Book 1 Summary

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Last Updated February 28, 2023.

The Iliad begins as the narrator asks the Muses to aid him as he tells the tale of the Trojan War and the men who fought in it. While the war lasted years and killed many men, the story focuses on a few specific heroes, telling the tale of a quarrel between two of them—Achilles and Agamemnon—that proved disastrous. 

To contextualize this quarrel, the narrator explains that after the Achaeans sacked the city of Thebe, they divided the spoils amongst themselves, including two women, Chryseis and Briseis, to whom Agamemnon and Achilles lay claim, respectively. 

Chryses—the father of Chryseis and a priest of Apollo—comes to Troy to plead for her return and offers vast amounts of riches as ransom, but Agamemnon refuses.

In response to Agamemnon’s mistreatment of his priest, Apollo sends a plague against the Achaeans that kills many of them. Kalchas, a wise old seer, advises that only by returning Chryseis can the plague be stopped; Agamemnon begrudgingly agrees and returns Chryseis to her father. 

In compensation for giving up Chryseis, Agamemnon demands Achilles give him Briseis. Achilles is greatly angered by this unfairness; only the goddess Athena’s restraint prevents him from killing Agamemnon then and there. 

Furious at this unfair treatment, Achilles withdraws his troops from battle and refuses to fight. He meets with his mother, the goddess of water, Thetis, who agrees to speak to Zeus on her son’s behalf. Achilles hopes that he may have revenge on Agamemnon and receive recognition from the Achaeans when they realize how valuable he and his soldiers were.

Meanwhile, Odysseus sails back to Thebe on orders from Agamemnon, carrying with him Chryseis and one hundred oxen as an offering of peace. His voyage proves successful, and he appeases any lingering anger Apollo and Chryses bear toward the Achaeans. 

When Hera finds out that Zeus has promised Thetis that he will bring honor to Achilles, she is enraged. Hephaestus urges them to make peace before their great feast is spoiled, and surprisingly, they do. Book one concludes with all the gods peacefully sleeping side by side after their feast together.

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Book 2 Summary