Akhilleus' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men-carrion for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
Since it was first published, Robert Fitzgerald's prizewinning translation of Homer's battle epic has become a classic in its own right: a standard against which all other versions of The Iliad are compared. Fitzgerald's work is accessible, ironic, faithful, written in a swift vernacular blank verse that "makes Homer live as never before" (Library Journal).
This edition includes a new foreword by Andrew Ford.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Homer, Robert Fitzgerald
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2004 Farrar, Straus and Giroux
All rights reserved.
Quarrel, Oath, and Promise
Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men — carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
Begin it when the two men first contending
broke with one another —
the Lord Marshal
Agamémnon, Atreus' son, and Prince Akhilleus.
Among the gods, who brought this quarrel on?
The son of Zeus by Lêto. Agamémnon
angered him, so he made a burning wind
of plague rise in the army: rank and file
sickened and died for the ill their chief had done
in despising a man of prayer.
This priest, Khrysês, had come down to the ships
with gifts, no end of ransom for his daughter;
on a golden staff he carried the god's white bands
and sued for grace from the men of all Akhaia,
the two Atreidai most of all:
Meneláos and Agamémnon, and you other
Akhaians under arms!
The gods who hold Olympos, may they grant you
plunder of Priam's town and a fair wind home,
but let me have my daughter back for ransom
as you revere Apollo, son of Zeus!"
Then all the soldiers murmured their assent:
"Behave well to the priest. And take the ransom!"
But Agamémnon would not. It went against his desire,
and brutally he ordered the man away:
"Let me not find you here by the long ships
loitering this time or returning later,
old man; if I do,
the staff and ribbons of the god will fail you.
Give up the girl? I swear she will grow old
at home in Argos, far from her own country,
working my loom and visiting my bed.
Leave me in peace and go, while you can, in safety."
So harsh he was, the old man feared and obeyed him,
in silence trailing away
by the shore of the tumbling clamorous whispering sea,
and he prayed and prayed again, as he withdrew,
to the god whom silken-braided Lêto bore:
"O hear me, master of the silver bow,
protector of Ténedos and the holy towns,
Apollo, Sminthian, if to your liking
ever in any grove I roofed a shrine
or burnt thighbones in fat upon your altar —
bullock or goat flesh — let my wish come true:
your arrows on the Danáäns for my tears!"
Now when he heard this prayer, Phoibos Apollo
walked with storm in his heart from Olympos' crest,
quiver and bow at his back, and the bundled arrows
clanged on the sky behind as he rocked in his anger,
descending like night itself. Apart from the ships
he halted and let fly, and the bowstring slammed
as the silver bow sprang, rolling in thunder away.
Pack animals were his target first, and dogs,
but soldiers, too, soon felt transfixing pain
from his hard shots, and pyres burned night and day.
Nine days the arrows of the god came down
broadside upon the army. On the tenth,
Akhilleus called all ranks to assembly. Hêra,
whose arms are white as ivory, moved him to it,
as she took pity on Danáäns dying.
All being mustered, all in place and quiet,
Akhilleus, fast in battle as a lion,
rose and said:
"Agamémnon, now, I take it,
the siege is broken, we are going to sail,
and even so may not leave death behind:
if war spares anyone, disease will take him ...
We might, though, ask some priest or some diviner,
even some fellow good at dreams — for dreams
come down from Zeus as well —
why all this anger of the god Apollo?
Has he some quarrel with us for a failure
in vows or hekatombs? Would mutton burned
or smoking goat flesh make him lift the plague?"
Putting the question, down he sat. And Kalkhas,
Kalkhas Thestórides, came forward, wisest
by far of all who scanned the flight of birds.
He knew what was, what had been, what would be,
Kalkhas, who brought Akhaia's ships to Ilion
by the diviner's gift Apollo gave him.
Now for their benefit he said:
dear to Zeus, it is on me you call
to tell you why the Archer God is angry.
Well, I can tell you. Are you listening? Swear
by heaven that you will back me and defend me,
because I fear my answer will enrage
a man with power in Argos, one whose word
Akhaian troops obey.
A great man in his rage is formidable
for underlings: though he may keep it down,
he cherishes the burning in his belly
until a reckoning day. Think well
if you will save me."
Tell what you know, what you have light to know.
I swear by Apollo, the lord god to whom
you pray when you uncover truth,
never while I draw breath, while I have eyes to see,
shall any man upon this beachhead dare
lay hands on you — not one of all the army,
not Agamémnon, if it is he you mean,
though he is first in rank of all Akhaians."
The diviner then took heart and said:
in hekatombs or vows is held against us.
It is the man of prayer whom Agamémnon
treated with contempt: he kept his daughter,
spurned his gifts: for that man's sake the Archer
visited grief upon us and will again.
Relieve the Danáäns of this plague he will not
until the girl who turns the eyes of men
shall be restored to her own father — freely,
with no demand for ransom — and until
we offer up a hekatomb at Khrysê.
Then only can we calm him and persuade him."
He finished and sat down. The son of Atreus,
ruler of the great plain, Agamémnon,
rose, furious. Round his heart resentment
welled, and his eyes shone out like licking fire.
Then, with a long and boding look at Kalkhas,
he growled at him:
"You visionary of hell,
never have I had fair play in your forecasts.
