The Illiad by Homer
The Iliad is an ancient Greek poem written by Homer. Homer is the most famous of the Greek poets. Yes, the Iliad is just one HUGE poem. He also wrote the Odyssey, another HUGE poem. In Greek, Illion means Troy. Therefore, the Illiad is the story of Troy. Well, most people think the Iliad is the story of the Trojan War. That's the war where the Achaians (Greeks) won by using a giant wooden horse to fool the Trojans, hence the name Trojan Horse. The Iliad is not really the story of the Trojan War. It takes place in the tenth year of the Trojan War and ends before the Achaians build the Trojan Horse and win the war. The Iliad is about Achilles. Achilles is a bad ass warrior who was supposedly immortal except for his heel. Now, if your teacher asks you what the Iliad is about, you should say, "The Iliad is the tragedy of Achilles." That will make you look really smart in class.
Achilleus (Achilles): The son of Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis. This guy is the best Achaian warrior. He was told that he could go fight in the Trojan War and die young, or not fight and live a long life. He goes and fights.
Agamemnon: This is the top guy of the Achaians. He is the leader but not the best fighter. His brother Menelaos is married to Helen.
Menelaos (Menelaus): Agamemnon’s brother and king of Sparta. He is married to Helen and his honor is why the Achaians are fighting.
Helen: This is the girl who the Trojan War started over. The goddess Aphrodite gave her to Paris because Paris voted she was the most beautiful goddess, which started this whole war. She doesn’t seem to like Paris that much though.
Alexandros (Paris): He is a Trojan prince, son of Priam and brother to Hector. This guy is the cause of the Trojan War. He is a pretty boy who would rather be in bed then fighting.
Hektor (Hector): He is the son of Priam and Hekabe, husband to Andromache, brother of Paris, and the best Trojan warrior. Hector is the Trojan good guy. His brother Paris gets this war going and Hector is the one who fights it for him. He is a good father and husband and is very likable.
Priam: The King of Troy.
Hekabe: Mother of Hector.
Andromache: The wife of Hector.
Odysseus: An Achaian warrior who is supposed to be tricky. He is also the main character in The Odyssey, which is also written by Homer.
Aias (Ajax): There are two of these guys. They are Achaians. When they refer to both of them they call them Aiantes. The important one is called Telemonian Aias, son of Telemon, Aias the Greater, or Big Aias. He is a really bad ass warrior mainly because no gods ever help him fight and he still kicks ass.
Diomedes: He is another Achaian warrior. He is helped a lot by the goddess Athena.
Nestor: He is an older Achaian warrior who provides some wise leadership.
Patroklos (Patroclus): Best friend to Achilles. He goes out and gets killed and that makes Achilles get back involved in fighting.
Aphrodite: The goddess of Love. She supports the Trojans because she is the one who gave Helen to Paris.
Apollo: He is the sun god. He is the one who starts the whole fight between Agamemnon and Achilles. He supports the Trojans.
Ares: He is the god of war. He represents the spirit of war and usually helps the Trojans.
Athene (Athena): The goddess of wisdom. She supports the Achaians because Paris chose Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess over her.
Hephaistos (Hephaestus): He is the volcano god who is the blacksmith of the gods. He makes Achilles armor and also helps to save his ass when he fights a river god.
Hera: The wife of Zeus. Hera supports the Achaians because Paris chose Aphrodite over her as the most beautiful goddess.
Poseidon: The god of the sea. He is on the side of Achaians. He is the brother of Zeus.
Thetis: The mother of Achilles. She helps Achilles out by getting Zeus to make the Trojans win after he fights he with Agamemnon.
Zeus: He is the king of the gods. If he wants something, he gets it. No one messes with him.
Aristeia: The point where a warrior is at his peak of intensity and power.
Greeks: There are a bunch of names for the Greeks. The main one is the Achians. Others are the Argives, and Dannans.
The Iliad has 24 books so instead of doing one huge plot summary and then chapter by chapter, we are going to give you the summary for each book. Some books are more important than others are, and a lot of times teachers don't make their classes read all 24 books. But, we covered every book in case your teacher is a jerk. Here is the basic plot first.
Achilles gets into an argument with Agamemnon, the Achaian King, who takes away his slave woman so, Achilles stops fighting. Achilles asks Zeus to make the Achaians lose the war. Then the Trojans start beating the Achaians really bad. Then Achilles’ best friend Patroklos goes to fight for him and gets his ass killed by Hector and Achilles is sad. Then Achilles goes and kills Hector in revenge and drags his body around Troy. Then Priam asks for the body of Hector back and Hector is buried.
