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Nine years after the start of the Trojan War, the Greek (Achaean) army sacks Chryse, a town allied with Troy. During the battle, the Achaeans capture a pair of beautiful maidens, Chryseis and Briseis. Agamemnon, the leader of the Achaean forces, takes Chryseis as his prize, and Achilles, the Achaeans greatest warrior, claims Briseis. Chryseiss father, Chryses, who serves as a priest of the god Apollo, offers an enormous ransom in return for his daughter, but Agamemnon refuses to give Chryseis back. Chryses then prays to Apollo, who sends a plague upon the Achaean camp.
After many Achaeans die, Agamemnon consults the prophet Calchas to determine the cause of the plague. When he learns that Chryseis is the cause, he reluctantly gives her up but then demands Briseis from Achilles as compensation. Furious at this insult, Achilles returns to his tent in the army camp and refuses to fight in the war any longer. He vengefully yearns to see the Achaeans destroyed and asks his mother, the sea-nymph Thetis, to enlist the services of Zeus, king of the gods, toward this end. The Trojan and Achaean sides have declared a cease-fire with each other, but now the Trojans breach the treaty and Zeus comes to their aid.
With Zeus supporting the Trojans and Achilles refusing to fight, the Achaeans suffer great losses. Several days of fierce conflict ensue, including duels between Paris and Menelaus and between Hector and Ajax. The Achaeans make no progress; even the heroism of the great Achaean warrior Diomedes proves fruitless. The Trojans push the Achaeans back, forcing them to take refuge behind the ramparts that protect their ships. The Achaeans begin to nurture some hope for the future when a nighttime reconnaissance mission by Diomedes and Odysseus yields information about the Trojans plans, but the next day brings disaster. Several Achaean commanders become wounded, and the Trojans break through the Achaean ramparts. They advance all the way up to the boundary of the Achaean camp and set fire to one of the ships. Defeat seems imminent, because without the ships, the army will be stranded at Troy and almost certainly destroyed.
Concerned for his comrades but still too proud to help them himself, Achilles agrees to a plan proposed by Nestor that will allow his beloved friend Patroclus to take his place in battle, wearing his armor. Patroclus is a fine warrior, and his presence on the battlefield helps the Achaeans push the Trojans away from the ships and back to the city walls. But the counterattack soon falters. Apollo knocks Patrocluss armor to the ground, and Hector slays him. Fighting then breaks out as both sides try to lay claim to the body and armor. Hector ends up with the armor, but the Achaeans, thanks to a courageous effort by Menelaus and others, manage to bring the body back to their camp. When Achilles discovers that Hector has killed Patroclus, he fills with such grief and rage that he agrees to reconcile with Agamemnon and rejoin the battle. Thetis goes to Mount Olympus and persuades the god Hephaestus to forge Achilles a new suit of armor, which she presents to him the next morning. Achilles then rides out to battle at the head of the Achaean army.
Meanwhile, Hector, not expecting Achilles to rejoin the battle, has ordered his men to camp outside the walls of Troy. But when the Trojan army glimpses Achilles, it flees in terror back behind the city walls. Achilles cuts down every Trojan he sees. Strengthened by his rage, he even fights the god of the river Xanthus, who is angered that Achilles has caused so many corpses to fall into his streams. Finally, Achilles confronts Hector outside the walls of Troy. Ashamed at the poor advice that he gave his comrades, Hector refuses to flee inside the city with them. Achilles chases him around the citys periphery three times, but the goddess Athena finally tricks Hector into turning around and fighting Achilles. In a dramatic duel, Achilles kills Hector. He then lashes the body to the back of his chariot and drags it across the battlefield to the Achaean camp. Upon Achilles arrival, the triumphant Achaeans celebrate Patrocluss funeral with a long series of athletic games in his honor. Each day for the next nine days, Achilles drags Hectors body in circles around Patrocluss funeral bier.
At last, the gods agree that Hector deserves a proper burial. Zeus sends the god Hermes to escort King Priam, Hectors father and the ruler of Troy, into the Achaean camp. Priam tearfully pleads with Achilles to take pity on a father bereft of his son and return Hectors body. He invokes the memory of Achilles own father, Peleus. Deeply moved, Achilles finally relents and returns Hectors corpse to the Trojans. Both sides agree to a temporary truce, and Hector receives a heros funeral.
Achilles - Although Achilles possesses superhuman strength and has a close relationship with the gods, he may strike modern readers as less than heroic. He has all the marks of a great warrior, and indeed proves the mightiest man in the Achaean army, but his deep-seated character flaws constantly impede his ability to act with nobility and integrity. He cannot control his pride or the rage that surges up when that pride is injured. This attribute so poisons him that he abandons his comrades and even prays that the Trojans will slaughter them, all because he has been slighted at the hands of his commander, Agamemnon. Achilles is driven primarily by a thirst for glory. Part of him yearns to live a long, easy life, but he knows that his personal fate forces him to choose between the two. Ultimately, he is willing to sacrifice everything else so that his name will be remembered.
Like most Homeric characters, Achilles does not develop significantly over the course of the epic. Although the death of Patroclus prompts him to seek reconciliation with Agamemnon, it does not alleviate his rage, but instead redirects it toward Hector. The event does not make Achilles a more deliberative or self-reflective character. Bloodlust, wrath, and pride continue to consume him. He mercilessly mauls his opponents, brazenly takes on the river Xanthus, ignobly desecrates the body of Hector, and savagely sacrifices twelve Trojan men at the funeral of Patroclus. He does not relent in this brutality until the final book of the epic, when King Priam, begging for the return of Hectors desecrated corpse, appeals to Achilles memory of his father, Peleus. Yet it remains unclear whether a fathers heartbroken pleas really have transformed Achilles, or whether this scene merely testifies to Achilles capacity for grief and acquaintance with anguish, which were already proven in his intense mourning of Patroclus.
Agamemnon - Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and commander-in-chief of the Achaean army, resembles Achilles in some respects. Though not nearly as strong, he has a similarly hot temper and prideful streak. When Agamemnons insulting demand that Achilles relinquish his war prize, Briseis, causes Achilles to withdraw angrily from battle, the suffering that results for the Greek army owes as much to Agamemnons stubbornness as to that of Achilles. But Agamemnons pride makes him more arrogant than Achilles. While Achilles pride flares up after it is injured, 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 younger brother Menelaus, whose wife, Helen, was stolen by Paris, possesses the real grievance against the Trojans. He never allows the Achaeans to forget his kingly status.
Agamemnon also differs from Achilles in his appreciation of subtlety. Achilles remains fiercely devoted to those who love him but devotedly vicious to those who do him harm; he sees no shades of gray. Agamemnon, however, remains fundamentally concerned with himself, and he has the cunning to manipulate people and situations for his own benefit. He does not trust his troops blindly, but tests their loyalty, as in Book . Although he reconciles with Achilles in Book 1, he shirks personal responsibility with a forked-tongued indictment of Fate, Ruin, and the gods. 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. For this reason, Homers portrait of Agamemnon ultimately proves unkind, and the reader never feels the same sympathy for him as for Achilles.
Hector - Hector is the mightiest warrior in the Trojan army. Although he meets his match in Achilles, he wreaks havoc on the Achaean army during Achilles period of absence. He leads the assault that finally penetrates the Achaean ramparts, he is the first and only Trojan to set fire to an Achaean ship, and he kills Patroclus. Yet his leadership contains discernible flaws, especially toward the end of the epic, when the participation of first Patroclus and then Achilles reinvigorates the Achaean army. He demonstrates a certain cowardice when, twice in Book 17, he flees Great Ajax. Indeed, he recovers his courage only after receiving the insults of his comrades�first Glaucus and then Aeneas. He can often become emotionally carried away as well, treating Patroclus and his other victims with rash cruelty. Later, swept up by a burst of confidence, he foolishly orders the Trojans to camp outside Troys walls the night before Achilles returns to battle, thus causing a crucial downfall the next day.
But although Hector may prove overly impulsive and insufficiently prudent, he does not come across as arrogant or overbearing, as Agamemnon does. Moreover, the fact that Hector fights in his homeland, unlike any of the Achaean commanders, allows Homer to develop him as a tender, family-oriented man. Hector shows deep, sincere love for his wife and children. Indeed, he even treats his brother Paris with forgiveness and indulgence, despite the mans lack of spirit and preference for lovemaking over military duty. Hector never turns violent with him, merely aiming frustrated words at his cowardly brother. Moreover, although Hector loves his family, he never loses sight of his responsibility to Troy. Admittedly, he runs from Achilles at first and briefly entertains the delusional hope of negotiating his way out of a duel. However, in the end he stands up to the mighty warrior, even when he realizes that the gods have abandoned him. His refusal to flee even in the face of vastly superior forces makes him the most tragic figure in the poem.
