The Iliad | Study Guide


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Things You Didn't Know

Every book has a story—check out these 10 unusual facts about The Iliad by Homer.

The Iliad | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Written sometime between 750 and 650 BCE, Homer's The liad is a foundational work of Western literature. Along with his other epic, The Odyssey, The Iliad has been a staple of Western education for centuries.

The Iliad's plot covers a short period during the Trojan War and focuses on the events that transpire among Achilles, King Agamemnon, and Hector. However, the text also explains the entire trajectory of the famous ancient siege, from the departure of Helen of Troy from Greece to the final fall of the city of Troy. The epic has at times been interpreted by scholars either as historically accurate, semi-accurate, or entirely fictional. It even spurred a lengthy search for the ruins of the mysterious site of Troy across the Mediterranean.

1. Greek warriors used The Iliad as a guide for battle.

Homer's epic had a profound effect on Greek military culture. Alexander the Great (356 BCE–323 BCE) drew inspiration from the text, creating an army based on Homeric military values of conquest. Greek generals viewed The Iliad as a guide on how to stand and fight in the face of great adversity, as the Trojans did, as well as how to employ crafty and unique tactics, such as those used by Odysseus.

2. Geologists discovered a site believed to be the city of Troy based on Homer's descriptions of the landscape in The Iliad.

While the ancients considered The Iliad to be historical, scholars in the 18th century and onward concluded that it was doubtful the city of Troy even existed. However, geologists who studied the text carefully presented evidence that the site of Hissarlik in Turkey was a near-perfect match to the landscape detailed by Homer.

3. Some scholars say that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers.

Patroclus is portrayed as Achilles's closest companion and confidant, and his death enrages Achilles. Numerous literary critics argue that there is a homoerotic bond between the two and that Patroclus is in fact Achilles's lover, as homosexuality was deeply ingrained in ancient Greek culture.

4. A 2004 film adaptation takes numerous liberties with the plot.

The action film Troy tells the story of Homer's epic from the first meeting of Paris and Helen of Troy to the final sacking of the city, albeit with numerous deviations from the original plot—director Wolfgang Petersen even completely excised the Greek gods. Historian Alex von Tunzelmann also notes the presence of llamas in the film—which seems out of place in ancient Turkey. The movie stars Orlando Bloom as Paris and Brad Pitt as Achilles.

5. London traces its origin to a Trojan exile.

According to legend, the Trojan Prince Brutus escaped the fall of Troy mentioned in The Iliad and landed in the British Isles more than 1,000 years before the arrival of the Romans. There he founded the city of London. In centuries past, all British kings were said to be descended from this figure. However, this explanation is considered by historians to be entirely fictional, similar to the Romulus and Remus myth regarding the founding of Rome.

6. The oldest complete manuscript of The Iliad dates to the 10th century BCE.

Known as the Venetus A, this manuscript was copied in the 10th century and donated to the wealthy Republic of Venice in the 1400s. It also features important critical commentary from ancient scholars on the Epic Cycle, a collection of 12 ancient Greek poems. With the exception of The Iliad and The Odyssey, the poems have been lost.

7. A French philosopher argued that World War II could be linked to Homer's glamorization of violence in The Iliad.

In 1939 French philosopher Simone Weil wrote The Iliad, or the Poem of Force to discuss the impact of Homer's depiction of the Trojan War on warfare throughout the centuries. She argued that the epic praises the use of force, which in turn enslaves both the conquered and the conqueror in brutality. Instead of viewing the victory of the Greeks as a triumph, Weil argued that it was senseless violence that has been repeated over and over again throughout history, including during World War II.

8. The Iliad inspired a theory on the evolution of consciousness.

American psychologist Julian Jaynes is notable for his bicameral mind theory, which suggests consciousness arose in the later centuries BCE rather than at the time of the evolution of the biological human. He references The Iliad in support, noting that in older parts of the text men do not seem to think for themselves but take commands from gods and follow hallucinations (perceived as divine interventions) blindly.

9. A Shakespearean play portrays Achilles as a coward.

The protagonists of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida (c. 1601–02) are mere side characters in Homer's epic, but Shakespeare focuses on their stories with an apparent Trojan bias. Called "anti-Homeric," the play portrays Achilles as an angst-ridden coward instead of an unstoppable hero.

One startling difference in Shakespeare's play is how the death of Hector is portrayed. In Homer's epic, Achilles avenges Patroclus's death by killing Hector. It is portrayed as a powerful moment of revenge for Achilles. In Shakespeare's play, Achilles kills an unarmed Hector, making Achilles look like a cowardly fighter who "plays dirty."

10. Homer is credited with creating the characteristics of the gods in the Greek pantheon.

While Homer certainly did not found the religion of the ancient Greeks, the classical historian Herodotus (c. 484–425 BCE) claimed that the poet and his contemporary Hesiod (active c. 750–650 BCE) conceived the attributes for the gods that we know today. Herodotus noted that it was the poets, not the priests, who designed the deities' personalities, lineages, and titles.

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