robe as a gift to Athene
Theano: priestess of Athene who presents the gift with a prayer to the goddess
Andromache: Hektor’s wife who tries to convince him not to go back to the battle
Astyanax: Hektor’s infant son
Book Six continues on the same day of fighting, and...
(The entire section is 1109 words.)
Book 7 Summary and Analysis
Talthybios: Achaian herald who breaks up the duel
Poseidon: also called “Earthshaker”; the god of the sea
The Trojans are greatly encouraged as Hektor and Paris rush back to the battlefield. Athene is distressed at the destruction these two cause and she meets with Apollo. Together they decide to encourage Hektor to challenge an Achaian to a duel. This plan will give the rest of the warriors a reprieve from the fighting. They put the idea in Helenos’ head, and he brings the suggestion to Hektor.
Hektor holds back the Trojans, and they all sit down on the battlefield. Likewise, Agamemnon holds back the Achaians, and they...
(The entire section is 1049 words.)
Book 8 Summary and Analysis
Teukros: Achaian warrior who kills many Trojans
Book Eight opens with a fierce warning from Zeus. He promises dire consequences to any immortal who attempts to help either the Trojans or the Achaians. Athene asks permission to give advice to the Achaians without actually aiding them in battle, and Zeus agrees. Zeus then leaves for Mount Ida, where he will have a clear view of the battlefield and will be left in peace to survey the action.
Meanwhile, both armies prepare for battle, and the fighting begins again in earnest. At noon, Zeus takes out his golden scales and weighs the fates of the Trojans and the Achaians. The fate of the Achaians...
(The entire section is 679 words.)
Book 9 Summary and Analysis
Phoinix: old friend and teacher of Achilleus, sent to him with Agamemnon’s peace offer
As Book Nine opens, the Achaians are in a panic. Agamemnon calls an assembly and tearfully suggests fleeing in their ships. It is Diomedes who finally protests against this plan, chastising Agamemnon for cowardice. He succeeds in rallying the Achaians to go on with the fight. Nestor then stands and suggests that a guard be set up outside the wall to protect against a surprise attack, and that a feast be held for the elders as they decide their plan of action.
As the elders feast, Nestor points out that the present difficulty is a direct result of...
(The entire section is 655 words.)
Book 10 Summary and Analysis
Dolon: Trojan warrior who agrees to spy on the Achaians in return for treasure
Rhesos: King of the Thracians, killed on a spy mission by Diomedes
The seriousness of the Achaian situation keeps Agamemnon from sleeping. He rises and gathers the leaders of the Achaian forces together to discuss strategy. They decide to send spies into the Trojan camps to see what they can learn of the Trojan battle plans. Diomedes offers to go if he can bring a companion for security. Odysseus is chosen and they go, fully armed.
On the way, they encounter Dolon, a Trojan soldier sent out to spy on the Achaians. After...
(The entire section is 563 words.)
Book 11 Summary and Analysis
Machaon: wounded Achaian carried out of battle by Nestor
Eurypylos: wounded Achaian who asks Patroklos to tend his wound
As dawn breaks, the Achaians and Trojans arm for battle. Both sides fight fiercely, and the Achaians successfully break the Trojan line, forcing the enemy all the way back to the city walls. Then, however, the Trojans rally and soon Agamemnon is hit in the arm with a spear. He fights for a while, but eventually gives in to his wound and leaves the field. Shortly thereafter, Antenor shoots Diomedes through the foot with an arrow and he too is out of the battle. Then Odysseus is stabbed...
(The entire section is 671 words.)
Books 12 and 13 Summary and Analysis
Poulydamas: Trojan soldier who advises Hektor to leave horses and attack the wall on foot
Meriones: Achaian warrior who comes to Idomeneus to replace his broken spear
The Achaians are penned back by their ships and Hektor attempts to bring his army over the ditch in front of the wall. However, as the Trojan horses are afraid of the ditch, crossing with the chariots is deemed too difficult. The Trojans decide to leave their horses and attempt to break through the wall on foot.
As Hektor, Poulydamas, and their men prepare to cross the ditch, they see an omen. An eagle holding a live snake flies over, and the snake twists and bites...
(The entire section is 747 words.)
Books 14 and 15 Summary and Analysis
Thoas: advises the Achaians to retreat to their ships
Nestor leaves his hut to observe the battle and sees that the Trojans have broken through the Achaian wall. He soon encounters Diomedes, Odysseus, and Agamemnon, and they discuss strategy. Agamemnon proposes that they drag the ships into the sea and sail away under cover of darkness. He sees no point in fighting the Trojans when the gods are on their side. Odysseus chides him for his lack of courage. He points out that if the Achaians know they will retreat in their ships, they will lose the spirit for fighting and be destroyed on the battlefield before they reach the...
