The Iliad is the story of a few days' fighting in the mythical Trojan War. The Greeks believed it had been written by the poet, Homer, around 700BC. The ancient Greeks regarded The Iliad and the Odyssey (also by Homer) as their greatest works of poetry, revering them almost as much as Christians revere the Bible or Muslims the Koran. Homer's epics were referred to over and over again by poets, sculptors and artists of the Classical age.
The Greeks believed Homer was bard - a poet who told stories, by singing them - and that he was blind. But there is no evidence that Homer wrote these stories, or that he even existed at all. If he did, it is likely he collected the various myths relating to the Trojan War and put them all together in his own words. They were probably written down later.
Background to the Trojan War
The story begins when Paris, a prince of Troy, was asked to judge which of the goddesses Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera, was the most beautiful. Each offered him a bribe, but Paris accepted Aphrodite's - Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.
Paris took Helen back to Troy with him. Unfortunately Helen was the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. Menelaus' brother was Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and the most powerful man in Greece. Agamemnon assembled a huge fleet of ships from all over Greece - according to Homer, over a thousands ships - and they sailed to Troy, for war.
The Trojan War
The Trojan war raged for ten years. The Greeks' greatest warrior was Achilles, son of the goddess Thetis. He had been dipped in the River Styx as a baby and so was immortal, except for the ankle by which Thetis had held him. The Trojans' greatest warrior was Hector, son of King Priam. Neither side could win, for the Trojans were protected by their high city walls.
The story of the Iliad takes place towards the end of the war. Agamemnon took a slave girl Achilles had captured, Briseis, away from him. This so infuriated Achilles that he stopped fighting. The picture left shows him playing dice with his friend, Aias (Ajax).
But Achilles was so important to the Greeks that they started losing the war. Eventually Patrocles, Achilles' best friend, went out to fight wearing Achilles' armour. Hector killed him, thinking he was Achilles. Achilles was angry and rejoined the battle, killing Hector. He then dragged Hector from the back of his chariot back to the Greek camp, a great insult to Hector and the Trojans.
The Iliad ends when King Priam visits Achilles in his tent and begs for the return of his son's body so they can conduct a proper funeral. Achilles, moved by the old man's grief and dignity, returns the body.
The End of the War
Later on Achilles too was killed by Paris, when he fired an arrow into Achilles' one weak spot, his heel.
Still the Greeks could not defeat the Trojans. Then Odysseus, the Greeks cleverest warrior, had an idea. They built a huge wooden horse, left it on the beach, and pretended to sail for home. The Trojans assumed the horse was an offering to Poseidon for a safe journey, and they brought it into the city.
The Sack of Troy
Of course they did not realise that inside the horse were some Greek soldiers. In the middle of the night they climbed out of the horse and opened the gates, letting in the Greek army which had been hiding. The Greeks destroyed the city, killing all the men and enslaving the women and children.
The Greeks then sailed home, and this is where the Odyssey begins.
Paris judges the goddesses
Achilles and Aias playing dice
Achilles drags Hector's body
Priam begs for Hector's body
The Wooden Horse, soldiers inside