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Summary of the Iliad Book I

What happens in the first book of Homer's Iliad


Trojan War Heroes

Trojan War Heroes


Iliad Book I | Summary of Iliad Book I | Main Characters | Notes | Iliad Study Guide

For a Greek version, see The Chicago Homer

Song of the Wrath of Achilles

In the very first line of the Iliad, the poet addresses the Muse, who inspires him with song, and asks her to sing (through him) the story of the wrath of the son of Peleus, aka Achilles. Achilles is angry with King Agamemnon for reasons shortly to be divulged, but first, the poet lays blame at the feet of Achilles for the death of many of the Achaean warriors. (Homer refers to the Greeks as 'Achaeans' or 'Argives' or 'Danaans', but we call them 'Greeks', so I'll use the term 'Greek' throughout.) The poet then also blames the son of Zeus and Leto, aka Apollo, who has sent a plague to kill the Greeks. (The parallel blame of gods and mortals is common throughout the Iliad.)

Apollo the Mouse God

Before returning to the wrath of Achilles, the poet elaborates Apollo's motives for killing Greeks. Agamemnon holds the daughter of Apollo's priest Chryses (Chryseis). Chryses is willing to forgive and even bless Agamemnon's ventures, if Agamemnon will return Chryses' daughter, but instead, the haughty King Agamemnon sends Chryses packing.

Calchas' Prophecy

To repay the indignity Chryses has suffered, Apollo, the mouse god, rains arrows of plague on the Greek forces for 9 days. (Rodents do spread plague, so the association between a divine mouse function and delivering plague makes sense, even if the Greeks weren't completely aware of the connection.) The Greeks don't know why Apollo is angry, so Achilles persuades them to consult the seer Calchas, which they do. Calchas reveals Agamemnon's responsibility. He adds that the plague will only lift if the dishonor is amended: Chryses' daughter must be freely restored to her father, and appropriate offerings made to Apollo.

Trade of Briseis

Agamemnon is not pleased with the prophecy, but realizes he must comply, so he agrees, conditionally: Achilles must hand over to Agamemnon Briseis. Achilles had received Briseis as a war prize from the sack of Thebe, a city in Cilicia, where Achilles had killed Eetion, father of the Trojan prince Hector's wife, Andromache. Since then, Achilles had grown very attached to her.

Achilles Stops Fighting for the Greeks

Achilles agrees to hand over Briseis because Athena (one of the 3 goddesses, together with Aphrodite and Hera, who was involved in the judgment of Paris, a war goddess, and the sister of the war god Ares), tells him to. However, at the same time he surrenders Briseis, Achilles sulkily quits the Greek forces.

Thetis Petitions Zeus on Behalf of Her Son

Achilles complains to his nymph mother Thetis, who, in turn, brings the complaint to Zeus, the king of the gods. Thetis says that since Agamemnon has dishonored her son, Zeus should honor Achilles. Zeus agrees, but faces the wrath of his wife, Hera, queen of the gods, for his involvement in the conflict. When Zeus angrily dismisses Hera, the queen of the gods turns to her son Hephaestus, who comforts her. However, Hephaestus won't help Hera because he still vividly recalls the anger of Zeus when he pushed him off Mt. Olympus. (Hephaestus is depicted as lame as a result of the fall, although this is not specified here.)

Next: Major Characters in Book I

For more information on people and places mentioned in Book I of the Iliad, see Iliad Book I - Who? What? Where?

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