Homer, Iliad, Plot Summary and Discussion Issues 

(page counts and page numbers refer to Robert Fagles’ translation [N.Y.: Penguin, 1991])


Book I (21 pp.): The action begins after the Greeks have besieged Troy for many years.  Many heroes already have died, and captives have been taken, including the young Trojan woman who becomes the cause of the "rage of Achilles" with which the poem begins.  Agamemnon refuses  Chryses' (priest of Apollo)  appeal for return of his daughter Chryseis (female captives in  household, as "currency" in war).  Chryses prays to Apollo for a plague upon the Greeks.  Agamemnon and Achilles quarrel re: who is greater, who has more honor, whose temper is more to blame  (aristo values esp. kingship and warrior status).  Agamemnon offers to return Chryseis in exchange for Achilles' captive,  Bryseis (captured at Eetion on Thebes, Andromache's home).   Achilles, ready to kill Ag., yields to Athena's advice (gods vs. mortals). 

     While Odysseus returns Chryseis and her father sacrifices to Apollo, Achilles prays to immortal mother, Thetis, for revenge‑‑ she repeats the prayer to Zeus (religious rite links aristo behaviors to divine processes).  Achilles' prayer (91), that Z will cause the Trojans to attack the Greek ships before A reenters battle, is the dramatic underpinning of the narrative to  Bk. 17.  It's counterbalanced by the rule of fate that A. must die after killing Hector and before Troy falls.  Quarrel spreads to the gods, as Zeus threatens Hera‑‑her son, Hephaestus, urges  her to submit to Zeus's will because they cannot face his wrath  (family structure, mythic thinking).


Book II (28 pp.): Zeus sends a dream of Nestor to Agamemnon,  urging him to attack Troy; Agamemnon tests Greeks by urging them  to cut their losses by sailing home; Odysseus, warned by Athena,  rallies troops by reasoning with kings and by beating foot‑ soldiers (gods vs. mortals; military orders; class).  In council, Odysseus beats Thersites for railing at Agamemnon and recalls Zeus's oracle of a snake devouring nine sparrows at the altar on  the day they arrived in Troy (class structure; gods vs. mortals).   Nestor urges Agamemnon to order the army so that members of each phratry (clan) fight beside their relatives (class; family).   Catalogue of the ships identifies and describes Greek warriors by  homeland, ancestry, and ancestors' previous famous deeds.


Book III (16 pp.): Menelaus sees Paris in the Trojan ranks, but  P. flees and is mocked by brother Hector; M. offers single combat  for Helen and the armies array in lines below the city walls  (heroism vs. "gifts of Aphrodite").  Asked by Priam, Helen identifies important members of the Greek army with anecdotes  (very useful for character ID).  Agamemnon performs ritual sacrifice to seal the truce and duel (religion).  Menalaus' sword  shatters, and when he's on the verge of killing Paris, Aphrodite  spirits P. to Helen's bedroom and both lures and threatens Helen  so she will join P. there (mythic thinking, hero and passions).   Agamemnon demands Helen as the duel demanded.


Book IV (18 pp.): Zeus and Hera quarrel over Troy's fate‑‑he  defends them and she hates them [Judgment of Paris + Ganymede];  in compromise he ordains that the Trojans will dishonor the truce  when Athena urges Pandarus to shoot an arrow at Menalaus; Athena  deflects the arrow to hit him in the groin (religion, gods vs. humans, mythic thinking). 

     Agamemnon and Nestor taunt the Greek captains, urging them to fight; the first extended combat sequences reported (160‑3).


Book V (30 pp.): Diomedes' aristeia or "the deeds of D. at his best" (see note p. 625)‑‑D. inspired by Athena kills a long  series of Trojans in graphic serial combat alternating with a few  others.  D. kills Pandarus and wounds Aeneas, who is saved by  Aphrodite; D. wounds Aphrodite though she is a goddess.  D. even attacks Apollo who is defending Aeneas.  Ares joins the battle  helping the Trojans; Athena and Hera join the battle helping the  Greeks, and eventually A. helps Diomedes wound Ares in the groin  (mythic thinking; gods vs. humans; dramatically D. replaces  Achilles as a semi‑divine relentless killer).


Book VI (18 pp.): A seer rallies the Trojans against the Greeks  who are on the verge of winning; Hector is sent to Troy with  instructions for Hecuba (mother) to pray to Athena for help.

     While Hector goes to Troy, a Trojan ally, Glaucus, meets  Diomedes‑‑the two exchange names and Glaucus tells D. his lineage  from Bellerophon.  D's grandfather had been host to Bellerophon,  and D. claims Glaucus as a guest‑friend; they exchange armor and  agree to seek other enemies in battle (household org.).

     In Troy, Hector meets and berates Paris, listens to Helen  judge herself doomed by Zeus, and meets wife Andromache and son  Astyanax on the walls.  She laments loss of her family to war and urges him to fight defensively from the walls.  He says he'd be  ashamed to adopt such a strategy, life would be unthinkable, even  though the city will be lost and she will be a slave in a foreign  land.  He reaches for his son, who is frightened by his helmet's plume; he takes off the helmet and prays A. will be a better  warrior than his father (family org.; mythic thinking; heroic  code).


