Sing, O goddess, of the rage of Achilles son of Peleus,
who brought countless sufferings upon the Achaeans…
μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε…
A long time ago, a great war changed everything for the Greek peoples. As Homer tells it, Agamemnon assembled a massive coalition force for the purpose of recovering his brother’s wife, Helen, who had run away with the beautiful young Trojan, Paris. The coalition was composed of men from dozens of cities all around the north central part of the Peloponnese, the islands and coastal area called the Achaea. After the war ends, the greater part of the coalition is scattered and lost; many never make it home, or homecoming is delayed for many years.
In the opening of the Iliad, Achilles is dishonored and enraged by Agamemnon, and in retaliation against his supreme commander, Achilles refuses to fight. Why should he fight in a war for the sake of Agamemnon’s personal gain, a war against people who did Achilles no harm? All human beings will die one day; fate is ultimately the same for the hero and everyman. What difference does it make whether one chooses a short glorious life of a hero or the long but anonymous life? As the tale unfolds, the conflicts deepen and the wonders of Homer’s cosmos open to the modern reader. Homer’s Iliad is the first and, according to some, the very best book in the tradition that begins with the Greeks and even extends in many ways to our own day.