Iliad Files:
0. Introduction
1. Before the Iliad
2. Iliad Synopsis
3. After the Iliad
4. What Really Happened?
5. Character List
6. Queries

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A Beginner’s Guide to the Iliad & the Trojan War

6. Appendix: Crotchety Queries About the Iliad

Jump to questions for chapter:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13,
14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24.

Introduction

The Iliad, particularly in Richards’ splendidly readable abridgement widely used in non-literature classes, reads like a novel, and it is a temptation, in thinking about it, to focus on Homer’s enormous accomplishment in creating an enduring work of world literature. However, the Iliad can also function primarily as a window on the Mycenaeans and their problems organizing themselves above the city-state level.

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If we want to understand the Mycenaeans, why do we read Homer? Since Homer lived 400 years after the Mycenaean world ended, he is probably not a very reliable informant, although of course he was much closer to that world than we are. We might choose to use him as our source in a college class (rather than a book by a modern archaeologist, for example), because it allows you to grapple with the problem of interpreting an ancient writer, whose goals in recounting the tale were quite different from ours, and who may or may not have known what he was talking about when he sang of the Trojan War and the world of its heroes. Unlike conventional Cliffs Notes or other study aids for the Iliad, the following study questions ignore the poem as a work of literature, and seek to help you focus on archaic Greek society, using Homer's long poem as your imperfect source.

The most effective way to use these notes is to read a chapter first, then thoughtfully read the questions associated with that chapter. You might want to jot a few notes of your own into the margin. Many of the questions have no definitive answer, but simply represent queries that a social scientist or historian might have when reading this work. Think about each question and try to answer it. My own answers are in pop-up boxes so that (1) after you have developed some opinions on your own, you can see how the issues struck me, then go on to the next chapter, and so that (2) they will be hard for insecure students to try to print out and memorize, since that is not the point of them.

My experience is that this works really well, but only if you do the questions for each chapter immediately after you finish reading it. If you read other chapters before taking on the questions, or if you allow too much time to pass, your memory for the details will dim and the questions will become far more difficult.

In my teaching I have been using an abbriged text. (I.A. Richards (tr.) 1950 The wrath of Achilles: The Iliad of Homer. New York: Norton.) All direct quotations in these questions come from this source. In this shortened version, a couple of chapters have been deleted. Accordingly not all chapters have questions in the following list.

Chapter 1: The Petulance of Achilles

1.1. Where did the “treasures” come from that the Greeks are squabbling over? Explain.
(Possible Answer)
1.2. What is Agamemnon’s relation to the other Greek leaders? (If he is in charge, why are people able to disobey him?)
(Possible Answer)
1.3. What is the relationship between the seer Kalchas and (1) the Greek forces in general and (2) Agamemnon in this instance? Why is Kalchas worried about his oracle? Should he be?
(Possible Answer)
1.4. Why is Agamemnon unwilling to settle for Achilles’ proposal that he get a girl from the next town they take to replace Chryseis?
(Possible Answer)
1.5. To what extent are women viewed by Homeric men as “property”? Are they like other “property”? How did they probably view themselves, under the circumstances? Why? How could we find out?
(Possible Answer)
1.6. Why does Hera love Agamemnon and Achilles both?
(Possible Answer)
1.7. Why do Athena and Hera, who show little affection for each other, both support the Greeks?
(Possible Answer)
1.8. What seems to be the political order that the Greeks are trying to maintain? How successful are they? Explain.
(Possible Answer)
1.9. Why is Achilles participating in the war? What arguments would be likely to persuade him that he should continue or ought to withdraw? Why?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 3: An Uneven Match: Menelaus vs Paris

