The Iliad Book 1 Summary

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

Set during the Trojan War, Homer's ''The Iliad'' recounts events that occur during the war while Agamemnon and Achilles are in an argument. In this lesson, we will learn about that argument as we cover Book 1.

Invoking the Muse

What is the worst fight you've ever had with a friend? We have all probably had a fight with a friend that felt like the end of the world. But most fights do not result in people dying. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens in Homer's classic poem, The Iliad. Book 1 of the epic poem, set in the Trojan War, begins not with a battle between countries, but an argument between friends.

Homer begins by invoking the Muse, or asking for help in telling the story. Though it was the will of Jove, king of the gods, many Achaean deaths were caused by a fight between Achilles and Agamemnon, a king and the leader of the Greek armies.

It all begins when Chryses, a priest of Apollo, visits the Achaeans. You see, his daughter had been taken as a prize for Agamemnon, and Chryses is willing to pay a ransom for her freedom. The Achaeans are all for accepting the ransom and letting the girl go. All of them, that is, except for Agamemnon.

The priest is afraid of Agamemnon's refusal and threats. He leaves. But he does not go far. He prays to Apollo, asking the god to ''avenge these my tears.'' Angry on his priest's behalf, Apollo quickly begins causing the deaths of many Achaeans by disease.

Enough is Enough

Apollo wreaks havoc for nine whole days. On the tenth, Achilles finally calls a meeting. When everyone is assembled, he asks if anyone can explain why Apollo is so angry. Calchas, the seer, can. But, only if Achilles promises to protect him from Agamemnon's anger. Once promised, Calchas reveals Apollo will be angry until Chryses' daughter is returned and a sacrifice is made.

As expected, Agamemnon is angry and accuses Calchas of never having anything good to say about him. He does not want to give the girl up because he likes her better than his wife. Besides, if he gives her up then he will be the only one without a prize. If this is the only way, he will give up the girl. But they have to find him another girl. When Achilles points out that everything they took has already been divided up and Agamemnon will have to wait until they next sack a city, Agamemnon insists he will take the prize of any man there. Including Achilles.

Fighting Words

Now it is Achilles' turn to be angry. But when he threatens to leave, Agamemnon says he does not care. In fact, he will take Achilles's spoil of war, a girl named Briseis, to prove once and for all he is stronger.

Now Achilles is furious; in fact, he is so angry that he is contemplating killing Agamemnon on the spot. He might have done so, if the goddess Minerva had not appeared and calmed him down. Achilles can verbally insult Agamemnon all he wants, but he needs to keep himself from hurting the other man. If he does so, the gods will reward him.

Knowing it is best to obey the will of the gods, Achilles keeps himself from hurting Agamemnon. But he does continue to insult the other man. One of the other men, Nestor, even tries to smooth things over between the two men. But it is no use. Achilles angrily goes to his tent. Agamemnon leaves to make preparations to send the girl back to her father.

Help Me, Mom

As angry as he is, Achilles does not fight with the men Agamemnon sends to retrieve Briseis. He knows his fight is with Agamemnon, and so he allows the men to take the girl without a fight. He does, however, say that he will not be there to save the Achaeans if the need arises.

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