(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

Iliad Homer

Circa eighth century b.c. Greek poem.

The following entry contains criticism on Homer's Iliad from 1983 to 2000. See also Homer Poetry Criticism.

A seminal epic widely accepted as one of the greatest literary artifacts of Western civilization, the Iliad has been admired for centuries for its artistry as well as for the profound influence it has exerted on European literature. Within its epic scope, set in the tenth year of a legendary war between Greeks and Trojans at Ilios (Troy), the Iliad depicts the heroic ethos of a mythic era personified in the figure of Achilles, a Greek hero of unrivaled martial excellence, who chooses undying fame won on the battlefield over the prospect of a long life. The epic's proper subject is the wrath of Achilles and its tragic consequences, but it also explores such themes as the workings of fate, honor, and the human urge toward immortality. Likewise, the Iliad delineates the heroic code—the thematic basis of all subsequent epic poetry. While theories regarding its author, the near-mythic Homer, continue to spur scholarly debate, the poem itself is renowned for its compelling narrative, vivid imagery, poetic technique, psychological scope, and stylistic clarity.

Biographical Information

Almost nothing is known about Homer, but scholars hypothesize that he was an Ionian Greek (probably from the coast of Asia Minor or one of the adjacent islands), that he was born sometime before 700 b.c., and that he lived in approximately the latter half of the eighth century b.c. According to legend, he was a blind itinerant poet (the Greek word homēros means blind man); historians note that singing bards in ancient Greece were often blind and that the legend, therefore, may be based on fact, but that it is also possible that Homer may have lost his sight only late in life, or that his purported blindness was meant to mask his illiteracy. Internal evidence from the two major works attributed to Homer suggests that the Iliad preceded the Odyssey and that both were composed in the eighth century b.c. in a dialect that was a mixture of Ionic and Aeolic Greek.

Biographies of Homer exist in the form of six early “lives” and assorted commentaries by ancient and Byzantine scholars, but the information they contain is considered unreliable and mostly mythical. Some commentators have even gone so far as to assert that no such individual as Homer ever lived. Due to the paucity of information regarding Homer, the manner of the composition of the Iliad has been one of determined critical speculation that has brought together the efforts of experts in such fields as archaeology, linguistics, and comparative literature. In the 1920s the critic Milman Parry proposed that both the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed orally. Parry established that Homeric verse is formulaic by nature, relying on generic epithets (such as “wine-dark sea” and “rosy-fingered dawn”), repetition of stock lines and half-lines, and scenes and themes typical of traditional folk poetry. Comparing Homer's poetry with ancient oral epics from other cultures, Parry deduced that Homer was most likely a rhapsode, or itinerant professional reciter, who improvised stories to be sung at Greek festivals. As a public performer, Homer probably learned to weave together standard epic story threads and descriptions in order to sustain his narrative, relying on mnemonic devices and phrases to fill the natural metrical units of poetic lines. Parry's theory stressed the derivative, evolutionary character of Homer's poetry but affirmed his individual genius as a shaper of traditional elements whose creations far exceeded the sum of their borrowed parts. Many contemporary critics accept Parry's analysis of the authorship question, although critical speculation about the subject continues.

Textual History

Scholarly consensus regarding the composition of the Iliad holds that the poem was most probably transmitted orally by local bards and first written down on papyri shortly after Homer's death. Although Homeric Greece did not yet have a system of writing appropriate for literary texts, records indicate that a Phoenician alphabet may have been adapted and used to record the poem in the eighth century b.c. Once set down in writing, the poem most likely became the exclusive property of the Homeridae, or sons of Homer, a bardic guild whose members performed and preserved the poem. Scholars conclude that in the second half of the sixth century b.c. the Athenian dictator Peisistratus, who ruled from 560 to 527 b.c., established a Commission of Editors of Homer to edit the text of the poems and remove any errors and interpolations that had accumulated in the process of transmission—thereby establishing a canon of Homer. The origin of the poem's current title, which means “the poem of Ilios” (the Homeric name for Troy), remains a matter of conjecture. Scholars are uncertain whether Homer ever used it, for the earliest mention of the title discovered was by Herodotus in the fifth century b.c. Fragments of papyri, a third-century codex, and two other partial manuscripts exist, but the oldest full surviving manuscript of the poem, probably transcribed by a Byzantine scholar, dates from the ninth century. The first printed edition of Homer's poetry appeared in Europe in 1488 and remained in use until the seventeenth century. Many translations, both prose and verse, of the Iliad have subsequently been published. Critics agree that the most influential of these have been by George Chapman, Alexander Pope, and the translation team consisting of Andrew Lang, Walter Leaf, and Ernest Myers; in the contemporary period the edition most highly regarded and frequently used is that of Richmond Lattimore.

