ILIAD

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In this link, you will find images illustrating the ILIAD. Most of these come from vasepainting (usually "Attic," i.e. the area around and including Athens) and date from 550-300 BCE. This is roughly 200 to 500 years after most scholars think the epics were first committed to writing. In many instances, the vasepainters do not represent "accurately" what our text of Homer says--they combine scenes, add characters, etc. They also create very unplausible compositions for the sake of visual interest, like two heroes fighting naked, except for shields, because their naked bodies are more interesting to look at. All the same, vasepainting kept the myths from Homer constantly before the eyes of Athenians--and other Greek and non-Greek speaking peoples around the Mediterranean--e.g. the Etruscans (many of our best examples of Attic vasepainting were found in Etruria, in north-central Italy).

 

The site of Troy as depicted by Schliemann's painter, William Simpson, in 1877, before Schliemann began "excavating." In the foreground, two Turkish gentlemen share a conversation, while in the background, Schliemann shows ruins to visitors. In this case, the ruins are those of Hellenistic and Roman buildings on top of the Bronze Age mound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An aerial view of Troy as it is now, after a century of excavation. The result of Schliemann's first excavation, the "great trench" carved into the upper central part of the mound, is still visible. While his early methods were crude and destroyed a lot of valuable data, Schliemann did learn as he went, and later excavators (especially Carl Blegen) were able to piece together the complex history of Troy, which contained many levels and sub-levels. Bronze Age culture at Troy shared many similarities with that of mainland Greece, and we should probably imagine a decorated, fortified palace comparable to Mycenae or Tiryns as "Homer's" Troy.

 

 

 

 

The Trojan war had multiple causes--primarily, the theft of Helen after the judgement of Paris, but also (as a source of Hera's rage against Troy) the theft of Ganymede, a Trojan prince, a generation before to be Zeus' "cupbearer." In an Attic red-figure vase (c450 BCE), Zeus pursues Ganymede on one side, while Ganymede runs away, rolling along a hoop and carrying a cock (presumably a courtship gift from Zeus). As often happens, the vasepainter has overlapped his depiction of a mythological story with common behaviors (in this case, homoerotic courtship rituals) in classical Athens.

 

 

 

This fragment of an Attic red-figure vase shows Peleus raping Thetis, an act approved by Zeus after he discovered (from Prometheus) the name of the goddess destined to have a son greater than his father. Thetis resisted by assuming multiple shapes (sea gods and goddesses have this power). The painter has depicted a lion coming out of her arm to bite Peleus' back, a snake curling up around his leg, and sea-serpent jumping out of Thetis' other leg.

 

 

 

 

Peleus and Thetis were subsequently married, a gala event to which all the Olympian gods were invited (except one). This Attic red-figure amphora shows the gods escorting Thetis to the marriage chamber: top left, Dionysus and Semele (?); top right, Apollo (with the lyre) and Artemis; bottom left, Hermes escorts the bride while Zeus and Hera hold torches; bottom right, Peleus sits on the marriage couch awaiting his bride.

 

 

 

 

The one goddess NOT invited, of course, was Eris (Strife), who rolled in an apple inscribed, "for the fairest." Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite claimed it, and Zeus wisely appointed a mortal, Paris, to be the judge. This Attic red-figure crater (c420 BCE) shows Paris seated on a rock between the three goddesses (Hera with the mirror, Athena with the spear and helmet, and Aphrodite behind him, pulling her dress open...guess which one will win?).

 

 

 

 

A Roman wall painting of the same theme, with Hermes in the right background. Aphrodite, in the center, seems determined to win, and she has offered Paris the world's most beautiful woman (Helen).

 

 

 

 

Paris chose Aphrodite and abducted Helen from her husband, Menelaus, the king of Sparta. Menelaus' brother was Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae--the most powerful bronze age city in Greece. The brothers formed a coalition of Greek heroes (the famous 1000 ships), and attacked Troy. The coalition was fragile, politically, as was shown when Chryses, a priest of Apollo, came to the Greek ships to ransom his daughter, Chryseis. Despite the army's shout of approval, Agamemnon refused. This red-figure Apulian vase (from southern Italy), c375-350 BCE, shows Chryses on his knees before Agamemnon, making his request. Achilles sits in the background, examining his helmet.

