Iliad

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This article is about the epic poem. For other uses, see Iliad (disambiguation).

The Iliad (Ancient Greek Ἰλιάς, Ilias) is, together with the Odyssey, one of two ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer, a supposedly blind Ionian poet. The epics are considered by most modern scholars to be the oldest literature in the Greek language (though some believe that the works of the poet Hesiod were composed earlier, a belief that was also held by some classical Greeks). For most of the twentieth century, the Iliad and the Odyssey were dated to the 8th century BC. Some still argue for an early dating, notably Barry B. Powell, who has proposed a link between the writing of the Iliad and the invention of the Greek alphabet. Many others (including Martin West and Richard Seaford) now prefer a date in the 7th or even the 6th century BC.

The poem concerns events during the tenth and final year in the siege of the city of Ilion, or Troy, by the Greeks (See Trojan War). The word "Iliad" means "pertaining to Ilion" (in Latin, Ilium), the city proper, as opposed to Troy (in Greek, Τροία, Troía; in Latin, Troia), the state centered around Ilium, over which Priam reigned. The names "Ilium" and "Troy" are often used interchangeably.

Contents

[edit] The story of the Iliad

The Iliad begins with these lines:

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί' Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε' ἔθηκεν,
Sing, goddess, the rage of Achilles the son of Peleus,
the destructive rage that sent countless pains on the Achaeans...

The first word of the Iliad is μῆνιν (mēnin), "rage" or "wrath". This word announces the major theme of the Iliad: the wrath of Achilles. When Agamemnon, the commander of the Greek forces at Troy, dishonors Achilles by taking Briseis, a slave woman given to him as a prize of war, Achilles becomes enraged, and withdraws from the fighting. Without Achilles' prowess in battle, the Greeks are nearly defeated by the Trojans. Achilles re-enters the fighting when his dearest friend Patroclus is killed by the Trojan prince Hector. Achilles slaughters many Trojans, and kills Hector. In his rage he then refuses to return Hector's body and instead defiles it. Priam, the father of Hector, ransoms his son's body, and the Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector.

Of the many themes in the Iliad, perhaps the most important is the idea of moral choice. Achilles believes he has two options: he can either live a long, unremarkable life at home or else he can die young and gloriously as a mercenary warrior. Military adventuring (that is, pillage and plunder) was a way of life in pre-Homeric times, and the many ruins of thick-walled cities and fortresses in the region give silent testimony to the fear that must have characterized life in the ancient world.

For some men, military adventuring is a more attractive choice than staying home on the farm. Death in battle leads to honor and glory—timae and kleos—which were important values of the day — more important than even right and wrong. One of the remarkable things about the Iliad is the way that Achilles, especially in Book 9, both embraces concepts of honor and glory and also rejects them. It should be noted that, despite the fact that he is the antagonist in the story, Hector probably best displays the qualities of an ancient Mediterranean hero.

Many Greek myths exist in multiple versions, so Homer had some freedom to choose among them to suit his story. See Greek mythology for more detail.

[edit] Background to the Iliad: the Trojan War

The action of the Iliad covers only a few weeks of the tenth and final year of the Trojan War. Neither the background and early years of the war (Paris' abduction of Helen from King Menelaus), nor its end (the death of Achilles and the fall of Troy), are directly narrated in the Iliad. Many of these events were narrated in other epic poems collectively known as the Epic Cycle or Cyclic epics; these poems only survive in fragments. See Trojan War for a summary of the events of the war.

[edit] The story of the Iliad

[edit] Overview

As the poem begins, Apollo has sent a plague against the Greeks, who have captured Chryseis, the daughter of Apollo's priest Chryses, and given her as a prize to Agamemnon. Agamemnon is compelled to restore Chryseis to her father to stop the plague. In her place, Agamemnon takes Briseis, whom the Achaeans had given to Achilles as a spoil of war. Achilles, the greatest warrior of the age, follows the advice of his goddess mother, Thetis, and withdraws from battle in revenge so that the allied Achaean (Greek) armies nearly lose the war.

In counterpoint to Achilles' pride and arrogance stands the Trojan prince Hector, son of King Priam, a husband and father who fights to defend his city and his family. The death of Patroclus at the hands of Hector brings Achilles back to the war for revenge, and he slays Hector. Later Hector's father, King Priam, comes to Achilles alone (but aided by Hermes) to ransom his son's body back, and Achilles is moved to pity; the funeral of Hector ends the poem.

[edit] Book summaries

[edit] After the Iliad: the end of the war and the returns home

Although certain events subsequent to the funeral of Hector are foreshadowed in the Iliad, and there is a general sense that the Trojans are doomed, a detailed account of the fall of Troy is not set out by Homer. The following account comes from later Greek and Roman poetry and drama.