3.1. Why is Menelaus so furious when he sees Paris among the Trojans? And why does Paris, who was theretofore ready to take on everybody, drop back “as a man who sees a snake before him”? What would Homer’s audience have expected?
(Possible Answer)
3.2. In the course of a vigorous battle between Greeks & Trojans, the Greek leader “Agamemnon, King of men, cried: ‘Hold, Greeks, for bright-helmeted Hector [a Trojan] has something in his mind to say.’ They stopped and were still.” ( What does this passage imply about the nature of the warfare in which they were engaged?
(Possible Answer)
3.3. The goddess Iris makes herself look like Helen’s sister-in-law Laodice when she visits her. Why? What this imply about archaic ideas about gods? Explain.
(Possible Answer)
3.4. In their oath to each other the Greeks and Trojans wish that “whichever army is the first to sin, may their brains be poured out on the earth like this [sacrificial] wine, theirs and their children’s; and may their wives become slaves to others.” Why are wives spared? What does this imply about the nature of archaic Greek families?
(Possible Answer)
3.5. Note that in the duel between Paris and Menelaus they cast lots to see who will throw the first spear. That person gets a clear advantage, so that the contest is biased as soon as the lots are thrown. Is this fair? If not, why do they put up with it?
(Possible Answer)
3.6. Why does Aphrodite seek to save Paris after he falls into Menelaus’ power?
(Possible Answer)
3.7. Homer tells us that Paris was hated by the Trojans. Why was he hated? If he was indeed the cause of all their troubles, why were they fighting a war for him? (How would Homer have answered these questions?) Do you think this system of values is peculiar (or particularly well adapted) to a world of small city-states?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 4: Scheming Goddesses

4.1. Zeus, although he likes the Trojans, agrees to let Troy fall because Athena and Hera want that to happen, but he forces Hera to agree to allowing Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae to fall as well. Why would Homer have included this passage?
(Possible Answer)
4.2. The arrow with which Pandarus shot Menelaus had an iron tip. Wasn’t this supposed to be a Bronze Age war? What is going on?
(Possible Answer)
4.3. “The Trojans made an endless noise throughout their army. For they had no one language, their tongues were many, they were peoples brought together from many lands.” What is all that about? How different were Trojans and Greeks? How different was Troy from, say, Mycenae?
(Possible Answer)
4.4 Hera was the ancient Greek patron goddess of marriage, but she does not seem like a very agreeable wife to Zeus, whose philandering makes her even less agreeable, increasing his inclination to seek companionship elsewhere. How should we interpret all that?
(Possible Answer)
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Chapter 5: The Glorious Diomedes of Crete

5.1. How does it matter to the story that Aeneas’ mother was Aphrodite?
(Possible Answer)
5.2. Diomedes is concerned about capturing Aeneas’ horses. Granted that they were fine horses, what does his concern suggest about the role of horses in archaic Greek life and commerce?
(Possible Answer)
5.3. Apollo advises: “Think, Diomedes, and give way. Equal not your spirit with the gods. Men who walk the earth are not as the immortals.” Did Homer believe this? Was it an important idea in the society he is representing? What would a society be like that took this idea seriously?
(Possible Answer)
5.4. “In the middle of the battle Tlepolemus, son of Heracles, a brave man and tall, was moved by his fate to fight Sarpedon.” In this passage it is Homer, not the Achaeans, who attributes the stimulus to fate. To what extent does Homer himself think fate plays a role in this battle? What does he think fate is? How much does he think the fighters understand about fate?
(Possible Answer)
5.5. “…my own brave father…came here with six ships only and a handful of men and still took the city of Troy and made waste her streets.” (P 73) Homer apparently believes Troy had been sacked by the Greeks earlier. (We will later learn that Achilles also sacked Troy in earlier times.) Might there be truth to this? Why (not)? What would it imply, if true, about the nature of society at that time?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 6: An Oath of Friendship and a Farewell to the Family

6.1. At the beginning of Book 6, Adrastus, a Trojan, is taken alive by Menelaus, and begs his captor to accept a ransom in exchange for his life. Menelaus hesitates, but gives in to Agamemnon’s instruction and kills Adrastus. What do we learn in this incident about Mycenaean attitudes toward war? Why, exactly, does a man become a warrior? What attitudes are regarded as appropriate for a warrior? What sort of society does this produce? How might children, boys and girls, be trained to be adults in this society?
(Possible Answer)
6.2. “…you, Hector, must go into the city and tell our mother to bring all the chief women to Athene’s temple in the city, and open the doors of the sacred house, and … swear an offering of twelve smooth-haired undriven cattle … [if Athena] will keep back from sacred Troy this Diomede….” (1) If Athena is allied with the Greeks, why are the Trojans praying to her? (2) Why is a promise of twelve cattle an appropriate sacrifice? (3) What does Athena need of dead cows?
(Possible Answer)
6.3. “Now Glaucus, son of Hippolochus, and Diomedes came together between the two armies to fight together. And Diomedes cried: ‘Who are you among men?….’” Thus begins a great friendship between two enemy warriors meeting to destroy each other. Why are they not denounced by their respective armies for collaboration with the enemy? What hierarchy of values does this encounter suggest among the Mycenaeans? How, if at all, is that hierarchy of values compatible with the warrior ethic that seems to prevail in most of the Iliad?
(Possible Answer)
6.4. Helen tells Hector: “Zeus brings an evil fate on us, so that we may be a song in the ears of future men.” Why does Homer include this line?
(Possible Answer)
6.5. “Man-killing Hector,” taking leave of his wife to return to battle, argues that he fights “to win glory for my father and myself.” In the same scene, he imagines his little son as a warrior some day of whom someone may “say of him as he comes in from the fighting: ‘He is better far than his father,’ and may his mother then be happy in her heart.” What does Hector think the role of war is in human society? Do you agree? If not, how do you account for the difference? Would you want Hector for a suite-mate?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 7: Great Ajax

