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The Iliad ( , Iliás) is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set in the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of Ilium by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles. Although the story covers only a few weeks in the final year of the war, the Iliad mentions or alludes to many of the Greek legends about the siege.

Along with the Odyssey, also attributed to Homer, the Iliad is among the oldest extant works of Western literature, and its written version is usually dated to around the eighth century BC . The Iliad contains approximately 15,700 lines, and is written in a literary amalgam of several Greek dialects. The authorship of the poem is disputed.


Note: Book numbers are in parentheses and come before the synopsis of the book.
The first verses of the Iliad

(1) After the invocation to the Muses, the story begins in media res towards the end of the Trojan war between the Trojans and the besieging Greeks. Chryses, a Trojan priest of Apollo, offers the Greeks wealth for the return of his daughter Chryseis, a captive of Agamemnon, Greek leader. Although most of the Greek army is in favour, Agamemnon refuses. Chryses prays for Apollo's help, and Apollo causes a plague throughout the Greek army. After nine days of plague, Achilles, the leader of the Myrmidon contingent, calls an assembly to solve the plague problem. Under pressure, Agamemnon agrees to return Chryseis to her father, but also decides to take Achilles's captive, Briseis, as compensation. Angered, Achilles declares that he and his men will no longer fight for Agamemnon, but will go home. Odysseus takes a ship and brings Chryseis to her father, whereupon Apollo ends the plague. In the meantime, Agamemnon's messengers take Briseis away, and Achilles asks his mother, Thetis, to ask Zeus that the Greeks be fought to breaking point by the Trojans, so Agamemnon will realise how much the Greeks need him. Thetis does so, Zeus agrees, (2) and sends a dream to Agamemnon, urging him to attack the city. Agamemnon heeds the dream but decides to first test the morale of the Greek army by telling them to go home. The plan backfires, and only the intervention of Odysseus, inspired by Athena, stops the rout. Odysseus confronts and beats Thersites, a common soldier who voices discontent at fighting Agamemnon's war. After a meal, the Greeks deploy in companies upon the Trojan plain. The poet takes the opportunity to describe each Greek contingent. When news of the Greek deployment reaches king Priam, the Trojans too sortie upon the plain. In a similar list to that for the Greeks, the poet describes the Trojans and their allies. (3) The armies approach each other on the plain, but before they met, Paris offers to end the war by fighting duel with Menelaus. While Helen tells Priam about the Greek commanders from the walls of Troy, both sides swear a truce and promise to abide by the outcome of the duel. Paris is beaten, but Aphrodite rescues him and leads him to bed with Helen before Menelaus could kill. (4) Pressured by Hera's hatred of Troy, Zeus arranges for the Trojan Pandaros to break the truce by wounding Menelaus with an arrow. Agamemnon rouses the Greeks, and battle is joined. (5) In the fighting, Diomedes kills many Trojans and defeats Aeneas, whom again Aphrodite rescues, but Diomedes attacks and wounds the goddess. Apollo faces Diomedes, and warns him against warring with gods. Many heroes and commanders join in, including Hector, and the gods supporting each side try to influence the battle. Emboldened by Athena, Diomedes wounds Ares and puts him out of action.

(6) Hector rallies the Trojans and stops a rout; Diomedes and Glaukos, Greek and Trojan, find common ground and exchange unequal gifts. Hector enters the city, urges prayers and sacrifices, incites Paris to battle, bids his wife Andromache and son Astyanax farewell on the city walls, and rejoins the battle. (7) Hector duels with Ajax, but nightfall interrupts the fight and both sides retire. The Greeks agree to burn their dead and build a wall to protect their ships and camp, while the Trojans quarrel about returning Helen. Paris offers to return the treasure he took, and give further wealth as compensation, but without returning Helen, and the offer is refused. A day's truce is agreed for burning the dead, during which the Greeks also build their wall and trench. (8) The next morning, Zeus forbids the gods from interfering, and fighting begins anew. The Trojans prevail and force the Greeks back to their wall while Hera and Athena are forbidden from helping. Night falls before the Trojans can assault the Greek wall. They camp in the field to assault at first light, and their watchfires light the plain like stars.
Iliad, Book VIII, lines 245–53, Greek manuscript, late 5th, early 6th centuries AD
(9) Meanwhile, the Greeks are desperate. Agamemnon admits his error, and sends an embassy composed of Odysseus, Ajax, Phoenix, and two heralds to offer Briseis and extensive gifts to Achilles, who has been camped next to his ships throughout, if only he would return to the fighting. Achilles and his companion Patroclus receive the embassy well, but Achilles angrily refuses Agamemnon's offer, and declares that he would only return to battle if the Trojans reach his ships and threaten them with fire. The embassy returns empty-handed.(10) Later that night, Odysseus and Diomedes venture out to the Trojan lines, kill the Trojan Dolon, and wreak havoc in the camps of some Thracian allies of Troy. (11) In the morning, the fighting is fierce and Agamemnon, Diomedes, and Odysseus are all wounded. Achilles sends Patroclus from his camp to enquire about the Greek casualties, and while there Patroclus is moved to pity by a speech of Nestor. (12) The Trojans assault the Greek wall on foot. Hector, ignoring an omen, leads the terrible fighting. The Greeks are overwhelmed in rout, the wall's gate is broken, and Hector charges in. (13) Many fall on both sides. The Trojan seer Polydamas urges Hector to fall back and warns him of Achilles, but is ignored. (14) Hera seduces Zeus and lures him to sleep, allowing Poseidon to help the Greeks, and the Trojans are driven back onto the plain. (15) Zeus awakes and is enraged by Poseidon's intervention. Against the mounting discontent of the Greek-supporting gods, Zeus sends Apollo to aid the Trojans, who once again breach the wall, and the battle reaches the ships.

