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Free Study Guide-The Iliad by Homer-Free Online Book Notes Summary
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THEMES

Major Themes

The Wrath of Achilles

The construction of the entire poem centers on the anger of Achilles. His wrath is really developed in two major cycles, both following the same pattern. The first cycle begins in Book I as Achilles quarrels with Agamemnon and withdraws from the fighting. Between Books II and VIII, the hero is not seen, but his absence from the battlefield has dire consequences. Without the leadership of Achilles and the help of the immortals, the Greeks efforts are in vain. Knowing that they are losing the war, the Greeks send a delegation to Achilles, offering him gifts to return to the fighting. Bound by his wrath, Achilles refuses the offer and threatens to sail for home. It is obvious that Homer does not approve of the excessive wrath and unrelenting nature of Achilles.

The Greeks have no choice but to return to the battle without their hero. As a result of Achilles' continued absence, the Greeks suffer even greater catastrophes. Hector and the Trojans breach their wall and set some of their ships on fire. Learning of the Greek devastation, Achilles agrees to send his men back into battle, but he still refuses to fight himself. It is only with the death of Patroclos, his closest friend, that he decides to re-enter the fight. His excessive anger, however, is simply replaced with an equally excessive grief and desire for vengeance.


The second wrath cycle follows the same pattern as the first. Achilles again begins in the right, as he seeks vengeance on the Trojans for the death of Patroclos. He fights blindly and bravely, filling the river with the blood and dead bodies of Trojans. He then seeks and finds an opportunity to kill Hector, the Trojan warrior responsible for his friend's death. In dishonoring the body of Hector, however, Achilles errs again and allows excessive vengeance to overwhelm his rationale. Dragging Hector's body around the walls of Troy for twelve days proves he has not mastered his excesses, which displease the gods.

Zeus intervenes to humble Achilles so he can be restored to his full heroic nature. In Book XXIV, he sends Priam to the Greek hero to beg for the body of his son, Hector. Achilles if fully touches by the old king's humility and weeps for Priam and himself. The tears are a symbolic baptism for him, breaking his cycle of wrath. Achilles emerges from the meeting as a restored hero, capable of leading the Greek force to victory over the Trojans.

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