Iliad Study Guide
Introduction to Iliad
The Iliad is an ancient Greek epic attributed to Homer, although contemporary scholars believe that it was likely a collaborative work based on an oral tradition. The written version of the text is typically dated to the eight century BCE, and it is written in an amalgamation of different Greek dialects. The Iliad, alongside Homer’s Odyssey, is one of the oldest surviving texts in Western history, and it continues to provide both historical and literary insight. Although the historicity of the Trojan War is a topic of debate among scholars, Homer’s works provide important knowledge about the values, lifestyles, and storytelling methods of the Iron Age Greeks.
The plot of the Iliad details the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by the Greeks, a conflict that was set into motion when Helen, wife of the Spartan king, Menelaus, ran away with the Trojan prince Paris. Menelaus enlists the aid of his brother, Agamemnon, and other notable Greek leaders in order to reclaim Helen. In addition to the conflict between the Greeks and Trojans, there is also significant conflict within the Greek army, most notably the argument between Agamemnon and Achilles. The infusion of ancient Greek religious values provides both historical and thematic depth, highlighting notions of honor, love, and the inevitability of fate.
A Brief Biography of Homer
Homer is the name given to an ancient Greek poet, though to this day, there is continuing debate over whether or not the poet actually existed. And if he did, there are serious doubts about his authorship. Some contend that there is artistic unity within each of Homer’s epic poems, yet others believe the works to be the effort of multiple contributors. The style of the poetry has its roots in oral tradition, and some liken Homer’s writings to the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata, a poetic work that was edited, expanded, and rewritten by many hands over its lengthy history. Although these issues of authorship can never be resolved conclusively, the man known as Homer—whether fiction, legend, or flesh-and-blood poet—is still revered for his highly influential works, the Iliad and the Odyssey.