The Iliad

Above: Attic black-figure neck amphora with scene from the Iliad; ca. 540-520 BCE. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Creator: aishaabdel. License: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of the Iliad

Caroline Alexander, 2009

Written with the authority of a scholar and the vigor of a bestselling narrative historian, The War That Killed Achilles is a superb and utterly timely presentation of one of the timeless stories of Western civilization. As she did in The Endurance and The Bounty, New York Times bestselling author Caroline Alexander has taken apart a narrative we think we know and put it back together in a way that lets us see its true power. In the process, she reveals the intended theme of Homer's masterwork-the tragic lessons of war and its enduring devastation.

Homer's Iliad: The Shield of Memory

Kenneth Atchity, 1978

“The central image of Homer’s great epic story of the wrath of Achilles,” Atchity writes in his Introduction to this brilliant new study of the poem’s structure, “is the invulnerable shield made for the poem’s hero at the Olym­pian forge of Hephaistos.” Atchity’s subsequent revelation of the imagery as the guiding aesthetic provides a com­plete interpretation of the Iliad from the viewpoint of image and theme. The major portion of Atchity’s new interpretation is devoted to a compari­son of the characters of Helen and Achilles, around whom center, Atchity shows, “galaxies” of characters and images that can be identified in orderly or disorderly terms, the relationship of which is the theme of the Iliad. In addition, Atchity pays particular atten­tion to the poem’s presentation of the art of words, thus making clear the relationship of memory, cognition, and action in the epic tradition.

Homer's The Iliad

ed. Harold Bloom, 1987

Attributed to Homer, The Iliad, along with The Odyssey, is among the oldest literary documents in the Greek language. This epic war story depicts seven key weeks during the battle for Ilium, or Troy, culminating in the decisive battle between Achilles and Hector. More importantly, The Iliad attempts to define the qualities of the heroic character. Here in a single volume, students will find some of the leading critical analyses available on this ancient work. Completely updated, and incorporating the best new material available, this Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations edition is especially suited for those working on complex research papers. The full-length essays are accompanied by additional helpful features, including a chronology, background information on the contributors, and a bibliography.

Perfidy and Passion: Reintroducing the Iliad

Mark Buchan, 2012

Homer’s Iliad is often considered a poem of blunt truthfulness, his characters’ motivation pleasingly simple. A closer look, however, reveals a complex interplay of characters who engage in an awful lot of lies. Beginning with Achilles, who hatches a secret plot to destroy his own people, Mark Buchan traces motifs of deception and betrayal throughout the poem. Homer’s heroes offer bluster, their passion linked to and explained by their lack of authenticity. Buchan reads Homer’s characters between the lies, showing how the plot is structured individual denial and what cannot be said.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (oil on canvas, 1653). Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. License: CC0 1.0.

Achilles Beside Gilgamesh: Mortality and Wisdom in Early Epic Poetry

Michael Clarke, 2019

It is widely recognised that the epics of Homer are closely related to the earlier mythology and literature of the Ancient Near East, above all the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. But how should this influence our response to the meaning and message of either poem? This book responds to this question through an experiment in intertextual reading. It begins by exploring Gilgamesh as a work of literature in its own right, and uses this interpretation as the springboard for a new reading of the Homeric epic, emphasising the movement within the poem - beginning from a world of heroic action and external violence, but shifting inwards to the thoughts and feelings of Achilles as he responds to the certainty that his own death will follow that of his best friend. The book will be of interest both to specialists and to those coming to ancient literature for the first time.

Many famous antique texts are misunderstood and many others have been completely dismissed, all because the literary style in which they were written is unfamiliar today. So argues Mary Douglas in this controversial study of ring composition, a technique which places the meaning of a text in the middle, framed by a beginning and ending in parallel. To read a ring composition in the modern linear fashion is to misinterpret it, Douglas contends, and today’s scholars must reevaluate important antique texts from around the world. Found in the Bible and in writings from as far afield as Egypt, China, Indonesia, Greece, and Russia, ring composition is too widespread to have come from a single source. Does it perhaps derive from the way the brain works? What is its function in social contexts? The author examines ring composition, its principles and functions, in a cross-cultural way. She focuses on ring composition in Homer’s Iliad, the Bible’s book of Numbers, and, for a challenging modern example, Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, developing a persuasive argument for reconstruing famous books and rereading neglected ones.

