The Achaians: Heroes
In the Iliad certain heroic characters play major roles in the battles even though the reader knows that many more common soldiers must be involved. The heroes, however, are presented literally as greater human beings than the ordinary warriors. Some may have a divine or semi-divine parent, though the hero himself is still mortal and subject to death, unlike the gods. Heroes are of such stature that they sometimes provoke envy from the gods and on occasion may even fight with a god. Each hero is distinguished by a virtue but may also have an accompanying vice. For example, Achilles is the greatest warrior, but he is also petulant and self-centered. In terms of status, heroes are below the gods but above the ordinary warriors.
Overall, heroes lived by four rules: arete, the pursuit of excellence, as exemplified by valor in battle, and nobility, as exemplified by skill in speech and diplomacy. Each of the greatest of these noble heroes is given an aristeia, or greatest moment in battle, somewhere in the Iliad.
The central character of the Iliad and the greatest warrior in the Achaian army. The most significant flaw in the temperament of Achilles is his excessive pride. He is willing to subvert the good of the whole army and to endanger the lives of those who are closest to him to achieve emotional blackmail. Chief virtue: a fighter. His humanity stems from his great passion.
The well-meaning but irresolute king of Mycenae; commander-in-chief of the expedition against Troy. He is a brother of Menelaos. Chief virtue: being a king. His humanity stems from his broad mindedness that makes him a weak king.
He ranks among the finest and bravest of the Achaian warriors; he is always wise and reasonable and is renowned for his courtesy and gallantry. He is, perhaps, Homer’s vision of the perfect young nobleman. He is sometimes called “lord of the battle cry.”
Son of Telamon, he is often called Telamonian Aias; his reputation is due primarily to brute strength and courage, which are his virtues in the poem. Epithet: wall of army.
The shrewdest and most subtle of all the Achaians and a brave warrior besides, as he demonstrates on many occasions. Epithet: “Seed of Zeus.” Chief virtue: intelligence motivated by persistence, which is his humanity.
The oldest of the Achaian warriors at Troy. Nestor has all the wisdom and experience of age and is a valuable asset in the council. Although he can no longer fight, he remains at the front line at every battle, commanding his troops. He is often referred to as “Gerenian Nestor.”
The Achaians: Warriors
Warriors tend to be somewhat lesser individuals than the heroes are, although still much greater than ordinary men. Their parents are usually mortals, and they are not given aristeias in the Iliad.
Aias the Lesser
A distinguished warrior, but insolent and conceited. He is the son of Oileus and is often called Oilean Aias.
The son of Nestor; a brave young warrior who takes an active part in the fighting and the funeral games.
The squire and charioteer of Achilles.
Originally married to Menelaos, she ran away to Troy with Paris and became his wife. Supposedly, she is the most beautiful woman in the world; however, she is also self-centered.
The King of Crete and one of the most efficient of the Achaian leaders, he has the respect and liking of the whole Achaian army.
Soothsayer and prophet of the Achaians.
King of Sparta and brother of Agamemnon He was the husband of Helen, who was abducted by Paris.
Achilles’ close friend and warrior-companion.
The Trojans: Heroes
Son of Aphrodite; a Trojan nobleman. He is second in command of the Trojan army and a brave, skillful warrior.
Prince of Troy and son of Priam and Hekuba. Hektor is commander of all the Trojan and allied forces. He is the greatest of the Trojan warriors and one of the most noble characters in the Iliad. He is always conscious of his duty and his responsibilities to his people and does not let his personal interests interfere. He is a devoted and loving husband and father.
The Trojans: Warriors
The wife of Hektor. She seems to illustrate Homer’s idea of the good wife and mother; she is loyal, loving, and concerned for her family, and is willing to accept the decisions of her husband.
A Trojan nobleman who unsuccessfully advocates the return of Helen to the Achaians.
The infant son of Hektor and Andromache.
Daughter of Chryses, the priest of Apollo. She is the “war prize” hostage of Agamemnon until Apollo demands that she be returned to her father.
A Trojan nobleman, captured by Odysseus and Diomedes during their night expedition to the Trojan camp in Book X.
