Classics Literature

Literary Summary: Homer’s Iliad

The Iliad is the classic of all classics and a work I’ve frequently written on in my publishing life. As we know the Iliad deals with the end of the Trojan War brought forth by Paris’s elopement with Helen, sparking a war between the Greeks led by the House of Atreus and the City of Troy led by King Priam.

The Iliad is set in the final weeks of the war; Agamemnon’s army is being wrecked by a plague sent by the gods for his theft of the priestess Chryseis. The Greeks advise him to relent and release the priestess of Apollo. He does, but then steals Briseis, a captive war bride of Achilles. This causes Achilles to hate Agamemnon and he sits out the final stages of the war in protest. The Trojans, then, begin to get the upper hand. They repulse a Greek attack on Troy and launch a counterattack that nearly defeats the Greeks. Patroclus, Achilles’s close friend, dons the warrior’s armor with Achilles’s permission to fight the Trojans and turn them back. He does. But Patroclus is slain by Hector as the Greeks attack the Trojan walls. The body of Patroclus is recovered and returned to Achilles he famously enters his rage and reenters battle, killing many Trojans, even defenseless princes of the city, before dueling and killing Hector.

Priam, who loves Hector, bravely ventures into the tent of Achilles and begs the return of his son. Achilles is touched by Priam’s love and is reminded of his father’s love. Achilles embraces Priam instead of killing him like he earlier vowed to do: to wipe the seed of Priam off the face of the earth. Achilles extends friendship and forgiveness to Priam and returns the body of Hector and grants a temporary truce to allow the Trojans to bury and honor Hector.

The Iliad ends on this note of peace brought forth by an act of forgiveness and friendship. The poet of the Iliad, whom we call Homer by tradition, is arguing that the greatest heroism isn’t martial skill and how many men one has killed, but love towards others – especially our enemies, which brings peace to the world. All the touching moments of the Iliad are love scenes: Hector with his family on the walls of Troy; Patroclus healing Eurypylus and other wounded comrades; Briseis’s lament over Patroclus praising his loving kindness to her and all; Achilles’s embrace of Priam and the peace he bestows in that act of love. While we know how the rest of the story ends, that’s not the ending Homer gave us. Instead, the end of the Iliad is peace brought by an act of forgiveness and friendship to an avowed enemy.

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Hesiod, Paul Krause in real life, is the editor-in-chief of VoegelinView. He is writer, classicist, and historian. He has written on the arts, culture, classics, literature, philosophy, religion, and history for numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of The Odyssey of Love and the Politics of Plato, and a contributor to the College Lecture Today and the forthcoming book Diseases, Disasters, and Political Theory. He holds master’s degrees in philosophy and religious studies (biblical studies & theology) from the University of Buckingham and Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in economics, history, and philosophy from Baldwin Wallace University.

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