The Iliad


Plot of the Iliad

- All three poems, the Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid are related to the story of Troy

- It is the tenth and final year of the war, the Trojan priest of Apollo offers ransom for the return of his daughter Chryses, who is Agamemnon's captive

- Agamemnon insults him and the god Apollo sends a plague on the Achaian army. The Achaian chiefs meet, Agamemnon agrees to return the girl after discovering from a seer the reason for Apollo's anger

- However Agamemnon is angered by Achilles speech and because he is the best of the Achaian warriors, and feels a threat to his authority he seizes Achilles' own captive woman in exchange for Chryseis release, Briseis

- Achilles withdraws from battle and appeals to his mother for help, Thetis. We learn his life is destined to be short and she asks/supplicates Zeus to give the Trojans the upper hand in battle, so that the Achaians will have to make terms with Achilles

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Plot of the Iliad

- Under the leadership of Hector, the Trojans begin to gain the upper hand, and Hector's wife and Andromache with their baby son is introduced in a scene where she talks to him before he re - enters battle, asking him not to go

- Agamemnon is forced to back down, and sends an embassy to Achilles ( two chieftains - AJAX and ODYSSEUS and Achilles old tutor PHOENIX ) offering the return of Briseis and a vast recompense/ransom as well

- Phoenix tells the story of another hero's anger, MELEAGER, trying to persuade Achilles that if he delays too long he may lose any recompense

- Achilles angrily rejects the offer, declaring he won't do battle again until the Trojans set fire to the Achaian ships

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Plot of the Iliad

- Distressed by the Achaian losses, Patroclus, Achilles' intimate friend, persuades Achilles to let him enter the fight wearing Achilles' armour.

- Patroclus inflicts slaughter on the Trojans and kills Sarpedon, a Lycian fighting with the Trojans as an ally. Hector then kills Patroclus

- Achilles is stricken with grief and rage and Thetis persuades Hephaistos to make him new armour, including a famous shield depicting many scenes of Greek human activity

- Achilles makes up his quarrel with Agamemnon, passionately eager to plunge into battle again. He kills many Trojans, and finally meets and kills Hector

- To avenge Patroclus he refuses to return Hector's body for burial and attempts to mutilate it by dragging it behind his chariot, though the gods prevent this by supernatural means

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Plot of the Iliad

- Patroclus' ghost appeals to Achilles asking for burial

- Achilles sacrifices animals and Trojan prisoners by his pyre. He organises funeral games, which show him in a newly humane light

- There is a division among the gods between those who favour Troy and those who favour the Achaians, but the squabble is soon settled.

- The gods agree to tell Achilles to hand back Hector's corpse, and arrange for Priam, escorted by the god Hermes disguised as a young man, to come along to bring the ransom and collect his son

- Achilles shows generosity and pity towards Priam, and a short truce is arranged for the funeral rites

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Formulae and the Homeric View of Life

- Marriage is good and rarely bad, so much so that the single adultery in the poem causes the whole Trojan war

- The Iliad is also an epic without villains, we may expect Paris to be the villain but he is not. He is an effective if inconstant warrior, who finally brings about Achilles death, he is an engaging character

- The heroes are very like the gods, in all but two things, men are mortal, gods never die. Gods are happy, men are miserable.

- Again and again the formulae reassert these truths, heroes being called godlike is also a paradox, yet having the blank horror of death at any moment so far away from them. This is part of the tragic vision. E.G the leaf simile:

'the generation of men is just like that of leaves..' - this was to be imitated and developed by Virgil

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Formulae and the Homeric View of Life

- Much of the Iliad is hard, and objective, but it also invites us to have a personal and emotional response to it

- So the Iliad's style helps establish a certain attitude to life, a combination of sharp realism and tender feeling. We find this in the battle scenes that make up the greater part of the work

- In many respects Homer's battles are unreal, no hero is killed by a common soldier or a stray arrow from the midst of battle

- No one is crippled or dies from wounds, either death is immediate or a wound is superficial and soon healed

- But for Homer, by formalising and excluding so much he focuses on the act of killing itself. The spear's passage through the body, downwards, across, bone smashed, guts spilled, he does not flinch. It is clear Homer saw death steadily and saw it whole.