Calamity is all you care about, or see,
no happy portents; and you bring to pass
nothing agreeable. Here you stand again
before the army, giving it out as oracle
the Archer made them suffer because of me,
because I would not take the gifts
and let the girl Khrysêis go; I'd have her
mine, at home. Yes, if you like, I rate her
higher than Klytaimnestra, my own wife!
She loses nothing by comparison
in beauty or womanhood, in mind or skill.
For all of that, I am willing now to yield her
if it is best; I want the army saved
and not destroyed. You must prepare, however,
a prize of honor for me, and at once,
that I may not be left without my portion —
I, of all Argives. It is not fitting so.
While every man of you looks on, my girl
Prince Akhilleus answered him:
"Lord Marshal, most insatiate of men,
how can the army make you a new gift?
Where is our store of booty? Can you see it?
Everything plundered from the towns has been
distributed; should troops turn all that in?
Just let the girl go, in the god's name, now;
we'll make it up to you, twice over, three
times over, on that day Zeus gives us leave
to plunder Troy behind her rings of stone."
"Not that way
will I be gulled, brave as you are, Akhilleus.
Take me in, would you? Try to get around me?
What do you really ask? That you may keep
your own winnings, I am to give up mine
and sit here wanting her? Oh, no:
the army will award a prize to me
and make sure that it measures up, or if
they do not, I will take a girl myself,
your own, or Aías', or Odysseus' prize!
Take her, yes, to keep. The man I visit
may choke with rage; well, let him.
But this, I say, we can decide on later.
Look to it now, we launch on the great sea
a well-found ship, and get her manned with oarsmen,
load her with sacrificial beasts and put aboard
Khrysêis in her loveliness. My deputy,
Aías, Idómeneus, or Prince Odysseus,
or you, Akhilleus, fearsome as you are,
will make the hekatomb and quiet the Archer."
Akhilleus frowned and looked at him, then said:
"You thick-skinned, shameless, greedy fool!
Can any Akhaian care for you, or obey you,
after this on marches or in battle?
As for myself, when I came here to fight,
I had no quarrel with Troy or Trojan spearmen:
they never stole my cattle or my horses,
never in the black farmland of Phthía
ravaged my crops. How many miles there are
of shadowy mountains, foaming seas, between!
No, no, we joined for you, you insolent boor,
to please you, fighting for your brother's sake
and yours, to get revenge upon the Trojans.
You overlook this, dogface, or don't care,
and now in the end you threaten to take my girl,
a prize I sweated for, and soldiers gave me!
Never have I had plunder like your own
from any Trojan stronghold battered down
by the Akhaians. I have seen more action
hand to hand in those assaults than you have,
but when the time for sharing comes, the greater
share is always yours. Worn out with battle
I carry off some trifle to my ships.
Well, this time I make sail for home.
Better to take now to my ships. Why linger,
cheated of winnings, to make wealth for you?"
To this the high commander made reply:
"Desért, if that's the way the wind blows. Will I
beg you to stay on my account? I will not.
Others will honor me, and Zeus who views
the wide world most of all.
is hateful to my sight as you are, none
given like you to faction, as to battle —
rugged you are, I grant, by some god's favor.
Sail, then, in your ships, and lord it over
your own battalion of Myrmidons. I do not
give a curse for you, or for your anger.
But here is warning for you:
being required of me by Phoibos Apollo,
she will be sent back in a ship of mine,
manned by my people. That done, I myself
will call for Brisêis at your hut, and take her,
flower of young girls that she is, your prize,
to show you here and now who is the stronger
and make the next man sick at heart — if any
think of claiming equal place with me."
A pain like grief weighed on the son of Pêleus,
and in his shaggy chest this way and that
the passion of his heart ran: should he draw
longsword from hip, stand off the rest, and kill
in single combat the great son of Atreus,
or hold his rage in check and give it time?
And as this tumult swayed him, as he slid
the big blade slowly from the sheath, Athêna
came to him from the sky. The white-armed goddess,
Hêra, sent her, being fond of both,
concerned for both men. And Athêna, stepping
up behind him, visible to no one
except Akhilleus, gripped his red-gold hair.
Startled, he made a half turn, and he knew her
upon the instant for Athêna: terribly
her grey eyes blazed at him. And speaking softly
but rapidly aside to her he said:
"What now, O daughter of the god of heaven
who bears the stormcloud, why are you here? To see
the wolfishness of Agamémnon?
Well, I give you my word: this time, and soon,
he pays for his behavior with his blood."
The grey-eyed goddess Athêna said to him:
"It was to check this killing rage I came
from heaven, if you will listen. Hêra sent me,
being fond of both of you, concerned for both.
Enough: break off this combat, stay your hand
upon the sword hilt. Let him have a lashing
with words, instead: tell him how things will be.
Here is my promise, and it will be kept:
winnings three times as rich, in due season,
you shall have in requital for his arrogance.
But hold your hand. Obey."
The great runner,
"Nothing for it, goddess, but when you two immortals speak, a man complies, though his heart burst. Just as well. Honor the gods' will, they may honor ours."
On this he stayed his massive hand upon the silver pommel, and the blade of his great weapon slid back in the scabbard. The, man had done her bidding. Off to Olympos, gaining the air, she went to join the rest, the powers of heaven in the home of Zeus.