(16) Patroclus could stand to watch no longer, and begs Achilles to be allowed to defend the ships. Achilles relents, and lends Patroclus his armour, but sends him off with a stern admonition to not pursue the Trojans, lest he take Achilles's glory. Patroclus leads the Myrmidons to battle and arrives as the Trojans set fire to the first ships. The Trojans are routed by the sudden onslaught. Patroclus, ignoring Achilles's command, pursues and reaches the gates of Troy, where Apollo himself stops him. Patroclus is set upon by Apollo and Euphorbos, and is finally killed by Hector. (17) Hector takes Achilles's armour from the fallen Patroclus, but fighting develops around Patroclus's body. (18) Achilles is mad with grief when he hears of Patroclus's death, and vows to take vengeance on Hector; his mother Thetis grieves, too, knowing that Achilles is fated to die if he kills Hector. Achilles is urged to help retrieve Patroclus's body, but has no armour. Made brilliant by Athena, Achilles stands next to the Greek wall and roars in rage. The Trojans are dismayed by his appearance and the Greeks manage to bear Patroclus's body away. Again Polydams urges Hector to withdraw into the city, again Hector refuses, and the Trojans camp in the plain at nightfall. Patroclus is mourned, and meanwhile, by Thetis's request, Hephaistos fashions a new set of armour for Achilles, among which is an magnificently wrought shield. (19) In the morning, Agamemnon gives Achilles all the promised gifts, including Briseis, but he is indifferent to them. Achilles fasts while the Greeks take their meal, and straps on his new armour, and heaves his great spear. His horse Xanthos prophesies to Achilles his death. Achilles drives his chariot into battle.

(20) Zeus lifts the ban on the gods' interference, and the gods freely intervene on both sides. Burning with rage and grief, Achilles's onslaught is terrible, and slays many. (21) Driving the Trojans before him, Achilles cuts off half in the river Skamandros and proceeds to slaughter them and fills the river with the dead. The river, angry at the killing, confronts Achilles, but is beaten back by Hephaistos's firestorm. The gods fight among themselves. The great gates of the city are opened to receive the fleeing Trojans, and Apollo leads Achilles away from the city by pretending to be a Trojan. (22) When Apollo reveals himself to Achilles, the Trojans have retreated into the city, all except for Hector, who, having twice ignored the counsels of Polydamas, feels the shame of rout and resolves to face Achilles, in spite of the pleas of Priam and Hecuba, his parents. When Achilles approaches, Hector's will fails him, and he is chased around the city by Achilles. Finally, Athena tricks him to stop running, and he is caught and killed by Achilles. Achilles takes Hector's body and dishonours it. (23) The ghost of Patroclus comes to Achilles in a dream and urges the burial of his body. The Greeks hold a day of funeral games, and Achilles gives out the prizes. (24) Dismayed by Achilles's continued abuse of Hector's body, Zeus decides that it must be returned to Priam. Led by Hermes, Priam takes a wagon out of Troy, across the plains, and enters the Greek camp unnoticed. He grasps Achilles by the knees and begs to have his son's body. Achilles is moved to tears, and the two lament their losses in the war. After a meal, Priam carries Hector's body back into Troy. Hector is buried, and the city mourns.

The major characters

See also: :Category: Deities in the Iliad

The many characters of the Iliad are catalogued; the latter-half of Book II, the “Catalogue of Ships”, lists commanders and cohorts; battle scenes feature quickly-slain minor characters.

  • The Achaeans ( ) — aka the Hellenes (Greeks), Danaans (Δαναοί), and Argives (Ἀργεĩοι).

