Iliad- Book 1 summary, themes, motifs and symbols

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  • Created on: 17-04-15 11:21

Book 1 Summary

The Iliad opens with the Trojan War in its tenth year. The scene is the Achaian camp on the shore of the Troad, where the ships that brought the army to Troy are drawn up on land. Almost all the human action in the Iliad is set either in this camp, or in the beleaguered city of Troy, or in the plain between Troy and the camp, the scene of most of the fighting. (Homer's regular name for the Greeks is Achaians, and he also refers to them indifferently as Danaans and Argives.)

The cause of the war was the seduction and abduction of Helen, the wife of Menelaos king of Sparta, by the Trojan Paris (also known as Alexandros), one of the sons of Priam king of Troy. Menelaos and his brother Agamemnon, the king of Mykenai, raised an army from all over Greece, which gathered at Aulis and then sailed to Troy with the purpose of recovering Helen and punishing the Trojans for Paris' crime (which was also a breach of the laws of hospitality, as at the time of the abduction Paris was being entertained in Menelaos' house). By the beginning of the Iliad the war has lasted for a very long time, but it is clear that the Achaians have been generally superior to the Trojans and their allies, if only Achilleus, the leading Achaian fighter, is a much more formidable warrior that the champion of the Trojan side, Hektor son of Priam. Major Trojan success only comes when Achilleus is withdrawn from the fighting.

The Iliad opens directly, without any elaborate scene-setting or story-so-far retrospect. Some perspective- the setting of the immediate events in the wider context of the whole war- comes from forward references or narrative implication, increasingly significant in the latter part of the poem as the inevitability of the death of Achilleus and the fall of Troy grows sharper, and from backward references to much earlier events. In particular Books 2 to 4 function partly as a asort of reprise of the beginning of the war either direclty (as in the account of Kalchas' prophecy at Aulis in 2. 300ff.), or more often indrectly, in the 'anachronistic' presentation of events more suitable to the first than the tenth year of the war.

The brilliant first book of the Iliad describes the disastrous quarrel between Achilleus and Agamemnon which determines all subsequent action in the poem, and introduces elements both human and divine which will have major significance in the direction of events - the characters of Agamemnon and Achilleus, the role of Achilleus' divine mother Thetis and her knowledge of Achilleus' fate, the power of the gods and the nature of their involvement in human affairs. And it is established at the very start that the story wil be one of suffering and death, as part of the divine will.

The old man Chryses come to the Achaian camp to seek the release of his daughter Chryseis, captured in…

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