But now the son of Pêleus turned on Agamémnon
and lashed out at him, letting his anger ride
"Sack of wine,
you with your cur's eyes and your antelope heart!
You've never had the kidney to buckle on
armor among the troops, or make a sortie
with picked men — oh, no; that way death might lie.
Safer, by god, in the middle of the army —
is it not? — to commandeer the prize
of any man who stands up to you! Leech!
Commander of trash! If not, I swear,
you never could abuse one soldier more!
But here is what I say: my oath upon it
by this great staff: look: leaf or shoot
it cannot sprout again, once lopped away
from the log it left behind in the timbered hills;
it cannot flower, peeled of bark and leaves;
instead, Akhaian officers in council
take it in hand by turns, when they observe
by the will of Zeus due order in debate:
let this be what I swear by then: I swear
a day will come when every Akhaian soldier
will groan to have Akhilleus back. That day
you shall no more prevail on me than this
dry wood shall flourish — driven though you are,
and though a thousand men perish before
the killer, Hektor. You will eat your heart out,
raging with remorse for this dishonor
done by you to the bravest of Akhaians."
He hurled the staff, studded with golden nails,
before him on the ground. Then down he sat,
and fury filled Agamémnon, looking across at him.
But for the sake of both men Nestor arose,
the Pylians' orator, eloquent and clear;
argument sweeter than honey rolled from his tongue.
By now he had outlived two generations
of mortal men, his own and the one after,
in Pylos land, and still ruled in the third.
In kind reproof he said:
"A black day, this.
Bitter distress comes this way to Akhaia.
How happy Priam and Priam's sons would be,
and all the Trojans — wild with joy — if they
got wind of all these fighting words between you,
foremost in council as you are, foremost
in battle. Give me your attention. Both
are younger men than I, and in my time
men who were even greater have I known
and none of them disdained me. Men like those
I have not seen again, nor shall: Peiríthoös,
the Lord Marshal Dryas, Kaineus, Exádios,
Polyphêmos, Theseus — Aigeus' son,
a man like the immortal gods. I speak
of champions among men of earth, who fought
with champions, with wild things of the mountains,
great centaurs whom they broke and overpowered.
Among these men I say I had my place
when I sailed out of Pylos, my far country,
because they called for me. I fought
for my own hand among them. Not one man
alive now upon earth could stand against them.
And I repeat: they listened to my reasoning,
took my advice. Well, then, you take it too.
It is far better so.
do not deprive him of the girl, renounce her.
The army had allotted her to him.
Akhilleus, for your part, do not defy
your King and Captain. No one vies in honor
with him who holds authority from Zeus.
You have more prowess, for a goddess bore you;
his power over men surpasses yours.
But, Agamémnon, let your anger cool.
I beg you to relent, knowing Akhilleus
a sea wall for Akhaians in the black waves of war."
Lord Agamémnon answered:
"All you say
is fairly said, sir, but this man's ambition,
remember, is to lead, to lord it over
everyone, hold power over everyone,
give orders to the rest of us! Well, one
will never take his orders! If the gods
who live forever made a spearman of him,
have they put insults on his lips as well?"
"What a poltroon,
how lily-livered I should be called, if I
knuckled under to all you do or say!
Give your commands to someone else, not me!
And one more thing I have to tell you: think it
over: this time, for the girl, I will not
wrangle in arms with you or anyone,
though I am robbed of what was given me;
but as for any other thing I have
alongside my black ship, you shall not take it
against my will. Try it. Hear this, everyone:
that instant your hot blood blackens my spear!"
They quarreled in this way, face to face, and then
broke off the assembly by the ships. Akhilleus
made his way to his squadron and his quarters,
Patróklos by his side, with his companions.
Agamémnon proceeded to launch a ship,
assigned her twenty oarsmen, loaded beasts
for sacrifice to the god, then set aboard
Khrysêis in her loveliness. The versatile
Odysseus took the deck, and, all oars manned,
they pulled out on the drenching ways of sea.
The troops meanwhile were ordered to police camp
and did so, throwing refuse in the water;
then to Apollo by the barren surf
they carried out full-tally hekatombs,
and the savor curled in crooked smoke toward heaven.
That was the day's work in the army.
had kept his threat in mind, and now he acted,
calling Eurýbatês and Talthýbios,
his aides and criers:
"Go along," he said,
"both of you, to the quarters of Akhilleus
and take his charming Brisêis by the hand
to bring to me. And if he balks at giving her
I shall be there myself with men-at-arms
in force to take her — all the more gall for him."
So, ominously, he sent them on their way,
and they who had no stomach for it went
along the waste sea shingle toward the ships
and shelters of the Myrmidons. Not far
from his black ship and hut they found the prince
in the open, seated. And seeing these two come
was cheerless to Akhilleus. Shamefast, pale
with fear of him, they stood without a word;
but he knew what they felt and called out:
"Peace to you,
criers and couriers of Zeus and men!
Come forward. Not one thing have I against you:
Agamémnon is the man who sent you
for Brisêis. Here then, my lord Patróklos,
bring out the girl and give her to these men.
