The Iliad

By Homer, George Chapman, Allardyce Nicoll, Garry Wills

370,219 ratings - 3.88* vote

George Chapman's translations of Homer are the most famous in the English language. Keats immortalized the work of the Renaissance dramatist and poet in the sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." Swinburne praised the translations for their "romantic and sometimes barbaric grandeur," their "freshness, strength, and inextinguishable fire." The great critic George S George Chapman's translations of Homer are the most famous in the English

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Book details

Paperback, 741 pages
November 23rd 1998 by Princeton University Press

(first published -800)

Original Title
0691002363 (ISBN13: 9780691002361)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Emily May

3½ stars

Two mysteries were solved by my finally finishing The Iliad.

1) It is so obvious why these Ancient Greek stories have survived for so many years-- it's all gory violence and sex. Homer tapped into these marketing tools early.

2) I now understand why puritanical attitudes toward female sexuality developed. Pretty much everything bad that happens is caused by Helen of Troy - "slut that I am" - running off with Paris, and Hera seducing Zeus. The ancients must have read this and been like "please, girls, just... don't".

Also: It seems I may have been too harsh with Sarah J. Maas and her mist-rising, earth-shaking sex scenes. Clearly she was channeling Homer:
“The son of Cronus spoke and took his wife in his arms; and the divine earth sent up spring flowers beneath them, dewy clover and crocuses and a soft and crowded bed of hyacinths, to lift them off the ground. In this they lay, covered by a beautiful golden cloud, from which a rain of glistening dewdrops fell.”

It's taken me so long to read this because, every time I tried to start, I kept comparing it to The Odyssey, which I like much more. Odysseus's journey and encounters with creatures such as cannibal giants are very entertaining. And, when it comes down to it, I can only enjoy so many war scenes. Seeing as The Iliad is all about the Trojan War, there are a lot of war scenes.

BUT it is saved by the Greek gods. What a ridiculous bickering soap opera the Greek pantheon is. I genuinely burst out laughing multiple times. I like the Greek gods because they are so flawed and jealous and vindictive and, um, human. Hera, especially, is a piece of work. I love her. Sometimes you have to wonder what was going through the heads of Ancient Greeks when this is how they imagined their gods. From Hera calling Artemis a "shameless bitch" like something out of Mean Girls, to all the gods supporting their favourite team (Greek or Trojan) in the war like it's a damn football match.

The Iliad gets better in the last eight books. It is more of a struggle in the beginning (mainly books 4-13) because there are some pages that blend together in a stream of similar-sounding Greek and Trojan men stabbing each other with spears. Often in the nipple or buttocks, too, which seems… peculiar.

I'll stop being silly, though. It is a remarkable - if admittedly sexist - work. It's strange to think how themes and values that were important 3,000 years ago are still important today. I don't know if Homerian spoilers are a thing, but I'll just say that the one death, the death of the story can still be felt so very deeply all these years after its writing. The only thing more tragic than losing the one you love most is knowing you could have prevented it.

I was disappointed my library didn’t have the Caroline Alexander translation, which is the first English translation by a woman, but Rieu’s Translation was fantastic. Very smooth reading, unlike another recent read of mine - The Epic of Gilgamesh. I'm glad I finally read it.

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Grace Tjan

What I learned from this book (in no particular order):

1. Victory or defeat in ancient Greek wars is primarily the result of marital spats and/or petty sibling rivalry in Zeus and Hera’s dysfunctional divine household.

2. Zeus “the father of gods and men” is a henpecked husband who is also partial to domestic abuse.

3. If you take a pretty girl who is the daughter of a priest of Apollo as war booty and refuse to have her ransomed, Apollo will rain plague on your troops. And he won’t be appeased until you return the girl and throw him a ginormous BBQ party involving hundreds of cattle at his temple.

4. If an arrow or a spear were thrown at you in battle, more often than not, it would land on your nipple or thereabout. Or alternatively, it would pierce your helmet and splatter your brain.

5. Paris is a proper guy’s name, not just a name for capital cities or bratty heiresses.

6. Brad Pitt in man skirt* Achilles is the badassest warrior there ever was.

7. Real men eat red meat, specifically:
a. sheep chines;
b. fat goats; and
c. the long back cuts of a full-grown pig, marbled with lard.

8. The most valuable booty are (in no particular order):

a. bronze tripods (each worth 12 oxens) and armors;
b. swift war stallions; and
c. pretty women (each worth 4 oxens, if also skilled in crafts). Lesbians are particularly prized.

9. There is nothing more glorious for a warrior than to sack enemy cities, plunder their wealth, kill all their men, bed their pretty women and enslave their children.

10. The only men who matter are warriors, but if you are a woman, the range of roles that you could play is rather more diverse. You could be:

a. a runaway wife who sparks a cosmic battle between your thuggish hubby’s city-state and your cowardly boyfriend’s (1);
b. a war booty with a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome (2);
c. a manipulative uber bitch (who also happens to be a goddess) (3);
d. a long-suffering wife and mother (4).

(1) Helen (2) Briseis (3) Hera (4) Andromache

But whatever role you choose to play, you will still be the bone of contention between men and the armies that they lead. All the major conflicts in the story are triggered by women, or specifically by their sexuality: Helen’s elopement with Paris launched a thousand Argive ships against Troy; Agamemnon’s desire to bed Briseis, Achilles’ lawful prize, caused a nearly unhealable rift between them; and Hector’s desire to protect his wife from the dismal fate of being an Argive sex slave inspired him to fight Achilles to the death. Homer’s mortal women might be meek and mild, but his goddesses can kick ass with the best of them, and even occasionally best their male counterparts: Zeus is not above being manipulated by Hera, and Ares the God of War actually got whacked on the head by Athena.

*Troy, Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Warner Bros. 2004.

What I find most surprising about the Iliad is the amount of graphic, X-rated violence that it contains. The violence is not the biblical slaying and smiting, but something much more voyeuristically gory:

“…the one Peneleos lanced beneath the brows, down to the eyes' roots and scooped an eyeball out --- the spear cut clean through the socket, out behind the nape and backward down he sat, both hands stretched wide as Peneleos, quickly drawing his whetted sword, hacked him square in the neck and lopped his head and down on the ground it tumbled, helmet and all. But the big spear's point still stuck in the eye socket ---."

