Summary: Book 1
The poet invokes a muse to aid him in telling the story of the rage of Achilles, the greatest Greek
hero to fight in the Trojan War. The narrative begins nine years after the start of the war, as the
Achaeans sack a Trojan-allied town and capture two beautiful maidens,
Agamemnon, commander-in-chief of the Achaean army, takes Chryseis as his prize. Achilles,
one of the Achaeans’ most valuable warriors, claims Briseis. Chryseis’s father, a man named
who serves as a priest of the god Apollo, begs Agamemnon to return his daughter and
offers to pay an enormous ransom. When Agamemnon refuses, Chryses prays to Apollo for help.
Apollo sends a plague upon the Greek camp, causing the death of many soldiers. After ten days
of suffering, Achilles calls an assembly of the Achaean army and asks for a soothsayer to reveal
the cause of the plague.
, a powerful seer, stands up and offers his services. Though he
fears retribution from Agamemnon, Calchas reveals the plague as a vengeful and strategic move
by Chryses and Apollo. Agamemnon flies into a rage and says that he will return Chryseis only if
Achilles gives him Briseis as compensation.
Agamemnon’s demand humiliates and infuriates the proud Achilles. The men argue, and
Achilles threatens to withdraw from battle and take his people, the Myrmidons, back home to
Phthia. Agamemnon threatens to go to Achilles’ tent in the army’s camp and take Briseis
himself. Achilles stands poised to draw his sword and kill the Achaean commander when the
goddess Athena, sent by Hera, the queen of the gods, appears to him and checks his anger.
Athena’s guidance, along with a speech by the wise advisor Nestor, finally succeeds in
preventing the duel.
That night, Agamemnon puts Chryseis on a ship back to her father and sends heralds to have
Briseis escorted from Achilles’ tent. Achilles prays to his mother, the sea-nymph Thetis, to ask
Zeus, king of the gods, to punish the Achaeans. He relates to her the tale of his quarrel with
Agamemnon, and she promises to take the matter up with Zeus—who owes her a favor—as soon
as he returns from a thirteen-day period of feasting with the Aethiopians. Meanwhile, the
Achaean commander Odysseus is navigating the ship that Chryseis has boarded. When he lands,
he returns the maiden and makes sacrifices to Apollo. Chryses, overjoyed to see his daughter,
prays to the god to lift the plague from the Achaean camp. Apollo acknowledges his prayer, and
Odysseus returns to his comrades.
But the end of the plague on the Achaeans only marks the beginning of worse suffering. Ever
since his quarrel with Agamemnon, Achilles has refused to participate in battle, and, after twelve
days, Thetis makes her appeal to Zeus, as promised. Zeus is reluctant to help the Trojans, for his
wife, Hera, favors the Greeks, but he finally agrees. Hera becomes livid when she discovers that
Zeus is helping the Trojans, but her son Hephaestus persuades her not to plunge the gods into