Book VII (16 pp.): Hector, inspired by Apollo and Athena, demands  a duel with the Greeks (reverse of Book IV); Ajax (Telemon's son)  wins the draw; they fight to a draw at nightfall and exchange  gifts in honor of the combat (class and family structure; heroic  code behavior).

     Both sides pause to bury dead (religion) and Paris is driven  to offer return of treasures he stole from Menalaus when making  off with Helen; in return, Greeks are to leave (market; family;  class).  Greeks refuse, but allow burial truce (religion).


Book VIII (19 pp.): Zeus challenges the gods to rebellion and  Athena acknowledges the difference between Z. and the rest as  between gods and humans (class; religion); Z. weighs the fates of  both sides and the Achaeans/Greeks nearly lose the day in panic  at Z's sign, the thunderclap.  After Diomedes almost kills Hector  and is driven off by Z's thunder, Agamemnon reminds Z of A's  piety; new omens lead the Greeks to victory until Z. stirs the  Trojans to repulse them.  Hera and Athena lament the Greek deaths  and Athena conceives it as a battle between herself and Thetis  (Achilles' mother) for Z's affections (243: family/household;  myth); H and A try to take arms to support the Greeks, but Z sees  them and threatens them; they relent and leave Z to doom men.   Answering their complaint, Z restates the pledge to Thetis, no  help for the Greeks until the Trojans fight at the Greek ships  and Achilles takes up his arms to avenge Patroclus.  Trojans camp  on the plain surrounding the Greeks (“fires in the darkness =stars in the sky” simile).


Book IX (24 pp.):  Agamemnon counsels retreat; Diomedes, attack;  Nestor, a strategy meeting; N wins.  A admits he was mad to take  Achilles' captive, Briseis and offers trophies, horses, seven  captive women of Lesbos, Briseis, herself, an oath he never had  sex with her, and an offer to marry him to one of Ag's three  daughters as a son equal to Orestes (market; family/houseold;  class).  Phoenix, Ajax, and Odysseus are the ambassadors;  Odysseus makes the first speech, recasting Ag's offer to appeal  to Achilles' desires for honor and fame that outdo any other  warrior's (heroic code; market; class; family).  Achilles refuses  listing his service vs. Agamemnon's behavior (class; heroic  code).  Achilles' speech dramatizes his aristo sense of values  and his "heroic choice" re: short/honorable or long/honorless  life (heroic code; class).  Phoenix, one of Achilles' household,  refuses the offer of a safe return and urges A to remember his  past (blood feud with unfaithful father re: mistress) and his  role as A's teacher; Ph reminds A about the effect of excessive  anger at the Hunt of the Calydonian Boar (269‑71) that left  Meleager desolated (religion; family; myth).  Ajax appeals  bluntly to the custom of the blood‑price paid for wrongful death  which prevents feuds like this one.  Achilles rejects that, too,  reminding them of the pledge never to fight until Trojans burn  the Greek ships (family; class; market).



Book X (19 pp.): Agamemnon and Menalaus urge Odysseus and  Diomedes to go behind Trojan lines for plunder and strategic  information; Hector sends Dolon on a similar mission to the  Greeks; O and Di pray to Athena but Do brags (religion); O and Di  capture Do, trick him into describing the Trojan encampment, then  kill him.  Di kills Rhesus and 12 men in their sleep while O  steals R's stallions (market; heroic code)


Book XI (28 pp.): In Agamemnon's aristeia, he kills younger men,  usually known as sons of more famous warriors (e.g., Antenor's  sons), one of whom wounds him (simile “wound's pain=labor pain”).   When Hector sees Ag. withdraw, he leads a counterattack.   Diomedes is wounded by Paris; Odysseus aids D's escape and is  himself wounded; Menalaus and Ajax rescue O.  Achilles sees the  wounded coming from the field and sends Patroclus to ask of  Nestor what has happened.  Nestor recounts his deeds in earlier  wars and warns Ag will be a hero alone if Ach waits too long.   The "Cup of Nestor" described (p. 317 in Fagles’ translation, see p. 23 re: archeologi­cal find).


Book XII (15 pp.):  After forecast of Troy's eventual destruction,  Greek losses are explained as consequence of their failure to  sacrifice (religion).  Hector leads the chariots to the Greek  camp's wall and heeds Polydamus advice to dismount before the  wall's ditch (theme, see P. in XIII, p. 364‑5).  Simple shield  description for Sarpedon (335)‑‑compare with Shield of Achilles  for extended thematic expansion of familiar poetic topic (483‑7).   The Trojans cross the wall around the Greek ships behind Hector  at exactly half‑way through the epic (XXII/XXIV). 


