Classics Summarized: The Iliad


The Iliad is one monster of a book. It’s more
than six hundred pages long, and the crazy part was it used to be passed down through
oral tradition – meaning it was someone’s job to memorize the damn thing and regurgitate
it into the willing ears of whoever was listening. On top of that, if I had to guess how many
named characters were in it, I’d put the number somewhere between two hundred and too many.
Luckily for us, though, there’s only a few characters we actually need to care about.
On the Trojan side, those are Hector, Paris, and Helen. On the Greek side, we’ve got Achilles,
Patrocles, Odysseus, Agamemnon *BOOOO*, Menelaus, Diomedes, Ajax the greater and Ajax the lesser
along with a few others. Now, back in the day, Troy was called Ilias,
which is why the book is called The Iliad – translated literally, it’d be called "Troy
Story." *Toy Story theme plays* Yeah, yeah. *Epic filler music plays* *Epic filler music continues* BOOK ONE
So our story begins nine years into the Trojan War, when Agamemnon makes the dumbest decision
of his life and pisses off Achilles, the most powerful warrior in his entire army. Basically, Agamemnon had taken this girl Chryseis prisoner, and her father – a priest of Apollo – came to
try and get her back. He offered Agamemnon… untold riches or whatever, which Agamemnon
turned down on the principle of being an asshole. So, predictably enough, this powerful and
desperate priest of Apollo prayed to the god in question, who gladly started raining down
plagues upon the Greek army. Agamemnon is somehow surprised that pissing off this superpowerful
deity could go so badly for him, but still refuses to return the girl until Achilles
starts verbally slapping him around – to the point that Athena has to physically come down
and stop him from straight-up murdering his commanding officer. By the way, you may have noticed that there
seem to be an awful lot of gods in this story. Eheheheheheh… you ain’t seen nothing yet. So Agamemnon finally agrees to return the
girl to her father, but there’s one condition – Achilles will, in exchange, have to give
Agamemnon his chosen lady-toy, a gorgeous lass named Briseis. Achilles, though thoroughly bummed, does the smart thing and gives her up. Then he does the NOT-smart thing and refuses
to fight. He curls up into a sulky blanket-burrito in his tent and refuses to come out for anything.
Now, Achilles is by far the most powerful Greek warrior among them, later myths even
painting him as invincible – so this is a pretty hefty loss for the Greek forces. Achilles
then proceeds to make things even worse for them this by praying to his mom, a minor goddes
named Thetis, to get Zeus to help the TROJANS. That’s right – he’s so pissed at Agamemnon
that he’s willing to make them lose the war out of spite. Of course, since I also hate
Agamemnon, this doesn’t really bother me all that much, but still. Not cool, bro. BOOK TWO
So Zeus, as we all know, likes nothing better than screwing with mortals, so he’s all for
this plan. He sends a dream to Agamemnon urging him to attack Troy full force, and promising
him victory. So Agamemnon’s like "GREAT idea! Nothing bad has ever come from me listening
to the gods!!" Then Hector hears a similar message from Zeus and immediately marshals his forces to attack. BOOK THREE is a list. It’s… it’s just a
list. The person rattling off the list is Helen, who punctuates her description of the
greeks with a lot of self-loathing commentary. But wait! This book actually has some ACTION! (Shock, I know!) Menelaus, Helen’s real husband, challenges Paris – Helen’s current husband – to a Duel.
Paris is all for this plan, but there’s just one problem – Paris is a total wimp. Menelaus
kicks his ass, but before he can kill him and solve the war for good, Aphrodite decides
to intervene and whisk Paris off the battlefield and off to Helen’s chambers. Helen’s like
"goddammit Aphrodite what do you want" and Aphrodite’s like "NOW KISS" Side note! That interaction pretty much summarizes
the entire dynamic between Paris, Helen and Aphrodite. The story’s a little more complicated
than this, but basically Aphrodite promised Paris the hand of the most beautiful woman
in the world in exchange for a golden apple. Specifically the golden apple of discord, crafted by Eris, Goddess of discord, who was pissed after not getting invited to a wedding. The other two contenders for the golden apple were Athena and Hera, who you’d think would have better things to do. He accepted, and Aphrodite held up her end of the deal by kidnapping Helen from her comfortable life as Menelaus’s wife and delivering her to Paris – although
some versions involve Paris kidnapping her himself. So, basically at this point Aphrodite
has done nothing but mess up Helen’s life, and the whole war is kind of her fault,
so it’s no surprise that nobody in the story really likes her that much. ANYWAY! Back to the actual plot!
So back on the battlefield, Menelaus is an unholy degree of pissed – riding in circles,
