The Iliad Book 2 Summary

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.

Book 2 of Homer's 'The Iliad' includes the famous Catalog of Ships and introduces the shrewdness and levelheadedness of Odysseus and Nestor, which are needed to balance the headstrong leadership of Agamemnon.

The Story So Far

In Book 1 of Homer's The Iliad, the setting and basic conflict of the story was established. Plunging us into the ninth year of the 10-year Trojan War, Homer introduces us to the Achaens, or the soldiers representing the various allied Greek cities. The Achaens are camped outside the walls of the city of Troy. After a long and complicated conflict between Agamemnon, the leader of the Achaens, and Achilles, their best warrior, Achilles goes to pout in his tent and refuses to fight, severely hindering the Achaens' chances.

What Happens in Book 2

Book 2 opens with Zeus, king of the Greek gods, who has allied himself with the Trojans, opposing his wife Hera, who favors the Achaens. Zeus tricks Agamemnon by convincing him in a dream that his forces could win if they launched a full-scale assault against the walls of Troy. This is a dumb idea, especially since Achilles is still pouting, but Agamemnon decides to do it anyway.

However, before he does, Agamemnon decides to test his men's courage by telling them to pack up and go home, while hoping they will refuse. This totally backfires, though, and his men start packing their stuff. The goddesses Hera and Athena, who are on the Achaens' side, have to intervene and inspire Odysseus to give a speech calling them back.

Odysseus reminds the men of the prophecy that they would defeat Troy after nine years, and that they had taken a vow to not leave until Troy fell. Odysseus' speech works, and the men are persuaded to stay.

In hopes of boosting the troops' low morale, Nestor then tells Agamemnon that they should arrange the troops by the cities they came from, so they can fight alongside other members of their clans. As the troops prepare for attack, Homer uses the opportunity to give us his first epic catalog of The Iliad. The epic catalog is a common feature of epics in which the poet gives a long list of important people or things in the story. In this epic catalog, also known as the Catalog of Ships, Homer describes the Achaen forces in detail, going city-by-city and including descriptions of the most powerful warriors like Achilles and Ajax.

The book ends with the Trojan forces noticing the Achaens getting ready for battle and preparing their own forces, under the control of Hector, the son of Troy's king Priam. Homer then catalogs the Trojan forces as well.


Perhaps the most important and famous part of Book 2 is the epic catalog. The Catalog of Ships is the most famous example of the epic catalog, and is thought to have directly inspired other epic catalogs, such as the catalog of ships in Book 10 of Virgil's The Aeneid and the catalog of demons in John Milton's Paradise Lost.

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