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 invocation to Caliope, the Muse of epic, specifies that he will sing of Achilles’ anger.
Obviously, the anger of Achilles operates on several levels and has far-reaching consequences. On the personal level, it refers to the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon for possession of Briseis, a young woman originally given to Achilles by the Achaeans as his prize of honor. Agamemnon, too, had a captive mistress, Chryseis; yet, she was the daughter of a priest of Apollo named Chryses. When Agamemnon haughtily refuses to return Chryseis to her father, Chryses invokes Apollo himself, who sends a plague upon the Achaeans. Once he realizes that the army will be decimated by disease if he takes no action, Agamemnon returns Chryseis to her...
(The entire section is 1662 words.)
The Background of the Story
The goddess Eris (Discord) was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (Achilles’ parents), so in revenge she threw a golden apple inscribed “for the fairest” into the banquet hall, knowing it would cause trouble. All the goddesses present claimed it for themselves, but the choice came down to three—Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera. They asked Zeus to make the final decision, but he wisely refused.
Instead, Zeus sent them to Mount Ida, where the handsome youth Paris was tending his father’s flocks. Priam had sent the prince away from Troy because of a prophecy that Paris would one day bring doom to the city. Each of the three goddesses offers Paris a bribe if he will name her the fairest: Hera promises to make him lord of Europe and Asia; Athena promises to make him a great military leader and let him rampage all over Greece; and Aphrodite promises that he will have the most beautiful woman in the world for his wife. Paris picks Aphrodite. From then on both Hera and Athena are dead-set against him, and against the Trojans in general.
The most beautiful woman in the world at the time is Helen, a daughter of Zeus and Leda. Helen is already married—to Menelaus, the king of Sparta. Helen’s adoptive father Tyndareus had required all the men who wanted to marry her swear a solemn oath that they would all come to the assistance of Helen’s eventual husband should he ever need their...
(The entire section is 2150 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
Patroklos: friend of Achilleus
Menelaos: brother of Agamemnon, and husband of Helen whose retreat with Paris is the reason for the war
Thetis: mother of Achilleus
Zeus: king of the gods
Hera: wife of Zeus
Hephaistos: Hera’s son; a lame craftsman god associated with fire
The Iliad begins with the narrator requesting help from his Muse in telling his tale. In this introductory piece, the hero of the epic is “Godlike Achilleus.” The plot of the story involves a quarrel between Achilleus and Agamemnon and its disastrous consequences.
One of the many exploits of the Achaian army was the sacking of the city of Thebe. The Achaians brought...
(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 and go home. To his surprise, the men are overjoyed and cheer loudly as they race to the ships that will take them home.
However, Hera is not pleased with this reaction, and she sends Athene down to urge the men back to the fight. Athene reminds Odysseus of the many men already dead, and how pointless their deaths will be if the cause is not won. Odysseus then takes Agamemnon’s scepter and urges the men back to the battle, egging them on with taunts of their weakness and cowardly nature. Eventually the prodding is rewarded, and the troops turn back. However, one warrior, Thersites, refuses to listen to Odysseus’ reasoning. He insults and taunts Agamemnon and argues for...
(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 war and then having no courage to fight. Paris is so shamed by his brother’s remarks that he agrees to duel with Menelaos for Helen and all of her goods, leaving the rest of the armies out of it.
The armies are overjoyed with this plan, and quickly lay down their armor and prepare to make a truce. Idaios the herald is sent to summon King Priam, who rides down in his chariot with Antenor to meet Agamemnon and Odysseus. Together they swear that the winner of the fight will keep Helen and all her goods. When the conditions have been met, the Achaians will return to their home. However, if Menelaos wins and Priam refuses to pay, the Achaians will fight the war to its end. Two lambs are sacrificed and everyone prays to Zeus,...
(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 Trojan forces
Apollo: god who fights on the Trojan side
Aineias: son of Aphrodite and counselor to the Trojans, wounded by Diomedes
Dione: mother of Aphrodite who heals her wound
Sarpedon: Trojan warrior who urges Hektor to rally his troops
Paieon: healer god who treats Ares’ wound
Book Four opens with a meeting of the gods, who discuss the outcome of the duel in the last chapter. Zeus recommends ending the war, as Menelaos was decidedly the winner. However, Hera and Athene are bent on destroying Troy completely, and argue against a truce. In the end, Athene is sent to provoke further fighting.
She accomplishes her goal by...
(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 Achaians have the advantage. Adrestos is captured by Menelaos and pleads for his life, promising ransom. While at first Menelaos has pity, a sharp rebuke from Agamemnon convinces him not to spare the Trojan’s life. Nestor urges the Achaians to continue their assault and not stop to gather the spoils.
The Achaians succeed in pushing the Trojans to retreat. Helenos then advises Hektor to return to Troy and gather the women together to beseech Athene for help with Diomedes. Hektor agrees and heads for the city, urging the warriors to keep up the fight while he is gone.
Meanwhile, Diomedes and Glaukos face each other for a duel. However, before beginning any fighting, Diomedes asks Glaukos to identify himself,...
