Iliad - mythology background

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					Mythology Background

.......In the ancient Mediterranean world, feminine beauty reaches its zenith in Helen, wife of King
Menelaus of Greece. Her wondrous face and body are without flaw. She is perfect. Even the goddess of
love, Aphrodite, admires her. While Aphrodite competes with other goddesses in a beauty contest—in
which a golden apple is to be awarded as the prize—she bribes the judge, a young Trojan named Paris.
She promises him the most ravishing woman in the world, Helen, if he will select her, Aphrodite, as the
most beautiful goddess. After winning the contest and receiving the coveted golden apple, she tells Paris
about Helen and her incomparable pulchritude. Forthwith, Paris goes to Greece, woos Helen, and
absconds with her to Troy, a walled city in Asia Minor (in present-day Turkey).
.......The elopement is an affront to all the Greeks. How dare an upstart Trojan invade their land! How
dare he steal the wife of one of their kings! Which Greek family would be next to fall victim to a Trojan
machination? Infuriated, King Menelaus and his friends assemble a mighty army that includes the finest
warriors in the land. Together, they cross the sea in one thousand ships to make war against Troy and
win back their pride—and Helen. But the war drags on and on. Weeks become months. Months become
years. Years become a decade. It is in fact in the tenth year of the war that Homer picks up the thread of
the story and spins his tale, focusing on a crisis in the Greek ranks in which the greatest soldier in history,
Achilles, decides to withdraw from battle and allow his fellow Greeks to fend for themselves. It is Achilles
who is the central figure in The Iliad.
.......Homer begins with a one-paragraph invocation requesting the Muse (a goddess) to inspire him in the
telling of his tale. Such an invocation was a convention in classical literature, notably in epics, from the
time of Homer onward.