And let them both bear witness before the gods
who live in bliss, as before men who die,
including this harsh king, if ever hereafter
a need for me arises to keep the rest
from black defeat and ruin.
Excerpted from The Iliad by Homer, Robert Fitzgerald. Copyright © 2004 Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction by Andrew Ford,
BOOK ONE Quarrel, Oath, and Promise,
BOOK TWO Assembly and Muster of Armies,
BOOK THREE Dueling for a Haunted Lady,
BOOK FOUR A Bowshot Bringing War,
BOOK FIVE A Hero Strives with Gods,
BOOK SIX Interludes in Field and City,
BOOK SEVEN A Combat and a Rampart,
BOOK EIGHT The Battle Swayed by Zeus,
BOOK NINE A Visit of Emissaries,
BOOK TEN Night in the Camp: A Foray,
BOOK ELEVEN Prowess and Wounds of Akhaians,
BOOK TWELVE The Rampart Breached,
BOOK THIRTEEN Assault on the Ships,
BOOK FOURTEEN Beguilement on Mount Ida,
BOOK FIFTEEN The Lord of Storm,
BOOK SIXTEEN A Ship Fired, a Tide Turned,
BOOK SEVENTEEN Contending for a Soldier Fallen,
BOOK EIGHTEEN The Immortal Shield,
BOOK NINETEEN The Avenger Fasts and Arms,
BOOK TWENTY The Ranging of Powers,
BOOK TWENTY-ONE The Clash of Man and River,
BOOK TWENTY-TWO Desolation Before Troy,
BOOK TWENTY-THREE A Friend Consigned to Death,
BOOK TWENTY-FOUR A Grace Given in Sorrow,
Reading Group Guide
This teacher's guide is keyed to the Robert Fitzgerald translation of The Iliad. Striking a balance between traditional poetic artistry and immediacy of language, Fitzgerald gives students the full measure of the original epic's astonishing power.
Little is certain when it comes to the origins of The Iliad or its partner epic and sequel, The Odyssey. Both epics circulated from the dawn of Greek literature under the name of Homer, but who this fabled poet was, and when and where he lived, remain riddles. Already some ancient critics doubted a single poet wrote both epics, and most modern scholars prefer to ascribe the creation and initial shaping of both stories to oral tradition. As legends about heroes and their exploits were handed down from generation to generation over many centuries, bards developed highly formalized language to chant the stories in public performances. These singers had a large repertoire of tales from which they chose when aiming to satisfy a particular audience's demand, or more likely the request of the local lord. The material was familiar and the language traditional, indeed formulaic, so that a good singer could always perform a song in proper style and meter to suit the performance situation in theme, episodes, details, scope, and tone. The songs gave audiences a vision of their ancestors, people more glorious and admirable (they believed) than they themselves, whether in victory or in defeat. In their greatness, in their heroic pursuit of glory and undying fame, the epic characters defined the heroic code the listeners, at least initially members of a warrior class, were to follow. What conferred undying fame was epic song itself: listeners of epic would have aspired to become the subject of song for subsequent generations.
There must have been many signal moments in the history of epic before The Iliad and The Odyssey achieved the forms in which we know them, but two appear, inretrospect, to have been supremely significant. Many towns and settlements were sacked as peoples competed for land and power in what is now Greece and Turkey, but it seems that a city known as Troy or Ilion, on the northwest coast of Asia Minor and near the strait called the Dardanellesand for that strategic reason a significant powerwas the frequent target of marauding attacks and sieges. One of the most devastating destructions it suffered fell shortly before or after 1200 B.C.E. Around this destruction there seem to have coalesced stories of a Greek army on a mammoth campaign to sack the fortified city that sat astride sea and land lanes to the richer east. What was the reason for the expedition? Not greed and power politicsso legend has itbut the drive to recover something yet more precious: Greek honor in the shape of Helen, the beautiful wife of Meneláos, king of Sparta. Helen, the story went, had been abducted by Paris, the handsome if spoiled Trojan prince. And so the tale was spun backwards.
The legendary campaign against Troy took ten years. The Iliad, long though it is, narrates a crucial patch of the tenth year only, when the greatest hero of the Greeks, Akhilleus, fell out with the Greek commander-in-chief, Agamémnon, Meneláos' brother. By the end of The Iliad, Akhilleus has lost his companion, Patróklos, but has killed the great Trojan hero, Hektor. Troy is doomed, even if its actual fall as well as Akhilleus' death are narrated in the cycle of songs, now only fragments, that follow The Iliad. The storytelling cycle continued with stories of the homecomings of the various Greek heroes. It is the homecoming of the craftiest of those heroes, Odysseus, that is told in The Odyssey.
The other signal moment in the development of the two Homeric poems was, in fact, a series of moments, for only gradually did poems transmitted orally come to be written. By the middle of the eighth century B.C.E., there emerged singersone, two, or morewho had so mastered the traditional material and style that they could spin out versions of these episodes of the Trojan cycle that were extraordinary in size, subtlety, and complexity of design, versions that increasingly became the models for performances of The Iliad and The Odyssey. The exact mode in which the Homeric poems were first written down remains obscure, but by the second half of the sixth century B.C.E., the technology of writing in an alphabet adapted from Phoenician letters had advanced to the point that written versions of the Homeric epics became at least thinkable. While we have evidence of considerable variation in written versions of the epics well into the Hellenistic Periodthe era following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E.and know of continued "live" performances at public festivals, the range of permissible variation was growing ever more limited. By the third century B.C.E., scholars were working on the epics as written texts, studying and annotating the Homeric poems and comparing different copies. By this date each epic was divided into twenty-four "books." It is for all intents and purposes this text, after transcription from papyrus rolls to vellum codices and finally printed on paper, that we read, whether in scholarly editions of the Greek original or in translations in many languages like the one you have before you.
