(Sing, Muse, of the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus, the accursed anger which brought countless pains to the Achaeans)
— Homer, The Iliad, Bk.I:1-2.
The Iliad (Greek: Ιλιάς) is an epic poem from the Trojan Cycle describing a few months in the ninth year of the Trojan War, a siege of the great city of Troy by an alliance of Greek city-states. It is considered one of the cornerstones of Western literature. The Iliad is one of the oldest works of literature to survive intact.The main plot concerns Achilles, the invaders' strongest soldier. Achilles, according to prophecy, has a choice: either die an untimely death that ensures his legend lives forever, or retire to a life of normality and obscurity. After a falling-out with King Agamemnon, Achilles withdraws from the war, tempted by the second option. In his absence, the fortunes of battle begin to swing the Trojan way. Achilles eventually, of course, chooses glory... afterthe death of his friend Patroclus.Within this narrative framework, the poem gives an incredibly detailed and engaging snapshot of the war, from the battles themselves to the personalities of the elites and the political machinations of the gods; both prophecy and free will are strong forces. Crossover characters from other Greek myths are a bonus for the dedicated fan.For more details, and the even more famous sequel, see Homer. For the 2004 film adaptation, see Troy.
Aerith and Bob: Helen, Hector, Cassandra, and (possibly) Paris are rather jarring alongside Achilles, Patroclus, Menelaus, and Andromache. However, this is putting the cart before the horse: Helen, Hector, and Cassandra are everyday names because this story made them popular enough for English children to be given those names. (Go on, name your first child Idomeneus. Somebody has to be first!)
Alone in a Crowd: Helen, so much. It's even worse when you remember that city-states had tens of thousands of people in them.
Ambiguously Gay: Achilles and Patroclus. While not described as gay lovers in the text itself, their love was taken for granted by the time of Plato's Symposium.
Ambiguously Bi: On the other hand, Achilles is the father of Pyrrhus with Deidamie and both he and Patroclus enjoy sex with lesbian slaves (native from Lesbos) in one scene.
Solve conflicts through words and compromise, not violence or insult. Becomes more obvious in the penultimate book where we see several altercations (e.g. Ajax vs. Idomeneus, Antilochus vs. Achilles, Antilochus vs. Menelaus) over prizes in the Funeral Games that mirror Achilles and Agamemnon's initial argument but are settled peaceably. While this may seem something of a Broken Aesop as the setting is an enormous war, it's worth noting that if the Trojans had returned Helen and apologized at the beginning, they probably wouldn't have gotten their whole city destroyed.
Welcome counsel. Whenever characters refuse advice (which is often) it never ends well.
Anti-Hero: At the time of the tale's origin, Achilles was definitely not an antihero, but due to Values Dissonance, many readers see Achilles as a colossal Jerk Ass and are more sympathetic to Hector, who is not an entirely nice guy either.
Armor Is Useless: Played with. Oddly enough, whether a warrior's armor protects him or not depends on how much Plot Armor he has; in a sense, the real armor is used as a Handwave for Plot Armor. At any rate, this is a Defied Trope in-universe, considering that every time a warrior dies there is a fight over who gets to keep the armor.
Asskicking Equals Authority: If Achilles is so badass, why is Agamemnon in charge? He has the most ships, by ten. Admittedly, the entire fleet was put together to bring Helen back to her husband, Agamemnon's brother.
A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Trope Codifier. The entire plot happens because people just don't stop to think before they act. Paris especially is guilty of this.
Authority Equals Asskicking: All the heroes are nobles, and the battles are all decided by how well they fight each other. This is fundamental to the warfare of the time; it is the noble's duty to kick ass. The common soldiers are just mooks.
Badass Boast: Practically half the book is composed of lengthy exchanges of these. Diomedes delivers a pretty spectacular one in Book Six: "Who are you, my fine friend? - another born to die? I've never noticed you on the lines where we win glory, not till now. But here you come, charging out in front of all the rest with such bravado, daring to face the flying shadow of my spear. Pity those whose sons stand up to me in war! ...If you're a man who eats the crops of the earth, a mortal born for death - here, come closer, the sooner you will meet your day to die!"
Bash Brothers: Greater Ajax and his illegitimate brother Teucer. Typically the latter will hide behind Ajax's shield and fire over it, providing long-range support, while Ajax handles the melee. It's rather heartwarming when you realise that, despite Teucer's bastard status, the two of them are very close.
