The Thematic Structure of the Iliad

Just as Homer mastered the thematic structure of many, many incidents, so he probably mastered one for the whole poem. The sequence of main events is logical, well-defined, and easily-memorized:

1. Chryses

2. quarrel

3. wrath

4. Zeus' promise

5. catalogue of armies

6. Duels and indecisive encounters

7. Embassy to Achilles

8. Wounding of the Achaian kings

9. Trojan invasion of the camp

10. Patroclos' intervention and death

11. Wrath of Achilles and revenge wrought on Hektor

12. funeral of Patroklos

13. Hektor's body is returned for ransom

There is also a significant sequence of delays between Books two and twelve which manifest no particular discernible internal logic, but are easily memorized:

(1) duel of Paris and Menelaos (Book 3)

(2) breaking of the truce -- Agamemnon's inspection of the troops (Book 4)

(3) Diomedes' victory (Book 5)

(4) Hektor's return to Troy and encounter with Helen, Andromache and Paris

These Delay Sequences serve the purpose of postponing an Achaian defeat and have a good psychological impact:

(1) they heighten the tension as the Achaians hover on the brink of disaster;

(2) they give an idea of the length of the war that serves as background to this "Wrath" poem.

This material has been used for many years by Professor Tom Sienkewicz in his courses at Howard University and at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. If you have any questions, you may contact him at

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