The many characters of the Iliad are catalogued; the latter half of Book II, the "Catalogue of Ships", lists commanders and cohorts; battle scenes feature quickly slain minor characters.
- The Achaeans (Ἀχαιοί) – Danaans (Δαναοί), Argives (Ἀργεĩοι), or Greeks.
- Agamemnon – King of Mycenae, leader of the Greeks.
- Achilles – son of Peleus and divine Thetis, foremost warrior, leader of the Myrmidons and King of Phthia.
- Odysseus – King of Ithaca, Greek commander.
- Ajax the Greater – son of Telamon and king of Salamis.
- Menelaus – King of Sparta, husband of Helen and brother of Agamemnon.
- Diomedes – son of Tydeus, King of Argos.
- Ajax the Lesser – son of Oileus, commander of the Locrians.
- Patroclus – Achilles' closest companion.
- Nestor – King of Pylos, and trusted advisor to Agamemnon.
Achilles and Patroclus
Much debate has surrounded the nature of the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus, as to whether it can be described as a homoerotic one or not. Some Classical and Hellenistic Athenian scholars perceived it as pederastic,[i] while others perceived it as a platonic warrior-bond.
- The Trojan men
- Dardanos – First king of Troy, and he originally named the city Dardania.
- Hector – Prince of Troy, son of King Priam, and the foremost Trojan warrior.
- Aeneas – son of Anchises and Aphrodite.
- Deiphobus – brother of Hector and Paris.
- Paris – Prince of Troy, son of King Priam, and Helen's lover/abductor.
- Priam – the aged King of Troy.
- Polydamas – a prudent commander whose advice is ignored; he is Hector's foil.
- Agenor – son of Antenor, a Trojan warrior who attempts to fight Achilles (Book XXI).
- Sarpedon, son of Zeus – killed by Patroclus. Was friend of Glaucus and co-leader of the Lycians (fought for the Trojans).
- Glaucus, son of Hippolochus – friend of Sarpedon and co-leader of the Lycians (fought for the Trojans).
- Euphorbus – first Trojan warrior to wound Patroclus.
- Dolon – a spy upon the Greek camp (Book X).
- Antenor – King Priam's advisor, who argues for returning Helen to end the war.
- Polydorus – son of Priam and Laothoe.
- Pandarus – famous archer and son of Lycaon.
- The Trojan women
- Hecuba (Ἑκάβη, Hekábe) – Priam's wife; mother of Hector, Cassandra, Paris, and others.
- Helen (Ἑλένη) – daughter of Zeus; Menelaus's wife; espoused first to Paris, then to Deiphobus; her being taken by Paris back to Troy precipitated the war.
- Andromache – Princess of Troy, Hector's wife, mother of Astyanax.
- Cassandra – Priam's daughter.
- Briseis – a Trojan woman captured by Achilles from a previous siege, over whom Achilles's quarrel with Agamemnon began.
In the literary Trojan War of the Iliad, the Olympian gods, goddesses, and minor deities fight among themselves and participate in human warfare, often by interfering with humans to counter other gods. Unlike their portrayals in Greek religion, Homer's portrayal of gods suited his narrative purpose. The gods in traditional thought of fourth-century Athenians were not spoken of in terms familiar to us from Homer. The Classical-era historian Herodotus says that Homer and Hesiod, his contemporary, were the first writers to name and describe the gods' appearance and character.