A prince; a renowned warrior.
Wife of Priam. Hektor is the most prominent of her sons.
Son of Priam and Hekuba; a prince of Troy and a seer.
The daughter of Priam and Hekuba; Hektor and Paris’ sister.
A good archer, but a treacherous man; it is he who breaks the truce in Book IV.
A prince of Troy; son of Priam and Hekuba; also husband of Helen. He seems content to allow the Trojans to fight for him. He is reprimanded for this by Hektor more than once. His reputation is that of a “pretty boy.” His smoothness and glibness are not admired by the warriors of either side, and they often accuse him of cowardice.
One of the Trojan leaders; a very able and clear-headed military strategist whose advice to Hektor is usually not heeded.
King of Troy. He is very old and no longer able to command his army in the field, but his great courage is seen when he travels to the Achaian camp one night to ransom Hektor’s body. He is a noble and generous man, one of the few Trojans besides Hektor who treats Helen with respect and courtesy, despite her infidelity to her husband and the war caused by her actions.
Gods differ from mortals primarily in their immortality. They are unaware of the fear of death and sometimes seem unable to grasp the pain and horror that fighting and dying bring to mortal warriors. The gods have ichor, an immortal fluid, rather than blood; they eat ambrosia and drink nectar. They live on Mt. Olympos, though in the Iliad Zeus often watches the battle from Mt. Ida. The gods can and do change shape and interact with humans. Occasionally, the gods fight humans and suffer wounds, but this doesn’t cause the gods any real harm, because the gods cannot bleed or die. The Greek gods are all anthropomorphic: They look like humans, although they are taller, larger, more beautiful, and they often exhibit human emotions such as anger, envy, and deceit.
The supreme god and king of Olympos. His duty is to carry out the will of Destiny, so he is officially neutral in the war, but he is sympathetic toward the Trojans, particularly Hektor and Priam, and he supports Achilles against Agamemnon. Of all the gods, he alone seems able to change fate, though he chooses not to because of the disruption to the world that would be caused. He is married to Hera with whom he is often in disputes.
Sister and wife of Zeus. She is the most fanatical of all the Olympian supporters of the Achaians and is willing to go to any lengths, including the deception of her husband, to achieve the defeat of Troy. She was the goddess of women and childbirth.
Daughter of Zeus; she sprang directly from his head and became the goddess of wisdom. She plays a prominent role in the war, fighting on the Achaian side. She is also known as the battle goddess and is often referred to as Pallas or Pallas Athena.
Daughter of Zeus; goddess of love and sexual desire. She is the mother of Aeneas and is the patron of Paris, so she fights on the Trojan side. Her love is Ares, god of war. She is especially connected with Paris and Helen in the Iliad.
Son of Zeus; god of prophecy, light, poetry, and music. He fights on the Trojan side. Apollo is also the plague god and is responsible for the plague in Book I that leads to the argument between Achilles and Agamemnon. He is also called Loxias, meaning “tricky.”
Son of Zeus and Hera, and the god of war. He is the lover of Aphrodite and fights on the Trojan side, despite an earlier promise to Hera and Athena that he would support the Achaians. Only Aphrodite likes him.
Daughter of Zeus; sister of Apollo; goddess of chastity, hunting, and wild animals. She fights on the Trojan side, but with little effect.
Mother of Aphrodite.
God of the dead and ruler of the underworld.
Ambassador of the gods; conductor of dead souls to Hades and a patron of travelers. He is on the Achaians’ side, but he does little to aid them. He escorts Priam on his visit to Achilles in Book XXIV.
A messenger of the gods.
Younger brother of Zeus; god of the sea. He is a strong supporter of the Achaian cause, having an old grudge against Troy. He is also somewhat resentful of Zeus’ claim to authority over him.
Mother of Achilles, a sea nymph. She is a staunch advocate of her son in his quarrel with Agamemnon and does all she can to help him, but she is not otherwise involved in the war.
Son of Zeus; god of one of the major rivers of Troy. He fights against Achilles in Book XXI, but is defeated by Hephaistos’ fire.