The Iliad Book Summary - The Iliad Book explained in key points
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The Iliad summary


The Greek Epic on the End of the Trojan War and Achilles’ Wrath

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    The Iliad
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    Chryses among the Greeks

    Like any good action movie today, The Iliad begins right in the middle of action. So before we dive into the first chapters, let’s brush up on our background lore. 

    At the beginning of our story, the war between the Greek and Trojan armies has raged on for almost ten years. The Achaean army, made up of many smaller Greek armies, is besieging the city of Troy, in what is now Turkey. They are led by Agamemnon, king of Mycenae. The Trojans are led by their king Priam. 

    Homer begins his epic Iliad with an invocation to the muse. He asks her to sing of the rage of Achilles – the bravest, toughest, and best of all the Greek warriors. Then he plunges us into the middle of a quarrel between Achilles and king Agamemnon. 

    The problem? During one of the Greeks’ raids on a local town, Agamemnon has selected a young girl named Chryseis as booty for himself. Naturally, her father Chryses is not amused. He comes to the Greeks to get his daughter back, but Agamemnon rejects his offer for ransom. Unfortunately, Chryses is a priest of Apollo, a pretty powerful god. Apollo backs his devotee by sending a plague on the Greeks.

    After nine days of plague, Achilles has had enough. He calls an assembly to convince Agamemnon to return Chryseis. This leads to a big fight between them. Agamemnon says that he’ll give Chryseis back, but only in exchange for Achilles’ captive, Briseis. This is deeply offensive to Achilles, who has shed blood and sweat for this human war prize. Furious, he declares that he will no longer fight for Agamemnon. 

    Chryseis is indeed handed back to her dad, and the plague ends. But in turn, Agamemnon’s messengers come to take Briseis. Desperate, Achilles asks his mother Thetis for help. As a minor sea nymph goddess, Thetis has a link to Zeus, king of the gods. She convinces Zeus to cause the Greeks to start losing, so that Agamemnon will take Achilles back on better terms. 

    Zeus sends a dream to Agamemnon, suggesting a new attack on Troy. After nine years of bloody battles, he overestimates his men’s enthusiasm for another one. But war hero Odysseus manages to help him boost morale. 

    The Greek armies advance on the Trojan plain. Paris, son of Trojan leader Priam, proposes to fight Greek leader Menelaus in single combat to end the war. This makes sense, because the two are rather guilty of causing the whole thing: Menelaus’s wife Helen – the most beautiful woman in the world – either ran off with or was abducted by Paris. 

    The duel between the rivals commences, and Menelaus beats Paris. But goddess Aphrodite saves Paris at the last second, forcing an apparently reluctant Helen to make love to him, stat.

    God-king Zeus is growing tired of the humans’ antics, and tries to persuade goddesses Hera and Athena to help make peace. But the goddesses are not too fond of the Trojans, and pursue their own ideas. Athena persuades a Trojan archer to shoot Menelaus, deflecting the arrow at the last second. She knows that this is enough to break the Greek-Trojan truce. Now, the real fighting begins. 

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    What is The Iliad about?

    The Iliad (c. eighth century BC) is one of the oldest and most important works of Western literature. Attributed to ancient Greek poet Homer, the epic poem recounts the final days of the Greek siege of Troy. At the center of the story is Greek war hero Achilles, who has to beat back the Trojan enemy, struggle against meddling gods, and vie for recognition among his fellow Greeks. 

    Who should read The Iliad?

    • Fans of classic literature
    • Bookworms and history nerds
    • Anyone interested in ancient Western culture

    About the Author

    Homer (born in the eighth century BC) was one of the most important poets of ancient Greece. His two epic poems, The Odyssey and The Iliad, are regarded as foundational works of Western literature, and are still widely read today. 

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