The Trojan War > The Iliad on the War Itself
The Action of The Iliad Begins in the Tenth YearWell-matched forces dragged the Trojan War on and on. It was in its tenth year when the climactic and most dramatic events finally took place. First, a sacrilegious Agamemnon, leader of all the Achaeans (Greeks), captured a priestess of Apollo. When the Greek leader refused to return the priestess to her father, plague struck the Achaeans. This plague may have been bubonic, since it was connected with the mouse-aspect of Apollo. Calchas, the seer, summoned once again [see earlier page], augured that health would be restored only when the priestess was returned. Agamemnon agreed, but only if he could have a substitute war prize: Briseis, Achilles' concubine.
The Greatest Greek Hero Won't FightWhen Agamemnon took Briseis from Achilles, the hero was outraged and refused to fight. Thetis, Achilles' immortal mother, prevailed upon Zeus to punish Agamemnon by making the Trojans stymy the Achaeans -- at least for a while.
Patroclus Fights As AchillesAchilles had a dear friend and companion at Troy named Patroclus. In the movie Troy, he is Achilles' cousin. While that's a possibility, many consider the two not so much cousins, in the sense of "son of one's uncle," as lovers. Patroclus tried to persuade Achilles to fight because Achilles was so capable a warrior that he could turn the tide of battle. Nothing had changed for Achilles, so he refused. Patroclus presented an alternative. He asked Achilles to let him lead Achilles' troops, the Myrmidons. Achilles agreed, and even lent Patroclus his armor.
Dressed like Achilles and accompanied by the Myrmidons, Patroclus went into battle. He acquitted himself well, killing a number of Trojans. But then the greatest of the Trojan heroes, Hector, mistaking Patroclus for Achilles, killed him.
Now the situation was different for Achilles. Agamemnon was an annoyance, but the Trojans were, once again, the enemy. Achilles was so grieved by the death of his dear Patroclus that he reconciled with Agamemnon (who returned Briseis), and entered the battle.
A Madman Kills and Disgraces HectorAchilles met Hector in single combat and killed him. Then, in his madness and grief over Patroclus, Achilles dishonored the Trojan hero's body by dragging it around the ground tied to his chariot by a belt. This belt had been given Hector by the Achaean hero Ajax in exchange for a sword. Days later, Priam, Hector's aged father and the king of Troy, persuaded Achilles to stop abusing the body and return it for proper burial.
The Achilles HeelSoon after, Achilles was killed, wounded in the one spot where, legend tells us, he was not immortal -- his heel. When Achilles was born, his mother, the nymph Thetis, had dipped him into the river Styx to confer immortality, but the spot where she held him, his heel, remained dry. Paris is said to have hit that one spot with his arrow, but Paris wasn't that good a marksman. He could only have hit it with divine guidance -- in this case, through the help of Apollo.
Next in Line for Title of Greatest HeroThe Achaeans and Trojans valued the armor of fallen soldiers. They triumphed in capturing the helmets, weapons, and armor of the enemy, but also prized that of their own dead. The Achaeans wanted to award the armor of Achilles to the Achaean hero they thought came next in stature to Achilles. Odysseus won. Ajax, who thought the armor should have been his, went mad with rage, tried to kill his fellow countrymen, and killed himself with the sword which he had received from his belt-exchange with Hector.
Aphrodite Continues to Help ParisWhat had Paris been up to all this time? Besides his dalliance with Helen of Troy and slaying of Achilles, Paris had shot and killed a number of Achaeans. He had even fought one-on-one with Menelaus. When Paris was in danger of being killed, his divine protector, Aphrodite, broke the strap of the helmet, which Menelaus was clutching. Aphrodite then shrouded Paris in a mist so that he could escape back to Helen of Troy.
The Arrows of HerculesAfter the death of Achilles, Calchas uttered yet another prophecy. He told the Achaeans they needed the bow and arrows of Hercules (Herakles) to defeat the Trojans and end the war. Philoctetes, who had been left wounded on the island of Lemnos, had said bow and poisoned arrows. So an embassy was sent to bring Philoctetes to the battle front. Before he joined the Greek battle line, one of the sons of Asclepius healed him. Philoctetes then shot one of Hercules' arrows at Paris. There was barely a scratch. But ironically, like the wound Paris had inflicted on Achilles' one weak spot, that scratch was enough to kill the Trojan prince.
Patroclus, Hector, Achilles, Ajax, Paris, and countless others were dead, but the Trojan War dragged on.