Questions for Basic Understanding
What is the cause of the quarrel between Akhilleus and Agamémnon? Why does
Akhilleus want to kill Agamémnon, and why doesnt he? How does Akhilleus
want his mother Thetis to help him, and why does he expect Zeus will be
inclined to listen to her? What problems does Zeus have with his wife Hêra?
What dream does Zeus send Agamémnon? How does Agamémnon respond?
How and why do Hêra and Athêna rally the troops? What special talents of
Odysseus are revealed by this entire episode? What is the portent at Aulis that he
recalls for the Akhaians? Does Agamémnon already rue his quarrel with Akhilleus?
Who are the Muses, and why does the poet call on them again shortly after the
middle of Book II (line 567)? What extended passage does this introduce?
Why does Aléxandros (Paris) offer to engage Meneláos in single combat when
the former knows he is no fighter? Why does Priam hold Helen blameless for the
suffering she has brought on both Trojans and Greeks? Why does Priam go back
to the city before the duel? How does Paris escape death at Meneláos hands?
What is Helens reaction to Aphrodítês invitation? How does Agamémnon interpret
Paris disappearance from the battle field?
Who among the gods supports the Greeks, who the Trojans? Why is Hêra not
content with the outcome of the single combat? How and why do the gods see
that the truce is broken, and why do they arrange for it to be broken by the
Trojans first? How do both Agamémnon and Meneláos react? What strengths of
Agamémnon as a military leader emerge in the ensuing crisis?
What is special about Aineías team of horses? How and why do the gods take
special care of Aineías? What happens when Aphrodítê enters the fray? Are other
gods and goddesses better fighters? Why is the encounter between Tlêpólemos
and Sarpêdôn so fraught for Zeus? What is the outcome of their fight? Which
side overall gets the better of the fighting in Book V?
How do Meneláos and Agamémnon differ in their views of taking Adrêstos as
a prisoner for ransom? Why do Glaukos and Diomêdês abstain from battling
each other? Does Athêna listen to the prayers of the Trojan women? How does
Helen address Hektor, and what opinion does she claim to have of Paris? What
reason does Andrómakhê have to hate Akhilleus in particular? What future
does Hektor imagine for her?
Which gods arrange for the truce between the Akhaians and the Trojans? Who
volunteers to fight Hektor? How is it decided who will stand up against him?
Why dont the Trojans do as Antênor suggests and return Helen to the Greeks?
How does Zeus turn the tide? In what terms does Hektor insult Diomêdês?
What sign does Zeus send that heartens the Greeks, and indicates that he has
heard and granted Agamémnons prayer? Are Hêra and Athêna of a mind to
obey Zeus command? How does he thwart them?
Why is Agamémnon now eager to make peace with Akhilleus? Does
Agamémnon admit he was wrong and take full responsibility? What is
Odysseus role in the embassy? How does Akhilleus respond to him and why?
Who is Phoinix and what is his role in the embassy? Is the embassy successful?
What is the purpose of the Greeks night expedition? What of the Trojans?
What happens when they meet?
Why does Zeus still favor the Trojans? Does this mean the Trojans suffer no
losses? How does Zeus “manage” the battle to his liking? What moves Akhilleus
to send Patróklos to the Greeks? What is the purpose of Nestors lengthy
What is the omen or “bird-sign” that frightens the Trojans? How is it or should
it be interpreted? What is Sarpêdôns particular role in storming the ramparts?
Why does he have such special protection?
What does Poseidon, god of the sea and bringer of earthquakes, undertake to
rally the Greeks? In what various ways do the mortal fighters perceive his divine
force? What in particular moves Aineías to face Idómeneus in battle?
Why does Odysseus upbraid Agamémnon so unmercifully? How and why does
Hêra deceive Aphrodítê? How does she bribe Sleep? What is the result of her
seducing and “sidelining” Zeus for a time?
How does Zeus arrange future events and see to it that the other gods obey his
commands? What dangers does the wrath of Poseidon threaten? How is that
How and why does Patróklos appeal to Akhilleus when he does? To what does
Akhilleus agree? Does Akhilleus bear ill will to the Greeks in general? How
does Hêra persuade a hesitating Zeus not to prevent the death of Sarpêdôn?
How and why does Patróklos exceed the limits Akhilleus set for him? What are
Why does Glaukos the Lykian upbraid Hektor and threaten that the Lykians,
Trojan allies, will now abandon Troy? Whose armor had Patróklos been
wearing, and what will it mean for Hektor to put it on?