However fascinating the history of its transmission, the story The Iliad tells is more compelling still. It is the story of a great military campaign, one that seeks redress for a grievance; when it ends, that redress is all but certain, though already the ultimate victors have paid terrible and unanticipated penalties almost as grievous as those the vanquished will pay.
The Iliad offers another perspective as well. High above the plain of Ilion, and usually invisible, the gods are at workand play. The story of Paris' abduction of Helen, the justification for the Greeks' siege and sack of Troy, turns out to be a secondary effect of wrangling among the gods. This may be the strangest feature of the poem for modern students, for many reasons. For starters, apart from Zeus,
none of the gods seems to be in the least "godlike." Zeus' consort Hêra, his daughter Athêna, his brother Poseidon, Aphrodítê, and Apollo, along with other deities, including lesser ones (such as Thetis, Akhilleus' mother), all jockey for power and standing. They have favorites and enemies among the mortals and openly take sides in the struggle between the Greeks and Trojans. Helen herself was Aphrodítê's reward to Paris for his having declared her the winner in the heavenly beauty contest between her, Hêra, and Athêna, in which each blatantly sought to bribe the judge with a promise of a fabulous reward. The gods, then, are hardly models of ideal behavior and values. The gods enjoy a world in which passions can be indulged at will and virtually without check. Virtually, that is, because ultimately, Zeus has the power to bend happenings to his will, even if he, too, must accept the loss of his mortal son Sarpêdôn. He grants Hektor and his Trojans great glory up to a pointat the cost of the lives of many Greekshonoring his promise to Thetis, but he sets limits on Aphrodítê and Apollo's support of the Trojans, for its destruction is decreed.
But the great wonder of The Iliad is the poem itself. Homerwhether we think of him as a single creative power or the name we give to the tradition that evolved this particular combination of episodes from the last year of the Trojan Waris a virtuoso of prolongation, devising ways to extend the basic line of the plot and include within it bravura variations of detail, tempo, and tone. From within the temporal frame of a relatively few days he includes the history of the Trojan Warindeed, the history of Troy and the lineages of dozens of heroes, with episodes from earlier generationsjust as he brings into a military setting, via myriad similes, worlds of hunting and farming, fishing and weaving. Though this is an epic of war, peaceor the dream of peaceis never far distant, whether in flashbacks to earlier,
happier times or in scenes on the divinely wrought shield of Akhilleus.
At the beginning of the poem, Homer asked the Muse, guarantor of epic memory,
to sing through him. The Muse still sings in the pages of your book, and she is eager to begin. Attend her, and wonder.
Questions for Basic Understanding
What is the cause of the quarrel between Akhilleus and Agamémnon? Why does
Akhilleus want to kill Agamémnon, and why doesn't he? How does Akhilleus want his mother Thetis to help him, and why does he expect Zeus will be inclined to listen to her? What problems does Zeus have with his wife Hêra?
What dream does Zeus send Agamémnon? How does Agamémnon respond?
How and why do Hêra and Athêna rally the troops? What special talents of
Odysseus are revealed by this entire episode? What is the portent at Aulis that he recalls for the Akhaians? Does Agamémnon already rue his quarrel with Akhilleus?
Who are the Muses, and why does the poet call on them again shortly after the middle of Book II (line 567)? What extended passage does this introduce?
Why does Aléxandros (Paris) offer to engage Meneláos in single combat when the former knows he is no fighter? Why does Priam hold Helen blameless for the suffering she has brought on both Trojans and Greeks? Why does Priam go back to the city before the duel? How does Paris escape death at Meneláos' hands?
What is Helen's reaction to Aphrodítê's invitation? How does Agamémnon interpret
Paris' disappearance from the battle field?
Who among the gods supports the Greeks, who the Trojans? Why is Hêra not content with the outcome of the single combat? How and why do the gods see that the truce is broken, and why do they arrange for it to be broken by the
Trojans first? How do both Agamémnon and Meneláos react? What strengths of
Agamémnon as a military leader emerge in the ensuing crisis?
What is special about Aineías' team of horses? How and why do the gods take special care of Aineías? What happens when Aphrodítê enters the fray? Are other gods and goddesses better fighters? Why is the encounter between Tlêpólemos and Sarpêdôn so fraught for Zeus? What is the outcome of their fight? Which side overall gets the better of the fighting in Book V?
How do Meneláos and Agamémnon differ in their views of taking Adrêstos as a prisoner for ransom? Why do Glaukos and Diomêdês abstain from battling each other? Does Athêna listen to the prayers of the Trojan women? How does
Helen address Hektor, and what opinion does she claim to have of Paris? What reason does Andrómakhê have to hate Akhilleus in particular? What future does Hektor imagine for her?
