Genre of the Epic Poem
The Iliad is an epic poem and part of the ancient Greek oral tradition. Homer’s audience was an illiterate culture, and Homer himself was most likely illiterate. Many critics believe that the composition of the Iliad predated any form of writing in the Greek culture. There are some critics, however, who believe that the Iliad must have existed in writing, given its length and complexity. It would have been nearly impossible to maintain such a coherent form by oral transmission alone. This does not mean, however, that it existed in the form that we now know it, or that it was accessible to the general public. If writing did exist, it is thought to have been practiced only by a few storytellers. These “Men of Words” would write down their best tales for their own use and to train their apprentices. They would not be seen by anyone else. Because of the enormous effort of writing, these books would become very valuable possessions, and would be passed down from the storyteller to his successor (Murray, 95-96).
The poets themselves were highly regarded by their contemporaries and treated as fellow workers who attempted to bring beauty to life. The purpose of the tales was both to eloquently preserve the history of a people and to entertain. The stories consisted of a mix of common history borrowed from past poets and embellishments added by the poet. Because these poems were delivered orally, they were adapted and elaborated with each telling, and were never the same twice. Whether written or not, the elaborate tales were recited by professional oral poets as entertainment at banquets, festivals, and fairs. It is known, for instance, that the Iliad was performed yearly at the Panathenaea in Athens, a great fair held every four years and lasting several days. At this festival, the Iliad was performed in relay fashion by many storytellers competing against each other. Each bard would attempt to make his portion of the poem more entertaining than the others. This resulted in some stretching and embellishment of facts. These were permitted as long as the teller did not deviate too far from known history.
A poet would rely on several routine devices to remember the core events of the narrative. These included the following:
1) Epic Hero—a virtuous and noble figure, proven in battle, who represents his nation, culture, or race.
2) Length—while each episode was designed to be recounted in a single evening, the entire work is quite long.
3) Lofty Style—the tone of the work is primarily serious, and the style is exalted—worthy of the subject.
4) Epic Similes—the poem contains extended comparisons between one element or character and something foreign to the poem. The simile helps the...
(The entire section is 1155 words.)
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The Poem (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Greeks are camped outside the walls of Troy, in the tenth year of their siege on that city. Agamemnon, king of the Achaians, wants the maid, Briseis, for his own, but she is possessed by Achilles, a mortal son of Zeus, king of the gods. When Achilles is forced to give up the maid, he withdraws angrily from the battle and returns to his ship. He wins from Zeus the promise that the wrong that he suffered will be avenged.
That evening Zeus sends a messenger to the Greek king to convey to him in a dream an order to rise and marshal his Achaian forces against the walls of Troy. When the king awakens, he calls all his warriors to him and orders them to prepare for battle. All night long the men arm themselves in battle array, making ready their horses and their ships. The gods appear on earth in the disguise of warriors, some siding with the Greeks, some hastening to warn the Trojans. With the army mustered, Agamemnon begins the march from the camp to the walls of the city, while all the country around is set on fire. Only Achilles and his men remain behind, determined not to fight on the side of Agamemnon.
The Trojan army comes from the gates of the city ready to combat the Greeks. Then Paris, son of King Priam and Helen’s lover, stands out from the ranks and suggests that he and Menelaus settle the battle in a fight between them, the winner to take Helen and all her possessions and friendship to be declared between the warring nations. Menelaus agrees to these words of his rival, and before the warriors of both sides, and under the eyes of Helen, who is summoned to witness the scene from the walls of Troy, he and Paris begin to fight. Menelaus is the mightier warrior. As he is about to pierce his enemy, the goddess Aphrodite, who loves Paris, swoops down from the air and carries him off to his chamber. She summons Helen there to minister to her wounded lord. Then the victory is declared for Menelaus.
In the heavens the gods who favor the Trojans are much disturbed by this intervention. Athena appears on earth to Trojan Pandarus and tells him to seek out Menelaus and kill him. He shoots an arrow at the unsuspecting king, but the goddess watching over Menelaus deflects the arrow so that it only wounds him. When Agamemnon sees that treacherous deed (the armies are in agreement at that moment not to fight), he revokes his vows of peace and exhorts the Greeks once more to battle. Many Trojans and many Greeks lose their lives that day, because of the foolhardiness of Pandarus.
Meanwhile Hector, son of King Priam, returns to the city to bid farewell to Andromache, his wife, and to his child, for he fears he might not return from that day’s battle. He rebukes Paris for remaining in his chambers with Helen when his countrymen are dying because of his misdeeds. While Paris makes ready for battle, Hector says good-bye to Andromache, prophesying that Troy will be defeated, himself killed, and Andromache taken captive. Then Paris joins him and they go together into the battle.
