THE STORY OF THE ILIAD IN OUTLINE
A confederacy of Greek peoples is besieging the town of Troy. The siege is in its tenth year. A quarrel breaks out between Agamemnon overlord of the confederacy, and Achilles, its most effective fighter, in the field. Agamemnon takes from Achilles a prize of honor earlier awarded to him, and by this Achilles' honor is gravely affronted. He responds by withdrawing his services--he is a volunteer--and he prays that defeat in the field may humiliate Agamemnon and enhance his own value (honor) as his prowess comes to be appreciated as indispensable.
His prayer is granted. Battle begins. The first day's fighting (rich episodes which have little coherence but considerable introductory value in relation to what follows) is inconclusive. But when after a day's interval the fighting is resumed the Trojans led by Hector (son of their king, Priam) get the upper hand. At nightfall they decide to bivouac on the battlefield, with high hopes of a decisive victory the next day.
Agamemnon is now thoroughly alarmed, and admits his error. At the suggestion of Nestor, his senior adviser and a person of great age and experience, he sends honorable envoys, some of Achilles' closest friends, to appeal to him to come to the rescue, and to offer him restitution of the prize taken from him and abundant gifts in compensation for the insult done him. But Achilles, obsessed with his grievance, is obstinate. He rejects Agamemnon's amends and his friends' appeal.
The battle is resumed. The Trojans' victorious progress continues. One after another most of the principal champions of the Greeks are wounded and disabled. The Trojans storm the wall of the Greek camp, and carry the fighting into the camp itself. The Greeks make a brief recovery and drive them out; but soon the tide turns again and the Trojans fight their way into the camp for the second time and press forward to destroy the invaders' ships. Meanwhile Achilles' squire and friend Patroclus has been urged by Nestor to try himself to persuade Achilles to relent. Reproaching Achilles for his inhumanity he pleads urgently with him. Achilles is prisoner of his own earlier refusal, but he allows Patroclus to borrow his armor and lead their men out to save the ships, warning him to turn back once this has been accomplished. Patroclus saves the ships and routs the Trojans. But he forgets the instruction given him. He pursues his success too far and is killed by Hector beneath the wall of Troy. After a fierce struggle his friends bear his body back to the Greek camp.
When Achilles hears of Patroclus' death he is plunged into a frenzy of grief, remorse and rage. His anger against Agamemnon is suddenly and completely forgotten, replaced now by a far fiercer anger against the man who has killed his friend. Reconciled with Agamemnon and armed in new and splendid armor (gift of a god) to replace that lost with Patroclus he rides out in fury to find Hector and kill him. He and we know that by this he will hasten his own death too, for it is fated that his own death shall follow soon on Hector's.
Meanwhile Hector, made over-confident by his late success and unwilling to relinquish the hope of final victory that has come so very near to fulfillment, has brusquely rejected the advice of a friend that the Trojans should retire into their city and not attempt to offer battle in the new situation created by Achilles' return to the field. In consequence his people are routed by Achilles with fearful slaughter. The survivors escape into the city. Hector, remorseful and ashamed, stands alone outside the wall to face Achilles, watched from above by his father and mother and fellow-citizens with agonized apprehension They fight and Hector falls. Achilles drags his body behind his chariot round the walls of Troy and back to the Greek camp.
Achilles gives Patroclus a splendid funeral. But his hatred and anger against Hector remain unappeased. He lets his body lie unburied and subjects it to persistent insults. Even the gods are indignant and disgusted.
But Priam, Hector's father, is inspired to go alone into Achilles' presence and beg to be allowed to ransom his son's body. He puts Achilles in mind of his own father, Peleus, an old man like himself, comfortless far away. Achilles' anger melts suddenly, turned to sympathy. he accepts the ransom and gives Priam what he asks, treating him with kinds and courtesy. Priam takes the body of Hector back to Troy, where his people honor his memory and give him a funeral worthy of his merits.
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