Achilles fights and kills the Amazon queen Penthesilea and the Aethiopean king Memnon. Very soon he is killed on the battlefield by Paris with a poisoned arrow to his vulnerable heel. (See Achilles' Heel). After his death, the Greek's second best warrior after Achilles, Ajax, and Odysseus feud over who should keep his armour. They submit their disagreement to an impromptu court and Odysseus is awarded the armour. Ajax subsequently goes mad and slaughters his livestock, believing they are the Trojan commanders. He then kills himself in shame.

The Amazons come to join the battle. Philoctetes, a crippled Greek who had been abandoned by the others along the journey, is recruited by the god Heracles because it was prophesied the war could not be won without his bow.

Odysseus devises a plan to take the city. He has his men build a large, hollow wooden horse, and then he and twenty others hide inside. The Greek ships withdraw out of sight of Troy, seeming to be admitting defeat and returning home, and leave behind the horse, purportedly as an offering to Poseidon for good winds on the return trip. The Trojans take this inside the great walls of Troy, and then feast and celebrate their victory and the war's end. At night, Odysseus and the soldiers creep out of the horse and open the gates to the other Greeks who have sailed back under cover of night. The city is sacked, and in some accounts burned for seven years.

Priam is killed. According to one tradition, Hector's wife Andromache throws their son Astyanax and herself from the ramparts to save them from slavery. According to another, Astyanax is killed by Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, to ensure that Hector's son cannot seek vengeance for his father's death against Achilles' son. Andromache becomes Neoptolemus' concubine, later to marry Helenus, Hector's brother. A Roman tradition held that Aeneas escaped with his family and several hundred people, who after years of migration eventually founded Rome. (This tradition is best known from Virgil's Aeneid).

Odysseus' long journey home is narrated in Homer's Odyssey. Menelaus and Helen return to Sparta to rule. Agamemnon takes home as a slave the priestess Cassandra, who was gifted by Apollo with the power of prophecy but, after she spurned him, cursed to never have her visions believed. When he returns home he is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. They in turn are killed by Agamemnon's son, Orestes, and his daughter, Elektra.

[edit] Major characters

The Iliad contains a sometimes confusingly great number of characters. The latter half of the second book (often called the Catalogue of Ships) is devoted entirely to listing the various commanders. Many of the battle scenes in the Iliad feature bit characters who are quickly slain. See Trojan War for a detailed list of participating armies and warriors.

  • The Achaeans (Αχαιοί) - the word "Hellenes", which would today be translated as "Greeks", is not used by Homer
    • Achilles (Αχιλλεύς) the leader of the Myrmidons (Μυρμιδόνες) and the principal Greek champion whose anger is one of the main elements of the story
    • Agamemnon, (Αγαμέμνων), King of Mycenae, supreme commander of the Achaean armies whose actions provoke the feud with Achilles; brother of King Menelaus
    • Patroclus, (Πάτροκλος), beloved companion to Achilles
    • Nestor, (Νέστωρ), Menelaus, (Μενέλαος), Diomedes, (Διομήδης), Idomeneus, (Ιδομενεύς), and Telamonian Ajax, (Αίας ο Τελαμώνιος), kings of the principal city-states of Greece who are leaders of their own armies, under the overall command of Agamemnon
    • Odysseus,(Οδυσσεύς) another warrior-king, famed for his cunning, who is the main character of another (roughly equally ancient) epic, the Odyssey
    • Calchas, (Κάλχας) a powerful Greek prophet and omen reader, who guided the Greeks through the war with his predictions.
  • The Trojans and their allies
    • Hector, (Έκτωρ) firstborn son of King Priam, leader of the Trojan and allied armies and heir apparent to the throne of Troy
    • Priam, (Πρίαμος) king of the Trojans, too old to take part in the fighting
    • Paris, (Πάρις) Trojan prince and Hector's brother, also called Alexander; his abduction of Helen is the casus belli. He was supposed to be killed as a baby because his sister Cassandra saw the destruction of Troy because of him. Raised by a shepherd.
    • Aeneas, (Αινείας) cousin of Hector, and his principal lieutenant
    • Glaucus and Sarpedon, leaders of the Lycian forces allied to the Trojan cause
  • Female characters
    • Helen, (Ελένη) former Queen of Sparta and wife of Menelaus, now espoused to Paris
    • Andromache, (Ανδρομάχη) Hector's wife and mother of their infant son, Astyanax (Αστυάναξ)
    • Hecuba, (Εκάβη) Queen of Troy, wife of Priam, mother of Hector, Cassandra, Paris etc
    • Briseis, a woman captured in the sack of Lyrnessos, a small town in the territory of Troy, and awarded to Achilles as a prize; Agamemnon takes her from Achilles in Book 1 and Achilles withdraws from battle as a result

The Olympian deities, principally Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Aphrodite, Ares, Eris, Athena, Hermes and Poseidon, appear in the Iliad as advisers to and manipulators of the human characters. All except Zeus become personally involved in the fighting at one point or another (See Theomachy).

