Reading The Iliad [Book 1]

I am going to try and do something different with my Iliad reading. Instead of plowing through the poem and writing one post after I’m done, I would rather document my journey as I read each book. Ancient poetry is not your casual summer read, thus I want to take this opportunity to really get to know The Iliad. This is also part of my TBR challenge, so I feel good starting the new year with knocking it down off my list.

Book one opens with priest Chryses pleading Apollo to punish Greeks for taking his daughter as war booty. The multifaceted god sends plague on the evil-doers, which causes Achilles, the best Greek warrior to confront the kidnapper – King Agamemnon. Achilles learns of the reason behind the god’s fury and demands Agamemnon to release the girl lest Apollo exterminates them all. After much argument the King agrees to the demand, but only if Achilles surrenders his own trophy woman – Briseis. The warrior rages some more and even contemplates to kill the insolent king, but he is stopped by a vision of Athena, who advises him to keep his cool. Finally, Achilles gives in and exchange takes place, but his pride is wounded and the warrior flees home.

Eurybates and Talthybius Lead Briseis to Agamemnon, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770).

Eurybates and Talthybius Lead Briseis to Agamemnon, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770).

Soon after Achilles calls on his mother, water-nymph Thetis to convince Zeus to side with Trojans for a while and let them win a few battles to make them realize how valuable of a warrior they lost thanks to Agamemnon’s greed. Zeus agrees to help, but hastes Thetis to leave before Hera, his Greek-favoring wife, discovers them plotting against her pets. But nothing escapes the queen of gods and she scolds him for taking part in the conflict. Zeus gets angry at his wife and leaves, leaving Hera to be consoled by her son Hephaestus. [End of Book1].

Is it just me, or Achilles acts rather childish in his grande exit from the Greek army? His reaction to having to surrender his own booty is understandable. After all, it was Agamemnon who displeased the gods. But there is something so unpatriotic in wishing his enemy to win just to prove how important he is to the Greeks. Achilles here cares not for the well-being of his people, but for his own glory. Is he then a good soldier? Again, you have to think to the argument between him and the king. Achilles regards himself as half-divine and speaks rather freely in the presence of Agamemnon. The king in his turn sees the warrior over-reaching himself and punishes him by taking away his prized possession. He could have chosen to have any other girl, but it is Achilles’s booty he wants. The events can be seen from either perspective, but it doesn’t change the fact that Achilles comes off as flat out selfish.

I also kind of loved the argument between Hera and Zeus. They might be gods and all, but they fight just like an ordinary old couple; it’s sort of cute. He tells Thetis: “You will drive me to war with Hera. She will provoke me, she with her shrill abuse. Even now in the face of all immortal gods she harries me perpetually, Hera charges me that I always go to battle for the Trojans.” Ah, the mightiest of gods, yet still a conflict-avoiding husband. As Hera confronts him about the secret plotting, he yells: “Whatever is right for you to hear, no one, trust me, will know of it before you, neither god nor man.” I love the peacekeeper approach Zeus chooses here even though he seems angry. As the book closes, we see Zeus slumbering peacefully by his wife’s side. Very cute indeed.

2 comments

  1. I am a huge fan of Greek myth. This is an excellent idea, and I look forward to reading more.

  2. Yes, Greeks are awesome! Reading The Iliad is a great journey. I will probably do several books at once from now on, rather than one at a time, so there should be more fun to look forward to.

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