 

 

 

 

Apollo sent a plague to punish the Greeks for refusing Chryses' request. When the seer, Calchas, said the plague would be removed only if Chryseis was returned, Agamemnon demanded another prize from the army...Achilles pointed out that there was no pile of booty lying around...Agamemnon then declared that he would just go and take some other hero's war prize...even Achilles'. This mosaic from Pompeii (VI 7 23), c70 CE, shows Achilles rising and drawing his sword, the moment when Athena descends from Olympus and takes him by the hair.

 

 

 

 

Despite Nestor's good advice, Agamemnon made good his threat, sending the heralds to take Briseis. In this Attic red-figure cup (c480 BCE), they lead Briseis away to the left, while Achilles sits in his tent, wrapped up in anger and grief. Two bearded figures watch with sympathy; the one behind Achilles may be Patroclus.

 

 

 

 

After one-on-one combat with Menelaus in book 3, in which he is almost throttled by his own chinstrap, Paris is rescued by Aphrodite and whisked back to his bedroom in Troy. Aphrodite then leads Helen (despite her resistance) to go to bed with him. In this Attic red-figure vase (c430 BCE), Helen demurely approaches Paris, who still holds two spears.

 

 

 

 

In book 4, the truce is broken when Pandaros (at the instigation of Athena) wounds Menalaus with an arrow. The fighting resumes, and in book 5 Diomedes takes control (his aristeia), slaughtering many Trojans. This illustrated manuscript from Milan (5-6th century CE) shows Diomedes (top register, center) being urged on by Athena (lower right) as he tramples his way over a carpet of bodies. In the lower register (lower right corner), Diomedes has been shot in the shoulder with an arrow, and Athena comes close to breath strength back into him.

 

 

 

 

Diomedes rages on! In this Attic red-figure Crater (c480 BCE), he wounds Aeneas in the hip (with a spear, not a rock as in the ILIAD), and Aphrodite grabs hold to rescue her son.

 

 

 

 

In book 6, Hector runs back into the city to tell the Trojan women to pray to Athena to turn aside Diomedes. Meanwhile, Diomedes runs into Glaucus on the battlefield. After discovering that their fathers had a guest-host relationship, they agree not to fight each other and exchange armor. This calyx crater, Athenian red-figure (c490 BCE) shows the exchange. It is damaged, however, some just some fragments of the bodies are visible...no one has really been beheaded.

 

 

 

 

Toward the end of book 6, Hector runs into his wife, Andromache, as he prepares to leave the city. This Apulian red-figure vase (c350 BCE) shows Hector reaching out for his infant son, Astyanax, after taking off his helmet.

 

 

 

 

In book 7, as the first day of fighting draws to a close, Hector challenges the Greeks to single combat. At first they don't respond, but after a pep-talk from Nestor, the main heroes volunteer. Ajax's lot is chosen, and in this Attic red-figure cup (c470 BCE), this combat is rather impressionistically shown, with Ajax wounding Hector in the ribs with a spear at the same time that a rock flies through the air between them. Athena supports Ajax, while Apollo supports Hector.

 

 

 

 

After a day of fighting in book 8, in which the Greeks lose pretty badly, Agamemnon agrees at the beginning of book 9 that he made a mistake taking away Achilles' girl, Briseis. He promises an enormous list of prizes to persuade Achilles back into the war, and Odysseus, Ajax, and Phoenix are sent to deliver his message, and to soothe and convince Achilles--without success. This scene from the neck of an Attic red-figure hydria (water jug), c470 BCE, shows Achilles wrapped up in dismay listening to Odysseus.