Plot and Major Characters

Approximately 15,000 lines long and divided into twenty-four books (a structure that seems to date from the third century b.c. rather than from Homer's lifetime), the Iliad is composed in dactylic, or “heroic,” hexameter. The action of the poem occurs near the Hellespont, in northwest Asia Minor, during the Trojan War, which archaeologists estimate took place in the second half of the twelfth century b.c. The plot begins in medias res, recounting an episode near the end of the war between the besieged Trojans, under King Priam, and the attacking Greeks (or Achaeans as they are generally named in the poem), led by King Agamemnon of Mycenae and his brother Menelaus of Sparta. One of Priam's sons, the self-indulgent Paris, has abducted the fabled beauty, Helen, wife of Menelaus. After a massive naval assault, fighting has dragged on for nearly ten years. During that time the Greek armies, including the mighty Myrmidons commanded by Achilles, the bravest and most headstrong of Agamemnon's supporters, have managed to capture and loot a portion of Trojan territory, but have failed to breach the massive walls of Troy. Incidents in the first book of the epic draw Achilles and Agamemnon into a disastrous quarrel. Through his refusal to return Chryseis, a captured Trojan girl and the daughter of a priest of Apollo, Agamemnon invites a divine plague on the Greek army. In order to assuage Apollo's wrath and end the plague, Agamemnon later agrees to part with Chryseis, but demands Briseis, a Trojan concubine to Achilles, as compensation. In response to this dishonor, Achilles withdraws his troops in indignation, refusing to aid Agamemnon any further. Achilles prays that the Achaeans be defeated on the battlefield in his absence, a message his immortal mother, Thetis, conveys to Zeus, the ruler of the gods. Meanwhile, Agamemnon receives an enigmatic dream from the all-mighty Zeus, telling him he will soon defeat Troy. Armed with this knowledge, the Greek leader decides to test the resolve of his Achaean warriors. In a ruse to boost morale, Agamemnon proposes that his soldiers return to Greece, but his rhetorical trick backfires, leaving the quick-witted Ithacan king Odysseus to convince them to stay and fight. An unsuccessful truce between the Greeks and the Trojans follows, intended to provide the opportunity for Menelaus and Paris to settle their feud by single combat. The duel proves indecisive as Paris is whisked from the battlefield by the goddess Aphrodite before he can be defeated. When fighting resumes, the Greek hero Diomedes, under the divine protection of Athena, takes to the field. He attacks and wounds two immortals, Aphrodite and the war god Ares, both of whom fight for Troy. Thereafter, Zeus decides to set his plan for a reversal of Greek fortunes into motion. The Trojans swiftly gain the upper hand in combat, despite a successful night raid by Odysseus and Diomedes on their camp. The following morning the Trojans take the offensive. Led by Hector, another of Priam's sons and the finest of the Trojan warriors, they penetrate the Greek defenses. Only temporarily slowed by the formidable Achaean hero Ajax the Greater, Hector sets fire to one of the Greek ships. At this point, Achilles relents and sends the Myrmidons, commanded by his beloved friend Patroclus, to assist Agamemnon in defense of the ships. An outstanding warrior, Patroclus performs gloriously in battle while clad in Achilles's nearly-impenetrable armor. He slays a host of Trojans, including the hero Sarpedon, before being killed himself by Hector below the walls of Troy. In sorrow and rage, Achilles determines to rejoin the battle and obtain revenge on Hector. But first, his mother, Thetis, visits Hephaestus, blacksmith to the gods, and asks that he forge a new set of armor for Achilles. Hephaestus fulfills the request, creating an outstanding shield that symbolically depicts a city at peace and a city besieged in war. On the field of battle, Achilles's rage is unstoppable. He single-handedly repels the Trojan forces and kills Hector, dishonoring the noble warrior by mutilating his corpse by tying it to a chariot and dragging it around the city. King Priam, overtaken by grief for his son, visits Achilles in his camp and begs for the return of Hector's body so that the proper funeral rites can be performed. Moved by his passionate supplication, Achilles agrees and the work closes with a description of Hector's funeral.