(The entire section is 802 words.)
Books 16 and 17 Summary and Analysis
Automedon: Achaian warrior who attempts to bring Achilleus’ horses into the battle
Patroklos brings the grim news that he has heard from Nestor to Achilleus, begging him to put aside his pride and fight to save the Achaians. Failing that, he asks to be allowed to borrow Achilleus’ armor and take the Myrmidon army into battle. Achilleus is not ready to forgive Agamemnon, but agrees to send Patroklos in his armor. He instructs Patroklos to come back after driving the Trojans from the ships, lest Achilleus should lose the glory of sacking Troy himself, or a god should come against Patroklos and bring him down.
Meanwhile, the Trojans have...
(The entire section is 946 words.)
Book 18 Summary and Analysis
Antilochos brings the news of Patroklos’ death to Achilleus, who is distraught with grief. He pours dust and ashes over his head and sprawls on the ground tearing at his hair. As everyone in the hut weeps for Patroklos, Achilleus utters a terrible cry of mourning. Thetis hears his cry and goes to comfort him. Achilleus tells his mother that Hektor must pay with his life for the death of Patroklos. His mother tells him that his own death is fated to follow directly after Hektor’s, but Achilleus will not be dissuaded. However, Achilleus no longer has his armor and cannot go into battle unarmed. Thetis agrees to have a new set of armor made by Hephaistos in Olympus, and instructs Achilleus to do...
(The entire section is 794 words.)
Book 19 Summary and Analysis
Xanthos: Achilleus’ horse, who prophesies his coming death
Thetis brings the new armor to Achilleus and finds him still weeping over the body of Patroklos. Achilleus takes his new armor and gathers the Achaians together. He announces that he is putting aside his anger toward Agamemnon and that he will now return to the battle. This news is greeted with joy by the Achaians. Agamemnon then answers Achilleus, acknowledging the folly of their quarrel and again offering the great gifts he had promised.
Achilleus is eager to do battle and urges the Achaians to ready themselves without delay. Odysseus points out...
(The entire section is 657 words.)
Books 20 and 21 Summary and Analysis
Asteropaios: Trojan warrior who faces Achilleus at the river’s edge
Aganor: Trojan who keeps Achilleus from taking Troy
As the Achaians and the Trojans arm themselves, Zeus calls the gods together in Olympos. Zeus orders the gods to enter the battle on whichever side they choose. He is afraid that Achilleus, in his anger, will overstep fate and storm the walls of Troy. The gods quickly join their favored sides as battle begins.
Aineias, spurred on by Apollo, challenges Achilleus. When the fierce duel approaches its destined conclusion, Poseidon fears for Aineias and rushes in to spirit the warrior away from the field. Though...
(The entire section is 940 words.)
Book 22 Summary and Analysis
Deiphobos: brother of Hektor, whose form Athene takes in fooling Hektor
As the other Trojans recover from the battle behind the city walls, Hektor remains alone outside the city to face Achilleus. Apollo then reveals himself. Achilleus is furious with the trick and moves quickly back to the city. Priam sees him coming and begs his son to reconsider and come inside the walls. His mother then adds her entreaties, but neither can convince him to give up his post. Hektor goes over his options. He can give up and go back into the city, where he will surely be blamed for the destruction of his people. He can put down his armor and meet Achilleus unarmed,...
(The entire section is 1114 words.)
Book 23 Summary and Analysis
The Achaians return to their ships, and Achilleus and the Myrmidons immediately resume their mourning of Patroklos. They drive their chariots around his body three times and defile the body of Hektor. Then they take off their armor and hold a great funeral feast. As Achilleus falls asleep on the beach, the ghost of Patroklos appears to him. The ghost admonishes him for not properly burying his body and thus preventing his spirit’s passage through the gates of Hades. He also requests that his bones and Achilleus’ be placed together in death as they were together in life.
In the morning men are sent to gather wood for the funeral pyre. Achilleus orders the Myrmidons to arm themselves,...
(The entire section is 799 words.)
Book 24 Summary and Analysis
Achilleus is so overwhelmed with grief for his friend that he cannot sleep. Each night he rises and ties Hektor’s body to his chariot, driving his horses around Patroklos’ tomb three times. Still, the gods protect the corpse, and it does not degenerate.
The gods begin to argue over the body of Hektor, some wanting to steal it away from Achilleus for proper burial, and some having no pity for the Trojan. Finally, Zeus tells Hera that Hektor, too, was dear to the gods. He sends Thetis to Achilleus to tell him that Zeus is enraged at his behavior and that he must return Hektor’s body to Priam.
Another messenger is sent to Priam, urging him to take great ransom to Achilleus...
(The entire section is 828 words.)