The Iliad

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The Iliad
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Original Title: Ιλιάς
Central Theme:
Synopsis: Achilles' rage against first king Agamemnon and then the Trojan prince Hector, ending with Achilles killing Hector in revenge for the death of Patroclus and Priam coming to Achilles to ransom Hector's body (Wikipedia)
Series: The Trojan Cycle
Preceded by: Cypria
Followed by: Aethiopis
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"Μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾿ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾿ ἔθηκε"

Homer, The Iliad, Bk.I:1-2 [1]

The Iliad (Greek: Ιλιάς) is an epic poem from the Trojan Cycle describing a few months in the ninth year of the Trojan War, a siege of the great city of Troy by an alliance of Greek city-states. It is considered one of the cornerstones of Western literature.

The main plot concerns Achilles, the invaders' strongest soldier. Achilles, according to prophecy, has a choice: either die an untimely death that ensures his legend lives forever, or retire to a life of normality and obscurity. After a falling-out with King Agamemnon, Achilles withdraws from the war, tempted by the second option. In his absence, the fortunes of battle begin to swing the Trojan way. Achilles eventually, of course, chooses glory... after the death of his friend Patroclus.

Within this narrative framework, the poem gives an incredibly detailed and engaging snapshot of the war, from the battles themselves to the personalities of the elites and the political machinations of the gods; both prophecy and free will are strong forces. Crossover characters from other Greek myths are a bonus for the dedicated fan.

For more details, and the even more famous sequel, see Homer. For the most recent film adaptation, see Troy.