What is the scale of lamentation for Patróklos? Why is Hêphaistos so well disposed
to Thetis? Describe Akhilleus shield and discuss both the scenes depicted
on it as well as the way the poet presents their creation.
What is the relevance of Agamémnons fable of Zeus and folly? What are
Odysseus practical concerns that run counter to Akhilleus heroic singlemindedness?
Why does Brisêis feel special grief over the death of Patróklos? Who is
Why do the gods save Aineías? Why does Hektor at first hang back and then,
later, close with Akhilleus? How is he spared?
For what purpose does Akhilleus take twelve young men prisoner? What further
harm does Akhilleus do to Lykáôn after killing him? Why is the river
Skamánder provoked with Akhilleus? What roles do Poseidon, Hêra, and
Hêphaistos play in helping Akhilleus against these superhuman forces? What
gods does Athêna strike? How does Apollo create a diversion so that many
Trojans can reach safety within the city walls?
With what arguments do Priam and Hékabê try to dissuade Hektor from facing
Akhilleus outside the walls? What motivates Hektor to reject their pleas
and make his last stand? What role do the gods play? Will Akhilleus bargain
with Hektor and agree to return his body to his parents for proper burial?
What end does Hektor prophesy for Akhilleus? What does Akhilleus do to
Why does Akhilleus refuse to bathe himself? What does Patróklos shade say to
Akhilleus? Why is burial so crucial to the dead man? What roles do various
gods play in attending to the corpses of Patróklos and Hektor? Who and what
else were burnt on Patróklos funeral pyre? What is the order of competitors at
the finish of the chariot race? What is the order and value of the prizes set out
for the wrestling match? How does Agamémnon win the top prize for javelin
Why do the gods decide Akhilleus must agree to surrender Hektors body for
ransom? How much time has elapsed since Hektors death? How does Zeus
arrange for his message to Akhilleus to be delivered? And his message to Priam?
Why does Priam reject the advice of his wife, Hékabê? What does he think of
his surviving sons? What omen encourages Priam and Hékabê that he will be
received with kindliness? What identity does Hermês take on as he guides and
assists Priam? With what appeal does Priam begin his speech to Akhilleus, hoping
to soften his heart? How does Akhilleus take care lest he be moved to anger
once again and defy the express command of Zeus? How long a truce does
Akhilleus promise Priam, so that the Trojans have time to mourn and bury
Hektor before war resumes? What end does Andrómakhê fear for their son? In
what terms does Helen—even Helen!—lament Hektor?
Questions for Further Study
In the altercation between Akhilleus and Agamémnon, who wins, who loses?
How does each “save face”? What do we learn about the character of each man?
How is the council of the gods similar to the assembly of Greek leaders, and
how is it different?
What kind of god sends a false dream to mortals? Is Agamémnon an effective
leader? Why does Homer include the entire episode of the “false retreat”? What
does Thersites, as well as the attitude of other characters and the poet to
Thersites, reveal about heroic ideals? What does his inclusion add to the epic?
Make a list of all the similes in Book II. From what spheres of life are they drawn?
How do they function? What pleasure could audiences derive from the “catalogue
of ships”? Why does a goddess like Iris take on the form of a specific Trojan
and not appear in her own guise?
What impressions do we receive of the characters of Hektor and Paris (also
known as Aléxandros), Helen and Priam? How is Helen treated by the Trojans?
How does the sacrifice of animals solemnize the oaths Agamémnon and
Odysseus swear? What role do various gods play in this episode? Does Helen
love Paris? Is Helen herself merely a pawn?
What (if anything) is divine about Zeus and the other Olympian gods? Could
Athênas incitement (in Laódokos form) of Pándaros be understood as
Pándaros giving in to thoughts a Trojan might well have on his own in such a
situation? What is the singers judgment of Pándaros? What effect is achieved
when the poet describes so exactly how the blood trickles down Meneláos thigh,
lavishing a full-blown simile on it? Give some examples of how Agamémnon, as
he musters the troops, varies his approach depending on the particular strengths
and character of the general hes addressing. What does it portend for the
Trojans that the poet compares them as they prepare for battle to flocks of sheep?
Is the detail “in a rich mans pen” (line 524) relevant?
What is the value of stripping arms from the corpse of the man one has killed—
in other words, of taking booty? Describe how the focus on the exploits of one
fighter—here it is Diomêdês, son of Tydeus—organizes the battle scene. What do
you make of the fact that a mortal like Diomêdês can actually wound a goddess?
