I know, most people read the Iliad in college, not their freshman year of high school. But since I’m homeschooled, things are a little different for me regarding the work I’m assigned.
Lots of homeschoolers use lots of curriculums, and there’s countless options out there. However, our family has been following a classical curriculum for the past several years, and we love it! Part of our homeschooling is going to “co-op,” which is the homeschool version of, well, school. Let me explain.
Once a week I attend “school” with other families who use the same classical curriculum. I’m in a class with kids in my grade, and we listen to lectures, eat lunch, have fun, participate in class discussion, goof off, get a weeks-worth of homework, and then go home. We then have the next 6 days to complete the assignments before going back to “school.”
For the most part, I enjoy my education and the material I’m studying. But believe me, it’s no picnic. It may sound easy, but in reality some of our work is a lot harder than you think. For example, this year I was assigned to read Homer’s “The Iliad.”
You can probably imagine how excited I was when I received this news.
Haha, no. I was not excited at all.
However, I am proud to say that I survived the Iliad, although many of the characters in this epic story did not.
But before we get to the Iliad, there’s a long backstory leading up to its events that I need to explain first. Basically, all the Greek gods were attending the wedding of Thetis and Peleus on Mount Olympus. (More on that later.) That is, except Eris, the goddess of strife and discord. She was the only deity not invited, and she was pretty angry about it. Living up to her reputation, she tossed a golden apple bearing the inscription “to the fairest” into the crowd. Three extremely vain goddesses – Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite – claimed it, and began to argue over who deserved it. Since they weren’t getting anywhere quarreling among themselves, they took it to Zeus and demanded his opinion. However, Zeus was a smart guy, and knew better than to get involved. Eventually, they took the squabble to Paris – a Trojan prince, mortal man, and utter coward – hoping he would settle the debate once and for all.
When the goddesses approached Paris, they each offered him something in exchange for choosing them as “the fairest.” Hera offered him immense power, wealth, and honor. Athena offered to help him gain military success and supreme wisdom. Aphrodite offered to get him the most beautiful woman in the world for his wife.
Naturally, Paris chose Aphrodite’s offer. (That pretty much sums up his character!)
The most beautiful woman alive was a Greek named Helen, who was the wife of the Greek King Menelaus. Aphrodite and Paris convinced Helen to run away with them to Troy, leaving her husband and daughter behind. When Menelaus found out, he declared war on Troy. Every Greek king sent their ships to the renowned city to fight for Helen. (That’s why Helen is often referred to as “the face that launched a thousand ships.”)
And so begins the Trojan War. It’s a fight. Over a woman. Really?
Now that the stage is set for the 10 year war, I can summarize the Iliad.
Basically it’s fighting, blood, gore, death, pride, rage, foolishness, more fighting, glory, revenge, and more death. That about sums it up.
No, really! All they do is get angry, fight, and kill each other! They had no strategy, and every morning they woke up, put on their bronze armor, and headed out for another day of endless slaughter.
The entire Iliad takes place at the end of the ninth year of the war. So my question is: what in the world took so long? They could have ended it a lot sooner if the Greeks or Trojans had the sense to strategize. I mean, they could have at least tried to formulate some kind of plan.
However, to be fair to the mortals, the Greek gods did a lot of interfering throughout the story. The gods are often seen as being honorable, strong, and wise. In reality, they were selfish, rude, immoral beings who only cared about themselves and boosting their reputation and egos. Each god chose a side and picked their favorite mortals to protect. They then deceived, lied, and fought not only each other, but also with the Greeks and Trojans. They manipulated the people on the battlefield like pieces on a chessboard, often clouding their judgement and triggering their emotions. A major reason the war lasted so long was because every time one side was winning, a god would interfere and everyone would be back to square one.
The mortal characters weren’t so great either. A few are pretty decent, but the majority of the characters are like the gods – selfish, angry, immoral, and deceptive. Especially Achilles. Let’s just say the famed demi-god, who is known as the greatest warrior alive, was also a professional jerk. In the beginning of the Iliad, he flies into a rage because one of the Greek kings, Agamemnon, was telling him to return a woman he had stolen from a nearby village. Achilles eventually gave in, but was so mad about his public humiliation that he sits in his tent and “nurses his anger” for 19 days. Not only that, but he also ordered all his troops not to fight. For over 2 weeks, they sat and did nothing while the other Greeks were being slaughtered on the battlefield. Achilles even goes so far as to ask Zeus to help the Trojans win. Did I mention loyalty? Oh right, there is none. Achilles is severely lacking in that area for being such a famed warrior.
Eventually Achilles’ friend and faithful sidekick, Patroclus, had had enough. He decided to fight in the place of Achilles. It is Patroclus’ death on the battlefield that motivates Achilles to not dispose of, but transfer his anger from Agamemnon to Hector, the Trojan who killed Patroclus.
He would finally fight, but only to avenge his comrade. The Trojans were shaking in their boots when they saw Achilles step onto the battlefield. He was now fueled by more rage, (and protected by divine armor) although this time it wasn’t over a woman, broken honor, or diminished glory. It was for the loss of his best friend.
Oh yeah, remember that wedding I mentioned earlier? Well it turns out that Thetis and Peleus just so happened to become the parents of, you guessed it, Achilles. Funny coincidence, huh?
And now, after all that fighting, killing deception, manipulation, revenge, and rage, you finally come to the end of the Iliad, only to find . . . WHAT?! It doesn’t even say who won the war? The Iliad ends with some kind of weird cremation ceremony for a dead Trojan . . . seriously? After all that, we don’t even find out who wins the war. Wow. #disappointed
So there you have it – my thoughts on the Iliad. If you like ancient literature, stories about the Greek gods, or raging wars, you’d probably enjoy this book. If not, keep your distance from this one (until it’s assigned :)).
To be honest, I’m really glad I read The Iliad. Looking back, I realize that I actually enjoyed the story more than I thought I would. I’ll sometimes find myself thinking about the characters and events in the story, and I’ve found lots of references to them in everyday life. While reading it was difficult in the moment, I’m proud to say I did it. I learned a lot, not only from the story, but also from the perseverance it took to finish it.