Major Themes

As the principal focus of the Iliad, Achilles embodies many of the major themes in the work. Among these is his choice to intensely pursue timē (roughly meaning “honor” or “prestige”), kleos (“glory”), and aretē (“martial virtue”) in order to secure his immortality as a great warrior, even if it means his early death. Thus, Achilles personifies the dual Greek conception of the brevity of life and the eternity of fame. Through Achilles, Homer delineates the heroic code fundamental to Western literature: that the chief aim of a hero's life is to win renown for his aristeia (which denotes “excellence,” “courage,” and “prowess”) using all the resources given to him through his aristocratic birth, wealth, intelligence, and military and athletic abilities. Furthermore, he fiercely guards his honor and that of his companions, strives to fulfill his aidōs (“duty” or obligation to community), and accepts his moira (“fate”) despite his constant striving for success. That Achilles rejects his aidōs for the vast majority of the epic, instead showing himself to be vain, intemperate, and boastful while he stands aside from the battling Greeks, suggests Homer's balancing of noble, heroic behavior with human flaws and limitations. Only in the final book of the Iliad, with King Priam begging for his fallen son's corpse, does Achilles acknowledge his communal responsibilities, treating the defeated King with pity rather than wrath. To a degree, Homer also humanizes the divine figures in the epic, the pantheon of Olympian gods including Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, and Apollo. Rather than depicting the immortals as paragons of virtue or restraint, Homer characterizes these figures, for all of their knowledge and power, as variously jealous, deceitful, manipulative, capricious, wrathful, or petty. Homer conveys an additional theme of great significance to the Iliad largely through the work's renowned similes, a number of which describe scenes of ordinary, peaceful life juxtaposed against the violent and bloody warfare that drives the narrative. Likewise, Homer highlights the stark contrast between peace and conflict in the scenes painted on Achilles's shield—a device singled out by many critics as the symbolic touchstone of the epic.

Critical Reception

As one of the best known literary works of the Western world, the Iliad has inspired much critical commentary and has wielded an enormous influence on later authors and readers. Over the centuries, critics have been nearly unanimous in praising Homer's handling of the narrative, imagery, structure, and themes of the Iliad. They commend his ability to intersperse lengthy descriptions of battle scenes with highly dramatic dialogue, whimsical fantasy about the gods of Olympus, and, at certain key moments, moving lyrical poetry. Homer's genius, scholars have asserted, is most evident in his masterful yet self-effacing storytelling technique. In a perfectly plain and direct manner, the narrator carries the action forward, examining the events in great detail and occasionally digressing from the main narrative, but always in such a manner that the course of the tale seems natural and entirely inevitable. In addition to praising Homer's seamless narrative technique, with its flawless manipulation of tightly woven incident, simple design, and panoramic scope, scholars have acknowledged the immediacy and crystalline clarity of the Iliad's imagery. Special consideration has been reserved for Homer's extended similes, said to enhance the realism and enlarge the range of the poem by bringing into its military world parallel images from domestic life, agriculture, and nature. Critics have also marveled at the degree of accuracy demonstrated by Homer in his portrayal of battle scenes; his knowledge of weapons, battle strategy, and even the medical treatment of wounds has proved uncannily thorough.

Although most commentators praise the narrative impact and brilliant imagery of the Iliad, there remains a great deal of debate regarding the structural and thematic unity of the poem. A number of contemporary scholars have examined the underlying complexities of work's narrative structure and thematic framework, highlighting Homer's use of misdirection, parallelism, and reversal. Some interpreters have suggested that Homer's portrayal of the Trojans is not adequately balanced with that of the Greeks, citing evidence that the poem is biased toward Achaean heroes, and finally withholds the glory due to the Trojans. Overall, however, critics have tended to cite the comprehensive and cohesive vision of life depicted in the Iliad as the poem's central unifying principle. Although Homer presents an extremely harsh world in which human beings appear destined to suffer as the mere playthings of the gods and fate, he simultaneously conveys the value of human ideals and the joy of pursuing heroic excellence. Late twentieth-century critics have continued to focus on such specialized topics as Homer's narrative technique, use of irony and humor, and development of individual characters, considering the poet's treatment of the gods in relation to mortals, or probing such minor themes as the guilt of Helen or Paris.