Book XIII (27 pp.):  In the fighting at the ships, Poseidon inspires  the greater and lesser Ajaxes (343‑4)‑‑good example of god going  into one, perceived as strength.  They urge resistance and  predict the end of the Ag./Ach. feud (345).  Idomeneus to  Meriones on the signs of cowardice vs. signs of heroism (350‑1:  important semiotics of heroic code; compare with poetic "lovers'  symptoms."  Why Zeus allows the Trojans to triumph?: more glory  for Thetis' son, Achilles when he returns to battle (352).   Idomeneus' shield like Sarpedon's (vs. Achilles) (354).  Menelaus  taunts Trojans with violation of host/guest rights, and blames  them for excess battle lust (ambiguous heroic code: see Ido. 350‑ 1).  Paris appears and Hector mocks him (366).  Argives said to  fine those who refuse to join the army against Troy (363:  politics, social org.).  Polydamas to Hector on limits (364‑5:  compare Menelaus) and ref. to Achilles' eventual return.


Book XIV (17 pp.):  Because her beloved Greeks are in danger, Hera  borrows Aphrodite's magically seductive girdle to lure Zeus.   After their lovemaking he falls asleep and Hera goes to help the  Greeks (with Poseidon's aid).


Book XV (24 pp.):  Zeus wakes up, discovers the deception, sends  Hermes to get Poseidon out of the battle and sends Apollo to  rouse Hector to attack the ships again.


Book XVI (29 pp.):  Patroclus sees the Trojan threat and offers to  wear Achilles' armor into battle against them.  He nearly drives  the Trojans into Troy, but is stunned by a blow from Apollo's  hand and killed by Hector.  Hector takes Achilles' armor from P's  body and continues to wear it until Book XXII when the sight of  it further inflames Achilles just before he kills Hector.


Book XVII (24 pp.):  The fight for Patroclus' body allows Menalaus to  demonstrate his aristeia, and when M. is forced by wounds to  withdraw, Telemonian Ajax takes his place.


Book XVIII (20 pp.):  Achilles learns of P's death, and prays to his  mother for fresh armor.  Thetis persuades Hephaestus to forge a  set of divine armor for him, including a shield whose decorations  are a sort of second Creation which illustrates all aspects of  mortal life on Earth (as the poet and audience understood it‑‑ omissions may be readily used for discussion).


Book XIX (14 pp.):  Achilles joins the Greeks and is so eager for  battle he will not eat.  In his blood‑fury he hears his own  horses prophesy his death.  The captured slave Briseis laments  Patroclus' death (!), even though Achilles killed her husband and  three brothers, because Patroclus swore he would make her Achilles' bride.


Book XX (16 pp.):  After a council meeting, Zeus orders the gods to  take the field on both sides to make sure Achilles' nearly  superhuman strength and energy do not undo fate itself.   Specifically, they must insure that he does not take the city after killing Hector.


Book XXI (20 pp.):  Achilles' victims have less and less chance against him.  One, Lycaon, requests mercy and ransom, and Achilles urges him to accept death as a just end since Patroclus, and even Achilles himself, will die.  Achilles' violent slaughter of fleeing Trojans drives them into the rivers Scamander and  Xanthus.  When the rivers themselves, insulted by his violence, rise up and try to kill Achilles, Hephaestus comes to save him with fire.


Book XXII (17 pp.):  The surviving Trojans retreat to the city, but  Hector remains outside the Scaean Gate because he anticipates  only shame and no escape if he does not stand his ground against  Achilles.  H's loses nerve and flees three times around Troy  before Athena tricks him into turning to face Achilles.  H,  dying, begs A. not to defile his body, but A refuses.  As A drags  H's body around Troy at the back of his chariot, Andromache comes  to the walls and laments his death.


Book XXIII (28 pp.):  Overcome with grief and rage, A. occupies his  time defiling H's body and leaves P unburied until P appears in a  dream, reminds him of how he came to live in A's household as a  therapon (special guest received because he accidentally killed a playmate), and urges him to hold  proper rites.  On P's funeral pyre A offers (in order) sheep,  honey and oil, 4 stallions, 2 of P's 9 pet dogs, and 12 Trojan  captives (Book 21.521). In the funeral games for Patroclus,  Achilles offers prizes for competitions in chariot racing,  boxing, wrestling, running, dueling with lances, the shot-put,  archery, and the spear throw.  Prizes often involve slave women measured with other objects in relative value, and contests turn  on competitors' strategies which reveal the poet's idea of wise,  prudent, acceptable, and noble behavior (and their opposites). 


Book XXIV (26 pp.):  Apollo and Hera debate the characters of Hector  and Achilles, H arguing that Achilles was the greater man.  Zeus  sends Iris to tell Thetis she must require A to release Hector's  body to Priam for ransom, and send Iris to Priam to urge him to  seek Achilles in the Greek camp.  In Troy, Hecuba and Priam  angrily lament H's death.  Hermes comes to guide Priam safely  through the Greek lines.  Priam appeals to A as a father to  release his son, and A accepts the appeal.  A seems to have  regained wisdom and self‑control, taking precautions not to tempt  others to violence.  When Priam brings H's body to Troy, first  Cassandra (the seer), then Andromache, Hecuba, and Helen lament  his death and their own futures after Troy inevitably falls.   They burn Hector's body, and bury his bones in a barrow outside  the walls of Troy.