The Homeric world is patently not realistic, yet at the same time it is consistent. It is this consistency that enables it to be credible. The weather may only be of importance as an accompaniment, the topography changeable and the fighting not true to real life, but these are never barriers to understanding the poem and often are aids.

Weather and Seasons

The weather in the Iliad is never any concern unless it emphasises what is happening on the battlefield. In Book 7 (477ff.), Zeus thunders all night as he plans troubles for the men of both sides. In Book 16 (657f.), fierce fighting is accompanied by dark clouds and Zeus covers the conflict in the darkness of night, in order to intensify the struggle over his son Sarpedon's body. More radically, in Book 17 (366ff.), the fight for Patroclus' body is shrouded in darkness, while elsewhere there is bright sunlight. The rain of blood that Zeus sends in Book 11 (53) because he is planning many deaths and that he sends in 16. 459 to honour Sarpedon are further, more supernatural, examples of how weather is used to reflect upon the events of the war. It is never simply described without it conveying any significance.

The seasons, meanwhile, are never mentioned in the main narrative, despite their relative importance within the similes. We are given no idea as to what time of year the Iliad is set. Allied to this is the lack of focus on the discomforts that the different seasons would present.


The topography of the poem is similarly non-naturalistic. The River Scamander is sometimes a formidable obstacle, sometimes a trifling obstruction, easily ignored. The plain on which the war is fought is not characterised consistently, but throws up different features at different times, as the poet sees fit. For example, in Book 20, there is a hill, Callicolone, present, on which the gods sit, but which, until this point, has never been mentioned. The wall built by the Achaeans is sometimes represented as being there and sometimes is not represented at all. At 5.587, a warrior falls into deep sand, a hazard that is mentioned nowhere else in the poem, while a large stone (14.410) and a tree (6.39) appear as required but nowhere else. This stylised topography adds to the vivid nature of individual episodes and contests, without detracting from the poem as a whole.

The Fighting

The fighting in the Iliad is highly stylised. If a warrior is hit by an arrow or a spear of a hero, he simply dies immediately, rather than spending time groaning and dying a protracted death. Diomedes' speech to Paris, at 11.389ff., is a clear expression of this. Heroes who are injured, however, recover relatively quickly, with the single exception of Philoctetes who is left at Lemnos with an incurable wound (2.721f.). We also see repeated scenes where a hero is shot at but the arrow misses and kills another, less important figure. For a hero to die, there must be a set-piece duel. They are never killed by random shots. As is fitting, they dominate the battlefield and we are never shown a warrior of a lesser rank achieving any success. Although this is obviously not realistic, it is to be remembered that the heroes wear complete metal outfits and have been trained in the art of fighting, while the rest are mainly unarmed, a fact that, to some extent, accounts for the heroes' superiority.

The way in which the battles are fought is non-naturalistic. They are a series of single combats, in which other people play no part. While fighting each other, neither of the warriors will be attacked by a third party. There is also a stark contrast in the way in which the Achaeans and Trojans are described. When hit, the Achaeans do not groan loudly, while the Trojans do. They simply fight on or leave the battlefield manfully. The sequences of deaths are also regularly Trojan-Achaean-Trojan, while the Trojan army is represented throughout as rowdy and undisciplined and the Achaeans' as organised and silently determined. Implicitly as well as explicitly, therefore, the Achaeans' superiority is emphasised.

The warriors are also represented as knowing one another and invariably exchange speeches before embarking on their single combat. They also know about each other's families and about particular stories from each other's past. This serves to humanise them and to recall that there is an existence outside the conflict that they are presently engaged in. The mention of their families also cannot fail to imply the harsh reality of war, namely that many people will be deprived of their next of kin.


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