National Epics
By Kate Milner Rabb

Presented by

Public Domain Books

The Iliad

The Iliad, or story of the fall of Ilium (Troy), is supposed to have been written by Homer, about the tenth century B. C. The legendary history of Homer represents him as a schoolmaster and poet of Smyrna, who while visiting in Ithaca became blind, and afterwards spent his life travelling from place to place reciting his poems, until he died in Ios. Seven cities, Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, Ithaca, Pylos, Argos, and Athens, claimed to be his birthplace.

In 1795, Wolf, a German scholar, published his “Prolegomena,” which set forth his theory that Homer was a fictitious character, and that the Iliad was made up of originally unconnected poems, collected and combined by Pisistratus.

Though for a time the Wolfian theory had many advocates, it is now generally conceded that although the stories of the fall of Troy were current long before Homer, they were collected and recast into one poem by some great poet. That the Iliad is the work of one man is clearly shown by its unity, its sustained simplicity of style, and the centralization of interest in the character of Achilles.

The destruction of Troy, for a time regarded as a poetic fiction, is now believed by many scholars to be an actual historical event which took place about the time of the ∆olian migration.

The whole story of the fall of Troy is not related in the Iliad, the poem opening nine years after the beginning of the war, and closing with the death of Hector.

The Iliad is divided into twenty-four books, and contains nineteen thousand four hundred and sixty-five lines.

As a work of art the Iliad has never been excelled; moreover, it possesses what all works of art do not,–"the touches of things human” that make it ours, although the centuries lie between us and its unknown author, who told his stirring story in such swift-moving verses, with such touches of pathos and humor, and with such evident joy of living. Another evidence of the perfection of Homer’s art is that while his heroes are perfect types of Greeks and Trojans, they are also typical men, and for that reason, still keep their hold upon us. It is this human interest, simplicity of style, and grandeur of treatment that have rendered Homer immortal and his work imperishable.

Bibliography and Criticism, the Iliad.

M. Arnold’s Essay on Homer, 1876, pp. 284-425;

H. Bonitz’s Origin of the Homeric Poems, tr. 1880;

R. C. Jebb’s Introduction to Homer, 1887;

F. B. Jevons’s History of Greek Literature, 1886, pp. 7-17;

A. Lang’s Homer and the Epic, 1893;

W. Leaf’s Companion to the Iliad for English Readers, 1892;

J. A. Symonds’s Studies in Greek Poets, ed. 3, 1893.


The Iliad, Tr. into English blank verse by W. C. Bryant, 2 vols., 1871 (Primitive in spirit, like Homer. Union of literalness with simplicity);

The Iliad, Tr. according to the Greek with introduction and notes by George Chapman [1615], Ed. 2, 2 vols., 1874 (Written in verse. Pope says a daring and fiery spirit animates this translation, something like that in which one might imagine Homer would have written before he came to years of discretion);

The Iliad, Tr. by William Cowper (Very literal and inattentive to melody, but has more of simple majesty and manner of Homer than Pope);

The Iliad, rendered into English blank verse by the Earl of Derby, 2 vols., 1864;

The Iliad, Tr. by Alexander Pope, with notes by the Rev. T. W. A. Buckley, n. d. (Written in couplets. Highly ornamented paraphrase).


Preface  •  The R‚m‚yana  •  The Story of the R‚m‚yana  •  Selections From the R‚m‚yana  •  The Story of the Mah‚-Bh‚rata  •  Selections From the Mah‚-Bh‚rata  •  The Iliad  •  The Story of the Iliad  •  Selections From the Iliad  •  The Story of the Odyssey  •  Selections From the Odyssey  •  The Kalevala  •  The Story of the Kalevala  •  Selections From the Kalevala  •  Selection From the Aeneid  •  Beowulf  •  The Story of Beowulf  •  Selection From Beowulf  •  Selections From the Nibelungen Lied  •  The Story of the Song of Roland  •  Selections From the Song of Roland  •  The Story of the Shah-Nameh  •  Selections From the Shah-Nameh  •  The Story of the Poem of the Cid  •  Selections From the Poem of the Cid  •  The Divine Comedy - The Hell  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Hell  •  The Divine Comedy - The Purgatory  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Purgatory  •  The Divine Comedy - The Paradise  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Paradise  •  Selections From the Divine Comedy - Count Ugolino  •  Selection From the Orlando Furioso  •  The Lusiad  •  The Story of the Lusiad  •  Selections From the Lusiad  •  The Jerusalem Delivered  •  The Story of the Jerusalem Delivered  •  Selection From the Jerusalem Delivered  •  The Story of Paradise Lost  •  Selections From Paradise Lost  •  Apostrophe to Light  •  The Story of Paradise Regained  •  Selection From Paradise Regained