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SUMMARY OF THE ILIAD

The following are excerpts from M.Willcock’s book, A companion to the Iliad, University
of Chicago Press, 1976

BOOK ONE
The Greek commander Agamemnon is forced by the arguments of Achilles at a public
assembly to agree to return his captive, Chryseis, to her father, a local priest. This leads
to a violent quarrel, during which Agamemnon uses his superior rank to inform Achilles
that he will replace Chryseis with Achilles’ own captive Briseis. Achilles publicly
withdraws from the army and asks his goddess mother Thetis, to persuade Zeus to help
the Trojans. After an interlude, in which Odysseus sees to the formal return of Chryseis
to her father, Zeus undertakes to do as Thetis asks; there is then a bad-tempered scene
on Olympos between him and his wife, Hera, which is settled by the efforts of
Hephaistos.

The composition of Book 1 is simple and natural; it falls into three sections:
1-430: The quarrel itself, its causes and its immediate consequences
430-492 An interlude showing the passage of time, and allowing the return of the girl
Chryseis to her home
493-611 A balancing scene among the gods

BOOK TWO
Book 2 falls into two parts: the “testing” of the army and the catalogues of the troops.

Lines 1-454: Zeus sends a dream which tells Agamemnon he can finish the war by
attacking this day. In an ill-considered stratagem, Agamemnon tests the morale of the
army by suggesting that they take to the ships and leave. The suggestion is accepted
with alacrity, and it is only through the strenuous effort of Odysseus that they are
brought back to the place of meeting. A dissenter called Thersites is humiliated;
powerful speeches are made by Odysseus and Nestor; the army gets ready and moves
out to battle.

Lines 455-877: The catalogue of the ships is a geographically ordered list of the
contingents of the Greek army, with the names of the leaders. It is followed by a much
shorter Trojan catalogue, also geographically set out, detailing the leaders of the Trojans
and their far-flung allies. The two catalogues act in part as lists of characters for the Iliad

BOOK THREE
Book 3 contains two alternating themes, (a) the single combat between Paris and
Menelaos and (b) the people within the city of Troy. We are first introduced to Paris
(Alexandros), the unworthy cause of the war; and then, in a pause before the duel
starts, we see Helen on the walls of Troy, speaking to old king Priam and identifying for
him the leaders of the Achaians, who are of course well known to her. This part of the
book is called the Teichoskopia, or View from the Wall (lines 121- 244). It is a wonderful
scene, in which we discover more about the personalities, and even the appearance, of
the Greek leaders. The duel itself, which follows, is technically undecided, because
Aphrodite summons Helen back from the wall to the bed of Paris.


BOOK FOUR
The book begins with a scene on Olympos, showing the gods planning to continue the
war. They are quite ruthless and amoral, bargaining with one another about the
destruction of the cities, as if it is all a game. Then Goddess Athena persuades the Trojan
Pandaros to break the truce - necessary for the continuation of the war, and adding a
new reason for the inevitable destruction of Troy. Then it follows Agamemnon’s review
of the army. This piece (lines 223-421), reinforces the characterization of a number of
Greek leaders, so that we feel we know them better. Agamemnon, with the
responsibility of a general before the battle, distributes praise and blame. Then follows
the description of the fighting (lines 422-544).It is general, a bloody struggle, giving a
somber background to the brighter and more heroic achievements of Book 5.

BOOK FIVE
It is the first full book of fighting, and a long one at that. It is record of positive success,
dominated by the brilliant figure of Diomedes. This is his aristeia (i.e., the period when a
single warrior dominates the battlefield). He even wounds two gods, Aphrodite and Ares
(with some help of Athena, of course)! Diomedes is in a sense a substitute for Achilles. It
is difficult to see how both could be in action together. By the time Achilles returns in
the final books, Diomedes has been wounded and is off the scene

BOOK SIX
Greek successes continue in Book 6. Helenos, the Trojan seer, persuades Hector to
return to Troy while the rest hold back the Greeks, so that he may ask the women of the
city to make special prayers to Athena for help. While Hector is on his way, Diomedes
and the Trojan Glaukos meet in the battle, discover that they are old family friends and
exchange armor. Hektor, in separate and balanced episodes, sees the three women of
Troy- his mother, Hekabe; Helen, the cause of the war (at home with her husband Paris);
and finally his wife, Andromache. This scene, with the baby frightened by his father
helmet, adds a new dimension to the epic. The plight of the women and children in the
city is sympathetically brought to our attention, and Hektor’s death is clearly
foreshadowed. At the end, Paris catches up to Hektor as he is leaving the city, and the
two brothers sally forth together.