Plot Summary

.......Ten years have passed since the Greek armies arrived in Asia minor to lay waste Troy and win back
their honor. Yet in all those years, neither side has gained enough advantage to force a surrender. The
Greeks remain encamped outside the walls of the city, their nighttime fires mocking the glittering
firmament while their generals plot stratagems and their warriors hone weapons.
.......Among the Greek leaders, bloodstained and hardened to war, are Agamemnon, the commander-in-
chief; Menelaus, king of Sparta and brother of Agamemnon; Odysseus, king of Ithaca and a military
genius of unparalleled cunning; and Aias the Great, a giant warrior of colossal strength. With sword and
spear, with rocks and fists, the Greeks have fought the Trojans—led by the godlike Hector, their mightiest
warrior, and Aeneas, a war machine second only to Hector on the Trojan side—to a standoff. In time, the
Greeks believe, they will prevail. They have right on their side, after all. But even more important, they
have Achilles. He is the greatest warrior ever to walk the earth—fierce, unrelenting, unconquerable. When
Achilles fights, enemies cower in terror and rivers run with blood. No man can stand against him. Not
Hector. Not an army of Hectors.
.......But, alas, in the tenth year of the great war, Achilles refuses to fight after Agamemnon insults him. No
one can offend the great Achilles with impunity. Not even Agamemnon, general of generals, who can
whisper a command that ten thousand will obey. The rift between them opens after Agamemnon and
Achilles capture two maidens while raiding the region around Troy. Agamemnon’s prize is Chryseis, the
daughter of a priest of the god Apollo. For Achilles, there is the beautiful Briseis, who becomes his slave
.......When Chryses, the father of Chryseis, offers a ransom for his daughter, Agamemnon refuses it.
Chryses then invokes his patron, Apollo, for aid, and the sun god sends a pestilence upon the Greeks.
Many soldiers die before Agamemnon learns the cause of their deaths from the soothsayer Calchas.
Unable to wage war against disease, Agamemnon reluctantly surrenders Chryseis to her father.
.......Unfortunately for the Greeks, the headstrong king then orders his men to seize Briseis as a
replacement for his lost prize. Achilles is outraged. But rather than venting his wrath with his mighty
sword, he retires from battle, vowing never again to fight for his countrymen. On his behalf, his mother,
the sea nymph Thetis, importunes Zeus, king of the gods, to turn the tide of war in favor of the Trojans.
Such a reversal would be fitting punishment for Agamemnon. But Zeus is reluctant to intervene in the
war, for the other gods of Olympus have taken sides, actively meddling in daily combat. For him to
support one army over the other would be to foment celestial discord. Among the deities favoring the
Trojans are Ares, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Artemis. On the side of the Greeks are Athena, Poseidon, and
Hera—the wife of Zeus. There would be hell-raising in the heavens if Zeus shows partiality. In particular,
his wife’s scolding tongue would wag without surcease. But Zeus is Zeus, god of thunder and lightning. In
the end, he well knows, he can do as he pleases. Swayed by the pleas of Thetis, he confers his benisons
on the Trojans.
.......However, when the next battle rages, the Greeks—fired with Promethean defiance and succored by
their gods—fight like madmen. True, their right arm, Achilles, is absent; but their left arm becomes a
scythe that reaps a harvest of Trojans. Aias and Diomedes are especially magnificent. Only intervention
by the Trojans’ Olympian supporters save them from massacre. Alas, however, when the Trojans regroup
for the next fight, Zeus infuses new power into Hector’s sinews. After Hector bids a tender goodbye to his
wife, Andromache, and little boy, Astyanax, he leads a fierce charge that drives the Greeks all the way
back to within sight of the shoreline, where they had started ten years before. Not a few Greeks, including
Agamemnon, are ready to board their ships and set sail for home. Such has been the fury of the Hector-
led onslaught.
.......Then Nestor, a wise old king of three score and ten, advises Agamemnon to make peace with
Achilles. The proud commander, now repentant and fully acknowledging his unjust treatment of Achilles,
accepts the advice and pledges to restore Briseis to Achilles. When representatives of Agamemnon meet
with lordly Achilles, the great warrior is idly passing time with the person he loves most in the world, his
friend Patroclus, a distinguished warrior in his own right. Told that all wrongs against him will be righted,
Achilles—still smoldering with anger—spurns the peace-making overture. His wrath is unquenchable.
However, Patroclus, unable to brook the Trojan onslaught against his countrymen, borrows the armor of
Achilles and, at the next opportunity, enters the battle disguised as Achilles.
.......The stratagem works for a while as Patroclus chops and hacks his way through the Trojan ranks. But
eventually Hector’s spear fells brave Patroclus with no small help from meddlesome Apollo. The Trojan
hero celebrates the kill with an audacious coup de grâce: He removes and puts on Achilles’ armor.
Grievously saddened by the death of his friend and outraged at the brazen behavior of Hector, wrathful
Achilles—with a new suit of armor forged in Olympus by Hephaestus at the behest of Achilles' mother,
Thetis—agrees to rejoin the fight at long last.
.......The next day, Achilles rules the battlefield with death and destruction, cutting a swath of terror
through enemy ranks. Trojan blood mulches the fields. Limbs lie helter-skelter, broken and crooked, as
fodder for diving raptors. Terrified, the Trojans flee to the safety of Troy and its high walls—all of them,
that is, except Hector. Foolishly, out of his deep sense of honor and responsibility as protector of Troy, he
stands his ground. In a fairy tale about a noble hero with an adoring wife and son, Hector would surely
have won the day against a vengeful, all-devouring foe. His compatriots—and the gallery of sons and
daughters and wives peering down from the Trojan bulwarks—would surely have crowned him king. But
in the brutal world of Achilles—whose ability to disembowel and decapitate is a virtue—Hector suffers a
humiliating death. After Achilles chases and catches him, he easily slays him, then straps his carcass to
his chariot and drags him around the walls of Troy. Patroclus has been avenged, the Greeks have
reclaimed battlefield supremacy, and victory seems imminent.
.......However, old Priam, the king of Troy and the father of Hector, shows that Trojan valor has not died
with Hector. At great risk to himself, he crosses the battlefield in a chariot and presents himself to Achilles
to claim the body of his son. But there is no anger in Priam's heart. He understands the ways of wars and
warriors. He knows that Achilles, the greatest of the Greek soldiers, had no choice but to kill his son, the
greatest of the Trojan warriors. Humbly, Priam embraces Achilles and gives him his hand. Deeply moved,
Achilles welcomes Priam and orders an attendant to prepare Hector's body. To spare Priam the shock of
seeing the grossly disfigured corpse, Achilles orders the attendant to cloak it. Troy mourns Hector for nine
days, then burns his body and puts the remains in a golden urn that is buried in a modest grave.
.......(The Iliad ends here. Homer's audience was aware of the outcome of the war: the defeat and
destruction of Troy by the Greeks. When Troy fell, so did Achilles—from the wound of arrow shot by Paris
and guided by the god Apollo. In his other great epic, the Odyssey, Homer tells the story of the Greek
hero Odysseus on his harrowing sea voyage home from Troy.)
Theme 1:.The wrath of Achilles. The main focus of the Iliad is the anger of the Greek warrior Achilles and
the revenge he seeks against those who wrong him, including the general of the Greek armies,
Agamemnon, and the Trojan warriors.
Theme 2:.Glory and honor are everything. The war begins because a Trojan offended Greek honor by
absconding with the wife of a Greek king. The war continues—for fully 10 years—in part because the
combatants seek glory on the battlefield. In this respect, the combatants are like modern athletes, actors,
and politicians who compete for Heisman Trophies, Academy Awards, and votes. Achilles withdraws from
battle on a point of honor; King Priam reclaims his son's body for the same reason.
Theme 3:.Revenge. The Greeks seek revenge against the Trojans because one of the latter has taken
the wife of a Greek king. Chryses and Apollo seek revenge because Agamemnon has defied them.
Achilles seeks revenge against Agamemnon because the latter has insulted him. Later, after he reenters
the battle, Achilles seeks revenge against the Trojans in general—and Hector in particular—for the death
of Patroclus.

The Iliad derives the first two syllables of its name from Ilios or Ilion (Greek for Troy) or, alternately,
from Ilium (Latin for Troy). The suffix -ad means related to, concerning, having to do with, or associated
with. Thus, Iliad means a story concerning Troy.