frothing at the mouth, yelling "COME BACK HERE AND DIE LIKE A MAN" – you know, the works. So then, in BOOK FOUR, the gods discuss what
to do, and decide that abject chaos is way more fun that peaceful resolution. SO Athena
pops down into the Trojan ranks and double-dog-dares an archer to shoot at Menelaus. The arrow
whiffs, the temporary truce between the two armies immediately dissolves, and they all
go back to wailing on each other. So BOOK FIVE is all about this lesser-known
but incredibly badass Greek hero, Diomedes. So Diomedes is tearing through the Trojan army – you know, like ya do – when Athena
notices that two gods she particularly dislikes, Aphrodite and Ares, happen to be interfering
with the battle. So she pops down to Diomedes like "hey so I’ve given you magic eyeballs.
Now you can tell who’s secretly a god and who’s not. And let me be clear about this
– DO NOT fight the gods. You will LOSE. Unless it’s Aphrodite, then fight all you want. She’s
somewhere between marshmallow fluff and a baby chick in terms of battle prowess." So Diomedes acknowledges, and continues to
tear his way through the army, when suddenly he sees Aphrodite doing her thing and lifting
one of her injured dudes off the battlefield. Diomedes is like "NONE OF THAT" and chucks
a spear through her wrist. So she’s like "OW F*CK", drops the dude in question and zips
back to Olympus, whining incessantly. Meanwhile, back at the front, Apollo grabs
the dude Aphrodite was trying to save – his name is Aeneas, by the way, he’s got his own
book or something, I ‘unno – and Diomedes immediately tries to stab him. Apollo’s like "STEP OFF,
KID. SOME OF US GODS ARE A LITTLE STURDIER THAN APHRODITE." and Diomedes does the smart thing and backs off. And THEN Ares shows up! So Athena’s like "DIOMEDES
WHY AREN’T YOU HITTING HIM" and he’s like "Be…cause you told me not to?" And she’s
And then Diomedes stabs Ares in the gut, which video game logic tells me must make him the
new God of War. So Ares runs home to Zeus crying and Zeus is like "MAN UP, YOU GIGANTIC
DISAPPOINTMENT" so now Ares hurts on the outside AND the inside. BOOK SIX is pretty boring. Someone tells Hector
to tell the women of Troy to pray to Athena to stop Diomedes from single-handedly killing
every single one of them, so he does, and they do, but she doesn’t, and he continues
to be awesome. BOOK SEVEN is a little more interesting. Apollo’s like
"Hey, Athena – you know what would be cool? If your chosen hero DIDN’T end the war in
one day. That’d be cool, right?" And Athena’s like "You make an excellent point. Let’s stop
the war and make Hector fight someone!" So they pause the war again – you know, I
really don’t think it should be that easy – and the various Greek heroes we actually
care about hold an impromptu lottery to see who gets to fight Hector. Great Ajax (not
to be confused with Lesser Ajax) wins the lottery, and he and Hector duke it out until
nightfall, at which point they both call it a day and go home. So BOOK EIGHT is called "The tide of battle
turns" and that’s… basically what happens. The Greeks start losing, and the Trojans start
winning. BOOK NINE. So Agamemnon’s like "Dammit! It’s
almost like we’re missing our strongest fighter and the gods are working against us!" WHADDYA
KNOW. So Agamemnon’s like "I vote we run away. Who wants to run away?" and Diomedes is like
"you’ve gotta be kidding me. You called us cowards and now you want to cut and run?!"
(god this guy is so cool) So Agamemnon’s like "Uh – no! No, what I meant to say was… who
wants to… go… talk to Achilles and get him to fight with us again…?" So he sends Ajax and Odysseus to talk to Achilles,
who’s still burrito’d up in his tent with Patrocles. So Ajax and Odysseus are like "Yo,
Agamemnon’s willing to give you your girlfriend back, along with a ridiculous amount of wealth
and a few kingdoms if you get out there and help us fight." And Achilles is like "Nope.
He’s a jerk. In fact, I sail home tomorrow unless something really tragic and unnecessary
happens to make me stay and fight. Hey, if it isn’t my best buddy Patrocles! I don’t
know what I’d do if this guy died." That, folks, is what we in the writing biz
So it’s night, and Agamemnon and Menelaus gather some main characters and are like "Okay,
do we have some volunteers to infiltrate the trojan camp and find out their plans?" and
Diomedes is like "Well I did just finish carving a bloody canyon through the trojan forces,
so sure, I’m game." and Odysseus is like *terrible Solid Snake impression:*
"You’ll want me as well. I have actual cognitive faculties – quite rare among this army." So Odysseus, the only sneaky guy in the entire
Greek army, gets partnered up with my man Diomedes for a stealth mission. That’s right,
this epic officially has everything now. But at the same time, in the Trojan camp, Hector
has the same idea, and sends a much less important character to scout the Greek ships. Predictably
enough, the two stealth teams encounter each other, and Diomedes and Odysseus capture and
interrogate the poor guy. He’s like "I’LL TELL YOU EVERYTHING" and Odysseus is like