  • The Trojanmarker men
    • Hector — son of King Priam; the foremost Trojan warrior.
    • Aeneas — son of Anchises and Aphrodite.
    • Deiphobus — brother of Hector and Paris.
    • Paris — Helen’s lover-abductor.
    • Priam — the aged King of Troy.
    • Polydamas — a prudent commander whose advice is ignored; he is Hector’s foil.
    • Agenor — a Trojan warrior who attempts to fight Achilles (Book XXI).
    • Dolon ( ) — a spy upon the Greek camp (Book X).
    • Antenor — King Priam’s advisor, who argues for returning Helen to end the war; Paris refuses.
    • Polydorus — son of Priam and Laothoe.

  • The Trojan women
    • Hecuba ( ) — Priam’s wife; mother of Hector, Cassandra, Paris, and others.
    • Helen ( ) — Menelaus’s wife; espoused first to Paris, then to Deiphobus.
    • Andromache ( ) — Hector’s wife; mother of Astyanax ( )
    • Cassandra ( ) — Priam’s daughter; courted by Apollo, who bestows the gift of prophecy to her; upon her rejection, he curses her, and her warnings of Trojan doom go unheeded.

These Olympic deities advise and manipulate the humans; excepting Zeus, they fight the Trojan War. (See Theomachy.)

Themes: the substance of heroism


Nostos (νόστος — homecoming) occurs seven times in the poem (II.155, II.251, IX.413, IX.434, IX.622, X.509, XVI.82); thematically, the concept of homecoming is much explored in Ancient Greek literature, especially in the post-war homeward fortunes experienced by Atreidae, Agamemnon, and Odysseus (see the Odyssey), thus, nostos is impossible without sacking Troy — King Agamemnon’s motive for winning, at any cost.


Kleos (κλέος — glory, fame) is the concept of glory earned in heroic battle; for most of the Greek invaders of Troy, notably Odysseus, kleos is earned in a victorious nostos (homecoming), yet not for Achilles, he must choose one reward, either nostos or kleos. In Book IX (IX.410–16), he poignantly tells Agamemnon’s envoys — Odysseus, Phoenix, Ajax — begging his reinstatement to battle about having to choose between two fates (διχθαδίας κήρας — 9.411).

The passage reads:


Richmond Lattimore translates:

For my mother Thetis the goddess of silver feet tells me

I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death. Either,

if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans,

my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting;

but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers,

the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life

left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly.

In foregoing his nostos, he will earn the greater reward of kleos aphthiton (κλέος ἄφθιτον — fame imperishable). In the poem, aphthiton (ἄφθιτον — imperishable) occurs five times (II.46, V.724, XIII.22, XIV.238, XVIII.370), each occurrence denotes an object (i.e. Agamemnon’s sceptre, the wheel of Hebe’s chariot, the house of Poseidon, the throne of Zeus, the house of Hephaistos); translator Lattimore renders kleos aphthiton as forever immortal and as forever imperishable — connoting Achilles’s mortality by underscoring his greater reward in returning to battle Troy.


Akin to kleos is timê (тιμή — respect, honour), the concept denoting the respectability an honourable man accrues with accomplishment (cultural, political, martial), per his station in life. In Book I, the Greek troubles begin with King Agamemnon’s dishonourable, unkingly behaviour — first, by threatening the priest Chryses (1.11), then, by aggravating them in disrespecting Achilles, by confiscating Bryseis from him (1.171). The warrior’s consequent rancour against the dishonourable king ruins the Greek military cause.


The Wrath of Achilles (1819), by Michel Drolling.

The poem’s initial word, μῆνιν (mēnin — wrath, rage, fury), establishes the Iliad’s principal theme: The Wrath of Achilles. His personal rage and wounded soldier’s vanity propel the story — the Greeks’ faltering in battle, the slayings of Patroclus and Hector, and the fall of Troy. In Book I, the Wrath of Achilles first emerges in the Achilles-convoked meeting, between the Greek kings and Calchas, the Seer. King Agamemnon dishonours Chryses, the Trojan Apollonian priest, by refusing with a threat the restitution of his daughter, Chryseis — despite the proffered ransom of “gifts beyond count”; the insulted priest prays his god’s help — and a nine-day rain of arrows falls upon the Greeks. Moreover, in that meeting, Achilles accuses Agamemnon of being “greediest for gain of all men”. To that, Agamemnon replies:

But here is my threat to you.

Even as Phoibos Apollo is taking away my Chryseis.

I shall convey her back in my own ship, with my own

followers; but I shall take the fair-cheeked Briseis,

your prize, I myself going to your shelter, that you may learn well

how much greater I am than you, and another man may shrink back

from likening himself to me and contending against me.