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Characterisms/Characterisation in the Iliad

- They all have distinctive attitudes, mannerisms and modes of behaviour - this is called INDIVIDUATION

- Through their narrative we get in depth insights into how it feels to be a young man etc. - this is PSYCHOLOGICAL PENETRATION

- Achilles is strongly individuated. Homer's first line of the Iliad tells us the subject of his poem - not the Trojan war, not even Achilles, but Achilles' behaviour:

'Sing, goddess, of the anger of Achilleus, son of Peleus'

- As the story unfolds it becomes clear Achilles' behaviour is unique, even Patroclus can't understand it

- The Iliad differs from other heroic poems in that the individual nature of the protagonist makes the plot

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Characterisms/Characterisation in the Iliad

- Whereas although Aeneas and Odysseus held great virtues to overcome their troubles, those troubles are visited upon them by forces outside themselves, E.G Juno's anger

- The Homeric hero ideal is to be 'a speaker of words and doer of deeds' - This is what Peleus urged Achilles to be

- So this is a combination of prowess, honouring the sharpness of the mind along the strength of the arm

- So as well as battle, formulaic language is a field of competitive endeavour where human excellence may be displayed

- Achilles is a great orator, despite saying other warriors surpass him in debate, he has the greatest speeches in the Iliad

- Not only is Achilles the most intellectual of Homer's warriors, he is the only artist among them, book 9 he's singing the deeds of men whilst accompanying himself on the lyre

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Characterisms/Characterisation in the Iliad

- In a strange way Helen is more like Achilles than anyone else in the Iliad, both are reflective, combining intense emotion with a strange detachment where they see themselves through other people's eyes

- Both have a divine parent, and each has a certain strangeness

- The Iliad is full of similes, the majority of them in battle scenes, and very few speeches. Achilles uses similes though, in book 9 he likens his deeds in battle, fighting for a cause that is not his own to a mother bird who brings morsels to her chicks, faring badly for herself

- When Patroclus comes to Achilles weeping, Achilles compares him to a little girl running alongside her mother tugging her dress, holding her back and crying until the mother picks her up

- This is an odd, teasing, affectionate simile, and ironically aware that Patroclus will get his way.

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Characterisms/Characterisation in the Iliad

- This characterises Achilles really well, he is the wittiest man in the Iliad

- Agamemnon's way of talking and the difference of Achilles's will become part of the poem's moral

- He may be presented as irresolute and mean - spirited, but he is also a lord of men and a great warrior. He has the longest arming scene in the poem and an impressive ARISTEIA (scene of prowess)

 - There is little individuality of SARPEDON or HECTOR, yes he is over confident, ignoring/neglecting Poulydamas' warnings, but even this seems to be the more common character of man, ignorant as he is of the future than a strong personal trait

 - Hector is contrasted with Achilles in various ways, Achilles is at Troy for glory, Hector to defend his polis. Achilles is isolated whereas Hector is surrounded by a setting of his parents, wife, child, brother, and city, so his oikoi and polis. These are differences of situation, not character

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Characterisms/Characterisation in the Iliad

- In one sense Hector is a wholly exceptional man, a great warrior who can pick up a stone two men couldn't lift, but in another he is an every man, an ordinary person with ordinary experiences.

- None of us is an Achilles, but each of us by some degree could be a Hector

- In Hector's soliloquy in book 22 Homer studies how a man steels himself to a course of action that he fears and hates, we realise that it's like a common experience, we can share Hector's feelings

- Helen, unlike Paris, seems strangely protected from blame, although she blames herself

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Heroicism and Tragedy

- Sarpedon and Hector's deaths are the two most important on the Trojan side of the poem. In book 12, as the Trojans advance, each is given a simile comparing him to a lion which is brave and aggressive, but killed or wounded through its very courage

- Each death there is a similar scene between the gods beforehand

- The tragic paradox is that the hero's role is worthwhile only because it is useless and because its splendour is always an inch away from misery and death

- A hero must fight as the expression of his greatness, but this is not usually a selfish intent, most of the time they don't want to fight, but feel they must.

