Introduction

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Last Updated on September 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 773

So you’re going to teach The Iliad. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, Homer's epic has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenging spots, teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into grief, compassion, and important themes of violence, heroism, and human choice in a world of chaos. This guide highlights the text’s most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching. 

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Facts at a Glance

  • Composition Date: 750 BCE
  • Recommended Grade Level: 11 and up
  • Author: Homer 
  • Country of Origin: Greece 
  • Genre: Epic Poetry 
  • Literary Period: Classical 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Self, Person vs. Society 
  • Narration: Third-Person Omniscient 
  • Setting: Troy, 1250 BCE 
  • Structure: Epic Poetry, Dactylic Hexameter 
  • Tone: Tragic, Formal, Violent


Texts that Go Well with The Iliad

Age of Bronze is a series of comic books written and illustrated by Eric Shanower. Their aim is to tell the story of the Trojan War in a historically plausible way while integrating as many of the surrounding myths as the narrative allows. Each volume includes extensive notes about the archaeology and traditions impacting the structure of the narrative. (Due to the pictorial nature of comics and the source material’s graphic content, this is recommended for older students.) 

“I saw a man this morning” is Patrick Shaw-Stewart’s only poem, recounting his participation in the World War I invasion of the Dardanelles. He invokes his geographical closeness to the site of Troy to contrast his reluctant participation in the war with Achilles’s eager embrace of mortality. 

The Lost Books of the Odyssey, by Zachary Mason, extends the conceit of the epic’s oral composition by positioning itself as a compendium of “lost” alternative fragments of The Odyssey. Plot points and characters from The Iliad are also involved in his reimaginings of epic tropes, and the stories as a whole serve as an example of how modern writers can converse with the classical tradition. 

Mythology, by Edith Hamilton, is a popular English-language reference work on Greek and Roman mythology that was published in 1942. In it, Hamilton aggregates and retells many of the Greek myths that impact the narrative of The Iliad, including those from plays by Aeschylus and Euripides, as well as The Aeneid’s story of the Fall of Troy. 

The Odyssey is another Greek epic, composed as a part of the same tradition—and ostensibly by the same poets—as The Iliad. It follows Odysseus—Ulysses in the Roman tradition—on his journey home from Troy. Hampered by his own hubris, Odysseus runs afoul of Poseidon (Neptune), and the gods contrive to prevent him from reaching his home in Ithaca. Meanwhile, suitors plague his wife and threaten the life of his son Telemachus, who embarks on a heroic quest of his own to find his father. Many of the characters and episodes from The Odyssey may be familiar to students, including the Cyclops and the journey to Hades. 

Stand in the Trench, Achilles, by Elizabeth Vandiver, is a scholarly analysis of the ways in which classical literature and arts informed British poetry from the First World War. Greek and Latin were an integral part of public education at that time, and many soldiers drew connections between their experiences and those of The Iliad’s warriors. 

Troilus and Cressida, by William Shakespeare, is an infrequently performed play about star-crossed lovers. Troilus is a Trojan prince; Cressida is the daughter of a Trojan priest who has defected to the Achaean army. Like The Iliad, the play ends ambiguously: Troilus watches as Cressida is taken as Diomed’s lover and Hector dies in battle. The unflattering depiction of the Greeks and the relatively unresolved plotlines left audiences confused and unimpressed for many years after the play’s publication in 1609, but interest in its arguably existential themes has increased with time. 

The Trojan Women, by Euripides, provides a dramatic interpretation of events occurring directly after the fall of Troy. In particular, the play shows the women of Troy coming to terms with their new lives of enslavement by the Achaeans, and the execution of Hector’s infant son Astyanax. The play provides the Trojan point of view, depicting many of The Iliad’s Greek characters as antagonists. A film version starring Katharine Hepburn was made in 1971 in response to US involvement in the Vietnam War. Other works by Euripides that describe the lives of the participants in the Trojan War include Andromache, Hecuba, Helen, and Iphigenia in Aulis

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