Iliad Characters at a Glance

  • Achilles, son of a mortal man and a goddess, is the greatest of the Greek warriors. Told by his mother that he must choose between a long peaceful life at home and death with glory in Troy, he chooses the latter and fulfills his destiny.

  • Trojan prince Hector is the greatest of the Trojan warriors. He defends Troy out of love for his family and his people. He dies with honor after a great battle with Achilles.

  • Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and brother to Menelaus, leads the Greek forces in battle. Though clever and capable, he is also arrogant and blunders by offending Achilles.

  • Menelaus, Greek king of Sparta, recruits his brother to help him attack the Trojan citadel to retrieve his wife Helen, who was stolen by Trojan prince Paris.

  • Patroclus, friend and mentee of Achilles, dies a hero when he decides to take Achilles’ place in battle; his death at Hector’s hand causes Achilles to rejoin the fight.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Achilles (uh-KIH-leez), the son of Peleus and the Nereid Thetis, prince of the Myrmidons, and mightiest of the Achaian warriors at the siege of Troy. At his birth, his mother had dipped him in the Styx, so that all parts of his body are invulnerable to hurt except the heel by which she held him. A young man of great beauty, strength, courage, and skill in battle, he nevertheless possesses two tragic flaws, an imperious will and a strong sense of vanity. Enraged because King Agamemnon orders him to surrender the maid Briseis, whom Achilles had taken as his own prize of war, he quarrels bitterly with the commander of the Greek forces and withdraws from the battlefield. When the Trojan host attacks, driving the Greeks back toward their ships, Achilles remains sulking in his tent. So great is his wrath that he refuses to heed all entreaties that he come to the aid of the hard-pressed Greeks. When the Trojans begin to burn the Greek ships, he allows his friend Patroclus, dressed in the armor of Achilles, to lead the warlike Myrmidons against the attackers. Patroclus is killed by Hector, the Trojan leader, under the walls of the city. Seeing in the death of his friend the enormity of his own inaction, Achilles puts on a new suit of armor made for him by Hephaestus and engages the Trojans in fierce combat. Merciless in his anger and grief, he kills Hector and on successive days drags the body of the vanquished hero behind his chariot while King Priam, Hector’s father, looks on from the walls of the city. When the sorrowing king visits the tent of Achilles at night and begs for the body of his son, Achilles relents and permits Priam to conduct funeral rites for Hector for a period of nine days. In a later battle before the walls of Troy, an arrow shot by Paris, King Priam’s son, strikes Achilles in the heel and causes his death.


Hector (HEHK-tur), the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. As the commander of the Trojan forces, he is the greatest and most human of the heroes, an ideal figure in every respect: a skilled horseman, a brave soldier, an able leader, a man devoted to his family and his city, and the master of his emotions under every circumstance. His courage in battle, his courtesy in conference, his submission to the gods, and his sad fate at the hands of vengeful Achilles provide an admirable contrast to the actions of the blustering, cunning, cruel, and rapacious Greeks.


Andromache (an-DROM-uh-kee), the devoted wife of Hector and the mother of Astyanax. After the fall of Troy, she was taken into captivity by Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. Still later, according to The Aeneid, she married Helenus, the brother of Hector, and ruled with him in Pyrrhus.


Astyanax (as-TI-eh-naks), the young son of Hector and Andromache. During the sack of Troy, Neoptolemus killed the child by hurling him over the city wall.


Agamemnon (ag-eh-MEHM-non), the king of Mycenae and the older brother of King Menelaus, husband of the lovely Helen, whose infidelity brought about the Trojan War. Courageous and cunning but often rash and arrogant, as in his treatment of Achilles, he is the commander of the Greeks in the war. He stands as a symbol of the capable leader, without the heroic qualities of the more dramatic warriors who fight under his command. He is killed by his wife Clytemnestra after his return from Troy.


Menelaus (meh-nuh-LAY-uhs), the king of Sparta and husband of beautiful but faithless Helen, who is seduced and abducted by Paris, the prince of Troy, in fulfillment of a promise made by Aphrodite. He stands more as a symbol than as a man, a victim of the gods and an outraged husband who avenges with brave deeds the wrong done to his honor. At the end of the war, he takes Helen back to Sparta with him. In the Odyssey, she is shown presiding over his royal palace.


Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta and, for nineteen years after her abduction, the consort of Paris. Being confined within the walls of Troy, in the company of doting elders, she plays a minor part in the story. Because she is the victim of Aphrodite’s promise to Paris, she does not suffer greatly for her actions. Her attempts at reconciliation unwittingly aid the Greek cause in the capture of Troy.


Paris, the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. Called to judge a dispute among Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena, he awarded the prize, the golden apple of discord, to Aphrodite, who in turn promised him the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife. Although his love for Helen, the bride he stole from her husband, has become proud devotion to a principle, Paris nevertheless places himself in jeopardy as a champion of the Trojan cause and offers to meet King Menelaus, the injured husband, in single combat. Aphrodite, fearful for the safety of her favorite, watches over him and saves him from harm. An arrow from his bow strikes Achilles in the heel and kills the Achaian warrior. One story says that Paris was slain by a poisoned arrow from the bow of Philoctetes.


Priam (PRI-am), the king of Troy and the beneficent father of a large family. Although he is not a ruler of Agamemnon’s stature, he is a man of shrewdness and quiet strength who suffers much at the hands of fate and the rivalry of the gods. Although he does not condone the abduction of Helen by Paris, he is fair in his judgment of both because he knows that they are victims of Aphrodite’s whims. His devotion to his son Hector and his pity for all who suffer in the war elevate him to noble stature.


Hecuba (HEH-kew-buh), the wife of King Priam. Her fate is tragic. She witnesses the death of her sons, the enslavement of her daughter Cassandra, carried into captivity by Agamemnon, and the sacrifice of her daughter Polyxena to appease the shade of Achilles.


Calchas (KAL-kuhs), the seer and prophet of the Greeks. After many animals and men have been slain by the arrows of Apollo, Calchas declares that the destruction is a divine visitation because of Agamemnon’s rape of Chryseis, the daughter of Chryses, a priest of Apollo. He counsels that the maid be returned to her father without ransom.


Chryseis (KRIH-see-uhs), a maiden seized by the Greeks during the plundering of Chrysa and given to Agamemnon as a prize of war. Forced by the intervention of Apollo to send the girl back to Chryses, her father, Agamemnon announces that he will in turn take any other maid he desires. His choice is Briseis, the slave of Achilles. Agamemnon’s demand leads to a quarrel between the two Greeks.


Briseis (BRI-see-uhs), a captive slave taken by Achilles as a prize of war. Agamemnon’s announcement that he intends to take the girl into his own tent leads to a quarrel between the two men. Forced to surrender Briseis, Achilles and his followers retire from the battlefield and refuse to engage in the fierce fighting that follows. Agamemnon returns the girl to Achilles shortly before the sulking warrior undergoes a change of mood and returns to the fighting to avenge the death of his friend Patroclus.


Patroclus (pa-TROH-kluhs), the noble squire and loyal friend of Achilles. His death at the hands of Hector is mercilessly and horribly avenged when Achilles and Hector meet in hand-to-hand combat and the Greek warrior kills his Trojan rival. Reasonable in argument and courageous in the face of great odds, Patroclus distinguishes himself in battle and is sublime in his willingness to die for a cause and a friend.


Odysseus (oh-DIHS-ews), the crafty, middle-aged warrior who, with Diomedes, scouts the Trojan camp, captures a Trojan spy, Dolon, and kills Rhesus, a Thracian ally of the Trojans. Although he is a minor figure in the story, he serves as a foil to haughty Agamemnon and sulking Achilles. He and Nestor are the counselors who interpret rightly the will of the gods.


Diomedes (di-oh-MEE-deez), a valiant Argive warrior who dashes so often and fearlessly between the Greek and Trojan lines that it is difficult to tell on which side he is fighting. He is the companion of Odysseus on a night-scouting expedition in the Trojan camp, and he is the slayer of Pandarus. In hand-to-hand fighting, he attacks Aeneas so fiercely that the gods wrap the Trojan in a veil of mist to protect him from Diomedes’ onslaught.


