The Iliad


Sharon Fleming

Plot Summary

Nine years following the beginning of the Trojan War, Chryse, a town that is allied with Troy, is sacked by the Greek (“Achaean”) army. Two beautiful maidens, Chryseis and Briseis, are captured by the Achaeans during the battle. The leader of the Achaean army, Agamemnon, chooses Chryseis as his prize, while Briseis is claimed by Achilles, the greatest warrior of the Achaean forces. Chryses, Chryseis’ father and a priest of the god Apollo, tries to secure his daughter’s return by offering a large ransom. However, Agamemnon will not return Chryseis. Chryses sends his prayers to Apollo, and the Achaean camp suffers a plague. After the death of numerous Achaeans, Agamemnon consults with Calchas, a prophet, to find out what has caused the plague. Upon learning that the case was Chryseis, he reluctantly agrees to return the girl. However, he then demands that Achilles give him Achilles. Achilles is insulted by this, and in a fury, he goes back to his tent and refuses to take any further part in the war. He wants the vengeance of seeing the Achaeans destroyed. He requests that his mother, Thetis, the sea-nymph, use the services of the king of the gods, Zeus, to help accomplish this. A cease-fire between the Trojans and Achaeans has been declared, but the Trojans breach this treaty and Zeus helps them. Zeus gives his support to the Trojans and Achilles will not fight, and as a result the Achaeans have significant losses. There are several days of severe conflict, including duels between Hector and Ajax and Menelaus and Paris. The Achaeans are not able to make any progress. Diomedes, a great Achaean warrior, acts heroically but even his efforts aren’t effective.  The Achaeans are pushed back by the Trojans, and they are compelled to find refuge behind the protection of ramparts that guard their ships. The Achaeans start to allow themselves to feel some hope for a better future when a disastrous reconnaissance endeavor by Odysseus and Diomedes provides information about the Trojans’ plans. However, there is disaster the next day. Several commanders in the Achaean army are wounded, and the Achaean ramparts are broken through by the Trojans. The Trojans make their way up the Achaean camp’s boundary and set fire to a ship. Defeat appears to be imminent, as without the use of the ships, the army will find itself stranded at Troy. This circumstance would lead to almost certain destruction.

Achilles is worried about his comrades but his pride still stops him from helping them himself. He decides to go along with a plan that Nestor proposes. It will let Patroclus, his beloved friend, replace him in battle, donning his armor. Patroclus is an effective warrior. His taking part on the battlefield assists the Achaeans in deflecting the Trojans from the ships and back in the direction of the walls of the city. However, the counterattack soon runs into difficulty. Patroclus’s army is knocked to the ground by Apollo. Hector slays Patroclus. Both sides of the battle want to take the body and armor, and fighting breaks out. Hector is the one who ends up in possession of the armor; however, as a result of the brave effort by Menelaus and others, the Achaeans are able to return the body to their camp. When the fact that Hector killed Patroclus is discovered by Achilles, he is filled with rage and grief. He agrees to a reconciliation with Agamemnon and again takes part in the battle. Thetis visits Mount Olympus, and he persuades Hephaestus, a god, to forge a new suit of armor for Achilles. She gives this to Achilles the following morning. Achilles subsequently takes a place at the head of the Achaean army, and he rides out to battle.

Hector, meanwhile, has ordered his army to set up camp outside the city of Troy’s walls, not thinking that Achilles will rejoin the battle. However, when the Trojan army sees Achilles, it is terrified and goes back behind the city walls. Achilles cuts down every Trojan he comes across. Made stronger by rage, he even fights Xanthus, the god of the river. Xanthus is angry at Achilles for causing his streams to contain so many corpses. Finally, outside the walls of Troy, Achilles confronts Hector. Hector is ashamed about the fact that he gave his comrades poor advice, and he refuses to go with them to the protection of within the city walls. Achilles pursues him around the periphery of the city three times, but Athena, the goddess, is able to trick hector into fighting Achilles. Achilles defeats and kills Hector in a dramatic fight. He attaches the body to his chariot, dragging it to the Achaean camp. When Achilles arrives, Patroclus’s funeral is observed and their own triumph is celebrated by the Achaeans. They hold a series of athletic games in Patroclus’s honor. For the following nine days, each day sees Achilles dragging Hector’s body around Patroclus’s funeral bier, in circles. Eventually, it is agreed by the gods that Hector should have a proper burial. Zeus sends Hermes, a god, to bring Hector’s father and Troy’s ruler, King Priam, into the camp of the Achaean forces. Distraught, Priam begs Achilles to pity him as a father who has lost his son. He asks for the return of Hector’s body. He encourages Achilles to think of his own father, Peleus. Achilles is emotionally affected, and he finally agrees to hand over Hector’s corpse. A temporary truce is reached by both sides. Hector is given a hero’s funeral.

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