Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
In the tenth year of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans, Chryses, a priest of Apollo, comes to the Greek camp to ask for the return of his daughter Chryseis. She had been captured during a raid and given as a prize to Agamemnon. When Agamemnon refuses to return the girl, Chryses begs Apollo to punish the Greeks. The result is that a plague is sent upon them. A few days later, Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors, calls an assembly of the Greek forces to discuss how they can bring the plague to an end. The prophet Calchas explains why Apollo is angry with the Greeks and proposes that Agamemnon give up Chryseis. Agamemnon agrees to let the girl if Briseis, the prize of Achilles, is given to him. Achilles protests the loss of Briseis, but Agamemnon sends his men to take her away. Achilles is furious at this insult inflicted on him by Agamemnon and refuses to take any further part in the fighting. He also asks his mother, Thetis, to persuade Zeus to humble Agamemnon and the Greeks. Since Zeus favors Thetis, he agrees to honor her request.
On the next day, Agamemnon marshals the Greek forces, excluding Achilles and his men, and attacks the Trojans. The Greeks succeed in their efforts due to the brilliant fighting of Diomedes. On the second day of battle, the gods, following Zeus' orders, begin to help the Trojans, and the Greeks are driven back by the Trojans. At the end of the day, the Trojans do not even return to Troy for protection; instead, they are so confident of their abilities that they camp on the plain, ready for an onslaught on the Greek camp the next day.
Worrying about the Greek losses of the day, Agamemnon realizes how greatly his army depends upon the prowess of Achilles. As a result, he sends an embassy to the Greek hero to admit that he was wrong and offering to restore Briseis and give Achilles many other gifts if he would rejoin the fighting. The proud Achilles refuses the offer.
To restore the morale of the Greek forces, Odysseus and Diomedes make a successful night attack upon the camp of one of the Trojan allies; but when the fighting begins on the third day, the Trojans, with the help of the gods, again drive the Greeks into retreat. All the great Greek heroes, except Aias, are wounded in the fighting and are forced to leave the battle. As a result, the Trojans succeed in breaking through the Greek wall and are at the point of setting fire to their ships. Worried about the eminent defeat of the Greeks, Patroclos approaches his friend Achilles and begs him to return to the fight. Achilles agrees to let his men help in the battle and lends Patroclos his own armor for the fight.
The reappearance of Achilles' forces temporarily turns the tide of the battle in favor of the Greeks, and they are able to force the Trojans back. Hector, however, is successful in killing Patroclos and stripping the armor of Achilles from his body. Suffering over the loss of Patroclos and the armor, the Greeks are easily pushed by the Trojans into full retreat once again. Achilles, learning of the events of the day, has had enough. The death of Patroclos motivates him to rejoin the fighting. When he returns to the Greek camp and shouts his battle cry, the Trojans tremble in fear and retreat. Zeus also makes the decision to let the gods help on both sides of the fighting.
Achilles' anger against Agamemnon is turned into a desire for revenge against Hector, who is responsible for the death of his friend. To help her son in his cause, Thetis has a new suit of armor made for Achilles by the divine blacksmith, Hephaistos. Returning to the battlefield with his new armor, Achilles sweeps the Trojans from the plain and forces them to retreat inside the walls of their city. Achilles, however, faces Hector outside the walls of the citadel and kills him. In revenge, Achilles, still filled with wrath and hatred, attaches Hector's body to the back of his chariot and drags it in disrespect to the Greek camp.
The next day the body of Patroclos is cremated on a carefully constructed pyre. After the ceremony, Achilles celebrates the funeral by holding sporting games in honor of the deceased. Still filled with grief and vengeance about his friend's death, Achilles daily drags the body of Hector around the walls of Troy for twelve days. Finally, unable to withstand the disgrace to his son's body any longer, King Priam enters the Greek camp to talk to Achilles. The Greek hero, seeing the error of his excessive cruelty, weeps for Priam and for himself. After the tears, Achilles is a changed man. He returns Hector's body to the Trojans and calls a ten-day cease-fire so that Priam can give his son a proper burial. At the end of the poem, there is no decisive victory, but the reader is led to believe that the Greeks, under the guidance of the changed Achilles, will eventually emerge victorious over the Trojans.