When evening comes the Greeks and the Trojans retire to their camps. Agamemnon instructs his men to build a huge bulwark around the camp and in front of the ships, for fear the enemy will press their attack too close. Zeus then remembers his promise to Achilles to avenge the wrong done to him by Agamemnon. He summons all the gods and forbids them to take part in the war. The victory, Zeus says, is to go to the Trojans; thus would the insult to Zeus’s son be avenged.
The next day, Hector and the Trojans sweep through the fields, slaughtering the Greeks. Hera, the wife of Zeus, and many of the other goddesses are not content to watch the defeat of their mortal friends. When the goddesses attempt to intervene, Zeus sends down his messengers to warn them to desist. Fearing his armies will be destroyed before Achilles will relent, Agamemnon sends...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Troy (Ilios). Ancient city on the plain of Troas, or Troad, on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea in what is now Turkey. Homer knew the area so well it is assumed that he had visited it. However, the Troy about which he wrote was a city that existed perhaps four centuries before his own time.
Legend has it that Apollo and Poseidon constructed Troy, and the Greek divinities had much to do with destroying it, first providing the occasion for the war, then prolonging it by squabbling among themselves, and finally deciding the city’s fate. However, historians believe that the cause of the war may have been the Greeks’ wish to stop the Trojans from collecting tolls from land travelers and from ships moving in or out of the Dardanelles (Hellespont).
*Pergamos (PUR-gah-muhs). Troy’s walled citadel, or acropolis. The temple of Athena at its summit is the Trojans’ place of worship. King Priam’s palace, which is described in book 6, is also there. It serves not only as the residence of the royal family but also as the city’s center of government. Whenever Hector goes out to battle or returns home, as he does in book 6, he uses the Scaean Gate on the west side of the Pergamos. His wife Andromache often watches him from the wall above. The city cannot be destroyed as long as the Pergamos remains in the hands of the Trojans; when it falls, the city will be destroyed.
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Book 1 Questions and Answers
1. Where are the Achaians at the opening of the epic?
2. Why did Apollo send “deadly arrows” against the Achaians?
3. Whose advice do the Achaians seek to stop the bloodshed?
4. What do the Achaians do to stop Apollo’s assault?
5. What does Agamemnon do to Achilleus that causes his great anger?
6. What is Achilleus’ plan for revenge?
7. Why does Thetis agree to help Achilleus?
8. Who takes Chryseis back to Thebe, and what happens when he gets there?
9. Why is Hera unhappy that Zeus agrees to help Achilles?
10. Who pleads with Hera to make peace with Zeus, and why?
(The entire section is 230 words.)
Book 2 Questions and Answers
1. How does Zeus convey his message to Agamemnon?
2. What is Zeus’ message, and can it be trusted?
3. How does Agamemnon test the warriors?
4. Do the warriors pass the test?
5. Which goddesses help to turn the army back to the fight?
6. What is the sign that Odysseus takes as proof of impending victory?
7. Who is the one warrior who refuses to listen to Odysseus, and what is his argument?
8. How does Odysseus react to Thersites?
9. Why does the narrator include a list of the armies with their leaders and ships?
10. How do the Trojans find out about the...
(The entire section is 292 words.)
Book 3 Questions and Answers
1. How do the Trojans feel about Paris, and why?
2. What incident in this chapter shows us this feeling?
3. Who reprimands Paris for his behavior?
4. What does Paris eventually agree to do?
5. Where is the duel fought?
6. Who has the upper hand in the fighting?
7. How does the duel end?
8. Who is declared the winner?
9. Is Helen happy to see Paris returned to his room?
10. What does the duel between Paris and Menelaos
1. The Trojans despise Paris because he is directly responsible for the war with the Achaians. He is also a...
(The entire section is 260 words.)
Books 4 and 5 Questions and Answers
1. Who decides to break the truce between the Trojans and Achaians?
2. How is the truce broken?
3. Who is the main character portrayed in Book Five?
4. What name has been given to this book?
5. Who appears to Diomedes when he is injured by Pandaros?
6. What two things does Athene give to Diomedes?
7. What instruction goes with these gifts?
8. What is the exception to this rule, and why?
9. How is Diomedes like Achilleus?
10. How is he different?
1. The gods decide to break the truce at the urging of Hera and Athene.
(The entire section is 194 words.)