I imagine that this kind of anatomically precise, brain-splattering, gut-spilling action scenes made the Iliad popular with the Romans, who routinely went to the Colosseum to watch gladiators hack each other to death, but there is only so much of it that I could take in one sitting, which is why it took me almost three months to finish it. It is not that I’m particularly sensitive to fictional death and dismemberment --- and after all, this book is a war book --- but the sheer amount of such scenes, as well as their mind-numbing repetitiveness made for tedious reading. It doesn’t help that many of these deaths happened to seemingly throwaway characters, barely introduced in three or four lines, merely to be summarily (and gorily) dispatched in another half a dozen lines on the same page. The Iliad is assumed to be the written version of a much older oral poem, and such characters might represent collective memories of real Bronze Age warriors, but by Zeus, hundreds of pages of them being hacked, cleaved and skewered to death almost did me in.

Now, what is the purpose of such meticulously catalogued carnage? Was Homer trying to present War with all its attendant horrors to shock his audience into pacifism? Or was the old guy just trying to write an 8th century BCE equivalent of a blockbuster action-adventure movie with enough gore to satisfy his young male demographic? The Iliad both celebrates and laments the warrior spirit: the haughty pride and terrible thirst for vengeance and plunder that set men to distant shores, intent on razing cities and putting its inhabitants to slaughter, but also the stark, tragic consequences of such acts.

I actually find the gods’ politicking and manipulations more interesting than the actual war. The Greek gods are blissfully free of any human notion of morality --- which makes the problem of theodicy much more simpler to solve than in the Judeo-Christian model. The Olympian gods do not move in mysterious ways: they are moved by caprice and petty grievances. Why did we suffer such an ignominious defeat, despite all that we had done to win Zeus’ favor? Well, it happened that just before the battle was about to begin, Hera seduced him and subsequently put him to sleep with the help of Hypnos, whom she bribed with one of the Graces. A perfectly logical and very human explanation.

The story gets much more interesting in the last five books. The Olympian gods entered into the fray and the effect is sometimes like watching WWE SmackDown:

“Bloody Ares lunged at it now with giant lance
and Athena backed away, her powerful hand hefting
a boulder off the plain, black, jagged, a ton weight
that men in the old days planted there to make off plowland ---
Pallas hurled that boundary-stone at Ares, struck his neck,
loosed his limbs, and down he crashed and out over seven acres
sprawled the enormous god and his mane dragged in the dust.”

Or maybe an episode of Super Friends :

“How do you have the gall, you shameless bitch,
to stand and fight me here?
But since you’d like a lesson in warfare, Artemis,
just to learn, to savor how much stronger I am
when you engage my power ---“

The gods are “deathless”, so you know that there won’t be any lasting harm from their catfight, but the cost of battle to all too mortal men is heavy indeed. This was a time when war was as elemental as they come: no mercy was shown to the enemy on the battlefield, save one that pertained to a warrior’s honor, which was to be buried with full honors by his family and comrades. When mighty, “stallion-breaking” Hector finally succumbed to Achilles in a strangely anticlimactic duel, his father Priam went to Achilles’ camp and

“kneeling down beside Achilles, clasped his knees
and kissed his hands, those terrible, man-killing hands
that had slaughtered Priam’s many sons in battle.”

Troy’s old king begged for his son’s body, and in the magnificent, poignant last book, Homer showed us the real cost of war, both on the vanquished and the triumphant. By the will of the gods, Achilles’ death would soon follow: his destiny was ultimately no different from the rest of tragic humanity, fated to suffer and die by callous, immoral gods for causes that were entirely beyond their ken.

“So the immortals spun our lives that we, we wretched men
live on to bear such torments ---“

J.G. Keely

Pablo Picasso spent his entire life trying desperately to do something new, something unique. He moved from style to style, mastering and then abandoning both modern and classical methods, even trying to teach his trained artist's hand to paint like a child.

In 1940, four French teens and a dog stumbled upon a cave that had lain hidden for 16,000 years. Inside, they found the walls covered in beautiful drawings of men and animals. When the Lascaux caves were opened to the public, Pablo Picasso visited them, and as he stared at the prehistoric hunting scenes, was heard to remark in a despondent tone: "We have invented nothing".

The Iliad is equally as humbling to a writer, as complex, beautiful, and honest as any other work. The war scenes play out like a modern film, gory and fast-paced, the ever-present shock of death. Though some have been annoyed at how each man is named (or even given a past) before his death, this gives weight to the action. Each death is has consequence, and as each man steps onto the stage to meet glory or death, Homer gives us a moment to recognize him, to see him amidst the whirling action, and to witness the fate Zeus metes.

The psychological complexity and humanism of this work often shocked me. Homer's depiction of human beings as fundamentally flawed and unable to direct their own lives predicts existentialism. The even hand he gives both the Trojans and the Argives places his work above the later moralizing allegories of Turold, Tasso, or even Milton.

Of course, Homer's is a different world than theirs, one where the sword has not yet become a symbol for righteousness. In Homer, good men die unavenged, and bad men make their way up in the world. Noble empires fall to ravenous fire and the corpses of fresh-limbed young men are desecrated.

Fate does not favor the kind, the weak, the moral, or even the strong. Fate favors some men now, others later, and in the end, none escapes the emptiness of death. Though Homer paints some men as great, as noble and kind and brave, these men do not uphold these ideals for some promised paradise, but simply because they are such men.

There is something refreshing in the purity of the philosophy of living life for yourself and yet expecting no entitlement for your deeds. A philosophy which accepts the uncontrollable winds of fate; that when the dark mist comes across our eyes, no man knows whence he goes.

Later traditions make other claims: that the righteous will be rewarded, that the lives of good men will be good and the bad will be punished. In thousands of years of thinking, of writing, of acting, have we gained nothing but comforting, untenable ideals? Then Picasso was wrong, we have invented something, but it is only a machine which perpetuates itself by peddling self-satisfaction.

I read and enjoyed the Fagles translation, which may not be the most faithful, but strikes that oft-discussed balance between joy of reading and fidelity. He makes no attempt to translate the meter into English, which is a blessing to us. The English language does a few meters well, and Homer's is not one of them.

The footnotes were competent and interesting, though I could have stood a few more of them; perhaps I am in the minority. I also thoroughly enjoyed Knox's introductory essay. I would normally have had to research the scholarly history of the book myself, and so Knox's catch-me-up was much appreciated.


