Iliad Book 1 Summary and Analysis
by Homer

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Book 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
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 back the spoils and divided them equally among the warriors. Agamemnon’s prize was a maiden named Chryseis. Achilleus’ prize was a maiden named Briseis.

Some time later, the father of Chryseis—Chryses—comes to Troy to plead with the Achaians for her return. He brings with him vast amounts of riches to offer as ransom. After Chryses pleads his case, all of the Achaians (except Agamemnon) agree that Chryseis should be returned to her home. Rather than give up his war prize, Agamemnon sends Chryses away with harsh, angry words.

Chryses, a priest of Apollo, prays to his god to avenge the wrong done him by the Achaians. Apollo then sends “deadly arrows,” or a great plague, against the Achaians, and many of them are killed. After ten days of this deadly attack, Achilleus calls the Achaians together to discuss what can be done. They ask the advice of Kalchas, a seer. He advises that the only way to stop the bloodshed is to let Chryseis go. Agamemnon is extremely angry. He agrees to give up Chryseis if forced to, but only if he can have another prize in her place. Achilleus offers to compensate Agamemnon three or four times over when Zeus gives the Achaians the victory over Troy. However, Agamemnon insists that he will take his prize immediately, and that his prize will be Briseis. At this point, Achilleus nearly kills Agamemnon on the spot, but he is restrained by the goddess Athene.

Achilleus is greatly angered by these events which he considers grossly unfair. He pulls his troops out of the battle against the Trojans. After all, Achilleus had no personal stake in the fight with Troy. He was there only to help Menelaos retrieve his wife, Helen, who had run off with Paris. Achilleus announces that he and his army will return to their own land. Agamemnon sends his men to retrieve Briseis from Achilleus’ tent. Realizing he has little choice, he lets her go.

Achilleus then meets with his mother, Thetis, goddess of the water, and pours out his tale to her. Achilleus asks her to beseech Zeus for help in his revenge. His plan is to have Zeus aid the Trojans in their fight against the Achaian army, thereby destroying many of them in the fighting. The Achaians will then realize how valuable a warrior Achilleus was to them and repay the wrong done to him. Thetis is moved by her son’s anger. She knows that his fate is to die at a young age. Because of this, she agrees to do what she can to make his brief time on earth more bearable. She speaks to Zeus, who reluctantly agrees to aid the Trojans.

Meanwhile, Odysseus has sailed to Thebe to return Chryseis to her father. Along with the girl he has brought 100 oxen to be sacrificed as a peace offering. He is joyfully received, and a great feast is held to celebrate Chryseis’ return. The anger of Chryses and...

(The entire section is 1,817 words.)