The Glory of War - One can make a strong argument that the Iliad seems to celebrate war. Characters emerge as worthy or despicable based on their degree of competence and bravery in battle. Paris, for example, doesnt like to fight, and correspondingly receives the scorn of both his family and his lover. Achilles, on the other hand, wins eternal glory by explicitly rejecting the option of a long, comfortable, uneventful life at home. The text itself seems to support this means of judging character and extends it even to the gods. The epic holds up warlike deities such as Athena for the readers admiration while it makes fun of gods who run from aggression, using the timidity of Aphrodite and Artemis to create a scene of comic relief. To fight is to prove ones honor and integrity, while to avoid warfare is to demonstrate laziness, ignoble fear, or misaligned priorities.
To be sure, the Iliad doesnt ignore the realities of war. Men die gruesome deaths; women become slaves and concubines, estranged from their tearful fathers and mothers; a plague breaks out in the Achaean camp and decimates the army. In the face of these horrors, even the mightiest warriors occasionally experience fear, and the poet tells us that both armies regret that the war ever began. Though Achilles points out that all men, whether brave or cowardly, meet the same death in the end, the poem never asks the reader to question the legitimacy of the ongoing struggle. Homer never implies that the fight constitutes a waste of time or human life. Rather, he portrays each side as having a justifiable reason to fight and depicts warfare as a respectable and even glorious manner of settling the dispute.
Military Glory over Family Life - A theme in the Iliad closely related to the glory of war is the predominance of military glory over family. The text clearly admires the reciprocal bonds of deference and obligation that bind Homeric families together, but it respects much more highly the pursuit of kleos, the glory or renown that one wins in the eyes of others by performing great deeds. Homer constantly forces his characters to choose between their loved ones and the quest for kleos, and the most heroic characters invariably choose the latter. Andromache pleads with Hector not to risk orphaning his son, but Hector knows that fighting among the front ranks represents the only means of winning my father great glory. Paris, on the other hand, chooses to spend time with Helen rather than fight in the war; accordingly, both the text and the other characters treat him with derision. Achilles debates returning home to live in ease with his aging father, but he remains at Troy to win glory by killing Hector and avenging Patroclus. The gravity of the decisions that Hector and Achilles make is emphasized by the fact that each knows his fate ahead of time. The characters prize so highly the martial values of honor, noble bravery, and glory that they willingly sacrifice the chance to live a long life with those they love.
The Impermanence of Human Life and its Creations - Although the Iliad chronicles a very brief period in a very long war, it remains acutely conscious of the specific ends awaiting each of the people involved. Troy is destined to fall, as Hector explains to his wife in Book 6. The text announces that Priam and all of his children will die�Hector dies even before the close of the poem. Achilles will meet an early end as well, although not within the pages of the Iliad. Homer constantly alludes to this event, especially toward the end of the epic, making clear that even the greatest of men cannot escape death. Indeed, he suggests that the very greatest�the noblest and bravest�may yield to death sooner than others.
Similarly, the Iliad recognizes, and repeatedly reminds its readers, that the creations of mortals have a mortality of their own. The glory of men does not live on in their constructions, institutions, or cities. The prophecy of Calchas, as well as Hectors tender words with Andromache and the debates of the gods, constantly remind the reader that Troys lofty ramparts will fall. But the Greek fortifications will not last much longer. Though the Greeks erect their bulwarks only partway into the epic, Apollo and Poseidon plan their destruction as early as Book 1. The poem thus emphasizes the ephemeral nature of human beings and their world, suggesting that mortals should try to live their lives as honorably as possible, so that they will be remembered well. For if mortals physical bodies and material creations cannot survive them, perhaps their words and deeds can. Certainly the existence of Homers poem would attest to this notion.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the texts major themes.
Armor - One would naturally expect a martial epic to depict men in arms, but armor in the Iliad emerges as something more than merely a protective cover for a soldiers body. In fact, Homer often portrays a heros armor as having an aura of its own, separate from its wearer. In one of the epics more tender scenes, Hector removes his helmet to keep its horsehair crest from frightening his son Astyanax. When Patroclus wears Achilles armor to scare the Trojans and drive them from the ships, Apollo and Hector quickly see through the disguise. Then, when a fight breaks out over Patrocluss fallen body, the armor goes one way and the corpse another. Hector dons the armor, but it ends up betraying him, as it were, in favor of its former owner. Achilles knowledge of its vulnerabilities makes it easier for him to run Hector through with his sword. By this point in the story, Achilles has a new set of armor, fashioned by the god Hephaestus, which also seems to have a life of its own. While Achilles mortal body can be wounded�and indeed, the poem reminds us of Achilles impending death on many occasions�Homer describes the divine armor as virtually impervious to assault.
Burial - While martial epics naturally touch upon the subject of burial, the Iliad lingers over it. The burial of Hector is given particular attention, as it marks the melting of Achilles crucial rage. The mighty Trojan receives a spectacular funeral that comes only after an equally spectacular fight over his corpse. Patrocluss burial also receives much attention in the text, as Homer devotes an entire book to the funeral and games in the warriors honor. The poem also describes burials unconnected to particular characters, such as in Book 7, when both armies undertake a large-scale burial of their largely unnamed dead. The Iliads interest in burial partly reflects the interests of ancient Greek culture as a whole, which stressed proper burial as a requirement for the souls peaceful rest. However, it also reflects the grim outlook of the Iliad, its interest in the relentlessness of fate and the impermanence of human life.
Fire - Fire emerges as a recurrent image in the Iliad, often associated with internal passions such as fury or rage, but also with their external manifestations. Homer describes Achilles as blazing in Book 1 and compares the sparkle of his freshly donned armor to the sun. Moreover, the poem often compares a heros charge or an onslaught of troops to a conflagration sweeping through a field. But fire doesnt appear just allegorically or metaphorically; it appears materially as well. The Trojans light fires in Book 8 to watch the Achaean army and to prevent it from slipping away by night. They constantly threaten the Achaean ships with fire and indeed succeed in torching one of them. Thus, whether present literally or metaphorically, the frequency with which fire appears in the Iliad indicates the poems overarching concern with instances of profound power and destruction.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The Achaean Ships - The Achaean ships symbolize the future of the Greek race. They constitute the armys 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 some men shirked the war and stayed in Greece, while others, such as Peleus, were too old to fight. However, to Homers original audience, the Achaean warriors at Troy represented more than a mere subpopulation of the Greek race. Homers contemporaries believed that the heroes represented here actually lived historically, as real kings who ruled the various city-states of Greece in their earliest years. Ancient audiences regarded them as playing definitive roles in the formation and development of Greece as they knew it. The mass death of these leaders and role models would have meant the decimation of a civilization.
The Shield of Achilles - The Iliad is an extremely compressed narrative. Although it treats many of the themes of human experience, it does so within the scope of a few days out of a ten-year war. The shield constitutes only a tiny part in this martial saga, a single piece of armor on a single man in one of the armies�yet it provides perspective on the entire war. Depicting normal life in peacetime, it symbolizes the world beyond the battlefield, and implies that war constitutes only one aspect of existence. Life as a whole, the shield reminds us, includes feasts and dances and marketplaces and crops being harvested. Human beings may serve not only as warriors but also as artisans and laborers in the fields. Not only do they work, they also play, as the shield depicts with its dancing children. Interestingly, although Homer glorifies war and the life of the warrior throughout most of his epic, his depiction of everyday life as it appears on the shield comes across as equally noble, perhaps preferable.
(Read Book 1)
Rage�Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses.…
The poet invokes a muse to aid him in telling the story of the rage of Achilles, the greatest Greek hero to fight in the Trojan War. The narrative begins nine years after the start of the war, as 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. Chryseiss father, a man named Chryses who serves as a priest of the god Apollo, begs Agamemnon to return his daughter and offers to pay an enormous ransom. When Agamemnon refuses, 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 an 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 that he will return Chryseis only if Achilles gives him Briseis as compensation.
Agamemnons 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 Phthia. Agamemnon threatens to go to Achilles tent in the armys camp and take Briseis himself. Achilles stands poised to draw his sword and kill the Achaean commander when the goddess Athena, sent by Hera, the queen of the gods, appears to him and checks his anger. Athenas guidance, along with a speech by the wise advisor Nestor, finally succeeds in preventing the duel.
That night, Agamemnon puts Chryseis on a ship back to her father and sends heralds to have Briseis escorted from Achilles tent. Achilles prays to his mother, the sea-nymph Thetis, to ask Zeus, king of the gods, 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 favor�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 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, favors 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 conflict over the mortals.
Like other ancient epic poems, the Iliad presents its subject clearly from the outset. Indeed, the poem names its 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. Although the Trojan War as a whole figures prominently in the work, this larger conflict ultimately provides the text with background rather than subject matter. By the time Achilles and Agamemnon enter their quarrel, the Trojan War has been going on for nearly ten years. Achilles absence from battle, on the other hand, lasts only a matter of days, and the epic ends soon after his return. The poem describes neither the origins nor the end of the war that frames Achilles wrath. Instead, it scrutinizes the origins and the end of this wrath, thus narrowing the scope of the poem from a larger conflict between warring peoples to a smaller one between warring individuals.
