Monday, 20 June 2011

The 'Illiad' of Homer: A synopsis.

For my own edification, to aid me in my reading and understanding of this great work, I have created a summary of each Book of the poem as I have read them. I present these here for any who are interested.

A work in progress:

Synopsis of the 24 Books of the IIliad by Homer.
Book 1
Apollo punishes the Greeks with disease, as Agamemnon offended him over the ransom of the slave girl Chryseis. Agamemnon and Achilles argue over the return of the girl. Achilles withdraws from the battle. Zeus considers punishing the Greeks.
Zeus – king of the gods.
Hera – wife and sister of Zeus. 
Thetis – mother of Achilles.
Agamemnon – King of the Greeks
Achilles – 
Chryses—T priest, father of Ch
Nestor –
Chryseis — captive woman
The poem begins with the priest of Apollo, Chryses entreating Agamemnon to ransom his daughter Chryseis, but Agamemnon refuses. Chryses then calls upon Apollo to punish the Greeks for their blasphemy, which Apollo does by sending disease to ravage the Greeks. Achilles then called a meeting of the Greeks to seek an explanation of this curse. An augur Calchas explains the reason, and states that to appease Apollo the girl must be returned. Agamemnon refuses, he and Achillas argue. By the intervention of the goddess Minerva and the wise Nestor combat between Achilles and Agamemnon is averted, however, Achilles refuses to fight any further in the Greek cause. 
After this argument Agamemnon sacrifices to Apollo in an effort to turn away the god’s anger, and returns Chryseis to her father. Agamemnon then instructs two of his men to take a captive woman from Achilles, Briseis. Greatly affronted, Achilles then asks his mother, the sea goddess Thetis to speak to Zeus on his behalf in order to obtain his revenge upon Agamemnon and the Greeks, by favouring the Trojans in combat until the Greeks seek forgiveness from Achilles. Zeus acknowledges her request and agrees to think on this. His wife Hera, who favours the Greeks in the conflict, suspects that Zeus is considering aiding the Trojans, and she questions his actions. Zeus quells her, and Hera is advised by the her son Haephasteus to not anger Zeus.

Book Two
This is one of the longer books of the poem, due in no small part to the inclusion of the ‘Catalogue of Ships’. The Book is the ramification of the previous. Zeus decides that the Greeks need punishment and sends a false dream to Agamemnon, promising victory if he leads the combined Greeks armies against Troy. However, rather than immediately do this Agamemenon calls together an assembly of the Greeks, kings and common soldiers, to gauge their mood. He begins the assembly with a deception, he tells the men that they can go home, return to Greece if they wish. Unexpectedly, this is what the men choose to do. An immediate ‘mad dash’ for their ships occurs. Angered, the Greek King Odysseus goes amongst the men and restores order bringing them back to the assembly. 
At this point, a new figure emerges, one who was to be a stock character, for the next millennium of Greek and Roman history composition, Thersites. This man, a humble, or perhaps not so humble common soldier, publicly voices dissent with the course of the war and demands that the Greeks return home, having fought a pointless war, which only benefits the kings and nobles, while bringing death to the common soldier. Odysseus severely beats Thersites for his temerity, returning the assembly to obedience. 
Now in a more warlike mood, the Greeks eat a hearty meal, and then prepare to assault the walls of Troy. At this point, with the Greeks fully arrayed, Homer takes the opportunity to describe the Greek forces in detail. This is the famous ‘Catalouge of Ships’, which for generations thrilled its Greek audience, who searched for their city or town, or namesake in the list. The Book also includes a shorter ‘Catalogue of the Trojans’.
Book Two concludes with the Greek armies streaming across the plains to attack Troy.

Book Three
Book Three
Menelaus—Spartan, husband of Helen
Paris—Trojan, lover of Helen.
Helen—the cause of the war, first appears in the poem.
Aphrodite—Goddess, pro-Trojan
This third book begins immediately after the conclusion of the second. The Greek and Trojan armies meet on the field, but rather than fall into combat, two heroes agree to fight between themselves, the winning side to take all, including Helen. These two men are Menelaus, the husband, and Paris, the lover. There combat is preceded by negotiation as to the spoils the winning side will receive and the necessity of a sacrifice to seal the agreement. 
The two men fight, Menelaus gets the better of the combat, but Aphrodite spirits Paris away to his bed chamber, to which she also summons Helen. The two engage, leaving Menelaus to wander the field of combat looking for his absent opponent. Agamemnon declares that his brother Menelaus has won the contest and that the Trojans should now accept the terms of the agreement.

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