Book 1 Background

The Iliad opens in the tenth year of the Trojan War. The cause of the war was the seduction and abduction of Helen, the wife of Menelaus King of Sparta, by the trojan Paris, the son of Priam King of Troy. Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon raised an army from all over Greece and then sailed to Troy with the purpose of recovering Helen and punishing the Trojans for Paris' crime. 

1 of 9

Book 1 Summary

When the Greeks had won a victory, Agamemnon (leader of the greek army) took as his prize the young lady Chryseis, the daugther of Chryses, a priest of Apollo. When the priest asked for her return in exchange for a ransom, Agamemnon refused and insulted the old man. 

Here Agamemnon is acting:

·         Stubborn

·         Selfish

·         Unwise

·         Blasphemous 

2 of 9

Book 1 Summary

The other Greeks disagreed with Agamemnon and shouted their approval for what Chryses asked. 

  • Here Homer highlights Agamemnon's bad decision by contrasting it with the other Greeks feelings
  • The priest had supplicated and offered a ransom - he even wished the Greeks victory!
  • Agamemnon doesnt want to lose his honour (Kleos) and glory (Time)
3 of 9

Book 1 Summary

The priest of Apollo asked his God to help him gain revenge. Apollo sends a plague which kills the Greek animals and some men. For days people die until finally Achilles summons a council. 

  • Hera is credited for giving Achilles the idea

Achilles suggests they consult a prophet for guidance and so Calchas the greatest Greek prophet stands, but announces he is scared to speak.

Achilles agrees to defend Calchas

  • Homer does this delibaretly to set up a clash between the two greatest Greeks. 
4 of 9

Book 1 Summary

Calchas accuses Agamemnon for the Gods anger and so Agamemnon responds with a tirade of abuse and threatens - IN A GENERAL MANNER - to take someone elses prize to compensate for his loss. 

Achilles has already offered Agamemnon great rewards if he sees sense now, but for Agamemnon this is not enough as he will be without a prize for a period of time. 

  • The Heroic code stops Agamemnon from accepting Achilles advice. He is motivated by materials and glory. He wishes to show all warriors he is the most powerful by demanding a prize.
5 of 9

Book 1 Summary

However it is clear Achilles is already annoyed at Agamemnon.

  • This is shown through his support for Calchas in the first place.

He is aware his fate is to die young and is unhappy at his perception that he is not given enough rewards for his efforts. He lists his complaints to Agamemnon and highlights his anger started before his prize (Brisies) was taken from him.

6 of 9

Book 1 Summary

Achilles takes Agamemnons words to heart (that he will take someone else's prize) and assumes he will take Briseis. 

He is prepared to kill Agamemnon and is only restrained by Athene. The goddess only appears to Achilles and is sent by Hera.

Achilles stops himself from harming Agamemnon and instead retires from battle. Here he deviates from the Heroic code as he stops his opportunity to gain further glory.

7 of 9

Book 1 Summary

Achilles' prize Briseis is taken to Agamemnon by two Hearlds.

  • He is either too much of a coward to get her himself or doesnt want to enflame the situation more.

Chryseis is returned by Odysseus and Chryseus asks Apollo to end the plague. The God agrees and the plague ends. Everyone is happy except Achilles.

8 of 9

Book 1 Summary

Achilles appeals to Thetis for help. Thetis asks Zeus to aid her son by making the Greeks lose while Achilles is withdrawn. Zeus agrees and promises to aid Achilles. Zeus however is afraid his wife Hera, will be upset by his actions and so agrees with a nod of the head.

  • Zeus is changing the course of the war and is bound by fate which is dangerous.

Hera is always opposed to the Trojans as a result of Paris' judgement when he chose Aphrodite over Hera and Athena. Hera complains to Zeus about his actions and he responds by threatening her.

The Gods then retitre to bed.

9 of 9


No comments have yet been made

Similar Classical Civilization resources:

See all Classical Civilization resources »See all Homer's Iliad resources »