The Iliad is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in The Iliad include:
  • Achilles in His Tent
  • Aerith and Bob: Helen, Hector, Cassandra, and (possibly) Paris are rather jarring alongside Achilles, Patroclus, Menelaus, and Andromache.
  • Alone in a Crowd: Helen, so much. It's even worse when you remember that city-states had tens of thousands of people in them.
  • An Aesop:
    • Solve conflicts through words and compromise, not violence or insult. Becomes more obvious in the penultimate book where we see several altercations (e.g. Ajax vs. Idomeneus, Antilochus vs. Achilles, Antilochus vs. Menelaus) over prizes in the Funeral Games that mirror Achilles and Agamemnon's initial argument but are settled peaceably. While this may seem something of a Broken Aesop as the setting is an enormous war, it's worth noting that if the Trojans had returned Helen and apologized at the beginning, they probably wouldn't have gotten their whole city destroyed.
    • Welcome counsel. Whenever characters refuse advice (which is often) it never ends well.
  • Anti-Hero: At the time of the tale's origin, Achilles was definitely not an antihero, but due to Values Dissonance, many readers see Achilles as a colossal Jerkass and are more sympathetic to Hector, who is not a nice guy either.
  • The Archer: Paris and Pandarus for the Trojans, Teucer for the Greeks.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: If Achilles is so Badass, why is Agamemnon in charge? He has the most ships, by ten. Admittedly, the entire fleet was put together to bring Helen back to her husband, Agamemnon's brother.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Trope Codifier. The entire plot happens because people just don't stop to think before they act. Paris especially is guilty of this.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: All the heroes are nobles, and the battles are all decided by how well they fight each other. This is fundamental to the warfare of the time; it is the noble's duty to kick ass. The common soldiers are just mooks.
  • Badass: Achilles, Aeneas, Agamemnon, Ajax, the other Ajax, Diomedes, Glaucus, Hector, Patroclus, Odysseus, Sarpedon, Menelaus... pretty much everybody, in fact.
  • Barbarian Hero: Most of the Greeks.
  • Bash Brothers: Greater Ajax and his illegitimate brother Teucer. Typically the latter will hide behind Ajax's shield and fire over it, providing long-range support, while Ajax handles the close up stuff. It's rather heartwarming when you realise that despite Teucer's bastard status, the two of them are very close.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Achilles asks Zeus to help the Trojans punish the Greeks, which ends in his friend Patroclus' death fighting the empowered Trojans.
  • Because Destiny Says So: The prophecy that the newborn Paris would grow up to bring doom to Troy. Thus, the Trojan war and everything connected with it happen because of destiny.
    • More complicated than that. To the Greeks, fate was the destination, not the path we take to get there. (Notice that even in English "destiny" comes from the same root as "destination".) According to a legend (not actually in the Iliad), Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite asked Paris to judge a beauty contest between them. Then each one offered him a bribe -- power, wealth, or the most beautiful woman on Earth. Of course, Paris opted for that last bribe, which is how the war started. But that wasn't destined. Paris was free to take one of the other bribes -- and undoubtedly, each one of them would've resulted in Troy's destruction, but in a different way.
    • Additionally, there were several ways to save Troy. Various prophecies stated that is so and so was alive on the Trojan side or so and so did not fight on the Greek side Troy would never fall. Needless to say the Greeks took care of all of those.
  • The Berserker: Achilles and, to the surprise of anyone familiar with the various adaptations, Agamemnon. Seriously, read his rampage in Book 11. It screams Unstoppable Rage.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Agamemnon to Menelaus. Seriously, don't hurt his little brother.
  • Big Good: Agamemnon is a subversion. He's the leader of the Greeks and the one who began the campaign, but not even he can resist the temptation to Kick the Dog.
  • The Big Guy: Telamonean/Big Ajax, aka Greater Ajax and Ajax the Giant. He's the biggest soldier among the Greek forces, and doubles as a Mighty Glacier/ Stone Wall during defensive battles. Sarpedon seems to play a similar role on the Trojan side. Both are pretty decent guys.
  • Bond One-Liner: After spearing Cebriones and causing him to backflip out of his chariot, Patroclus remarks that he'd make a good oyster diver. Of course, this being The Iliad, it's a bit longer than one line.
  • Book Ends: The Iliad begins and ends with an initially refused ransom that is eventually accepted.
  • Brains and Brawn: Hector and Polydamas, Greater Ajax and Teucer, Odysseus and Diomedes in Book 10.
  • Break the Haughty: Achilles. Agamemnon as well.
  • Byronic Hero: Achilles.
  • The Cassandra: While the Trope Namer herself makes a minor appearance, she actually doesn't qualify in this case. Polydamus, on the other hand, is a Trojan of good standing and well-recognized intelligence whose advice Hector violently rejects on multiple occasions, leading to massive losses for the Trojans and their allies and Hector's eventual death.