 

 

 

 

Fighting resumes in book 11, and after Agamemnon has his aristeia and is driven from the field by a wound to his elbow, Diomedes again takes the lead. He bounces a spear off of Hector's helmet, but this Attic black-figure amphora (c520 BCE) shows them fighting at close quarters, over a body labelled "SKYTHES," a name that is not found in the ILIAD.

 

 

 

 

Another confused scene of fighting from book 11 (apparently). Diomedes is at center left, stabbing a Trojan named Charops (on one knee). Charops is defended from behind by Hippolochus. At center right, Glaucus fights Menestheus, and behind Menestheus, Odysseus steps up on the body of a Trojan named "ME..." The vase combines names and episodes from different points in book 11 (e.g., in our ILIAD, Charops is killed by Odysseus AFTER Diomedes has already been wounded in the foot and withdrawn).

 

 

 

 

After the seduction of Zeus by Hera in book 14, Hector rejoins the combat in book 15, and the Greeks are driven back inside their wall. Ajax is the only hero holding off Hector as he tries to burn the boats. This Attic black-figure amphora (c530 BCE) shows Ajax and Hector locked in single combat.

 

 

 

 

Making good Nestor's fateful suggestion in book 11, Patroclus returns to Achilles' tent at the beginning of book 16 and asks that he give him his armor and troops, so that he can rescue the Greeks, whose ships Hector is beginning to burn. Achilles agrees, and Patroclus sweeps the Trojans back, killing one of their best heroes, Zeus' son Poseidon. While he was unable to keep him alive, Zeus does protect his body, sending Apollo down to lift take the body--which he then gives to Sleep and Death to take to home to Lycia. This Attic red-figure crater has Hermes standing over the body as it is lifted by Sleep and Death directly, and Apollo does not appear.

 

 

 

 

Patroclus' own death at the hands of Apollo, Euphorbus, and Hector, follows quickly after Sarpedon's, at the end of book 16. Book 17 consists entirely of grim, nightmarish combat over his body, until it is finally taken by the Greeks in book 18, after Achilles finally appears and screams at the Trojans. This red-figure crater from Sicily (c500 BCE) shows, covered in a starry mantle, lifted off the field.

 

 

 

 

Achilles, of course, has lost his armor, since Hector stripped Patroclus' (Achilles') away and put it on himself during book 17. In book 18, Thetis visits Hephaistos and asks him to forge new, and spectacular, armor for Achilles. This black-figure Attic amphora (c540 BCE) shows Thetis handing Hephaistos' creation over to Achilles. You can see that the painter did not try to capture in miniature the intricate description of the shield in book 18 of the ILIAD.

 

 

 

 

With his new weapons and his rage over the death of Patroclus, Achilles (after being forced by Odysseus in book 19 to accept the gifts promised by Agamemnon) slaughters the Trojans without mercy in books 20 and 21, eventually provoking the river-god Skamander (Xanthus) to attack him. After Xanthus is boiled into submission by Hephaistos, and being led on a short goosechase by Apollo disguised as Agenor, Achilles finally faces Hector in single combat in 22. In this Attic red-figure cup (c480 BCE), Hector breaks his spear on Achilles' shield, and Achilles advances with drawn sword--again, different from the ILIAD, where Hector advances with drawn sword and is stabbed by Achilles with a spear in the throat. On the right you see Apollo turning to abandon his hero.

 

 

 

 

Having killed Hector, Achilles pokes holes through his ankles and drags him across the battlefield to the Greek camp, where he repeatedly drags Hector around Patroclus' body. This red-figure Apulian volute crater shows 1) Achilles dragging Hector's body, and 2) at the funeral pyre of Patroclus (here represented as an altar), slitting the throats of the 12 Trojan princes he captured in book 21 at the river Xanthus.

 

 

 

 

Despite his rage, Achilles is persuaded by his mother, Thetis, to return the body of Hector to Priam in book 24. In this Attic red-figure Hydria (c470 BCE), the aged Priam approaches Achilles, who, thanks to the help of Hermes, doesn't see him coming. The body of Hector, with its many wounds, lies unrotting (thanks to Aphrodite's ambrosia treatment) under his couch.