Achilles in Love: Intertextual Studies

Marco Fantuzzi, 2012

The Iliad is a poem whose events revolve around the “anger” of Achilles, and his personal fierceness and pursuit of glory remain, despite different and more complex nuances, the prevailing features of his characterization. This book proposes to investigate how different literary authors and visual artists at different periods responded to Achilles' “erotic life”, an aspect about which the Iliad was almost completely silent. Achilles' loves expose a crack in the usually self-assured attitude of the hero, demonstrating the limits of epic heroism and the epic vision of the world. As such, these moments of erotic “weakness” became perfect manifestos for reuse in other genres, such as tragedy and the various forms of love poetry, in which themes of love and passion were more customary than in heroic epic.

The Iliad As Politics: The Performance of Political Thought

Dean Hammer, 2002

Wily Odysseus. Bold Achilles. Brave Hektor. Beautiful Helen of Troy. For centuries, people around the world have been fascinated by these figures and their tragic war as recounted in Homer's Iliad, long admired and studied as one of the foremost epic poems of the ancient world. In The Iliad as Politics, Dean Hammer revisits this epic with a new perspective. In this first full-length treatment of the Iliad as a work of political thought, Hammer demonstrates how Homer's epic is also an ancient Greek discussion on political ethics. Hammer redefines political thought as the activity of addressing issues of collective identity and organization. Using this understanding of politics, he discusses how the characters in the Iliad, through their larger-than-life actions and interactions, embody community issues of authority, conflict, judgment, and the interrelationship between personal and collective identity. The characters' many quarrels, laments, reconciliations, and vows of loyalty and friendship all critically model the principles and controversies of underlying Greek political ethics of communal responsibility and relationship. Much of modern Western political thought focuses on classical Greek discussions of political philosophy. Hammer demonstrates that the Iliad constitutes another such ancient Greek political discussion.

Mosaic depiction of the confrontation between Agamemnon and Achilles in Book I of the Iliad; the badly damaged figure of Athena can be seen at right, grasping Achilles by the hair. Roman, from the House of Apollo at Pompeii; 1st c. CE. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Unknown. License: CC0 1.0.

Knudsen argues that Homeric epics are the locus for the origins of rhetoric. Traditionally, Homer's epics have been the domain of scholars and students interested in ancient Greek poetry, and Aristotle's rhetorical theory has been the domain of those interested in ancient rhetoric. Rachel Ahern Knudsen believes that this academic distinction between poetry and rhetoric should be challenged. Based on a close analysis of persuasive speeches in the Iliad, Knudsen argues that Homeric poetry displays a systematic and technical concept of rhetoric and that many Iliadic speakers in fact employ the rhetorical techniques put forward by Aristotle. Rhetoric, in its earliest formulation in ancient Greece, was conceived as the power to change a listener’s actions or attitudes through words―particularly through persuasive techniques and argumentation. Rhetoric was thus a "technical" discipline in the ancient Greek world, a craft (technê) that was rule-governed, learned, and taught. This technical understanding of rhetoric can be traced back to the works of Plato and Aristotle, which provide the earliest formal explanations of rhetoric. But do such explanations constitute the true origins of rhetoric as an identifiable, systematic practice? If not, where does a technique-driven rhetoric first appear in literary and social history? Perhaps the answer is in Homeric epics. This work demonstrates a remarkable congruence between the rhetorical techniques used by Iliadic speakers and those collected in Aristotle's seminal treatise on rhetoric. Knudsen's claim has implications for the fields of both Homeric poetry and the history of rhetoric.

