The Iliad of Homer


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The Homeric Hymns Homer. About the Author. Homer Originally attributed to Homer because of their style and quality, the hymns are now thought to have been written by of a number of different poets of the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Related articles. Sign up to the Penguin newsletter For the latest books, recommendations, offers and more.


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Please enter an email. Please enter a valid email address. Thank you for signing up to the Penguin Newsletter. 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 die by exposure on Mount Ida, but Paris was saved by shepherds and grew up as a shepherd, ignorant of his royal birth. On the Greek side, the story of the Iliad begins with the wedding of Peleus, a mortal, and Thetis, a goddess.

These two become the parents of Achilles. At their wedding, Eris, the goddess of strife, throws down a golden apple with the message, "For the Fairest. After a long conference on Mount Ida, Paris, the poor but royal shepherd is chosen to be the judge of the dispute between the three goddesses. They all offer bribes to Paris. Hera offers him rule over all of Asia. Athena offers victory in battle and supreme wisdom.

But Aphrodite, knowing her man, offers the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, wife of Menelaos, the ruler of Sparta. Paris proclaims Aphrodite the fairest of all and anticipates his prize. The initiation of strife, in the form of Eris and her apple, at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, introduces an idea that runs throughout the Iliad. Strife, metaphorically embodied in a goddess in the legend, is the motivating factor in most of the major events in the epic. Strife provokes the war.

Strife with Agamemnon over a slave girl causes Achilles to withdraw from battle. Strife between various groups and individuals sharpens the action of the poem. Finally, the resolution of strife provides an ending for the poem. Eris is rarely mentioned in the Iliad , but her presence is almost palpable.

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Before going to the court of Menelaos to secure Helen, Paris establishes his legitimacy as a son of King Priam of Troy. Only then does Paris travel to Sparta, where for ten days he is treated royally as the guest of Menelaos and Helen. After ten days, Menelaos has to travel to Crete to conduct business. In Menelaos' absence, Paris abducts Helen and returns with her to Troy. Various accounts of this event make Helen either a willing accomplice to Paris' scheme or a resisting victim of kidnapping. In the Iliad , Helen's constant references to herself as a bitch and prostitute leave little doubt that Homer sees her as a culpable accomplice in the abduction.

Word of Helen's abduction reaches Menelaos in Crete. He immediately goes to his brother, Agamemnon, the great ruler of Mycenae. At first the two brothers try diplomacy with Troy to secure the return of Helen. When that fails, they determine to enlist the aid of many other rulers of small Greek kingdoms. Nestor of Pylos, an old friend of the family, accompanies Menelaos as he goes to each state seeking support. The Greek army that Menelaos and Nestor help assemble represents the Greek or Mycenaean notion of reciprocity. Actions were performed with the expectation of a reciprocal action.

According to some accounts, the various Greek rulers had all courted Helen and felt an obligation to Menelaos. But, even so, they go on the raid with an understanding that they will receive a share of the booty that will come from the destruction of Troy and other nearby states. In fact, the opening dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles is over what they each see as inequity in the distribution of their war prizes. Some of the Greek leaders were anxious to sack Troy; but two, Odysseus and Achilles, were warned by the oracles of their fates if they participated in the war.

Odysseus was warned that his journey home would last twenty years, and thus he feigned madness; but his ruse was quickly discovered and he finally agreed to go to war.

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 dipped him in the River Styx, rendering him immortal everywhere except in the heel, where she held him. Later, Paris discovers this vulnerability and shoots a poisoned arrow into Achilles' heel — thus, we have the term "Achilles' heel," meaning one's vulnerability.

Can Homer's Iliad speak across the centuries?

Achilles was warned that if he went to war he would gain great glory, but he would die young. His mother then disguised him in women's clothing, but the sly Odysseus discovered the trick and Achilles finally consented to go. After a few months, the Greek army gathers at Aulis in Euboea. According to some accounts, they immediately launch an attack on Teuthrania, an ally of Troy, are defeated, and are driven back. Much of the army disperses. During this same period, the prophet Kalchas predicts that ten years will pass before the walls of Troy will fall.


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The Greeks, or Achaians as they called themselves, do not try a mass attack on Troy again for about eight years. They have not, as many imagine, spent nine years beneath the walls of Troy, as when the Iliad opens. Some scholars consider this first expedition story to be a variant account of the more common story, but many others think that the expedition against Troy was actually made up of two widely separated expeditions.

The story of the second or possibly first assembly at Aulis is the more famous account. At this assembly of the Achaian forces, they are unable to sail because of onshore winds. This time Kalchas reports that Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, is offended because Agamemnon killed a deer sacred to her. The only way the Achaians can leave is by Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigeneia, to Artemis. Agamemnon tricks Iphigeneia by telling her that she is to wed Achilles. When she arrives for her wedding, she is gagged so that she cannot pronounce a dying curse, and sacrificed to Artemis.

The winds shift, and the Achaians Greeks sail for Troy. The Achaians land at a protected shore near Troy. They build a wall of earth, stone, and timber to protect their ships.

The Iliad of Homer The Iliad of Homer
The Iliad of Homer The Iliad of Homer
The Iliad of Homer The Iliad of Homer
The Iliad of Homer The Iliad of Homer
The Iliad of Homer The Iliad of Homer
The Iliad of Homer The Iliad of Homer
The Iliad of Homer The Iliad of Homer
The Iliad of Homer The Iliad of Homer

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