BOOK BY BOOK
Homer starts out by telling us that this whole poem is about the anger of Achilles and how that anger cost the Achaians a lot of lives. Then Homer tells us that it is Apollo who started the whole thing. This guy Chryses, who is a priest of Apollo, comes up to Agamemnon and asks for his daughter to be returned to him. Agamemnon tells him that the girl is his and to get lost. Chryses prays to Apollo to punish the Achaians for not giving back his daughter and so Apollo starts shooting the Achaians with his silver bow (basically that means the Greeks started getting sick). This goes on for nine days and then Achilles has had enough and calls a meeting to find out what the hell is going on. This dude Kalchas who is a soothsayer (means he in touch with the gods) tells them Apollo is making them die because Agamemnon wouldn't give back the daughter of that priest. Agamemnon is pissed because he doesn't think he should have to give up the girl. Agamemnon and Achilles start to argue. Achilles says to give the girl back, and Agamemnon says, if I have to give her back...I'm taking your woman, Briseis. Achilles gets mad because he has been fighting for ten years for Agamemnon and is sick of it. Agamemnon won't back down and demands Achilles' woman. Achilles is about to kill Agamemnon when Athena (Goddess of wisdom) stops him. Then, this old dude, Nestor, steps in to try and calm things down but he fails. Agamemnon frees the one girl, Chryseis and takes Achilles' woman. Achilles bails and won't fight anymore. Then, Achilles goes off weeping to him mommy, Thetis, who is a sea goddess. He asks her to ask Zeus if he will make the Trojans win the war while Achilles is not fighting so Agamemnon will have to ask him to come back. Thetis goes to Zeus and asks him. He is reluctant, but agrees to do it because his wife, Hera, supports the Achaians and he likes to piss her off.
Zeus screws Agamemnon by telling him in a dream to attack the Trojans. Agamemnon tries to test his men by telling them they should sail home. All his men are like, fuck yeah, we're out of here. Hera bitches at Athena who then tells Odysseus to stop the men from leaving. Odysseus gets the men together. Then this ugly ass dude, Thersites, starts bitching and moaning and disrespecting Agamemnon. He tells everyone they have been fighting enough. But, Nestor and Odysseus put that guy down and Odysseus nails him on the back with this big stick. Then they get everyone riled up to fight. Then, the top leaders go off to ask Zeus for help in the battle not knowing that Zeus is will not help them. The rest of this book talks about how HUGE the Achaian army is. Homer makes all these comparisons of the Achaian army and things in nature like a swarm of bees and wildflowers. Then he lists every ship of the Achaians and who is on it. It's really unimportant and VERY boring. Then Homer talks about the Trojan side; they don't seem to have as many people.
The Trojans and Achaians get ready to fight. Menelaos and Alexandros (that's Paris) find each other on the battlefield, but Paris is a wuss and runs away. His big brother Hector tells him off for running away. Then, Paris comes up with this idea to have a one on one fight between him and Menelaos where winner takes all. This appears to be a fucking brilliant idea because the whole war has been being fought over Helen...Menelaos' wife who Paris took away from him. This makes sense because these two should get it over with and no one else would die. So, they get ready to fight. Helen watches from the wall of Troy with King Priam. They start to fight and Menelaos is about to kick some serious ass when Aphrodite takes Paris away and puts him inside the city of Troy. Aphrodite tells Helen to go get it on with Paris in his bed. Helen resists at first, but then gives in to Aphrodite. Helen feels bad since Menelaos but gives into Desire...get it?
The story moves to the gods who are sitting around trying to figure out who is going to win the war. You see, the gods decide pretty much how everything happens. Zeus figures that since Paris left the battlefield the war should end and the Achaians win. Well, Hera and Athena don't like that because they want to see more Trojan blood. So, Athena makes this Trojan dude, Pandaros, shoot Menelaos with an arrow. The arrow doesn't kill Menelaos but it is enough to get the fighting to start again. Agamemnon goes down the line and talks to all the big soldiers getting them fired up. Then, the fighting starts and Ares, the god of war, comes down on the battlefield with his three buddies, Fear, Terror, and Hate. Apollo comes down to help the Trojans and Athena helps the Achaians.
This book has all kinds of stuff about the battle. Diomedes is raging hardcore and kicking some ass. Athena comes to Doimedes and tells him she will giude his spear. She tells him to avoid getting tangled up with any gods, but to stick Aphrodite if he sees her. Diomedes hits Aineias, Aprhodite's son (also the guy who they wrote the Aeneid about). Aphrodite comes to carry off her son, and Diomedes sticks her. She goes off and complains to Zeus but he just tells her she should stay out of war...get it? There is no love in war...it just ends up getting hurt. Then, Ares gets involved with the Trojans and they start kicking some ass. Hera and Athena start bitching to Zeus, so he lets Athena get involved again. Athena gets all geared up in her battle clothes and gets to use this shield called the Aegis. It's got the head of the Gorgon (Medusa...the lady with snake hair who was so ugly she turned people to stone) in the middle of it.