Exploring Homer's philosophical beliefs, scholars still grapple with his presentation of death, divine and human justice, and the role of the citizen and the state in society. The concepts of aidōs, aristeia, and other elements of the heroic code have also inspired considerable commentary. Homer's rich use of simile continues to elicit interest, with scholars considering his descriptions of heroes as wild beasts, as well as his lyric evocation of human gentleness, care, and nurturing in the brutal context of war. With the ongoing proliferation of critical attention to the Iliad, the oldest and in some ways the most formidable work of Western literature has remained fresh and intriguing for generation after generation of scholars and readers. It impresses as much by its thematic complexity as by its stylistic simplicity, as much by its depiction of tragedy as by its celebration of life, and as much by its harsh descriptions of warfare as by its tender lyric poetry.

Principal Works

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

The Iliads of Homer (translated by George Chapman) 1611

The Iliad of Homer (translated by Alexander Pope) 1715-20

Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (translated by William Cowper) 1791

The Iliad of Homer (translated by William Cullen Bryant) 1870

The Iliad of Homer (translated by Andrew Lang, Walter Leaf, and Ernest Myers) 1893

The Iliad of Homer (translated by Samuel Butler) 1898

The Iliad (translated by A. T. Murray) 1924-25

Iliad (translated by Emil V. Rieu) 1950

The Iliad (translated by Richmond Lattimore) 1951


(The entire section is 107 words.)

Mabel L. Lang (essay date 1983)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Lang, Mabel L. “Reverberation and Mythology in the Iliad.” In Approaches to Homer, edited by Carl A. Rubino and Cynthia W. Shelmerdine, pp. 140-64. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.

[In the following essay, Lang probes the interaction between the Iliad and external mythological stories of Greek gods and heroes, concluding that this relationship implies a process of “ongoing, non-static composition” in regard to both the epic and mythological exempla.]

The relationship between non-Trojan-War exempla and the Iliad episodes or situations which they illuminate has been defined in two opposite and apparently mutually...

(The entire section is 7430 words.)

Martin Mueller (essay date 1984)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Mueller, Martin. “The Plot of the Iliad.” In The Iliad, pp. 28-76. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1984.

[In the following excerpt, Mueller analyzes the plot of the Iliad in the context of the poem's central figures, Achilles and Hector, and the warrior code they depict.]


The encounter of Achilles and Hektor depends upon the withdrawal of the former, which tempts Hektor beyond the safety of the walls. The withdrawal is the beginning of the plot, the duel its end. The protagonist is absent in the middle. That absence is a narrative fact of great and continuing significance. But its representation is a...

(The entire section is 9601 words.)

Pietro Pucci (essay date 1985)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Pucci, Pietro. “Textual Epiphanies in the Iliad.” In The Song of the Sirens: Essays on Homer, pp. 69-80. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998.

[In the following essay, originally published in Italian in 1985, Pucci elucidates Athena's appearance to Achilles at Iliad 1.194ff, examining the manner in which Homer presents the revelation of gods to mortals in the epic.]

In Homeric narrative a god appears to a hero and, by virtue of his presence, determines or intensifies to the highest degree the action that the hero performs. Regardless of whether the god suggests a plan of action (Iliad 2.165ff., etc.), prevents the hero...

(The entire section is 6082 words.)

Ronald Knox and Joseph Russo (essay date October 1989)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Knox, Ronald, and Joseph Russo. “Agamemnon's Test: Iliad 2.73-75.” Classical Antiquity 8, no. 2 (October 1989): 351-58.

[In the following essay, Knox and Russo argue for the cogency of Agamemnon's deception of his own troops in Book 2 of the Iliad, despite its unintended failure.]

