The Iliad Summary

  • Last updated on March 25, 2021
"infobox Book"
name The Iliad
image caption Cover of the Fagles translation
orig title Ἰλιάς
author Homer
translator Robert Fagles
country Ancient Greece
language Original: Homeric Greek Translated: English
genre(s) Epic Poem
publisher Penguin
release date Original: <800 BC Translation: 1999
media type Epic poem
pages 683
isbn 0140275363

The Greek epic written by Homer, about a war between the Achaens and the Trojans over the love of Helen.

Character List

The Achaeans





Great Ajax

Little Ajax

The Myrmidons



























Gods and Immortals













Plot Summary

Book One

The story begins nine years after the Trojan War began. Two beautiful women, Chryseis and Briseis, are captured by the Achaeans. The woman are claimed by Agamemnon and Achilles,  leaders of grand armies against the Trojans. The women’s father, Chryses (the priest of Apollo) begs that Chryseis is returned. When he gets no luck from Agamemnon he turns to Apollo, who plagues the Greek camp, killing many over the course of ten days.

Finally, Achilles asks for answers from a soothsayer, Calchas. He is fearful of Agamemnon but tells him that he has brought the curse on himself by not releasing the women. Angered, Agamemnon says that he’ll only release Chryseis if he can have Briseis – wanting her so much he even threatens to go and get her from Achilles’ tent . This is not agreeable to Achilles, though. He will not relinquish Briseis, and if Agamemnon does not stop his demands, Achilles threatens to return to Phthia with his men.

Eventually, the gods Athena and Nestor have to intervene. It is only they who can calm the men. Chryseis is then returned by a boat sailed by Odysseus, to her father. Agamemnon then brings Briseis to his tent. Achilles is still furious, though, and demands that his mother Thetis (a sea nymph) ask Zeus to curse the Achaeans. She agrees.

Zeus grants the request, but it causes conflict between him and his wife Hera, who does not want him to help the Trojans. She is only able to be calmed by Hephaestus.

Book Two

Agamemnon is tricked into attacking Troy by a dream planted in his head by Zeus. This is Zeus’ punishment. Before they attack, Agamemnon decides to test their courage by telling them that he instead wants to return to Greece. This backfires, as all of his men are happy to leave and all go back to their ships.

Hera notices this and tells Athena. Athena then tells Odysseus to get the men to come back, to not abandon their fight. He is able to do so because he is so charismatic. Under Nestor’s guidance, Agamemnon rearranges his army, ready for battle. Zeus then tells the Trojans to do the same.

Book Three

The Trojans and the Achaeans meet near the city gates. The Trojan prince Paris challenges Achaeans to single combat, but is cowardly and retreats when faced with Menelaus (the man whom he stole Helen from). Paris is then rebuked by his brother Hector, who is the army’s leader. This spurns Paris into fighting Menelaus, that their duel will decide the fate of the entire war because whoever wins gets to have Helen. Everyone is glad the war will soon be over.

Helen, in Priam’s palace, is urged by the goddess iris (in disguise as Loadice, Hector’s sister) to go and watch the battle. She goes, joining the city’s elders, but before the battle begins leaves because she doesn’t want to risk seeing Paris die.

The duel begins but the two men are unable to decide on a victor. Aphrodite, Paris’ ally, intervenes when Paris is nearly killed by Menelaus. Back in Priam’s palace at the help of Aphrodite, Paris is reunited with Helen. It’s not a happy reunion, though – she tells him off for being a coward.

Everyone left behind on the battlefield searches for Paris, having no idea where he went. Because Paris is gone, Agamemnon says that Menelaus must be the winner and therefore he gets to have Helen.

Book Four

Zeus says that Menelaus is the winner because that is the consensus that the mortals have come to, but Hera doesn’t agree. She wants Troy to be destroyed because she is supporting the Greeks. She is able to eventually convince Zeus to let Athena go back to the battlefield to reignite the fighting – there is no sign of a truce now.

Book Five

The battle continues, with both sides receiving help from the gods to slaughter their enemies. The Trojans begin to emerge as the victors, though. Hera asks Zeus if she can help the Greeks, and he agrees, so the sides are more evenly balanced again. Through various incidents, most of the gods leave the scene after a while.

