David Bruce: “Homer’s ‘Iliad’: A Retelling in Prose”

Achilles stayed away from the other Greeks. He no longer attended councils. He no longer fought in battles. Still angry, he stayed in his own camp. But although he was angry, he yearned to fight again.

Twelve days passed since Achilles had spoken with Thetis, and now Zeus and the other gods returned to Mount Olympus. Thetis rose up out of the ocean and flew to Mount Olympus. She found Zeus sitting alone, away from the gods, at the top of the mountain. He was looking down at the world.

Thetis supplicated him. She knelt at his feet, grasped his knees with her left hand, and held him under his chin with her right hand. Zeus had to pay attention to her.

She said to him, “Zeus, if I have ever been of service to you and have ever helped you when you needed help, answer my prayer now. Honor my son — Achilles. He is mortal, and his life will be short. And now Agamemnon has disgraced Achilles by taking away his prize of honor that he fought so hard to earn. But you, Zeus, can bring my son honor. You are the king of gods and men, and you have the power to bring honor to my son by allowing the Trojans to kill and kill again until Agamemnon realizes just whom he has dishonored and gives him the honor he deserves!”

Zeus did not immediately respond. Instead, he thought. Yes, he owed Thetis, and yes, if he agreed to honor Thetis’ request, his wife, Hera, who favored the Greeks, would try to make trouble for him and would probably succeed to some extent. He thought for a long time.

Thetis said to him, “Grant my prayer now, Father Zeus, and nod in assent. Swear an oath that is impossible for you to take back.

“Or, if you prefer, deny my prayer and let me know that you don’t value me at all — that you dishonor me more than any other goddess.”

Zeus replied, “If I agree to answer your prayer, it will be a disaster for me. Hera will be impossible. She and I will fight with each other. She will make me angry, and she will insult me. I have much experience with this. Even now, Hera accuses me of siding with the Trojans, of always taking their side. Leave now, before Hera sees you and guesses what you are asking me to do. But yes, I will answer your prayer. I will nod my head and make an inviolable vow to do what you are asking me to do. This is a vow that I must fulfill.”

He nodded his head, and earthquakes shook Mount Olympus.

Thetis left Zeus and returned to the sea. Zeus returned to his halls on Mount Olympus, and the other gods stood up to show respect to him.

Hera, however, had seen Thetis supplicate Zeus. She had seen him bow his head. She knew of the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon, and she could guess to what Zeus had agreed.

Hera taunted Zeus, “So, my treacherous husband, with which god have you been plotting now? Whenever my back is turned, you make grand plans and never let me know about them.”

Zeus replied, “Hera, don’t bother me. You do not need to know everything I do. If you ever have a need to know my plans, I will tell them to you. But if I choose to make plans with another god and you do not need to know what we are planning, don’t expect me to tell you about our plans. So do not question me now.”

Hera widened her eyes and said, “Are you accusing me of probing and prying? I have not and am not doing any such thing! You can make whatever plans you wish, but right now I am worried that Thetis, the daughter of the Old Man of the Sea, has convinced you to honor her mortal son, Achilles. I am afraid that she has convinced you to allow the Trojans to kill and kill again and drive the Greek warriors back against their ships.”

Zeus replied, “And what if I have decided to allow the Trojans to be triumphant for a while? What can you do about it? Nothing. So sit down and be quiet. Even if all the gods on Olympus were to try to rescue you, I am powerful enough that I could still choke you with my strong hands.”

Hera was terrified. Zeus was physically and mentally capable of doing exactly what he said he could do. Hera did not speak.

The other Olympian gods were also terrified. Zeus was that powerful and that strong.

Hephaestus, the blacksmith god with the strong shoulders and the lame legs, wanted to lighten the mood. He said, “Zeus and Hera, don’t quarrel. Why fight over the doings of mortal men? Are they worth it? When you two quarrel, we gods are unable to enjoy the good life here on Mount Olympus.

“Mother, give in to the will of Zeus, my father. You two are my parents, and I want you to get along. Zeus is strong and powerful, and he can blast us gods with his lightning bolts. Better for you, Mother, to make Father happy. That way, he will be kind to us gods.”

Hephaestus held out a two-handed cup filled with nectar to his mother, Hera, so she could drink.

He said to her, “Give in to the will of Zeus. I do not want to see him beat you, as he is very capable of doing. I would not be able to help you. Once, I ran to help you, and he grabbed my foot and threw me from Mount Olympus. I fell for twenty-four hours. Finally, I fell on the island called Lemnos. I am immortal, but I was injured. The mortals on Lemnos took care of me and made me healthy again.”

Hera smiled and took the two-handed cup.

Hephaestus then poured out nectar to all of the other gods, exaggerating his limp and making jokes. The gods laughed and were happy again. They feasted on nectar and ambrosia and listened to Apollo’s lyre and the Muses’ singing until the sun went down.

The gods went to their own homes to sleep. Hephaestus had built their homes for them. Zeus slept, and Hera lay beside him.

Hera thought, The cause of the Trojan War happened long ago. Thetis is a sea-goddess with whom Zeus, my husband, would normally want to sleep. He has many affairs with goddesses and with mortal women, and this drives me crazy. I am a jealous wife.

