Summary of the Iliad Book 1: Theme of the Iliad

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Summary of the Iliad Book 1:
Theme of the Iliad – quarrel between Agamemnon (King of Mycenae in Greece) and Achilles (son of Peleus and Thetis – best Greek warrior).

  • Apollo = God that led these 2 men to fight.

  • Result of fight = many Greek deaths.

Background to the quarrel:

  • Chryses (priest of Apollo) asked Agamemnon for his daughter Chryseis (Agamemnon’s prize/slave – captured in Thebe, Eetion’s city) back in return for unlimited ransom.

  • Agamemnon cruelly refused: “I shall not release her. Before that old age will come upon her in our house, in Argos, far from her own country, where she will work the loom and serve my bed.”

  • Chryses prayed to Apollo for revenge.

  • Apollo granted his prayer and sent a plague to the Greeks which lasted for 9 days and resulted in the death of many Greeks.

  • On the 10th day Achilles called an Assembly as Hera (who supported the Greeks) put this idea in his mind.

Achilles makes two suggestions at the Assembly:

1.They should consider returning to Greece.

2.To consult the prophet Kalchas and ask him the cause of the plague.
Kalchas’s request:

  • He fears he will anger Agamemnon if he tells the truth so he asks Achilles for protection in return for the truth:

“When a King is angry with a lesser man, his is the great power: even if he holds down his anger for the day, he still keeps resentment in his breast, until he can give effect to it at some later time”.

  • Achilles agrees to protect him and swears an oath to it.

The cause of Apollo’s anger:

  • According to Kalchas = Due to the fact that Apollo’s priest Chryses has been dishonoured by Agamemnon who refused to release his daughter. Apollo will not end the plague until she is returned.

Agamemnon’s reaction:

  1. Agamemnon reacted angrily and called Kalchas a “prophet of evil”. He said that Kalchas has never told him anything to his liking.

Note: it was also Kalchas who told Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia in order to appease the gods and get favourable winds to leave Greece and sail to Troy.

2. Agamemnon says he prefers Chryseis to his own wife Klytamnestra.

3. He agrees to give her back on one condition – that he must be given another prize in return for his loss. He refuses to be the only Greek without a prize.
Achilles’s response:

1. There is no prize to give him as all of the prizes have been divided out equally amongst the Greeks.

2. Let the girl go.

3. The Achaians will “recompense him three or four times over, if ever Zeus grants that we sack the well – walled city of Troy.”

Agamemnon’s response to Achilles:

1. He tells Achilles not to cheat or trick him into giving away his prize.

2. If the Greeks don’t give him a prize he will be forced to take Achilles’s prize or Aias’s prize or Odysseus’s prize.
Achilles’s reply to Agamemon:

1. All Agamemnon cares about is gain.

2. He says that he came to Troy to fight for Agamemnon. He has no quarrel with the Trojans.

3. He says that he worked hard for his prize and that it is not fair if Agamemnon takes it away. “My hands bear the brunt of the battle’s fury.”

4. He will leave for Phthia. He will not stay in Troy and receive no honour.
Agamemnon’s reply:

1. He tells Achilles that he should run home.

2. ”Of all the Kings whom Zeus sustains, you are the most hateful to me”.

3. That he will take Briseis (Achilles’s prize) away from him.

Achilles pondered on his two main courses of action:

1. To draw his sword and kill Agamemnon.

2. To restrain himself.
Athene (sent by Hera) came down from heaven:

Her aim = to stop Achilles’s anger.

Note: Athene favours the Greeks.
Athene’s advice to Achilles:

1. ”Do not draw your sword against Agamemnon”.

2. “Instead use your tongue to bring shame on him, telling him how it

will be”.

Achilles is pious and acknowledges that he must obey the gods and follows Athene’s advice.
Achilles insults Agamemnon:

  • He says that Agamemnon never led men into battle but instead he only stole their prizes.

