What started the Trojan War?

The Trojan War started because Paris, the prince of Troy, eloped with Helen of Sparta. Helen was married to the Achaean Menelaus at the time, but even so, the goddess of love, Aphrodite, promised Paris that Helen would be his. Paris traveled to Sparta to claim his prize, and the pair stole away together back to Troy while Menelaus was abroad. After a failed diplomatic mission to recover Helen following her abduction, Agamemnon assembled an army and shipped off to Troy. Although the Iliad doesn’t provide the full details surrounding the origins of the Trojan War, Homer gives a few scattered hints about the events that started it all. The most direct reference occurs in Book 9, when Achilles blames Helen and her beauty for the Trojan War: “Why must we battle Trojans, men of Argos? Why did he muster an army, lead us here, that son of Atreus? Why, why in the world if not for Helen with her loose and lustrous hair?”

Homer drops other, less directs hints elsewhere in the poem. In Book 6, for instance, Helen castigates herself for her role in the war, wishing that “some black whirlwind had rushed me out to the mountains /  into the surf where the roaring breakers crash and drag / and the waves had swept me off before all this had happened!”

Why does Achilles refuse to fight for the bulk of the poem?

Achilles refuses to fight because Agamemnon stole away from him a beautiful young maiden named Briseis whom he’d won as a prize for his achievement in battle. Agamemnon confronts Achilles in Book 1 and, despite the great warrior’s resistance, forces him to yield and give the young woman up. Agamemnon’s action strikes Achilles as an abuse of power and an expression of the king’s greed. Betrayed and humiliated, Achilles declares that Agamemnon no longer has his allegiance.

Many important heroes attempt to talk Achilles down, including Odysseus, Ajax, and Phoenix, who together comprise the embassy Agamemnon sends in Book 9 to offer Achilles an enormous gift and make amends. Even so, Achilles holds onto his grudge throughout the bulk of the poem. Although Achilles’s rage strikes many characters (and likely the reader) as foolhardy and cruel, it’s worth mentioning that Agamemnon’s betrayal has a larger symbolic significance. When he forcibly takes Briseis away from Achilles and incites the warrior’s rage, Agamemnon essentially replicates the origin of the Trojan War itself, when Paris abducted Helen.

Why does Zeus support the Trojans?

Zeus supports the Trojan army because of a pact he makes with the sea nymph Thetis on behalf of her son, Achilles. After Agamemnon abducts Briseis, Achilles becomes so angry with Agamemnon that he will stop at nothing to get revenge on the king. Not only does Achilles himself refuse to return to battle, he also asks his mother to go to Zeus and ask for the god’s assistance in turning the tide of war against the Achaeans. Near the end of Book 1, Thetis does as her son requests and begs Zeus: “Come, grant the Trojans victory after victory till the Achaean armies pay my dear son back, building higher the honor he deserves!” 

Zeus grants the sea nymph’s request even though he fears Hera’s wrath. Though Homer doesn’t explain why Zeus agrees, Greek mythology tells us that Zeus had once fallen in love with Thetis, which makes him more likely to grant her requests. Furthermore, as readers learn in Book 5, one of Troy’s best warriors, Sarpedon, happens to be a child of Zeus’s and one of his favorite sons. The greatest Trojan of them all, Hector, also has distant blood ties to Zeus through the lineage of his father, Priam. All of these details contribute to Zeus’s support of the Trojans throughout The Iliad.

Why does Hera defend the Achaeans?

Whereas Zeus supports the Trojans, his wife, Hera, defends the Achaeans. Hera has a grudge against the Trojans because of an event known as the Judgment of Paris. Back when Achilles’s parents got married, all of the gods except for the goddess of discord, Eris, were invited. Annoyed by her exclusion, Eris tossed a golden apple into the crowd with the words “to the fairest” inscribed on it. Three goddesses, each believing herself the fairest, attempted to claim the apple: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. A dispute erupted and Zeus concluded that Paris, the prince of Troy, should determine which goddess was fairest. In an attempt to buy his favor, each of the goddesses promised Paris a bribe, and in the end, he chose Aphrodite, who had promised him the hand of Helen of Sparta. Paris’s decision ultimately help set the Trojan War in motion, and his decision spurned Hera, who now wishes earnestly for the Trojans’ defeat. Although Homer doesn’t recount this story in the Iliad, he does directly reference the Judgment of Paris in Book 24: [Paris] offended Athena and Hera—both goddesses. When they came to his shepherd’s fold he favored Love who dangled before his eyes the lust that loosed disaster." Even without this allusion, however, Homer’s original audience would have known the backstory of Hera’s allegiance to the Achaeans.

Why does Achilles finally rejoin the battle?

Achilles finally rejoins the battle after Hector kills his best friend, Patroclus. Patroclus had approached Achilles about joining the fight to help the suffering Achaeans, and even though Achilles still refused to fight himself, he lent Patroclus his armor and sent his friend into the fray. In Book 16, Patroclus proves his mettle on the battlefield, slaying many Trojans. But as the poet alludes frequently, Patroclus is fated to die in battle, and after the god Apollo sidelines him, Hector deals him a death blow with a spear. When Achilles hears of Patroclus’s death, the news shatters him. At this point, the object of Achilles’s rage shifts from Agamemnon to Hector, and he decides to rejoin the war. Since Hector now has Achilles’s armor, which he stripped from Patroclus’s body, Thetis commissions the smith god Hephaestus to make her son new armor. Once he’s fully outfitted again, Achilles leaps back into battle with bloody vengeance.