By Barbara Schultz,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Gods and men manipulate war in exciting, gory epic.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Though Homer's Iliad, which is an epic poem about the Trojan War, is taught less frequently than The Odyssey, it is also an essential piece of classical, ancient Greek literature. Together, these two works form the foundation of centuries of literature that followed. The Odyssey can be (and often is) read without first reading The Iliad, but The Iliad gives a complete depiction of the gods, goddesses, heroes, and conflicts that incited this fictional war, and the events that lead to Odysseus' epic journey in The Odyssey.
There are many stories of devotion and loyalty between warriors, and between mortals and gods, in The Iliad, but there are just as many instances of capricious and petty revenge. However, one of the strongest, and somewhat surprising, messages in this ancient poem is that there are no real winners in war. The poem emphasizes the violence and tragedy of individual deaths, and the emotional response of the fallen warriors' comrades. Even though the heroes' bravery and intelligence are lauded, and the gods influence the action throughout, the poem does not glorify war.
Positive Role Models
Odysseus -- also the hero of The Odyssey -- is good, brave, brilliant, and fair. Most of the other leaders among the Achaians and Trojans, however, are petty and selfish. Agamemnon, in particular, brings the wrath of the gods down on his people by stealing a beloved mistress from Achilles. Achilles, in turn, refuses to fight in the war until his woman is returned to him. And then there's the ugliness between Achaian king Menelaos, his beautiful queen, Helen, and Helen's Trojan captor, Paris. Throughout The Iliad, women are treated as spoils of war, and men and gods choose sides and kill each other over allegiances to poorly behaved people.
Violence & Scariness
The Iliad is quite poetic, but it is also extremely violent. Deaths and injuries -- mostly from stabbing with spears -- are described in graphic, gory detail; there are hundreds of pages of them. There are also numerous instances of animals being killed, skinned, and butchered for food and/or sacrifice in the poem; these are also described quite graphically.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There's no detail given about sex acts in The Iliad, but there's a lot of sex. We read that men and women "make love," "couple," go to bed together and feel lust for each other. The book offers two views of the "rape" of Helen, who the Achaians believe the Trojan prince Paris kidnapped from her husband, King Menelaos. While the Achaians soldiers are told to avenge the "struggles and groans" of Helen, readers see Helen behave quite seductively with Paris. In general, other than the goddesses, females are treated as spoils of war; men can win, give or take sex partners from each other.
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Women are occasionally called "whore" or "bitch."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Mortals and gods consume a good deal of wine. There is mention of children growing up drinking wine.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the ancient Greek epic poem The Iliad, by Homer, depicts the women, warriors, gods and goddesses involved in the fictional Trojan War between the Trojans and Achaians. Whereas personal conflicts between the characters propel the plot, most of the action takes place on the battlefield, where many men are killed or injured. This essential volume of classical literature includes a lot of graphic violence -- mostly inflicted by fighting with spears -- and some sex in which women are usually objectified, as they are considered prizes to be won in battle. As in Homer's Odyssey, there are also graphic descriptions of animals being slaughtered and sacrificed, and a good deal of wine is consumed.
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What's the Story?
When Homer's ILIAD begins, the Trojans and Achaians are already at war. Throughout the poem, the advantage shifts from one side to the other as gods and goddesses interfere, men and/or gods call temporary truces, and mortals jockey for power. A key issue that carries through the poem involves a conflict between Agamemnon, the brother of Achaian king Menelaos, and the great warrior Achilles. Agamemnon steals a woman who had been awarded to Achilles as a prize for battles won, but Achilles loves the woman and wants her to be returned. Achilles refuses to fight until the woman is restored to him, and the gods choose sides. At the core of the war is the fact that Paris, a Trojan prince, has stolen Helen, the wife of Menelaos. Menelaos doesn't want to return home until his army has sacked Troy and he has retrieved Helen. Other key players in the drama are the great strategist/soldier Odysseus and Troy's brave warrior Hektor, who use their superior intelligence and skills to fight their enemies, and seem to be above the petty fray.
Is It Any Good?
The book definitely has many fine qualities: poetic language, brave warriors, interfering immortals, strong and caring friendships, and exciting battle scenes. The Iliad is not studied by middle or high school students as commonly as Homer's Odyssey, perhaps because the war portrayed in The Iliad includes so many individual battles and characters that its 500-plus pages become a lot to digest.The book also weaves in and out of the "present" of the book, as character often reflect on past events; The Odyssey is somewhat more linear, and the narrative is easier for students to follow. However, several of the intertwining plots in The Iliad are essential to read and understand for any student of the classics.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about what message The Iliad sends about war. Why is the war being fought? Who are the winners and losers? Who controls the outcome?
What do you think about the role of women in The Iliad?
The Achaians believe Helen was kidnapped and raped by Paris. What do you believe?
- Author: Homer
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: April 3, 2004
- Number of pages: 632
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle
- Last updated: June 18, 2015
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