Homer's Iliad (an excerpt)

The Achaians (Greeks), under king Agamemnon, have been fighting the Trojans for nine years, trying to retrieve Helen, the wife of Menelaos, and thus Agamemnon's sister-in-law.  Helen, who will become legendary as "Helen of Troy" and as "the woman with the face that launched a thousand ships, "was kidnapped by Paris, a son of the king of Troy.

Yet, after nine years of Achaian attacks, Troy still remains intact, and the Trojan army remains undefeated.  The same cannot be said for the Achaian army.  At present, the Achaian troops are dying from a mysterious plague.  Hundreds of funeral pyres burn nightly.  Finally, Achilles, the Achaians' most honored soldier, calls for an assembly to determine the cause of the plague.

A soothsayer reveals to the army that King Agamemnon's arrogance caused the deadly plague; he refused to return a woman who was captured and awarded to him as a "war prize."  Reluctantly, Agamemnon agrees to return the woman, but, as compensation, he says that he will take the woman who was awarded to Achilles, his best warrior.

Achilles is furious, and he refuses to fight any longer for the Achaians.  He and his forces retreat to the beach beside their ships, and Achilles asks his mother, a goddess, if she will ask Zeus, king of the gods, to help the Trojans defeat his former comrades, the Achaians.  Zeus agrees to do so.

The two armies prepare for battle, and Paris (the warrior who kidnapped Menelaos' wife, Helen) leaps out and challenges any of the Achaians to duel.  Menelaos challenges him and bests him, but before Paris is killed, the goddess Aphrodite whisks him away to the safety of his bedroom in Troy.

A short truce is called, but it is broken when an over-zealous soldier wounds Menelaos.  During the battle that follows, Diomedes, an Achaian, dominates the action, killing innumerable Trojans and wounding Aphrodite, a goddess.

The Trojans seems to be losing, so Hektor returns to Troy to ask his mother to offer sacrifices to Athena.  She performs the rituals, but Athena refuses to accept them.  Meanwhile, Hektor discovers Paris and shames him into returning to battle.  Then Hektor visits with his wife and their baby son.  It is clear that Hektor is deeply devoted to his family, yet feels the terrible weight of his responsibility as commander-in-chief of the Trojan army.

During the fighting that continues, the Achaians begin to falter, and at one point, Athena, Zeus' daughter, fears that the entire Achaian army might be slaughtered.  Thus, she and Apollo decide to have Hektor challenge one of the Achaians' warriors to a duel in order to settle the war.  Telamonian Aias (Ajaz) battles Hektor so valiantly that the contest ends in a draw, and a truce is called.

During this break in the fighting, the dead of both armies are buried and given appropriate funeral rites, and the Achaians fortify their defenses with a strong wall and a moat-like ditch.

The fighting resumes again, and so many Achaians are slaughtered that Agamemnon suggests that his troops sail for him, but finally he is convinced that he must return to fighting.  Messengers are sent to Achilles, asking him to return to battle, but Achilles is still sulking beside his ships and refuses to fight.

Soon Agamemnon, Dimedes, Odysseus, and old Nestor are all seriously wounded, and Achilles realizes that the Achaians are critically suffering defeat.  Therefore, he sends his warrior-companion, Patroklos, to find out who the seriously wounded are.

Patroklos talks with old Nestor, one of the wisest of the Achaian soldiers, and old Nestor asks Patroklos to dress in Achilles' armor and return to battle.  The Achaians, he says, will rejoice and have new faith in their death struggle against the Trojans when they think that they see Achilles returning to the battle.  in addition, the Trojans will so fear the wrath of the mighty Achilles that they will be easily defeated.  Patoklos promises to ask Achilles for permission to use his armor and ride into battle disguised as the mighty warrior. 

Fallen Warrior, Temple of Aphaia

Meanwhile, Hektor leads a massive Trojan surge against the Achaian wall which stands between the Trojans and the Achaian fleet of ships, and the wall is successfully smashed.  The tumult is so deafening that hell itself seems unloosed.

Achilles is watching and realizes that his wish is about to be granted:  The Achaians are about to be annihilated.  He sends Patroklos into fighting, disguised as Achilles himself.  the Achaian army rejoices at what they think is the return of Achilles to the fighting, and the Trojans are so terrified that they are quickly swept back to the walls of Troy.

Patroklos' valor seems superhuman, and he is slaying nine Trojans in a single charge when Apollo strikes him with such fury that Hektor is able to catch him off-guard and thrust a spear through his body.  Then some of the most intense fighting of the war follows in a battle to claim Patroklos' body.  Finally, the Achaians rescue Patroklos' corpse, and Hektor captures Achilles armor.  Then the Achaians return to the beach, guarding their ships as best they can.