But while the poem focuses most centrally on the rage of a mortal, it also concerns itself greatly with the motivations and actions of the gods. Even before Homer describes the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon, he explains that Apollo was responsible for the conflict. In general, the gods in the poem participate in mortal affairs in two ways. First, they act as external forces upon the course of events, as when Apollo sends the plague upon the Achaean army. Second, they represent internal forces acting on individuals, as when Athena, the goddess of wisdom, prevents Achilles from abandoning all reason and persuades him to cut Agamemnon with words and insults rather than his sword. But while the gods serve a serious function in partially determining grave matters of peace and violence, life and death, they also serve one final function�that of comic relief. Their intrigues, double-dealings, and inane squabbles often appear humorously petty in comparison with the wholesale slaughter that pervades the mortal realm. The bickering between Zeus and Hera, for example, provides a much lighter parallel to the heated exchange between Agamemnon and Achilles.
Indeed, in their submission to base appetites and shallow grudges, the gods of the Iliad often seem more prone to human folly than the human characters themselves. Zeus promises to help the Trojans not out of any profound moral consideration but rather because he owes Thetis a favor. Similarly, his hesitation in making this promise stems not from some worthy desire to let fate play itself out but from his fear of annoying his wife. When Hera does indeed become annoyed, Zeus is able to silence her only by threatening to strangle her. Such instances of partisanship, hurt feelings, and domestic strife, common among the gods of the Iliad, portray the gods and goddesses as less invincible and imperturbable than we might imagine them to be. We expect these sorts of excessive sensitivities and occasionally dysfunctional relationships of the human characters but not the divine ones.
The clash between Achilles and Agamemnon highlights one of the most dominant aspects of the ancient Greek value system the vital importance of personal honor. Both Agamemnon and Achilles prioritize their respective individual glories over the well-being of the Achaean forces. Agamemnon believes that, as chief of the Achaean forces, he deserves the highest available prize�Briseis�and is thus willing to antagonize Achilles, the most crucial Achaean warrior, to secure what he believes is properly owed to him. Achilles would rather defend his claim to Briseis, his personal spoil of victory and thus what he believes is properly owed to him, than defuse the situation. Each man considers deferring to the other a humiliation rather than an act of honor or duty; each thus puts his own interest ahead of that of his people, jeopardizing the war effort.
(Read 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 if he launches a full-scale assault on the citys 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. To his dismay, they eagerly run to their ships.
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 interpreted the sign to mean that nine years would pass before the Achaeans would finally take Troy. As Odysseus reminds them, they vowed at that time that they 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 catalog of the army. After invoking the muses to aid his memory, he details the cities that have contributed troops to the Greek cause, the number of troops that each has 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 Priams son Hector. The poet then catalogs the Trojan forces.
By the end of Book , Homer has introduced all of the Iliads major characters on the Greek side�his catalog of the Trojan troops at the end of Book leads naturally into an introduction of the Trojan leadership in Book . The poem has already established the characters of Agamemnon, proud and headstrong, and Achilles, mighty but temperamental, whose quarrel dominates the epic. Now the poet provides description of two supporting actors, Odysseus and Nestor. Though both of these figures appear in Book 1, the armys flight to its ships in Book motivates their first important speeches and thus establishes a crucial component of their role in the epic they are the wise, foresighted advisors whose shrewdness and clarity of mind will keep the Achaeans on their course. Furthermore, in successfully restoring the troops morale, Odysseus and Nestor confirm their reputation as the Achaeans most talented rhetoricians.
In addition to prompting the speeches of Odysseus and Nestor, the Achaeans flight to the ships serves three other important purposes in the narrative. First, it shows just how dire the Greek situation has become even the armys foremost leader, Agamemnon, has failed to recognize the low morale of the troops; he is wholly blindsided by his mens willingness to give up the war. The eagerness with which the troops flee back to the harbor not only testifies to the suffering that they must have already endured but also bodes ill for their future efforts, which will prove much harder given the soldiers homesickness and lack of motivation. But second, and on the other hand, by pointing out the intensity of the Greeks suffering, the episode emphasizes the glory of the Greeks eventual victory. Homers audience knew well that the war between the Greeks and Trojans ended in Troys defeat. This episode indicates just how close the Greek army came to abandoning the effort entirely and returning to Greece in disgrace. That the troops prove able to rise from the depths of despair to the heights of military triumph conveys the immensity of the Greek achievement.
Third, the flight to the ships indirectly results in the famous catalog of the Achaean forces. Nestors advice that the troops be arranged by city ensures that the soldiers will be motivated by fighting side by side with their closest friends, they will have an emotional investment in the armys success, and their leaders will more easily be able to identify them as either cowardly or courageous. While the catalog of forces may seem rather tedious to modern readers�though it does build tension by setting up an all-out conflict�it would have greatly inspired Homeric audiences. Even the effort seemingly necessary to recount the catalog is epic and grandiose. The poet seems to invoke all nine Muses as he proclaims, The mass of troops I could never tally … / not even if I had ten tongues and ten mouths (.577�578). The sack of Troy was a Panhellenic effort, and even the smallest cities played a part. Each Greek who heard the tale could take pride in hearing the name of his city and its ancient, mythic leaders mentioned as participants in this heroic achievement. By calling these men to mind, Homer doesnt bore his audience but rather stirs them, evoking their honorable heritage.
(Read Book · Book 4)
The Trojan army marches from the city gates and advances to meet the Achaeans. Paris, the Trojan prince who precipitated the war by stealing the beautiful Helen from her husband, Menelaus, challenges the Achaeans to single combat with any of their warriors. When Menelaus steps forward, however, Paris loses heart and shrinks back into the Trojan ranks. Hector, Pariss brother and the leader of the Trojan forces, chastises Paris for his cowardice. Stung by Hectors insult, Paris finally agrees to a duel with Menelaus, declaring that the contest will establish peace between Trojans and Achaeans by deciding once and for all which man shall have Helen as his wife. Hector presents the terms to Menelaus, who accepts. Both armies look forward to ending the war at last.
As Paris and Menelaus prepare for combat, the goddess Iris, disguised as Hectors sister Laodice, visits Helen in Priams palace. Iris urges Helen to go to the city gates and witness the battle about to be fought over her. Helen finds the citys elders, including Priam, gathered there. Priam asks Helen about the strapping young Achaeans he sees, and she identifies Agamemnon, Ajax, and Odysseus. Priam marvels at their strength and splendor but eventually leaves the scene, unable to bear watching Paris fight to the death.
Paris and Menelaus arm themselves and begin their duel. Neither is able to fell the other with his spear. Menelaus breaks his sword over Pariss helmet. He then grabs Paris by the helmet and begins dragging him through the dirt, but Aphrodite, an ally of the Trojans, snaps the strap of the helmet so that it breaks off in Menelauss hands. Frustrated, Menelaus retrieves his spear and is about to drive it home into Paris when Aphrodite whisks Paris away to his room in Priams palace. She summons Helen there too. Helen, after upbraiding Paris for his cowardice, lies down in bed with him. Back on the battlefield, both the Trojans and the Greeks search for Paris, who seems to have magically disappeared. Agamemnon insists that Menelaus has won the duel, and he demands Helen back.
Meanwhile, the gods engage in their own duels. Zeus argues that Menelaus has lost the duel and that the war should end as the mortals had agreed. But Hera, who has invested much in the Achaean cause, wants nothing less than the complete destruction of Troy. In the end, Zeus gives way and sends Athena to the battlefield to rekindle the fighting. Disguised as a Trojan soldier, Athena convinces the archer Pandarus to take aim at Menelaus. Pandarus fires, but Athena, who wants merely to give the Achaeans a pretext for fighting, deflects the arrow so that it only wounds Menelaus.
Agamemnon now rallies the Achaean ranks. He meets Nestor, Odysseus, and Diomedes, among others, and spurs them on by challenging their pride or recounting the great deeds of their fathers. Battle breaks out, and the blood flows freely. None of the major characters is killed or wounded, but Odysseus and Great Ajax kill a number of minor Trojan figures. The gods also become involved, with Athena helping the Achaeans and Apollo helping the Trojans. The efforts toward a truce have failed utterly.
While the first two books introduce the commanders of the Achaean forces, the next two introduce the Trojan forces. Priam, Hector, Paris, and Helen of Troy (formerly, of course, queen of Sparta) all make their first appearances in Book , and their personalities begin to emerge. In particular, Pariss glibness throws him into stark contrast with Hector and many of the Achaean leaders whom the audience has already encountered. While the sight of Menelaus causes Paris to flee, Hector, much more devoted to the ideal of heroic honor, criticizes him for the disgrace that he has brought upon not only himself but also the entire Trojan army. Pariss fight with Menelaus proves embarrassing, and he must be rescued�not by any particularly fierce deity but rather by Aphrodite, the goddess of love (she is even referred to, in Book 5, as the coward goddess [5.71]). Though Paris sulkily blames his misfortune in the fight on the gods whom he claims aided Menelaus, Homer himself makes no mention of these gods, and the suffering that Menelaus undergoes in the fight suggests that he had no divine help. But perhaps most outrageous is Pariss retreat to his marriage bed. While the rest of the Trojan army is forced to fight for the woman whom he stole from the Achaeans, he sleeps with her. This affront to the heroic code of conduct disgusts even the Trojan rank and file, who, we read, hated [Paris] like death (.5).
