Some say the name ”Greek” is never mentioned in the The Iliad, is it true?

Some say the name “Greek” is never mentioned in the The Iliad, is it true?

“Greek” isn’t a Greek word

Greek is a Roman word, and the Romans are notorious for using the wrong names for everyone they encounter. The Britanni were one tribe of Celts, living on the White Island along the Channel coast. They were the first tribe of Island Celts that the Romans encountered, so they named the entire island Britannia. The first tribe they encountered on the far side of the Rhine River were the Germani, so they named the entire region Germania.

For some reason, English speakers have continued to use the Roman names for every country in the world, thousands of years after the fall of Rome.

Greece and Greeks are no different.

The Greeks call themselves Hellenes, and they call their country Hellas. I figure the polite thing to do, as an English speaker or a speaker of any language, is to forget the Roman name for them, and call them by their own name for themselves.

So, to return to your original question, of course the name Greek is never used in the Iliad, because the Hellenes don’t call themselves Greek, and never have, ever, in all of history.

But lets talk more about the Hellenes.

For most of their history, the Hellenes were a category of many separate independent nations. They were only ever unified by force, first by Philip II (who was a Hellene) of Macedon (which was one of the Hellenic kingdoms). Then, later by the Romans.

But before Philip, and between the collapse of that empire and the Roman conquest, they were all independent of each other.

But there was a concept called “Panhellenism” (panhellenismos in Hellenic). This was the idea that all of these separate independent nations had something in common, which foreigners didn’t share. Athens and Sparta might go to war against each other, but they were both Hellenic nations, and should never forget that. If a non-hellenic nation threatened any Hellenic nation, the various Hellenic nations would temporarily put their disagreements on hold, and fight against the non-hellenic threat. After that threat was gone, then it was back to “politics as usual” between the Hellenic nations.

But Panhellenism went beyond just a mutual defense agreement. Panhellenism also involved a certain set of “laws of war”, Hellenic nations didn’t commit atrocities or war crimes against other Hellenic nations, even when they were at war. Of course, when fighting against non-hellenic nations, all rules were off and any tactic was used. Other rules included suspending hostilities among Hellenic enemies during panhellenic religious festivals. Worshipping the Gods is more important than defeating your enemies, if you are a Hellene and those enemies are also Hellenes. At first there was only one panhellenic festival, and it happened once every four years: the Olympic Festival, which was to worship Zeus. But one at a time, over the course of more than a century, three other festivals were added, until there were four total. Each on a four-year cycle, each cycle off-set by one year. Thus, there was one panhellenic festival each year.

But the concept of Panhellenism didn’t always exist. The Hellenes existed long before they conceived of Panhellenism. Before that idea, the various Hellenic nations were even more radically independent. They were so independent that there was no name to refer to all of them as a group!

Let me say that again: there was a time, when there was no name for collectively referring to all of the nations that would eventually become the Hellenic nations. They all spoke slightly different dialects of the same language, and worshiped slightly different interpretations of the same religion, but there was no name to refer to them collectively.

This was the condition during the Trojan War. This was the condition when the Iliad was written some 400 years after the war ended. Therefore, I’m going to right now, invent a new name for this group of people. I’m going to call them “the colinguists”, at least for the purpose of this answer.

I don’t know what caused Panhellenism to be invented, and to start spreading. But I do know where the name comes from. When the colinguists realized that they should probably talk about what they had in common, they decided that they needed a name for their category. So they turned to a different legend relating to the time around the Trojan War.

As we know, Helen of Troy was married to the King of Sparta, Menelaus, before she ran off to Troy.

What most people don’t know is that before she married him, she was courted by everyone. Literally, every single kingdom that spoke the same language sent a prince to try to marry Helen. Every. Single. One. Now, Helen’s father was rather progressive for his time, and he decided that he would let Helen choose who would become her husband. Then, her father gathered together all of these princes, and held a religious ceremony. He invoked Zeus the God of Justice, and demanded that all the princes swear an oath. He demanded that they swear that whoever Helen chose, the rest would respect her choice. That none would try to kidnap her, and that if anyone did, then every other kingdom represented there would go to war together to punish the offender.

This was the first time in all of history that the colinguists had even considered doing anything together!

Now Paris, second son of King Priam of Troy, was not one of the original suitors of Helen, and therefore had not sworn the oath. But several years later, he ran away with Helen, and this activated the oath, and caused the Trojan War.

So, many centuries later, when the concept that would eventually be named Panhellenism was being invented, the people thinking about it, and talking about it, and writing about it, needed a name. The various nations that they wanted to talk about were the descendants of all of the nations that were represented by princes who were suitors of Helen. So these thinkers added an extra lambda and an extra epsilon to turn Helen into Hellene, to refer to any person who is a descendant of an subject of any kingdom represented by the princes courting Helen. (the final e is pronounces, not silent. All the e’s are short. hel-en-e)

Here is a list of every suitor who came to try to marry Helen:


Ajax the Great

Ajax the Lesser










































Each one was the prince of a different kingdom. Any person who is a descendant of any subject of any of those kingdoms is a Hellene. But that term only comes into use hundreds of years after the Trojan War.

During the war, and for the next several centuries after it, there is not single word for all of these people. Homer doesn’t use one. No one else does either.

Homer uses three different words, apparently interchangeably: Achaians, Daanans, and Argives. If someone were to show that there is some pattern indicating, in each place where Homer uses one of those names, why he picks the one that he did, that person probably deserves a PhD in classics.

Achaea, Daanaea, and Argos were three of the Kingdoms represented in the coalition which sacked Troy. They were probably the three largest and most powerful, in that order. That is: Achaea was largest and most powerful, Daanaea second, and Argos third.

My guess at what Homer means is “Achaea and its allies” or “Daanaea and its allies” or “Argos and its allies”, which all refer to the same group, since all three were allied to each other, and to a bunch of other kingdoms as well.

Eventually, the Hellenes.

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