The Iliad: Books I and II

One of my "bookish resolutions" this year was to challenge myself and I'm not sure there's quite a challenge like Homer. When I saw Cleo was hosting a Read-Along of the Iliad I just knew I had to participate. I think reading it over two months with others and splitting it into manageable steps is less overwhelming then trying to tackle the Iliad alone and all at once. It really gives you time to sit with each book and ruminate over it. The edition I have is George Chapman's 1589 (!) version which is definitely another challenge within itself but I am loving it so far. Once you get used to the language you can admire the poetry for what it is. A little sidenote about Chapman: a lot of scholars think he was the rival poet of Shakespeare's Sonnets (78-86) which I thought was pretty interesting.

- Chapman's translation of the Iliad is in iambic hexameter (Homer's original is in dactylic hexameter).
- Although a translation of the Iliad Chapman adds lines/words where necessary to keep the flow.
- Each book starts with two "Arguments" which are small sonnets that serve as a summary to each book.
- In my summaries and reviews I will stick to the Greek spelling of the Gods and Chapman's spelling of the characters names.

I wasn't sure if I was going to do posts about the Iliad as the weeks go on but since we are reading it over two months I thought it would be beneficial for myself to look back on them as I read through to remind myself of the events of the previous books. So these will just serve as quick summaries/quotes as I will leave my full analysis and thoughts to my final post.

Sidenote: Cleo has written up a thought provoking summary that I would recommend for first time readers of the Iliad:

Book I:

Chapman's the Iliad opens with two arguments that begin each "Book" which are mini sonnets that are all different lengths throughout the Iliad. Book One has "The Argument" which is 18 lines and "Another Argument" which is 2 lines. The Argument's are translated from Spondanus' Latin translation. I will include them in this post for interest sake and to show how very Elizabethan this translation is:

As you can see the Argument's at the start of each book are "summaries" of the Book. The first argument is longer and more detailed and pieces of art in their own right. The second Argument's are two line summaries of the entire book and read like the last two lines of an Elizabethan Sonnet which is a lovely touch.

Book One opens with Apollo's Priest, Chryeses, asking for his daughter's (Chryseis) freedom. However, Agamemnon refuses this and Chryeses asks Apollo to intervene. Apollo thus brings down his wrath upon the Greek fleets, causes a Plague (as you do) and due to this Achilles convenes a meeting. Once there Chalcas advises why this misfortune has been brought down on them which incurs Agamemnon's wrath (lots of angry men in the Iliad at all times....). Agamemnon eventually agrees to the release of Chryseis but insists on something in return. Achilles tries to convince Agamemnon that he will have his choice of prizes when they sack Troy but Agamemnon declares he will take Achilles' "woman-prize" Briseis. Achilles then refuses to fight in the war come what may. Hera then orders Athena to intervene and she placates Achilles wrath and prevents him from killing Agamemnon. The Greeks then make sacrifice to Apollo to apease him. Achilles asks his mother, Thetis to appeal to Zeus, his father, to bring wrath down on Agamemnon and the Greek cause. Zeus comes into conflict with Hera about this issue. Zeus overrules Hera. End of Book One. So much drama, so many egos so little time.

Book II:

Book II begins the same way as Book I, with two Arguments. The first is 10 lines and the second is 2 lines.

Full of wrath as he always is, Zeus sends a bad dream to Agamemnon via Nestor, a trusted member of the Greek inner circle. This dream tells Agamemnon to collect his warriors together because they will take Troy. Agamemnon plays his first of many games and tells his troops that the Trojans outnumber them 10-1 to see what the warriors will do. The warriors run back to their ships and get ready to leave and the only reason they don't leave is Athena, by order of Hera (again). Like many Greek tales the Gods are always using the humans as pawns for their own ends and vice versa which is an interesting dynamic. Odysseus persuades the Greeks to stay. He accuses Agamemnon of being greedy (which he is). Agamemnon blames Zeus for causing the strife between himself and Achilles (because apparently he is allergic to actually accepting his role in causing the argument in the first place. They feast. They argue some more. They get ready for war. Then we are taken to the Trojans for the first time. Hector gets ready for war. We are then given a Catalogue of Grecian Ships and Captains as well as main players on the Trojan side. This catalogue is definitely my least favourite part of the Iliad but quite useful.

And thus ends Book II. I shall write another post at some stage about Books III-VI which should catch me up. I'm loving the Iliad so far, even more so because of Chapman's translation, and can't wait for more.


  1. Yay, Keely! That's wonderful that you're reading along with us!

    " Like many Greek tales the Gods are always using the humans as pawns for their own ends and vice versa which is an interesting dynamic"

    I'm interested in how you view this, as the gods are always such enigmas. Men pray and sacrifice to the gods for their favour, which, in a religious context, makes sense. However, how do you see them using the humans as pawns? It is like a game to the gods? Each one has their favourites, sort of like sports teams, and they root for and help those? Do they really get anything out of their interaction with humans? What is their ends? For me, it's puzzling ….

    1. I'm doing full time work/full time uni so it's hard to find time but I am so engrossed in it so far!

      I've always viewed the Greek Gods using humans as their little chess pieces. It's like anyone in power: they use people for their own ends. Maybe it's a cynical way of looking at it but I feel like Euripides does a great job in both humanising the Gods and making them flawed. And I can see a little of that in Homer as well. Definitely not to the extent of the Greek playwrights but you can see it here. Hera/Athena using Odysseus as a mouthpiece for their own ends aka the sack of Troy. Zeus and Achilles. Apollo and the Trojans. I think one of the most interesting dynamics in the Iliad (and the Odyssey) is Apollo and Athena. And on the opposite side humans use the Gods as well. To justify their actions or mistakes. I think it's an interesting dynamic for that reason. I feel like there are like 5 different PHD topics in this dynamic alone and I've barely scratched the surface. I hope to write a bit about it as I go.

      I've always been attracted to the family drama re: the Greek Gods. And I think writers who explore that can find more depth than having them as two dimensional characters who just sit up in Mount Olympus. The humans are just another aspect of the battle between all of these powerful beings. Complicated by the fact some of the humans are Demi-Gods.

  2. I also ponder at those questions. But I have no answers now. Maybe later, as I keep reading. I'm only on the beginning of book 8, and just read Cleo's new post on 7&8.

    I will think more about this.

    1. I expanded on this in my above comment to Cleo but it's an interesting thing to think about as we read. The relationship between the Gods and humans and the mutual manipulation of each other. Homer does that well.


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