  • Character Filibuster: Goes with the territory for epic poetry, but often characters have huge monologues even in the middle of battles. Lampshaded when both Odysseus and Menelaus basically ask, "Why am I talking to myself like this?" during their speeches.
  • Combat by Champion: Menelaus vs. Paris, Hector vs. Ajax.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Achilles and Patroclus after the latter's death.
  • Dead Sidekick: Patroclus for Achilles.
  • Deconstruction: Can be seen as one of the first, given its emphasis on the stupidity of the heroic code, and the damage that it causes to those who try and live up to it.
  • Deus Ex Machina: All over the place, naturally.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Early on, Helen gives Aphrodite a piece of her mind. Aphrodite puts her in her place shortly afterward, but damn, girl!
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?:
    • In books five and six, Diomedes goes on a god-stabbing rampage. First he slashes Aphrodite's arm when she tries to rescue Aeneas. Apollo picks up the baton and is forced to repel three attacks by Diomedes before using his divine don't-mess-with-the-gods voice to tell him to back off. The wounded Aphrodite meanwhile runs and tattles to her lover, Ares, the god of slaughter; he promptly arrives to lay down the law. Instead, he gets Impaled with Extreme Prejudice by Diomedes's spear, causing him to howl like thousands of men in pain (literally) and run to his daddy. Diomedes becomes the only mortal to injure two gods in a single day, though this could not have been done without massive help from Athena. Some scholars believes that this whole episode pre-dates The Iliad, and Homer lumped it into his own epic.
    • During his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, Achilles beats down the local river god. While crossing it.
    • And in this same scene, some random Dual-Wielding Trojan becomes probably the first person in history to draw blood from Achilles.
    • When Achilles is ready for his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, Zeus announces to the Gods to interfere because Achilles is so angry that he will likely prove Fate wrong and conquer Troy on his own!
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: Hera borrows Aphrodite's girdle to distract Zeus with sexy. This may be god on god, but Zeus, as king of the gods, can curb stomp just about anyone.
  • Dressing as the Enemy
  • Dual-Wielding: Several characters are mentioned to be holding two spears at once, or one spear and one sword.
  • Due to the Dead: Proper respect towards corpses is very, very, very important in The Iliad.
  • El Cid Ploy: Patroclus pulls one by dressing as Achilles while he's In His Tent
  • Emotional Bruiser: Hector.
  • Epic Catalog: The most famous is the Catalogue of Ships in Book 2, some 250 lines just listing all the Greek commanders and how many ships each one brought from his domains.
  • Eye Scream: More than one character gets their eyes bashed out.
  • Fatal Flaw: Achilles and Agamemnon both suffer greatly from their pride and wrath. Hector's refusal to listen to advice that contradicts his own desires leads to massive losses for his side and eventually his death.
  • Final Speech: Sarpedon and Patroclus get these.
  • The Final Temptation
  • Five-Man Band: The Greek leaders.
  • Flaunting Your Fleets: It includes a hour-long-in-reading chapter made solely of the list of how many ships and men every allied Greek kingdom sends to Troy.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Homer's audience would have been very familiar with the myths behind the story, and known how it all ended. The fact that the Trojans are doomed to lose is known even by Hector himself.
  • Forging Scene: Thetis gets Hephaistos to forge armor for Achilles.
  • Genius Bruiser: Most of the heroes would fall into this category by modern standards, as they're able to speak elequently and have erudite conversations with each other despite being supreme badasses. The Greeks valued wit and intelligence as much as martial ability. However, the stand-out is obviously Odysseus, favored of Athena, who has the well-earned reputation as the most clever hero. Polydamas (as Badass Hector's Foil) is also up there.
  • Gorn: Homer gets pretty graphic with the carnage.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Very much so. While largely centering on the Greek point of view, the Trojans are also described largely as noble, especially Hector.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Amongst the gifts offered to Achilles to convince him to rejoin the battle are some Lesbian slaves (which is to say, women native to the island of Lesbos), which are described as "They whom all men lust after." Hoo boy...
  • Hello, Nurse!: Helen of Troy.
  • Hero Antagonist: Hector is in many ways far more noble than Achilles. At least one scholar sees the portrayal of Hector.
  • Heroic Bastard: A few of the heroes, including Teucer, are mentioned to be illegitimate of birth.
  • Heroic BSOD: Achilles is so depressed after Patroclus' death, Patroclus' ghost has to come back to tell him to stop mourning and burn his corpse.
  • Historical Fantasy: Set during the Greek Bronze Age and although the actual date of composition was debated, it was at least a few hundred years later.
  • Hypocrite:
    • What did the war start over? Paris taking Menelaus's woman. So why does Menelaus's brother think he can take Achilles's woman?

