The first lines of the Iliad in Greek
"Sing, Goddess, of the anger of Achilles..."
The story of Homer's Iliad
begins in the middle of the Trojan War, just at the end
of the Bronze Age in Greece. (To find out about the beginning of
the war, click here). We don't
know if there ever really was a Trojan War, but even if there was, this
is a story about it, not a real memory of it.
The Greeks believed that the Trojan War lasted for ten years, and this story happens in the tenth year of the war, when both sides were really sick of being at war, and the Greeks were sick of being away from home.
The Iliad begins with a fight between the leader of the Greeks, King
Agamemnon of Mycenae,
and the Greeks' best fighter, King Achilles
(uh-KILL-eez). (The Greeks lived in a lot of little city-states,
and in the Bronze Age each one
had its own king, but Agamemnon
was leading them all during the war). The Greeks had won a battle and
were splitting up the booty (the stuff they had captured). Everybody
had a pile of stuff. Achilles had gotten a woman among his stuff, to
be his slave, whose name was Briseis
(brih-SAY-iss). But Agamemnon decided that HE wanted the pretty Briseis,
and he just took her from Achilles, saying that he was the head of the
army so he would do what he liked.
Well, Achilles was so angry that Agamemnon took Briseis from him that he refused to fight for the Greeks anymore and just sat in his tent and sulked. Without their best fighter, the Greeks started losing battles.
Finally Achilles' best
friend Patroclos thought of an idea. He put on Achilles' famous
armor and went out to fight. Both
the Greeks and the Trojans thought Achilles had come back to the battle
and the Greeks won a big victory, but Patroclos was killed in the fighting:
he might dress like Achilles but he could not fight like him.
When Achilles heard that Patroclos was dead, he was ashamed of how he had been sulking. He agreed to fight again. Now the Greeks really started to win. So the best Trojan fighter, Prince Hector, came out from Troy to fight Achilles. They fought for a long time, but finally Achilles killed Hector.
Hector's father, King Priam, came to Achilles at night to ask for his son's body back, and Achilles gave it to him.
The Iliad ends here, but this is not the end of the story. For more on the Trojan War, click here.
To find out more about the Iliad, check out these books from Amazon or your library:
The Iliad of Homer (Oxford Myths and Legends), by Barbara Leonie Picard. A retelling of the story, for kids.
Approaches to Teaching Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, by Kostas Myrsiades (1987).
The Iliad (Penguin Classics) by Homer. Translated by Robert Fagles.
The World of Odysseus, by Moses Finley and Bernard Knox (1954). A standard for anyone interested in Homer.