Be Careful What You Wish For: Achilles asks Zeus to help the Trojans punish the Greeks, which ends in his friend Patroclus' death fighting the empowered Trojans.
Because Destiny Says So: The prophecy that the newborn Alexandros/Paris would grow up to bring doom to Troy. Thus, the Trojan War and everything connected with it happen because of destiny.
More complicated than that. To the Greeks, fate was the destination, not the path we take to get there. (Notice that even in English "destiny" comes from the same root as "destination".) According to a legend (not actually in the Iliad), Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite asked Paris to judge a beauty contest between them. Then each one offered him a bribe — power, wealth, or the most beautiful woman on Earth. Of course, Paris opted for that last bribe, which is how the war started. But that wasn't destined. Paris was free to take one of the other bribes — and undoubtedly, each one of them would've resulted in Troy's destruction, but in a different way.
Additionally, there were several ways to save Troy. Various prophecies stated that if so and so was alive on the Trojan side, or so and so did not fight on the Greek side, then Troy would never fall. Needless to say the Greeks took care of all of those.
The Berserker: Achilles and, to the surprise of anyone familiar with the various adaptations, Agamemnon. Seriously, read his rampage in Book 11. It screams Unstoppable Rage.
Diomedes goes pretty berserk in Book 5, taking Aeneas, Aphrodite, and even Ares, the god of war himself, out of battle. Not even the gods can rein him in. He had some help from Athena, though.
Big Good: Agamemnon is a subversion. He's the leader of the Greeks and the one who began the campaign, but not even he can resist the temptation to Kick the Dog.
The Big Guy: Telamonean/Big Ajax, aka Greater Ajax and Ajax the Giant. He's the biggest soldier among the Greek forces, and doubles as a Mighty Glacier/ Stone Wall during defensive battles. Sarpedon seems to play a similar role on the Trojan side. Both are pretty decent guys.
Bond One-Liner: After spearing Cebriones and causing him to backflip out of his chariot, Patroclus remarks that he'd make a good oyster diver. Of course, this being The Iliad, it's a bit longer than one line.
Book Ends: The Iliad begins and ends with an initially refused ransom that is eventually accepted.
The Cassandra: While the Trope Namer herself makes a minor appearance, she actually doesn't qualify in this case. Polydamas, on the other hand, is a Trojan of good standing and well-recognized intelligence whose advice Hector violently rejects on multiple occasions, leading to massive losses for the Trojans and their allies and Hector's eventual death.
Nestor, the Cool Old GuyOld SoldierMentor for the Greek's side, is clearly the wisest of the Greeks in advice. No one listens to him, most probably because everyone else (with the exception of Odysseus, maybe) is too Hot-Blooded to care.
Cassandra Truth: Played straight with the actual Cassandra in the myth as a whole and Polydamas' advice in the actual book. This trope's notable subversion by the Greeks, either by accident or actually heeding the advice of their resident prophet Calchas is what leads to their victory.
In books five and six, Diomedes goes on a god-stabbing rampage. First he slashes Aphrodite's arm when she tries to rescue Aeneas. Apollo picks up the baton and is forced to repel three attacks by Diomedes before using his divine don't-mess-with-the-gods voice to tell him to back off. The wounded Aphrodite meanwhile runs and tattles to her lover, Ares, the god of slaughter; he promptly arrives to lay down the law. Instead, he gets Impaled with Extreme Prejudice by Diomedes's spear, causing him to howl in agony "with the voices of a thousand men" and run to his daddy. Diomedes becomes the only mortal to injure two gods in a single day, though this could not have been done without massive help from Athena. Some scholars believes that this whole episode pre-dates The Iliad, and Homer lumped it into his own epic.
Dual Wielding: Several characters are mentioned to be holding two spears at once, or one spear and one sword.
Due to the Dead: Proper respect towards corpses is very, very, very important in The Iliad. Fights over corpses are common, with the fallen man's allies striving to give the corpse a proper burial and the enemy wanting to desecrate it. There are also occasional truces to allow both sides to recover their dead.
Achilles' is his wrath and pettiness. It is so prevalent that he refuses Agamemnon's offer to return Briseis as a bribe to get Achilles to fight again. Even after he suffers the consequences of his action in Patroclus' death, he simply redirects his anger from Agamemnon to Hector, instead of realizing that Patroclus' death is primarily his fault and learning his lesson. His wrath does not abate until Priam makes him realize that Hector and Priam's situation is Not So Different to Achilles and Peleus, and he is finally able to empathize with his enemy.