[edit] Technical features

The poem is written in dactylic hexameter. The Iliad comprises 15,693 lines of verse. Later Greeks divided it into twenty-four books, that is, scrolls, and this convention has lasted to the present day with little change.

[edit] The Iliad as oral tradition

The Iliad and the Odyssey were considered by Greeks of the classical age and after as the most important works in Ancient Greek literature, and were the basis of Greek pedagogy in antiquity. As the center of the rhapsode's repertoire, their recitation was a central part of Greek religious festivals. The book would be spoken or sung all night (modern readings last around 20 hours), with audiences coming and going for parts they particularly enjoyed.

Throughout much of their reception, the Iliad and Odyssey were assumed to be literary poems. However in the late 19th century and the early 20th century, scholars began to question this assumption. Milman Parry, a classical scholar, was intrigued by peculiar features of Homeric style: in particular the stock epithets and the often extensive repetition of words, phrase and even whole chunks of text. He argued that these features were artifacts of oral composition. The poet employs stock phrases because of the ease with which they could be applied to a hexameter line. Taking this theory, Parry travelled in Yugoslavia, studying the local oral poetry. In his research he observed oral poets employing stock phrases and repetition to assist with the challenge of composing a poem orally and improvisationally.

[edit] The relationship of Achilles and Patroclus

The precise nature of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus has been the subject of some dispute in both the classical period and modern times. In the Iliad, it is clear that the two heroes have a deep and extremely meaningful friendship, but the evidence of a romantic or sexual element is equivocal. Commentators from the classical period to today have tended to interpret the relationship through the lens of their own cultures. Thus, in fifth-century Athens the relationship was commonly interpreted as pederastic, since pederasty was an accepted part of Athenian society. Contemporary readers are more likely to interpret the two heroes either as non-sexual "war buddies" or as a similarly-aged homosexual couple.

[edit] The Iliad in subsequent arts and literature

Subjects from the Trojan War were a favourite among ancient Greek dramatists. Aeschylus' trilogy, the Oresteia, comprising Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides, follows the story of Agamemnon after his return from the war.

The 1954 Broadway musical The Golden Apple by librettist John Treville Latouche and composer Jerome Moross was freely adapted from the Iliad and the Odyssey, re-setting the action to America's Washington state in the years after the Spanish-American War, with events inspired by the Iliad in Act One and events inspired by the Odyssey in Act Two.

Christa Wolf's 1983 novel Kassandra is a critical engagement with the stuff of the Iliad. Wolf's narrator is Cassandra, whose thoughts we hear at the moment just before her murder by Clytemnestra in Sparta. Wolf's narrator presents a feminist's view of the war, and of war in general. Cassandra's story is accompanied by four essays which Wolf delivered as the Frankfurter Poetik-Vorlesungen. The essays present Wolf's concerns as a writer and rewriter of this canonical story and show the genesis of the novel through Wolf's own readings and in a trip she took to Greece.

An epic science fiction adaptation/tribute by acclaimed author Dan Simmons titled Ilium was released in 2003. The novel received a Locus Award for best science fiction novel of 2003.

A loose film adaptation of the Iliad, Troy, was released in 2004, starring Brad Pitt as Achilles, Orlando Bloom as Paris, Eric Bana as Hector, Sean Bean as Odysseus and Brian Cox as Agamemnon. It was directed by German-born Wolfgang Petersen. The movie only loosely resembles the Homeric version, with the supernatural elements of the story were deliberately expunged, except for one scene that includes Achilles' sea nymph mother, Thetis (although her supernatural nature is never specifically stated, and she is aged as though human).

Though the film received mixed reviews, it was a commercial success, particularly in international sales. It grossed $133 million in the United States and $497 million worldwide, placing it in the top 50 movies of all time.

A number of comic series have re-told the legend of the Trojan War. The most inclusive may be Age of Bronze, a comprehensive retelling by writer/artist Eric Shanower that incorporates a broad spectrum of literary traditions and archaeological findings. Started in 1999, it is projected to number seven volumes.

[edit] Translations into English

The Iliad has been translated into English for centuries. George Chapman did a translation in the 16th century which John Keats praised in his sonnet, On First Looking into Chapman's Homer and Alexander Pope did another one in rhymed pentameter. In his lectures On Translating Homer Matthew Arnold commented on the problems of translating the Iliad and on the major translations available in 1861.

There are several modern English translations. Richmond Lattimore's version attempts to reproduce, line for line, the rhythm and phrasing of the original poem. Robert Fitzgerald has striven to situate the Iliad in the musical forms of English poetry. Robert Fagles and Stanley Lombardo both follow the Greek closely but are bolder in adding dramatic significance to conventional and formulaic Homeric language. Lombardo has chosen an American idiom that is much more colloquial than the other translations.

[edit] List of English translations

[edit] Interlinear translations

[edit] See also

[edit] References

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[edit] External links

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Epic Cycle
Cypria | Iliad | Aithiopis | Little Iliad | Iliou persis | Nostoi | Odyssey | Telegony

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