She goes down and helps Diomedes again. This time, Diomedes spears Ares in the gut. Ares takes off in pain and the battle continues.
This is more about the battle...boring. The Achaians seem to be winning again. Menelaos captures this Trojan dude Adrestos. He is going to try and ransom him (that's what they did a lot of times) but Agamemnon tells his bro to kill him. Agamemnon stabs the guy and kills him. Nice. On another part of the battlefield, Diomedes and this Trojan guy Glaukos are about to scrap. They talk before they start and they realize they are related so they throw down their spears and trade armor. (If you have ever watched a soccer game, sometimes opposing teams will trade jerseys after they play a game in a sign of respect...now you know that is nothing new). Then Hector goes back into the city of Troy to make an offering to Athena to calm her down. He runs into his mommy and tells her to gather up all the woman and start praying to Athena. Then he goes to his baby brother Paris' house and bitches at him for being such a wimp. Everyone is fighting for him and he is back home sleeping with Helen. Even Helen gives him a piece of her mind. Then Hector goes to his wife Andromache. She is all worried and they have a tender emotional moment together. She doesn't want him to go back fighting, but he tells her that he must. Then he goes and meets up with Paris as they both go out to fight some more. Hector tells Paris he better go out there and fight this time.
Athena and Apollo decide to change the fighting in this book so they get Hector's brother Helenos to propose a challenge between Hector and one of the Achaians. So, Hector calls out a challenge to the Achaians. They are all pretty damn scared because Hector is a serious bad ass. Well, no one is willing to fight him so they have to draw straws to see who is the lucky fool. Aias gets the lucky job (remember...there are two of these guys...Aias the greater and Aias the lesser...this one is Aias the greater). Well, Aias is a serious bad ass himself and he goes out and starts to kick ass. But, the fight gets broken up because it's getting dark so they stop fighting and give each other gifts (kind of like that jersey trading we mentioned earlier) Nestor says that the Achaians should take some time to build a fort to protect their ships and burn their dead. In Troy, this dude Antenor says that they should return Helen and all her stuff back to the Achaians. Well, this sounds like a great idea but Paris doesn't want to part with his main squeeze so he says no, but he lets them return her possessions and give some of his won. So, they do this and establish a temporary truce so everyone can take care of their dead. So, the Trojans have this very sad scene where they gather up their dead but don't cry. The Achaians do the same and also dig a big ditch and build walls around it. Meanwhile, Zeus makes the sky thunder all night long.
This book opens up with Zeus laying down the law. He tells all the gods and goddesses that they must stay out of the battle from now on or else they deal with him, and he can kick everyone’s ass. Then Zeus uses his golden scales to decide the fate of the Trojans and Achaians. The scales tip toward the Trojans so Zeus crashes some thunder and lightning above the Achaians to scare them silly and they run. Diomedes is afraid if he runs away that Hector will mock him so he wants to stay, but Zeus makes it very obvious with his thunder that Diomedes should turn around. It’s looking bad for the Achaians, until Agamemnon rallies his boys some and they start fighting back. Big Aias’ brother, Teukros, starts picking off Trojans with his bow and arrow until Hector smashes him with a rock and he has to be carried off. Things start looking bad again for the Achaians and Hera and Athena are not happy and they start planning going down to do some fighting. Zeus catches wind of this, and sends a message that if they go, he will kick their sorry asses. This is enough to stop them. Then Zeus tells Hera that the Trojans will keep winning until Achilles comes out to fight again.
Then Hector camps his men outside of the Achaians camp.
Agamemnon gets all his people together and says that they are getting beaten so maybe they should all go home. This time he is not testing his men, he is serious. Diomedes gets up and tells off Agamemnon for being a wuss and says he is going to stay. Everyone agrees. Then they have a big feast and Nestor tells Agamemnon that he should apologize to Achilles. Agamemnon agrees and says he will give him his woman back and all this gold, horses, and more. He sends some guys over to talk to Achilles. Achilles is sitting in his tent singing a poem. First, Odysseus tries to convince Achilles to come back. Achilles says no because he thinks his honor has been messed with, and no amount of gifts will help. Then an old family friend of Achilles, Phoenix, tries to get Achilles back into the ring, but Achilles says no. Then Big Aias tells Achilles he should come back to fighting for his friends who need him. Achilles says he won’t even if everyone is getting killed. They realize he won’t budge and leave.
