The Iliad



 To some extent we can infer from a text the values, ethics, and code of honor of the culture from which the text emerged. In the case of the Iliad, the heroic ideals of two different cultures are set  in opposition to one another. Homer contrasts the Greek ideal of rugged masculinity and individualism against the comparatively gentler Orientalism of Troy. The Greek hero Achilles with his blustering rage and his wounded pride is matched with the Trojan prince Hector who displays ferocity on the battle field and domestic gentility at home with his family. As the epic begins, Achilles, a 7th century draft-dodger and cross-dresser, loses his favorite female slave to Agamemnon the Greek Commander in Chief. Achilles, his pride hurt, withdraws from battle and begs  his goddess mother’s help in bringing about the destruction of the Greek army. The Greek hero, fearing his own death, does not return to combat until his pride is again wounded when Hector kills Patroclus and takes Achilles’ armor from the dead body. Achilles’ primary emotive states in the Iliad are rage and indignation. In contrast, the excerpts in our anthology pertaining to Hector detail the return of the Trojan prince from the battlefield and his final battle with Achilles. In both scenes, Hector demonstrates reverence to the gods, bravery on the battlefield, and concern for his family. While Homer contrasts the Greek and Trojan heroic ideals (Achilles and Hector), the poet also supplies a domestic contrast for Trojans in the form of Hector’s interaction with his wife and child and the highly dysfunctional Olympian Family. In our anthology, the counsel of the Olympian gods and the return of Hector to Troy seem to follow immediately one upon the other. Although there is in reality five books intervening, we are nevertheless invited to analyze the two passages together. Feminist critics in particular may be surprised to find Hector listening to the counsel of his wife, responding tenderly to her fears, and taking a moment to play with his infant son. Zeus’ interaction with his wife and son may be more in line with what many of us expect from a 7th century BC patriarch: he interrupts his wife and threatens her with bodily harm while his son, crippled by a prior run-in with his father, watches.

Genre: Epic Poetry

Background (the causes of war)

The Rape of Leda

The Judgment of Paris

Important Characters

The Greeks (aka Achaeans, Danaans, Argives, and Hellenes):


Trojans (aka Dardanians):





Discussion questions:

1. Given the sharp contrasts between Greek and Trojan and between human and god, where do you think the sympathies of the author lie? Is Homer privileging one code of conduct over the other?

2. Why does Achilles call the mission to Troy an “insane voyage”?

3. Compare and contrast Achilles and Hector. Consider their motivations for fighting, their willingness to fight, and their loyalty to others.

4. Consider epithets as an indication of character, values, and function: glistening-footed Thetis, man-killing Hector, brilliant Achilles, white-armed Hera, white-armed Andromache. How do the epithets aid in the development of character? Some characters have more than one epithet; what are they?

5. Discuss the shield of Achilles: what sort of world does it depict? How do the “two noble cities” differ and how do they fit into the epic? What other scenes does Hephaestus forge and to what effect?

6. Discuss Achilles' relationship with Briseis. What insights does the text offer in regard to their feelings for one another?

7. Compare and contrast human family and divine family. What parallels do you find between Book I. lines 636-723 and VI.158-308? (Note that both Andromache and Hera carry the epithet “white-armed.”)


Comparative points to consider:

1. Compare/contrast Homer’s Achilles and Hector with Vergil’s Aeneas and Turnus (Aenied).

2. Compare/contrast the heroes of Greek and Roman mythology (Achilles, Odysseus, and Aeneas). Does Vergil improve upon the Greek ideal?

3. Compare/contrast the shields of Aeneas and Achilles.