Homer: The Iliad (750 B.C.?)


Homer's great epic stories of heroic man in the Late Bronze Age: The Iliad and The Odyssey

Who was Homer?

No one knows. Even the ancient Greeks were not able to agree about when and where Homer lived. One popular account was that he was born sometime in the 8th century BC in Smyrna in Asia Minor, lived on the island of Chios, and died on the small island of Ios. Greek writers also claimed that he was blind, that his real name was Melesigines, and that his father was the river Meles and his mother a nymph named Kretheis.


Though they could not agree about the details of his life, ancient Greeks did not doubt that there was a poet named Homer who had written the Iliad, the Odyssey, and possibly a number of other poems. Many modern scholars dispute even this. Scholars in the last two hundred years have established that the Iliad and Odyssey are products of a long oral tradition which became fixed sometime in the eighth century BC. How exactly the poems took their final shape (Was it the work of one person or several? Did the process involve writing?) is still a matter of speculation. (Reed College)

An outline of the events surrounding The Iliad:

  1. The Judgment of Paris: Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena
  2. Menelaus and his brother, the great Mycenaean King Agamemnon demand retribution: they gather kings and warriors from throughout the Peloponnesus: Nestor, Ajax, Diomedes, Achilles (whose mother Thetis tries to hide him), and Odysseus (who plays mad in an attempt to escape the draft).
  3. The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, Agamemnon's daughter, at Aulis enables the fleet to sail.
  4. The Iliad tells the story of four weeks during the tenth year of the siege of Troy.
  5. The warriors on both sides have fought each other to a standstill: gods (Hera, Athena and Poseidon) vs. gods (Apollo, Aphrodite) and men (Agamemnon, Achilles, Menelaus, Ajax, and Odysseus) vs. men (Hector, Paris, Aeneas, and Priam).
  6. Achilles falls out with Agamemnon over a trophy of war, the Trojan woman Chryseis.  He refuses to fight and his men, the Myrmidons, retire from the field.
  7. The Trojans, led by Hector, drive the Greeks back into the sea and threaten to burn their boats.
  8. Patroclus, wearing Achilles' armor, leads a counterattack but is killed by Hector.
  9. Achilles rejoins the battle and revenges the death of his friend by slaying Hector.  He desecrates Hector's corpse and drags the body behind his chariot around the walls of Troy.
  10. Priam comes alone to Achilles camp and begs him to surrender the corpse of his son. The Iliad ends with the burial of Hector.
  11. Achilles is killed in battle, shot in the heel.
  12. In the tenth year of the war, Odysseus devises a plan to break the siege: the Greeks pretend to give up the battle and leave behind a great wooden horse as a gift. The Trojans jubilantly draw the horse within their gates, but a contingent of Greek warriors hidden in the belly of the horse emerges and set fire to the city. Troy is sacked and pillaged.