Agamemnon's is his pride. His refusal to initially realize that his treatment of Achilles is unfair leads to his army's near defeat, although this consequence pales in comparison to Achilles' and Hector's. He does later realize the foolishness of this action, but never admits any blame or apologizes.
Hector's is overconfidence and refusal to listen to advice. Unlike Achilles and Agamemnon, Hector finally realizes what his flaw is, but not until it's too late and his Tragic Mistake has already been made. Of the three, Hector experiences the worst consequences for his actions. Not only does his flaw inevitably lead to a terrible but also avoidable defeat of the Trojan army at the hands of Achilles, his attempt to redeem himself ultimately leads to his death, his body is desecrated, his city is burned, his newborn sonthrown from the city walls, and his wife becomes the Sex Slave of his slayer's son.
Flaunting Your Fleets: It includes a hour-long-in-reading chapter made solely of the list of how many ships and men every allied Greek kingdom sends to Troy.
Foregone Conclusion: Homer's audience would have been very familiar with the myths behind the story, and known how it all ended. The fact that the Trojans are doomed to lose is known even by Hector himself.
Forging Scene: Thetis gets Hephaistos to forge armor for Achilles.
Genius Bruiser: Most of the heroes would fall into this category by modern standards, as they're able to speak eloquently and have erudite conversations with each other despite being supreme badasses. The Greeks valued wit and intelligence as much as martial ability. However, the stand-out is obviously Odysseus, favored of Athena, who has the well-earned reputation as the most clever hero. Polydamas (as Bad Ass Hector's Foil) is also up there.
Good Cop/Bad Cop: Odysseus and Diomedes were on a night raid and captured the hapless but useful Dolon. Bad cop Diomedes said to stand still or die. Good cop Odysseus said, "Fear not, let no thought of death be in your mind." It went on like that for awhile until Diomedes "struck him in the middle of his neck with his sword and cut through both sinews so that his head fell rolling in the dust while he was yet speaking."
Have a Gay Old Time: Amongst the gifts offered to Achilles to convince him to rejoin the battle are some Lesbian slaves (which is to say, women native to the island of Lesbos), which are described as "They whom all men lust after." Hoo boy...
What did the war start over? Paris taking Menelaus's woman. So why does Menelaus's brother think he can take Achilles's woman?
Are the Atreidae of all mortal men the only ones who love their wives? I think not. Every sane decent fellow loves his own and cares for her, as in my heart I loved Briseis, though I won her by the spear.
Note that later on, Achilles himself suggests taking away the prize rightly won by Nestor's son in a chariot race. Now, you'd think if anyone knew what could go wrong when you took away a prize someone rightly won...
Helen probably feels immense guilt for causing a ten-year war.
In the sequel to the Iliad, the Odyssey, we discover that she indeed does feel guilt but only for the greeks that died trying to rescue her, not for the trojans. She goes so far like telling to Telemachus (Ulysses's son) that when his father sneaked in Troy, disguised like a beggar, not only she didn't betray him, but she did take delight hearing the crying of the trojan women whose husbands Ulysses has killed, because that did mean that she would have returned to her home soon
It's Personal: After Agamemnon dishonors him, Achilles doesn't care a fig about the Trojan war until his buddy gets killed.
Kick the Dog: Hector's plan to chop Patroclus' body into pieces and display it from the walls of Troy.
The Lancer: Patroclus to Achilles, either Aeneas or Polydamas to Hector.
Lightning Bruiser: Achilles is described as "fleet-footed" many times. Antilochus calls him the fastest of the Achaeans, though he might have just been buttering Achilles up for a reward, which he gets.
The Load: Paris may be the Ur Example. Even the other Trojans think he's a philandering, cowardly jerk who's responsible for the war. His preferred weapon is a "cowardly bow." He is humiliated in his only proper fight, and relies on the Goddess of Love to get him out of trouble. When the armies gather for the duel between Paris and Menelaus, it is explicitly stated that, whether Greek or Trojan, everyone wants Paris dead. In one translation, he gets called a "desperate, womanizing pretty boy" by his Bad Ass older brother Hector, and a "sissy, curly-haired pimp of a bowman" by Diomedes. Even his father, Priam, calls him a "hero of the dance, light-fingered pillager of lambs and kids from the town pens", basically saying that he's a useless wimp. Of course, in part of the myth not covered in the Iliad, he gets one over Achilles by hitting his heel with his poisoned arrows. (Poison was not considered utterly dishonorable in this time period, but it wasn't exactly Rated M for Manly.)
