The Iliad Book 1 Summary

The Iliad Book 1 Summary



Author’s life and works :[The Iliad Book 1 Summary]

On the backdrop of the great Trojan War between the city of Troy and the coalition of Greek states Iliad depicts the prolonged quarrel between King Agamemnon and the invincible warrior Achilles and the authorship of this text is traditionally attributed to Homer. As an essential epic Iliad successfully encompasses a vast span of events, Greek legends and philosophical insight in a story that covers only a few weeks of time. Yet, however, there are evidences that also deny Homers’ being the author of Iliad and proclaim that the stories of Iliad and Odyssey had already been there as oral epics in the ancient Greece and Asia Minor from time unrecorded and from an anonymous poetic tradition. It might just happen that Homer had first attempted to present a written version of the same. Since oral literature cannot be transmitted in verbatim for ages unless it is written and thus given a final shape, the credential of mere writing it down also bears a great value. And in this respect Homer is undoubtedly the traditional legendary author of Iliad.


In ancient Greek chronology, the sack of Troy was dated to 1184 BC. By the nineteenth century, there was widespread scholarly skepticism that the Trojan War had ever happened and that Troy had even existed, but in 1873 Heinrich Schliemann announced to the world that he had discovered the ruins of Homer’s Troy at Hissarlik in modern Turkey. Some contemporary scholars think the destruction of Troy VIIa circa 1220 BC was the origin of the myth of the Trojan War. There is also doubt regarding the actual time and place of Homer. The popularly accepted notion about him is that he was a wandering bard, a very learned one though. Born in Ionia in around 750BCE he was the son of Epikaste and Telemachus and was a blind poet as is guessed by inclusion of such character in his texts. Although he is supposed to have written many other poems, most notably the Homeric Hymns, the same uncertainty about authorship exists. It is assumed that much of the poet’s works have been lost to time.


The narrative begins nine years after the start of the Trojan war. The poet invokes the Muse to aid him telling  the story of the rage of Achilles, the greatest Greek hero in the ten -year war. The Achaeans sack a Trojan-allied town and capture two beautiful maidens – Chryseis and Briseis. Agamemnon, Commander-in-chief of the Achaean army, takes Chryseis as his prize. Achilles one of the Achaeans’ most valuable warriors, claims Briseis. Chryseis’s father Chryses, a priest of the god Apollo, begs Agamemnon who refuses , to return her daughter Chryses prays to Apollo for help.

Apollo sends a plague upon the Greek camp, causing the death of many soldiers. After ten days of suffering, Achilles calls in the assembly of the Achaean army and asks for a soothsayer to reveal the cause of the plague. Calchas, a powerful seer, stands up and offers his services. Though he fears retribution from Agamemnon, Calchas reveals the plague as a vengeful and strategic move by Chryses and Apollo. Agamemnon flies into a rage and says he will return Chryseis only if Achilles gives him Briseis as compensation. Agamemnon’s demand humiliates and infuriates the proud Achilles. The men argue and Achilles threatens to withdraw from battle and take his people, the Myrmidons, back home to Phtia. Agamemnon threatens to go to Achilles’s tent in the army’s camp and take Briseis himself. Achilles stands poised to draw his sword and kill the Achaean commander when the Goddess Athena, sent by Athena’s guidance, along with a speech by the wise advisor Nestor, finally succeeds in preventing the duel.

That night Agememnon puts Chryseis on a ship back to her father and sends heralds to have Briseis escorted from Achilles’s tent. Achilles prays to his mother, the sea nymph Thetis, to ask Zeus to punish the Achaeans. He relates to her the tale of his quarrel with Agamemnon, and she promises to take the matter up with Zeus – who owes her a favour as soon as he returns from a thirteen-day period of feasting with the Aethiopians. 

Meanwhile, the Achaean commander Odysseus is navigating the ship that Chryseis has boarded. When he lands, he returns the maiden and makes sacrifices to Apollo. Chryses, overjoyed to see his daughter, prays to the god to lift the plague from the Achaean camp. Apollo acknowledges his prayer, and Odysseus returns to his comrades. But at the end of the plague on the Achaeans only marks the beginning of worse suffering. Ever since his quarrel with Agamemnon, Achilles has refused to participate in battle, and, after twelve days, Thetis makes her appeal to Zeus, as promised. Zeus is reluctant to help the Trojans, for his wife Hera favours the Greeks, but he finally agrees. Hera becomes livid when she discovers that Zeus is helping the Trojans, but her son Hephaestus persuades her not to plunge the gods into conflicts over the mortals.

In the second book, to help the Trojans, as promised, Zeus sends a false dream to Agamemnon in which a figure in the form of Nestor persuades Agamemnon that he can take Troy it, he launches a full-scale assault on the city’s walls. The next day, Agamemnon gathers his troops for attack but to test their courage, he lies and tells them that he has decided to give up the war and return to Greece. When Hera sees the Achaeans fleeing, she alerts Athena, who inspires Odysseus, the most eloquent of the Achaeans, to call the men back. He shouts words of encouragement and insult to goad their pride and restore their confidence. He reminds them of the prophecy that the soothsayer Calchas gave when the Achaeans were first mustering their soldiers back in Greece: a water snake had slithered to shore and devoured a nest of nine sparrows and Calchas prophesised that it will take Greeks nine years to register victory over the Trojans. As Odysseus reminds them, they vowed at that time that would not abandon their struggle until the city fell.

Nestor now encourages Agamemnon to arrange his troops by city and clan so that they can fight side by side with their friends and kin. The poet takes this opportunity to enter into a catalogue of the army. After invoking the Muses to aid his memory, he details the cities that have contributed, and who leads each contingent. At the end of the list, the poet singles out the bravest of the Achaeans, Achilles and Ajax among them. When Zeus sends a messenger to the Trojan court, telling them of the Greeks’ awesome formation, the Trojans muster their own troops under the command of Priam’s son Hector. The poet then catalogues the Trojan forces.


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