The Gods of Olympus
.......Encyclopedias and mythology books generally list twelve deities as the chief gods in Greek
mythology and as residents of Mount Olympus. However, two of these important deities spent most of
their time in the domains which they governed, the sea and the underworld. In addition, the Greeks of one
era sometimes differed with the Greeks of another era on who were the most important gods.
Consequently, the list of the favored twelve sometimes changed, omitting one god in favor of another.
.......The Olympian gods were the successors of an earlier dynasty of gods known as Titans. The Titan
ruler, Cronos, believing that one of his children might attempt to overthrow him, swallowed each of them
after his or her birth. However, one child, Zeus, was rescued by his mother and hidden on the island of
Crete. Later, Zeus forced his father to vomit the other children from his stomach. Then, with the help of
his siblings, he overthrew Cronus to become lord of the universe.
.......The names of the chief Olympian deities are listed below. Writers in ancient Greece—such as
Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides—used the original Greek names, the English transliteration of
which appears at left in the list. Writers in ancient Rome and its dominions used the Latin version of the
names, the English transliteration of which appears in parentheses.
.......Some English language writers, past and present, use the transliteration of the Greek version; others
prefer the transliteration of the Latin (or Roman) version. For example, William Shakespeare uses the
transliteration of the Latin version in his plays and poems. Instead of referring to the king of the gods as
Zeus (the transliteration of the Greek name), he refers to him as Jupiter and Jove, the transliterations of
the Latin names (Iuppiter and Iovis). Here are the names of the Olympian gods and a brief description of

Zeus (Jupiter and Jove): King and protector of the gods and humankind. As ruler of the sky, he made rain
and thunder and wielded lightning bolts. Zeus was the youngest son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea.
Hera (Juno): Queen of the gods and protector of marriage. She was the wife of Zeus and, as the daughter
of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, also his sister.
Athena or Pallas Athena (Minerva): Goddess of wisdom and war. She was born fully grown in a suit of
armor, issuing from the forehead of Zeus. The Greeks highly revered her and built many temples in her
Ares (Mars): God of war and the son of Zeus and Hera.
Poseidon (Neptune): God of the sea and brother of Zeus.
Hades (Pluto): God of the underworld and brother of Zeus.
Hephaestus (Vulcan): God of fire and metalwork who built the palaces in which the Olympian gods lived.
He also forged their armor and made their jewelry. He was the son of Zeus and Hera.
Apollo, Phoebus Apollo, or Phoebus (Same as Greek Names): God of prophecy, music, poetry, and
medicine. His alternate name, Phoebus, means brightness, and he was thus also considered the god of
the sun. He was the son of Zeus and Leto, the daughter of Titans. The Greeks highly revered him and
built many temples in his honor. One such temple at Delphi was the site of a famous oracle, the Pythia,
who pronounced prophecies as the mouthpiece of Apollo.
Artemis (Diana): Goddess of the hunt. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto (see Apollo) and the twin
sister of Apollo.
Aphrodite (Venus): Goddess of love and beauty. According to Homer, she was the daughter of Zeus and
Dione, the daughter of a Titan; according to the Greek poet Hesiod, she was born from the foam of the
Hermes (Mercury): Messenger god who wore a winged hat and winged sandals. He was also the god of
science, luck, commerce, and cunning. He was the son of Zeus and Maia, the daughter of a Titan.
Hestia (Vesta): Goddess of the home and hearth and sister of Zeus.

.......Other lists of the major Olympian gods omit Hades in favor of Hebe, a cupbearer of the gods. Still
others rankDionysus (Roman name, Bacchus), the god of wine and vegetation and a patron of the arts,
as one of the elite twelve.

The Abode of the Gods
.......The Olympian gods lived in palaces constructed by Hephaestus on the summit of Mount Olympus,
the highest peak (9,570 feet) in a mountain range between Macedonia and Thessaly near the Aegean
Sea. Mount Olympus is sometimes called Upper Olympus because it lies just north of a lesser peak
(5,210 feet) known as Lower Olympus.
.......Minor goddesses called the Seasons maintained watch at the entranceway of Mount Olympus, a
gate of clouds which opened and closed whenever a god left or returned to Olympus.
.......In their lofty domain, the gods breathed only pure air, or ether. They took their meals in the palace of
Zeus, eating ambrosia to sustain eternal life and drinking a delicious beverage called nectar, served by
Hebe. Near the throne of Zeus sat lesser goddesses known as Muses, who were nine in number. They
regaled the gathering with songs of the gods and of earthly heroes and history. These daughters of Zeus
and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, learned under the tutelage of Apollo.
.......Other lesser gods on Olympus included the following: (1) Eros (Cupid), god of love and son of
Aphrodite who shot arrows that impregnated humans with love. (2) Iris, messenger goddess of Zeus and
Hera who created rainbows when she flew across the sky. (3) Themis, a companion of Zeus who was the
goddess of justice. She holds scales on which she weighs the claims in a suit of law. (4) The Charites, or
Graces, goddesses of joy and beauty. (5) Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance and punishment. (6)
Aidos, the goddess of conscience...

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