7.1. The Greeks are generally convinced that the Trojans are becoming desperate and will soon lose the war. However, rather than press on, they “agreed to have peace for the day while they burned the bodies of the dead.” Why are both sides willing to have a temporary truce, especially if one thinks the other is about to collapse?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 8: Zeus Steps In

8.1. Hector addresses his horses by name and makes reference to their being fed on grain and on wine mixed in their water, normally a human drink. This is one of a large number of references to Trojan horses. What is going on here?
(Possible Answer)
8.2. Agamemnon addresses his troops, concluding by addressing Zeus and complaining that he, Agamemnon, has been wronged by the god. Zeus is moved to tears of pity, although he does not change his plans. Why is taking glory from a Mycenaean king a piteous thing? What sort of god weeps? What did weeping mean to Homer’s audience? (Keep an eye on this. For example, compare Agamemnon’s weeping before the Greek chiefs at the beginning of chapter 9.)
(Possible Answer)
8.3. Homer explains that on the whole “the gods … bitterly hated Troy and Priam and Priam’s people.” Presumably this is Homer’s explanation for why, in the end, Troy would have to fall. Why would an explanation of this kind make more sense to Homer than simply that the Greeks eventually conquered the Trojans because they were better warriors? Why (not)?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 9: Needing Achilles

9.1. Agamemnon admits that he was “blind” when he alienated Achilles, and offers him rich treasures to return to the war. What does admitting that one was wrong do for Achilles’ political “credibility”? Why?
(Possible Answer)
9.2. What are the items that make up the treasure that Agamemnon promises Achilles? Is this what you would want if somebody offered you a treasure? In what sort of world are these treasures valuable? (And what’s with the tripods?)
(Possible Answer)
9.3. Of all the gods, “only Hades will never give way; that is why he is to mortals the most hated of all the gods.” What does this passage tell us about the idea of divinity held by Homer’s audience? If even gods can be persuaded, what does this tell us about the significance of rhetoric among Homeric Greeks? (What does “rhetoric” actually mean, anyway? It’s a Greek word [ρητορικη], after all!)
(Possible Answer)
9.4. Achilles complains that “The man who stays at home gets as much as the man who fights his best.” How does this square with the conception of why these people are fighting that you worked out earlier?
(Possible Answer)
9.5. Achilles mentions that he wasted twelve towns “from shipboard and eleven from land … throughout fertile Troyland…” Is Achilles a pirate, or is the war against more than Troy, or what? Since presumably the other “Troyland” towns were not conquered because of Helen, what additional light does this remark shed on the nature of the Trojan war itself?
(Possible Answer)
9.6. What is one to think of the family of Phoenix? Why did Phoenix’ mother instruct him to behave as he did? Why did his father blame him for doing this? How did a curse work?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 10: Spies and Horses

10.1. As in chapter 5 and chapter 8, so in chapter 10 horses figure prominently again as a resource seemingly monopolized by the Trojans. What is going on?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 11: Sulking Achilles Begins to Worry

11.1. When Nestor brings the injured Machaon to be healed, the nurse, one Hecamede, prepares a drink of wine mixed with goat’s milk cheese and white barley, served with onions, honey, and barley meal. If you try this, don’t tell me how it tastes!
11.2. Eurypylus sustains a leg wound. Patroclus treats it by cutting the arrowhead out of his leg with a knife, washing the wound with warm (not boiled) water, and applying a bitter root that inhibits bleeding. What are the chances of a wound of this kind becoming infected? If it does, will Eurypylus probably live? What was probably the normal fate of the battle casualties in the Trojan War?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 12: Storming the Palisade