"ballin’." and then they decapitate him. Using the information Odysseus extracted from him,
they sneak into the Trojan camp and steal an extremely fancy chariot and some armor from a king.
*mission successful music* Now it’s time for BOOK ELEVEN. The sun rises,
and it’s back to war we go! So today is Agamemnon’s time to shine, and while he’s busy kicking
ass and taking names, some minor hero that Achilles is fond of gets wounded. So Achilles
is like "hey Patrocles, can you go out there and ask Nestor who that was? I need to make
sure before I start feeling sad." So Patrocles does, and Nestor is like "Heyyyy… so it
sure is nice of Achilles to feel bad when his friends start getting hurt… but it’d
be even better if, you know, he HELPED SO THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN! So yeah, could you maybe
have a talk with him about that?" and Patrocles is like "I only promise to try." BOOK TWELVE: THE WAR CONTINUES. Zeus smacks
the Greeks with a thunderstorm, allowing the Trojans to start beating them. Man, divine
intervention is such a hack. So this pushes the Greeks all the way back to their ships. And in BOOK THIRTEEN, Poseidon gets a little
sick of Zeus hogging the show, so he drops by to give the Greeks a little help by buffing
the two Ajaxes with some stat boosts. So then the greeks start winning. In BOOK FOURTEEN, Hera uses her feminine wiles
to distract Zeus from his efforts to buff the Trojans and depower the Greeks. The Greek
Army continues to win. BOOK FIFTEEN. Zeus wakes up after being thoroughly
wiled by Hera, and gets mega-pissed to see that his favored side is now losing. Ares
is like "Hey I think one of my kids down there just died THIS LOOKS LIKE A LOVELY EXCUSE
FOR WAR" and Athena dope-slaps the armor off him like "IDIOT! ZEUS IS ALREADY MAD ENOUGH!
like "d’aw… 🙁 " So the tide of battle turns again and the
Trojans start winning. At this point it’s really become formulaic. By the time BOOK SIXTEEN rolls around, Patrocles
has gotten back to Achilles like "Hey, dude, could I… maybe persuade you to go out and
fight? Our guys are kind of getting destroyed. Even Agamemnon is injured." and Achilles is
like "HA! nice." and Patrocles is like "Seriously, achilles, they’re dying out there! They need
out help!" and Achilles is like "Well, I really can’t have them burn our ships… tell you
what! You go out in my armor and lead my army! The Trojans will never know the difference
between us!" And Patrocles is like "Anything for you, man." *Careless Whisper plays* And Achilles is like "Just
one thing – promise me you’ll come back alive." *Careless Whisper plays* And Patrocles is like "Of course I will, bro." *CARELESS WHISPER INTENSIFIES* Aaaaand not five minutes later Hector kills
him. BOOK SEVENTEEN is pretty uneventful. The Greeks
see Patrocles go down and collectively hulk out to defend his body, and Hector takes Achilles’
armor and wears it. BOOK EIGHTEEN: The battle continues, although
now it’s centered around defending Patrocles’ corpse. Meanwhile, Achilles is still burrito’d
up in his tent, having no idea that his bestie is currently dead. That is, until a messenger
arrives bearing those very tidings, causing Achilles to similarly hulk out. He’s like
"THAT’S IT TIME TO SINGLE-HANDEDLY KICK TROY’S ASS" and his mom Thetis is like "No, Achilles!
You’re fated to die if you fight!" and he’s like "I COULDN’T SAVE MY HETERO-LIFE-PARTNER
MOM THIS LIFE ISN’T WORTH LIVING ANYMOOOOORE" And then the rest of the chapter is devoted
to Hephaestus making Achilles new duds. In BOOK NINETEEN, Achilles puts on his new duds. Yeah. This epic kind of drags on in places. In BOOK TWENTY, Achilles carves a bloody murder-canyon
through the trojan forces, despite various god’s best attempts to stop him. In BOOK TWENTY-ONE, Achilles fills a river
with so many corpses that the river itself gets pissed and starts trying to drown him.
So he beats it up until it stops bothering him. Then he gets distracted and starts chasing
Apollo around the city, because all the best heroes have ADD – just ask any sidequesting
Skyrim player. In BOOK TWENTY-TWO, Achilles finally remembers
what he’s there for And after an extremely slapstick routine where he chases Hector around Troy several times, he finally kills him. *yay* Then he ties Hector’s body to his chariot
and rides it around troy three times to parade the body off to Hector’s father, the king. *hesitant applause* And the rest of the book is actually pretty
boring. The greeks hold Patrocles’ funeral, during which they basically just play a lot
of party games. AND THEN at some point after the Iliad cuts
off but before they officially sack troy, Achilles gets shot in the heel by Paris and
dies. *applause*


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I’m baaaaaaaack!

This one took me a while. The reason why should be pretty obvious. Enjoy your adorable murderfest.

Troy may be a good movie (though I have my doubts) but it sure as hell isn’t the Iliad.


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Author: dhobson