Book Six

The Greeks are able to get the upper hand in the battle now that the Trojans no longer have help from the gods. Nestor encourages the Achaeans to kill as many Trojans as they can, and return to get their weapons later. Helenus the soothsayer tells Hector he needs to go to Troy to ask his mother the Queen to pray for them. He does, and she and her woman pray for their failing army.

Paris remains in the castle, saying he is too depressed to fight. Both Hector and Helen chastise him for cowardice, enough that he eventually picks up arms and goes back to fight. On his way back to the battle himself, Hector finds his wife Andromache and their son Astyanax. She pleads with her husband not to return to battle, but he refuses not to return. Andromache believes this is the last time she will see Hector and is very upset by it.

Book Seven

Hector and Paris return to the battle, but Apollo and Athena want it to end for the time being, so they plan a duel. Hector challenges anyone to fight him, and initially only Menelaus offers himself up (although he is eventually dissuaded by Agamemnon, who knows that Menelaus is not as good a fighter). Nestor is too old to fight but encourages the other Achaens to do so. In the end, Ajax is the winner of the lottery they hold to decide who should fight, and they are pretty evenly matched until Zeus calls off the duel. The two men end it as friends.

Nestor and Priam then speak to their respective armies. They say they need time to bury the dead, and they need to fortify their camp. Antenor, the advisor of Priam, also says that if Paris can give up Helen, the war will end. Paris refuses to do so. The only thing he concedes to doing is returning the loot he also took when he got Helen. The Achaeans do not agree to this deal, but both sides to agree to take a day to bury their fallen soldiers. Although both armies spend a lot of time fortifying those camps, little do they know that Zeus and Poseidon have plans to destroy them.

Book Eight

Zeus goes to Mount Ida to weigh the fates of both armies in his scale. He has expressly forbidden any of the other gods to intervene in the battle while he is away. The Achaean side is heavier in the scale, so they face Zeus’ wrath. The Trojans are now the stronger army.

Hector pursues Diomedes, who has Nestor in his chariot. Hector’s plan is to burn all of the Greek ships. Hera is dismayed at what is happening to the army that she favours, so she helps Agamemnon inspire his troops. The army gets the strength to fight back from Agamemnon’s speech and from the sign of an eagle carrying a fawn, which is a sign from Zeus.

The battle continues and Hera and Athena want to intervene to help, but are forbidden. Zeus then says that the next day will bring the destruction of the Greeks, and only Achilles can save them.

The Trojans spend the night outside the city walls, so sure of themselves. Hector is ready to continue the battle in the morning, and cunningly gets his men to light up the area with campfires so there is no chance the Greeks can escape under the cloak of darkness.

Book Nine

All of the Achaeans, Agamemnon among them, despair at their inevitable doom. Diomedes tries to raise everyone’s spirits, saying that it is Fate that they will win. Nestor also tries to encourage everyone to keep fighting, and that it is a good idea to get back onside with Achilles. Agamemnon follows this advice, planning to give Achilles a big gift if he will help.

Achilles doesn’t want to help, however – he is sick of fighting and doesn’t want to die young in battle. He and his men are more than happy to return home. Phoenix, one of the Achaeans, and someone with whom Achilles has a personal relationship, tries to persuade Achilles to change his mind, but Achilles won’t.

Book Ten

The next day the Greeks try to plan what to do to. Nestor suggests spying on the Trojans. Diomedes and Odysseus volunteer. Athena’s heron flies along side them, and the two men pray for assistance from her.

The Trojans send a spy too. However, Dolon, the Trojan spy, is intercepted quickly by the Greek spies. Dolon doesn’t want to be killed by them so he tells them everything they need to know about the Trojans and the newly-arrived Thracians. Diomedes kills him anyway.

Armed with the knowledge from Dolon, Odysseus and Diomedes are able to dispatch many Thracians, including the king.  They then take his chariot back to camp.

Book Eleven

The battle begins again the next day. At first the Achaeans are worried by an ill omen from Zeus, but they are able to get the upper hand at the end of the day. Many important characters are wounded during this battle, such as Diomedes and Odysseus.

