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Apollo in The Iliad

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

In Homer's ''The Iliad'', Apollo, like many of the gods, frequently interferes in the Trojan War. He plays a role in some of the key events in the war, including the death of Patroclus.

Divine Intervention

Homer's The Iliad is the story of ending of the ten-year war between the allied Greek forces, known as the Achaeans, and the Trojans. The Achaeans are trying to invade the city of Troy after the Trojan prince Paris stole the beautiful Helen from King Menelaus.

However, The Iliad is also the story of the Greek gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus, otherwise known as the Olympians. Greeks believed that the gods frequently interfered in human affairs, so the gods make frequent appearances supporting both sides of the war. Sometimes, they interfere because they particularly like or dislike some of the humans, and other times they do it just to annoy and spite each other.

One of the more important gods is Apollo, the god of prophecy and music, who takes a disliking to the Achaeans in the first book and brings a plague upon them. Later, he helps Hector defeat Patroclus, one of the turning points of the story, and helps to have the defeated Hector's body returned to Troy.

Statue of Apollo
Apollo

Apollo in Book 1

Apollo plays a pivotal role in the episode that kicks off the conflict at the center of The Iliad. The Achaeans have been camped outside the walls of Troy for nine years and, as the story begins, they are raiding a nearby town. Agamemnon, the leader of the Achaeans, and Achilles, their best warrior, both claim young women as their spoils of war.

However, the woman Agamemnon claims, Chryseis, is the daughter of a priest of Apollo, Chryses. Chryses asks Apollo for retribution, and he brings a plague upon the Achaeans. (Besides prophecy and music, plagues are also Apollo's specialty. He's a man of many talents.)

The Achaeans make Agamemnon return Chryseis to her father to end the plague, but Agamemnon takes Achilles' woman as repayment. This leads to the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon that will drive the rest of the story.

Apollo in Books 15-16

Apollo comes back in Book 15. Zeus is angry that Hera and Poseidon have interfered on the Achaeans' behalf, so he dispatches Iris and Apollo to even things out. Apollo fills Hector, leader of the Trojan forces, with newfound strength and helps him lead a new attack on the Achaeans. Apollo even helps to knock down the Achaeans' fortifications.

The onslaught by the Trojans spurs Patroclus, Achilles' dear friend, into action. This is despite the fact Achilles is still refusing to fight because of his argument with Agamemnon. Wearing Achilles' armor, Patroclus goes into battle and helps to beat back the Trojans, but Apollo sneaks up behind him and wounds him. Hector then finishes the job.

The death of Patroclus, which Apollo plays a direct hand in, is a key turning point in the story, as it will spur Achilles back into fighting.

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