The other Trojan characters emerge much more sympathetically, and the poem presents its first mortal female character, Helen, in a warm light. Although Helen ran away with Paris and thus bears some of the responsibility for the deaths of so many of her countrymen, unlike Paris, she doesnt take her role in the carnage lightly. Her labeling of herself a hateful creature and her admission that she wishes that she had died the day Paris brought her to Troy demonstrate her shame and self-loathing (.467). Her remorseful reflections upon the homeland that she left behind as she surveys the Achaean ranks arrayed beneath the walls of Troy further reveal her regret and sense of having done wrong. The scene becomes particularly poignant when she wonders whether her brothers Castor and Polydeuces, whom she cannot find in the crowd, might possibly have refused to join the Greek expedition and fight for such an accursed sister. Tragically, she doesnt realize, as Homer points out, that their absence signifies not their anger but their death in battle.
The Iliad presents no clear villains. Though the story is told from the Greek perspective, it doesnt demonize the Trojans. In fact, in wars that occurred before the start of the poem, such as the struggle against the Amazons that Priam mentions, the Trojans allied with the Achaeans. Both armies suffer in the current violence, and both feel relieved to hear that the duel between Menelaus and Paris may end it. When the two sides consecrate their truce with a sacrifice, soldiers in both armies pray that, should the cease-fire be broken, the guilty side be butchered and its women raped�whichever side that may be. When the cease-fire does fail and open conflict between the two armies erupts for the first time in the epic, the carnage consumes both sides with equally horrific intensity. Furthermore, the text doesnt unequivocally imply the Trojans guilt in the breach�Pandarus shoots at Menelaus only under Athenas persuasion. Indeed, the gods seem to be the only ones who take pleasure in the conflict, and the mortals, like toy soldiers, provide Hera and Athena an easy way to settle their disagreement with Zeus.
Ah what chilling blows
we suffer�thanks to our own conflicting wills�
whenever we show these mortal men some kindness.
As the battle rages, Pandarus wounds the Achaean hero Diomedes. Diomedes prays to Athena for revenge, and the goddess endows him with superhuman strength and the extraordinary power to discern gods on the field of battle. She warns him, however, not to challenge any of them except Aphrodite. Diomedes fights like a man possessed, slaughtering all Trojans he meets. The overconfident Pandarus meets a gruesome death at the end of Diomedes spear, and Aeneas, the noble Trojan hero immortalized in Virgils Aeneid, likewise receives a wounding at the hands of the divinely assisted Diomedes. When Aeneass mother, Aphrodite, comes to his aid, Diomedes wounds her too, cutting her wrist and sending her back to Mount Olympus. Aphrodites mother, Dione, heals her, and Zeus warns Aphrodite not to try her hand at warfare again. When Apollo goes to tend to Aeneas in Aphrodites stead, Diomedes attacks him as well. This act of aggression breaches Diomedes agreement with Athena, who had limited him to challenging Aphrodite alone among the gods. Apollo, issuing a stern warning to Diomedes, effortlessly pushes him aside and whisks Aeneas off of the field. Aiming to enflame the passions of Aeneass comrades, he leaves a replica of Aeneass body on the ground. He also rouses Ares, god of war, to fight on the Trojan side.
With the help of the gods, the Trojans begin to take the upper hand in battle. Hector and Ares prove too much for the Achaeans; the sight of a hero and god battling side by side frightens even Diomedes. The Trojan Sarpedon kills the Achaean Tlepolemus. Odysseus responds by slaughtering entire lines of Trojans, but Hector cuts down still more Greeks. Finally, Hera and Athena appeal to Zeus, who gives them permission to intervene on the Achaeans behalf. Hera rallies the rest of the Achaean troops, while Athena encourages Diomedes. She withdraws her earlier injunction not to attack any of the gods except Aphrodite and even jumps in the chariot with him to challenge Ares. The divinely driven chariot charges Ares, and, in the seismic collision that follows, Diomedes wounds Ares. Ares immediately flies to Mount Olympus and complains to Zeus, but Zeus counters that Ares deserved his injury. Athena and Hera also depart the scene of the battle.
With the gods absent, the Achaean forces again overwhelm the Trojans, who draw back toward the city. Menelaus considers accepting a ransom in return for the life of Adrestus, a Trojan he has subdued, but Agamemnon persuades him to kill the man outright. Nestor senses the Trojans weakening and urges the Achaeans not to bother stripping their fallen enemies of their weapons but to focus instead on killing as many as possible while they still have the upper hand. The Trojans anticipate downfall, and the soothsayer Helenus urges Hector to return to Troy to ask his mother, Queen Hecuba, along with her noblewomen, to pray for mercy at the temple of Athena. Hector follows Helenuss advice and gives his mother and the other women their instructions. He then visits his brother Paris, who has withdrawn from battle, claiming he is too grief-stricken to participate. Hector and Helen heap scorn on him for not fighting, and at last he arms himself and returns to battle. Hector also prepares to return but first visits his wife, Andromache, whom he finds nursing their son Astyanax by the walls of the city. As she cradles the child, she anxiously watches the struggle in the plain below. Andromache begs Hector not to go back, but he insists that he cannot escape his fate, whatever it may be. He kisses Astyanax, who, although initially frightened by the crest on Hectors helmet, greets his father happily. Hector then departs. Andromache, convinced that he will soon die, begins to mourn his death. Hector meets Paris on his way out of the city, and the brothers prepare to rejoin the battle.
The battle narratives in Books 5 and 6 (and the very end of Book 4) constitute the epics first descriptions of warfare, and, within the war as a whole, the first battles in which the sulking Achilles has not fought. Diomedes attempts to make up for the great warriors absence; the soothsayer Helenus declares, in reference to Diomedes, that [h]e is the strongest Argive now (6.115). The Achaeans still feel the consequences of their mightiest soldiers prideful refusal to fight, however, and remain on the defensive for much of Book 5. Even with divine help, Diomedes cannot quite provide the force that Achilles did. As Hera rightly observes, As long as brilliant Achilles stalked the front / no Trojan would ever venture beyond the Dardan [Trojan] Gates (5.07�08). As potent as the rage that Achilles feels toward Agamemnon is his ability to intimidate the Trojans.
Homer communicates the scope and intensity of the battle with long descriptive passages of mass slaughter, yet he intersperses these descriptions with intimate characterization, thereby personalizing the violence. Homer often fleshes out the characters being killed by telling stories about their backgrounds or upbringings. He uses this technique, for instance, when, after Aeneas fells Orsilochus and Crethon midway through Book 5, he recounts the story of how these twins joined up with the Achaean ranks. Furthermore, Homer often alternates between depictions of Trojan and Achaean deaths, sometimes rendering the victor of the first exchange the victim of the next. In this way, he injects a sense of rhythm into what would otherwise be a numbing litany of mass destruction.
The battle narratives also give Homer the chance to comment on the similarities and differences between the mortals and the gods. For while the mortals engage in their armed warfare, the gods engage in their own squabbles. Invariably, the latter conflicts appear less serious, more frivolous, and almost petty. Although the disagreements between the gods sometimes result in further violence among the mortals, as when Athena persuades Pandarus to defy the cease-fire, in Book 4, the gods loyalties and motivations ultimately emerge as less profound than those of the humans. The gods base their support for one side or the other not on principle but on which heroes they happen to favor. They scheme or make pacts to help one another but often fail to honor these pacts. Ares, for example, though having vowed to support the Achaeans, fights alongside the Trojans throughout Books 5 and 6. Furthermore, when the tide of war doesnt flow in the direction that the gods desire, they whine to Zeus. In contrast with the glorious tragedy of the human conflict, the conflict between the gods has the feel of a dysfunctional family feud.
Perhaps Homer means to comment on the importance of living nobly and bravely with such fickle gods controlling human fate, one cannot predict how or when death will come; one can only work to make life meaningful in its own right. Hector explains this notion to his wife, Andromache, in their famous encounter, illustrating his perception of what the central issue of the battle is�kleos, or glory. He knows that his fate is inescapable, but, like all Homeric heroes, he feels compelled to live his life in search of this individual glory.
This encounter also serves to humanize the great warrior Hector the audience can relate to him as he races, fearing defeat, to his wife and breaks into a grin at the sight of his beloved infant son. Homer achieves such great pathos not only with the words of Hector and Andromache but also with setting and effective detailing. By placing their meeting above the Scaean Gates�the grand entrance to the city, where many confrontations have already occurred�Homer elevates Hector and Andromaches love to the level of the rage that pervades the epic. Homers use of detail proves similarly crucial to the scenes poignancy. As Andromache nurses baby Astyanax, the audience is reminded of the way in which war separates families and deprives the innocent. When Hector hastily removes his crested helmet upon seeing how it frightens Astyanax, we realize that this great warrior, who has just affirmed his glorious aspirations and his iron will to fight, also possesses a tender side. The scene at once relieves the tension heightened by the descriptions of battle and emphasizes these battles tragic gravity.