Nestor asks Patroclus, the healer and friend of Achilles, to appeal to Achilles on their behalf. Or, if he won’t do that, to don Achilles’ armour and fight in his stead. Patroclus agrees to talk to Achilles.

Book Twelve

Hector and his men storm the ramparts of Troy. There is a potential sign from Zeus that this will fail, but Hector refuses to acknowledge it. The Achaeans are overwhelmed as Trojan soldiers break through their fortifications.

Book Thirteen

After Zeus leaves the battlefield, happy with how things are going, Poseidon, who wants to help the Achaeans, goes to see Little Ajax and Great Ajax. He disguises himself as Calchas, urging them and the rest of the Achaeans to rise up and defeat the Trojan army. The army are spurned on by his words and have the confidence to fight again, breaking free from their former depression.

The battle continues again, a long one that wounds and kills many. Hector tries to push on, convinced by Polydames to gather his troops and keep going, but the Trojans are suffering as a result of the restored might of the Achaeans. He is able to find Paris, but discovers that most of his comrades are now dead or wounded, and the Achaeans seem to be receiving nothing but good omens.

Book Fourteen

Many men are wounded as a result of the battle. The Achaeans have lost a lot of man in the battle. Agamemnon says it would be good to just cut their losses and leaves, but Odysseus calls him cowardly and Diomedes says they need to gather the troops and continue the battle. Bolstered with confidence from Poseidon, Agamemnon follows the wish of the other men and the Achaean army is gathered yet again.

Hera also tries to help them without Zeus knowing, through a series of tricks. Poseidon then has a clear shot to help the Achaeans, and with his help they are able to charge the Trojans yet again. Yet another battle ensues. Hector is defeated by Great Ajax, his body then taken back to Troy as his army is overpowered by the Achaeans as they try to flee.

Book Fifteen

Waking up, Zeus is irritated to find that Hera and Poseidon have been intervening with the armies. When Hera blames Poseidon, Zeus tells her that he doesn’t necessarily want to the Trojans to win – Troy is fated to fall regardless of if he helps them, and that Hector will kill Patroclus but fall himself.

Poseidon is ordered to leave the battlefield. He does so, but with reservations. Apollo strengthens Hector and what is left of the Trojan army, and they are able to make some headway in battle. However, Apollo himself then joins the battle and frightens them away. He is there to help, though, and the Trojans are able to break trough the fortifications of the Greek army.

The battle continues.

Book Sixteen

Achilles, still refusing to join the fight, is visited by Patroclus. Patroclus says that if Achilles won’t fight then he, Patroclus, will do it in his stead wearing his armour. Achilles agrees to this and continues to remain out of the battle, as long as Patroclus is able to save their ships (although they immediately start to burn). Achilles sends his army with Patroclus to help him.

He prays that Zeus will spare both Patroclus and his ships, although the poet says that only one of these things will happen.

Patroclus’ presence turns the battle in the Greek’s favour. Hector is able to retreat but his army isn’t, and they are mercilessly cut down by Patroclus. Zeus even loses his own mortal son, and in return decides to avenge Sarpedon’s death by killing Patroclus.

The agreement that Patroclus made with Achilles was that he would only fight as long as it took to save the army’s ships. However, Patroclus continues to fight, reaching the gates of Troy – but he is intercepted. by Apollo before his army can breach them. Apollo continues his support of Hector and his army. He wounds Patroclus, who is then killed by Hector. Before he dies, though, Patroclus says that Hector will share the same fate as him.

Book Seventeen

Patroclus is dead. The man who speared him, Euphorbus, tries to strip him of his armor but Menalus intervenes before he can. Hector then tries to fight Menelaus, but Menelaus gets Great Ajax to help him stand up to Hector. Hector is able to snatch Patroclus’ armor first, though. They aren’t able to get the body, so Hector promises a big reward for anyone who is able to recover it.

Zeus imbues Hector with great power because he knows he will die soon, however this doesn’t stop him from being chased into the walls of Troy by the Achaean army. Automedon, the charioteer of Achilles, battles Hector. Hector wants the chariot, but Automedon is too quick for him. Automedon kills a Trojan whilst fighting Hector and takes the dead soldier’s armour, a little bit of compensation for what has happened to Patroclus.

