HOMER: The Iliad [Books 13-24]

HOMER: The Iliad [Books 13-24]

Book 13 – The Fourth Battle Continued, in which Neptune Assists the Greeks: The Acts of Idomeneus

  • Neptune, concerned for the loss of the Grecians, upon seeing the fortification forced by Hector, (who had entered the gate near the station of the Ajaxes,) assumes the shape of Calchas, and inspires those heroes to oppose him: then, in the form of one of the generals, encourages the other Greeks who had retired to their vessels. The Ajaxes form their troops in a close phalanx, and put a stop to Hector and the Trojans. Several deeds of valour are performed; Meriones, losing his spear in the encounter, repairs to seek another at the tent of Idomeneus: this occasions a conversation between those two warriors, who return together to the battle. Idomeneus signalizes his courage above the rest; he kills Othryoneus, Asius, and Alcathous: Deiphobus and Æneas march against him, and at length Idomeneus retires. Menelaus wounds Helenus, and kills Pisander. The Trojans are repulsed on the left wing; Hector still keeps his ground against the Ajaxes, till, being galled by the Locrian slingers and archers, Polydamas advises to call a council of war: Hector approves of his advice, but goes first to rally the Trojans; upbraids Paris, rejoins Polydamas, meets Ajax again, and renews the attack.
  • The eight-and-twentieth day still continues. The scene is between the Grecian wall and the sea-shore.

“All things pall after a while- sleep, love, sweet song, and stately dance- still these are things of which a man would surely have his fill rather than of battle, whereas it is of battle that the Trojans are insatiate.”

“No man can do more than in him lies, no matter how willing he may be.”

The concept of Fate is revisited again in this book of the Iliad. Polydamas rebukes Hector for esteeming himself peerless in counsel. Polydamas asserts that the heavens have blessed individual men to be soldiers, counselors, dancers, singers, etc., but have not blessed one man with all these talents. The talents of a man, and thus his occupation, are predetermined by the gods, and are independent of the will of the man himself.

Paris also tells Hector that a man can do no more than what lies within him, no matter how willing he may be. Because two other men tell Hector that Fate is unavoidable, the reader perceives Hector’s defiance against Fate itself. Indeed, in a previous book, Hector defies the omen of the hawk and serpent, believing instead that he will win regardless of the contrary signs.

Book 14 – Juno Deceives Jupiter by the Girdle of Venus

  • Nestor, sitting at the table with Machaon, is alarmed with the increasing clamour of war, and hastens to Agamemnon; on his way he meets that prince with Diomed and Ulysses, whom he informs of the extremity of the danger. Agamemnon proposes to make their escape by night, which Ulysses withstands; to which Diomed adds his advice that, wounded as they were, they should go forth and encourage the army with their presence, which advice is pursued. Juno, seeing the partiality of Jupiter to the Trojans, forms a design to over-reach him: she sets off her charms with the utmost care, and (the more surely to enchant him) obtains the magic girdle of Venus. She then applies herself to the god of sleep, and, with some difficulty, persuades him to seal the eyes of Jupiter: this done, she goes to mount Ida, where the god, at first sight, is ravished with her beauty, sinks in her embraces, and is laid asleep. Neptune takes advantage of his slumber, and succours the Greeks: Hector is struck to the ground with a prodigious stone by Ajax, and carried off from the battle: several actions succeed, till the Trojans, much distressed, are obliged to give way: the lesser Ajax signalizes himself in a particular manner.

“Wretch, you should have commanded some other and baser army, and not been ruler over us to whom Jove has allotted a life of hard fighting from youth to old age, till we every one of us perish.”

“I want you to endow me with some of those fascinating charms, the spells of which bring all things mortal and immortal to your feet.”

“Love, desire, and that sweet flattery which steals the judgment even of the most prudent.”

“Night who cows both men and gods.”

Agamemnon again displays his inclination to flee whenever he faces defeat, and Ulysses and Diomed again display their courage in the face of almost certain death. Ulysses and Diomed are much more admirable and noble men than Agamemnon. They are courageous, strong, noble, and steadfast while Agamemnon is hesitant, often dismayed, and cowardly; wishing to save his own life rather than die gloriously in battle.

Homer describes Night as something that terrifies both mortals and immortals alike. Zeus does not dare to chase Sleep in order to avenge himself upon him for making him fall asleep while Juno injures his son Hercules because Sleep sought and received the protection of Night. Thus, there are two things which even the gods must obey: Fate and Night.