- Hector dreads facing Achilles, he goes because he would 'feel shame' if he didn't before the men and women of Troy, because he trusted in his own strength and 'destroyed his people'

- Therefore it is not for the sake of others - Priam tells him if he goes, he will be killed, and his death will lead to the fall of Troy and the murder of Priam himself. The audience know this is true

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Heroicism and Tragedy

- As with Sarpedon and the Lycians, it's a question of what his people will say, not what is good for them or in their interest.

- The great man must act at whatever cost to himself or others, to maintain his greatness

- Hector isn't standing on his dignity in the ordinary way. The cruel paradox is that his action will lead to his humiliation, the Achaians will taunt and disfigure his freshly dead body and Achilles will drag his unburied corpse around the walls of Troy

- The tragedy is that Hector's sacrifice is useless to himself and worse than useless to the Trojans because it will hasten Troy's end, this shows the cost of heroism

- Before Hector's death Zeus considers saving him because he is dear to him, but we already know Zeus didn't save his own son, Sarpedon, and instead of Hera warning him off it is Athene this time. The tone is significantly more casual and flippant here than when Sarpedon was killed

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Heroicism and Tragedy

- The gods are passionately involved in the Trojan war, but the formulae tell us they are happy and free from care, and during Achilles' chase of Hector, the gods just look on, as if it is a sporting event.

- On one level they are passionately anxious concerning who wins, but on the other it doesn't matter at all

- Their lives remain unaffected, unchanged

- Their essence is rather in the lightness of their emotions

- On one hand they are keenly caught up in the game of war, in the other they don't care, their nature is to be free from care even though the poem draws a 'moral' picture of the gods

- Homer's idea is that the gods' greatness reside in the fact they do not need to feel for humans at all

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The Wrath of Achilles

- When the ambassadors come to Achilles, he is courteous and welcoming

- He isn't 'sulking in his tent' and his 'wrath' is not a fit of temper, but settled, reasoned policy

- The outburst of rage is a response to the news of Agamemnon's offer, which comes as a purposely designed surprise

- The gifts Agamemnon offers are very valuable, and Homer has deliberately made them like that so there may be no question Achilles rejects them because the recompense is too small

- The cause of rejection must be something else. When Agamemnon gives his ambassadors their instructions he asks Odysseus to say at the end 'let him yield...and let him submit to me, in that I am the greater king and can claim to be his senior in age.'

- To make the oral formulaic style Odysseus repeats Agamemnon's speech to Achilles as close as possible, but tactfully leaves out those last words

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The Wrath of Achilles

- Homer cleverly makes Achilles answer as if he did hear those offensive words, he refuses to marry one of Agamemnon's daughters which was part of the offer saying 'let him choose some other of the Achaeans, a man like himself, a higher king'

- Achilles was advised by his father Peleus to 'always be bravest and best, and excel over others.' This is the hero's first and highest task, asserting his own honour and greatness

- This is what Achilles is doing here, on one level, Agamemnon lost the struggle completely and has agreed to pay massively for his mistake, but on another he is still asking Achilles to yield and submit

- Achilles' intelligence is so much that he recognises this, other heroes like Ajax and Patroclus can't understand why Achilles turned Agamemnon down, but they are unaware of something Achilles himself rightly saw

- So it is the very greatness of Achilles, the sharpness of his mind, the purity of his heroism that makes him act as he does

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The Wrath of Achilles

- We can see how sharp Achilles' perceptions are, but also how blunt Ajax's are. He is bewildered, but it is because he is out of his depth

- Homer shows us the common sense view but it isn't correct or accurate to the complexity of the situation

- Achilles looks at himself and sees two emotions. He feels attracted to what Ajax says but he also feels anger toward Agamemnon and anger is the stronger emotion

- A great hero is entitled to his wrath and he doesn't get any blame for it, but in any case Achilles sees his anger as a hard fact that simply exists

- Achilles suffers for his decision from the start, then before he lets Patroclus go into battle. In book 9 Achilles has a choice between immortal glory at the price of death in Troy and a long life without glory, spent in his dear native land. It is newly significant at this point because Achilles is trapped in a position that gives him no satisfaction from either choice

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The Wrath of Achilles

- He realises he must abandon his threat to go home because to retreat would be alien to his nature. But by saying he won't go into battle, denies him glory also

- By trapping Achilles in this situation Homer enables his audience to have sympathy for him

- It's a tragic irony that if Achilles had been more stubborn then Patroclus would not have needed to die. The combination of Achilles assertive individualism (heroic ideal) and some willingness to respond to the ambassadors is what undoes him

- The heroic objective which leads Achilles to reject Agamemnons offer clashes with his human objective to bring him back to battle to help the Achaians. This clash is disastrous and can only bring tragedy on Patroclus and Achilles himself.