Are there limits? Can a character like Aineías be spirited away, even avoid a fight,
and remain a heroic figure of honor? How does Zeus look upon battles even
between the gods? Is his attitude toward Arês, the god of warfare, contradictory?
Why does Hélenos advise Hektor to instruct the Trojan women to pray to
Athêna and promise sacrifices? What does the episode of Glaukos and Diomêdês
suggest about the loyalties and priorities of Homeric heroes? Describe the
impact the domestic scenes of Hektor with the various members of his family in
Troy have on the narrative tone and rhythm of the poem. Is Homer as convincing
a poet of tenderness and laughter as he is of terror and mayhem?
Explain the difference in treatment of arms and corpse stipulated by Hektor in
the terms of the duel he proposes. What is the importance of offering each side
the right to bury its dead according to its fashion? What is the value of the formal
speech of challenge, boasting even, which each fighter hurls at the other
before engaging in armed struggle? How does Homer make the scene of the
two armies each collecting their dead from the battlefield so uncanny?
Does Zeus control the destinies of the Greeks and Trojans he weighs in his balance,
or are those destinies beyond his control? What point could there be for
Homer to have Agamémnon emphasize Teukros “bastard birth” even as he
praises him? Zeus announces already that the death of Patróklos will mark the
turning point of the war: Does suspense not play a role in the Homeric aesthetic?
Discuss the range of gifts Agamémnon promises Akhilleus in order to placate
him. What, based on Akhilleus response to Odysseus, does Akhilleus value
system appear to be? Why does Phoinix tell the story of Meléagros?
What might be the point of Homer giving the history of various elements of
arms, such as the helmet Odysseus wears on the night expedition? What examples
of his famous cunning intelligence does Odysseus evince in this episode?
How does the poet use similes or comparisons to help his audience more
intensely visualize or experience the fighters or the fighting? Assemble specific
examples. Does a coherent pattern of comparisons emerge across the book
(and, possibly, extend into Book XII)? Did these similes enrich your reading
experience or distract you? Do you think Homeric audiences liked them? Why
or why not?
What impact does the “flash forward” description of Poseidon and Apollos
destruction of the Greek rampart, long after the end of the Trojan War, carry
at this juncture in the narrative? Though the epics division into books is likely
a later (though still ancient) development in the poems evolution, consider
whether the final moment of Book XII makes for a sound or effective book
ending—indeed, for a dramatic end to the first “half ” of The Iliad.
What kind of god is Zeus, given that he looks away from Troy at such a crucial
moment? How is a “lesser” or “middling” figure like Idómeneus individualized
as a character? What aspects of Paris character are revealed by his
response to Hektors rebuke?
Why would Diomêdês think it worthwhile to preface the presentation of his
battle strategy with a boasting account of his noble lineage? What kind of an
effect does the rapid shift from bloody battlefield to Hêras luxurious dressingroom
have? Are gods such as the ones Homer describes admirable?
Does Hêra still hope to stir up trouble by exciting Arês? How unusual in The
Iliad so far is it for a god to appear and announce himself openly, as Apollo
does to Hektor? Do the Trojans misinterpret the peal of thunder Zeus sends in
response to Nestors prayer? Consider how Homer manages to vary one of the
most common speech types in these battle books—the speech of a commander
rallying his men. Make special note of Aías ironic, darkly jesting tone.
What is the significance of the details the poet provides of Patróklos arming?
Consider Akhilleus prayer to Zeus and the poets revelation of Zeus response.
What is the role of suspense in The Iliad? Does the tempo of battle change with
Patróklos entry into the fighting? How does the poet create a focus and rising
tension leading to the clash of Patróklos and Sarpêdôn, and keep Sarpêdôn a
focal point even after his death? Describe how the influx of the divine, or even
unreality, affects an otherwise realistic battle scene when Apollo simply lifts
Sarpêdôns corpse out of the fray.
What is the effect of Homers careful description of wounds, blood, and gore
as soldiers die? What is the effect of his moralizing asides or references to the
parents or family of the dead at home? What could it mean for men to exceed
the limits set by Zeus or go, as Apollo says to Aineías, “beyond the will of Zeus”?
Does Akhilleus now, talking to his mother, display full self-awareness? Why is
he the darling of the gods, to the point that Athêna will even cover him with
her shield? Could a design on a shield possibly show all the action and effects
(including sound) Homer describes?
To judge from Akhilleus first speech in assembly, how important is Brisêis to
him? How do both generals find a face-saving explanation for their earlier
obstinacy? Does the response of Akhilleus divine horse surprise or jar, or does
it seem fitting to enter ever more into magical realms when Akhilleus is the
hero in question?