Book 15 – The Fifth Battle at the Ships; and the Acts of Ajax

  • Jupiter, awaking, sees the Trojans repulsed from the trenches, Hector in a swoon, and Neptune at the head of the Greeks: he is highly incensed at the artifice of Juno, who appeases him by her submissions; she is then sent to Iris and Apollo. Juno, repairing to the assembly of the gods, attempts, with extraordinary address, to incense them against Jupiter; in particular she touches Mars with a violent resentment; he is ready to take arms, but is prevented by Minerva. Iris and Apollo obey the orders of Jupiter; Iris commands Neptune to leave the battle, to which, after much reluctance and passion, he consents. Apollo reinspires Hector with vigour, brings him back to the battle, marches before him with his aegis, and turns the fortune of the fight. He breaks down great part of the Grecian wall: the Trojans rush in, and attempt to fire the first line of the fleet, but are, as yet, repelled by the greater Ajax with a prodigious slaughter.

“Nevertheless it cuts me to the very heart that any one should rebuke so angrily another who is his own peer, and of like empire with himself.”

“It is easy to see when Jove is helping people and means to help them still further, or again when he is bringing them down and will do nothing for them; he is now on our side, and is going against the Argives. Therefore swarm round the ships and fight. If any of you is struck by spear or sword and loses his life, let him die; he dies with honour who dies fighting for his country.”

“Be men, and fear dishonor. In flight there is neither gain nor glory.”

Mars becomes angry when he hears that his son has died in the war, but lays aside his anger when Minerva convinces him that Jove will punish him and the other gods if Mars seeks revenge.

Jove rebukes Neptune and threatens to physically injure him if he does not desist from assisting the Danaans. Neptune feels indignant upon hearing Jove’s threat. Neptune considers himself to be the equal to Jove, and Jove’s rebuke wounds Neptune’s pride. However, Neptune lays aside his anger after Iris reminds him that Jove is older and stronger than Neptune, and that the erinyes always take the side of the older combatant.

Only Achilles and Zeus choose not to lay aside their anger. Jove does not lay aside his anger because he is confident that no mortal or immortal can challenge his power. Achilles does not lay aside his anger because he knows that he is fated to die young, and therefore peremptorily demands glory in exchange for his short life.

Book 16 – The Sixth Battle; the Acts and Death of Patroclus

  • Patroclus (in pursuance of the request of Nestor in the eleventh book) entreats Achilles to suffer him to go to the assistance of the Greeks with Achilles’ troops and armour. He agrees to it, but at the same time charges him to content himself with rescuing the fleet, without further pursuit of the enemy. The armour, horses, soldiers, and officers are described. Achilles offers a libation for the success of his friend, after which Patroclus leads the Myrmidons to battle. The Trojans, at the sight of Patroclus in Achilles’ armour, taking him for that hero, are cast into the uttermost consternation; he beats them off from the vessels, Hector himself flies, Sarpedon is killed, though Jupiter was averse to his fate. Several other particulars of the battle are described; in the heat of which, Patroclus, neglecting the orders of Achilles, pursues the foe to the walls of Troy, where Apollo repulses and disarms him, Euphorbus wounds him, and Hector kills him, which concludes the book.

“Aeneas, for all your bravery, you will not be able to make an end of every one who comes against you. You are only a mortal like myself, and if I were to hit you in the middle of your shield with my spear, however strong and self-confident you may be, I should soon vanquish you, and you would yield your life to Hades of the noble steeds.”

“The counsels of Jove are past man’s understanding.”

Patroclus and Hector do not know that their actions are hastening their death. Patroclus sues for permission from Achilles to lead the Myrmidons into battle against the Trojans while wearing the armor of Achilles. Achilles grants the request, but admonishes Patroclus to only drive the Trojans from the ships and not to pursue them to the city walls.  Patroclus does pursue the Trojans to the wall because of his pride and foolishness, and there dies at the hands of Fate, Apollo, Euphorbus, and Hector, who deals the death blow and vaunts over Patroclus’ body. Patroclus prophesies Hector’s death at the hands of Achilles.

One prevailing message in this book of the Iliad is that despite one’s own bravery, courage, and confidence, one cannot escape death. Patroclus was eager to destroy the Trojans, and became over confident after successfully driving the enemy host from the ships. Yet he was ultimately slain.

Book 17 – The Seventh Battle, For the Body of Patroclus – The Acts of Menelaus

  • Menelaus, upon the death of Patroclus, defends his body from the enemy: Euphorbus, who attempts it, is slain. Hector advancing, Menelaus retires; but soon returns with Ajax, and drives him off. This, Glaucus objects to Hector as a flight, who thereupon puts on the armour he had won from Patroclus, and renews the battle. The Greeks give way, till Ajax rallies them: Aeneas sustains the Trojans. Aeneas and Hector Attempt the chariot of Achilles, which is borne off by Automedon. The horses of Achilles deplore the loss of Patroclus: Jupiter covers his body with a thick darkness: the noble prayer of Ajax on that occasion. Menelaus sends Antilochus to Achilles, with the news of Patroclus’ death: then returns to the fight, where, though attacked with the utmost fury, he and Meriones, assisted by the Ajaces, bear off the body to the ships.
  • The time is the evening of the eight-and-twentieth day. The scene lies in the fields before Troy.