Everyone knows the Iliad. And everyone talks about it. But here, I only want to discuss one forgotten element of it. An element ESSENTIAL to constructing a valid modern worldview - for EACH of us.

I always avoided applying this element to my daily life. But I was wrong - so wrong.

Rei Pasa! Those two words sum it all up.

They were written by a Greek gentleman who was roughly the contemporary of Homer - Heraclitus, the ancient pre-Socratic philosopher.

Rei pasa - everything changes.


As Heraclitus explains elsewhere, “You can’t step into the same river twice!” EVERYTHING is in movement.

So it is with Homer. In this epic, everything takes place In Medias Res - right, smack dab in the middle of the chaos of everyday life.

That’s where we all start in our OWN lives. And finish.

And that’s the ONLY place we’ll ever find Peace.

Now, that seems odd, doesn’t it?

And it seemed that way for me, too...

Back in 1985 I was harried to the Max by my new furiously high-powered career. I couldn’t find any place of peace in my life. That’s the year I started to find solace in Eastern philosophy and New Age Music.

Hey, with this stuff you could get blissed-out in no time! So I weakly thought.

But then the frenetic pace of the workplace sped up. And kept accelerating - all the way to retirement. I felt trapped.

By 1999 I was burning out. I was frazzled. Fried. But on an April day exactly twenty years ago I realized I had no choice but to let it all go - and give it to God.

THAT was when I really knew what In Medias Res REALLY meant.

It’s not OUR world. It’s His! Let Him do what He wants for a change - and sit back for the RIDE OF YOUR LIFE.

You’ll never experience the eternal mutability of life until you get to that point.

There’s just NO WAY - because otherwise YOU, solid, ‘unchanging’ you, are always center stage!

You have to let it go - and give it away.

Just like Achilles loses it - and becomes his Fate.

And that’s why Homer is so colossal.

There’s just no other way to peace -

At the Eye of the Storm!

Ahmad Sharabiani

Ἰλιάς = The Iliad, Homer

The Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem in dactylic hexameter, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy (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.

Characters: Ajax, Odysseus, Helen of Troy, Menelaus, Paris, Hector, Achilles, Agamemnon, Aeneas, Sarpedon, Priam, Cassandra, Patroclus, Diomedes, Ajax Oileus, Andromache, Briseis, Hecuba, Nestor, Akhilleus

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز نخست ماه ژانویه سال 1973میلادی

عنوان: ایلیاد؛ شاعر: هومر؛ مترجم: سعید نفیسی؛ تهران، بنگاه ترجمه و نشر کتاب، 1334؛ در 720ص؛ موضوع: داستان جنگ تروا - سده 08پیش از میلاد

عنوان: ایلیاد؛ شاعر: هومر، مترجم: میرجلال الدین کزّازی؛ تهران، نشر مرکز، 1377؛ در 579ص؛ شابک 9643053865؛ چاپ دوم 1381؛ چاپ پنجم 1385؛ چاپ ششم 1387؛ شابک 9789643053864؛ موضوع: داستانهای کهن از نویسندگان یونانی - سده 08پیش از میلاد

اثر حماسی از «هومر»، شاعر نابینای یونانی ست، داستان جنگ «تروا»، بخاطر ربودن «هلن»، زن زیباروی «منلاس»، یکی از فرمانروایان یونان، به دست «پاریس» پسر «پریام»، شاه «ایلیون (تروا)» است، خواستگاران «هلن»، باهم پیمان بسته بودند، که چنانچه گزندی به «هلن» رسید، شوی او را برای مکافات مجرم یاری دهند؛ از اینروی سپاهی بزرگ، به فرماندهی «آگاممنون»، و با حضور پهلوانانی همچون: «آشیل»، «اولیس»، «پاتروکل»، «آیاس (آژاکس) »و...؛ آراستند، و به سوی شهر «تروا» روانه شدند، تا «هلن» را از «پاریس» بازپس بگیرند؛

سپاهیان یونان، ده سال «تروا» را محاصره کردند، ولی با رشادتهای پهلوانان «تروا»، به ویژه «هکتور» بزرگترین پسر شاه، و برادر «پاریس»، و پشتیبانی خدایانی همچون «زئوس»، «آفرودیت»، و «آپولون» طرفی نبستند؛ در آن سالها «آشیل»، بزرگوارترین پشتوانه ی یونانیان با «آگاممنون» اختلاف داشت، جبهه را رها کرده، و در گوشه ای، به همراه یاران خویش، نبرد را تماشا میکرد؛ تا اینکه «پاتروکل» پسرعموی «آشیل»، با لباس و جنگ ابزار آسمانی «آشیل»، به نبرد رفت؛ ولی با نیرنگ «زئوس»، و دشمنی «آپولون»، و دیگر خدایان هوادار «تروا»، «پاتروکل» شکست خورد، و به دست «هکتور» کشته شد؛ «آشیل» از آن رویداد خشمگین شد، و اختلافش با «آگاممنون» را کنار بگذاشت، و پس از تشییع جنازه ی «پاتروکل»، به نبرد تن به تن با «هکتور» پرداخت، و او را شکست داد

سپس به جنازه ی «هکتور» بی احترامی روا داشت، و آنرا با خود به اردوگاه یونانیان آورد؛ «پریام» شاه «تروا»، به یاری خدایان، شبانه خود را به اردوگاه «آشیل» رساند، و با زاری از او درخواست کرد، که جنازه ی پسرش را به او برگردانند، تا بتواند مراسمی در خور بزرگی پهلوان حماسه ساز ترتیب دهد؛ پس از گفتگوی بسیار، «آشیل» پذیرفت؛

داستان «ایلیاد» اثر «هومر»، با توصیف سوزاندن «هکتور» در «تروا»، و به سوگ نشستن مردمان شهر، برای «هکتور» به پایان میرسد؛ در کتاب: «ایلیاد»، و همچنین در کتاب دیگر «هومر»: «اودیسه»، هرگز اشاره و سخنی از نحوه ی پایان نبرد «تروا»، و سرنوشت تراژیک «آشیل» نیست؛ داستانهای «اسب تروا»، در آثار نویسندگان رومی، همچون «ویرژیل»، و «اووید» آمده است، و افسانه ی رویین تن بودن «آشیل» و ماجرای پاشنه ی «آشیل» او را نیز، که به مرگش میانجامد، شاعر «رمی» سده ی نخست میلادی «استاتیوس»، در کتاب خود با عنوان: «آشیلید»، برای نخستین بار آراسته، و به آن داستان، پرداخته است

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 28/06/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی


as a native english speaker, im not exposed to translated books very often; so this reread is the first time where i have truly comprehended the significance of a translation and how it can either make or break a story.

i first read parts of ‘the iliad’ back when i was in school and i just remember the text being very stiff and formal. it did not hold my attention at all because i couldnt understand it. but as i have come to love this story over the years (through retellings and other media), i decided to give this another try. after a lot of research, i chose this edition and translation, and i cannot stress enough how it has made all the difference.

the epic of ‘the iliad’ has its roots in oral storytelling and i am so impressed at how the flow of the language in this feels like someone is sitting next to me, personally telling me a tale about the best of greeks and their plight against the trojans. its a really neat feeling to experience such an authentic nod to homer and how he told this story, almost to the point where i feel as if i have been a part of this epics great history.

