A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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?
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