The action of the Iliad occurs within a very limited timeframe. We do not see the start of the war nor do we see anything from the first nine years nor do we see Troy fall. Instead, only a few days in the tenth year are covered, separated from the rest of the war by two periods of nine days at both ends of the poem - the plague and the preparation of Hector's funeral. However, in the course of relating these few days, Homer succeeds in producing a poem that is representative of the whole war. The major events that have occurred prior to the period described are symbolically represented by events within the period, while those that are to come are foreshadowed or prophesied.
In Book 2, we are treated to a catalogue of the ships and peoples who are contesting the war. This catalogue and the descriptions of the preparations of the two sides for battle would be more fitting at the start of the war, and yet Homer has seamlessly managed to fit them into the structure of a poem that details the events of the tenth year of that war, without any loss of coherence. Similarly, when Helen stands with Priam at the walls of Troy in Book 3 and points out the great Achaean heroes, it is a scene we would have expected to have occurred long before now. In both cases, the poet represents events that naturally took place in the early days of the war and fits them into the present situation. He contextualises the few days that he is covering.
In Book 3, we are also shown the duel between Paris and Menelaus, which is representative of the start of the conflict. Paris constantly challenges the best of the Achaeans to oppose him in single combat. Menelaus accepts and the two characters whose personal quarrel has resulted in the war find themselves face to face. Menelaus has the better of the contest and is on the point of killing Paris, when the latter is suddenly rescued by Aphrodite, the goddess whose gift to him started the whole affair. She transports him to his room and forces Helen, against her will, to return there and sleep with him. Therefore, we see in this episode an echo of the war's origin. We see Paris the aggressor, ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of his actions; Menelaus the victim, wronged by one of the gods of the victory that should have been his; Aphrodite, the meddlesome goddess, whose allegiance to Paris and his marriage to Helen brings frustration to Menelaus and his fellow Achaean and; and Helen who is reluctant to be with Paris and is conscious of her own guilt.
As far as future events after the end of the poem are concerned, the fall of Troy and the death of Achilles are constantly foreshadowed within it. In Book 2 (300ff.), Odysseus reminds the Achaeans of the prophecy of Calchas at Aulis that they would sack Troy in the tenth year of the war. On a divine level, Zeus makes it clear throughout that the city is fated to fall and that any success for the Trojans is only short-lived, while symbolically, the destruction of Hector represents the city's own destruction. Having heard in Book 6 that Hector alone is defending the city, the poet makes a pointed remark when describing the reaction of the Trojan people to the mutilation of their hero's body. After relating how lamentation filled the city, he notes that, 'it was as if all lofty Troy were burning utterly in fire', thus unequivocally connecting Hector's death to the now- inevitable fall of the city.
As for the death of Achilles, as soon as he re-enters the fray, we know, as indeed he does, that he will die shortly. The fact that this does not occur within the poem does not matter, since the fact and manner of his death have already been made clear. After the death of Patroclus, Achilles' cries of grief reach his mother Thetis' ears. Briefly, she laments her own misfortune in raising a son who will never now return to his father's home, but will die on the plains of Troy. She then goes to him and finds that he is intent on killing Hector, despite knowing that such a course of action will lead inevitably to his death. For he has always been aware of the prophecy that he would either die young and gloriously, or old and unknown. Here, when reminded by his mother of his predicament, he clearly states his choice - 'then let me die directly' (18.98).
Further clarity is added to the manner of his death when his horse Xanthus, briefly blessed with the power of human speech, prophesies that he will be 'brought down in battle by a god and a man' (19.417). The final piece of information is provided by Hector in his prophecy as he dies. Apollo will be the god, Paris the man and the location will be the Scaean gates (22.359ff.). We are given, therefore, a relatively
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