After that, only Athena stays Achilles’s wrath. He vows to never again to obey orders from Agamemnon. Furious, Achilles cries to his mother, Thetis, who persuades Zeus’s divine intervention — favouring the Trojans — until Achilles’s rights are restored. Meanwhile, Hector leads the Trojans to almost pushing the Greeks back to the sea (Book XII); later, Agamemnon contemplates defeat and retreat to Greece (Book XIV). Again, the Wrath of Achilles turns the war’s tide in seeking vengeance when Hector kills Patroclus. Aggrieved, Achilles tears his hair and dirties his face; Thetis comforts her mourning son, who tells her:

So it was here that the lord of men Agamemnon angered me.

Still, we will let all this be a thing of the past, and for all our

sorrow beat down by force the anger deeply within us.

Now I shall go, to overtake that killer of a dear life,

Hektor; then I will accept my own death, at whatever

time Zeus wishes to bring it about, and the other immortals.

Accepting prospective death as fair price for avenging Patroclus, he returns to battle, dooming Hector and Troy, thrice chasing him ’round the Trojan walls, before slaying him, then dragging the corpse behind his chariot, back to camp.


Fate (κήρα — destiny, fate) propels most of the events of the Iliad. Once set, gods and men abide it, neither truly able nor willing to contest it. How fate is set is unknown, but it is told by the Fates and Seers such as Calchas. Men and their gods continually speak of heroic acceptance and cowardly avoidance of one’s slated fate. Yet, it does not determine every action, incident, and occurrence, but does determine the outcome of life — before killing him, Hector calls Patroclus a fool for cowardly avoidance of his fate, by attempting his defeat; Patroclus retorts:

No, deadly destiny, with the son of Leto, has killed me,

and of men it was Euphorbos; you are only my third slayer.

And put away in your heart this other thing that I tell you.

You yourself are not one who shall live long, but now already

death and powerful destiny are standing beside you,

to go down under the hands of Aiakos’ great son, Achilleus.

Here, Patroclus alludes to fated death by Hector’s hand, and Hector’s fated death by Achilles’s hand. Despite free will, each accepts the outcome of his life, yet, no-one knows if the gods can alter fate. The first instance of this doubt occurs in Book XVI; seeing Patroclus about to kill Sarpedon, his mortal son, Zeus says:

Ah me, that it is destined that the dearest of men, Sarpedon,

must go down under the hands of Menoitios’ son Patroclus.

About his dilemma, Hera asks Zeus:

Majesty, son of Kronos, what sort of thing have you spoken?

Do you wish to bring back a man who is mortal, one long since

doomed by his destiny, from ill-sounding death and release him?

Do it, then; but not all the rest of us gods shall approve you.

In deciding — between losing a son or abiding fate — Zeus, the King of the Gods, allows it. This motif recurs when he considers sparing Hector, whom he loves and respects. Again, Athena asks him:

Father of the shining bold, dark misted, what is this you said?

Do you wish to bring back a man who is mortal, one long since

doomed by his destiny, from ill-sounding death and release him?

Do it, then; but not all the rest of us gods shall approve you.

Again, Zeus appears capable of altering fate, but does not, deciding instead to abide set outcomes; yet, contrariwise, fate spares Aeneas, after Apollo convinces the over-matched Trojan to fight Achilles. Poseidon cautiously speaks:

But come, let us ourselves get him away from death, for fear

the son of Kronos may be angered if now Achilleus

kills this man. It is destined that he shall be the survivor,

that the generation of Dardanos shall not die. . . .

Divinely-aided, Aeneas escapes the wrath of Achilles and survives the Trojan War. Whether or not the gods can alter fate, they do abide it, despite its countering their human allegiances, thus, the mysterious origin of fate is a power beyond the gods. Fate implies the primeval, tripartite division of the world that Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades effected in deposing their father, Cronus, for its dominion. Zeus took the Air and the Sky, Poseidon the Waters, and Hades the Underworld, the land of the dead — yet, they share dominion of the Earth. Despite the earthly powers of the Olympic gods, only the Three Fates set the destiny of Man.

The Iliad as oral tradition

In antiquity, the Greeks applied the Iliad and the Odyssey as the bases of pedagogy; literature central to the educational-cultural function of the itinerant rhapsode, who composed consistent epic poems from memory and improvisation, and disseminated them, via song and chant, in his travels and at the Panathenaic Festival of athletics, music, poetics, and sacrifice, celebrating Athena’s birthday.