(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 all sit on the battlefield to hear what Hektor has to say. Hektor offers his challenge, and Menelaos is the first to accept the task. However, he is dissuaded from fighting by the Achaians who know that Hektor is a far superior warrior. Nestor then urges the Achaians to act like men and to accept the challenge. After his speech, nine of the Achaians rise to volunteer. When lots are cast to choose among them, Telamonian Aias is chosen.
Prayers are offered to Zeus and the duel begins. The men are fairly evenly matched, and the fighting is fierce. When the sky darkens, a herald from each side holds his stave between the two and separates them. Gifts are exchanged, and both men return to their armies.
Agamemnon calls the...
(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 sinks, while the Trojan’s fate is lifted high. Shortly after this, the Achaians lose courage, and fare badly in the fighting. They turn and run to the ships, and many are pinned in the space between the Trojans and the wall.
Hera then tries to convince Poseidon to aid the Achaians. Poseidon is afraid of the consequences of disobeying Zeus,though, and he refuses. Agamemnon, however, prays to Zeus, who pities the Achaians, not wanting them to be completely destroyed. Zeus sends an omen; an eagle with a fawn in its talons that is dropped next to the Achaian altar to Zeus. This sign rallies the Achaians for a time, but they are soon pushed back again to the ditch, and then back to the ships.
Hera and Athene are...
(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 Agamemnon’s feud with Achilleus. He suggests returning Briseis and making peace with Achilleus so that he will return to fight with the Achaians. Agamemnon is now ready to admit fault, and he agrees to return Briseis to Achilleus, along with a sworn oath that he has not touched her and a generous array of gifts. Phoinix, Aias, and Odysseus all friends of Achilleus, are sent to give him the message.
Achilleus warmly receives his friends into his hut, but he is still too angry to accept Agamemnon’s peace offering, explaining that even 10 or 20 times the amount of treasure offered could not repay the wrong done to him. In the morning he plans to sail for home, and he advises his...
(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 initially letting him pass, they chase him down and capture him. Dolon is terrified and quickly confesses his mission. He also reveals the location of Hektor, the type of guards set up by the Trojans, the positions of various fighting units, and the sleeping area of a newly arrived and unprotected force from Thrace. As Dolan attempts to plead for mercy, Diomedes kills him with his sword and takes his clothes and weapon. These spoils are offered as gifts to Athene.
Diomedes and Odysseus then head for the Thracian camp and kill 12 sleeping Thracians. The thirteenth man killed is the Thracian king, Rhesos, owner of a splendid team of horses. The Achaians then release the horses and escape with them, heading...
(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 through his shield, and he also retreats to the camp. Aias continues fighting bravely, holding back the Trojans almost single-handedly.
Meanwhile, Achilleus watches the action from the stern of his ship. He senses that the Achaians now sorely need him, and that they will be brought to their knees to beg him to return to the battle. When he sees Nestor taking a wounded man from the battle, he sends Patroklos to him for news. Patroklos reaches Nestor and is informed of the day’s events. Nestor begs Patroklos to use his influence on Achilleus to convince him to bring his fresh troops into the battle. He also suggests that if Achilleus will not go, he could send Patroklos with the Myrmidon army. Nestor points out...
(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 its captor in the neck. The eagle cries out and drops the snake among the men, who are gripped with fright at such a strong sign from Zeus. Poulydamas advises Hektor to heed the warning and turn back. However, Hektor is determined to attack and leads the charge on the wall. The two armies fight bitterly at the wall and many men on both sides are killed. Finally, Hektor hurls a great rock at the doors of the double gates and smashes the hinges, shattering the doors. The Trojans stream inside, sending the Achaians running for their ships in panic.
Poseidon, watching the Achaians fighting to save their ships, feels pity for them and great anger at Zeus. He mounts his chariot and rides over the sea to the battle. He leaves his...
(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 shore. Diomedes then proposes that the three wounded leaders go back to the fighting to encourage the men, and they all agree to do so.
Hera looks down from Olympus and happily sees Poseidon on the battlefield spurring on the Achaians. She immediately thinks of a plan to keep Zeus out of his way. She bathes and perfumes herself, dresses herself in beautiful clothing, and borrows the magic Band of Love and Desire from Aphrodite. She then enlists the aid of Sleep, promising him one of the Graces in marriage if he will put Zeus to sleep after she has lain with him. She goes to Zeus on Mount Ida, and he is overwhelmed with desire for her, wraps them in clouds and lies with her. Sleep then overtakes him....
(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 succeeded in torching one of the Achaian ships, as Aias could no longer defend it. Achilleus sees the fire and hurries Patroklos on his way, offering libations to Zeus. When the Trojans see Patroklos and the Myrmidon army approaching, they are terrified. Fully believing that Achilleus has given up his anger and is leading the force of fresh warriors, they begin to retreat. Patroklos presses in and kills many Trojans, including Sarpedon, son of Zeus.
After forcing back the Trojans, Patroklos fails to heed Achilleus’ instructions and instead presses on in pursuit. As Patroklos and his men are on the brink of taking the city, Apollo steps in and forces him back from the wall. Later, Apollo comes at Patroklos from behind, striking a...