Which gods arrange for the truce between the Akhaians and the Trojans? Who volunteers to fight Hektor? How is it decided who will stand up against him?
Why don't the Trojans do as Antênor suggests and return Helen to the Greeks?
How does Zeus turn the tide? In what terms does Hektor insult Diomêdês?
What sign does Zeus send that heartens the Greeks, and indicates that he has heard and granted Agamémnon's prayer? Are Hêra and Athêna of a mind to obey Zeus' command? How does he thwart them?
Why is Agamémnon now eager to make peace with Akhilleus? Does
Agamémnon admit he was wrong and take full responsibility? What is
Odysseus' role in the embassy? How does Akhilleus respond to him and why?
Who is Phoinix and what is his role in the embassy? Is the embassy successful?
What is the purpose of the Greeks' night expedition? What of the Trojans'?
What happens when they meet?
Why does Zeus still favor the Trojans? Does this mean the Trojans suffer no losses? How does Zeus "manage" the battle to his liking? What moves Akhilleus to send Patróklos to the Greeks? What is the purpose of Nestor's lengthy narrative?
What is the omen or "bird-sign" that frightens the Trojans? How is it or should it be interpreted? What is Sarpêdôn's particular role in storming the ramparts?
Why does he have such special protection?
What does Poseidon, god of the sea and bringer of earthquakes, undertake to rally the Greeks? In what various ways do the mortal fighters perceive his divine force? What in particular moves Aineías to face Idómeneus in battle?
Why does Odysseus upbraid Agamémnon so unmercifully? How and why does
Hêra deceive Aphrodítê? How does she bribe Sleep? What is the result of her seducing and "sidelining" Zeus for a time?
How does Zeus arrange future events and see to it that the other gods obey his commands? What dangers does the wrath of Poseidon threaten? How is that wrath averted?
How and why does Patróklos appeal to Akhilleus when he does? To what does
Akhilleus agree? Does Akhilleus bear ill will to the Greeks in general? How does Hêra persuade a hesitating Zeus not to prevent the death of Sarpêdôn?
How and why does Patróklos exceed the limits Akhilleus set for him? What are the consequences?
Why does Glaukos the Lykian upbraid Hektor and threaten that the Lykians,
Trojan allies, will now abandon Troy? Whose armor had Patróklos' been wearing, and what will it mean for Hektor to put it on?
What is the scale of lamentation for Patróklos? Why is Hêphaistos so well disposed to Thetis? Describe Akhilleus' shield and discuss both the scenes depicted on it as well as the way the poet presents their creation.
What is the relevance of Agamémnon's fable of Zeus and folly? What are
Odysseus' practical concerns that run counter to Akhilleus' heroic singlemindedness?
Why does Brisêis feel special grief over the death of Patróklos? Who is
Why do the gods save Aineías? Why does Hektor at first hang back and then,
later, close with Akhilleus? How is he spared?
For what purpose does Akhilleus take twelve young men prisoner? What further harm does Akhilleus do to Lykáôn after killing him? Why is the river
Skamánder provoked with Akhilleus? What roles do Poseidon, Hêra, and
Hêphaistos play in helping Akhilleus against these superhuman forces? What gods does Athêna strike? How does Apollo create a diversion so that many
Trojans can reach safety within the city walls?
With what arguments do Priam and Hékabê try to dissuade Hektor from facing
Akhilleus outside the walls? What motivates Hektor to reject their pleas and make his last stand? What role do the gods play? Will Akhilleus bargain with Hektor and agree to return his body to his parents for proper burial?
What end does Hektor prophesy for Akhilleus? What does Akhilleus do to
Why does Akhilleus refuse to bathe himself? What does Patróklos' shade say to
Akhilleus? Why is burial so crucial to the dead man? What roles do various gods play in attending to the corpses of Patróklos and Hektor? Who and what else were burnt on Patróklos' funeral pyre? What is the order of competitors at the finish of the chariot race? What is the order and value of the prizes set out for the wrestling match? How does Agamémnon win the top prize for javelin throwing?
Why do the gods decide Akhilleus must agree to surrender Hektor's body for ransom? How much time has elapsed since Hektor's death? How does Zeus arrange for his message to Akhilleus to be delivered? And his message to Priam?
Why does Priam reject the advice of his wife, Hékabê? What does he think of his surviving sons? What omen encourages Priam and Hékabê that he will be received with kindliness? What identity does Hermês take on as he guides and assists Priam? With what appeal does Priam begin his speech to Akhilleus, hoping to soften his heart? How does Akhilleus take care lest he be moved to anger once again and defy the express command of Zeus? How long a truce does
Akhilleus promise Priam, so that the Trojans have time to mourn and bury
Hektor before war resumes? What end does Andrómakhê fear for their son? In what terms does Heleneven Helen!lament Hektor?
Questions for Further Study
In the altercation between Akhilleus and Agamémnon, who wins, who loses?
How does each "save face"? What do we learn about the character of each man?
How is the council of the gods similar to the assembly of Greek leaders, and how is it different?
What kind of god sends a false dream to mortals? Is Agamémnon an effective leader? Why does Homer include the entire episode of the "false retreat"? What does Thersites, as well as the attitude of other characters and the poet to
Thersites, reveal about heroic ideals? What does his inclusion add to the epic?
