The reported thoracic injuries in Homer's Iliad

The reported thoracic injuries in Homer’s Iliad

By Efstratios Apostolakis, Georgia Apostolaki, Mary Apostolaki, and Maria Chorti

Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Vol.4 (2010)

Abstract: Homer’s Iliad is considered to be a prominent and representative work of the tradition of the ancient Greek epic poetry. In this poem Homer presents the battles which took place during the last year of the 10-year lasting Trojan War between Achaeans and Trojans. We wanted to examine the chest wounds, especially those which are described in detail, according to their localization, severity and mortality. Finally, there are reported 54 consecutive thoracic injuries in the Iliad. The mostly used weapons were the spear (63%), the stones (7.4%), the arrow (5.5%) and the sword (5.5%). We divided the injuries according to their severity in mild (those which did not cause serious injury to the victim), medium (those which cause the victim to abandon the battlefield), and severe (those which cause death of the victim). According to this classification, the reported injuries were mild in 11.11%, medium in 18.52%, and severe in the last 70.37% of the reported cases. In other words, 89% of the injuries belong to the medium or severe category of thoracic injury. As far as the mortality of the injuries is concerned, 38 out of 54 thoracic injuries include death, which makes the mortality percentage reach 70.37%. Concerning the “allocation of the roles”, the Achaean were in 68% perpetrators and the Trojans in only 32%. In terms of gravity, out of 38 mortal injuries 30 involve a Trojan (78.95%) and the remaining 8 an Achaean (21.05%). The excellent and detailed description of the injuries by Homer, as well as of the symptoms, may reveal a man with knowledge of anatomy and medicine who cared for the injured warriors in the battlefield.

Introduction: “…while fighting Idomeneus stabbed at the middle of his chest with the spear, and broke the bronze armour about him which in time before had guarded his body from destruction. He cried out then, a great cry, broken, the spear in him, and fell, thunderously, and the spear in his heart was struck fast but the heart was panting still and beating to shake the butt end of the spear. Then and there Ares the huge took his life away from him…” (Book 13, verses 438-444)

The “Iliad” and “Odyssey” of Homer are the foundation stones of classical Greek literature, and therefore also of the literature of Western civilization. Homer was read, memorized and quoted throughout the great age of ancient Greece, and was regarded as the poet who surpassed all others. The Iliad and the Odyssey comprise two of the most important works of classical Greek literature and they have influenced, to a great extent, Western literature. The Iliad, in particular, is considered to be a prominent and representative work of the tradition of the ancient Greek epic poetry. By means of a vivid, unsurpassed description of the war of Troy the poet presents the battles which took place during the last year of this 10-year war. In an ambient of insufferable impatience-or even despair-as well as nostalgia for their country, the Trojans faced the Achaeans, the former being exhausted due to the long-lasting siege of the latter. Homer offers the description of a merciless and rabid combat that leads to the destructive, on the part of the Trojans, ending. The poem unravels the story of a war which proves to be a vacillating and inexpedient conflict.

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