Dolon (DOH-luhn), a Trojan spy captured and put to death by Odysseus and Diomedes.


Nestor (NEHS-tur), the hoary-headed king of Pylos and a wise counselor of the Greeks. Although he is the oldest of the Greek leaders, he survives the ten years of war and returns to his own land, where Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, visits him.


Machaon (meh-KAY-uhn), the son of Asclepius, the famous physician of the ancient world. He is the chief surgeon in the Greek forces. He heals Menelaus after the king of Sparta has been wounded by an arrow from the bow of Pandarus.


Ajax (AY-jaks), the son of Telamon of Salamis and half brother of Teucer. A warrior of great physical size and strength, he uses his mighty spear to hold off the Trojans attempting to burn the Greek ships after breaching the rampart around the vessels. According to a later story, he goes mad when Agamemnon, acting on the advice of Athena, awards the armor of dead Achilles to Odysseus.


Teucer (TEW-sehr), the half brother of Ajax and a mighty bowman. He helps Ajax defend the Greek ships. During one of the Trojan onslaughts, he kills the charioteer of Hector.


Glaucus (GLOH-kuhs), a Lycian ally of the Trojans. Meeting him in battle, Diomedes recognizes the Lycian as a guest-friend by inheritance. To seal a covenant between them, they exchange armor, Glaucus giving up his gold armor, worth a hundred oxen, for the brass armor of Diomedes, worthy only nine oxen.


Sarpedon (sahr-PEE-duhn), the leader of the Lycian allies fighting with the Trojans. He is killed by Patroclus.


Aeneas (ee-NEE-uhs), the son of Anchises and Aphrodite. A warrior descended from a younger branch of the royal house of Troy, he commands the Trojan forces after the death of Hector. Earlier, while trying to protect the fallen body of his friend Pandarus, Aeneas is struck down by Diomedes, who would have slain him if the gods had not hidden the Trojan in a misty cloud. Aeneas’ wounds are miraculously healed in the temple of Apollo, and he returns to the battle.


Pandarus (PAN-duh-ruhs), a Lycian ally of the Trojans and a skilled archer. After Paris has been spirited away from his contest with Menelaus, Pandarus aims at the king of Sparta and would have pierced him with an arrow if Athena had not turned the shaft aside. Diomedes kills Pandarus.


Cassandra (ka-SAN-druh), the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. Gifted with second sight, she is never to have her prophecies believed because she has rejected the advances of Apollo. She becomes Agamemnon’s captive after the fall of Troy.


Helenus (HEH-leh-nuhs), the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. Like his sister Cassandra, he possesses the gift of second sight. He eventually marries Andromache, the wife of his brother Hector.


Deïphobus (dee-IH-feh-buhs), the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. He becomes the husband of Helen after the death of Paris and is killed during the sack of Troy.


Antenor (an-TEE-nor), the Trojan elder who advises that Helen be returned to the Greeks to avoid bloodshed.


Polydamus (po-lih-DA-muhs), a shrewd, clear-headed leader of the Trojans.


Aphrodite (a-froh-DI-tee), the goddess of love. Because Paris had awarded her the fated golden apple and Aeneas is her son, she aids the Trojans during the war.


Apollo (uh-PO-loh), the god of poetry, music, and prophecy, as well as the protector of flocks and the patron of bowmen. He fights on the side of the Trojans.


Athena (uh-THEE-nuh), also called Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom. She aids the Achaians.


Poseidon (poh-SI-dehn), the god of the sea and earthquakes. The enemy of the Trojans, he aids the Achaians.


Ares (AY-reez), the god of war. Because of Aphrodite, he fights on the side of the Trojans.


Hera (HIHR-uh), the consort of Zeus and the enemy of the Trojans.


Zeus (zews), the supreme deity. He remains neutral, for the most part, during the war.


Thetis (THEE-tihs), a Nereid, the mother of Achilles, whom she aids in his quarrel with Agamemnon.


Hephaestus (hee-FEHS-tuhs), the artificer of the gods. At the request of Thetis, he makes the suit of armor that Achilles is wearing when he slays Hector.