(Read Book 7 · Book 8)
With the return of Hector and Paris the battle escalates, but Apollo and Athena soon decide to end the battle for the day. They plan a duel to stop the present bout of fighting Hector approaches the Achaean line and offers himself to anyone who will fight him. Only Menelaus has the courage to step forward, but Agamemnon talks him out of it, knowing full well that Menelaus is no match for Hector. Nestor, too old to fight Hector himself, passionately exhorts his comrades to respond to the challenge. Nine Achaeans finally step forward. A lottery is held, and Great Ajax wins.
Hector and Ajax begin their duel by tossing spears, but neither proves successful. They then use their lances, and Ajax draws Hectors blood. The two are about to clash with swords when heralds, spurred by Zeus, call off the fight on account of nightfall. The two heroes exchange gifts and end their duel with a pact of friendship.
That night, Nestor gives a speech urging the Achaeans to ask for a day to bury their dead. He also advises them to build fortifications around their camp. Meanwhile, in the Trojan camp, King Priam makes a similar proposal regarding the Trojan dead. In addition, his son Antenor asks Paris to give up Helen and thereby end the war. Paris refuses but offers to return all of the loot that he took with her from Sparta. But when the Trojans present this offer to the Achaeans the next day, the Achaeans sense the Trojans desperation and reject the compromise. Both sides agree, however, to observe a day of respite to bury their respective dead. Zeus and Poseidon watch the Achaeans as they build their fortifications, planning to tear them down as soon as the men leave.
After prohibiting the other gods from interfering in the course of the war, Zeus travels to Mount Ida, overlooking the Trojan plain. There he weighs the fates of Troy and Achaea in his scale, and the Achaean side sinks down. With a shower of lightning upon the Achaean army, Zeus turns the tide of battle in the Trojans favor, and the Greeks retreat in terror. Riding the Trojans surge in power, Hector seeks out Nestor, who stands stranded in the middle of the battlefield. Diomedes scoops Nestor into his chariot just in time, and Hector pursues the two of them, intent on driving them all the way to the Greek fortifications, where he plans to set fire to their ships. Hera, seeing the Achaean army collapsing, inspires Agamemnon to rouse his troops. He stirs up their pride, begs them to have heart, and prays for relief from Zeus, who finally sends a sign�an eagle carrying a fawn in its talons. The divine symbol inspires the Achaeans to fight back.
As the Achaeans struggle to regain their power, the archer Teucer fells many Trojans. But Hector finally wounds him, reversing the tide of battle yet again. Hector drives the Greeks behind their fortifications, all the way to their ships. Athena and Hera, unable to bear any further suffering on the part of their favored Greeks, prepare to enter the fray, but Zeus sends the goddess Iris to warn them of the consequences of interfering. Knowing that they cannot compete with Zeus, Athena and Hera relent and return to Mount Olympus. When Zeus returns, he tells them that the next morning will provide their last chance to save the Achaeans. He notes that only Achilles can prevent the Greeks destruction.
That night, the Trojans, confident in their dominance, camp outside their citys walls, and Hector orders his men to light hundreds of campfires so that the Greeks cannot escape unobserved. Nightfall has saved the Greeks for now, but Hector plans to finish them off the next day.
The Achaeans success so far despite Achilles absence, along with Pariss cowardice and Hectors hopeless despair in Book 6, have seemed to spell doom for the Trojans. Yet, by the end of Book 8, we recall the Achaeans bravado with great irony. Hector has nearly seized their ambitious fortifications, and the Trojans appear more determined than ever. The mutual exasperation with the war that motivates the cease-fire of Books and 4 has now disappeared. No longer wanting to end the war, the Trojans desire to win it; that they camp right beside the Achaeans demonstrates their hunger for battle. The severity of the Achaeans impending loss becomes all too clear in Hectors determination to burn their ships. In a sense, the ships symbolize the future of all Achaea, for although some Achaeans stayed behind in Greece, very few of the lands fathers and sons remain at home. Moreover, the men who have come to Troy constitute the best of the Achaeans, as the poem continually calls them. Should the Trojans burn their ships, the strongest, noblest men and rulers of the Achaean race would either die in flames or remain stranded on foreign shores.
The catastrophic reversal of the Achaeans fortune not only adds drama and suspense to the poem but also marks a development in the gods feuding and aids the progression of the overall plot. Although the gods have involved themselves extensively in the war already, Zeuss entrance into the conflict brings great changes. Whereas he earlier frowns upon the infighting of the other gods but remains aloof himself, he now forbids his fellow Olympians from interfering and plunges headlong into the struggle. The decline of the Achaeans marks not only a change in the gods behavior but also a more important change in the poems human dynamics the Achaeans eventual collapse motivates their appeal to Achilles in Book , which serves to bring the epics crucial figure to the center of the action. Zeuss statement to Hera that only Achilles can save the Achaeans foreshadows the texts impending focus on the prideful hero. Until now, the reader has witnessed the consequences of Achilles rage; Book 8 sets the scene for an explosion of his rage onto the battlefield.
Books 7 and 8 give the reader a glimpse of some of the tenets of Greek ritual and belief, which, since Greek culture dominated the ancient Mediterranean world, the Trojan warriors uphold as well. The encounter between Hector and Ajax in Book 7, which ends with them exchanging arms and thereby sealing an unsettled conflict with a pact of friendship, demonstrates the value placed on respect and individual dignity. We see that Greek culture places great significance on both enmity and friendship�on both the taking of lives and the giving of gifts�and that each has its proper place. The characters and the text itself seem to see the proper balancing of these opposites as a manifestation of an individuals worthiness.
Another aspect of the ancient Greek value system emerges in the agreement both sides make to pause their fighting to bury their respective dead. To the Greeks, piety demanded giving the dead, especially those who had died so gloriously, a proper burial, though proper burial could mean a number of things here the mourners burn the corpses on a pyre; elsewhere they actually bury them. According to ancient Greek belief, only souls whose bodies had been properly disposed of could enter the underworld. To leave a soul unburied, or, worse, to leave it as carrion for wild animals, indicated not only disrespect for the dead individual but, perhaps even worse, disregard for established religious traditions.
(Read Book · Book 10)
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy,
my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.
With the Trojans poised to drive the Achaeans back to their ships, the Achaean troops sit brokenhearted in their camp. Standing before them, Agamemnon weeps and declares the war a failure. He proposes returning to Greece in disgrace. Diomedes rises and insists that he will stay and fight even if everyone else leaves. He buoys the soldiers by reminding them that Troy is fated to fall. Nestor urges perseverance as well, and suggests reconciliation with Achilles. Seeing the wisdom of this idea, Agamemnon decides to offer Achilles a great stockpile of gifts on the condition that he return to the Achaean lines. The king selects some of the Achaeans best men, including Odysseus, Great Ajax, and Phoenix, to communicate the proposal to Achilles.
The embassy finds Achilles playing the lyre in his tent with his dear friend Patroclus. Odysseus presents Agamemnons offer, but Achilles rejects it directly. He announces that he intends to return to his homeland of Phthia, where he can live a long, prosaic life instead of the short, glorious one that he is fated to live if he stays. Achilles offers to take Phoenix, who helped rear him in Phthia, with him, but Phoenix launches into his own lengthy, emotional plea for Achilles to stay. He uses the ancient story of Meleager, another warrior who, in an episode of rage, refused to fight, to illustrate the importance of responding to the pleas of helpless friends. But Achilles stands firm, still feeling the sting of Agamemnons insult. The embassy returns unsuccessful, and the army again sinks into despair.
The Greek commanders sleep well that night, with the exception of Agamemnon and Menelaus. Eventually, they rise and wake the others. They convene on open ground, on the Trojan side of their fortifications, to plan their next move. Nestor suggests sending a spy to infiltrate the Trojan ranks, and Diomedes quickly volunteers for the role. He asks for support, and Odysseus steps forward. The two men arm themselves and set off for the Trojan camp. A heron sent by Athena calls out on their right-hand side, and they pray to Athena for protection.
Meanwhile, the Trojans devise their own acts of reconnaissance. Hector wants to know if the Achaeans plan an escape. He selects Dolon, an unattractive but lightning-quick man, to serve as his scout, and promises to reward him with Achilles chariot and horses once the Achaeans fall. Dolon sets out and soon encounters Diomedes and Odysseus. The two men interrogate Dolon, and he, hoping to save his life, tells them the positions of the Trojans and all of their allies. He reveals to them that the Thracians, newly arrived, are especially vulnerable to attack. Diomedes then kills Dolon and strips him of his armor.