12.1. In this chapter an omen is taken from a flight of an eagle carrying a snake. Hector rejects the interpretation on the grounds that, since it conflicts with Zeus’ earlier instruction to him, he will ignore it. If one believes in oracles, how should one resolve conflicts among them?
(Possible Answer)
12.2. “So let us go forward, to win glory or to give it to another.” How does this compare with the attitude to war expressed in a work like The Art of War by the ancient Chinese philosopher Sūnzǐ (link)? How similar is this attitude to warriors in, say, modern Africa? What American conflicts (if any) are approached this way?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 14: The Shameful Plan to Escape

14.1. Hera borrows charms from Aphrodite in order to seduce Zeus, put him to sleep, and give Poseidon time to help the Greeks. What model does this suggest for how a Mycenaean woman’s family life worked?
(Possible Answer)
14.2. Note that, with Hera’s help, Heracles earlier had “wasted the city of Troy.” It appears to have come all unwasted since then. What sort of historical reality might this reflect? How might that have happened? What does it tell us, if anything, about the nature of Mycenaean warfare?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 15: Greek Hopelessness

15.1. As the Greek ships are threatened by the Trojans, Nestor prays to Zeus, reminding the god that the Greeks have burnt him offerings in the past, and that he therefore “owes” them protection. In a sense this is the opposite of prayers that promise a god sacrifices in the future contingent upon the god’s assistance immediately. In other passages both Greeks and Trojans claim that everything is controlled by fate. If so what is the logic of this bargaining with gods? If gods can be honor bound to protect the person who has offered sacrifices, what does this suggest about the nature of Mycenaean society?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 16: Patroclus Saves the Day

16.1. “…I am cut to the heart that a man like Agamemnon could take my prize from me, as if I were an outlaw who has no rights.” Homer’s audience is expected to see two reasons for Achilles to be “wrathful” over Briseis being taken from him. The first is that he likes her, but the more important reason is the circumstances under which she is taken from him. If Agamemnon is the supreme commander, why should Achilles feel he is being treated “as an outlaw”? If we assume that most Mycenaeans would have seen Achilles’ rage as at least partly justified, what does this tell us about the basis of Agamemnon’s power?
(Possible Answer)
16.2. Achilles instructs Patroclus, “Do not go up against Troy or [1] you will make my honor less. And [2] one of the gods that are forever may come down from Olympus against you….” Achilles here is apparently morbidly concerned about his “honor,” and yet Patroclus is his dearest friend, and he immediately continues, “would that not one of the Trojans, not one of them all —nor one of the Greeks— might escape death, if only we two together might throw down the sacred walls of Troy.” What is going on here?
(Possible Answer)
16.3. Achilles carries “the Pelean spear,” a weapon too heavy for ordinary soldiers to use. (See the item on Achilles in the Iliad background notes for more on this.) Presumably the other fighters too had idiosyncratic weapons. If so, (1) what does this say about the nature of Mycenaean industrial production? (2) What does it say about the relation between warfare and social class?
(Possible Answer)
16.4. Achilles’ horses are named Xanthus and Balius and are partly magical in origin. (In a rather silly passage in chapter 19 Xanthus even picks up the power of speech.) With them he harnesses the non-divine horse Pedasus, a veteran of his successful campaign against Eëtion. Does Homer’s inclusion of this detail tell us anything about horses among the Mycenaeans (if so, what?), or is it intended merely for literary effect? (If an effect, what exactly is the effect.)
(Possible Answer)
16.5. “As under a storm the whole black earth is bent, on a day when Zeus is pouring down the rain most violently, angry with men who give crooked judgments in the meeting place and drive justice out, with no thought that the gods can punish….” Homer is indulging in one of his long similes here, but does it tell us anything about Mycenaean politics? About the relation between politics and religion? What?
(Possible Answer)
16.6. Sarpedon falls to Patroclus’ spear in this chapter, sparking a great conflict over what is to become of the body (which, we shall see, later becomes a big issue also with some other bodies, particularly that of Patroclus himself). What is the significance of taking a fallen soldier’s armor? What does each side wish to do with the body? Why?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 18: Achilles’ Fatal Vow

18.1. Achiles says: “Zeus has done as I prayed, but what pleasure is that to me? Patroclus is dead whom I honored as no other, even as my own self. And Hector, who killed him, has taken his armor… My own heart will not let me live on among men. But Hector first, killed by my spear, must pay for Patroclus’ death.” What does this passage tell us about Greek values about personal loyalty? In what sense does Homer believe one person can “pay” for the death of another?
(Possible Answer)