BOOK SEVEN
After Hektor and Paris sally forth together from the city, the first day of fighting which
began in Book 2, comes to an end with the challenge issued by Hektor to fight any
Greek, and his consequent duel with Aias. The book ends with a truce for the burial of
the dead, during which the Greeks take the opportunity to build a fortification round
their camp.

BOOK EIGHT
Zeus is about to fulfill the promise he made to Thetis in Book 1, that he would grant
victory to the Trojans until Agamemnon and the Greeks compensated Achilles for the
dishonor done to him. Book 8 involves a complete day’s fighting, with a great deal of
divine activity, Zeus arranging for the Trojans to be victorious, and the pro-Greek
goddesses attempting to thwart him.

BOOK NINE
This book is devoted to the Greek Embassy to Achilles in the night following their defeat
in Book 8. The Greeks send three envoys-Odysseus, Phoenix, and Aias-and the main part
of the book consists of the speeches of each of these three and the reply of Achilles to
each. The envoys fail to persuade Achilles to return to the battle.

BOOK TEN
The rest of the night is occupies by a bold raid undertaken by Diomedes and Odysseus
on the camp of Thracians, allies of the Trojans. Book 10, usually called the Doloneia, has
a unique position in the Iliad, in that it is a complete incident in itself and could be
removed from the epic without leaving any trace. The wonderful horses captured by
Diomedes are never referred to again, not even in the chariot race at the funeral games
in Book 23.

BOOK ELEVEN
Book 11 contains the wounding of the major Greek heroes, Agamemnon, Diomedes, and
Odysseus. The Trojans gain the upper hand. The scene at the end with Nestor’s speech
to Patroclos begins the sequence, which leads to the tragedy of Book 16 and Achilles’
eventual return to the battle. Before the wounding of the Greek heroes, Agamenon is
compensated for the rather poor showing he has had up to now by being given an
aristeia as glorious as Diomedes in Book 5.

BOOK TWELVE
The Greeks, having temporarily lost three of the major heroes, are on the defensive, and
the Trojans attack the Greek fortification wall. Book 12 ends with the breakthrough
when Hektor smashes open the gate of the main entrance to the Greek camp with a
massive stone. There is now nothing between the Trojans and the Greek ships except a
demoralized mass of men.

BOOK THIRTEEN
Both books 13 and 14 mark a major “retardation” of the plot. Hektor has broken
through the Greek wall, and the Trojans are all set to attack the ships. Now, however,
the Greeks rally and hold their position, and eventually drive the Trojans back. Only in
Book 15 is the Trojan advance resumed. The poet describes these events on the divine
plane as well as human. The Greek rally is explained by the fact that Zeus (who is
responsible for everything) temporarily takes his eyes off the battle in Book 13, and
otherwise distracted in Book 14, so that a Greek sympathizer, the sea god Poseidon,
takes the opportunity to encourage and assist his side. He does this incognito in Book 13
but openly in Book 14, when Zeus is sleeping.

BOOK FOURTEEN
The book falls neatly into three parts
1-152 A meeting takes place between Nestor and the three major wounded
heroes Agamemnon, Diomedes and Odysseus in Book 11.
153-351 The seduction of Zeus by Hera. “The Deception of Zeus” is the name of
this striking and attractive episode bore in antiquity. Hera, realizing that
her husband must be thoroughly distracted from the battle, decides to
use her feminine charms to this purpose and make Zeus fall asleep. It is a
particular case of Homer’s regular use of the gods to lighten the grim
reality of the battlefield and even to provide some comic diversion. There
is a great deal of charm and a particularly beautiful description of nature
in springtime
352-522 Zeus is asleep and so Poseidon is now in a position to help the Greeks
openly. Greeks are victorious and the Trojans are in full flight.