The gods on both sides continues to strengthen and restrengthen the opposing armies, and the battle seems to constantly sway between a Grecian and a Trojan victory because of it.

Menelaus and Meriones are able to get Patroclus’ body eventually.

Book Eighteen

Achilles is devastated to hear of the death of Patroclus. He wants revenge on Hector, despite his fear of dying in battle and his wish to return home and grow old. Thetis, who has come to comfort him, tells Achilles that he will get new armour for the fight.

Iris (as Hera’s messenger) comes to tell Achilles that he needs to go out onto the battlefield in order to scare the Trojans into leaving. However, it is his anguished wailing that scares the Trojans, not his presence.

The armies plan what to do next. Hector ignores advice to retreat and instead pushes for another assault. The Achaeans have a ceremony for Patroclus, although the body will not be buried until Achilles has killed Hector. Achilles also receives his new armour.

Book Nineteen

Thetis gives Achilles his armour. She promises him that she’ll look after the body of Patroclus as Achilles fights, and so Achilles assembles his men ready to fight. Achilles and Agamemnon also reunite and end their feud.

Achilles is eager to go to war immediately to kill Hector. After breakfast they go to fight. Achilles tells his horses off for leaving Patroclus, but his horses tell him that it wasn’t their fault, and he himself will die soon. Achilles replies that he knows this already, and by going into battle he is ensuring this will happen.

Book Twenty

Zeus summons all of the gods to Mount Olympus, and tells them that they are allowed to intervene in the coming battle. This is because he knows that Achilles is so strong that he will potentially change fate and destroy Troy before it is meant to be destroyed.

The gods don’t want to fight, though, they want to watch (Apollo quickly spurs Aeneas on to challenge Achilles, though). Before Achilles is able to kill Aeneas, Poseidon intervenes and takes him out of harm’s way. Apollo then stops Hector from starting a duel with Achilles immediately, instead telling him to wait until Achilles challenges him himself.

Hector tries to be patient for a short time, but can’t help himself when he sees Achilles killing the other Trojans. He and Achilles fight, and Hector has to be rescued by Apollo.

Book Twenty-One

Achilles decimates the Trojan army to the point where the river he clogs with their bodies calls for Apollo for help, and Achilles gets into a fight with it that has to be ended by the gods.

The gods argue about the battle. As this is happening, Priam helps the Trojan troops flee by opening the city gates, but Achilles kills most of them and nearly takes Troy all on his own. He is only stopped by Agenor, the Trojan prince, who challenges him to a fight. Apollo also helps Agenor by pretending to be him. The Trojan army is able to flee while this is happening.

Book Twenty-Two

The Trojans are nearly defeated. Hector is the only one still fighting. He is too prideful to join the rest of his army that has fled. Achilles and Hector finally fight. Zeus wants to save him but Athena says it is his time to die. When Zeus weighs Hector and Achilles against each other on the scale, it is Hector who is heavier, indicating he must die.

The two fight, and after some intervention by gods and other characters, Hector is killed. His parents, Priam and Hecuba, and widow, Andromache, witnesses his death with great despair.

Book Twenty-Three

The Achaeans continue to mourn Patroclus, and Achilles is especially hit hard by his friend’s death. He has a dream where Patroclus comes to him and asks him to bury his body so he can go to the afterlife, and the next day Achilles organises it.

After the funeral, Achilles holds competitions in his friend’s honour. There are lots of fantastical events, and the Athena helps Diomedes win. Achilles considers this cheating and there is an argument over who should get what medal and why, although it is eventually resolved.

Book Twenty-Four

The last book of The Iliad ends with Achilles abusing the corpse of Hector, which is protected by Apollo. Eventually Apollo convinces Zeus to intervene and make Achilles relinquish Hector’s body and ransom it, so through his messengers Zeus does.

After a short journey and a heartfelt conversation with Achilles, Priam is able to get the body of his son back. There is a big funeral, and everyone mourns his loss.



External Links

Iliad, The

Categories: Poems