Agamemnon and Menelaos can’t sleep because they know they are getting there asses kicked so they decide to send a spy over to the Trojan camp. Diomedes says he will go and takes Odysseus to go with him. They sneak off and are guided by a bird sent by Athena. In the Trojan camp, Hector can’t sleep either and has the same plan as Agamemnon. So, he sends this guy Dolon to go spy on the Achaians. Well, as you might guess, Diomedes and Odysseus capture Dolon before he gets very far and they question him. Odysseus says they won’t kill him and so Dolon talks. He tells them about some new reinforcements from Thrace (a city in Greece). These Thracians are led by King Rhesos and he has this awesome white horses. Then, Diomedes cuts off Dolon’s head…so much for not killing him. Then, Diomedes and Odysseus surprise the Thracians, kill their king and some other dudes, and then steal the white horses. Score!
Agamemnon straps on his armor and gets ready for today’s battle. Homer spends all this time describing it…boring. Agamemnon is the man today and kills lots of Trojans. It’s looking bad for the Trojans, but then Zeus tells Hector that if Agamemnon gets injured the Trojans will win. So, Agamemnon gets stabbed and the Trojans start kicking ass. All the Achaians are getting wounded. Diomedes is shot by an arrow from Paris. Odysseus is hurt. Achilles is watching all this and he is torn. He wants to go fight but he is still being a baby, so he sends his best friend Patroklos to go find out what’s going on. Patroklos talks to Nestor and Nestor tries to convince Patroklos to get Achilles to fight or for Patroklos to put on Achilles armor to fool the Trojans.
The Trojans are by the Achaian’s wall and they start to attack. There is this omen with an Eagle holding a snake. Hector says it’s a good sign and keeps attacking. Hector throws a rock through the wall and the Trojans break in and start trashing everything.
More fighting here. Lots of bloody gory details. Pretty boring stuff. Hector is still kicking ass. There is another omen with an eagle and Hector again says it’s a good sign. You get the feeling he is wrong.
Things look real bad for the Achaians. Agamemnon again suggests that they should all go home. Diomedes and Odysseus say no. Poseidon, the god of the sea, helps out the Achaians. Hera likes that but she doesn’t want Zeus to interfere so she gets all dolled up and looks really sexy. She goes off and gets Zeus all hot so he can’t resist her and they go do the wild thing. Zeus falls asleep afterwards and Poseidon keeps helping out the Achaians. Big Aias smacks Hector in the chest with a rock and Hector leaves the battlefield. The Achains rally.
Zeus wakes up and he is pissed. He yells at Hera and tells her in detail about how he is going to let the Trojans win until Achilles comes into the battle. Then he goes off to fix his plans. He gets Hector all wired up and the Trojans start kicking ass again. Zeus is making sure Hector is not hurt.
Patroklos is all upset at the loss of the Achaians so he goes to Achilles to tell him about it. He yells at Achilles for not getting involved and asks if he can wear Achilles armor to help the Achaians. Achilles agrees and helps Patroklos get suited up. He tells Patroklos not to push all the way to the walls of Troy because it will make the god’s unhappy. Achilles calls his followers, the Myrmidions, and gets them ready for battle. The Trojans are all scared when they see Patroklos, because they think he is Achilles. They all start running. Patroklos moves the Achaians forward killing lots of people. Patroklos goes to far and pisses of Apollo who hits him in the back while he is fighting, he his armor comes off, and Hector finishes him off.
Everyone fights over the body of Patroklos and the armor of Achilles. The Achaians want to give Patroklos a proper burial and the Trojans want the armor of Achilles. Hector gets the armor and the Achaians keep fighting for the body. Nestor’s son, Antilichos, goes off to tell Achilles about what happened. The Trojans start winning again.
Antilichos tells Achilles. Achilles is really sad and cries. Achilles is mad at himself for letting it happen, and decided to take his anger out on Hector. His mom Thetis goes off to get her son some armor, but Hera send Iris to tell Achilles he needs to move now because Hector is about to drag the body of Patroklos into Troy. Achilles goes out unarmed and scares the Trojans because there is all this thunder and lightning and there is a circle of flames around his head. Hector’s friend tells him he should go back to Troy but he doesn’t listen. Thetis is at the home of Hephaistos, the volcano god, who is making new armor for Achilles. He makes this really awesome shield that has all these different scenes on it of the stars and cities and celebration. Homer takes a long time to describe it.