5 stars


Is the Trojan War History or Fiction?

Paris kidnaps Helena from Sparta to Troy - Their love affair starts the war

The Iliad plays during the Trojan War; the legendary conflict between the Greeks (Achaeans) and the people of Troy. Prince Paris, son of the king of Troja, fell in love with Helena, wife of the king of Sparta, Menelaus. When Paris and Helena secretly take off together to Troy, Menelaus is furious, which is why his brother Agamemnon then leads the attack of the Greek army against Troy, intending to take Helena back. Achilles is the greatest warrior in the Achean army and has explosive confrontations with Agamemnon, his chief-commander. The Iliad explores the reality of war throughout the ages and the fate of every life affected by it.


Achilles is the strongest warrior of the Greek army with just one weakness - his heel

Achilles is the strongest warrior, hero and most successful soldier in the Greek army, with not just noble but also divine heritage. Achilles immortal goddess mother Thetis dipped him in a magic river, making his entire body invulnerable except for the part of his foot where she held him. That is why it was prophesied that the Greeks could not win the war without Achilles. But Paris kills him by shooting Achilles in the heel with an arrow, the only vulnerable place of his body. Thereby the term „Achilles heel“ became popular, meaning a weakness in spite of overall strength, which can lead to downfall - or simply the atomic body part. Achilles possesses superhuman strength, has a close relationship with the gods and all the marks of a great warrior. But though he proves to be the mightiest man in the Achaean army, he can‘t control his pride, wrath, bloodlust or rage. He abandons his comrades and even prays that the Trojans will slaughter them, just because his commander Agamemnon insulted him. Achilles is driven primarily by a thirst for glory, which collides with his desire to live a long, easy life and ultimately he sacrifices everything else so that his name will be remembered. Though the death of Achilles is not described in the Iliad, his funeral is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.


Agamemnon is the chief commander of the Greek army and struggles with Achilles denying service

Agamemnon is chief-commander of the Achaean army and demands that Achilles surrenders his war prize to him, his slave and concubine Briseis, because he had to return his own - Chryseis. This insulting demand causes Achilles to withdraw angrily from battle, causing death and defeat for the Greek army. Agamemnon is not unlike Achilles, as he has a similarly hot temper and prideful streak, though he isn‘t nearly as strong. The suffering their dispute causes for the Greek army owes as much to Agamemnon’s stubbornness as to that of Achilles. But Agamemnon’s pride makes him more arrogant than Achilles, as Achilles pride only kindles after it is injured, while Agamemnon uses every opportunity to make others feel the effects of his. He always expects the largest portions of the plunder, even though he takes the fewest risks in battle. Additionally, he insists upon leading the army, even though his brother Menelaus possesses the real wrath against the Trojans, as his wife was stolen by Paris. While Achilles remains fiercely devoted to those who love him but just as devotedly vicious to those who harm him, Agamemnon remains fundamentally concerned with himself, and has the cunning to manipulate people or situations for his own benefit. Whereas Achilles is wholly consumed by his emotions, Agamemnon demonstrates a deft ability to keep himself—and others—under control. When he commits wrongs, he does so not out of blind rage and frustration like Achilles, but out of amoral, self-serving cunning.

Celebrating War

The poem functions as war propaganda - it depicts warfare as a respectable and glorious manner of settling a dispute.

The Iliad celebrates war, as a character‘s worth is based on their degree of competence and bravery in battle. Paris, for instant, causes the war but doesn’t like to fight, which is why he correspondingly receives the scorn of both his family and Helena. Achilles, on the other hand, explicitly rejects the option of a long, comfortable, uneventful life at home with his aging father, in exchange for eternal glory and remembrance at Troy. Homer frequently forces his characters to choose between love and glory, the most heroic characters invariably choosing the latter. The gravity of their decisions is emphasized by the fact that each knows his fate ahead of time. The characters strive so aggressively for honor, noble bravery, and glory that they willingly sacrifice the chance to live a long life with those they love. The poem also admires warlike divinities such as Athena, while it creates scenes of comic relief using the shyness of Aphrodite and Artemis, who run from aggression. To fight in battle proves one‘s honor and integrity and to avoid warfare demonstrates laziness, disloyal fear, or misaligned priorities. In the meantime The Iliad doesn’t ignore the realities of war, as men die gruesome deaths, women become slaves and concubines and a plague breaks out excruciatingly decimating the Achaean army. But even the most celebrated warriors occasionally experience fear in the face of these horrors and both armies regret that the war ever began. But even though Achilles points out that all men meet the same death in the end, the poem never asks the reader to question the legitimacy of war. The poem rather depicts warfare as a respectable and glorious manner of settling the justifiable dispute. Considering that the poem was created around 800 BC, it became the basis for our ideas about social roles and consensus of that time.

