UNSEEN SUMMARY OF THE ILIAD BY HOMER
LIST OF CONTENTS
1. Author Information
2. List of Main Characters and Brief Attributes
3. About the Summary
4. The Summary
5. Strengths of The Iliad
6 Criticisms of The Iliad
1. Author Information
BA English Literature
University of London
2009 - 2012
2. List of main characters and brief attributes
Agamemnon – Leader of the Greeks.
Achilles – Son of Penelaus, the Greeks’ best warrior.
Hector – Trojan prince and their best fighter.
Patroclus – Achilles’ trusted companion.
Menelaus- Agamemnon’s brother whose wife Helen is the cause of the siege of Ilium.
Helen – Wife of Menelaus who is seduced by one of the Trojan princes.
Priam – King of Troy
Paris – Helen’s lover and brother to Hector of Troy.
Aeneas – A very skilled warrior fighting on the side of the Trojans.
Odysseus – One of the brave and skilled warriors in the Greek ranks.
Diomedes – Another very skilled warrior in the Greek ranks.
Nestor – The Gerenian charioteer, an older fighter who brings wisdom to the Greek Expeditionary Force.
Briseis – Achilles’ prize, taken by Agamemnon as compensation for Chryseis, prompting Achilles to walk away from the fighting.
Chryseis – Daughter to Apollo’s priest taken as a slave by lord Agamemnon when the Greeks looted Apollo’s temple.
Zeus – King of all Olympian gods.
Thetis – A sea goddess, mother to Achilles.
Athene – Olympian goddess on the Greek side
Hera – Another of the Olympian goddesses, who favours the Trojans
Apollo – The archer god, who favours the Trojans
Hephaestus – The lame god, who is a very skilled blacksmiths, he makes the armour Achilles wears in the final battle against Hector.
Hermes – The messenger god
Aphrodite – love goddess
Poseidon – Olympian god, the earth-shaker who favours the Trojans
3. About the Summary
For my BA English, I endeavour to summarise any book I read within 10 days of my finishing the book. This will be an ‘unseen’ summary, meaning I will not refer to the text at all. I will just write what I have understood in the first reading and also any conclusions and notions I will have developed in that initial reading. This is very useful in that it helps me to commit to memory any text I will have read. But may be misleading to anyone else because there will definitely be errors with regards to names and attributes which I can only correct much later on when I revise the book. With this in mind, here is my first take of The Iliad by the master poet Homer.
4. The Summary
TUESDAY 20 OCTOBER 2009-10-20
The Iliad is an epic martial poem by Homer set in the last year of the ten year siege of the Trojan city of Troy by the Greek Expeditionary Force led by Agamemnon. This siege came about when Prince Paris of Troy betrayed his Greek host Menelaus, and ran away with his wife Helen. Menelaus persuaded his brother lord Agamemnon to raise an expedition to punish the treachery of the Trojans and bring his wife back. The supposition here is that, betraying your host in this manner at that time was a cardinal sin, for it is inconceivable today that an army easily numbering over ten thousand, could be raised and fight over a woman for a decade.
The main protagonists of the epic are Achilles who is the best fighter of the Greeks and Hector who is the Trojan camp’s most skilled fighter. Prince Hector is son to King Priam of Troy and older brother to Paris whom he scolds for seducing Helen, and thus invoking Greek anger, but nevertheless he defends him and Helen.
The two main camps fighting against each other are the Greeks and the Trojans but both draw support from allies as evinced by Achilles’ withdrawal from combat with his Myrmidon tribe. There are numerous references to the allies, notably the one where Agamemnon in rallying his troops tells them that; ‘if a truce were to be arranged, and of those defending Troy, only Trojans were to be asked to serve the Greeks with wine, one Trojan to a group of four Greeks, many of us Greeks would have to go without a drink, because that is how much we outnumber the Trojans’.