πϱω̑τα δ' ἐγoν ἔπεσιν πειϱήσομαι, ἣ θὔἐμιs ἐστί,
aαὶ φεύγειν σὺν νηυσὶ πολυaλήϊσι aελεύσω.
ὑμει̑s δ' ἄλλοθεν ἄλλοs ἐϱητύειν ἐπἐεσσιν.

(Iliad, 2.73-75)

In his recent commentary G. S. Kirk writes a long note to try...

(The entire section is 3894 words.)

Bernard Knox (essay date spring 1990)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Knox, Bernard. “Achilles.” Grand Street 9, no. 3 (spring 1990): 129-50.

[In the following essay, Knox studies the thematic course of the Iliad embodied by Achilles, observing that the hero traces a path from “godlike self-absorption” driven by honor and rage to his recognition of pity and the values of human community.]

There are in the Iliad two human beings who are godlike, Achilles and Helen. One of them has already come to a bitter recognition of human stature and moral responsibility when the poem begins. Helen, the cause of the war, is so preeminent in her sphere, so far beyond competition in her beauty, her power to enchant men,...

(The entire section is 8094 words.)

David A. Traill (essay date October 1990)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Traill, David A. “Unfair to Hector?” Classical Philology 85, no. 4 (October 1990): 299-303.

[In the following essay, Traill contends that Homer does not allow the Trojan hero Hector the full glory he deserves in the Iliad, and instead presents him in a less favorable manner than lesser Greek figures.]

It is one of the puzzling features of the Iliad that while Homer undoubtedly depicts Trojan heroes, notably Hector and Priam, in a favorable light in domestic scenes, Trojans in general, and Hector in particular, are not allowed to shine on the battlefield with the luster one expects. Thus, though most modern readers readily admire Priam for the...

(The entire section is 2568 words.)

Laura M. Slatkin (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Slatkin, Laura M. “The Helplessness of Thetis.” In The Power of Thetis: Allusion and Interpretation in the Iliad, pp. 17-52. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

[In the following excerpt, Slatkin concentrates on the integral role of Thetis in the development of themes of mortality, protection, and the discovery of identity in the Iliad.]

In a key passage in Book 1 of the Iliad Achilles, in order to obtain from Zeus the favor that will determine the trajectory of the plot, invokes not Athena or Hera, those powerful, inveterate pro-Greeks, but his mother. The Iliad's presentation of Thetis … is of a subsidiary deity who is...

(The entire section is 8412 words.)

James V. Morrison (essay date 1992)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Morrison, James V. “Misdirection 3: Thematic Misdirection.” In Homeric Misdirection: False Predictions in the Iliad, pp. 73-93. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.

[In the following essay, Morrison discusses narrative misdirection brought about by prophesies and threats in the Iliad.]

This [essay] examines thematic misdirection, which is brought about by false authoritative predictions. In contrast to false anticipation, where the presentation of an expected event is merely postponed, with thematic misdirection authoritative predictions anticipate events that do not take place. The substance of the prediction—not merely the apparent time of...

(The entire section is 10184 words.)

Oliver Taplin (essay date 1992)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Taplin, Oliver. “The Past beneath the Present.” In Homeric Soundings: The Shaping of the Iliad, pp. 83-109. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

[In the following excerpt, Taplin examines broad ethical issues in the Iliad and the epic's narrative form, focusing specifically on temporality, and the guilt of Helen and Paris.]


… ‘Child, why are you crying? What pain has touched your heart? Tell me, do not hide it inside you, so that both of us can know.’

With a heavy groan swift-footed Achilleus said to her:...

(The entire section is 9663 words.)

R. M. Frazer (essay date 1993)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Frazer, R. M. Introduction to A Reading of the Iliad, pp. 1-26. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1993.

[In the following excerpt from his study of the Iliad, Frazer investigates the work's narrative structure and parallelism, the character of Achilles, pro-Achaean bias, representation of the Olympian gods, and use of simile.]


In the first part of the present century Milman Parry (for his collected essays see Parry 1971) proved that the Iliad was composed in accordance with the techniques of oral poetry. It thus consists largely of formulas such as “swift-footed Achilles” and...

(The entire section is 13654 words.)