Originally, Classical scholars treated the Iliad and the Odyssey as written poetry, and Homer as a writer, yet, by the 1920s, Milman Parry (1902–1935) demonstrated otherwise; his investigation of the oral Homeric style — stock epithets and reiteration (words, phrases, stanzas) — established those formulae as oral tradition artefacts easily applied to an hexametric line; a two-word stock epithet (e.g. “resourceful Odysseus”) reiteration complements a character name by filling a half-line, thus, freeing the poet to compose a half-line of original formulaic text to complete his meaning. In Yugoslavia, Parry and his assistant, Albert Lord (1912–1991), studied the oral-formulaic composition of Bosniac oral poetry, yielding the Parry/Lord thesis that established Oral tradition studies, later developed by Eric Havelock, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, et al.

In The Singer of Tales (1960), Lord demonstrates likeness between the tragedies of the Greek Patroclus, in the Iliad, and of the Sumerian Enkidu, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and refutes, with “careful analysis of the repetition of thematic patterns”, that the Patroclus storyline upsets Homer’s established compositional formulae of “wrath, bride-stealing, and rescue”, thus, stock-phrase reiteration does not restrict his originality in fitting story to rhyme. Like-wise, in The Arming Motif, Prof. James Armstrong reports that the poem’s formulae yield richer meaning because the “arming motif” diction — describing Achilles, Agamemnon, Paris, and Patroclus — serves to “heighten the importance of . . . an impressive moment”, thus, reiteration “creates an atmosphere of smoothness”, wherein, Homer distinguishes Patroclus from Achilles, and foreshadows the former’s death with positive and negative turns of phrase.

In the Iliad, occasional syntactic inconsistency is an oral tradition effect — for example, Aphrodite is “laughter-loving”, despite being painfully wounded by Diomedes (Book V, 375); and the divine representations, mixing Mycenaean and Greek Dark Age (ca. 1150–800 BC) mythologies, parallel the hereditary basilee nobles (lower social rank rulers) with minor Olympic gods, such as Scamander et al.

The Venetus A, created in the 10th century, is the oldest existing manuscript of Homer's Iliad.

The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus

Achilles and Patroclus.

Classical-era, historical, and contemporary scholars have questioned the true nature of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, arguing that the evidence is equivocal for perceiving and defining it as either platonic or homosexual, although Aeschylus does portray them so in Fragment 134a. Necessarily, critics perceive and interpret that manly relationship with their own mores (social, cultural, sexual), thus, fifth-century BC Athenian scholars perceived it as pederastic (then an accepted male relationship), like-wise the others perceived it as either a platonic warrior-bond or as a homosexual pairing of like-age men — despite Homer’s description of Trojan women as war prizes, hence, the sexual-orientation speculation evinced by Achilles’s outrage at King Agamemnon’s confiscation of Bryseis, his war-prize concubine.

Warfare in the Iliad

Despite Mycenae and Troy being maritime powers, the Iliad features no sea battles. So, the Trojan shipwright (of the ship that transported Helen to Troy), Phereclus, fights afoot, as an infantryman. The battle dress and armour of hero and soldier are well-described. They enter battle in chariots, launching javelins into the enemy formations, then dismount — for hand-to-hand combat with sword and a shoulder-borne hoplon (shield). The Ajax the Greater, son of Telamon, sports a large, rectangular shield (σάκος) with which he protects himself and Teucer, his brother:

Ninth came Teucer, stretching his curved bow.
He stood beneath the shield of Ajax, son of Telamon.
As Ajax cautiously pulled his shield aside,
Teucer would peer out quickly, shoot off an arrow,
hit someone in the crowd, dropping that soldier
right where he stood, ending his life—then he’d duck back,
crouching down by Ajax, like a child beside its mother.
Ajax would then conceal him with his shining shield.
(Iliad 8.267–72, Ian Johnston, translator)

Ajax’s cumbersome shield is more suitable for defence than for offence, while his cousin, Achilles, ports a large, rounded, octagonal shield that he successfully deploys along with his spear against the Trojans:

Just as a man constructs a wall for some high house,
using well-fitted stones to keep out forceful winds,
that’s how close their helmets and bossed shields lined up,
shield pressing against shield, helmet against helmet
man against man. On the bright ridges of the helmets,
horsehair plumes touched when warriors moved their heads.
That's how close they were to one another.
(Iliad 16.213–7, Ian Johnston, translator)

In describing infantry combat, Homer names the phalanx formation, but, most scholars do not believe the historical Trojan War was so fought. In the Bronze Age, the chariot was the main battle transport-weapon (e.g. the Battle of Kadesh). The available evidence, from the Dendra armour and the Pylos Palace paintings, indicate the Mycenaeans used two-man chariots, with a long-spear-armed principal rider, unlike the three-man Hittite chariots with short-spear-armed riders, and unlike the arrow-armed Egyptian and Assyrian two-man chariots. Nestor spearheads his troops with chariots; he advises them:

In your eagerness to engage the Trojans,
don’t any of you charge ahead of others,
trusting in your strength and horsemanship.
And don’t lag behind. That will hurt our charge.
Any man whose chariot confronts an enemy’s
should thrust with his spear at him from there.
That’s the most effective tactic, the way
men wiped out city strongholds long ago —
their chests full of that style and spirit.
(Iliad 4.301–09, Ian Johnston, translator)

It should be noted, that Homer does little to actually glorify war. Although depictions are graphic, it can be seen in the very end that victory in war is a far more somber occasion, where all that is lost becomes apparent. On the other hand, the funeral games are a lively entertaining and harmless affair, for the dead man's life is celebrated. This overall depiction of war runs contrary to many other ancient Greek depictions, where war is an aspiration for greater glory.

Mythologic characters

In the literary Trojan War of the Iliad, the Olympic gods, goddesses, and demigods fight and play great roles in human warfare. Unlike practical Greek religious observance, Homer’s portrayals of them suited his narrative purpose, being very different from the polytheistic ideals Greek society used. To wit, the Classical-era historian Herodotus says that Homer, and his contemporary, the poet Hesiod, were the first artists to name and describe their appearance and characters.

In Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn From Myths, Mary Lefkowitz discusses the relevance of divine action in the Iliad, attempting to answer the question of whether or not divine intervention is a discrete occurrence (for its own sake), or if such godly behaviours are mere human character metaphors. The intellectual interest of Classic-era authors, such as Thucydides and Plato, was limited to their utility as “a way of talking about human life rather than a description or a truth”, because, if the gods remain religious figures, rather than human metaphors, their “existence” — without the foundation of either dogma or a bible of faiths — then allowed Greek culture the intellectual breadth and freedom to conjure gods fitting any religious function they required as a people.

The Iliad in the arts and literature

Subjects from the Trojan War were a favourite among ancient Greek dramatists. Aeschylus' trilogy, the Oresteia, comprising Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides, follows the story of Agamemnon after his return from the war.

William Shakespeare used the plot of the Iliad as source material for his play Troilus and Cressida, but focused on a medieval legend, the love story of Troilus, son of King Priam of Troy, and Cressida, daughter of the Trojan soothsayer Calchas. The play, often considered to be a comedy, reverses traditional views on events of the Trojan War and depicts Achilles as a coward, Ajax as a dull, unthinking mercenary, etc.

Robert Browning's poem Development discusses his childhood introduction to the matter of the Iliad and his delight in the epic, as well as contemporary debates about its authorship.

Simone Weil wrote the essay The Iliad or the Poem of Force in 1939 shortly after the commencement of WWII. Its been claimned the essay describes how the Iliad demonstrates the way force, excercised to the extreme in war, reduces both victim and aggressor to the level of the slave and the unthinking automaton.

The 1954 Broadway musicalmarker The Golden Apple by librettist John Treville Latouche and composer Jerome Moross was freely adapted from the Iliad and the Odyssey, re-setting the action to Americamarker's Washingtonmarker state in the years after the Spanish-American War, with events inspired by the Iliad in Act One and events inspired by the Odyssey in Act Two.

Christa Wolf's 1983 novel Kassandra is a critical engagement with the Iliad. Wolf's narrator is Cassandra, whose thoughts we hear at the moment just before her murder by Clytemnestra in Sparta. Wolf's narrator presents a feminist's view of the war, and of war in general. Cassandra's story is accompanied by four essays which Wolf delivered as the Frankfurter Poetik-Vorlesungen. The essays present Wolf's concerns as a writer and rewriter of this canonical story and show the genesis of the novel through Wolf's own readings and in a trip she took to Greece.

A number of comic series have re-told the legend of the Trojan War. The most inclusive may be Age of Bronze, a comprehensive retelling by writer/artist Eric Shanower that incorporates a broad spectrum of literary traditions and archaeological findings. Started in 1999, it is projected to number seven volumes.

Bob Dylan recorded a song entitled "Temporary Like Achilles" for his 1966 album "Blonde On Blonde". Led Zeppelin recorded a song entitled "Achilles Last Stand" for their 1976 album Presence.

Power metal band Blind Guardian composed a 14 minute song about the Iliad, "And Then There Was Silence", appearing on the 2002 album A Night at the Opera.

Heavy metal band Manowar composed a 28 minute medley, "Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts", in their 1992 album, The Triumph of Steel. Other heavy metal bands inspired by the epos: Manilla Road "The Fall Of Iliam"; Stormwind "War Of Try"; Virgin Steele composed a rock opera in two parts called The Fall Of House Atreus; Jag Panzer "Achilles"; Arcane "Agamemnon"; Warlord "Achilles Revenge"; Tierra Santa "El Caballo De Troya".