The Fall of Troy

The walls of Troy fall after 10 years - but only after Odysseus thinks of the Trojan Horse

After a fruitless 10-year siege the Achaean commanders are almost ready to give up, because they are unable to penetrate the walls of Troy. But then Odysseus constructs a plan that will allow them to bypass the walls, whilst building a massive, hollow, wooden horse. A contingent of warriors, including Odysseus hides insight the horse, while the rest of the Achaeans burn their camps and sail away from Troy, secretly waiting in their ships behind a nearby island. Early the next morning the Trojans discover the gigantic horse and capture an Achaean soldier, whom they take prisoner. As set up by Odysseus, the soldier claims that the wooden horse would be a presents from the Greeks to Athena (the Goddess of warfare), because they angered her. He elaborates that it would bring them mischief if they should destroy it, but Athena‘s protection if they would possess it. Despite warnings the Trojan king believes the story and the massive horse is wheeled into the city. That night, Odysseus and his men slip out of the horse, kill the Trojan guards, and fling open the gates of Troy to the Achaean army, which has meanwhile approached the city again. The Achaeans massacre the citizens of Troy, carry off its women, plunder the city’s riches, and burn the buildings to the ground. Helena, whose loyalties have shifted back since Paris’s death, returns to Menelaus, and the Achaeans set sail for home. What happened to many of the hero‘s after the war occupies an important space in Greek mythology. That Odysseus will spend another ten years trying to return to his wife in a tormenting sea ride is topic of The Odyssey. Helena and Menelaus have a long and dangerous voyage back to their home in Sparta, with a long stay in Egypt. As told in The Odyssey, Odysseus son Telemachus travels to Sparta in search of his father and finds Helena and Menelaus celebrating the marriage of their daughter, Hermione.

Greek Mythology

Aphrodite initiates the abduction of Helena - (by Francesco Primaticcio)

The war was overshadowed by a conflict of the gods. Helena was the immortal daughter of Zeus (king of gods) and the mortal Leda (queen of Sparta) and described as the most beautiful woman in the world. When she was supposed to get married a competition between her suitors began and a quarrel between the gods was feared. That‘s why Odysseus was given the task to solve the problem. He proposed that, before the decision was made, all the suitors should swear an oath to defend the chosen husband against whoever should quarrel with him. After the suitors had sworn not to retaliate, Menelaus was chosen to be Helen's husband. Helena and Menelaus became rulers of Sparta, after Helenas parents abdicated. Then one day Zeus held a party to celebrate the marriage of the parents of Achilles. Eris (goddess of discord) was not invited, but angered attended anyway with a golden apple that was supposed to be for the most beautiful woman. The three goddesses Hera (sister/wife of Zeus and goddess of family), her daughter Athena (goddess of wisdom and warfare/ patron of protection) and Aphrodite (goddess of love) claimed the apple. To solve the dispute Zeus picked prince Paris. Paris was the mortal son of the king and queen of Troja, whose birth was interpreted as a foretelling of the downfall of Troy and a sign that the boy should be killed. Instead the boy was secretly spared and raised by a herdsman, before he found his way back to his parents and real identity. When having to decide to whom to give the apple to, Hera offers to make him king of Europe and Asia, Athena offers wisdom and skill in war, and Aphrodite offers him the world's most beautiful woman. Paris picked Aphrodite and came to visit Helena and her husband King Menelaus, at a time when Troy was at peace with Greece. Aphrodite spelled Paris, so that he would be irresistible to Helena, who instantly fell in love with him and send Menelaus on a trip to a different island. If Helena‘s departure with Paris was an abduction or an elopement is ambiguous. In the night Paris took Helena away to the walled city of Troy and when Menelaus heard of his wife's kidnapping, he called all of the kings of Greece to help attack Troy. Because Paris angered Hera and Athena with not giving the apple to them, they fight on the side of the Greeks, giving them the divine protection and the power of warfare, whilst having Achilles on their side. The marriage of Helena to Menelaus and the embedded Trojan War marks the beginning of Zeu‘s plan to end of the age of heroes.

Was the Trojan War Real?

Troy can be geographically located - but if the Trojan War ever occurred is questionable

Troy is set in western Anatolia around the 12th or 13th century BC but there has been much debate over historical evidence of the Trojan War. Findings of the German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann in the late 19th in Turkey suggest that the city of Troy did exist but that a ten-year conflict may not have actually occurred. There is also contention over whether the ruins in Turkey represent the same Troy as the one Homer described. For most ancient Greeks the Trojan War was more than a myth, but an epoch-defining moment in their past, a real event. The Romans even went so far as to present themselves as the descendants of the surviving Trojans. It‘s not surprising that people believed in the reality of the Trojan War, as the Iliad described the grim realities of battle so unflinchingly, and Troy is portrayed in such vivid colors, that it‘s hard to believe they weren‘t based on observation and to not be transported to its magnificent walls. The Greeks found in the legacy of the Trojan War an explanation for the bloody and inferior world in which they lived. Homer’s genius was to elevate universal conflicts into something more profound, to highlight the realities of warfare. There were no gods influencing the course of action on the battlefields, but men who found themselves overwhelmed in a bloody fray could well have imagined there were, as the tide turned against them. Homer captured timeless truths in even the most fantastical moments of the poem. Achilles and Odysseus had inhabited an age of heroes. Their age had now died, leaving behind it all the bloodthirstiness, but none of the heroism or martial excellence, of the Trojan War. Both the Iliad and the Odyssey, are one of the first works of ancient Greek literature, traditionally attributed to Homer, even though the existence of a single author and the reality of events is heavily debated.

“Let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.”

It‘s just thanks to the Iliad and the Odyssey that I started to look into the Trojan War and Greek mythology. Homer invented the Greek gods we are familiar with. I never thought I would be interested in the topic but now I‘m completely fascinated and want to read more about it and maybe also Rome. I also noticed that J.K. Rowling was majorly influenced by Homer and therefore the entire Harry Potter universe. I finally understand references spread over the centuries, whether it is Goethe, James Joyce, Atwood and countless others. I very much want to advice you to start with the Iliad, as it comes first in the timeline, introduces the character of Odysseys and provides the context needed to get the most out of it. If you are scared by the poetry format, simply choose a textual version, but don‘t deny yourself the story. Knowing Homer honestly is mandatory if you‘re interested in literature and want to understand bigger pictures.

Meredith Holley

At my college graduation, the speaker was a gruff professor. He was one of those older men whom people somewhat patronizingly describe as a teddy bear to convey the idea that while he looks like Santa Claus, they wouldn’t be surprised to see him arraigned on assault charges at the local courthouse. I liked this professor in general, and his graduation speech was a grand: warm congratulations on a crisp early-summer day. He decided to inform us, however, that anyone who had not read The Iliad and The Odyssey should not be graduating from college. I was one of those lucky (lucky?) folks, like an illiterate kid graduating from high school.

I decided to rectify the situation as soon as possible, and I spent an indefinite number of hours in the next few, sunny weeks laying in a hammock on my porch, the boy I loved commiserating with me about this wonderful book. It is a warm, sharp memory. That was mumble mumble years ago, and this summer, I thought that since I just graduated again, I would read it again. It was a good choice. Warm, summer days in the hammock with limb-chopping, flashing helms, and mountain goats rushing down the hillside.