Achilles is filled with overwhelming grief and rage when he learns that his warrior-companion, Patroklos, has been slaughtered.  His mother, Thetis, comes to him and advises him that it is fated the he will die if he tries to revenge Patroklos' death.  But she says that if Achilles decides to revenge Patroklos' death, she will outfit him in a suit of new armor, made by one of the gods.

Achilles choose: he will defy certain death and the Trojans in an attempt to punish them for what they (and he) did to Patroklos.  Thus, he returns to battle in his new armor and is so successful that he and the Achaians rout the Trojans, and he savagely kills Hektor, the Trojans' mightiest warrior. Achilles' anger is not sated, however, and so he ties Hektor's corpse to his chariot and circles Patroklos' burial mound every day for nine days.

Hektor's parents are so grieved at the barbaric treatment given to their son's corpse that Priam, Hektor's father, goes to Achilles and begs for his son's body.  Achilles is so moved by Priam's pleas and by the memory of his own father that he agrees to cleanse and return Hektor's body.

Hektor's body is given the appropriate cremation rites, and then with mourning and weeping for the noble warrior, the Trojans place his remains in a golden casket and place it in a burial barrow.

Background of the Trojan war

The Iliad deals with only a small portion of the Trojan War; in fact, it covers only a few months during the tenth year of that war.  The ancient Greek audience, however, would have been familiar with all the events leading up to this tenth year, and during the course of the Iliad, Homer makes many references to various past events. 

The legend begins ages ago, with the building of the city of Troy.  It was a city under the protection of the sons of Zeus, king of the gods.  Its king was Laomedon, and as the city prospered rapidly, the king decided to build a huge wall around it for protection.  This, of course, is the wall that the Greeks have not been able to penetrate for nine years - the point at which the Iliad begins.  To build such a magnificent wall it was necessary to evoke divine aid, and the god of the seas and the oceans, Poseidon, volunteered to help, but he said that he would have to be compensated for his efforts.  After the wall was completed, the Trojans thought that it was so impenetrable that they refused to compensate Poseidon.  He then withdrew his protection, and, thus, the city was without divine protection and was vulnerable to attack.

At the time of the Trojan war, Troy was ruled by King Priam, who was married to Hekuba, who according to legend bore him forty-nine children, including the noble Hektor, the prophetess Cassandra, Paris, and many more.  When Hekuba was pregnant with Paris, she had a dream that Paris would be the cause of the destruction of Troy.  An oracle and a seer confirmed that this son would indeed be the cause of the total destruction of the noble city of Troy; therefore, for the sake of the city, Hekuba agreed to abandon her newborn infant to death by exposure on Mount Ida, but he was saved by Shepherds and grew up as a shepherd, ignorant of his royal birth.

Just before the beginning of the Trojan War, Zeus arranged to have Thetis (a goddess ) marry Peleus (a mortal); they will be the mother and father of the noble Achilles.  At the wedding, all the gods and goddesses were enjoying themselves when Eris, the goddess of discord, who, for obvious reason, was not invited, threw a golden apple into their midst with the words, "FOR THE FAIREST, " inscribed on it.

Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite all claimed the apple and asked Zeus to judge between them, but he wisely refused and, instead the shepherd Paris (who was attending his flocks close by) to judge the contest.  The goddesses approached Paris, and each tried to bride him by offering her specialty: Hera offered him a rich kingdom and Power; Athena offered him Wisdom and Military Successes; Aphrodite offered him Love, the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, the spectacular Helen.  Paris therefore chose Aphodite, thus making implacable enemies of Hera and Athena, both of whom vowed to destroy Paris and the city of Troy.

On learning that he would posses Helen, Paris first went to Troy and established himself as a true prince, the legitimate son of Priam and Hekuba.  Then he sailed for Sparta to the court of King Menelaos, where he seduced and then abducted Helen and returned to Troy.

When Menelaos returned to Sparta and found his wife gone, he summoned a number of Greek generals to go with his to conquer Troy and recover Helen.  Long ago, each of these generals had courted Helen, and they had all entered into an agreement: they had pledged to aid the winner of Helen's love and to avenge any dishonor that fell upon her future husband because of her.  Thus, Paris precipitated the Trojan War, fulfilling the prophetic dream which his mother had of giving birth to a son who would be the cause of the destruction of the city of Troy.