- The tragedy is in the hopelessness of these facts

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The Wrath of Achilles

- Agamemnon is a fallible man in an awkward situation when in book 19 he makes a long and rambling speech to make up with Achilles, saying:

'Since I was blinded and Zeus took away my wits...'

- This is a vivid portrayal of a man who needs to apologise but can't do so gracefully. First he says it wasn't his fault, then he veers off the subject into an unnecessary digression and it appears as if he is reluctant to face his own responsibility, only to do it momentarily at the end

- Achilles' reaction to Patroclus' death in book 18 is surprising, he doesn't think whether it's his fault, he says 'I have lost him' - these words are heartbreaking, brave and brief, the plain fact with absolute simplicity without adornment

- Although Achilles' second speech to Thetis is where it appears he is expressing guilt/remorse, he is only seeing the facts as they are in their tragic simplicity:

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The Wrath of Achilles

- 'I was not to help my friend at his killing'

- 'He has died far away from his native land, and did not have me there to protect him from destruction'

- 'I have not been a saving light to Patroclus or my many other companions...such is the anger that Agamemnon, lord of men, has caused me now.'

- When he returns to battle his killings are not inspired by guilt or remorse, rage blinds his reason, but Achilles in the midst of passion remains in a strange and fearsome way reasonable, his intellectual control still rational

- As Patroclus is about to be killed he warns Hector that Achilles will avenge his death. Hector asks 'why prophesy death for me? Who knows if Achilles may not perish by my spear?'

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The Wrath of Achilles

- Ironically, Hector in turn is given a supernatural power at the moment of his own death despite being the man who doesn't see the future, the ordinary natural man

- With perfect accuracy he prophesies to Achilles that Apollo and Paris will kill him. Achilles shows he knows he stands in relation to the gods when he replies:

- 'I shall recieve my fate when Zeus and the other gods choose'

- He is the proudest man in the Iliad but he is very humble here

- What Achilles can't accept is that he can no longer do anything for Patroclus, he kicks against the limits of the human condition after the finality of death. In book 19, Achilles wants to fast now that Patroclus is dead but Odysseus urges him to have a meal before going into battle

- Usually, 'a man laments and then is done' but a god may endure his grudge to the bitter end

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The Wrath of Achilles

- 'Godlike Achilles' will find how immensely unlike a god he is in this respect

- In the later books his ruling objective is to do something for his dead friend. In book 18 he draws repeatedly on the fact he was no use for Patroclus on the battlefield, now he tries to be of use to him when it is too late.

- It's not enough for Achilles to kill Hector, he must try to punish the corpse as well, a doubly futile act, because not only Hector is 'dumb earth' but all Patroclus wants is burial, as made obvious by his ghost in book 23

- In this same book Achilles sacrifices dogs, horses, and even some Trojan prisoners at Patroclus' pyre. This is probably the most shocking act in the Iliad and it is as though moral judgement threatens to break through at this point because these killings are futile

- Achilles acts as though he could go on doing something for Patroclus, but he can't, death is final and there is no comfort.

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The Wrath of Achilles

- There is quietness in Achilles' ferocity, but it doesn't mean his quieter virtues, pity and gentleness, are cast aside

- Apollo says Achilles has lost pity in book 24, but it's a reproach. Unbidden Achilles takes the robes and tunic, part of his ransom for Hector and offers them to wrap the body, which is an act of generosity and feeling for Priam

- The audience admire this and the moral issue is simple, men ought to show pity, Achilles does not show pity, therefore Achilles is morally at fault

- But the absence of pity in a hero at some phase in his career may even be a part of his greatness.

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