At the Iliad's climax, the great Trojan hero Hektor falls at the hands of Achilles. But who is Hektor? He has resonated with audiences as a tragic hero, great warrior, loyal husband and father, protector of a doomed city. Yet never has a major work sought to discover how these different aspects of Hektor's character accumulate over the course of the narrative to create the devastating effect of his death. This book documents the experience of Hektor through the Iliad's serial narrative. Drawing on diverse tools from narratology, to cognitive science, but with a special focus on film character, television poetics, and performance practice, it examines how the mechanics of serial narrative construct the character of Hektor. How do we experience Hektor as the performer makes his way through the epic? How does the juxtaposition of scenes in multiple storylines contribute to character? How does the narrative work to manipulate our emotional response? How does our relationship to Hektor change over the course of the performance? Lynn Kozak demonstrates this novel approach through a careful scene-by-scene breakdown and analysis of the Iliad, focusing especially on Hektor. In doing so, she challenges and destabilises popular and scholarly assumptions about both ancient epic and the Iliad's 'other' hero.

Talking Trojan: Speech and Community in the Iliad

Hilary Mackie, 1996

In this penetrating new look at the use of language in the Iliad, Hilary Mackie examines the portrayal of the opposing forces in terms not only of nationality but of linguistics. The way the Greeks and the Trojans speak, Mackie argues, reflects their disparate cultural structures and their relative positions in the Trojan War. While Achaean speech is aggressive and public, intended to preserve social order, Trojan language is more reflective, private, and introspective. Mackie identifies the differences between Greek and Trojan language by analyzing poetic formulas, usually thought to indicate a similarity of language among Homeric characters, and conversations, which are seen here to be of equal importance to the numerous speeches throughout the Iliad. Mackie concludes with analyses of the two great heroes of the Iliad, Hektor and Achilles, and the extent to which they represent their own cultures in their use of language.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (ca. 1472-1553), The Judgment of Paris (detail; ca. 1528). Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

The Iliad

Martin Mueller, 2nd ed. 2009

No Western text boasts a life as long as the "Iliad", and few can match its energy and glory. This introduction to Homer's poem sees it as rooted in a particular culture with narrative and thematic conventions that are only partly explained by assumptions about the properties of oral poetry. Professor Mueller follows Plato and Aristotle in seeing the plot of the "Iliad" as a distinctly Homeric 'invention' which shaped Attic tragedy and the concept of dramatic action in Western literature. In this second edition the text has been revised in many places, and a new chapter on Homeric repetitions has been added.

The gods of Homer's Iliad have troubled readers for millennia, with many features of their presentation seeming to defy satisfactory explanation. Homer's Divine Audience presents and explores a new 'metaperformative' approach to scenes of divine viewing, counsel, and intervention in the Iliad, referencing the oral nature of the poem's original composition and transmission to cast the Olympian gods in part as an internal audience, who follow the action from their privileged, divine perspective much like the poet's own listeners. Although critics have already often described the gods' activities in terms of attendance at a 'show' and have suggested analogies to theatre and sports, little has yet been done to investigate the particular strategies by which the poet conveys the impression of gods attending a live, staged event. This volume's analysis of those strategies points to a 'metaperformative' significance to the motif of divine viewing: the poet is using the gods, in part, to model and thereby manipulate the ongoing dynamics of performance and live reception. The gods, like the external audience, are capable of a variety of emotional responses to events at Troy; notably pleasure and pity, but also great aloofness. By performing the speeches of the provocative, infuriating, yet ultimately obliging Zeus, the poet at key moments both challenges his listeners to take a stake in the continuation of the performance, and presents a sophisticated critique of possible responses to his poem.

Character, Narrator, and Simile in the Iliad

Jonathan L. Ready, 2011

Jonathan L. Ready offers the first comprehensive examination of Homer's similes in the Iliad as arenas of heroic competition. This study concentrates primarily on similes spoken by Homeric characters. The first to offer a sustained exploration of such similes, Ready shows how characters are made to contest through and over simile not only with one another but also with the narrator. Ready investigates the narrator's similes as well. He demonstrates that Homer amplifies the feat of a successful warrior by providing a competitive orientation to sequences of similes used to describe battles. He also offers a new interpretation of Homer's extended similes as a means for the poet to imagine his characters as competitors for his attention. Throughout this study, Ready makes innovative use of approaches from both Homeric studies and narratology that have not yet been applied to the analysis of Homer's similes.

