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What is the Iliad?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 23, 2024
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Along with The Odyssey, The Iliad is a part of the oldest collection of epic poetry in history. The Iliad is and ancient Greek poem that, like the Odyssey, is purported to have been created by a man named Homer. Although no one has concrete evidence relating to the author of these tales, it is widely accepted that Homer was a blind Ionian bard. The Odyssey and The Iliad were created sometime between 800 and 700 BC. Rivaling these poems in age, the works of Hesiod were created around 700 BC.

The Iliad has been translated into dozens of languages, adapted for the stage and silver screen and inspired untold numbers of stories, novels, and poems. However, in Homer’s time literature was not appreciated on the page. Instead of being printed and distributed for solitary enjoyment by readers, stories were presented orally by the author. Homer, Hesiod, and men of their ilk would be brought into royal courts or the homes of nobles to orate, perhaps as entertainment after a meal.

The Iliad begins with the following words:

Sing, goddess, the rage of Achilles the son of Peleus,
the destructive rage that sent countless pains on the Achaeans...

Clearly, rage is an important part of the poem from the outset. In fact, the word iliad means “rage” or “wrath” in Ancient Greek. In keeping with the theme, The Iliad is an incredibly bloody piece of literature. The story that unfolds within Homer’s stanzas is that of the events that took place during the tenth year of the Greek siege on Troy. Furthermore, it has to do with the wrath of Achilles, a major player in Greek mythology. Achilles' wrath has to do with a slave woman named Briseis, who was given to him as a prize for his fighting. Agamemnon dishonors Achilles by taking Briseis from him, which leads to Achilles withdrawing from the war.

In The Iliad, Achilles and his accompanying Myrmidon warriors, the Greeks are defeated by the Trojans. They are beaten badly and almost surrender. However, when Patroclus, a dear friend to Achilles, is struck down by the Trojan prince Hector, he returns to the battlefield with redoubled rage. Because he is so enrages with Hector, Achilles murders him and refuses to return his body to his father. Instead, he holds it for ransom. Priam, Hector’s father, agrees to the ransom and the epic poem ends with a burial for the late Trojan Prince.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By BioNerd — On Jan 28, 2011


It could also be that this tale was an adaptation of the kidnapping of the maid Europa by Phoenician kings. This kind of subjugation by ancient sea powers could have had a profound influence on the ethos of Ancient Ionians living on the Turkish and Greek coasts.

By Qohe1et — On Jan 28, 2011

When Homer first wrote the Iliad, the tale may have been history or it may have been mere mythological legend. It is most likely that it is a mythological view on historical events. Struggles between Greeks and Asian powers figure strongly in Greek literature.

By Renegade — On Jan 26, 2011

Achilles is typical of the hero character in that he has his faithful follower: Patroclus. In the Iliad, Patroclus is a kind and innocent servant to Achilles, and his death causes Achilles to grow furious and charge into battle. After avenging Patroclus, Achilles is not content to merely slay his adversary, Hector, but proceeds to drag his corpse around Troy behind his chariot.

By Proxy414 — On Jan 25, 2011

The hero Achilles is a very good example of the classic hero in mythology. He is a man who is acquainted with grief and death, struggles with an audacious sense of destiny and defiance, and ultimately seals his own doom by hubris. He parallels Heracles in Greek mythology: a son of the gods who goes through much difficulty to get over his personal demons. People identify strongly with these hero characters because of their plight and their resolve to overcome.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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