The next day Thetis gives Achilles his new armor. Achilles calls all the Achaians together and makes up with Agamemnon. Agamemnon wants to give Achilles all the gifts he promised him. Achilles wants to hurry up and go fight and skip the gift giving. He even wants to skip breakfast. Odysseus says that they need to eat and that they should exchange gifts to make sure it’s all cleared up. So, Achilles gets his stuff and his woman back. Then his horse, yes his horse, tells Achilles he will die if he fights. Achilles knows this and says it doesn’t matter. He will fight.
Zeus lets the gods get involved again because he knows Achilles is on the warpath. Achilles is killing everyone. He runs into Aeneias and is going to kill him too but Poseidon saves him because Aeneias is meant to live so he can go found Rome (read the Aeneid). Apollo hides Hector in a mist so Achilles can’t see him. Achilles keeps raging.
Achilles is pushing the Trojans back killing everyone in his way. He spares no one mercy. All these Trojans fall into the river Xanthos and Achilles follows to kill them. The god of the river, Xanthos, asks Achilles to stop killing people in his river because the water is getting all bloody. Achilles agrees but then Xanthos turns around and asks Apollo to help the Trojans. Achilles is pissed about this so he attacks the river…go figure. So, he and the river fight. Hera gets Hephaistos to burn the plains which boils the river and it leaves Achilles alone. Then all the gods start fighting again except for Zeus. Then, Achilles meets this Trojan dude Agenor at the gates of Troy. They start to fight, but Apollo hides Agenor in a mist and lets him escape. Apollo then takes the form of Agenor and leads Achilles away from the gates. Then all the Trojans escape into the city.
Achilles realizes he has been tricked by Apollo and rejoins the battle. King Priam is watching and is sad. He knows bad things are going to happen to Troy and his son Hector. He and Hector’s momma, Hekabe, try to convince Hector not to fight Achilles. Hekabe pulls out her breast as a show of motherhood to convince him. Hector debates it but he feels his honor is on the line and he must defend his city. Then Achilles comes after Hector and Hector is overwhelmed and runs away. Achilles chases Hector around the city walls. Athena tricks Hector to stop. Hector asks Achilles that no matter what happens they can’t trash each other’s bodies. Achilles says no way and stabs him through the throat. Then he strips Hector’s body of his armor, puts holes in his ankles, puts rope through the holes, and drags the body around the city of Troy behind a chariot. Nasty. The gods don’t let the body get messed up though. Everyone in Troy is sad.
Achilles and his boys, the Myrmidions, hold a funeral feast for Patroklos. Then Patroklos comes back from dead as a ghost asking Achilles to bury him quickly so he can go to the land of the dead. Achilles builds a huge funeral pyre (a funeral pyre is a big pile of wood and stuff you put a corpse on and burn) and burns Patroklos. Then the next day, Achilles holds funeral games for Patroklos. These games are like boxing, wrestling, running, etc. The last game is spear throwing and Achilles lets Agamemnon win because he is the leader and they are trying to be friends.
Achilles can’t get over the death of Patroklos. He can’t sleep so he gets up and drags the body of Hector around the funeral pyre. Zeus tells Thetis, Achilles’ mom, to go tell him enough is enough and give the body back. Then, King Priam is led by the god Hermes to Achilles tent and begs for the body of Hector. Achilles and Priam cry together about their loss. Achilles thinks about killing Priam, but lets him go and take the body of Hector. Hector’s mom, his wife, and Helen all mourn Hector’s death and the Trojans build a big funeral pyre and burn Hector.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
- The main figure in this story is Achilles. It seems that the whole story revolves around him, even though he does not appear in most of it.
- Achilles is a bit of an inconsistent character. He is blessed by the gods and considered a real hero but he falls prey to petty arguing and leaves his friends to die when they need him.
- Is he really loyal to anyone or is he just loyal to his own self? You can argue both sides.
- Telemonian Aias, Ajax the greater, is a cool character to analyze. He is a great warrior and he never gets any help from any gods. The gods help all the other heroes in the Illiad when they are fighting, but Aias never gets any. Later on in history, Aias gets killed for insulting Athena. If asked who is the greatest warrior, why not Aias? He wins on his own terms without help from the gods.
- A major theme is the will of the gods. The gods often decide the fate of men. Zeus decides everything although at times, it’s not clear whether he is deciding fate or just enforcing it. Note the scene where he uses a scale to weigh the fate of the Greeks and Trojans in battle. How much does he actually decide?
- The gods often represent the traits of mankind.
- Honor is another major theme in the Illiad. Hector fights for the honor of Troy. The Achians fight for the honor of Menelaos whose wife, Helen, is in Troy.