I can’t find this quote I’m thinking of, but I’m pretty sure it’s from Beowulf, and it goes something like, “Brave men should seek fame in foreign lands.” Google does not think that quote exists, so maybe I dreamed it, which is really neither here nor there, but kind of weird. Something about that quote, about this book, and about the way this book reminds me of that quote, makes my blood beat close to my skin. I get this feeling that my heart grows too big for my ribs, and my eyeballs get tight, as though I’m going to cry. But, my heart doesn’t pound, and no tears come.

That is how this book feels to me.

This story is about what Homer doesn’t describe as much as what he does, and reading it evokes some kind of mirroring response from my body. The Iliad is the almost-death of Achilles, the almost-destruction of Troy, and reading it is an almost-panic-attack, an almost-sob. It is the absent top step in a flight of stairs. But, oh man, that flight of stairs. How do you even make that?

It’s not possible to spoil this story because Homer is always one step ahead, tripping you up about what story he’s telling. So, just because I think it’s fun (and, also because it seems kind of absurd to write a “review” of The Iliad, so I’m wandering in the dark here), I’m going to give a brief summary:

This story is about a bunch of guys fighting over some women fleshlights and jewelry. Mostly the women fleshlights. Everyone’s been at this war for nine years (sidebar: weirdly, when I read that it was nine years, I thought, “NINE YEARS? WHO WOULD FIGHT A WAR FOR THAT LONG? Oh, wait . . . .”). As you probably know, the war initially started because Paris, a Trojan, stole Helen, who was the iPhone 5 of fleshlights, from Menelaus, an Argive. The Argives are at their ships; the Trojans are in Ilium, behind the city walls. There’s lots of blood and guts and pillaging throughout.

This story, Homer clearly tells us, is about Paris and Helen’s betrayal of Menelaus, and it is about the death of Achilles. The story opens with Agamemnon, the king of the Argives, having stolen a fancy new fleshlight from Achilles, who is a child of a water nymph. Achilles refuses to continue fighting if Agamemnon is going to take his fleshlight. Then, Achilles has this beautiful, beautiful moment where he questions the very nature of fighting over fleshlights. We are all pawns in the petty squabbles of the gods.

The gods are easily my favorite parts of this story, though it is not really about them in a certain way. It is not really about them in the way that any discussion of a god is not really about the god. On the one hand, it is about how our lives are just pawns in this squabbling, incestuous, eternal Thanksgiving dinner in the sky. On the other hand, it is still about the pawns. The gods are compelling on their own, but my heart tries to escape my chest not because of their story, but because, yes, humans do live and die by some kind of petty lottery run by a rapist married to his sister. Yes. And maybe there is someone bold and wonderful in the sky, like the grey-eyed Athena, but we still live and die by the thunder of a maniacal drunk uncle. Yes, that seems true.

So, in the midst of the chopping of limbs, the shatteringly beautiful similes, death after death, and the machinations of the dysfunctional immortal family, this story is about the betrayal of Menelaus and the death of Achilles. The thing that is absolutely, hands-down the most insane about this story to me is that those two events are deeply vivid in my mind in connection to this book, but neither of them actually happens here. How is that possible?! How do you plant enough seeds about an event in a reader’s mind that when she closes a book, those seeds grow into whole, robust images about the event? My blood does that thing where it tries to get out of my skin just from thinking about that. I can picture Achilles's death so vividly, picture lying in that hammock and reading it after I graduated from college, but that never happened. Homer just planted the seeds of his death in my brain, and they grew from my constant pondering over them. Helen and Paris sailing away grew in my mind through Helen’s beautiful regrets.

This is a story that I could think about for days: Helen’s mourning, like the women I’ve seen apologize for causing their husbands’ abuse (no, you didn’t cause this); war, and the futility of killing each other, as though we are controlled by the Kardashians of the sky. What causes violence? We say women cause violence because they push our buttons, so we’re driven to maim and kill because of the betrayals and button pushing. We say that something eternal, God or the gods, cause violence because they control our fate, they appear to us as birds and as wisdom and lead us on our night-blind path of life, but they lead us erratically: drunk, hysterical drivers and us with no seat belt, so we grasp for mere survival. Homer describes those motivations for violence so beautifully.

But, ultimately I think that is all bullshit, and I think the bullshitness of it is there in this story, too. It is there in Achilles challenging Agamemnon. It is there in Achilles mourning Patroclus. Oh, Patroclus, about whom I haven’t even freaked in this review. What a shame. Anyway, though, people are not violent because we were betrayed or because of supernatural trickery. Our violence is ours; it is our choice and our responsibility. Life is barbarous and cruel around us, but that is its nature, and we can only shape ourselves through and around it. When we expect life to be gentle and obedient, we are usually doing nothing more than justifying our own cruelty. I don’t think there is an answer to any of this in The Iliad, but it is beautifully told in both the positive and negative space. It is blood-poundingly, eye-achingly told. As my professor said, everyone should read this, and if you can read it in the sun, lying in a hammock after your graduation, all the better.


This is a must read for every italian boys and girls at school ( many years ago the ministry of education put it with Dante, and Manzoni as a fixed programm to study for all the young italians); we begin to study "Iliade" from middle then up to High school ...and then at College if you choose humanistic studies...
i will never forget my teacher at "Liceo Classico" kind of "Classical studies high school" that gifted us with brilliant lessons about Dante, Boccaccio,Petrarca, Manzoni, Omero and Virgilio and so on.... and then with our teacher for latin and ancient greek, we studied tragedies and other masterpieces translating them to italian...
The programm was so difficult that an american teacher's we met during an exchange programm, told us that what we were doing was used to be studied during the 3th year of College for classic studies in the US. Now at 43 years old, i can only say , how lucky i have been to met such persons, teachers that loved their studies and their jobs!!

( forgive me, despite my husband is american, and my kids are biligual, i continue to be a mess in written english!!)

Riku Sayuj


“The Classics, it is the Classics!” William Blake is said to have exclaimed, with pointed reference to Homer, “that Desolate Europe with Wars!

Blake's exclamation might not be as atrocious as it sounds at first. There might be some truth to this, a universal truth.

Significantly however, this is not how the ancients understood it. They understood war as the catastrophe that it is.