The two Achaean spies proceed to the Thracian camp, where they kill twelve soldiers and their king, Rhesus. They also steal Rhesuss chariot and horses. Athena warns them that some angry god may wake the other soldiers; Diomedes and Odysseus thus ride Rhesuss chariot back to the Achaean camp. Nestor and the other Greeks, worried that their comrades had been killed, greet them warmly.
Although the episodes in Books and 10 take place during the same night, providing a break from the fighting, little continuity exists between them. The mission to Achilles tent occurs early in the evening, while the mission across the Trojan line occurs quite late�during the third watch, according to Odysseus, or around A.M. The only seeming connection between the two books is the Greeks desperateness, accentuated by Achilles obstinacy, which troubles the commanders sleep and makes them so ready to meet. Despite this lack of continuity, some symmetry nevertheless exists between the two halves of the night. In each case, a meeting of the Achaean command yields a proposal by Nestor to send an expeditionary force to provide the Achaeans with fresh information. Odysseus goes on both expeditions. The mission to Achilles tent ends in failure, while the mission toward Troy brings success.
Whereas Achilles stews with rage, unwilling to consider the possibility that he might be overreacting to Agamemnons insulting actions, Agamemnon displays a levelheaded approach to the Achaean dilemma in heeding Nestors recommendation to reconcile himself with Achilles. Mad, blind I was! / Not even I deny it, he exclaims, acknowledging his fault in the rift (.18�1). Yet, despite his seeming eagerness to repair his friendship with Achilles, Agamemnon never issues anything resembling an apology. Though he admits to having been lost in my own inhuman rage, he seeks to buy back Achilles loyalty rather than work with him to achieve some mutual understanding of their relationship (.14). Achilles isnt really seeking an apology, nor does he want simple recompense in the form of wondrous gifts. He wants restitution for the outrage that he has suffered restoration of the honor and glory for which he has worked so hard and given so much.
While Agamemnons bountiful offer of sumptuous gifts to Achilles may seem a superficial gesture, it is important to remember that the ancients conceived of material possessions, whether won in battle or awarded by kings, as indicators of personal honor. Nevertheless, though Agamemnon is generous in his offerings, which he believes will honor [Achilles] like a god, he still essentially calls for Achilles to accept that his status is lower than Agamemnons (.185). Let him bow down to me! I am the greater king, he cries out, illustrating that Agamemnon, though perhaps more pragmatic, is just as self-centered as Achilles (.1).
The embassy to Achilles constitutes one of the most touching scenes in the Iliad. Homer achieves his effect largely through an exchange of narratives, which illuminate Achilles upbringing and hint at his ultimate fate beyond the scope of the epic. Ostensibly, each side presents these stories to persuade the other side, but Homer uses them to humanize Achilles, to give us a glimpse of his past and future. Although Achilles pride and rage define the thematic concerns of the epic, they also result in Achilles absence from most of the action of the poem. Accordingly, Homer has little opportunity to delineate the heros character. The embassy scene reveals the pressures that Achilles faced in Phthia and highlights the dilemma that he faces now, thus illuminating his inner struggles and thereby making him a richer character.
(Read Book 15 · Book 16)
Zeus wakes and sees the havoc that Hera and Poseidon have wreaked while he dozed in his enchanted sleep. Hera tries to blame Poseidon, but Zeus comforts her by making clear that he has no personal interest in a Trojan victory over the Achaeans. He tells her that he will again come to their aid, but that Troy is still fated to fall and that Hector will die after he kills Patroclus. He then asks Hera to summon Iris and Apollo. Iris goes to order Poseidon to leave the battlefield, which Poseidon reluctantly agrees to do, while Apollo seeks out Hector and fills him and his comrades with fresh strength. Hector leads a charge against the Achaeans, and while their leaders initially hold their ground, they retreat in terror when Apollo himself enters the battle. Apollo covers over the trench in front of the Greek fortifications, allowing the Trojans to beat down the ramparts once again.
The armies fight all the way to the ships and very nearly into the Greek camp. At the base of the ships, furious hand-to-hand fighting breaks out. Great Ajax and Hector again tangle. The archer Teucer fells several Trojans, but Zeus snaps his bowstring when he takes aim at Hector. Ajax encourages his troops from the decks of the ships, but Hector rallies the Trojans, and inch by inch the Trojans advance until Hector is close enough to touch a ship.
Meanwhile, Patroclus goes to Achilles tent and begs to be allowed to wear Achilles armor if Achilles still refuses to rejoin the battle himself. Achilles declines to fight but agrees to the exchange of armor, with the understanding that Patroclus will fight only long enough to save the ships. As Patroclus arms himself, the first ship goes up in flames. Achilles sends his Myrmidon soldiers, who have not been fighting during their commanders absence, out to accompany Patroclus. He then prays to Zeus that Patroclus may return with both himself and the ships unharmed. The poet reveals, however, that Zeus will grant only one of these prayers.
With the appearance of Patroclus in Achilles armor the battle quickly turns, and the Trojans retreat from the Achaean ships. At first, the line holds together, but when Hector retreats, the rest of the Trojans become trapped in the trenches. Patroclus now slaughters every Trojan he encounters. Zeus considers saving his son Sarpedon, but Hera persuades him that the other gods would either look down upon him for it or try to save their own mortal offspring in turn. Zeus resigns himself to Sarpedons mortality. Patroclus soon spears Sarpedon, and both sides fight over his armor. Hector returns briefly to the front in an attempt to retrieve the armor.
Zeus decides to kill Patroclus for slaying Sarpedon, but first he lets him rout the Trojans. Zeus then imbues Hector with a temporary cowardice, and Hector leads the retreat. Patroclus, disobeying Achilles, pursues the Trojans all the way to the gates of Troy. Homer explains that the city might have fallen at this moment had Apollo not intervened and driven Patroclus back from the gates. Apollo persuades Hector to charge Patroclus, but Patroclus kills Cebriones, the driver of Hectors chariot. Trojans and Achaeans fight for Cebriones armor. Amid the chaos, Apollo sneaks up behind Patroclus and wounds him, and Hector easily finishes him off. Hector taunts the fallen man, but with his dying words Patroclus foretells Hectors own death.
Book 15 marks the beginning of the end for Hector and the Trojans, who have reached the height of their power and now face a downhill slope. From this vantage point, the end is in sight, and, correspondingly, Zeus now outlines the rest of the Iliad and beyond, predicting even the eventual fall of Troy, which occurs after the end of the poem. Zeuss speech makes it clear to the reader that a predestined conclusion awaits the Achaeans and Trojans; he is thus able to summarize the story even before the events occur.
This sense of predestination points to an important difference between ancient and modern fiction. Much of modern fiction creates a sense of dramatic tension by keeping the reader wondering how a story will end. Often a storys ending depends upon the individual characters and the choices that they make according to their respective personalities. In contrast, ancient narratives often base themselves on mythological tradition, and ancient audiences would have listened to a given story already aware of its outcome. Tension in this scenario arises not from the question of how a characters mind-set will affect the storys events but rather from the question of how the storys events will affect a characters mindset. For example, the poem creates a sense of drama and poignancy in its portrayal of Hector, who continues to fight valiantly for Troy even though he knows in his heart�as he tells Andromache in Book 6�that he is doomed to die and Troy doomed to fall. Similarly, Achilles eventually rejoins the battle despite his knowledge that the glory of fighting will cost him his life. The drama comes not from waiting to see how the story ends but from waiting to see how the characters respond to an end already foreseen.
Some of the details of the Iliads plot do depend on individual characters choices, however. Achilles faces the dilemma of whether to enter the battle and save his comrades or stew in his angry self-pity and let them suffer. These inner struggles of an individual character create not only a sense of drama but often a sense of irony as well. In Book 1, Achilles asks Zeus, via Thetis, to punish the Achaeans for Agamemnons insolence in demanding the maiden Briseis. Now, as Zeus continues to oblige, helping the Trojans, Achilles loses his beloved comrade Patroclus. In another twist of irony, the death of Patroclus later motivates Achilles to rejoin the Achaean army and lead it against Troy, the very cause that he had forsworn before the beginning of the Iliad.
Some commentators detect a change in the characterization of Hector in this part of the epic. Earlier the undisputed champion of the Trojan army who criticizes Paris for retreating, Hector is twice shown fleeing battle after Patrocluss entrance. The Trojan Glaucus shames him into returning the first time, and Hectors uncle shames him into returning the second time (though Homer does point out that Zeus has made Hector cowardly). Additionally, Hectors prediction that he will kill Achilles is empty boasting. Indeed, he can hardly even lay claim to having killed Patroclus, as both Apollo and another Trojan wound Patroclus before Hector can lay a hand on him.
(Read Book 17 · Book 18)
There is nothing alive more agonized than man
of all that breathe and crawl across the earth.
A fight breaks out over Patrocluss body. Euphorbus, the Trojan who first speared him, tries to strip him of Achilles armor but is killed by Menelaus. Hector, spurred on by Apollo, sees Euphorbuss fall and comes to help. Menelaus enlists the help of Great Ajax, who forces Hector to back down and prevents the body from being removed or desecrated. He arrives too late to save the armor, however, which Hector dons himself. Glaucus rebukes Hector for leaving Patrocluss body behind and suggests that they might have traded it for Sarpedons. Hector reenters the fray, promising to give half of the wars spoils to any Trojan who drags Patrocluss corpse away.
