An Easy Guide To Understanding Homer’s Iliad

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Both The Iliad and its sequel, The Odyssey, are considered classics of world literature. Homer, the blind poet, is widely credited with writing them. Audiences have been moved by their stories of bravery and combat for generations.

Despite being written down, these poems are part of a lengthy oral tradition in which stories were told through lyrical poems, typically accompanied by music and dancing. The Iliad’s language, style, and metre all keep this tradition alive.

The Iliad, which is set in the Bronze Age, is a window into the conceptions of honour and bravery held by people of the time. During the Bronze Age, many thinkers believed, humanity worked in harmony with the gods and gods punished them for acting against the their will, leading to a golden age of morality and artistic achievement.

As a result, many people strived to achieve ideals that were more akin to those of the gods: exhibiting heroic attributes like superhuman strength, honesty, and bravery. To have such a high standard of morality as to be able to live as a god would indicate moral excellence.

Furthermore, despite the fact that the Trojan year was long thought to be a myth, there is now archaeological proof that Troy actually existed and may have fallen to the Greeks. This provides the poem with historical context, which not only enables readers to comprehend the ancient peoples’ ideals and oral storytelling tradition but also the social and political environment in which they lived. Due to this, The Iliad and The Odyssey rank among the best epic poem examples ever written.

Summary of Iliad

Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks, kidnaps two young women as war prizes after nine years of battling with the Trojans. He decides to keep Chryseis and give Achilles Briseis. Agamemnon rejects a ransom offered by Chryseis’s father so that his daughter can return home. Chryseis, whose father is a priest of Apollo, prays to the deity, and Apollo, who hears her and sends a plague to the Greeks camp, thanks to her father’s influence. Agamemnon reluctantly decides to send Chryseis back to Thebes after learning that many Greeks have died as a result of the epidemic. Then he orders Achilles to hand over Briseis.


After being insulted and angered, Achilles decides he no longer wants to fight against the Trojans. To ensure that the Achaeans are defeated in battle, he enlists the help of Zeus, king of the gods.

The Achaeans start losing badly because Zeus is supporting the Trojans amidst Achilles refusal to fight against the Trojans. Great figures like Paris and Menelaus, or Ajax and Hector, engage in a number of memorable battles throughout history.

Although the Achaeans suffer repeated defeats, Odysseus and Diomedes are able to discover Trojan war plans during a covert midnight operation. While this is encouraging for the Achaeans, the Trojans are still able to push the Achaean troops back until they are within the Achaean camp.

Even though Achilles wants to do something to help his fellow soldiers, he is too arrogant to do so. He devises a strategy whereby Patroclus, a buddy, will fight on his behalf while wearing Achilles’ armour. The Achaean army benefits slightly from Patroclus’ presence, but the Trojans will eventually reorganise.

In battle, Hector kills Patroclus and takes Achilles’ armour for himself. When Achilles hears that his close buddy has died, he is overcome with grief and wrath. At this time, he decides to make up with Agamemnon, and he returns to the fray. Thetis goes to the gods on Mount Olympus for assistance in a war. The next day, with his new suit of armour forged by Hephaestus, Achilles leads the Achaeans into combat.

Hector and his troops had set up camp outside of Troy’s defences, but the Trojans run at the sight of Achilles. Angered to the point of recklessness, Achilles slaughters dozens of Trojan soldiers.

Achilles even engages in combat with Xanthus, the river god, who is enraged by the number of dead victims that Achilles has thrown into his river.

Finally, Achilles reaches Hector, and the two engage in combat. In the middle of his pursuit, Hector is tricked into turning around by the goddess Athena. This allows Achilles to finally kill Hector.

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In order to return to the Achaean camp, he drags Hector’s body behind his chariot across the battlefield. Following their victory, the Achaeans hold a funeral and party for Patroclus. Achilles drags Hector’s body behind his chariot for nine days, making endless circuits around Patroclus’s grave.

The gods have finally decreed that Hector must be buried. Hermes, the god of travel, brings Hector’s dad to the Achaean camp in style. After hearing Hector’s father beg for his son’s body, Achilles gives in to the Trojans’ demands. The conflict comes to an end when all sides agree to a ceasefire and Troy is destroyed.

Themes in the poem Iliad

1) Mortality and immortality

Conflict between the knowledge of one’s own mortality and the hope for immortality is a theme present in the acts of nearly every character in Homer’s Iliad. This idea of death is intrinsically tied to the Greek value of kleos (glory gained via great actions, frequently in battle), which serves as the primary inspiration for all Greek heroes.

The bloody battles depicted throughout the narrative show that heroes are not gods; instead, they are mortals who can achieve immortality through their bravery and virtue on the battlefield. Even the gods, it seems, are not truly immortal and are subject to the impact of fate and prophesy, as we see immortal creatures descending from Olympus to engage in the battles of humans and getting wounded.

2) Honour and shame

The Iliad’s heroes’ fighting for glory suggests the literature promotes conflict. The Iliad’s depiction of its protagonists suggests that the only way to acquire glory and honour is through battle success. Achilles is praised for killing Hector and avenging Patroclus rather than returning Hector’s body to his father. Paris shames himself and angers his family and lover by avoiding battle. Hector and Achilles both know they will die before battle, yet they chase glory anyhow, even if it means abandoning loved ones.

3) Fate and free will

Conflicting ideas of destiny, free agency, and divine providence are present throughout the entirety of Homer’s Iliad. Zeus’s will has a strong effect throughout the story, although thanks to the other gods’ interference, many characters are spared their doom. This demonstrates that the gods are not helpless in the face of fate, but can take measures to alter it.

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The story’s events also fulfil predictions, and countless men meet their deaths. It is not as though Achilles’ free will does not matter at all; he is presented with a decision. Either he stays at home and lives a normal life without fame, or he goes into battle and achieves both fame and an early death. A double fate, as this is known, is extremely unusual in mythology, making it all the more noteworthy.

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