Homer's The Iliad

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Background for The Iliad's story line begins with the angry goddess Eris, (Discord) who was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (Achilles' parents); she planed revenge and threw a golden apple with the inscription "for the fairest" in the wedding feast. All the goddess present claimed it for themselves, but the choice came down to three: Aphrodite, Athena and Hera. They asked Zeus to make the final decision, but he wisely refused.

Instead, Zeus sent them to Mount Ida, where the handsome youth Paris was tending his father's flocks. Priam had sent the prince away from Troy because of a prophecy that Paris would one day bring doom to the city. Each of the three goddesses offers Paris a bribe if he will name her the fairest: Hera promises to make him lord of Europe and Asia; Athena promises to make him a great military leader and let him rampage all over Greece; and Aphrodite promises that he will have for his wife the most beautiful woman in the world. From then on both Hera and Athena are dead-set against him, and against the Trojans in general.

Nicholas Poussin; French (1594-1665) Venus and Adonis ca. 1628; oil on canvas; 30"x 39 3/4" Walter H. Kimball, Georgianna Sayles Aldrich, Mary B. Jackson, Edgar J. Lownes and Jesse Metcalf Funds 54.186

The most beautiful woman in the world at the time si Helen, a daughter of Zeus and Leda. Helen is already married to Menelaus, the king of Sparta. Helen's adoptive father Tyndareus had required all the men who wanted to marry her swear a solemn oath that they would all come to the assistance of Helen's eventual husband should he ever need their help.

Paris visits Menelaus in Sparta and abducts Helen, taking her back to Troy with him, seemingly with her active cooperation. Paris also takes a large part of Menelaus' fortune. This was a serious breach of the laws of hospitality, which held that guests and hosts owed very specific obligations to each other. In particular, the male guest was obligated to respect the property and wife of his host as he would his own.

Menelaus, his brother Agamemnon, and all the rest of Helen's original suitors, invite others to join them on an expedition to Troy to recover Helen. An armada of some 1,200 ships eventually sails to Troy, where the Achaeans fight for years to take the city, and engage in skirmishes and plundering raids on nearby regions. The story opens in the tenth year of the war.

Book I: The Wrath of Achilles

Agamemnon offends Chryses, the priest of Apollo, by refusing to ransom back his daughter. Apollo sends a plague on the Achaeans in retribution. At a gathering of the whole army, Agamemnon agrees to give the girl back but demands another woman as compensation, and takes Briseis, Achilles' concubine.

Achilles is enraged and pulls his whole army out of the war. In addition, he prays to his mother, the goddess Thetis, to beg Zeus to avenge his dishonor by supporting the Trojans against the Achaean forces. Zeus agrees, though not without angering his wife, Hera.

Book II: Agamemnon's Dream and the Catalogue of Ships

Zeus sends a false prophetic dream to Agamemnon, indicating that if he will rouse the army march on Troy, he can capture the city that very night. As a test, Agamemnon calls another assembly and suggests instead that the whole army pull up its tents and sail back home.

This turns out to be a very bad idea. The troops rush away to get ready for the voyage home and their leaders have a very hard time restoring them to order. The army is eventually mobilized for war, and a catalogue (reread the Time Table who's who guest list in The Great Gatsby) of the Achaean and Trojan forces involved in the fight follows.

Book III: The Duel between Paris and Menelaus

In what is most likely a flashback episode, a truce is called so that Menelaus and Paris can meet in single combat, the winner to take Helen and all her treasure home with him. Solemn oaths are sworn by both sides to abide by the outcome of the duel. Helen watches the fight with King Priam from the walls of Troy and points out the chief leaders of the opposing forces. Just as Menelaus is on the point of killing Paris, his protector, the goddess Aphrodite, takes him safely out of the battle and back to his bedroom in Troy.

Book IV: The Truce is Broken

Hera schemes with some of the other gods and goddesses to break the truce. Athena tricks Pandarus, an ally of the Trojans, into shooting an arrow at Menelaus, wounding him slightly. General fighting breaks out again.

Book V: The Aristeia

Helped by Athena, Diomedes sweeps across the battlefield, killing and wounding Trojans by the dozens. He even wounds the goddess Aphrodite when she tries to rescue her son Aeneas, and the war god Ares, when he tries to rally the Trojan forces. NB: aristeia is a Greek word which means a particular character demonstrates exceptional valor or merit.

Book VI Hector Returns to Troy

While hacking his way through the Trojans, Diomedes meets Glaucus, the grandson of a man his own grandfather had hosted, which makes them "guest-friends" who cannot harm or fight against each other. Meanwhile, Hector has gone back to Troy to urge his mother to offer a sacrifice to Athena in an attempt to win back her favor for the Trojans. He then meets his wife and baby son on the wall of Troy before getting Paris and taking him back to the battle.

Book VII: The Greeks Build a Wall

Hector and Paris return to the fighting, and Hector challenges one of the Achaeans to a duel. Ajax is chosen, but the outcome of the fight is indecisive. As night falls, arrangements are made for a truce to allow the dead on both sides to be collected and buried. During this truce, the Achaeans fortify their camp.

Book VIII: The Trojans Gain the Upper Hand

When the fighting resumes after the burial truce, Zeus forbids the other gods to interfere any further in the course of the war. He himself begins actively assisting the Trojans. Things go very badly for the Achaeans all day, and they retire behind their new fortifications for the night, while the Trojans camp out on the plain before them, to be ready for battle first thing the following morning.

Book IX: The Embassy to Achilles

At the urging of several of his advisers, Agamemnon sends an embassy to Achilles and offers to give Briseis back, and promises greater rewards to come when Troy is finally conquered. Since Agamemnon has not apologized for taking Briseis, Achilles refuses to sail home with his army the next morning.