Aware of Hectors impending doom and perhaps pitying it, Zeus temporarily gives Hector great power. Ajax and Menelaus summon more Achaeans to help them, and they soon force the Trojans, including mighty Hector, to run for the citys walls. Aeneas, invigorated by Apollo, rallies the fleeing men to return to the fight, but after much effort they remain unable to take the corpse. Achilles charioteer, Automedon, becomes involved in the fighting as Zeus imbues his team with fresh strength. Hector tries to kill Automedon so that he can steal the chariot, but Automedon dodges Hectors spear and brings a Trojan down in the process. He strips the Trojan of his armor, claiming that in doing so he eases the grief of Patrocluss spirit, though this present victim could hardly compare to the great Patroclus.
Athena, disguised as Phoenix, gives fresh strength to Menelaus, while Apollo, himself disguised as a Trojan, lends encouragement to Hector. Menelaus sends Antilochus for help from Achilles, who still doesnt know of Patrocluss death. Zeus begins moving the battle in the Trojans favor but relents long enough for Menelaus and Meriones to carry away Patrocluss body.
When Antilochus brings word to Achilles of Patrocluss death, Achilles loses control of himself. He weeps and beats the ground with his fists and covers his face with dirt. He utters a terrible, wrenching cry so profound that Thetis hears him and comes with her water-nymph sisters from the ocean to learn what troubles her son (18.). Achilles tells her of the tragedy and insists that he shall avenge himself on Hector, despite his knowledge that, should he choose to live the life of a warrior, he is fated to die young. Thetis responds that since Hector now wears Achilles armor, she will have the divine metalsmith Hephaestus make him a new set, if Achilles will delay exacting his revenge for one day.
Thetis departs, and Iris, sent by Hera, comes to tell Achilles that he must go outside and make an appearance on the battlefield. This appearance alone will scare the Trojans into abandoning the fight for Patrocluss body. Achilles leaves his tent, accompanied by Athena, and lets loose an enormous cry that does indeed send the Trojans fleeing.
That night, each army holds an assembly to plan its next move. In the Trojan camp, Polydamas urges his comrades to retreat to the city now that Achilles has decided to return to battle. Hector dismisses the idea as cowardly and insists on repeating the previous days assault. His foolhardy plan wins the support of the Trojans, for Athena has robbed them of their wits. Meanwhile, in the Achaean camp, the men begin their mourning for Patroclus. Achilles has men clean Patrocluss wounds to prepare him for burial, though he vows not to bury him until he has slain Hector. Thetis goes to Hephaestuss mansion and begs him to make Achilles a new set of armor. Hephaestus forges a breastplate, a helmet, and an extraordinary shield embossed with the images of constellations, pastures, dancing children, and cities of men.
In Book 18, night falls for the first time since Book 10; this sunless interlude plays a key role in the pacing, pitch, and drama of the poem, providing a lull in which both the characters and the reader can prepare for the intensity to come. This break from battle also serves to emphasize the significance of Achilles desire to exact revenge upon Hector; the actions that he soon takes mark his first entry into battle and, simultaneously, the first lessening of his self-pity and pride. By having night fall upon the scene, Homer sets off the imminent episode of Achilles attempt at revenge from the preceding slaughter. Indeed, Achilles entry into battle constitutes a metaphoric new dawn for the Achaeans.
The two assemblies held that night contrast sharply with each other, creating a sense of great irony. The Achaeans, still pinned behind their fortifications, mourn a dead comrade and dwell on their woes; yet the next day brings their fatal blow to the Trojan army. Buoyed by the days success, the Trojans plan a second assault on the Achaean camp, though it is they, not the Achaeans, who will enter into mourning within the next twenty-four hours. The doomed plans popularity among the Trojans is even more ironic given the availability of Polydamass wise alternative to retreat into the city. Homer frequently uses the sensible Polydamas as a foil (a character whose emotions or attitudes contrast with and thereby accentuate those of another character) for the headstrong Hector. This technique proves quite effective in this scene. Hectors blindness emerges not only in the formulation of his own foolhardy plan but also in his dismissal of a clearly superior option.
Like the nighttime interlude, the forging of Achilles new armor helps set a tone of dramatic expectation in the poem. The magnificence of the armors beauty seems to bespeak its equally magnificent strength. The language describing the shield proves especially compelling and constitutes an example of the literary device ekphrasis.Ekphrasis, a Greek word literally meaning description, refers to the description of visual art in poetic terms. This device effectively allows Homer to filter an artistic subject through two layers of imaginative rendering. In the case of Achilles shield, the use of ekphrasis allows Homer to portray poetically not only the images appearing on the metal but also the effect of those images. For example, figures embossed on a shield cannot really move, of course, but Homer portrays them as dancing spiritedly. By doubling up two artistic media�artistic etching and poetry�Homer endows the described images with an enhanced dynamism and aesthetic force. The ekphrasis here also serves to create a sense of contrast in the poem. The Iliad is a highly compact narrative, compressing the turning points of a ten-year conflict into a few days of battle. Yet the shield passage expands this setting to a timeless universe. At this moment, the poet stands back from the details of physical violence and personal vendettas to contemplate the beauty of the larger cosmos in which they take place.
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Thetis presents Achilles with the armor that Hephaestus has forged for him. She promises to look after Patrocluss body and keep it from rotting while Achilles goes to battle. Achilles walks along the shore, calling his men to an assembly. At the meeting, Agamemnon and Achilles reconcile with each other, and Agamemnon gives Achilles the gifts that he promised him should Achilles ever return to battle. He also returns Briseis.
Achilles announces his intention to go to war at once. Odysseus persuades him to let the army eat first, but Achilles himself refuses to eat until he has slain Hector. All through breakfast, he sits mourning his dear friend Patroclus and reminiscing. Even Briseis mourns, for Patroclus had treated her kindly when she was first led away from her homeland. Zeus finds the scene emotionally moving and sends Athena down to fill Achilles stomach with nectar and ambrosia, keeping his hunger at bay. Achilles then dons his armor and mounts his chariot. As he does so, he chastises his horses, Roan Beauty and Charger, for leaving Patroclus on the battlefield to die. Roan Beauty replies that it was not he but a god who let Patroclus die and that the same is fated for Achilles. But Achilles needs no reminders of his fate; he knows his fate already, and knows that by entering battle for his friend he seals his destiny.
While the Achaeans and Trojans prepare for battle, Zeus summons the gods to Mount Olympus. He knows that if Achilles enters the battlefield unchecked, he will decimate the Trojans and maybe even bring the city down before its fated time. Accordingly, he thus removes his previous injunction against divine interference in the battle, and the gods stream down to earth. But the gods soon decide to watch the fighting rather than involve themselves in it, and they take their seats on opposite hills overlooking the battlefield, interested to see how their mortal teams will fare on their own.
Before he resigns himself to a passive role, however, Apollo encourages Aeneas to challenge Achilles. The two heroes meet on the battlefield and exchange insults. Achilles is about to stab Aeneas fatally when Poseidon, in a burst of sympathy for the Trojan�and much to the chagrin of the other, pro-Greek gods�whisks Aeneas away. Hector then approaches, but Apollo persuades him not to strike up a duel in front of the ranks but rather to wait with the other soldiers until Achilles comes to him. Hector initially obeys, but when he sees Achilles so smoothly slaughtering the Trojans, among them one of Hectors brothers, he again challenges Achilles. The fight goes poorly for Hector, and Apollo is forced to save him a second time.
Although Achilles has reconciled with Agamemnon, his other actions in Books 1 and 0 indicate that he has made little progress as a character. He still demonstrates a tendency toward the thoughtless rage that has brought so many Achaeans to their deaths. He remains so intent on vengeance, for example, that he initially intends for the men to go into battle without food, which could prove suicidal in a form of warfare that involves such great expenditures of physical energy. Similarly, on the battlefield Achilles demonstrates an obsessive concern with victory�to the exclusion of all other considerations. He cuts down the Trojan Tros even though Tros supplicates him and begs to be saved; it is apparent that Achilles has done little soul-searching. Although he reconciles himself with the Achaean forces, this gesture doesnt alleviate his rage but rather refocuses it. He now lashes out at the Trojans, expressing his anger through action rather than through pointed refusals to act. Burning with passion, Achilles rejects all appeals to cool-headed reflection; the text compares him to an inhuman fire and, when he dons his shining armor, likens him to the sun (0.554). This imagery recalls his portrayal in Book 1 as blazing Achilles (1.4).
Indeed, Achilles internal dilemma as a character remains largely the same as in the beginning of the epic. Achilles has known throughout that his fate is either to live a short, glorious life at Troy or a long, obscure life back in Phthia. Now, as before, he must choose between them. Although he still feels torn between the two options, the shock of Patrocluss death has shifted the balance in favor of remaining at Troy. There is little reason to believe that Achilles would have made him up his mind without such a powerful catalyst for his decision.