Book 6 Questions and Answers
1. Does Menelaos wish to kill Adrestos?
2. What ends up happening to Adrestos?
3. What is Nestor’s advice to the Achaians?
4. Why does Hektor return to the city?
5. What do Diomedes and Glaukos discovcr about each other as they introduce themselves?
6. What do they do after making this discovery?
7. What do they do to symbolize this?
8. Where does Hektor find Paris, and how does he react?
9. Why does Andromache plead with Hektor not to return to battle?
10. Does Hektor believe the Trojans will defeat the Achaians?
1. Menelaos has pity on...
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Book 7 Questions and Answers
1. Whose idea is it to call a truce and have Hektor challenge an Achaian to a duel, and why?
2. Who first accepts Hektor’s challenge?
3. Does he fight Hektor? Why?
4. Who volunteers next and why?
5. How is the man to fight Hektor finally chosen, and who is it?
6. Who is the stronger fighter in the duel?
7. How does the duel end?
8. What do both sides request after counsel that evening?
9. Why is it important to the warriors to bury their dead?
10. What do the Achaians do during the truce?
1. Athene and Apollo decide to have Hektor offer a duel...
(The entire section is 262 words.)
Book 8 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Zeus warn the gods to stay out of the conflict?
2. Where does Zeus go to watch the battle?
3. What sign are we given that the Trojans will come out ahead in this day’s fighting?
4. Who does Hera ask to help her intervene for the Achaians?
5. What is his answer?
6. What omen does Zeus send to Agamemnon to let him know all will be well?
7. Which two goddesses attempt to ride into the battle to help the Achaians?
8. Are they successful?
9. Where are the two armies at the close of this day’s fighting?
10. Why does Hektor choose to camp where he does?
(The entire section is 260 words.)
Book 9 Questions and Answers
1. What plan does Agamemnon suggest as the book opens?
2. Who dissuades him and why?
3. What is Nestor’s advice to Agamemnon?
4. What does Agamemnon offer to give Achilleus?
5. Who is sent to bring the message to Achilleus?
6. How are the messengers received?
7. Does Achilleus accept Agamemnon’s offer?
8. Why does Achilleus act as he does?
9. What is the Achaian reaction to Achilleus’ answer?
10. What is Diomedes’ response?
1. Agamemnon suggests that the Achaians escape in their ships and sail home.
2. Diomedes dissuades him,...
(The entire section is 217 words.)
Book 10 Questions and Answers
1. Who is the first to volunteer for the spy mission into the Trojan camp?
2. Who does he choose to go with him, and why?
3. What do the Achaians hope to gain by the mission?
4. Who is sent on a similar mission for the Trojans?
5. What are his motivations?
6. Who catches whom spying?
7. What do they learn?
8. Which unit of Trojan fighters are Diomedes and Odysseus most interested in?
9. What becomes of Dolon?
10. Who is later killed and what is taken?
1. Diomedes is the first to volunteer to spy on the Trojans....
(The entire section is 234 words.)
Book 11 Questions and Answers
1. Which of the great Achaian fighters are wounded in this chapter?
2. Who is the only great fighter left fighting?
3. Where is Achilleus as he watches the action?
4. What is Achilleus’ attitude toward the events taking place?
5. What prompts Achilleus to desire news of the battle?
6. How does Achilleus decide to obtain this information?
7. What does Nestor ask Patroklos to do?
8. What is Nestor’s alternate plan?
9. Why does he think this alternate plan will work?
10. What stops Patroklos from returning directly to Achilleus?
(The entire section is 245 words.)
Books 12 and 13 Questions and Answers
1. What information do we learn in Book Twelve about the war’s outcome?
2. What initial difficulty do the Trojans face in storming the Achaian wall?
3. What do they decide to do about it?
4. What omen do the Trojan’s see as they prepare to assault the wall?
5. How does Poulydamas interpret the sign, and what is his advice to Hektor?
6. What does Hektor decide to do?
7. Are the Trojans successful in breaking through the wall?
8. Which god comes to the aid of the Achaians?
9. How does he avoid being noticed by Zeus?
10. Why doesn’t he stand up to Zeus?
(The entire section is 271 words.)
Books 14 and 15 Questions and Answers
1. What is Agamemnon’s plan of action at the beginning of Book Fourteen?
2. Who dissuades him from this action?
3. What does Diomedes suggest they do instead?
4. Why does Hera decide to seduce Zeus?
5. What aid does Aphrodite lend her?
6. Who else assists Hera?
7. How does Hera convince him to help her with her plan?
8. How successful is Hera’s plan?
9. Who injures Hektor, and how badly is he injured?
10. What happens when Zeus awakens?
1. Agamemnon, sure of defeat, advises escaping in the ships.
2. Odysseus rather forcefully...
(The entire section is 233 words.)