Mary Lefkowitz (2003) discusses the relevance of divine action in the Iliad, attempting to answer the question of whether or not divine intervention is a discrete occurrence (for its own sake), or if such godly behaviors are mere human character metaphors. The intellectual interest of Classic-era authors, such as Thucydides and Plato, was limited to their utility as "a way of talking about human life rather than a description or a truth", because, if the gods remain religious figures, rather than human metaphors, their "existence"—without the foundation of either dogma or a bible of faiths—then allowed Greek culture the intellectual breadth and freedom to conjure gods fitting any religious function they required as a people. The religion had no founder and was not the creation of an inspired teacher which were popular origins of existing religions in the world. The individuals were free to believe what they wanted, as the Greek religion was created out of a consensus of the people. These beliefs coincide to the thoughts about the gods in polytheistic Greek religion. Adkins and Pollard (2020/1998), agree with this by saying, “the early Greeks personalized every aspect of their world, natural and cultural, and their experiences in it. The earth, the sea, the mountains, the rivers, custom-law (themis), and one’s share in society and its goods were all seen in personal as well as naturalistic terms.” As a result of this thinking, each god or goddess in Polytheistic Greek religion is attributed to an aspect of the human world. For example, Poseidon is the god of the sea, Aphrodite is the goddess of beauty, Ares is the god of war, and so on and so forth for many other gods. This is how Greek culture was defined as many Athenians felt the presence of their gods through divine intervention in significant events in their lives. Oftentimes they found these events to be mysterious and inexplicable.
Psychologist Julian Jaynes (1976) uses the Iliad as a major piece of evidence for his theory of the Bicameral Mind, which posits that until about the time described in the Iliad, humans had a far different mentality from present day humans. He says that humans during that time were lacking what we today call consciousness. He suggests that humans heard and obeyed commands from what they identified as gods, until the change in human mentality that incorporated the motivating force into the conscious self. He points out that almost every action in the Iliad is directed, caused, or influenced by a god, and that earlier translations show an astonishing lack of words suggesting thought, planning, or introspection. Those that do appear, he argues, are misinterpretations made by translators imposing a modern mentality on the characters.
Some scholars believe that the gods may have intervened in the mortal world because of quarrels they may have had among each other. Homer interprets the world at this time by using the passion and emotion of the gods to be determining factors of what happens on the human level. An example of one of these relationships in the Iliad occurs between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite. In the final book of the poem Homer writes, “He offended Athena and Hera—both goddesses.” Athena and Hera are envious of Aphrodite because of a beauty pageant on Mount Olympus in which Paris chose Aphrodite to be the most beautiful goddess over both Hera and Athena. Wolfgang Kullmann further goes on to say, “Hera’s and Athena’s disappointment over the victory of Aphrodite in the Judgement of Paris determines the whole conduct of both goddesses in The Iliad and is the cause of their hatred for Paris, the Judge, and his town Troy.” Hera and Athena then continue to support the Achaean forces throughout the poem because Paris is part of the Trojans, while Aphrodite aids Paris and the Trojans. The emotions between the goddesses often translate to actions they take in the mortal world. For example, in Book 3 of The Iliad, Paris challenges any of the Achaeans to a single combat and Menelaus steps forward. Menelaus was dominating the battle and was on the verge of killing Paris. “Now he’d have hauled him off and won undying glory but Aphrodite, Zeus’s daughter was quick to the mark, snapped the rawhide strap.” Aphrodite intervened out of her own self-interest to save Paris from the wrath of Menelaus because Paris had helped her to win the beauty pageant. The partisanship of Aphrodite towards Paris induces constant intervention by all of the gods, especially to give motivational speeches to their respective proteges, while often appearing in the shape of a human being they are familiar with. This connection of emotions to actions is just one example out of many that occur throughout the poem.
- The major deities:
- Zeus (Neutral)
- Hera (Achaeans)
- Artemis (Trojans)
- Apollo (Trojans)
- Hades (Neutral)
- Aphrodite (Trojans)
- Ares (Achaeans, then Trojans)
- Athena (Achaeans)
- Hermes (Neutral/Achaeans)
- Poseidon (Achaeans)
- Hephaestus (Achaeans)
- The minor deities:
- Eris (Trojans)
- Iris (Neutral)
- Thetis (Achaeans)
- Leto (Trojans)
- Proteus (Achaeans)
- Scamander (Trojans)
- Phobos (Trojans)
- Deimos (Trojans)
- Hypnos (Achaeans)