Introduction

This chapter narrates the tale of the Greek epic known as The Iliad. It tells the story of the Trojan war. The Greeks and the Trojans fought for ten long years during this war. At last, the Greeks tricked the Trojans with a wooden horse to breach Troy’s walls, winning the war.

Characters

  1. Helen– Wife of the Greek king Menelaus who ran away with the Trojan prince, Paris
  2. Paris– A Trojan prince who persuaded Helen to run away with him
  3. Menelaus– A Greek king who was married to Helen
  4. Odysseus– A wise Greek hero who came up with the plan of the wooden horse
  5. Priam– The king of Troy
  6. Hector– A brave prince of Troy who led the city’s defences
  7. Achilles– The great Greek hero who had no weaknesses except his heel
  8. Agamemnon– A Greek king

Part I

Epics

Epics are long poems that relate to the deeds of a great national hero or war. They may be composed and sung for many years before they are written down. The two famous Sanskrit epics are The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, and the two great epics of European literature, written in ancient Greek, are The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Nobody knows for sure who wrote these early epics. They probably developed with the nation itself and were handed down till one great poet gave them their final form. It is believed that The Iliad and The Odyssey were composed and recited by a blind poet named Homer. Homer has been honored through the ages as the Father of European Poetry.

Troy and the Cause of the Trojan War

The Iliad is the story of Ilium or Troy, a rich trading city in Asia Minor near the narrow sea that leads from the Aegean to the Black Sea. It was well situated for both commerce and agriculture. Ships carrying goods and grain set sail from the sea in front of the city, while many rivers and streams flowed from the high peak of Mount Ida at its back. The valleys had fertile fields where corn grew and cattle grazed. The Trojans had built a strong, broad wall around the city so no enemy could attack them. In times of war, its gates would be closed to protect the city.

The Greeks had declared war against Troy because Paris, a prince of Troy, had made Helen, wife of a Greek king Menelaus, run away with him to Troy. The Greeks wanted revenge. So, they sailed to Troy and attacked it. The Trojans fought hard and the war continued for ten years.

The Greeks could not take the city, but the Trojans could not force the Greeks to sail away either. There were great battles between the two armies and between many great heroes. Great heroes on both sides were killed in the course of the war. After defending Troy for nine years, the brave Hector was finally killed by the great Achilles. But Achilles himself was later killed by a poisoned arrow that hit his heel, the only part of his body that could be wounded. Paris was killed by a poisoned arrow too.

Part II

The Wooden Horse

Troy was finally taken, not by force but by a trick. The cunning Odysseus thought of this trick. He suggested they build a big wooden horse and let some of their best fighters hide inside it. Then the Greeks would pretend to sail away, but they would return in the night and attack the city. Heroes including Menelaus and Odysseus entered the horse along with its architect who knew how to open and shut the entrance.

The next day the Trojans were delighted and surprised to see that the Greeks had gone away. They thought the war was over at last and opened their gates. They saw the huge wooden horse on the shore and were amazed by it.

The Greeks had left behind a man who told the Trojans that the Greeks were tired of the long war and had sailed away. But they were afraid of the long journey home so they made and left this horse as an offering to the sea god. The man pretended that he had escaped from the Greeks who wanted to sacrifice him to the sea god too.

The Trojans asked why the Greeks had made such a big horse. The cunning Greek replied that they thought if they had made a smaller offering, the Trojans might take it to their city. Then the luck would go to the Trojans and not to the Greeks. So, they made it too big to go inside Troy’s gates.

The Trojans decided to make a hole in the wall and drag the horse in. Their wise priest warned them not to do it because it might be a trick that would ruin them. But the Trojans did not listen to him. They broke down part of their strong wall to drag the horse in. They celebrated all day long and then went to sleep soundly.

The Greek Attack

The Greek ships had not sailed far and been waiting for the night. They sailed back and Agamemnon’s ship sent a signal to the wooden horse. The Greeks inside it climbed out and opened Troy’s gates. The whole Greek army entered the sleeping city and began to burn and kill. The sleeping Trojans were surprised to find their enemies right inside their walls.

The Trojans fought as well as they could, but it was useless. King Priam and all his sons were killed. Hector’s wife, his mother, and his sister were carried off as slaves. King Menelaus found Helen in the palace. She was ashamed and sad to see her former husband. But Menelaus forgave her and she went back with him because it was only the goddess Aphrodite who had made her leave her home and her husband and her child.

When morning came, nothing was left of the proud, rich city of Troy that had resisted attack for ten years.

Conclusion

We learn about the story of the Iliad and the Trojan War through this chapter. This great Greek epic has affected generations of people and is one of the founding stones of western literature.