Books 16 and 17 Questions and Answers
1. Does Achilleus agree to end his grudge against Agamemnon at the request of Patroklos? Why?
2. What does Achilleus agree to do?
3. What are Achilleus’ instructions to Patroklos?
4. Why does he tell Patroklos to limit his efforts?
5. What event makes Achilleus hurry Patroklos on his way?
6. What happens when the Trojans see Patroklos and the Myrmidon army approaching?
7. Who intervenes when Patroklos is on the verge of taking the city?
8. Who finally kills Patroklos?
9. Why is there such fierce fighting over the body of Patroklos?
10. How do Achilleus’ horses react to the death of...
(The entire section is 232 words.)
Book 18 Questions and Answers
1. How does Achilleus react to the news of the death of Patroklos?
2. Who hears Achilleus’ tortured cry of grief?
3. What does Thetis tell Achilleus about his fate?
4. What is Achilleus’ response to this revelation?
5. What stops Achilleus from going out immediately to fight Hektor?
6. What is Thetis’ solution to this problem?
7. What does Hera instruct Achilleus to do for the Achaians in the meantime?
8. How can Achilleus do this without any armor?
9. What are the Achaians able to do as a result?
10. What does Poulydamas advise Hektor to do, and what is his response?
(The entire section is 252 words.)
Book 19 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Achilleus reconcile with Agamemnon?
2. What does Agamemnon offer Achilleus?
3. What does Agamemnon want to do after the reconciliation?
4. What does Achilleus want to do?
5. What does Achilleus say he will not do until Hektor is killed?
6. What do the Achaians decide to do next?
7. How does Achilleus obtain strength for the battle?
8. Whom does Achilleus chastise for their role in the death of Patroklos?
9. What is the response?
10. What is said that angers Achilleus?
1. Achilleus reconciles with Agamemnon because he is intent on...
(The entire section is 218 words.)
Books 20 and 21 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Zeus reverse his previous warning and invite the gods to intervene?
2. What is the outcome of the duel between Aineias and Achilleus?
3. Why does Poseidon act in this way?
4. What warning does Apollo give Hektor regarding Achilleus?
5. Does he act accordingly?
6. How does Hektor survive the duel?
7. Why does Achilleus take 12 young Trojan warriors as prisoners?
8. What is the river’s reaction to all the Trojans killed in its waters?
9. How does Achilleus escape?
10. What is the outcome of the duel between Agenor and Achilleus?
(The entire section is 244 words.)
Book 22 Questions and Answers
1. What are Hektor’s options as Achilleus approaches the gates of Troy?
2. Which option does he choose?
3. Who tries to dissuade him?
4. What does Hektor do as he sees Achilleus approaching?
5. Who intervenes?
6. How does she cause Hektor to stand up to fight Achilleus?
7. What promise does Hektor make to Achilleus?
8. Does Achilleus promise the same?
9. What does Hektor ask as he dies?
10. What happens to Hektor’s body?
1. Hektor can escape behind the walls of the city, face Achilleus unarmed while offering gifts, or stand up to fight him....
(The entire section is 218 words.)
Book 23 Questions and Answers
1. What do the Myrmidons do after returning to their camp?
2. Who appears to Achilleus in his dream?
3. What is his message?
4. What does Patroklos request that Achilleus do with his bones?
5. Why does Achilleus cut off his hair?
6. What is the significance of the act?
7. What is burned on the pyre with Patroklos?
8. Why are these items added to the pyre?
9. Why has Hektor’s body not disintegrated under the harsh treatment of Achilleus?
10. Why does Achilleus hold the funeral games?
1. They ride around the funeral pyre three times, defiling...
(The entire section is 239 words.)
Book 24 Questions and Answers
1. What does Achilleus do each night to the body of Hektor?
2. Why does he anger the gods?
3. Who do the gods send as a messenger to Achilleus, and what is the message?
4. What does Priam bring to Achilleus?
5. How does Priam move safely through the Achaian camp to Achilleus?
6. What does Priam talk about that moves Achilleus to tears?
7. What is the climactic scene of the Iliad?
8. What do the two men agree to do about the fighting?
9. What kind of burial is given to Hektor?
10. Why does the Iliad end with the burial of Hektor?
(The entire section is 264 words.)
Legend of the Trojan War
History and Culture of Troy
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Brann, Eva. Homeric Moments: Clues to Delight in Reading the “Odyssey” and the “Iliad.” Philadelphia: Paul Dry, 2002. A close and witty exploration of the experience of reading Homer.
Dalby, Andrew. Rediscovering Homer: Inside the Origins of the Epic. New York: W. W. NOrton, 2006. Dalby explores the historical development of written poetry and examines the debate regarding the authorship of Homer’s epics.
Kim, Jinyo. The Pity of Achilles: Oral Style and the Unity of the “Iliad.” Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. An argument for the unity of the Iliad that surveys recent...
(The entire section is 310 words.)