The Iliad Plot Analysis & Timeline

Instructor: Joe Ricker
'The Iliad' by Homer is the epic poem that gives some background to the legend of Achilles and the last few weeks of the ten-year battle between the Greeks and Trojans. Revenge and meddling gods weave through this epic of a seemingly endless war.

Gods and Heroes

The Iliad is an epic poem, written by Homer, that covers the quarrels and fighting near the end of the Trojan War. The story opens nine years into the war, which basically started because Paris, son of King Priam of Troy (Ilias), kidnapped Helen from Menelaus, a Greek and brother of Agamemnon, King of Mycenae. Agamemnon decides to go to war with the Trojans, and convinces other armies to join him.

Achilles returns to the war to kill Hector.

The Iliad isn't just about the soldiers and kings, though. The gods, too, find their own source of entertainment by participating in the war on various levels. At the core of this epic is the legend of Achilles. For those of you who have seen Troy, which was partially based on The Iliad, this lesson is worth taking into consideration because of the significant differences between the film and this epic poem, especially the timeline. For example, Achilles doesn't die in Homer's story, and there is no Trojan Horse in The Iliad.

The Beginning

Agamemnon seemingly does his best to irritate the gods and his most valuable warrior, Achilles. Agamemnon has captured a woman named Chryseis during his siege against the other towns around Troy. Chryseis' father is a priest of Apollo, who begs Agamemnon to return his daughter. When Agamemnon refuses, the priest prays to Apollo, who in turn unleashes havoc on the Greek armies in the form of plagues.

Achilles is so enraged with Agamemnon's stupidity and failure to realize how he has doomed his armies over Chryseis that Athena has to stop Achilles from killing Agamemnon. Finally, Achilles convinces Agamemnon to return the girl. However, Achilles must, in turn, give Agamemnon Briseis, the woman he has taken for himself. Achilles agrees, but decides that he will no longer fight for Agamemnon. He even goes so far as to pray to his mother (a minor goddess) to get Zeus to help the Trojans win the war.

The Gods Have Some Fun

Since Zeus enjoys toying with mortals, he decides to visit Agamemnon in a dream and convince him to attack Troy with everything he has, ensuring Agamemnon victory. This is a sly move and clearly deceptive, because Zeus also visits Hector, the leader of the Trojan armies, and convinces him to do the same thing.

In an attempt to end the war, Menelaus challenges Paris to a fight. Paris accepts, even though Paris is portrayed as a coward with minimal fighting skills. There is a temporary truce between the armies while Menelaus and Paris fight. Menelaus quickly has the upper hand over Paris, pummeling him, but before he can kill Paris, Aphrodite swoops down from the heavens and carries Paris off to the safety of his chambers, where Helen joins him.

At this time, the gods are trying to figure out what to do with the waging battle, and they decide the war between the Trojans and Greeks is far too entertaining to let it end. Athena slips down among the Trojan soldiers and convinces one of them to shoot an arrow at Menelaus. The arrow misses, and the truce between the two armies immediately ends.

The Lesser-Known Hero

When the truce ends, Diomedes, a lesser-known Greek hero, begins to almost single-handedly demolish the Trojan army. Athena notices that two gods, Aphrodite and Ares, are interfering with the battle by aiding the Trojans, so she visits Diomedes and gives him the power to see who the gods are, but warns him not to fight them unless it's Aphrodite.

Diomedes continues his annihilation of the Trojans when he sees Aphrodite trying to carry Aeneas off to safety. Diomedes hurls his spear through her wrists, and she drops Aeneas and flees back to Olympus. Diomedes then tries to kill Aeneas, but is thwarted by Apollo. Ares arrives, and after some encouragement from Athena, Diomedes stabs Ares in the gut, sending him back to Olympus as well.

Another Temporary Truce

The gods, since they enjoy meddling so much, decide that there should be another one-on-one battle. They arrange for Hector, Paris' brother, to fight Ajax the Greater. This proves to be ultimately uneventful as the two warriors fight until nightfall, then call it a draw.

After this, the Trojans begin to win. Their success against the Greeks motivates Agamemnon to quit fighting and sail home. Diomedes shames the king, because it was Agamemnon who convinced most of the other leaders to join him in the war against the Trojans.

Agamemnon realizes that to win the war, he must get Achilles to start fighting again. He sends Odysseus and Ajax to speak to Achilles and promises to return Briseus and increase Achilles' wealth. Achilles declines, however, and confesses that he plans to sail home.

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