Strabo, the Roman geographer, talking about the Trojan wars, puts it thus: “For it came about that, on account of the length of the campaign, the Greeks of that time, and the barbarians as well, lost both what they had at home and what they had acquired by the campaign; and so, after the destruction of Troy, not only did the victors turn to piracy because of their poverty, the still more the vanquished who survived the war.”

It is in this spirit that I chose The Iliad as my first read for The World War I centenary read.

However, over the war-hungry centuries throughout the middle ages and right till the World Wars, this sense of the Epic was twisted by manipulating the images of Achilles & Hector - Hector became the great defender of his country and Achilles became the insubordinate soldier/officer - the worst ‘type’, more a cause for the war than even Helen herself. Of course, Achilles’ romance was never fully stripped but Hector gained in prominence throughout as the quintessential Patriot.

Precisely because of this the Blake exclamation might have been more valid than it had a right to be.

This is why there is a need to revisit the original tragic purpose of the Epic - most commentators would say that (as above) this original purpose was against ALL wars. But there is much significance to the fact that the epic celebrates the doomed fight of two extinct peoples.

The Iliad starts on the eve of war and ends on the eve of war. Of a ten year epic war, the poem focuses its attention only on a couple or so of crucial, and in the end inconclusive, weeks (for it does not end with any side victorious but with Hector’s death).

In fact, it opens with both both Hector & Achilles reluctant and extremely ambivalent towards war. And closes with both Hector & Achilles dead - by mutually assured destruction!

In that clash of the Titans, the epic defines itself and creates a lasting prophecy.

However, before we explore that we need to understand Hector & Achilles better and also the Iliad itself.

In Medias Res

The Iliad opens in medias res, as it were, as if the epic-recitation was already on its way and we, the audience, have just joined. It is part of Homer’s genius that he creates a world already in process. The art of Iliad is then the art of the entrance, the players enter from an ongoing world which is fully alive in the myths that surround the epic and the audience.

The poem describes neither the origins nor the end of the war. The epic cuts out only a small sliver of insignificant time of the great battle - and thus focuses the spotlight almost exclusively on Hector & Achilles, narrowing the scope of the poem from a larger conflict between warring peoples to a smaller one between these two individuals, and yet maintaining its cosmic aspirations. So the important question is who are Hector & Achilles and why do these two heroes demand nothing less than the greatest western epic to define and contrast them?

The Long Wait For Achilles

In Iliad, how single-mindedly we are made to focus on Hector, but all the while, the Epic bursts with an absence - that of Achilles!

After the initial skirmish with Agamemnon and the withdrawal that forms the curtain-raiser, Achilles plays no part in the events described in Books 2 through 8; he sits by his ships on the shore, playing his harp, having his fun, waiting for the promised end.

“The man,” says Aristotle in the Politics, “who is incapable of working in common, or who in his self-sufficiency has no need of others, is no part of the community, like a beast, or a god.”

Hector is the most human among the heroes of The Iliad, he is the one we can relate with the most east. The scene where Hector meets Andromache and his infant son is one of the most poignant scenes of the epic and heightened by Homer for maximum dramatic tension.

On the other hand, Achilles is almost non-human, close to a god. But still human, though only through an aspiration that the audience might feel - in identifying with the quest for kleos, translated broadly as “honor”.

‘Zeus-like Achilles’ is the usage sometimes employed by Homer - and this is apt in more ways than the straight-forward fact that he is indeed first among the mortals just as Zeus is first among the gods.

Zeus and the Gods know the future, they know how things are going to unfold.

Among the mortals fighting it out in the plains of Ilium, only Achilles shares this knowledge, and this fore-knowledge is what allows him (in the guise of rage) to stay away from battle, even at the cost of eternal honor. Fore-knowledge is what makes Achilles (who is the most impetuous man alive) wiser than everyone else.

Hector on the other hand takes heed of no omens, or signs, nor consults any astrologer. For him, famously, the only sign required is that his city needed saving - “and that is omen enough for me”, as he declares. He is the rational man. He is the ordinary man. Roused to defense.

But everything Hector believes is false just as everything Achilles knows is true - for all his prowess, Hector is as ordinary a soldier as anyone else (except Achilles), privy to no prophecies, blind to his own fate. Elated, drunk with triumph, Hector allows himself to entertain one impossible dream/notion after other, even to the extent that perhaps Achilles too will fall to him. That he can save Troy all by himself.

Hector & Achilles: The Metamorphosis

Like other ancient epic poems, the Iliad presents its subject clearly from the outset. Indeed, Homer names his focus in its opening word: menin, or “rage.” Specifically, the Iliad concerns itself with the rage of Achilles—how it begins, how it cripples the Achaean army, and how it finally becomes redirected toward the Trojans. But, it also charts the metamorphosis of Achilles from a man who abhors a war that holds no meaning for him to a man who fights for its own sake.

On the other side, it also charts how the civilized Hector, the loving family man and dutiful patriot Hector becomes a savage, driven by the madness of war.

Before that, an interlude.

The Other Life Of Achilles

One of the defining scenes of the Epic is the ‘Embassy Scene’ where a defeated Agamemnon sends Odysseus & co to entreat Achilles to return to the battle. That is when Achilles delivers his famous anti-war speech. This speech of Achilles can be seen as a repudiation of the heroic ideal itself, of kleos - a realization that the life and death dedicated to glory is a game not worth the candle.

The reply is a long, passionate outburst; he pours out all the resentment stored up so long in his heart. He rejects out of hand this embassy and any other that may be sent; he wants to hear no more speeches. Not for Agamemnon nor for the Achaeans either will he fight again. He is going home, with all his men and ships. As for Agamemnon's gifts, “I loathe his gifts!“

This is a crucial point in the epic. Achilles is a killer, the personification of martial violence, but he eulogizes not war but life - “If I voyage back to the fatherland I love, my pride, my glory dies . . . true, but the life that's left me will be long . . . “  (9.502-4)

Hector & Achilles: The Battle Royale

Notwithstanding Achilles’ reluctance and bold affirmations of life, slowly, inevitably, Homer builds the tension and guides us towards the epic clash everybody is waiting for. But though it might seem as preordained, it is useful to question it closely. The confrontation is crucial and deserves very close scrutiny. We must ask ourselves - What brings on this confrontation?

On first glance, it was fate, but if looked at again, we can see that Homer leaves plenty of room for free-will and human agency - Hector had a choice. But not Achilles - instead, Achilles' choice was exercised by Patroclus.