Further underlining this, Menelaus, despite being a Spartan king, was considered a poor soldier by both sides and Paris still got his ass kicked despite Aphrodite raining Hax down on the duel. To add insult to injury Menelaus defeated him bare-handed. After his sword broke, he grabbed Paris' helm and began to drag him around, this while Paris still had his sword in his hand.
Lock And Load: Arming scenes are everywhere. Even the ladies get in on it; for example, when Hera is dressing to seduce Zeus. Athena is described in loving detail slipping out of her dress and... donning armor for battle.
Ludicrous Gibs: Sometimes the deaths in Iliad are quite messy. Homer goes into loving detail about how each weapon is swung/thrown, how it flies through the air, who it hits, what part of their body it hits, how it penetrated their armor, which internal organs it damages, whether/how it exits their body, how long it takes them to die, how they die, and their comrades' reaction to their death.
These details were essentially 'oral memorials' kept to commemorate the dead in a society where most of the populace were illiterate and the honored dead were burned, not buried with a memorial. See Nominal Importance.
Made a Slave: Hector foresees this fate for Andromache and all the women of Troy.
Malicious Slander: While it was understandable for the time period and the fact that she caused the war (even if unwillingly), nearly everyone in Troy called Helen a whore or treated her with disrespect. Good thing Hector is there to be a man and stand up for his sister-in-law.
Although Helen is frequently slandered in the Iliad, she is really the only person to do so. The Trojan men in particular, including Hector, Priam, and the other elders, are quite kind to her.
Manly Tears: Many times. The most famous example being between Achilles and King Priam when Priam begs Achilles to return the body of his son Hector for burial. Priam's passion moves Achilles who begins thinking about his lost friend Patroclus and his own aged father back in Greece, who will soon lose his son; and the two men weep together over their loss.
Minor Injury Overreaction: When Diomedes slashes and stabs Aphrodite and Ares, respectively, it's the first time either of them have been injured, and they apparently aren't accustomed to pain. They both scream in agony and flee back to Olympus. Most of the mortal heroes, on the other hand, take a number of wounds and continue slaughtering each other for years.
The Muse: Homer invokes an unnamed Muse several times to help him get things right.
Nietzsche Wannabe: Achilles, making this form of Straw NihilistOlder Than Feudalism. He gets an absolutely epic rant about how life and the heroic code are meaningless, and they're all going to die and be forgotten anyway. He goes so far as to wish everyone but himself and Patroclus dead.
Nominal Importance: Averted. We learn the names, and usually the fathers' names, of hundreds of characters whose only purpose is to be slaughtered.
This was not simply for purposes of Gorn, however. Homer's audience were powerful men, most of whom (truthfully or otherwise) claimed descent from one or more of those who fought at Troy. Each death was significant to somebody in one of his audiences, and glossing over these details would have been disrespectful to the men who were paying him to recite the poem.
Off with His Head!: A couple of people get beheaded. At least once, it's done with a stone. In the entirety of Book 17 Hector tries to decapitate Patroclus' corpse.
Oh Crap: Everyone of the Trojans does this when they see Achilles, including Hector. Everyone of the Greeks does this when they see Hector except for Ajax, Patroclus, Automedon, and Achilles.
One Steve Limit: Averted here as two of the Achaean soldiers are named Ajax, or Aias (they even have a collective name— the Aiantes— which seems to be an example of ancient lampshading). In addition, one of the Ajaces' surname is Oileades - and there's another soldier by that name briefly mentioned as well.
Only Known by Their Nickname: Helen of Troy, who got that name after being abducted by a Trojan prince. Almost nobody calls her "Helen of Sparta."
Redemption Equals Death: Hector's attempt to redeem himself from his mistake of waiting outside the Greek camp the night before Achilles returns to battle, leading to the death of countless Trojans, by facing Achilles in single combat.note In the end Hector didn't dare hold his ground and ran three times around the walls of Troy, pursued by Achilles. Hector was finally stopped by Athena who appeared to him in the guise of his brother Deiphobus. Believing that he had now a backup he faced Achilles. Alas, Athena was on the Greek side.
