Iliad Summary

The Iliad is an epic poem by Homer that tells the story of several weeks in the last year of the decade-long Trojan War.

  • In the Greek camp, Agamemnon and Achilles, the Greeks’ best warrior, argue over a captive woman, and Achilles refuses to fight.
  • The tide turns in the Trojans’ favor. Achilles’s friend Patroclus disguises himself as Achilles and joins the fight. He is ultimately killed by the Trojan prince Hector.
  • Achilles reenters the battle to avenge his fallen friend. He kills Hector and maims the body. Achilles buries Patroclus and agrees to return Hector’s body to Troy, where it is buried.

Summary

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Last Updated June 22, 2023.

Plot Summary of the Iliad:

Chryses, who is a priest of Apollo, travels to the Achaian camp to plead for the release of his daughter Chryseis, who was taken captive during a Greek siege and awarded to Agamemnon as a spoil of war. Although Chryses has brought numerous offerings as payment for his daughter's release, Agamemnon declines to accept them and dismisses Chryses.

In retaliation for the mistreatment of his priest, Apollo inflicts the Greeks with a deadly disease that causes the loss of numerous lives. A meeting is convened to figure out how to put an end to the epidemic. Following the guidance of a prophet, the Greeks conclude that the only solution to halt the plague's devastation is to give back Chryseis.

Agamemnon, on the other hand, refuses to surrender his prize and insists that he must receive another person's prize as compensation. He demands Briseis, the woman awarded to Achilles during the same siege. Achilles is so furious with Agamemnon's action of taking Briseis that he immediately withdraws himself and his army from the war with Troy. He also beseeches his mother, the goddess Thetis, to intercede with Zeus on his behalf to avenge the injustice. Zeus agrees to support the Trojans in their assault on the Achaians, demonstrating to Agamemnon that Achilles is an important figure who is necessary for victory in the battle.

Agamemnon assembles the remainder of his troops for a colossal assault on the Trojans. The initial day of combat commences with a one-on-one battle between Paris and Menelaus, and a ceasefire is established among the remaining armies. Following the fight, in which Paris is removed from the battle by Aphrodite, the truce is violated by Pandarus, a Trojan, and the two forces engage in bitter fighting. At the conclusion of the day, another duel occurs, this time between Ajax and Hector, but it is terminated before a winner can be determined. The two groups withdraw, and the Achaians construct a barrier around their encampment to safeguard their location and their vessels.

When the fighting resumes, Zeus helps the Trojans achieve a significant triumph over the Achaians, making their victory appear certain. Upon this occurrence, Agamemnon gathers his leaders and confesses that he was wrong to take Briseis from Achilles. He consents to return Briseis, along with a vast amount of riches and a sworn declaration that he did not sleep with her, in exchange for Achilles' return and assistance in fighting with the Achaians. Odysseus, Ajax, and Phoenix relay this message to Achilles, who receives them warmly but declines to reconcile with Agamemnon.

On the following day, the Achaians resume their battle and display great skill. However, as the day progresses, many of their top warriors sustain injuries and are forced to withdraw from the fight. Among those injured are Agamemnon, Diomedes, Odysseus, Eurypylus (or Eurypylos), and Machaon. Consequently, the only remaining hero fighting for the Achaians is Ajax.

Afterward, Hector leads a powerful offensive by the Trojans, successfully breaching the Achaian wall and pushing their way toward the ships. As the Trojans attempt to set fire to the Achaian vessels, divine intervention occurs and the gods rescue the Achaians, saving them from near-certain destruction. At this point, both Achilles and his comrade Patroclus (or Patroklos) become anxious about the fate of the Achaian army. Despite still refusing to join the fight himself, Achilles sends Patroclus, outfitted in his own armor, along with a group of soldiers to defend the ships.

Due to Patroclus and his troops being well-rested and full of energy, they effortlessly push the exhausted Trojans back towards the city wall. Patroclus displays great bravery and performs numerous acts of valor, but he becomes overconfident and is ultimately slain by Hector. Hector seizes the renowned armor of Achilles from Patroclus, and a brutal struggle ensues over his body. Although the Achaians succeed in recovering Patroclus' body, the tide of the battle has shifted in favor of the Trojans, and the Achaians are forced to retreat.

After learning of his comrade's demise, Achilles becomes furious with Hector but is unable to engage in battle without his armor. Nevertheless, the gods transform him, and when he appears on the battlefield, the Trojans retreat, and the Achaians are able to withdraw. With the aid of the god Hephaestus (or Hephaistos), Achilles' mother Thetis procures immortal armor for him, and Achilles declares an end to his dispute with Agamemnon in front of the gathered Achaians.