Book X: A Night Raid

Agamemnon spends a restless night, and eventually decides to send a spy into the Trojan camp to see what can be learned. Diomedes and Odysseus are chosen from among volunteers. They capture a Trojan spy sent to reconnoiter their own camp and, based on information they get from him, the two men kill the newly arrived Thracian king Rhesus with some of his men and make off with a team of horses.

Book XI: The Aristeia of Agamemnon

When fighting resumes the following morning, Agamemnon gets his day of glory, but eventually is wounded (as are many of the other leading fighters in his army). The Trojans push their opponents back to the wall of the camp and Achilles sends his friend Patroclus to find out what is happening. Nestor meets Patroclus on this errand, and urges him to get Achilles to come back to the fighting or, failing that, to borrow Achilles' armor himself and masquerade as his friend in an attempt to trick the Trojans into giving the Achaeans some breathing room.

Book XII: The Trojans Break Through

Before Patroclus can get back to Achilles' tent, the Trojans break through the fortification wall and head for the beached ships, intending to burn them and so prevent the Achaeans from returning home.

Book XIII: The Battle for the Ships

The fighting rages up and down the beach, and the Achaeans are barely able to keep the Trojans away from their ships. Zeus leaves Mount Ida temporarily, and Poseidon covertly assists the Achaeans. Ajax, with Poseidon's help, manages to halt Hector's advance.

Book XIV: Hera Distracts Zeus

Here schemes to distract Zeus while Poseidon helps the Achaean forces. She entices her husband into making love on top of Mount Ida. As the two of them sleep after their lovemaking, Poseidon continues to help the Achaeans, who drive the Trojans back from the ships. In the fighting, Ajax stuns Hector but does not quiet kill him.

Book XV: The Achaeans at Bay

When Zeus wakes up and discovers what has been going on, he forces Poseidon out of the fighting. This swings the balance back toward the Trojans, who once more drive their opponents back to the ships and try to set fire to them.

Book XVI: Patroclus Fights and Dies

Patroclus finally gets back to Achilles, who lets his friend borrow his distinctive armor and his troops against the Trojans. Achilles warns him, however, not to pursue Hector or to get too close to the city itself. As Patroclus is putting on Achilles' armor, Hector sets fire to the first of the ships. When Patroclus and the Myrmidons enter the battle, the Trojans fall back and Patroclus has his aristeia, killing many Trojans, including Sarpedon, a son of Zeus himself.

Patroclus ignores Achilles' advice and pursues Hector and the Trojans all the way back to the walls of Troy. There he is confronted by Apollo, who stuns and disarms him. The Trojan Euphorbus wounds Patroclus, and Hector finishes him off, but not before Patroclus prophesies Hector's own impending death.

Book XVII: The Aristeia of Menelaus

Hector strips Achilles' armor from Patroclus' body. He tries to take the body as well, but the Achaeans fight him off, led by Menelaus. Helped by Ajax, Menelaus distinguishes himself in the fighting against Hector and Aeneas.

Book XVIII: The Shield of Achilles

Achilles hears the news of Patroclus' death and vows to revenge himself on Hector for the injury. His mother tells him that if he kills Hector, his own death will follow shortly, but Achilles insists he will have revenge. She asks the god Hephaestus to forge new armor, including a richly worked shield for Achilles.

Book XIX: Achilles is Reconciled with Agamemnon

Prodded by Odysseus, Achilles agrees to a formal reconciliation with Agamemnon and accepts the gifts he is offered in recompense for Agamemnon's slight, but vows not to eat or drink until he has revenged Patroclus' death by killing Hector. He puts on his new armor, and his immortal horse Xanthus foretells his coming death.

Book XX: The Gods Themselves go to Battle

Zeus gives the gods permission to interfere in the fighting again, which they do with great enthusiasm. Achilles goes on a rampage against the Trojans, and only direct divine intervention saves anyone who is unlucky enough to turn up in his path.

Book XXI: Achilles and the River Scamander

Achilles continues to hack his way through the Trojan ranks. Eventually he kills so many that the river is clogged with corpses. The river god attempts to drown Achilles, but is balked by Hephaestus. Achilles eventually crosses the river and moves on toward Troy, where he is diverted by Apollo just long enough to allow the Trojans (except for Hector) to pull back behind the city walls.

Book XXII: The Death of Hector

Hector stands outside the gates, debating whether to stand and fight Achilles or to retreat within the city himself. As he ponders, Achilles approaches and begins to chase him around the city walls. After the third circuit of the city, Apollo withdraws his protection from Hector. Athena, taking the form of one of Hector's brothers, tricks him into fighting Achilles, who kills him. Still enraged, Achilles ties Hector's body to his chariot and drags it back to the Achaean camp, as Hector's family watches in horror from the walls of Troy.

Book XXIII: The Funeral of Patroclus

Patroclus' ghost comes to Achilles at night and asks him for a speedy burial. The next day, his friend gives him a magnificent funeral, complete with memorial games, at which Achilles presides.

Book XXIV: Hector's Body is Recovered and Buried

On the orders of Zeus and with the protection of Hermes, Priam makes his way to Achilles' camp at night to ransom back the body of his son. Achilles is moved to pity the old man and makes him comfortable after agreeing to accept the ransom he offers for Hector's body. Achilles guarantees the Trojans a suitable amount of time to prepare for and conduct Hector's funeral.

Content for the above was copied and gleaned from a great teaching resourse: Novels for Students, Volumes 1-12. Comp. and Ed. Elizabeth Thomason. Michigan: Gale Group, 1999.