The Greek commander, Agamemnon, is forced by the arguments of Achilleus at a public assembly to agree to return his captive Chryseis, to her father, a local priest. This leads to a violent quarrel, during which Agamemnon uses his superior rank to inform Achilleus that he will replace Chryseis with Achilleus' own captive, Briseis. Achilleus publicly withdraws from the army and asks his goddess mother, Thetis, to persuade Zeus to help the Trojans. After an interlude, in which Odysseus sees to the formal return of Chryseis to her father, Zeus undertakes to do as Thetis asks; there is then a bad-tempered scene on Olympos between him and his wife, Hera, which is settled by the efforts of Hephaistos.
It is evident from the way the poet moves straight into his story after the briefest of introductions that the general tale of the war against Troy was familiar to his audience, as were the characters. The lliad plot is treated as an episode in the long story of that war.
The composition of Book 1 is simple and natural; it falls into three sections:
A. The quarrel itself, its causes and its immediate consequences.
B. An interlude showing the passage of time. and allowing the return of the girl Chryseis to her home.
C. A balancing scene among the gods.
1 goddess is the Muse, the personification of the poet inspiration. The oral poet did not consciously compose his verse They came into his mind unbidden; and he believed, or affected to believe, that the Muse had told him what to say. She is asked to sing, because this heroic verse was not spoken but was intoned to a musical accompaniment. (What was a reality for Homer became a convention for later poets: "I sing of arms and the man" [Virgil]; "Sing, heavenly Muse" [Miltonl.)
1 the rage of (Peleus' son--Such referring to people by their father's name [their patronymic] is a common feature of the lliad) Achilleus: the subject that the Muse is to sing of the subject of the Iliad. In other words the plot of the lliad is human and psychological; we are not going to hear a simple chronicle of the events of the Trojan War but the causes and consequences of a quarrel between the Greek leaders.
4-5 their bodies carrion, feasts for the dogs and birds:. It is a common threat in the Iliad that one will give the enemy's body to the dogs and birds to eat, not allowing his friends to bury him. In practice, however, no corpses are specifically said to be eaten by these scavengers; and in Book 7 the two sides will make a truce for the burial of the dead.
6 The will of Zeus is a key phrase, meaning, in effect, the plot of the lliad. His "will" is to fulfill the promise he makes to Thetis later in this first book.
9--10. Apollo: the most important divine supporter of the Trojans. He is the archer god, ''he who strikes from afar,'' the god of disease and healing. The plague which he sends is further described later on.
15-16 bound on a golden staff, wreaths of the god: These had religious significance--attached to the top of the staff which the priest carried in virtue of his sacred office. He is here simultaneously a suppliant and a priest and so is doubly to be respected.
19 geared for war ["strong greaved"] Greaves were shin guards, worn particularly as a protection against low-flying stones or arrows. strong-greaved is an example of the Homeric "stock epithet"--a descriptive adjective which has a general application to its noun but no special significance for the present circumstances. Thus we find hollow ships in 30 and the murmuring sea (breakers crash and drag) in 40.
33-36. It is cruel and insensitive of Agamemnon to speak in these terms to the girl's father. Already here at the beginning, the poet has given a little touch toward the delineation of the king's character
45 Smintheus is a title of considerable interest. It mean ''mouse god,'' from a word for mouse which survived in the Cretan dialect in historical times It is generally believed that this unique name for Apollo derives from a time when he was worshiped in animal form, as Hera was, in the form of a cow, and Athene, of an owl. Stock epithets of Hera and Athene, respectively, appear to mean ox-eyed and owl-eyed. It is generally believed that they date from a time when these goddesses were worshiped in animal form or at least with animal heads (like the Egyptian gods). The adjective for Athene may by the time of Homer have come to signify no more than "grey-eyed," the owl having been forgotten.
The mouse was perhaps associated with bubonic plague (which is carried by rats), so that the title Smintheus may be particularly appropriate to the present appeal by Chryses.
53 the arrows of the god indicate the plague.
84 of the swift feet [swift-footed]: another example of the stock epithet Achilles' agility has no relevance to the present situation
79 Calchas had been the prophet of the Greek army from the beginning, and had apparently directed the course of the fleet when they came to Troy nine years before.
130 Chryseis is more a description than a name, as it merely means "Chryses's daughter." Later romances corrupted it eventually to Cressida but that is all long after Homer.
131-34 The overt comparison of a slave girl with his wife portrays the same insensitivity in Agamemnon as he showed in his words to Chryses).
137-41. The real reason for the quarrel is that the king is not big enough for his position. He needs recognition and so takes the view that it is improper that he alone should be without a share of this particular lot of booty.
142-52 Achilles' reply is perfectly reasonable, apart from the personal remarks in the first line.
162-63 Aias, when mentioned without further identification, is normally the greater Aias, the son of Telamon. He and Odysseus are named here as the two most important leaders of the Achaians apart from Agamemnon and Achilles himself.