The epic concentrates on the ninth year and opens with an argument over prizes between Lord Agamemnon and godlike Achilles. It opens with Lord Agamemnon refusing to hand back Chryseis, the daughter of the archer god Apollo’s priest who he had taken as a prize after sacking the god’s temple. The priest then prays for the Greek Expeditionary Force to be struck down by Apollo. When the Greek army starts dying off, struck down by a plague, deliberations among the leaders yields that to avert the god’s anger, Agamemnon has to hand back Chryseis and make offerings to Apollo. Agamemnon agrees but then takes Achilles’ prize, Bryseis, as compensation. This argument fuels Achilles’ anger and in turn he gets a promise from far thundering Zeus, through his goddess mother Thetis, that the Greeks should be routed by the Trojans so that they realise their folly in angering the one man who could win the war for them.
The story’s centre of gravity is the Greek’s best warrior, Achilles’ rage against his leader Agamemnon which sees him withdraw from the fighting with his trusted side kick, Patroclus. Achilles nurses his anger by his hollow ships, while day after day the Greeks are massacred by the Trojans on the plains that lay between Troy and the sea where the well built ships were anchored. A further and most critical point in this epic is that the gods are involved in the war inordinately. They are seen to favour different sides in the war to the extent that the Trojan War really is a proxy war for the gods. Every aspect of the war is influenced by the gods; this includes removing warriors from the battlefield, covering with mist or averting missile strikes on favourite warriors, inducing cowardice in opponents and even getting involved in the fighting itself.
Zeus, the king of all gods oversees this transgression on human affairs by the immortals. For it is to him that the gods bring requests for victory of their favourite mortals and he acquiesces. For example, when Apollo wrecks havoc on the Greek warriors for raiding his temple and enslaving the priestess Chryseis, the result is that there is an argument over prizes which causes Achilles to walk away from the fighting. Thetis, the sea goddess, then wrings a promise out of Zeus that the Greeks should be routed by the Trojans to appease her son Achilles.
The fighting is very intense and a lot of warriors die gruesome deaths which the master Homer depicts colourfully in his incomparable fashion. The key moment in the warriors’ deaths is when Patroclus dies at the hands of Prince Hector of Troy, this is in turn makes Achilles rejoin the fight in anger and turns the rout into a tide of victory for the Greeks. This victory comes at a very high price for it fulfils the prophecy Thetis gave to her son that should he kill Prince Hector, it was also his destiny to die in Troy. Achilles kills Hector and mutilates his body but this does not diminish his anger. The Iliad ends without spelling the fates of all those warriors who are still alive at the end of the siege, their fates become known only when you read either Homer’s the Odyssey or Virgil’s Aeneid…
5. Strengths of the Iliad
The Iliad’s strength according to my Penguin Classics edition is its rich humanity. Through similes Homer manages to bring the world of conflict closer to most people who otherwise would not fathom the full implications. Examples are those of people compared to lions, birds of prey in action, a wild boar’s strength (‘which is not to be despised) and even poppies heavy with dew. The other spectacular and commendable characteristic of Homer is that of assigning epithets to all his characters; ‘rosy fingered’ dawn, ‘well built’ ships, ‘resourceful’ Odysseus, ‘heroic’ Menelaus, ‘godlike’ Achilles etc …
6. Weaknesses of the Iliad
Homer is said to use ‘ring composition’ which perhaps was a brilliant invention for the oral poet as it allowed him to stay on course but sounds like dreary repetition when viewed in print. There are so many warriors’ deaths that end with ‘his armour clattered about him’ you will be excused for thinking you had unwittingly gone back a couple of pages. I also find the conversation in heated combat very unrealistic considering combat consists of crisp and curt commands. Particularly when Odysseus and Diomedes observe Aeneas’ horses which are supposedly bred from Zeus’ stock. The two Greek warriors engage a lengthy discussion of their desire to capture the horses as ‘it would win them heroic glory’. The conversation traverses how the horses were bred, how the breeder who was Aeneas’ father kept four for himself and gave two to Aeneas to use in battle. In reality Odysseus and Diomedes should not have had enough time in combat to talk at that length.
The Iliad is a brilliant book to read and has all the education a leader of men can ever need.