Are the Atreidae of all mortal men
the only ones who love their wives? I think not.
Every sane decent fellow loves his own
and cares for her, as in my heart I loved
Briseis, though I won her by the spear.

    • Note that later on, Achilles himself suggests taking away the prize rightly won by Nestor's son in a chariot race. Now, you'd think if anyone knew what could go wrong when you took away a prize someone rightly won...
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: A lot of people. Including Ares.
  • It's All My Fault:
    • Achilles after Patroclus' death -- he's right.
    • Helen probably feels immense guilt for causing a ten-year war.
  • It's Personal: After Agamemnon dishonors him, Achilles doesn't care a fig about the Trojan war until his buddy gets killed.
  • Lady of War: Athena herself helps out the Greek side. Also beats up Ares in a duel.
  • The Lancer: Patroclus to Achilles, either Aeneas or Polydamas to Hector.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Achilles is described as "fleet-footed" many times. Antilochus calls him the fastest of the Achaeans, though he might have just been buttering Achilles up for a reward, which he gets.
  • Living MacGuffin: Helen of Troy.
  • The Load: Paris may be the Ur Example. Even the other Trojans think he's a philandering, cowardly jerk who's responsible for the war. His preferred weapon is a "cowardly bow", is humiliated in his only proper fight, and relies on the Goddess of Love to get him out of trouble. When the armies gather for the duel between Paris and Menelaos, it is explicitly stated that, whether Greek or Trojan, everyone wants Paris dead. In one translation, he gets called a "desperate, womanizing pretty boy" by his Badass older brother Hector, and a "sissy, curly-haired pimp of a bowman" by Diomedes. Of course, in part of the myth not covered in the Iliad, he gets one over Achilles by hitting his heel with his poisoned arrows.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: And roughly 70% of them get killed off.
  • Lock and Load: Arming scenes are everywhere. Even the ladies get in on it; for example, when Hera is dressing to seduce Zeus.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: Sometimes the deaths in Iliad are quite messy. Homer goes into loving detail about how each weapon is swung/thrown, how it flies through the air, who it hits, what part of their body it hits, how it penetrated their armor, which internal organs it damages, whether/how it exits their body, how long it takes them to die, how they die, and their comrades' reaction to their death.
  • Made a Slave: Hector foresees this fate for Andromache and all the women of Troy.
  • Malicious Slander: While it was understandable for the time period and the fact that she caused the war (even if unwillingly), nearly everyone in Troy called Helen a whore or treated her with disrespect. Good thing Hector is there to be a man and stand up for his sister-in-law.
  • Manly Tears: Many times. The most famous example being between Achilles and King Priam when Priam begs Achilles to return the body of his son Hector for burial. Priam's passion moves Achilles who begins thinking about his lost friend Patroclus; and the two men weep together over their loss.
  • Mind Screw: The end of the second book is deemed as jarring by some as the author starts to talk in the first person and invokes the Muses to aid his memory.
  • Momma's Boy:
    • Achilles.
    • When she gets her hand speared by Diomedes, Aphrodite proves herself to be quite the Momma's Girl.
  • The Mentor: Nestor tries. He really, really does.
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: When Diomedes slashes and stabs Aphrodite and Ares, respectively, it's the first time either of them have been injured, and they apparently aren't accustomed to pain. They both scream in agony and flee back to Olympus. Most of the mortal heroes, on the other hand, take a number of wounds and continue slaughtering each other for years.
  • The Muse: Homer invokes an unnamed Muse several times to help him get things right.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut:
    • Notably, despite the fact that she was taken as a war prize by Achilles, Agamemnon has to swear that he did not sleep with Breseis when giving her back to Achilles.
    • In another point against him, Paris does not defend Helen when others accuse her of this. That's Hector's job. Or, it was.
  • Narrative Poem: Not quite the Ur Example...
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Achilles, making this form of Straw Nihilist Older Than Feudalism. He gets an absolutely epic rant about how life and the heroic code are meaningless, and they're all going to die and be forgotten anyway. He goes so far as to wish everyone but himself and Patroclus dead.
  • Nominal Importance: Heavily averted. We learn the names, and usually the fathers' names, of hundreds of characters whose only purpose is to be slaughtered.
  • Off with His Head: A couple of people get beheaded. At least once, it's done with a stone. In the entirety of bool 17 Hector tries to decapitate Patroclus' corpse.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted here as two of the Achaean soldiers are named Ajax, or Aias (they even have a collective name-- the Aiantes-- which seems to be an example of ancient lampshading). In addition, one of the Ajaces' surname is Oileades - and there's another soldier by that name briefly mentioned as well.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Helen of Troy, who got that name after being abducted by a Trojan prince. Almost nobody calls her "Helen of Sparta."
  • Oral Tradition: Until it was written down, at least.
  • Person as Verb: Apollo, while in the guise of one of Hector's friends, tries to rile him up by accusing him of being "in fight a Paris".
  • Psychopathic Manchild: All the characters have their moments actually, but Achilles really takes the cake (outside of the Jerkass Gods that is).
  • Rated "M" for Manly: This was a story by men, for men, about being manly men.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: I suppose you figured that one out already.
  • Real Men Eat Meat: Usually an ox or pig slaughtered for the purpose.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Though at least it is more realistic than dactylic hexameter!
  • Redshirt Army: Hundreds die in the Iliad, but only about four have any emotional import.
  • Relative Button: Hector does not take kindly to having two of his half-brothers killed.
  • Retcon: Common scholarly consensus is that Aphrodite and Apollo didn't even exist in the Greek pantheon at the time the Iliad takes place (the Greek Bronze Age), despite being relatively major characters in it.
  • Retired Badass: Nestor, who lectures the Achaeans about all the glory he had when he was young.
  • Revenge Myopia: Hector gets the bad end of this. His country is at war with the Greeks (who are the invaders) and he kills Patroclus in battle and tries to desecrate his corpse. Achilles, Patroclus's best friend, kills Hector in revenge and desecrates his corpse. Today, Hector is the one usually portrayed sympathetically.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Achilles loses it when Patroclus bites the dust.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Most all the central warriors are either kings or princes.
  • Sacred Hospitality: One of the more famous examples in literature. Paris steals Helen while he's a guest in her and Menelaus' home. While the act has plenty of political ramifications, it's the breach of hospitality that causes such an uproar, and is used to rouse the entire army of Greece to sack Troy in response.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: The Iliad is an epic poem, not a myth. It also does not contain many well-known events in the Trojan War, such as the Trojan Horse, the death of Achilles, the theft of the Palladium, the fall of Troy, etc. Some of these events are mentioned in the Odyssey, but we've lost the other epics from the Trojan Cycle that actually deal with these episodes. Some colorful additions (like Achilles' Achilles' Heel) come from sources much later.
  • Secret Test of Character: Early on, in preparation for an attack, Agamemnon tests the Greeks' fighting spirit by saying, in short, "We'll never take Troy; let's pack up and go home." The leaders then have to stop their troops from following through.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: When Hera seduces Zeus, he creates a cloud for a little privacy.
  • Shipper on Deck: Agamemnon becomes exponentially funnier if you view him as a Helen/Menelaus shipper. It's not even innacurate.
  • Shut UP, Hannibal and/or Shut Up, Kirk: Several characters respond to their opponents' pre-duel Badass Boasts by basically telling them to shut up and hit someone. Of course, this being Homer, they take several pages to say that.
  • The Smart Guy: Odysseus (Greek), and Polydamas (Trojan) for their entire respective armies.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter![context?]
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Achilles/Akhilleus, Patroclus/Patroklos, Hector/Hektor, Ajax/Aias, Helen/Helene.
  • Take Our Word for It: In all of Helen's appearances she is never given a full description. Homer uses the reactions of those around Helen to emphasize her beauty.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Several characters give speeches in the middle of battle, both to the other men and the enemy. Patroclus both lampshades and plays this straight, when he points in the middle of battle that words are good for debate and not in war, and that in the time you'll give a nice speech a whole bunch of people will have probably died. In Book Sixteen he says, "Warfare's finality lies in the work of hands, that of words in counsel. It is not for us not to pile up talk, but to fight in battle."
  • Talking Animal: In the end of Book Nineteen, Hera temporarily gives Achilles' horse, Xanthos, the power of speech for a few minutes.
  • Those Two Guys: Idomeneus (King Of Crete) and his aide-de-camp, Meriones. They're practically joined at the hip. Still Badass though.
  • Tragic Bromance: Achilles and Patroclus
  • Tragic Hero: So many.
  • Traumatic C-Section: Agamemnon scolds his brother Menelaos for showing mercy to a Trojan:

Agamemnon: Not a single one of them must escape sheer destruction at our hands. Not even if a mother carries one in her belly and he is male, not even he should escape.

  • Unstoppable Rage: Everybody, but most noticeably Achilles and Agamemnon, who seem to be at their best when enraged.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Getting abducted in ancient Greece may be worse than it already sounds, since some believe that it is a synonym for rape. However, the truth is the other way around: "Rape" can mean "to steal" as well. Sexual rape was just something that happened to occur during or after an abduction (or as the point of one), but "sexual rape" and "abduction" are not in any way synonymous.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: This was a common aspect of oral tradition at the time, partially because most epics would have to be recited over several days or more, meaning it was easy for people to forget things that had happened early in the story.
    • The dream Zeus sends Agamemnon in book 2 is written out no less than three times, and nearly word-for-word: when Zeus describes what it will be, when dream!Nestor relays this message, and when Agamemnon relays this message to the war council.
    • The bribe for Achilles in Book Nine is repeated. That's two pages of walls of text there.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Homer returns to this idea repeatedly, expressing it through a metaphor likening human beings to leaves as autumn approaches.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Aeneas. Just as Achilles is about to kill him, the Gods save his life and declare that after the war, he shall be the leader of all future Trojans. He's rarely mentioned again, and then only in passing. 800 years later, Virgil decided to make this a Brick Joke.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Patroclos calls Achilles out on his stubborness over his wounded honor instead of fighting the Trojans.
    • Paris is such a Jerkass that Helen doesn't mention him in any meaningful way over her half-page of grieving over Hector. She doesn't even name him as the only other person who's still nice to her--no, that goes to Priam. Nice work, Paris.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The Trojans could have just given Helen back to avoid total annihilation, but this would have gone completely against Greek culture, and certainly would have made a lousy story. The Trojans are actually ready to do this after Menelaus beats Paris in their duel, but an archer on the Trojan side shoots at Menelaus during the intervening truce, restarting the war.
  • Wish Fulfillment: Even considering Values Dissonance, how many people wish they could command an army to kill some bastards when their spouse makes off with someone else?
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Helen, the Trope Namer (as well as the Trope Codifier, Trope Maker, and the one in the oldest book).
  • World of Badass: Greece is lousy with heroes, each worth at least 100 common soldiers.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: What we would call an Overused Running Gag.
  1. (Sing, Muse, of the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus, the accursed anger which brought countless pains to the Achaeans)