Make a list of all the similes in Book II. From what spheres of life are they drawn?
How do they function? What pleasure could audiences derive from the "catalogue of ships"? Why does a goddess like Iris take on the form of a specific Trojan and not appear in her own guise?
What impressions do we receive of the characters of Hektor and Paris (also known as Aléxandros), Helen and Priam? How is Helen treated by the Trojans?
How does the sacrifice of animals solemnize the oaths Agamémnon and
Odysseus swear? What role do various gods play in this episode? Does Helen love Paris? Is Helen herself merely a pawn?
What (if anything) is divine about Zeus and the other Olympian gods? Could
Athêna's incitement (in Laódokos' form) of Pándaros be understood as
Pándaros' giving in to thoughts a Trojan might well have on his own in such a situation? What is the singer's judgment of Pándaros? What effect is achieved when the poet describes so exactly how the blood trickles down Meneláos' thigh,
lavishing a full-blown simile on it? Give some examples of how Agamémnon, as he musters the troops, varies his approach depending on the particular strengths and character of the general he's addressing. What does it portend for the
Trojans that the poet compares them as they prepare for battle to flocks of sheep?
Is the detail "in a rich man's pen" (line 524) relevant?
What is the value of stripping arms from the corpse of the man one has killed
in other words, of taking booty? Describe how the focus on the exploits of one fighterhere it is Diomêdês, son of Tydeusorganizes the battle scene. What do you make of the fact that a mortal like Diomêdês can actually wound a goddess?
Are there limits? Can a character like Aineías be spirited away, even avoid a fight,
and remain a heroic figure of honor? How does Zeus look upon battles even between the gods? Is his attitude toward Arês, the god of warfare, contradictory?
Why does Hélenos advise Hektor to instruct the Trojan women to pray to
Athêna and promise sacrifices? What does the episode of Glaukos and Diomêdês suggest about the loyalties and priorities of Homeric heroes? Describe the impact the domestic scenes of Hektor with the various members of his family in
Troy have on the narrative tone and rhythm of the poem. Is Homer as convincing a poet of tenderness and laughter as he is of terror and mayhem?
Explain the difference in treatment of arms and corpse stipulated by Hektor in the terms of the duel he proposes. What is the importance of offering each side the right to bury its dead according to its fashion? What is the value of the formal speech of challenge, boasting even, which each fighter hurls at the other before engaging in armed struggle? How does Homer make the scene of the two armies each collecting their dead from the battlefield so uncanny?
Does Zeus control the destinies of the Greeks and Trojans he weighs in his balance,
or are those destinies beyond his control? What point could there be for
Homer to have Agamémnon emphasize Teukros' "bastard birth" even as he praises him? Zeus announces already that the death of Patróklos will mark the turning point of the war: Does suspense not play a role in the Homeric aesthetic?
Discuss the range of gifts Agamémnon promises Akhilleus in order to placate him. What, based on Akhilleus' response to Odysseus, does Akhilleus' value system appear to be? Why does Phoinix tell the story of Meléagros?
What might be the point of Homer giving the history of various elements of arms, such as the helmet Odysseus wears on the night expedition? What examples of his famous cunning intelligence does Odysseus evince in this episode?
How does the poet use similes or comparisons to help his audience more intensely visualize or experience the fighters or the fighting? Assemble specific examples. Does a coherent pattern of comparisons emerge across the book
(and, possibly, extend into Book XII)? Did these similes enrich your reading experience or distract you? Do you think Homeric audiences liked them? Why or why not?
What impact does the "flash forward" description of Poseidon and Apollo's destruction of the Greek rampart, long after the end of the Trojan War, carry at this juncture in the narrative? Though the epic's division into books is likely a later (though still ancient) development in the poem's evolution, consider whether the final moment of Book XII makes for a sound or effective book endingindeed, for a dramatic end to the first "half " of The Iliad.
What kind of god is Zeus, given that he looks away from Troy at such a crucial moment? How is a "lesser" or "middling" figure like Idómeneus individualized as a character? What aspects of Paris' character are revealed by his response to Hektor's rebuke?
Why would Diomêdês think it worthwhile to preface the presentation of his battle strategy with a boasting account of his noble lineage? What kind of an effect does the rapid shift from bloody battlefield to Hêra's luxurious dressingroom have? Are gods such as the ones Homer describes admirable?
Does Hêra still hope to stir up trouble by exciting Arês? How unusual in The
Iliad so far is it for a god to appear and announce himself openly, as Apollo does to Hektor? Do the Trojans misinterpret the peal of thunder Zeus sends in response to Nestor's prayer? Consider how Homer manages to vary one of the most common speech types in these battle booksthe speech of a commander rallying his men. Make special note of Aías' ironic, darkly jesting tone.
What is the significance of the details the poet provides of Patróklos' arming?
Consider Akhilleus' prayer to Zeus and the poet's revelation of Zeus' response.
What is the role of suspense in The Iliad? Does the tempo of battle change with
Patróklos' entry into the fighting? How does the poet create a focus and rising tension leading to the clash of Patróklos and Sarpêdôn, and keep Sarpêdôn a focal point even after his death? Describe how the influx of the divine, or even unreality, affects an otherwise realistic battle scene when Apollo simply lifts
Sarpêdôn's corpse out of the fray.