Homeric Epic and its Reception, comprising twelve chapter—some previously published but revised for this collection, and others appearing here in print for the first time—offers literary interpretations of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite. While some chapters closely study the diction, meter, style, and thematic resonance of particular passages and episodes in the Iliad and the Odyssey, others follow diverse pathways into the interpretation of the epics, including mythological allusion, intertextuality, the metrics of the Homeric hexameter, and the fundamental contrast between divinity and humanity. Also included are two chapters which focus on the work of Milman Parry and Ioannis Kakridis, founders of the two most fruitful twentieth-century scholarly approaches to Homeric scholarship: the study of the Iliad and the Odyssey as traditional oral formulaic poetry (Parry), and the study of the poems' adaptations and transformations of traditional mythology, folktales, and poetic motifs in accordance with their distinctive themes and poetic purposes (Kakridis). The volume draws to a close with three chapters which discuss some of the most compelling poetic and critical receptions of the Iliad and the Odyssey since the late nineteenth century, and the institutional reception of the epics in colleges and universities in the United States over the past two centuries. Written over a period of 45 years, this collection reflects the authors long-standing interest in, and scholarly and critical approaches to, the literary interpretation of Homeric poetry.

Attic black-figure amphora depicting the recovery of Helen by Menelaus; ca. 550 BCE. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Bibi Saint-Pol. License: CC0 1.0.

Homer and the Sacred City

Stephen Scully, 1994

The importance of the polis in Homeric literature is most evident in the Iliad, a poem concerned in large measure with the holy city of Troy. Stephen Scully here deepens our understanding of both the poetic and the social significance of the city in Homer through a close analysis of the poem's formulaic language. Drawing on scholarship in literary studies, archaeology, and comparative religion, Scully demonstrates that it is the urban setting of the Iliad, as well as the collision of the individual fates of its characters, which generates its most profound tragic themes.

Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character

Jonathan Shay, 1994

An original and groundbreaking book that examines the psychological devastation of war by comparing the soldiers of Homer’s Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In this moving, dazzlingly creative book, Dr. Shay examines the psychological devastation of war by comparing the soldiers of Homer’s Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. A classic of war literature that has as much relevance as ever in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is a “transcendent literary adventure” (The New York Times) and “clearly one of the most original and most important scholarly works to have emerged from the Vietnam War” (Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried).

The Tabulae Iliacae (Iliac tablets) are a collection of 22 miniature marble reliefs from the early Roman Empire; all of them are inscribed in Greek, and most depict the panoramic vistas of Greek Epic. This book brings the tablets to life as never before, revealing the unassuming fragments as among the most sophisticated objects to survive from the ancient Mediterranean world. The Iliad in a Nutshell is not only the first monograph on this material in English (accompanied by a host of new photographs, diagrams, and reconstructions), it also examines the larger cultural and intellectual stakes--both in classical antiquity and beyond. Where modern scholars have usually dismissed the Tabulae Iliacae as secondary "illustrations" and "tawdry gewgaws," Michael Squire advances a diametrically opposite thesis: that these epigrammatic tablets synthesize ancient ideas about visual-verbal interaction on the one-hand, and about the art and poetics of scale on the other. By reassessing the artistic and poetic aesthetics of the miniature, Squire's radical new appraisal shows how the tiny tablets encapsulate antiquity's grandest theories of originality, fiction, and replication. The book will be essential reading not just for classical philologists, art historians, and archaeologists, but for anyone interested in the intellectual history of western representation.