James V. Morrison (essay date autumn 1994)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Morrison, James V. “Thematic Inversion in the Iliad: The Greeks under Siege.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 35, no. 3 (autumn 1994): 209-27.

[In the following essay, Morrison stresses the thematic significance of role reversal in the middle portion of the Iliad, in which the Greek camp is depicted as a city under Trojan siege.]

In the central books of Homer's Iliad, the Greeks come under Trojan attack. In Book 12 the Greek camp is assaulted; in Books 15 and 16 Hector threatens to burn the Greek fleet. With its walls and defenses, the Greek camp is in many ways like a city (polis), as previous commentators have...

(The entire section is 7658 words.)

Kevin Crotty (essay date 1994)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Crotty, Kevin. “Memory and Supplication.” In The Poetics of Supplication: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, pp. 70-88. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.

[In the following excerpt, Crotty illustrates the pivotal shift in Achilles's character achieved by Priam's supplication of the hero in Book 24 of the Iliad.]


No act of supplication in the Iliad is so elaborately prepared as Priam's supplication of Achilles in the final book. The ceremony is the means decreed by Zeus himself to effect the return of Hector's corpse to the Trojans for burial. That the supplication of Achilles by Priam is decreed and overseen by...

(The entire section is 8456 words.)

Michael Clarke (essay date summer 1995)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Clarke, Michael. “Between Lions and Men: Images of the Hero in the Iliad,Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 36, no. 2 (summer 1995): 137-59.

[In the following essay, Clarke follows the implications of Homer's beast similes in the Iliad, highlighting their contribution to the poem's theme of extreme heroism that culminates in self-destruction.]

If the beast-similes of the Iliad appear easy to understand, this is because they correspond formally to one of the simplest types of comparison found in poetry of the modern European tradition. As a rule our own culture encourages us only to contrast the human world with that of animals, so...

(The entire section is 8958 words.)

Michael Naas (essay date 1995)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Naas, Michael. “Persuasion in the Eyes of the Other.” In Turning: From Persuasion to Philosophy, A Reading of Homer's Iliad, pp. 182-93. Atlantic Highlands N.J.: Humanities Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Naas appraises the concepts of valor, shame, honor, and supplication as they relate to community relations that mediate between the Self and the Other in the Iliad.]

In a society of face to face relations, a culture of shame and honor where competition for glory leaves little room for a sense of duty and knows nothing of sin, the existence of each is constantly placed beneath the gaze of the other. It is in the eye of the one...

(The entire section is 6645 words.)

P. V. Jones (essay date 1996)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Jones, P. V. “The Independent Heroes of the Iliad.Journal of Hellenic Studies 116 (1996): 108-18.

[In the following essay, Jones analyzes the balance between human and divine responsibility in the Iliad, describing Homer's narrative treatment of the gods and fate vis-à-vis the mortal perspectives of his heroes.]

My objective in this paper is to consider the question of the mysteriousness or numinosity of the gods in the Iliad by examining first how heroes talk about and react to the gods, and second how Homer handles fate. My aim is to integrate the findings into a wider thesis about the Iliad's narrative...

(The entire section is 8216 words.)

Robert J. Rabel (essay date 1997)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Rabel, Robert J. “Plot and Point of View in the Iliad.” In Plot and Point of View in the Iliad, pp.1-32. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.

[In the following excerpt, Rabel differentiates between the author of the Iliad and the epic's narrator, commenting on shifting modes of perception in the poem, particularly in relation to its treatment of the heroic code.]

[T]he term point of view refers most directly to visual perspective, the place from which an object is viewed. In the most literal sense of the term, only the Muse(s)-narrator and the characters of the poem have points of view. The poet lacks visual perspectives, as...

(The entire section is 4668 words.)

Bruce Heiden (essay date spring 1998)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Heiden, Bruce. “The Simile of the Fugitive Homicide, Iliad 24.480-84: Analogy, Foiling, and Allusion.” American Journal of Philology 119, no. 1 (spring 1998): 1-10.

[In the following essay, Heiden emphasizes Homer's comparison of the supplicating Priam to a murderer seeking refuge as the thematically definitive moment in the Iliad.]