Achilles oath:

  • Achilles swears an oath by his staff that “there will come a time when the loss of Achilleus will be felt by the whole number of the Achaians. Then for all your anguish you will have no power to protect them, when many fall dying at the hands of murderous Hektor. And you will tear your heart within you in remorse, that you showed no honour to the best of the Achaians”.

Note- selfish nature of Achilles.
Nestor (King of Pylos) advises Agamemnon and Achilles as follows:

1. He tells them both to listen to him as greater men than those two have in the past.

2. Agamemnon – he tells him not to take Achilles’s prize.

3. Achilles – he tells him to stop his anger and not to “seek open

quarrel with a King” (as the King is his superior).
Both men ignore this advice.Both men are extremely stubborn. Both characters are very similar – arrogant, selfish, proud, egotistical, irrational and aggressive. Agamemnon is tyrannical. He punishes Achilles for expressing his opinion. Neither of them is willing to compromise and both men can be considered to be at fault.
Achilles continues to insult Agamemnon:

“Coward and nobody would be my name if I defer to you in everything you care to say.”

Achilles says that he will not use force to stop the Greeks from taking Briseis away.
The Assembly broke up and Achilles meets Patroklos and returned to his huts and ships.
Odysseus went on a ship to return Chryseis to her father Chyrses. Agamemon and the Greeks make sacrifices to the God Apollo to atone (make up) for the insult done to Chryses.
The heralds (messengers) Talthybios and Eurybates went to fetch Briseis.
Achilles was sitting idle by the ships.
Achilles’s behaviour towards the heralds:

1. He welcomes them.

2. He says that he does not blame them for taking the girl Briseis.He did not resist and handed the girl over.

3. He ordered Patroklos to bring out the girl and give her to the heralds.

He broke down in tears and left his companions to be on his own.
Thetis appeared to Achilles:

Achilles prayed to his mother Thetis. She appears to Achilles and asks him why he is crying. He informs her that he has been dishonoured by Agamemnon who has taken his prize Briseis. Achilles asks his mother to protect her son and go to Mount Olympus and beseech Zeus to aid Achilles.

He says that Zeus should listen to her as she once rescued him from Hera, Poseidon and Pallas Athene.
Achilles asks his mother Thetis to ask Zeus the following:

1. To bring aid to the Trojans.

2. To keep the Greeks back at the shore so that Agamemnon will realise how foolish he was to treat Achilles the way that he did.
Thetis agrees to Achilles request and she advises Achilles to withdraw completely from the fighting.

Zeus has been in Ethiopia for 12 days and Thetis says she will ask him when he returns.

Meanwhile Odysseus returned Chryseis to her father Chryses and offered sacrifices to Apollo on behalf of the Greeks to make up for what they had done.
Chryses prayed to Apollo and asked him to:

“Drive the shameful plague away from the Danaans.”

Apollo then sent a favourable breeze so that the Greeks could return to Troy quickly.
Achilles stayed by himself and was idle yet yearned for the clamour (noise) of battle.
Thetis’s supplication to Zeus:

When Zeus returned from Ethiopia Thetis went to Mount Olympus to ask him for help.

She kneeled down and put her left arm around his knee and her right arm under his chin (supplication).
Thetis’s request to Zeus:

“Show my son honour……….grant victory to the Trojans for such a time until the Achaians recompense my son and raise him in honour among them.”

She asked Zeus to nod his head in assent (agreement).

Zeus said: “This is a grievous business – you will set me at odds with Hera (his wife) when she stings me to anger with her taunts.”

Zeus then nodded his head in assent (agreement).
Hera was suspicious and she questioned Zeus about the plans he had made with Thetis. Zeus got annoyed and told her not to question him.

Hera said to Zeus:

“I suspect you have given her (Thetis) your solemn word to bring honour to Achilles and death to many by the Achaian ships”.

Hephaestos (her and Zeus’s son) urged her to make peace with Zeus.

Hephaestos walks around and serves the Gods wine. They laugh uncontrollably at his limp. This laughter eases the tension between Hera and Zeus. Zeus and Hera go to bed and sleep side by side.

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