An epic science fiction adaptation/tribute by acclaimed author Dan Simmons titled Ilium was released in 2003. The novel received a Locus Award for best science fiction novel of 2003.

A loose film adaptation of the Iliad, Troy, was released in 2004, starring Brad Pitt as Achilles, Orlando Bloom as Paris, Eric Bana as Hector, Sean Bean as Odysseus and Brian Cox as Agamemnon. It was directed by German-born Wolfgang Petersen. The movie only loosely resembles the Homeric version, with the supernatural elements of the story were deliberately expunged, except for one scene that includes Achilles' sea nymph mother, Thetis (although her supernatural nature is never specifically stated, and she is aged as though human). Though the film received mixed reviews, it was a commercial success, particularly in international sales. It grossed $133 million in the United States and $497 million worldwide, placing it in the 64th top-grossing movie of all time.

S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time series contains numerous characters who are clearly the "original versions" of those appearing in the Iliad. Odysseus himself plays a major role in the third and last book, On the Oceans of Eternity. The twentieth-century characters are quite aware of this and make rather frequent reference to it. One, for example, comments that "a big horse ought to be present at the fall of Troy", and another uses the glory that the poem would have brought its protagonists to turn one of them against his master.

Alesana's "The Third Temptation of Paris" is based on the theft of Helen and the subsequent consequences.

English translations

George Chapman published his translation of the Iliad, in instalments, beginning in 1598, published in “fourteeners”, a long-line ballad metre that “has room for all of Homer’s figures of speech and plenty of new ones, as well as explanations in parentheses. At its best, as in Achilles’ rejection of the embassy in Iliad Nine; it has great rhetorical power”. It quickly established itself as a classic in English poetry. In the preface to his own translation, Pope praises “the daring fiery spirit” of Chapman’s rendering, which is “something like what one might imagine Homer, himself, would have writ before he arrived at years of discretion”. John Keats praised Chapman in the sonnet On First Looking into Chapman's Homer (1816). John Ogilby’s mid-seventeenth-century translation is among the early annotated editions; Alexander Pope’s 1715 translation, in heroic couplet, is “The classic translation that was built on all the preceding versions”, and, like Chapman’s, it is a major poetic work, in its own right. William Cowper’s Miltonic, blank verse 1791 edition is highly regarded for its greater fidelity to the Greek than either the Chapman or the Pope versions: “I have omitted nothing; I have invented nothing”, Cowper says in prefacing his translation.

In the lectures On Translating Homer (1861), Matthew Arnold addresses the matters of translation and interpretation in rendering the Iliad to English; commenting upon the versions contemporarily available in 1861, he identifies the four essential poetic qualities of Homer to which the translator must do justice:

[i] that he is eminently rapid; [ii] that he is eminently plain and direct, both in the evolution of his thought and in the expression of it, that is, both in his syntax and in his words; [iii] that he is eminently plain and direct in the substance of his thought, that is, in his matter and ideas; and, finally, [iv] that he is eminently noble.

After a discussion of the metres employed by previous translators, Arnold argues for a poetical dialect hexameter translation of the Iliad, like the original. “Labourious as this meter was, there were at least half a dozen attempts to translate the entire Iliad or Odyssey in hexameters; the last in 1945. Perhaps the most fluent of them was by J. Henry Dart [1862] in response to Arnold”.

Translators and translations

In 1870, the US poet William Cullen Bryant published a blank verse version, that Van Wyck Brooks describes as “simple, faithful”. Moreover, since 1950, there have been several English translations. Richmond Lattimore’s version is “a free six-beat” line-for-line rendering that explicitly eschews “poetical dialect” for “the plain English of today”; it is literal, unlike older verse renderings. Robert Fitzgerald’s version strives to situate the Iliad in the musical forms of English poetry; his forceful version is freer, with shorter lines that increase the sense of swiftness and energy. In comparison, Lattimore’s rendering might seem dull and plodding, where Fitzgerald’s “voice . . . [is] sometimes a better reflection of the nuances and connotations in the original Greek than [is] Lattimore’s” voice.

Robert Fagles and Stanley Lombardo are bolder in adding dramatic significance to Homer’s conventional and formulaic language; generally, Fagles’s fidelity to the original is greater, while Lombardo employs a distinctly American, colloquial, “steet verse” idiom that has been criticised as out-of-tune with Homer’s original diction. Rodney Merrill’s accentual, dactylic hexameter more accurately reproduces the poem’s original Greek sound and sense “by following the Homeric line, in its shape as well as its meter” with greater fidelity than previous translations.