172. the most violent man alive--The sneer is an answer to Achilles' "most grasping man alive" in 143.
173 Achilleus, who seems hardly to have heard the second half of what Agamemnon said, is now very angry. This speech shows a combination of rhetoric and intense feeling which is reserved to Achilles in the lliad; one may compare his tremendous outburst in reply to Odysseus in the Embassy scene, in Book 9, and his speech to his mother at Book 18.
218. Briseis, like Chryseis, is merely a descriptive name for she is the daughter of Briseus. Achilles had captured her after killing her husband and brothers when the town of Lyrnessos was taken; it was on this same expedition that he took Hypoplakian Thebe, made numerous captives, including Chryseis, and killed the father and brothers of Hektor's wife Andromache.
229 down . . . swept Athena from the sky to stop Achilles from attacking Agamemnon. Visible only to him, she takes him by the hair. It is not easy for us (because we are unbelievers) to understand or accept the activities of the gods in the lliad. They act as independent agents but nevertheless preserve a specific power, each in relation to his or her own separate function. The function of Athene is to be the pro-Greek goddess of organized, disciplined warfare. She normally acts through heroes who are natural winners--Odysseus, Diomedes, Achilleus. Here she instigates, and in some sense represents, the self-control of Achilles
251 Obey us both: Notice how Homer preserves the human dignity of his characters. They are not pawns in the hand of these powerful gods. Athene can advise, but she does not compel. The decision and the responsibility remain with Achilles
280 sceptre We learn elsewhere in the Iliad (23) that speaker in the assembly held a scepter handed to him by one of the heralds.
285 man-killing Hector. The reference to Hektor is a kind of foreshadowing of later events, for he is to be the major threat the Achaians in the lliad.
290-91 Nestor now intervenes in the quarrel. He is the oldest by far of the Achaian leaders and thus a figure to whom respect is due He is portrayed as clearheaded and a good adviser, if a little given to reminiscing about his youth. He is one of Homer's favorite characters. Nestor is king of Pylos, a city on the west coast of the Peloponnese, in an area unimportant in later Greece but one of the two or three strongest kingdoms in Mycenaean times He is represented as having lived through two generations and now being king in the third; i.e., he was in his sixties or seventies.
302-20 Nestor produces a mythological example, or paradeigma, to increase the persuasiveness of his words--a device used several times in the lliad, notably in the example of Niobe in Achilleus' speech to Priam in 24 It is characteristic of such "examples" that they are constructed according to the principle, "ring composition," which can best be explained here by the schematic summary:
a Accept my advice.
b I once associated with better men than you, they listened to me.
c This is the story.
b' They were better than you and they listened
a' So you should accept my advice.
Ring composition probably originated as a mnemonic method for the oral bard. It is very common indeed in speeches in the lliad
The central myth is from the war between the Lapiths and the centaurs familiar perhaps from the Parthenon sculptures, now in the British Museum. The centaurs were half-human creatures (the shaggy creatures, wild brutes of the mountains) who lived around Mount Pelion in Thessaly; the Lapiths were a human tribe. The war is referred to again in Book 2. It is not at all probable that before Homer there was a story of Nestor going all the way north from Pylos to assist the Lapiths. As in other, similar, cases, it appears that our poet was willing to invent mythology when he needed it. The Lapith/centaur war was part of the legends; Nestor's involvement in it is an invention for the purpose of the present speech.
309. Theseus was in legend the friend and comrade of Peirithoos; he was also the traditional hero of Athens. It is a strange fact that this is the only mention of him in the Iliad; and this line is poorly attested (missing from the best manuscripts and not referred to in the ancient scholia) that it is generally believed to be post-Homeric addition to the text.
360 Patroklos is Achilleus' second-in-command, charioteel and close friend. As his death in Book 16 is a direct result a Achilles' refusal to fight, and the major factor in Achilles' personal tragedy, the poet takes care to introduce him to us at this early stage.
364 Odysseus, the most capable of the Greeks for any job that needs to be done properly, is the natural choice to see that Chryse is duly returned to her father.
416 Achilles' mother is Thetis, a sea goddess or Nereiad, daughter of Nereus, the "old man of the sea" (358). The marriage of Peleus and Thetis was the most glorious in Greek mythology, with the gods themselves present as wedding guests. But the couple had only one child. Achilles, who was fated to die young (417); and Thetis was no longer living with her now aged husband but had returned to the sea.
418 Olympian Zeus is god of the sky and the weather--one reason why the home of the gods is on Mount Olympos.
433.Thebe. This is not the important Greek city of Thebes but the so-called Hypoplakian Thebe, near Troy, home of Hektor's wife Andromache, whose father, Eetion, had been king
470 ff. This story of a revolt on Olympos, which Theti helped to prevent by bringing Briareus/Aigaion to defend Zeus, is not attested anywhere else. Every consideration makes it probable that we have here the free invention of the poet, not an allusion to preexisting myth. Homer requires a reason for Zeus to be under a obligation to Thetis and therefore creates one, in the same way he invented Nestor's assistance to the Lapiths
481 Kronos' son Zeus
477 the hundred hander Kottos, Briareus, and Gyas each with a hundred arms and fifty heads, were a distinct group of monstrous creatures from the early dawn of the world. Hesiod tells how they helped Zeus and the Olympian gods in the war against the Titans (Theogony 617-735). Briareus' role here, supporting Zeus, may be an echo of that other story.
