What is the subject of the Iliad

Question: The subject of the Iliad is the wrath of Achilles- elaborate. Or, what is the subject of the Iliad – Discuss.


Homer’s Iliad deals with the events of the Trojan War, which took place in the last few months during the tenth year of that war. Although the epic clearly describes the ongoing battle between the Achaeans (Greeks) and the Trojans, it focuses on a central theme of the whole story that is Achilles’ wrath which is why it is called that the subject matter of this great epic is Achilles’ rage.

The seeds of the epic

Achilles’ anger initiates the epic. Apollo, the son of Zeus, was highly displeased with Agamemnon because he kept the daughter of the priest of Apollo as a concubine. Being furious, Apollo sent a plague in the Greek regiment and the Greek soldiers were dying in large numbers. Achilles took steps and found out the cause of Apollo’s anger with the help of Calchas. The soothsayer who revealed that Agamemnon had dishonored the priest of Apollo by not ransoming his daughter Chrysies from him. Agamemnon agreed to return Chrysies on the condition that Achilles’ mistress Briseis must be given to Agamemnon. This infuriates Achilles and the story of the epic gets started with Achilles’ rage.

The prophetic power of heroism within anger

Achilles brooded over his grief for being insulted by Agamemnon. He went to kill Agamemnon by plunging his sword through Agamemnon’s heart. Agamemnon, however, was protected by the invisible intervention of the goddess Athene. Achilles was violent, and he furiously said to Agamemnon:

“You drunkard butchered man, you have not the courage to fight. Here is my solemn oath. A time shall come when Achilles will be missed by the nation. Many will fall and die before bloodthirsty Hector. Then you will realize that you have not respected the best man of all.”

The collapse of the Achaeans

The whole poem is divided into twenty-four books. In the first book, Achilles withdraws from the war because of his quarrel with Agamemnon. The first ten texts describe how helpless and weak the Greek soldiers were without Achilles and how they were defeated. Then comes the turning point when Achilles’ friend Patroclus is killed. Thus, it is realizable that Achilles’ rage turns into a pivotal fact for the ongoing story of this great epic.

Trying to reconcile

Book nine describes Agamemnon’s effort of appeasing Achilles’ anger that goes in vain. Achilles is not a common hero. No hero in The Iliad can be parallel to him. Achilles’ father is Peleus, a mortal, while his mother is a goddess (the sea nymph Thetis). Achilles’ armor was made by Hephaestus. Thus he enjoys an extra advantage. He is the best fighter and an inevitable force on the Greek side. His inaction or the withdrawal from the fighting is crucial to the plot.

Transferring anger

At one point in the war (Book 15), the Trojans arrived on Greek ships and the Greeks were in serious trouble. This brings about a turning point. The death of his dear friend Patroclus at the hands of Hector infuriates Achilles. His anger shifted from Agamemnon to Hector. He decided to take revenge on Patroclus’ death anyway. Thus the subject of The Iliad revolves around Achilles’ anger.

The paradigm of brutality and foolishness

Achilles, being trapped by emotion and anger, shows untold brutal heroism and foolishness. His wrath now turns to Hector and his only obsession is to take revenge. He declares emotionally and morally:

“Now I shall go to overtake that killer of a dear life, Hector. Then I will accept my own death.”

As a result, he fights blindly and bravely which is why the river gets filled up with blood and dead bodies of the Trojans. He then seeks and finds an opportunity to kill Hector, the Trojan warrior, who is responsible for his friend’s death. Achilles’ wrath is not appeased until killing Hector. Finally, he kills Hector revengefully and drags Hector’s dead body around the walls of Troy for twelve days. And he consequently invites his own death. Paris throws an arrow on Achilles’ heel and Achilles dies after keeping his promise.


The construction of the entire poem, thus, centers on the anger of Achilles. His wrath is developed in two major cycles. The first cycle begins in Book I while in Books VII and VIII, the hero is not seen, but his absence from the battlefield can be felt leading to dire consequences. The second cycle begins with the death of Patroclus when Achilles’ anger towards Agamemnon was replaced with equally excessive grief and wrath against Hector. So, it can rationally be commented that “The subject matter of The Iliad is the wrath of Achilles”.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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