But Thetis is a special case because of a prophecy. The prophecy about Thetis’ male offspring is that he will be a greater man than his father. This is something that would make most human fathers happy, but it would not make Zeus happy. Zeus was greater than his own father, and he overthrew his own father and became the king of gods and men. Zeus did not want to sleep with Thetis because if he did that, Thetis would give birth to a male who would be more powerful than he is and who would overthrow him.

Therefore, Zeus, my husband, wanted to get Thetis married off to someone else. A marriage to a human being for Thetis suited Zeus just fine. A human son may be greater than his father, but a mortal is still not going to be as great as a god, and so Zeus knew that he would be safe if Thetis gave birth to a human son.

Zeus got Thetis to marry the mortal man named Peleus. After Peleus married Thetis, he fathered Achilles. The marriage did not last. Peleus is now an old man, and Thetis has not lived with him for a long time.

When Peleus married Thetis, they invited many gods and many mortals to the wedding. One goddess whom they did not invite was Eris, goddess of discord. But even though Eris was not invited to the wedding feast, she showed up anyway.

Eris, goddess of discord, threw an apple on a table at the wedding feast. Inscribed on the apple was the phrase ‘For the most beautiful female.’

Obviously, this apple was meant for me, and I claimed it. But Athena, who is my husband’s daughter, and Aphrodite, who is the goddess of sexual passion, also claimed the apple — bitches! Each of them thinks that she is more beautiful than me.

Someone had to judge the beauty pageant of the goddesses and decide who is the most beautiful. This should have been an easy task, since I am the most beautiful by far!

Zeus would seem to be the perfect choice to judge the beauty pageant, but he was smart enough not to.

He knew that I would make his life miserable — as a simple matter of justice — if he did not choose me as the most beautiful.

He knew that he would make Athena — his favorite child — unhappy if he did not choose her as the most beautiful.

He knew that Aphrodite could make his life miserable by making him think with his penis rather than his brain — something he does a lot of anyway — if he did not choose her as the most beautiful.

Zeus is not a fool. He knew that if he judged the beauty contest, he would make two enemies. The two goddesses whom Zeus did not choose as the most beautiful would hate him and likely make trouble for him. I have to give my husband some credit here.

So Zeus found a mortal sap to judge the beauty contest. Paris is a prince of Troy, and Zeus allowed him to judge the divine beauty contest. Paris was not as intelligent as Zeus, or he would have tried to find a way out of judging the beauty contest. Plus, he chose the wrong goddess as the winner.

Each of us goddesses offered Paris a bribe if he would choose her.

I offered Paris political power: several cities he can rule. I did this because I knew that Athena and Aphrodite would offer Paris bribes — cheaters!

Athena offered Paris prowess in battle. Paris would become a mighty and feared warrior.

Aphrodite offered Paris the most beautiful woman in the world to be his wife.

Paris chose Aphrodite as the winner of the beauty contest.

Why? Her bribe was the poorest!

A person such as Achilles would choose to be an even greater warrior, if that is possible.

A person such as Agamemnon would likely choose more cities to rule.

To chose the most beautiful woman in the world to be his wife is to choose the worst of the three choices!

The most beautiful woman in the world is Helen, who is legally married to Menelaus, the king of Sparta. Paris visited Menelaus, and he ran away with lots of Menelaus’ treasure and with his wife. Paris treated his host abominably.

Did Helen run away with Paris willingly? I don’t know. Helen is tricky and hard to figure out.

Running away with Helen was and is a terrible insult to Menelaus and to Menelaus’ entire family. Menelaus and Agamemnon are the sons of Atreus. Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, is the older brother and the brother who rules a greater land, as seen by the number of ships the two kings brought to the Trojan War. Menelaus brought sixty ships, while Agamemnon brought one hundred ships.

Because Agamemnon is the older brother, he is the leader of the Greek troops in the Trojan War.

Agamemnon and Menelaus gathered many Greek ships and warriors to sail to Troy and make war against the Trojans.

When the Greek ships were gathered together and were ready to set sail against Troy, a wind blew in the wrong direction for them to sail. The goddess Artemis was angry at the Greeks because she knew that the result of the Trojan War would be lots of deaths, not just of warriors, but also of women and children. This is true of all wars, and it is a lesson that human beings forget after each war and relearn in the next war.

Artemis knew that Agamemnon’s warriors will cause much death of children, so she made him sacrifice one of his own daughters so that he will suffer what he will make other parents suffer.

Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia. This was a religious sacrifice of a human life to appease the goddess Artemis.

On the day that he quarreled with Achilles, Agamemnon told the prophet Calchas that he always brings bad news to Agamemnon. This is true. Calchas is the prophet who told Agamemnon that he had to sacrifice his daughter in order to get favorable winds that would sail the ships to Troy.

After the sacrifice of Iphigenia, Agamemnon and Menelaus set sail with all the Greek ships for Troy. They landed, and then the Trojan War started.

Aphrodite supports the Trojans during the war, while Hera and Athena support the Greeks.

Hera and Athena are happy for many Trojans to die during the Trojan War — all because of a beauty contest.

Such is the anger of the gods.

Copyrighted by Bruce D. Bruce

Note: the above is an excerpt from my book Homer’s Iliad: A Retelling in Prose. In my retelling, I incorporate explanatory material that Homer’s audience would have known, but that many people today do not know. The book is available here:






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