Homer elaborates “the most dramatic moment in the whole of the Iliad1 with a unique, disturbing, and pathetic simile. Only in the scene of Priam's unheralded arrival in Achilles' lodging does the predicament of a murderer seeking refuge in a strange land ever provide the material for a Homeric...

(The entire section is 3521 words.)

Herman L. Sinaiko (essay date 1998)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Sinaiko, Herman L. “Reading Homer's Iliad.” In Reclaiming the Canon: Essays on Philosophy, Poetry, and History, pp. 39-55. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.

[In the following excerpt, Sinaiko details the status of the Iliad as oral poetry, documents the nature of its epithets and similes, and outlines its depiction of Achilles as “the first and greatest tragic hero.”]

The Iliad is the oldest work in Western literature and the quintessential canonical classic. Still, many readers don't bother to read the poem, thinking that they already know Homer's epic account of the Trojan War: how it started with the abduction of the...

(The entire section is 8192 words.)

Mary Ebbott (essay date 1999)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Ebbott, Mary. “The Wrath of Helen: Self-Blame and Nemesis in the Iliad.” In Nine Essays on Homer, edited by Miriam Carlisle and Olga Levaniouk, pp. 3-20. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.

[In the following essay, Ebbott interprets Helen's character in the Iliad as the epic personification of blame and of the consequences of righteous indignation.]

When Aphrodite tells Helen to go to Paris' bed after he has lost his duel with Menelaos, Helen refuses (Il. [Iliad] 3.410-412):

κει̑σε δ' ἐγoν οὐκ εῒμι—νεμεσσητὸν δἐ κεν εἴη—
κείνου πορσανἐουσα...

(The entire section is 6835 words.)

Sophie Mills (essay date April 2000)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Mills, Sophie. “Achilles, Patroclus, and Parental Care in Some Homeric Similes.” Greece & Rome 47, no. 1 (April 2000): 3-18.

[In the following essay, Mills concentrates on extended similes that recall scenes of parental or mutual care in the Iliad—particularly those associated with Achilles and Patroclus—as they emphasize the poem's countertheme of “love and cooperation between human beings.”]

And the two fought it out over Kebriones, like lions
who in the high places of a mountain, both in huge courage,
and both hungry fight together over a killed deer.

(Il. 16.756-8)

… the flung stones dropped to...

(The entire section is 7468 words.)

A. Maria Van Erp Taalman Kip (essay date August 2000)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Taalman Kip, A. Maria Van Erp. “The Gods of the Iliad and the Fate of Troy.” Mnemosyne 53, no. 4 (August 2000): 385-402.

[In the following essay, Taalman Kip maintains that providing the Olympian Gods with an interpolated morality is not consistent with Homer's presentation of the human condition in the Iliad.]

Ever since antiquity the gods of the Iliad have been a stumbling block: in the view of Homer's ancient admirers the behaviour of his gods, especially Zeus, ought to have a moral basis, since otherwise they would not feel comfortable about their admiration for the poems. Plato sacrificed his admiration on the altar of his indignation,...

(The entire section is 6417 words.)

A. Lardinois (essay date December 2000)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Lardinois, A.. “Characterization through Gnomai in Homer's Iliad.Mnemosyne 53, no. 6 (December 2000): 641-61.

[In the following essay, Lardinois considers the characteristic use of gnomai (or wisdom-sayings similar to proverbs) by Achilles, Nestor, Odysseus, and the gods in the Iliad.]

Characterization in Homer is a controversial subject. For a long time scholars denied the possibility of any consistent characterization in Homer, believing the poems to be written by multiple authors, or perceiving the technique of oral composition or the state of the archaic Greek mind to be insurmountable obstacles.1 Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff,...

(The entire section is 8027 words.)

Further Reading

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)


Baldick, Julian. “The Iliad.” In Homer and the Indo-Europeans: Comparing Mythologies, pp. 46-98. London: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 1994.

Traces extensive narrative and thematic resemblances between the Iliad and a selection of Indo-European mythological texts, especially the Sanskrit epic the Ramayana.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Homer's The Iliad, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, 160 p.

Collection of nine essays by various contributors on such subjects as Homeric fantasy, characterization, and style.

Clark, Matthew. “Chryses's Supplication: Speech Act and...

(The entire section is 720 words.)