20-I have slightly revised Richards’ translation (p. 151). The series of clauses making up this lengthy sentence in the Greek text do not link to make a logical sequence of thoughts. (Achilles is raving?) The garbled meandering is rendered more intelligible by Richards than by most translators by making it suggest that Achilles is amazed at his own uncharacteristic pacifism, which he thinks has been temporarily brought on by his rage at Agamemnon. In rewording Richards’ translation here, I make this interpretation the only one possible, although I admit to doubting it. If you want to fool with comparing translations, the passage is lines 100-111 in standard editions.

18.2. In this chapter Achilles says: “I, who in war am like no other of the Greeks, now desire that war itself might end among gods and men, and desire also that anger might end, which (sweeter far than drops of honey) swells like smoke in men’s breasts. Even to this extent did Agamemnon anger me! But now I will go to look for Hector who killed the man I loved… I will make many of the deep-breasted Trojan women wipe the tears from their faces with both hands, endlessly moaning… .” [Sidenote 20] Does Achilles view war as a normal or an abnormal human behavior?
(Possible Answer)
18.3. Hector says: “The god of war is the same to all and a killer of him that would kill.” Do Homer and his audience believe this?
(Possible Answer)
18.4. “The women that Patroclus had taken [in war] ran, crying aloud, around him [to mourn].” “But till then by these ships day and night about you deep-breasted women of Troyland will sorrow in tears —women that you and I took by the power of our long spears” (Achilles, addressing the corpse of Patroclus). If the women were taken in war, why would they be grieved about the death of their captor? What does this tell us about relations between women and warriors in Mycenaean society? How might this compare with women’s expectations among the other peoples we have studied?
(Possible Answer)
18.5. Consider Homer’s description of Achilles’ shield. (1) Why does Homer pay so much attention to it? (2) Why is it made so elaborate? (3) Does this provide additional evidence for the interpretation you made of the “Pelean spear” in the study questions for chapter 16?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 19: Achilles Reenters the Battle

19.1. When Achilles proposes making peace, Agamemnon agrees, but insisting, “It was not I who am to blame —but Zeus and Fate and Erinys that walks in the dark.” (1) Is that what you would have said? If you were Achilles, would you be satisfied with Agamemnon’s refusing to accept blame? Why?
(Possible Answer)
19.2 To what extent can we regard the Homeric references to “fate” as a “rhetoric of personal irresponsibility”? Would such a phenomenon be expectable in a war-like society or not? Why?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 21: Suppressing the Rebellion of a River

21.1. In this chapter Priam's son (and therefore Trojan prince) Lycaon begs mercy of Achilles, who had sold him into slavery the last time he had sacked Troy. Achilles skewers him with his sword. (Compare the fate of the captive in chapter 6 whom Agamemnon instructs Menelaus to slay.) But we also learn that in the past many Trojans have been sold by Achilles. What does this suggest about the nature of Mycenaean warfare?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 22: The Death of Hector

22.1. In this chapter Hecuba pleads with Hector to come inside the walls since, if he dies outside he will be fed to the Greek dogs and she will have no corpse to mourn over. Is this what your mother would tell you if you were in Hector’s situation? What do you make of it? What does it imply about Trojan women?
(Possible Answer)
22.2. While the war rages outside the walls, Andromache is weaving (or embroidering) inside, as her maids prepare a hot bath for Hector to enjoy when he finishes a hard day on the battlefield. What are we to make of this?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 23: Patroclus’ Funeral

23.1 Why is a funeral an occasion for feasting?
(Possible Answer)
23.2. How much wood was necessary for Patroclus’ funeral pyre? Why?
(Possible Answer)

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Chapter 24: Priam’s Secret Visit and the Funeral of Hector

24.1. Priam says of his sons that “Ares has killed them all.” Ares is the god of war, and Priam seems to be using the name as a personification of war. As an actor in the Iliad, Ares has generally been on the Trojan side —mostly to please Aphrodite— so Priam’s charge is a bit unfair if taken to refer to the god’s role in this war. The ability to shift between Ares as a character and Ares as a personification of generalized war suggests that Homer’s audience may not have been too literal-minded about these gods. Or does it?
(Possible Answer)
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