These books of the poem concern themselves not only with the motivations and consequences of characters actions but also with the forces at work outside direct human agency. In particular, Agamemnon speaks of the powers of Zeus and Fate, blaming them for his stubbornness in the quarrel with Achilles. He notes that many have held him responsible for the destruction that his insult to Achilles has caused, but he insists that his earlier savage madness was driven into his heart by force (1.10). He also cites the force of Ruin, a translation of the Greek word Ate, which refers to delusion and madness as well as to the disaster that such mental states can bring about (1.106). But Agamemnon and other characters throughout the epic describe Ruin not as a mortal phenomenon but as something external to human psychology; ruin is described as a sentient being in and of itself. In Book , for example, Peleus describes Ruin as a woman, strong and swift, coursing over the earth wreaking havoc (.614). Here, Agamemnon refers to Ruin as Zeuss daughter, gliding over the earth with delicate feet, entangling men one by one, and even proving capable of entangling Zeus himself.
Another force repeatedly invoked here and throughout the Iliad is Fate. Despite the constant references to it, however, we never attain a clear sense of Fates properties. The first few lines of the poem suggest that the will of Zeus overpowers all, yet at times Zeus himself seems beholden to Fate. In Book 15, for example, he agrees to cease his aid to the Trojans because he knows that Troy is fated to fall. At other times, Zeus and Fate appear to work cooperatively, as in Book 0, when Zeus rallies the gods to stop Achilles from sacking Troy before its fated time. But one wonders to what extent this Fate is really fate at all, if Achilles can so easily preempt it. Other questions arise in Poseidons discussion of Fate, for he justifies saving Aeneas from Achilles on the grounds that Aeneas is fated to live. This reasoning is paradoxical, for if Aeneas is fated to live, he should not need rescuing.
Ultimately, the Iliad doesnt present a clear hierarchy of the cosmic powers; we are left uncertain as to whether the gods control Fate or are forced to follow its dictates. The external forces of Fate, Ruin, and the gods remain as obscure as the inner workings of the human psyche. Thus, while the poet and his characters may attribute certain events to a personified Fate or Fury, such ascriptions do little to explain the events. Indeed, they achieve quite the opposite effect, indicating the mysterious nature of the universe and the human actions within it. To invoke Ruin or the gods is to suggest not only that certain aspects of our world lie beyond human control but also that many phenomena lie beyond human understanding as well.
(Read Book 1 · Book )
Achilles routs the Trojans and splits their ranks, pursuing half of them into the river known to the gods as Xanthus and to the mortals as Scamander. On the riverbank, Achilles mercilessly slaughters Lycaon, a son of Priam. The Trojan Asteropaeus, given fresh strength by the god of the river, makes a valiant stand, but Achilles kills him as well. The vengeful Achilles has no intention of sparing any Trojans now that they have killed Patroclus. He throws so many corpses into the river that its channels become clogged. The river god rises up and protests, and Achilles agrees to stop throwing people into the water but not to stop killing them. The river, sympathetic to the Trojans, calls for help from Apollo, but when Achilles hears the rivers plea, he attacks the river. The river gets the upper hand and drags Achilles all the way downstream to a floodplain. He very nearly kills Achilles, but the gods intervene. Hephaestus, sent by Hera, sets the plain on fire and boils the river until he relents.
A great commotion now breaks out among the gods as they watch and argue over the human warfare. Athena defeats Ares and Aphrodite. Poseidon challenges Apollo, but Apollo refuses to fight over mere mortals. His sister Artemis taunts him and tries to encourage him to fight, but Hera overhears her and pounces on her.
Meanwhile, Priam sees the human carnage on the battlefield and opens the gates of Troy to his fleeing troops. Achilles pursues them and very nearly takes the city, but the Trojan prince Agenor challenges him to single combat. Achilles fight with Agenor�and with Apollo disguised as Agenor after Agenor himself has been whisked to safety�allows the Trojans enough time to scurry back to Troy.
Hector now stands as the only Trojan left outside Troy. Priam, overlooking the battlefield from the Trojan ramparts, begs him to come inside, but Hector, having given the overconfident order for the Trojans to camp outside their gates the night before, now feels too ashamed to join them in their retreat. When Achilles finally returns from chasing Apollo (disguised as Agenor), Hector confronts him. At first, the mighty Trojan considers trying to negotiate with Achilles, but he soon realizes the hopelessness of his cause and flees. He runs around the city three times, with Achilles at his heels. Zeus considers saving Hector, but Athena persuades him that the mortals time has come. Zeus places Hectors and Achilles respective fates on a golden scale, and, indeed, Hectors sinks to the ground.
During Hectors fourth circle around the city walls, Athena appears before him, disguised as his ally Deiphobus, and convinces him that together they can take Achilles. Hector stops running and turns to face his opponent. He and Achilles exchange spear throws, but neither scores a hit. Hector turns to Deiphobus to ask him for a lance; when he finds his friend gone, he realizes that the gods have betrayed him. In a desperate bid for glory, he charges Achilles. However, he still wears Achilles old armor�stolen from Patrocluss dead body�and Achilles knows the armors weak points intimately. With a perfectly timed thrust he puts his spear through Hectors throat. Near death, Hector pleads with Achilles to return his body to the Trojans for burial, but Achilles resolves to let the dogs and scavenger birds maul the Trojan hero.
The other Achaeans gather round and exultantly stab Hectors corpse. Achilles ties Hectors body to the back of his chariot and drags it through the dirt. Meanwhile, up above on the citys walls, King Priam and Queen Hecuba witness the devastation of their sons body and wail with grief. Andromache hears them from her chamber and runs outside. When she sees her husbands corpse being dragged through the dirt, she too collapses and weeps.
In this section of the epic, the feuds of the gods continue to echo the battles of the mortals. As the human battles become ever more grave, however, the divine conflicts in these episodes seem ever more superfluous. In their internal fighting, the gods do not affect or even try to affect the underlying issues of the human conflict. Two of them explicitly swear off fighting over the mortals, though one of these, Hera, ends up doing just that. It seems that the gods are not actually fighting over the mortals but rather expressing the animosities that the mortal conflict has stirred in them. Although the struggle among the gods may remain unexplained within the plot of the epic, it adds variety to the poems rhythm and pacing, and elevates the conflict onto the epic, cosmos-consuming stage.
But these more lighthearted or colorful episodes soon give way to one of the poems most deadly serious encounters, the duel between Hector and Achilles. Homer uses several devices, including prophecy and irony, to build a heavy sense of pathos. Priams speech comparing the glorious death of a hero with the humiliating death of an old man in a fallen city comes across as particularly heartbreaking if we know, as Homers audience did, that Priam himself will soon meet the very death that he describes, amid the ruins of Troy. When Andromache bewails the miserable life that Astyanax will have to endure without a father, a sharp sense of irony enhances the tragic effect of her words Astyanax will suffer this fatherless life only briefly, as he dies shortly after the fall of Troy.
This section of the poem reveals a particularly skillful control of plot. Events interweave with one another in elaborate patterns. The weighing of Hectors and Achilles fates, for example, recalls but inverts the first weighing of fates in Book 8, when the Trojan armys fate rises above that of the Achaeans. Hector must fight to the death in these episodes in order to redeem the honor that he loses earlier; after he recklessly orders his troops to camp outside the city walls, the men have to flee, causing Hector great shame. Furthermore, Hectors earlier moment of glory, when he strips Patroclus of Achilles armor, speeds the moment of his undoing, for Achilles knows exactly where that armor is vulnerable. Such interconnections between events seem to indicate that the universe has a cyclical or balanced nature one swing of the pendulum leads to another, and an individuals actions come back to haunt him.
The final duel between Achilles and Hector becomes not only a duel of heroes but also of heroic values. While Achilles proves superior to Hector in terms of strength and endurance, he emerges as inferior in terms of integrity. His mistreatment of Hectors body is a disgrace, compounded by the cruelty in which he allows the rank and file of his army to indulge. As we have seen, Achilles engages in such indignities quite routinely and does so not out of any real principle but out of uncontrollable rage. Hector, on the other hand, entirely redeems whatever flaws he displays in the preceding books. His refusal to return to the safety of Troys walls after witnessing the deaths brought about by his foolish orders to camp outside the city demonstrates his mature willingness to suffer the consequences of his actions. His rejection of a desperate attempt at negotiation in favor of the honorable course of battle reveals his ingrained sense of personal dignity. His attempt to secure from Achilles a mutual guarantee that the winner treat the losers corpse with respect highlights his decency. Finally, his last stab at glory by charging Achilles even after he learns that the gods have abandoned him and that his death is imminent makes his heroism and courage obvious. While Hector dies in this scene, the values that he represents�nobility, self-restraint, and respect�arguably survive him. Indeed, Achilles later comes around to an appreciation of these very values after realizing the faults of his earlier brutality and self-centered rage.
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