484 sit beside him, grasp his knees The attitude of a suppliant was to clasp the knees of the person appealed to with one hand and reach for his chin with the other.
485-91 We should not fail to notice that Achilleus is now asking Zeus to help the Trojans, his enemies, to kill the Greeks; his personal honor means more to him than the lives of his friends
496: Doomed to a short life See 417 and Book IX (p. 136)
505-10. The absence of the gods at a feast given by the Aithiopians makes a pause in the story, during which Chryseis may be returned to her father. And the interval of eleven days before Thetis can fulfill her errand has the effect of isolating the action the lliad from the continuum of the Trojan War, especially as there is exactly the same interval at the end of the epic for such is the length of the truce which Achilleus agrees to with Priam so that Trojans may mourn and bury Hektor (see 24.31 n.).
536 barley. Grains of barley were sprinkled between the horns of the sacrificial victim.
546-66 sacrifice ritual: After a prayer, and the scattering of the grains of barley, they pulled back the animal's head to expose the neck, cut the throat, and skinned the carcass. They then cut out the thigh bones, covered them with a layer of fat above and below, and laid on top of them pieces of flesh, to symbolize the offering of the whole animal; these were burnt while libations were poured to the god. They then lightly roasted the entrails (the vitals: heart, liver, lungs, kidney, stomach), and ate these as a first course. Finally. they cut up the rest of the meat, put it on spits, and roasted it. The whole procedure is described again.in almost exactly the same words, in Book II.
561 Before the company drank its wine, a small amount was put into each man's cup and was poured out by him on the ground as a libation to the god.
581-86 These lines show the passing of time (the twelve days until the gods should return from the Aithiopians) and indicate that the.fighting was going on, but without Achilleus
610 Zeus in the lliad is a strange amalgam of
a) The supreme god, without whose will nothing important happens in the world below (6)
b) The sky and weather god
c) the father of a large family, who has difficulty exerting his authority, especially over his wife
629 will of Zeus; inevitable fate
711: The ejection of gods from Olympos by Zeus is a repeated motif. In XV, several gods are said to have been thrown out on an occasion in the past; and in XIX, we hear how he threw out Ate, the goddess of delusion. Hephaistos refers again to his own fall in XVIII |
It is instructive for one's appreciation of both poets to see how Milton adapted these lines in Paradise Lost. Claiming that the story of the fall of Hephaistos was an inaccurate folk memory of the fall of a rebellious angel, he goes on as follows:
How he fell
From Heaven, they fabl'd, thrown by angry Jove
Sheer o're the chrystal battlements from Morn
To Noon he fell, from Noon to dewy Eve,
A Summers day; and with the setting Sun
Dropt from the Zenith like a falling Star,
On Lemnos th' Aegaean Ile.
(Paradfse Lost, 1.740-46)
721 This is the origin of the expression "Homeric laughter." Hephaistos was lame and clumsy (smith gods are regularly lame); the sight of him taking round the nectar, instead of the using attractive wine-bearers, drove the simple-minded and carefree gods to laughter and so relieved the tension as no doubt Hephaistos intended.
Hektor's visit to Troy. There is a balance in this composition among the three scenes which it contains. Hektor meets in turn the three women of Troy: his mother, Hekabe; Helen (and Paris); and Andromache. Each of the women, in her own way, tries to get Hektor to relax, and to each he replies as befits their relationship.
10-11 Fifty is the traditional number of the sons of Priam, an Eastern king. Not all of them, of course, are the children of Hekabe. Twenty-two of Priam's sons and two of his sons-in-law are named in the lliad.
50-55Hektor heartily dislikes Paris. Hekabe, who is Paris mother too, does not reply to this.
289. Siton: the chief town of the Phoenicians
96 The self-centered Paris is moodily handling his armor. He has been in his own room ever since he was spirited away by Aphrodite after losing the single combat with Menelaos in Book 3.
181. So Hektor was not going up on to the wall or tower to find Andromache but was proceeding straight out to the plain, after failing to find her at home. She left her place on the wall and came running to meet him.
320 The poet does not choose to end the book on the note family sorrow. With a strong contrast, we turn to the excited and selfish figure of Paris, who has done as he was asked, and summoned up the energy to return to the battle.
323 The simile of the high-spirited horse galloping into fields is used in exactly the same words for the return of Hektor in XV
335-38 Paris thinks only of himself and tries by this unnecessary self-criticism to improve his brother's opinion of him.
340 ff. Hektor in reply speaks more kindly, realizing that Paris has been hurt by his earlier criticisms. This is all very human.
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