This calls for a significant re-look at the central conflict of the epic: it might not be Hector Vs Achilles!

Patroclus and Hector instead are the real centerpiece of the epic - Achilles being the irresistible force, that is once unleashed unstoppable. It is a no-contest. Hence, the real contest happens before.

This is because, that unleashing depended entirely on Hector and Patroclus - the two heroes who only went into battle when their side was in dire straits - to defend. Both then got caught up in the rage of battle, and despite the best of advice from their closest advisors, got swept up by it and tried to convert defense into annihilation of enemy - pursuing kleos!

It is worth noting the significant parallels between Hector and Patroclus, while between Hector and Achilles it is the contrasts that stand forth.

Hector, instead of just defending his city, surges forth and decides to burn the Achaean ships. Now, the Achaean ships symbolize the future of the Greek race. They constitute the army’s only means of conveying itself home, whether in triumph or defeat. Even if the Achaean army were to lose the war, the ships could bring back survivors; the ships’ destruction, however, would mean the annihilation—or automatic exile—of every last soldier. Homer implies that the mass death of these leaders and role models would have meant the decimation of a civilization.

Which means that the Achaeans cant escape - in effect, Hector, by trying to burn the ships is in effect calling for a fight to the death!

This decision was taken in the face of very strong omens and very good advice:

In the battle at the trench and rampart in Book Twelve, The Trojans Storm the Rampart, Polydamas sees an eagle flying with a snake, which it drops because the snake keeps attacking it; Polydamas decides this is an omen that the Trojans will lose. He tells Hector they must stop, but Hector lashes out that Zeus told him to charge; he accuses Polydamas of being a coward and warns him against trying to convince others to turn back or holding back himself.

Hector is driven on by his success to overstep the bounds clearly marked out for him by Zeus. He hears Polydamas’ threefold warning (yes, there were two other instances too, not addressed here), yet plots the path to his own death and the ruin of those whom he loves.

Thus, sadly, Hector pays no heed and surges forth. Which is the cue for the other patriot to enter the fray - for Patroclus.

And thus Hector’s own madness (going beyond success in defense) in the face of sound advice brought on a crises for Achaeans to which their prime defender and patriot, Patroclus responded - and then paralleling Hector’s own folly, he too succeeded and then went beyond that to his own death. Thus Patroclus too shows that knows no restraint in victory; his friends too warned him in vain, and he paid for it with his life. By this time Hector had no choice, his fate was already sealed. Achilles was about to be unleashed.

The most important moment in Iliad to me was this ‘prior-moment’ - when Hector lost it - when he lost himself to war fury: Hector’s first act of true savagery - towards Patroclus and his dead-body. “lost in folly, Athena had swept away their senses, “ is how Homer describes Hector and his troops at this point of their triumph.

Achilles, Unchained.

Yet, Homer gives Hector one more chance to spurn honor and save himself and diffuse/stall the mighty spirit of Achilles that had been unleashed on the battlegrounds. In his soliloquy before the Scacan gate, when he expects to die by Achilles' hand, he also has his first moment of insight: he sees that he has been wrong, and significantly enough Polydamas and his warnings come back to his mind. But he decides to hold his ground for fear of ridicule, of all things!

So even as all the other Trojans ran inside the impregnable city walls to shelter, Hector waited outside torn between life and honor (contrast this with Achilles who had chosen life over honor, the lyre over the spear, so effortlessly earlier). Hector instead waits until unnerved, until too late. And then the inevitable death comes.

Thus the Rage was unleashed by two men who tried to do more than defend themselves - they tried to win eternal honor or kleos - the result is the unleashing of the fire called Achilles (his rage) which burns itself and everything around it to the ground. What better invocation of what war means?

I ask again, what better book to read for the centenary year for The World War I?

The Last Book

The last words of The Iliad are : “And so the Trojans buried Hector, breaker of horses.”

Thus, fittingly, Homer starts with the Rage of Achilles and ends with the Death of Hector. This is very poetic and poignant, but it is time for more questions:

Again, why start and end on the eve of battle? Because that is the only space for reflection that war allows. Before the madness of the fury of war or of disaster descends like a miasmic cloud. To use Homer’s own phrase, “war gives little breathing-room”.

Thus, we end the Epic just as we began it - in stalemate, with one crucial difference - both sides’ best men are dead. The two men who could have effected a reconciliation , who had a vision beyond war, are dead.

Homer’s Prophecies

It is made very clear in The Iliad that Achilles will die under Trojan roofs and that Hector will find his doom under the shadow of the Achaean ships - or, both are to die in enemy territory.

Though Iliad leaves us with full focus on Hector’s death and funeral, there is another death that was always presaged but left off from the story - That of Achilles’ own. Why?

Achilles' death is left to the audience to imagine, over and over again, in every context as required. The saga of Hector & Achilles, of the doomed-to-die heroes, leaves one death to the imagination and thus effects a very neat prophetic function.

Once Hector committed his folly, once Patroclus rushed to his death, and once Achilles is unleashed, the rest is fixed fate, there is no stopping it. So Homer begins and ends in truce, but with destruction round the corner - as if the cycle was meant to be repeated again and again, stretching backwards and forwards in time - Troy I, Troy II, … to Troy VI, Troy VII, … where does it end?

Homer knows that the threshold is crossed, the end is nigh - even Troy’s destruction is not required to be part of the epic - with Hector’s death, the death of Ilium is nigh too and so is Achilles’ own death and past the myths, the death of the Greek civilization, and maybe of all civilization?

The epic leaves us with the real doomsday just over the horizon, horribly presaged by it, in true prophetic fashion.

The Pity of War

The pity of war is The Iliad’s dominant theme, but it uses themes such as love, ego, honor, fear and friendship to illuminate the motive forces behind war. In another ancient epic, Gilgamesh, the death of a friend prompts a quest which ends in wisdom and an affirmation of life; in The Iliad, the death of the fabled friend leads to a renunciation of wisdom and a quest for death itself! In Gilgamesh, the hero learns the follies of life and rebuilds civilization; in The Iliad, Achilles comes into the epic already armed with this knowledge and moves towards seeking death, choosing to be the destroyer instead of the creator.

The Iliad is an epic of unlearning. It mocks optimistic pretensions. In The Iliad, the participants learn nothing from their ordeal, all the learning is left to the audience.