Some of the Greek leaders were anxious to sack Troy, but two, Odysseus and Achilles, had been warned by oracles of their fate if they went.  Odysseus was warned that he would be gone for twenty years, and thus he feigned madness, but his ruse was quickly discovered, and he finally agreed to go.  The Greeks knew that they could never capture Troy without the help of Achilles, who was the greatest warrior in the world.  He was practically invulnerable as a fighter because at birth, his mother had dipped him the River Styx, rendering him immortal everywhere except in the heel, where she had held him (later, Paris will discover this vulnerability and will shoot a poisoned arrow into Achilles' heel - thus, we have the term "Achilles' hee," meaning one's vulnerability).  Achilles was warned that if he went to war, he would gain great glory, but that he would die young.  Therefore, his mother disguised him in women's clothing, but the sly Odysseus discovered the trick, and Achilles finally consented to go.

Menelaos' brother, Agamemnon, was elected leader of the armies.  after assembling a thousand ships, the winds died, and after consultations with the oracles, it was discovered that Agamemnon had killed a deer sacred to Artemis, the Goddess of the Hunt.  Nothing could pacify her anger except the sacrifice of Agamemnon's daughter Iphegenia.  After much anguish, Agamemnon sent for his daughter under the pretext that she was to marry Achilles.  Once there, however, he had her sacrificed, and the winds immediately began to blow.  The expedition was on its way.

After landing at the wrong place once, the Greeks (called "the Achaians" in the Iliad) finally reached Troy and surrounded the city, placing Achilles at one end and the famous Aias (Ajax) at the other end.  For nine years, they have tried to penetrate the invulnerable wall of Troy without success.  They have captured and pillaged many smaller places, however, and at the end of the ninth year, they captured two beautiful women, Chryseis, who was awarded to Agamemnon, and Briseis, who was awarded to Achilles.  Thus begins the Iliad, which will end with the burial of Hektor.

After the burial of Hektor, the Trojans called on outside forces for help, and the Greeks lost many good warriors.  In one battle, Achilles encountered Paris, who shot an arrow which, guided by Apollo, attack Achilles in the right heel, the only place where he was vulnerable.  Aia (Ajax) and Odysseus were able, but only with great difficulty, to rescue Achilles' body, and immediately there arose a dispute over who should receive Achilles' splendid armor.  When it was awarded to Odysseus, Aias (Ajax) was so furious that he threatened to kill some of the Greek leaders but when he realized the error of his way, he committed suicide.

With the death of their two greatest and most valiant warriors, Aias and Achilles, the Greeks became anxious about ever taking Troy.  After consulting various seers and oracles, they were instructed to secure the bow and arrows of Heracles, which were in the hands of Prince Philoctetes, a Greek who had been abandoned earlier because of a loathsome wound that would not heal.  Odysseus and Dimeds were sent, and they convinced Philoctetes to return with the bow and arrows and in his first encounter in battle he was able to kill Paris.  This death, however, did not affect the course of the war.

The Greeks were then given a series of things that would have to be accomplished to be victorious - such things as (1) bringing the boned of Pelops back to Greece from Asia, (2) bringing Achilles' son into the war, and (3) stealing the sacred image of Athena from the Trojan sanctuary.  These acts were accomplished, but none of them change the course of the war.  The Odysseus conceived of a plan whereby the Greeks could get inside the walls of Troy: a great horse of wood was constructed with a hollow belly that would hold many warriors.  In the darkness of night, the horse was brought to the Trojan plain, and some Greek warriors climbed into it.  The rest of the Greeks burned their camps and sailed off to wait behind a nearby island.

The next morning, the Trojans found the Greeks gone and the huge, mysterious horse sitting before Troy.  They also discovered a Greek named Sinon, whom they took captive.  Odysseus had primed Sinon with plausible stories about the Greeks because of the theft of her image from her temple.  Without her help, they were lost and so they parted.  But to get home safely, they had to have a human sacrifice.  Sinon was chosen, but he got away and hid.  The horse was left to placate the angry goddess, and the Greeks were hoping the Trojans would desecrate it, earning Athena's hatred.  These lies convinced Priam and many other Trojans, and so they pulled the gigantic horse inside the gates to honor Athena.

that night, the soldiers crept down out of the horse, killed the sentries, and opened the gates to let the Greek army in.  The Greeks set fires throughout the city, began massacring the inhabitants, and looted the city.  The Trojan resistance was ineffectual.  King Priam was killed and by morning all but a few Trojans were dead.  Only Aeneas with his old father, his young son, and a small band of Trojans escaped.  Hektor's young son was thrown from the walls of the city.  The women who were left were given to the Greek leaders as was prizes, to be used as slaves or as concubines.  Troy was devastated.  Hera and Athena had their revenge upon Paris and upon his city.