Iliad Summary

Iliad cover image summary

In The Iliad, both gods and men struggle to bring an end to the ten year Trojan War. Great Greek warrior Achilles kills Hector in battle, crippling the Trojan forces.

The Iliad summary key points:

  • In the midst of the Trojan War, Greek leader Agamemnon refuses to return captive Chryseis, causing Apollo to send a plague to the Greek encampment and alienating powerful Greek warrior Achilles.

  • Zeus listens to the insulted Achilles’ prayer and supports the Trojans. The tide turns in the Trojans’ favor. Agamemnon tries and fails to bribe Achilles to fight for the Greeks again.

  • Trojan prince Paris, who sparked the war by stealing Menelaus’ wife Helen, offers to battle Menelaus to end the conflict; he is defeated, but rescued by Aphrodite. The temporary truce is overthrown by Hera’s schemes and fighting resumes.

  • The Trojans attempt to light the Greek ships on fire, but the gods intervene on behalf of the Greeks. Achilles’ friend Patroclus disguises himself as Achilles and joins the fray; despite initial success, he is ultimately killed by Trojan prince Hector.

  • Achilles re-enters the battle to avenge his fallen friend. He kills Hector and attempts to maim the body, but fails when the gods preserve it. Achilles buries Patroclus and returns Hector’s body to Troy, where it is buried.

Summary

Summary
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.

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.