The Iliad takes place over about three weeks towards the end of the Trojan War. The Greek commander-in-chief, Agamemnon, quarrels with Achilles, the Greeks’ best fighter. Angry because he has to return a captive girl to her Trojan father, Agamemnon takes another girl from Achilles, who then withdraws from the fighting. That fighting, which includes many single combats between bronze-age heroes, and a number of interventions by the gods on the Greek or Trojan side, turns in favour of the Trojans.
Led by Hector, a son of the King of Troy, Priam, the Trojans reach the Greek ships and begin to burn them. Still Achilles will not fight, but he allows his friend Patroclus to borrow his armour and take the field. Hector kills Patroclus: Achilles returns, kills Hector and dishonours his corpse. In grief, Priam visits Achilles in the Greek camp and persuades him to release Hector’s body. Hector’s funeral takes place and the poem ends. The poem does not describe the abduction of Helen of Troy from her husband Menelaus or other major parts of the traditional story – the death of Achilles, the Trojan horse and the sack of Troy – but the poem’s audience would have been well aware of them all.
Here as a taster are the opening lines in Greek.
To scroll both versions of the poem at the same time - tap inside one box to select it and then scroll.
μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,
πολλὰς δ᾽ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ᾽ ἐτελείετο βουλή,
ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.
τίς τ᾽ ἄρ σφωε θεῶν ἔριδι ξυνέηκε μάχεσθαι;
Λητοῦς καὶ Διὸς υἱός: ὃ γὰρ βασιλῆϊ χολωθεὶς
νοῦσον ἀνὰ στρατὸν ὄρσε κακήν, ὀλέκοντο δὲ λαοί,
οὕνεκα τὸν Χρύσην ἠτίμασεν ἀρητῆρα
Ἀτρεΐδης: ὃ γὰρ ἦλθε θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν
λυσόμενός τε θύγατρα φέρων τ᾽ ἀπερείσι᾽ ἄποινα,
στέμματ᾽ ἔχων ἐν χερσὶν ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος
χρυσέῳ ἀνὰ σκήπτρῳ, καὶ λίσσετο πάντας Ἀχαιούς,
Ἀτρεΐδα δὲ μάλιστα δύω, κοσμήτορε λαῶν:
Ἀτρεΐδαι τε καὶ ἄλλοι ἐϋκνήμιδες Ἀχαιοί,
ὑμῖν μὲν θεοὶ δοῖεν Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχοντες
ἐκπέρσαι Πριάμοιο πόλιν, εὖ δ᾽ οἴκαδ᾽ ἱκέσθαι:
παῖδα δ᾽ ἐμοὶ λύσαιτε φίλην, τὰ δ᾽ ἄποινα δέχεσθαι,
ἁζόμενοι Διὸς υἱὸν ἑκηβόλον Ἀπόλλωνα.
Sing, Goddess, of the wrath of Achilles, the son of Peleus,
bringing death and countless sufferings to the Achaeans,
and sent to Hades early many mighty souls of heroes,
carrion for dogs and birds, fulfilling the intention of Zeus
from which strife first arose between the son of Atreus,
Agamemnon, leader of men, and godlike Achilles.
Which God set these two to oppose each other in strife?
Apollo the son of Leto and Zeus,
for, angry with the King, he spread a dire disease
in the army and the people died,
because his priest Chryses was dishonoured by the son
of Atreus: Chryses came to the swift ships of the Achaeans
to free his daughter bearing a countless ransom
with the garlands of far-striking Apollo in his hands
on a golden sceptre, and he pleaded to all the Achaeans,
and the sons of Atreus, commanders of the host:
“Atreus’ sons, and you other fine-greaved Achaeans,
may the Gods who possess their homes on Olympus grant
you to sack the city of Priam and come home safe again:
please release my dear daughter and accept the ransom
out of awe for the son of Zeus the far-striking Apollo”.