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The Iliad

The Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem in dactylic hexameter, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.

Setting of The Iliad

The Iliad is an epic poem from ancient Greece written by Homer in dactylic hexameter. The poem is set during the Trojan War, which was a siege of the city of Tory that lasted for ten years and tells tales of battles and other events during the dispute between Achilles and King Agamemnon. The story actually takes places during only a few weeks during the last year of the war, but it recalls the events leading up to the siege of Troy and even predicts future events, like the death of Achilles.

The Iliad is often paired with the Odyssey, which is almost like a sequel, and is also credited to Homer. Both are some of the oldest existing works of Western literature; the hand-written version dates back to the eight century BC., approximately 760-710. Containing just over fifteen thousand and a half lines, it is written in Homeric Greek, which is a literary derivative of Ionic Greek.

Fate and glory - Core themes

One of the major themes in the Iliad is fate. Fate is the cause of the major events that occur in the story. Neither man nor god can fight fate once it has been determined and neither tends to try. Though the way fate is set is undetermined, it is relayed by the Fates and the king of the gods, Zeus, when they direct omens and dreams to seers. Fate does not determine every single action or occurrence, but it does determine the outcome. 

Another theme prevalent in the Iliad is glory. Glory is earned in battle or in a victorious homecoming. Achilles (the tragic hero) must choose between glory through heroic battle or through triumphant homecoming. If he gives up his homecoming, he will die in battle but receive greater glory. Achilles’ shield, given to him by his mother Thetis, bears the picture of stars, representing constellations of fallen heroes who remain immortal in the cosmos. 

Information on Greek poetry

The gods, goddesses, and demigods play a very large and influential role in the story. They often fight and play a large role in the warfare of humans. Homer portrayed the gods in the way that best served his purpose rather than traditional representation of them and was one of the first people to describe the appearance and character of the gods. It is believed by historians that humans worshipped the gods because they lacked a higher understanding of their own minds. While they thought the gods were instructing and motivating them to do things, perhaps it was only their self-consciousness, something they could not yet understand. There are a lot of instances in which the gods caused or directed something to happen, a very few instances of planning and introspect.

The Iliad dates back to the Classical Antiquity period, an archaic period around the seventh and eight centuries. The story takes place at the end of the collapse of the Late Bronze Age in the twelfth century BC. Because there are four hundred years, known as the Greek Dark Ages, separating Homer and the times that he wrote about, some question the legitimacy of the legends told in the Iliad. In particular, this is supported by the Catalogue of Ships, book 2 of the Iliad, in which the geography does not represent the proper time period, but rather the time before the Dorian invasion. 

When it was first written, it was often relayed the same way other works of the time were - orally. The poem was told by rhapsodists, professional performers of epic poetry. The poems were retold through memory and improvisation with songs and chants, often times accompanied by instruments. Most often these were performed at sacrifices and festivals. Finally, this epic poem is followed by The Odyssey, which recounts Odysseus' ten year journey back home (where he briefly encounters the afterlife).

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