(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 nothing until she returns in the morning.
Back on the battlefield, the Trojans are pushing the Achaians back to their ships, and they catch up to the body of Patroklos. Again, the two armies fight fiercely over the body. Hera sends Iris down from Olympus to rouse Achilleus to defend Patroklos. She instructs him to go out to the ditch and show himself to the Trojans to hold off their fighting. Athene wraps Achilleus in the aegis, and he is surrounded by a blazing light. As he stands at the ditch, he utters three fierce shouts that carry loud and clear to the Trojans, striking them with terror. As the Trojans are thrown into confusion, the Achaians are able to drag Patroklos out of the fighting.
As evening falls and the...
(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 that the men have not eaten, and that they will need strength for the battle. He suggests that first they rest and feast, and that Agamemnon bring the gifts for Achilleus for all to see. Achilleus relents, but swears that he will neither eat nor drink until he has avenged the death of Patroklos. The gifts are brought out to Achilleus and a great oath is sworn before Zeus that Agamemnon did not lie with Briseis.
Achilleus puts on his new armor and mounts his chariot, calling out to his horses to bring him home safely, unlike Patroklos. The horse Xanthos speaks back to him, assuring him that he will return from this day’s battle unharmed. He goes on, however, to predict the fated death of Achilleus. This angers...
(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 Poseidon is aiding the Achaians, he knows that it is fated that Aineias should survive and carry on Priam’s line as king of the Trojans. Achilleus sees that the gods have rescued Aineias and turns to kill many other Trojans. After Achilleus kills Hektor’s brother Polydoros, the Trojan prince attacks him, but Apollo wraps Hektor in a thick mist to keep Achilleus from killing him.
As Book Twenty-one opens, Achilleus has forced the Trojans into full retreat in two groups. One group runs toward the city and the other runs right into the river Xanthos. Achilleus leaps into the river with his sword and kills a great number of Trojans, sparing 12 young men alive to fulfill his promise to Patroklos. Lykaon begs for his life at the...
(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, offering to return Helen and give great treasure along with her. However, Achilleus would probably kill him regardless. He decides his best option is fighting.
As Achilleus nears Hektor, the Trojan’s courage fails, and he begins to retreat in terror. Achilleus relentlessly chases Hektor around the city walls as the Trojan tries unsuccessfully to dash for the gates and get inside. As they complete three full laps around the city, Zeus holds up his golden scales and puts a fate of death in each pan. When Hektor’s doom sinks down, Apollo leaves him to his fate.
Athene then appears to Hektor in the guise of Deiphobos, one of his brothers. Believing that he will have help in fighting Achilleus, Hektor turns to face him....
(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, and Patroklos’ body is carried to the pyre site. Achilleus cuts off the lock of hair he had been growing in dedication to the river Spercheios for his safe return. The pyre is built 100 feet square and the body is placed on top. The body is wrapped in the fat of sheep and cattle, and their carcasses are added to the pyre. Along with these are added jars of honey and oil, four horses, two dogs, and the 12 captured Trojans, and the pyre is set aflame. After the fire has done its work, it is extinguished with wine. The bones of Patroklos are carefully separated from the others and gathered in a golden jar for burial. A mound is built over the site of the pyre as a memorial.
Meanwhile, Aphrodite protects the corpse of Hektor,...
(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 in exchange for Hektor’s body. Against his wife’s advice, Priam gathers gifts of great value and makes his way into the Achaian camp with Hermes as his protector. When he reaches Achilleus, Priam makes an impassioned plea for his son’s body, reminding Achilleus of his own father. Both men are moved to tears, and Achilleus agrees to give up the body. Achilleus orders his serving-women to wash and anoint Hektor’s body and wrap it in a beautiful cloak. A meal is prepared and a bed is laid down for Priam. Achilleus agrees to a request for a 12-day reprieve from the fighting in order to give Hektor a proper burial. Then all of the Achaians sleep, and Hermes spirits Priam out of the camp unseen.
The Trojans come out of the city...
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History and Culture of Troy
The epic theme Homer chose for the Iliad was the Trojan War. At the time the poem was composed, the Trojan War was most likely several centuries past. The poet was safe to assume that his audience was familiar with the major events and myths of the war. Homer could then pick up the action toward the end of the war, and allude only briefly to crucial episodes that occurred earlier. In fact, while the Greek translation of the title is “the poetry about Troy,” the actual subject of the epic is the experience of Achilleus, and the action takes place in a period measured in weeks or months. Homer tells us in the Iliad that the war has been raging for ten years as his story begins. Historically speaking, this is unlikely. The limited knowledge available through archaeological and cultural research supports a war at Troy lasting only a few years
What we do know of the actual history of the Trojan War is less colorful and far less detailed than the myth. Scholars have argued that the setting of the Iliad should not be Asia Minor, but the Greek mainland, where there is evidence that a protracted siege took place in the early Mycenaean Age. It is widely believed that the events of the Iliad historically represent a large catalog of ruin throughout the geographical area rather than a single city’s destruction. This theory helps to explain Homer’s ten years of...
(The entire section is 857 words.)