Red Shirt Army: Hundreds die in the Iliad, but only about four have any emotional import.
Relative Button: Hector does not take kindly to having two of his half-brothers killed.
Retcon: Common scholarly consensus is that Aphrodite and Apollo didn't even exist in the Greek pantheon at the time the Iliad takes place (the Greek Bronze Age), despite being relatively major characters in it.
Retired Badass: Nestor, who lectures the Achaeans about all the glory he had when he was young.
Sacred Hospitality: One of the more famous examples in literature. Paris steals Helen while he's a guest in her and Menelaus' home. While the act has plenty of political ramifications, it's the breach of hospitality that causes such an uproar, and is used to rouse the entire army of Greeceto sack Troy in response.
Sadly Mythtaken: The Iliad is an epic poem, not a myth. It also does not contain many well-known events in the Trojan War, such as the Trojan Horse, the death of Achilles, the theft of the Palladium, the fall of Troy, etc. Some of these events are mentioned in the Odyssey, but we've lost the other epics from the Trojan Cycle that actually deal with these episodes. Some colorful additions (like Achilles' Achilles' Heel) come from sources much later.
Secret Test of Character: Early on, in preparation for an attack, Agamemnon tests the Greeks' fighting spirit by saying, in short, "We'll never take Troy; let's pack up and go home." The leaders then have to stop their troops from following through.
Shields Are Useless: Played with. Some spears actually not only penetrate shields, but also skewer their owners. On the other hand, Telamonian Ajax's 8-layered shield (7 ox-hides on a bronze base) and Achilles' 7-layered metal shield Forged By Hephaestus are never penetrated in the epic.
Shipper on Deck: Agamemnon becomes exponentially funnier if you view him as a Helen/Menelaus shipper. It's not even inaccurate.
Take Our Word for It: In all of Helen's appearances she is never given a full description. Homer uses the reactions of those around Helen to emphasize her beauty.
Talking Is a Free Action: Several characters give speeches in the middle of battle, both to the other men and the enemy. Patroclus both lampshades and plays this straight, when he points in the middle of battle that words are good for debate and not in war, and that in the time you'll give a nice speech a whole bunch of people will have probably died. In Book Sixteen he says, "Warfare's finality lies in the work of hands, that of words in counsel. It is not for us not to pile up talk, but to fight in battle."
Talking Animal: In the end of Book Nineteen, Hera temporarily gives Achilles' horse, Xanthos, the power of speech for a few minutes.
Unstoppable Rage: Everybody, but most noticeably Achilles and Agamemnon, who seem to be at their best when enraged.
Unusual Euphemism: Getting abducted in ancient Greece may be worse than it already sounds, since some believe that it is a synonym for rape. However, the truth is the other way around: "Rape" can mean "to steal" as well. Sexual rape was just something that happened to occur during or after an abduction (or as the point of one), but "sexual rape" and "abduction" are not in any way synonymous.
Also, depending on the translation, book 14 is called "Hera Outflanks Zeus".
Viewers Are Goldfish: This was a common aspect of oral tradition at the time, partially because most epics would have to be recited over several days or more, meaning it was easy for people to forget things that had happened early in the story. It also helps in memorizing the story
The dream Zeus sends Agamemnon in book 2 is written out no less than three times, and nearly word-for-word: when Zeus describes what it will be, when dream!Nestor relays this message, and when Agamemnon relays this message to the war council.
The bribe for Achilles in Book Nine is repeated. That's two pages of walls of text there.
We Are as Mayflies: Homer returns to this idea repeatedly, expressing it through a metaphor likening human beings to leaves as autumn approaches.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Aeneas. Just as Achilles is about to kill him, the Gods save his life and declare that after the war, he shall be the leader of all future Trojans. He's rarely mentioned again, and then only in passing. 800 years later, Virgil decided to make this a Brick Joke.
Patroclos calls Achilles out on his stubborness over his wounded honor instead of fighting the Trojans.
Paris is such a Jerkass that Helen doesn't mention him in any meaningful way over her half-page of grieving over Hector. She doesn't even name him as the only other person who's still nice to her—no, that goes to Priam. Nice work, Paris.
Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The Trojans could have just given Helen back to avoid total annihilation, but this would have gone completely against Greek culture, and certainly would have made a lousy story. The Trojans are actually ready to do this after Menelaus beats Paris in their duel, but an archer on the Trojan side shoots at Menelaus during the intervening truce, restarting the war.