On the following day, the Achaians succeed in forcing the Trojans to retreat within their city walls, largely due to Achilles' heroic feats. However, Hector refuses to retreat and instead pledges to confront Achilles directly. Despite his initial bravado, Hector loses his nerve and attempts to flee. Achilles chases him twice around the city walls before Athena deceives Hector, stopping his flight. The two engage in a duel, resulting in Hector's death, and Achilles drags his body by the feet behind his chariot all the way back to the Achaian encampment.

Achilles proceeds to organize a series of athletic contests in honor of Patroclus, with generous prizes being awarded to the winners. Patroclus' body is deeply lamented and then cremated on a grand pyre. In his anguish over his friend's death, Achilles has been shamefully mistreating Hector's remains, but the gods have prevented any further desecration. Guided in secret by the gods, Priam seeks out Achilles to offer a substantial ransom in exchange for his son's body. Moved by Priam's plea, Achilles takes pity on him and returns the body to the Trojans. Hector is then given a proper burial by his people.

Quick Summary of Each Book of the Iliad

Book 1: The Trojan War begins as Agamemnon, the Greek king, takes Chryseis, the daughter of a priest of Apollo, as his captive, leading to a plague. Achilles, the Greek hero, demands her release.

Book 2: The gods intervene in a council, and Zeus sends a false dream to Agamemnon, urging him to attack the Trojans. The Greeks prepare for battle, and a catalogue of Greek and Trojan forces is presented.

Book 3: Paris, a Trojan prince, challenges Menelaus, the Greek king, to a duel to settle the war. However, Paris is rescued by the goddess Aphrodite and returns safely to Troy.

Book 4: The gods provoke a battle between the Greeks and Trojans. Many warriors on both sides are killed, including the Trojan hero Hector's closest ally, Sarpedon.

Book 5: Diomedes, a Greek warrior, becomes a hero by fighting against the gods themselves, including Aphrodite and Ares. He wounds Aphrodite and forces the gods to withdraw from the battlefield.

Book 6: Hector returns to Troy to consult with his wife Andromache and see his son Astyanax. He then rejoins the battle, and the Trojans regain the upper hand.

Book 7: The Greek hero Ajax duels with Hector, but the battle ends inconclusively due to the intervention of nightfall. Both sides agree to a temporary truce to bury their dead.

Book 8: Zeus calls a meeting of the gods and allows them to interfere more actively in the war. The Greeks launch a fierce assault, but Hector leads a Trojan counterattack, forcing the Greeks back to their ships.

Book 9: Achilles' closest friend, Patroclus, persuades him to let him wear Achilles' armor and lead the Greeks into battle. Patroclus is killed by Hector, leading to Achilles' decision to rejoin the war.

Book 10: Odysseus and Diomedes embark on a nighttime raid on the Trojan camp, capturing a Trojan spy. They kill many Trojans and create chaos and panic within the city.

Book 11: Agamemnon leads a Greek charge but is wounded and forced to withdraw. The Greek hero Ajax fights valiantly, but Hector's leadership ensures Trojan success.

Book 12: The Greeks fortify their camp as the Trojans approach. Hector breaches the Greek wall, but the Greeks manage to push him back.

Book 13: Poseidon aids the Greeks, and they succeed in pushing the Trojans back. However, Hector rallies the Trojans and drives the Greeks back to their ships.

Book 14: Nestor advises the Greeks to build a defensive wall around their ships. Hera seduces Zeus to distract him from the battle, allowing the Greeks to regain their strength.

Book 15: Zeus allows Apollo to aid the Trojans, and they break through the Greek defenses. The Greek hero Patroclus appears to Achilles in a dream, urging him to fight.

Book 16: Patroclus borrows Achilles' armor and leads the Greeks into battle, driving the Trojans back. However, Apollo aids Hector, who kills Patroclus.

Book 17: Menelaus and Hector duel, but their fight is interrupted by a storm sent by Zeus. Both sides withdraw, and the Greeks mourn Patroclus' death.

Book 18: Achilles mourns Patroclus and is visited by Thetis, his mother, who brings him new armor forged by the god Hephaestus.

Book 19: Achilles reconciles with Agamemnon and rejoins the battle. He avenges Patroclus' death by killing Hector.

Book 20: The gods decide that Achilles' actions have gone too far, and Zeus orders Hector's body to be returned to the Trojans for proper burial.

Book 21: Achilles holds funeral games in honor of Patroclus. The Greeks engage in various competitions, including chariot racing and wrestling.

Book 22: Achilles pursues Hector around the walls of Troy. Hector's bravery fails him, and Achilles kills him, dragging his body back to the Greek camp.

Book 23: The ghost of Patroclus appears to Achilles, urging him to bury him properly. Achilles holds a grand funeral for Patroclus.

Book 24: Priam, Hector's father, begs Achilles for Hector's body, and Achilles relents, showing compassion. The poem ends with Hector's funeral, and the gods discuss the fate of Troy.

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