What is the effect of Homer's careful description of wounds, blood, and gore as soldiers die? What is the effect of his moralizing asides or references to the parents or family of the dead at home? What could it mean for men to exceed the limits set by Zeus or go, as Apollo says to Aineías, "beyond the will of Zeus"?
Does Akhilleus now, talking to his mother, display full self-awareness? Why is he the darling of the gods, to the point that Athêna will even cover him with her shield? Could a design on a shield possibly show all the action and effects
(including sound) Homer describes?
To judge from Akhilleus' first speech in assembly, how important is Brisêis to him? How do both generals find a face-saving explanation for their earlier obstinacy? Does the response of Akhilleus' divine horse surprise or jar, or does it seem fitting to enter ever more into magical realms when Akhilleus is the hero in question?
Why does Zeus now encourage the gods to enter the battle, each supporting his or her favored side? Consider the length and formality, implausible from the perspective of reality, of a speech like Aineías' to Akhilleus. What purposes does it serve? How does Homer manage to prolong the scenes of Akhilleus' battle prowess?
Is a battle between Akhilleus and the river Skamánder believable? And is this even a relevant question? Are there other signs here indicating that the poet has moved us to another plane of reality? Why does Zeus take joy in the battle of the gods? Does the scene of the gods' strife serve as "comic relief " to the war of men or does it inspire deeper meditations on war and violence? Can it do both?
How does Homer reveal to us Hektor's inner thoughts? How does the poet show
Hektor's piety even as the gods desert and trick him? How does Andrómakhê's initial ignorance of her husband's fate prolong and deepen the piteousness of
Hektor's death? Do we as readers sympathize with Andrómakhê or are we always on the side of the Greeks?
What distinguishes Myrmidons from Akhaians? Are there any other two, Greek or Trojan, who are so bound in friendship as Akhilleus and Patróklos? What are the functions of the funeral games for the Akhaians at this juncture in the war,
and what are their functions in the poem at this point, given that Homer lavishes such extensive coverage on them? What considerations, extraneous to our view, can and do enter into the awarding of the prizes? What contrast does this permit us to draw between Homeric society and our own? In what way is the awarding of the prize for javelin throwing a fitting conclusion to the games, and to the strife with which The Iliad began?
Though Zeus could presumably have simply snatched Hektor's corpse from
Akhilleus and have it delivered straightaway to Troy, what is the value of his having
Akhilleus and Priam play out their parts in the transfer? What does
Akhilleus honor in Priam? Akhilleus refers to himself as "of all seasons and none" (line 649). What do you think he means by this? What is the significance of the meal Akhilleus and Priam take together? In what ways does the episode of Priam's visit to Akhilleus and the ransoming of Hektor's corpse serve as a satisfying capstone to the epic we call The Iliad? And what of the final scenes, the series of speeches over his body and his cremation? How well do these final scenes conclude the epic?
On a map, pinpoint the following locations and either name the character(s) who come from them or otherwise describe their significance in The Iliad: Troy, Ithaka,
Sparta, Aulis, Krete, Mykênê, Lykia, Thrace, and Athens.
Consider the situations of The Iliad from a range of different points of view, for example: Helen's, Agamémnon's, Meneláos', Akhilleus', Patróklos', Odysseus',
Nestor's, Priam's, Andrómakhê's, Hektor's, and Paris'.
The "real world" societies described in The Iliad are vastly different from modern societies. Identify and discuss some of these differences. Among the differences you might consider: political systems, slaves, marriage and the role of women, religion,
sacrifice, modes of warfare, and conventions concerning prisoners of war (POWs).
Discuss the gods in The Iliad. What are the particular roles of Zeus, Athêna, Apollo,
Hêra, Arês, Hêphaistos, Thetis, and Hermês (also known as the Wayfinder)? Why and in what ways do humans honor the gods? If you had lived in the time of the
Homeric heroes, would you have worshipped the gods?
The Iliad is a poem about war, the campaign of a large coalition to "punish" an overseas power for infractions against certain norms and standards. Discuss this point with reference to modern history and, especially, events of your own lifetime.
The Iliad sets a virtually unattainable standard of objectivity as it looks without squinting at the foibles and follies of the ultimately victorious Greeks, even as it often shows some of the Trojans in a flattering light. Particularly in a time of war, one marvels to see the courtesy that can exist between Greek and Trojan. What might explain this? There is little of the mutual national demonization we have grown accustomed to. Discuss that last observation with reference to current events.
Do we have any heroes or story cycles comparable to the tales told about the Trojan
War? If so, what are they? If not, why do you think that is? As far as we can tell, the
Homeric poems were immensely popular in ancient Greece. How does The Iliad differ from popular entertainment today? Are there any ways in which it is similar?
Encounters on the battlefield follow one of a limited number of patterns. Describe some. How does Homer keep our focus on the fates of the major figures in the midst of mass battle scenes? How does he deploy less important characters? Homer's technique has often been described as "cinematic" (though historically, of course, the comparison runs the other way). Compare Homer's "camera work" and "editing," especially but not exclusively in his battle scenes, with sequences in some familiar Hollywood genressay,
war films (World War II or Vietnam), Westerns, and space epics.