By Teresa Francis, 14 Sept. 2012
The Iliad by Homer has been a huge influence on the way we see literature today. It is one of the oldest existing pieces of western literature, and contains 15,693 lines.
The seting is the tenth and final year of the Trojan War. Chryses, a priest of the godApollo, beseeches Agamemnon, commander-in-chief of the Achaeans, to return his daughter who had been taken captive during a raid. Agamemnon ridicules him and refuses to return his daughter, and so it is that the god Apollo casts a plague on the Achaeans as punishment. The Achean prophet Calchas says the only way the plague shall pass over is if Agamemnon returns Chryses’ daughter with gifts to Apollo. Agamemnon then demands that if he returns the girl that he get Briseis, a captive woman who was given to Achilles (the best Achaean warrior) as reward. Achilles is insulted by this, and after the two quarrel viciously, he gives up Briseis and returns to his ship, refusing to fight. He asks his mother, the goddess Thetis, to ask Zeus to bring ruin to the Achaeans as long as he is not with them. Zeus is indebted to Thetis, and grants her wish.
Since Achilles no longer stands with the Achaeans, Hector, champion of the Trojans, drives the Achaeans to their ships. Even after being offered rich prizes by Agamemnon himself, Achilles refuses to return to battle. Their attempts to fortify their ships fail, and several great warriors come to be wounded or injured. It is when his closest friendPatroclus implores him to help that he weakens, and so when he asks, Achilles lends him his armor, so that the Trojans will think that he’s returned. He does warn his friend to return the armor once he succeeds.
Patroclus is almost successful, and drives the Trojans the way to their own city walls, but with Apollo’s help Hector kills him there. He then strips the armor and puts it on himself, and the Achaens just manage to save Patroclus’ corpse from desecration by the Trojans.
Achilles explodes with both anger and grief. His mother warns him that should he kill Hector, he himself shall die soon afterward. Achilles accepts this price for retribution. He settles all disputes with Agamemnon, and with the help of his mother gets a new suit of armor. He charges into battle, nearly single-handedly massacring the Trojans, and mes Hetor. After chasing him around the city, he easily murders him, and then dragging his body to the back of his chariot, runs laps around the city so the Trojan’s can see their champion warrior’s body being slowly and surely ruined.
Returning to the Achaean camp, Achilles holds a spectacular funeral in the name of his beloved friend. He continues to desecrate and abuse Hector’s body. Zeus sends Thetis to tell Achilles to accept the ransom that will shortly be offered by Priam, king of Troy and father of Hector. When Priam himself comes to ask for his son’s body from the man who has slaughtered so many of his men, Achilles suddenly is reminded of his own father who, as Priam has, will outlive his most beloved son. Surged with compassion, he agrees to return the body and offers a cease fire so that the Trojans may host a proper funeral for Hector. For eleven days, the Trojans mourn for their prince properly.
To think that something as old (its written version is usually dated to around the eighth century BC) has made it to our current year and will continue to be read by people from the future show the great beauty of literature. A man who we know next to nothing of, remembered because of his tale about the brave and proud warrior of the Achaeans.