BOOK FIFTEEN
Zeus wakes up and takes steps to reverse the situation. Book 15 contains the third stage
of battle, which began after the breakthrough in Book 12. The Greeks are driven back
into their defenses. There is general fighting around the Greek ships and at the end of
the book, Hektor breaks through to the ships

BOOK SIXTEEN
Book 16 is the turning point of the Iliad. In it we see the culmination of the plot that
began with the quarrel in Book 1 and continued with the rejection of the embassy in
Book 9 and the defeat of the Greeks and the wounding of their leaders in Book 11.
Achilles, his mind still clouded with anger, makes the irrational decision to allow his
closest friend Patroclos, to lead the Myrmidons (Achilles’ army) into battle, in order to
protect the ships and save the Greek army. Patroclos, wearing Achilles’ armor, is finally
killed by Hektor. Mirroring Patroclos’ own death, at the end, another sympathetic
figure, Sarpedon, a son of Zeus, is killed halfway through the book by Patroclos, giving
Patroclos his greatest victory

BOOK SEVENTEEN
Book 17 is wholly devoted to the fight for the body of Patroclos. The Greeks finally get
possession of his body but not Achilles’ armor.

BOOK EIGHTEEN
Achilles is devastated by the news of Patroclos’ death. Thetis, his mother, comes from
the sea to console him. Achilles mourns Patroclos. Thetis goes to mount Olympos and
asks god Hephaistos to make Achilles a new set of arms. Book 18 is famous for the
detailed description of the design of the Shield of Achilles made for him by the smith
god. (Lines 478-607)

BOOK NINETEEN
Book 19 presents an interlude before the battle. The following outline shows how the
action is divided:
1-39 Thetis brings the arms to Achilles
40-275 Greek assembly. Public reconciliation between Agamemnon and Achilles
276-348 Lament of Briseis and Achilles
349-391 Achilles arms for battle
392-424 Achilles conversation with his divine horses

BOOK TWENTY
In Book 20 there is a slow buildup toward the aristeia of Achilles. He obviously must not
meet Hektor too soon-at least not decisively. In the beginning of the book, Zeus formally
invites the gods to take part (1-74), thus preparing for the fight between the gods
themselves in Book 21; then there is a long scene (75-352) between Achilles and
Aeneias who is rescued by Poseidon before he can be hurt; finally, the aristeia of
Achilles begins and he kills 14 Trojans in swift succession.

BOOK TWENTY-ONE
Achilles’ heroic status is displayed in Book 21 by two individual duels and a desperate
struggle with the river Skamandros. Then, follows the Theomachy or the battle among
the gods, (385-513); they behave like squabbling children, hitting one another and
boasting of their success in a kind of caricature of the serious human fighting. Here
again Homer uses the gods to provide lightness and relief from the human battle scenes.
The narrative returns to the human plane with Achilles’ encounter with the Trojan
Agenor, which forms a prelude to his meeting with Hektor in Book 22.

BOOK TWENTY-TWO
The death of Hektor at the hands of Achilles is the climax of the Iliad, the culmination of
the wrath theme. To it the poet devotes the whole of book 22, giving it all possible
pathos by stressing the effect of the hero’s death on his father and mother, his wife and
child, and on the city of Troy. Three speeches, by Priam, Hekabe, and Hektor (25-130),
balance three speeches at the end by Priam, Hekabe and Andromache (405-515). The
center of the book, with the action, falls into two parts: the chase of Hektor by Achilles
(131-246) and their fight (247-404). In this central part goddess Athena takes a hand in
the events by deceiving Hektor and interfering in their duel to the great advantage of
Achilles.

BOOK TWENTY-THREE
Book 23 falls into two separate but connected parts:
1- 257: The visit of Patroclos’ ghost to Achilles and the detailed description of the
funeral rites of Patroclos
257-897 The funeral games in honor of Patroclos. Here we see in action – but now
in athletic competition instead of the deadly work of war- the heroes that we came to
know well in the first part of the epic. This is the last time we see them and Homer
continues the process of character-drawing by portrayal of behaviour which he has
followed in the books of fighting. Achilles presides over the games, a model of
politeness and propriety; the gentler side of his character is to the fore and prepares us
for the civilized ending in book 24, after the bloodthirsty violence of Book 20-22.

BOOK TWENTY-FOUR
Book 24 closely corresponds with Book 1, for here the Wrath theme, initiated in Book 1,
modified in Books 18 and 19, and culminating in Book 22, finally resolved when Achilles
speaks politely and gently to the old king, Priam and agrees to the ransom of the body
of his enemy, Hektor. We made divide it as follows:

1-467 Priam’s expedition, with the help of god Hermes, to ransom his son’s
body
468- 676 Priam with Achilles
677-804 Priam’s return to Troy; the burial of Hektor

So the Iliad ends with its secondary hero, Hektor. Achilles however, is still in the center,
especially since we realize-having being told so often- that his own death is now not far
away. The shadow of it lies over his conversations with Priam.