Why does Zeus now encourage the gods to enter the battle, each supporting his
or her favored side? Consider the length and formality, implausible from the
perspective of reality, of a speech like Aineías to Akhilleus. What purposes does
it serve? How does Homer manage to prolong the scenes of Akhilleus battle
Is a battle between Akhilleus and the river Skamánder believable? And is this
even a relevant question? Are there other signs here indicating that the poet has
moved us to another plane of reality? Why does Zeus take joy in the battle of
the gods? Does the scene of the gods strife serve as “comic relief ” to the war of
men or does it inspire deeper meditations on war and violence? Can it do both?
How does Homer reveal to us Hektors inner thoughts? How does the poet show
Hektors piety even as the gods desert and trick him? How does Andrómakhês
initial ignorance of her husbands fate prolong and deepen the piteousness of
Hektors death? Do we as readers sympathize with Andrómakhê or are we always
on the side of the Greeks?
What distinguishes Myrmidons from Akhaians? Are there any other two, Greek
or Trojan, who are so bound in friendship as Akhilleus and Patróklos? What are
the functions of the funeral games for the Akhaians at this juncture in the war,
and what are their functions in the poem at this point, given that Homer lavishes
such extensive coverage on them? What considerations, extraneous to our
view, can and do enter into the awarding of the prizes? What contrast does this
permit us to draw between Homeric society and our own? In what way is the
awarding of the prize for javelin throwing a fitting conclusion to the games, and
to the strife with which The Iliad began?
Though Zeus could presumably have simply snatched Hektors corpse from
Akhilleus and have it delivered straightaway to Troy, what is the value of his having
Akhilleus and Priam play out their parts in the transfer? What does
Akhilleus honor in Priam? Akhilleus refers to himself as “of all seasons and
none” (line 649). What do you think he means by this? What is the significance
of the meal Akhilleus and Priam take together? In what ways does the episode
of Priams visit to Akhilleus and the ransoming of Hektors corpse serve as a satisfying
capstone to the epic we call The Iliad ? And what of the final scenes, the
series of speeches over his body and his cremation? How well do these final
scenes conclude the epic?
On a map, pinpoint the following locations and either name the character(s) who
come from them or otherwise describe their significance in The Iliad: Troy, Ithaka,
Sparta, Aulis, Krete, Mykênê, Lykia, Thrace, and Athens.
Consider the situations of The Iliad from a range of different points of view, for
example: Helens, Agamémnons, Meneláos, Akhilleus, Patróklos, Odysseus,
Nestors, Priams, Andrómakhês, Hektors, and Paris.
The “real world” societies described in The Iliad are vastly different from modern
societies. Identify and discuss some of these differences. Among the differences you
might consider: political systems, slaves, marriage and the role of women, religion,
sacrifice, modes of warfare, and conventions concerning prisoners of war (POWs).
Discuss the gods in The Iliad. What are the particular roles of Zeus, Athêna, Apollo,
Hêra, Arês, Hêphaistos, Thetis, and Hermês (also known as the Wayfinder)? Why
and in what ways do humans honor the gods? If you had lived in the time of the
Homeric heroes, would you have worshipped the gods?
The Iliad is a poem about war, the campaign of a large coalition to “punish” an overseas
power for infractions against certain norms and standards. Discuss this point
with reference to modern history and, especially, events of your own lifetime.
The Iliad sets a virtually unattainable standard of objectivity as it looks without
squinting at the foibles and follies of the ultimately victorious Greeks, even as it often
shows some of the Trojans in a flattering light. Particularly in a time of war, one marvels
to see the courtesy that can exist between Greek and Trojan. What might explain
this? There is little of the mutual national demonization we have grown accustomed
to. Discuss that last observation with reference to current events.
Do we have any heroes or story cycles comparable to the tales told about the Trojan
War? If so, what are they? If not, why do you think that is? As far as we can tell, the
Homeric poems were immensely popular in ancient Greece. How does The Iliad differ
from popular entertainment today? Are there any ways in which it is similar?
Encounters on the battlefield follow one of a limited number of patterns. Describe
some. How does Homer keep our focus on the fates of the major figures in the midst
of mass battle scenes? How does he deploy less important characters? Homers technique
has often been described as “cinematic” (though historically, of course, the comparison
runs the other way). Compare Homers “camera work” and “editing,” especially but not
exclusively in his battle scenes, with sequences in some familiar Hollywood genres—say,
war films (World War II or Vietnam), Westerns, and space epics.