Scholars’ best estimate for the composition of The Iliad is sometime between 725 and 675 BCE, and the poem itself recounts some of the events of the Trojan War, which had taken place centuries before, around 1250 BCE. This very old poem is therefore set in the poet’s own distant past. The most specific and important time is the one that contains the action of The Iliad itself, which Homer sets in the tenth and final year of the Trojan War. The geography of the poem is as important as the timing of the action. Troy was a city situated near the west coast of what is now Turkey. The city faced the Aegean Sea, which is the body of water that the Greeks had to cross in order to mount their attack. Though facing the sea, Troy was not built directly on the coast but set back from the sea, separated from it by a stretch of plains.
The time and place of The Iliad are both important to the story since they each contribute to the poem’s theme that war is a persistent element of human affairs. Because the poem takes place in the tenth year of the Trojan War, it means that when the action starts, the Greek and Trojan forces have already been fighting for what seems an interminable period, with the advantage oscillating back and forth between the two armies at the gods’ constantly changing whims. The geography of the poem also keeps the Trojans and the Greeks locked in battle, contributing to the protracted nature of the war. Since the Trojans’ access to the Aegean Sea is blocked, they are essentially landlocked with nowhere to go, leaving them no choice but to keep fighting. By contrast, the Greeks could leave if they wanted to, but once the Trojans storm their massive wall and threaten to burn their ships, the prospect of getting stranded becomes urgent. The majority of the fighting takes place on the plains that separate Troy from the sea, and this in-between space, the battlefield itself, symbolizes the uncertainty of the seemingly unending war.
Lofted far above the fray, the gods observe the war from their halls on top of Mount Olympus. Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece, and its tallest peak is the mythical home of the Greek gods. Though far from the crushing violence of battle, Mount Olympus is not exactly removed from human affairs unfolding below. Whenever the narrative shifts to Olympus’s peak, we find the gods obsessing over the fates of their favorite humans or arguing about which of the two armies to support. Much of the action that takes place on Mount Olympus occurs in the hall of Zeus, the father of the gods. Zeus’s hall on Olympus has a function in the poem similar to that of Priam’s palace in Troy. Both offer places to observe the war from a distance. They are also the only places in the poem where women characters appear. The similarity between Zeus’s hall and Priam’s palace indicates that the gods are not that different from humans, an idea that Homer confirms in his depiction of the pettiness of the gods’ squabbles, which mirrors the trivial causes of the human war unfolding far below.
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