Herbert Jordan’s is a line-for-line blank verse translation that the poet Henry Taylor says “moves quickly and fluidly” and that Bruce Louden (The Iliad: Structure, Myth, and Meaning) says includes “the most vivid translation ever done of the ‘Catalogue of Ships.’”

Given the strictures of iambic pentameter, Jordan does not translate many of the original epithets and patronyms because the object of his figurative translation “is to capture the essence of Homer’s individual lines, not to render the Greek literally” (p.ix). “With this in mind, if we take, by way of example, the phrase ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων, we find that rather than translating this stock epithet exactly the same way every time it appears (as indeed Lattimore does), Jordan either omits Agamemnon’s epithet, or translates [it] variously as ‘high king,’ ‘high-commander,’ ‘warrior-chief,’ ‘chief warrior,’ ‘chief Greek warrior,’ ‘lord,’ ‘supreme commander,’ ‘far-ruling,’ ‘the king,’ and even ‘Atrides.’ The same is [true] for all the other stock phrases in the poem. Stock expressions, such as ‘so he spoke’ (ὥς ἔφατο) are almost entirely omitted. Whole line repetitions in the Greek appear differently in English. . . . Jordan’s translation ‘Each man’s heart steeled to support his comrades’, at line 9, is eminently better to read than [is] Lattimore’s painfully literal ‘Stubbornly minded each in his heart to stand by the others.’ (Fagles comes out best with the graphic ‘Hearts ablaze to defend each other to the death.’) Jordan’s Iliad is a very easy, vivid read. . . . [I]t is perhaps the most readable of all the verse translations of the Iliad to date. Yet it should be stated that what we read in this translation is not a true reflection of Homer. A reader discovering the Iliad for the first time in Jordan’s translation would miss much of the oral tradition that the Iliad inherently reflects. . . . Those seeking a more literal translation should look elsewhere.”

English translations: a partial list

(see the complete list in English translations of Homer)


  1. Vidal-Naquet, Pierre. Le monde d’Homère (The World of Homer), Perrin (2000), p.19
  5. Iliad IX 410–16
  6. Homer. The Iliad. Richmond Lattimore, translator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1951)
  8. Rouse, W.H.D. The Iliad (1938) p.11
  9. Homer. The Iliad, Richmond Lattimore, translator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1951). 1.13.
  10. Homer. The Iliad, Richmond Lattimore, translator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1951). 1.122.
  11. Homer. The Iliad. Richmond Lattimore, translator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1951). 1.181–7.
  12. Homer. The Iliad. Richmond Lattimore, translator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1951). 18.111–16.
  13. Fate as presented in Homer's "The Iliad", Everything2
  14. Iliad Study Guide, Brooklyn College
  15. Homer. The Iliad. Richmond Lattimore, translator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1951). 16.849–54.
  16. Homer. The Iliad. Richmond Lattimore, translator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1951). 16.433–4.
  17. Homer. The Iliad. Richmond Lattimore, translator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1951). 16.440–3.
  18. Homer. The Iliad. Richmond Lattimore, translator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1951). 22.178–81.
  19. Homer. The Iliad. Richmond Lattimore, translator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1951). 20.300–4.
  20. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition (1994) p.173
  21. Porter, John. The Iliad as Oral Formulaic Poetry (8 May 2006) University of Saskatchewan; accessed 26 November 2007.
  22. Lord, Albert. The Singer of Tales Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press (1960) p.190
  23. Lord, Albert. The Singer of Tales Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press (1960) p.195
  24. Iliad, Book XVI, 130–54
  25. Armstrong, James I. The Arming Motif in the Iliad. The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 79, No. 4. (1958), pp.337–54.
  26. Toohey, Peter. Reading Epic: An Introduction to the Ancient Narrative. New Fetter Lane, London: Routledge, (1992).
  27. Robot Scans Ancient Manuscript in 3-D, Wired.
  28. Hornblower, S. and Spawforth, A. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization pp.3, 352
  29. Hornblower, S. and Spawforth, A. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization (1998) p.347
  30. Iliad 3.45–50
  31. Iliad 5.59–65
  32. Keegan, John. A History of Warfare (1993) p.248
  33. Iliad 6.6
  34. Cahill, Tomas. Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (2003)
  35. Homer’s Iliad, Classical Technology Center.
  36. Lefkowitz, Mary. Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn From Myths (2003) New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press
  37. Taplin, Oliver. “Bring Back the Gods”, The New York Times 14 December 2003.
  38. IMDB. "All Time Worldwide Box Office Grosses", Box Office Mojo
  39. The Oxford Guide to English Literature in Translation, p.351
  40. The Oxford Guide to English Literature in Translation, p.352
  41. The Oxford Guide to English Literature in Translation, p.354
  42. Calum Maciver,Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.01.15


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