No matter when or where they are fought, all wars have one thing in common: a relentless progression to monuments and memorials for the dead. Likewise all art made from war begins and ends in mourning and remembrance. In The Mourner's Song, James Tatum offers incisive discussions of physical and literary memorials constructed in the wake of war, from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the writings of Stephen Crane, Edmund Wilson, Tim O'Brien, and Robert Lowell. Tatum's touchstone throughout is the Iliad, not just one of the earliest war poems, but also one of the most powerful examples of the way poetry can be a tribute to and consolation for what is lost in war. Reading the Iliad alongside later works inspired by war, Tatum reveals how the forms and processes of art convert mourning to memorial. He examines the role of remembrance and the distance from war it requires; the significance of landscape in memorialization; the artifacts of war that fire the imagination; the intimate relationship between war and love and its effects on the ferocity with which soldiers wage battle; and finally, the idea of memorialization itself. Because all survivors suffer the losses of war, Tatum's is a story of both victims and victors, commanders and soldiers, women and men. Photographs of war memorials in Vietnam, France, and the United States beautifully augment his testimonials. Eloquent and deeply moving, The Mourner's Song will speak to anyone interested in the literature of war and the relevance of the classics to our most pressing contemporary needs.

Below: Marble sarcophagus with relief depicting the battle by the Achaean ships in the Iliad; 2nd quarter of the 3rd c. CE.
Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Marsyas. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Simone Weil's The Iliad, or, The Poem of Force: A Critical Edition

Simone Weil, ed. James Holoka, 2008

Simone Weil, a brilliant young teacher, philosopher, and social activist, wrote the essay, The Iliad, or The Poem of Force in France at the beginning of World War II. Her profound meditation on the nature of violence provides a remarkably vivid and accessible testament of the Greek epic’s continuing relevance to our lives. This celebrated work appears here for the first time in a bilingual version, based on the text of the authoritative edition of the author’s complete writings. An introduction discusses the significance of the essay both in the evolution of Weil’s thought and as a distinctively iconoclastic contribution to Homeric studies. The commentary draws on recent interpretations of the Iliad and examines the parallels between Weil’s vision of Homer’s warriors and the experiences of modern soldiers.

Ransom, Revenge, and Heroic Identity in the Iliad

Donna F. Wilson, 2002

From beginning to end of the Iliad, Agamemnon and Achilleus are locked in a high-stakes struggle for dominance based on their efforts to impose competing definitions of loss incurred and the nature of compensation thereby owed. This typology of scenes involving apoina, or 'ransom' and poine, or 'revenge' is the basis of Donna Wilson's detailed anthropology of compensation in Homer, which she locates in the wider context of agonistic exchange. Wilson argues that a struggle over definitions is a central feature of elite competition for status in the zero-sum and fluid ranking system characteristic of Homeric society. This system can be used to explain why Achilleus refuses Agamemnon's 'compensation' in Book 9, as well as why and how the embassy tries to mask it. Ransom, Revenge, and Heroic Identity in the Iliad thus examines the traditional semantic, cultural and poetic matrix of which compensation is an integral part.


The Iliad: A Commentary

general editor: G.S. Kirk, 6 vols. 1985-1993

This is a six-volume commentary on Homer's Iliad, under the general editorship of G. S. Kirk. Professor Kirk himself is the editor of the first two volumes, which cover the first eight books of the Iliad, while other scholars serve as editors of the remaining volumes. Each volume consists of four introductory essays followed by the detailed commentary proper, which aims at helping serious readers by attempting to identify and deal with most of the difficulties which might stand in the way of a sensitive and informed response to the poem. This edition does not include a Greek text, but important matters pertaining to the text are discussed herein. This project is the first large-scale commentary on the Iliad for nearly one hundred years, and takes special account of language, style, and thematic structure as well as of the complex social and cultural background to the work. It is hoped that the series as a whole will lead scholars to a better understanding of the epic style as well as of many well-known thematic problems on a larger scale. This commentary will be an essential reference work for all students of Greek literature. Archaeologists and historians will also find that it contains matters of relevance to them.

Below: The Embassy to Achilles from Book IX the Iliad; adaptation of an original engraving by John Flaxman (1755-1826) that appeared
Alfred J. Church's The Story of the Iliad (1892). Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Unknown. License: Public domain.