“Aeneas, can you not manage, even though heaven be against us, to save high Ilius? I have known men, whose numbers, courage, and self-reliance have saved their people in spite of Jove.”

Homer uses many metaphors throughout the Iliad, often comparing the actions of men to the actions of animals or nature. Homer utilizes these metaphors to convey the kinship between Man, other life-forms, and the universe. Many of the metaphors are used when Homer describes battle formations or individual fights between two men.

War is a microcosm of the universe; one life struggles against another in the quest for survival. However, only men desire something more than mere survival; they seek glory. The lion does not kill the zebra for glory, but rather for sustenance. Men kill each other for glory; men recognize that they cannot escape death, whether they are a coward or a brave man, and thus they want to achieve immortality by winning glory on the battlefield.

Book 18 – The Grief of Achilles, and New Armor Made Him by Vulcan

  • The news of the death of Patroclus is brought to Achilles by Antilochus. Thetis, hearing his lamentations, comes with all her sea- nymphs to comfort him. The speeches of the mother and son on this occasion. Iris appears to Achilles by the command of Juno, and orders him to show himself at the head of the intrenchments. The sight of him turns the fortunes of the day, and the body of Patroclus is carried off by the Greeks. The Trojans call a council, where Hector and Polydamas disagree in their opinions: but the advice of the former prevails, to remain encamped in the field. The grief of Achilles over the body of Patroclus.
  • Thetis goes to the palace of Vulcan to obtain new arms for her son. The description of the wonderful works of Vulcan: and, lastly, that noble one of the shield of Achilles.
  • The latter part of the nine-and-twentieth day, and the night ensuing, take up this book: the scene is at Achilles’ tent on the sea-shore, from whence it changes to the palace of Vulcan.

“Perish strife both from among gods and men, and anger, wherein even a righteous man will harden his heart- which rises up in the soul of a man like smoke, and the taste thereof is sweeter than drops of honey.”

“The god of war deals out like measure to all, and the slayer may yet be slain.”

Achilles laments over the dead body of Patroclus. He chastises himself for not being at Patroclus’ side at the hour of his death, and realizes that his anger was the cause of Patroclus’ death. He blames himself for the death of his friend, and this greatly grieves him. Although the anger and bitterness Achilles harbors towards Agamemnon is as sweet as honey, the anger arising from the grief over Patroclus’ death motivates Achilles to vow revenge. Achilles does not care about his life, but solely to avenge Patroclus by killing Hector.

The new shield which Vulcan fashions for Achilles has an ornate scene depicting the drama of life on earth. On the shield there are scenes of men plowing fields, women and youths dancing and marrying, and battles between armed forces. The drama has not much changed during the thousands of years since the Iliad was written.

Book 19 – The Reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon

  • Thetis brings to her son the armour made by Vulcan. She preserves the body of his friend from corruption, and commands him to assemble the army, to declare his resentment at an end. Agamemnon and Achilles are solemnly reconciled: the speeches, presents, and ceremonies on that occasion. Achilles is with great difficulty persuaded to refrain from the battle till the troops have refreshed themselves by the advice of Ulysses. The presents are conveyed to the tent of Achilles, where Briseis laments over the body of Patroclus. The hero obstinately refuses all repast, and gives himself up to lamentations for his friend. Minerva descends to strengthen him, by the order of Jupiter. He arms for the fight: his appearance described. He addresses himself to his horses, and reproaches them with the death of Patroclus. One of them is miraculously endued with voice, and inspired to prophesy his fate: but the hero, not astonished by that prodigy, rushes with fury to the combat.
  • The thirtieth day. The scene is on the sea-shore.

“It was not I that did it: Jove, and Fate, and Erinys that walks in darkness struck me mad when we were assembled on the day that I took from Achilles the meed that had been awarded to him.”

“Folly, eldest of Jove’s daughters, shuts men’s eyes to their destruction.”

“The day of your death is near, and the blame will not be ours, for it will be heaven and stern fate that will destroy you.”

Achilles and Agamemnon forgive each other for their past behavior. However, both men deny culpability for their actions. They accuse Jove, Fate, and Folly of depriving them of their judgment, and shutting their eyes to their own pettiness. Achilles and Agamemnon are not the only characters who blame Fate for recent events. Thetis and Achilles’ horse tell Achilles that Fate and Jove’s will decreed the death of Patroclus. The horse, Xanthus, asserts that he could not save Patroclus because of Fate, and Thetis states that Patroclus’ death was the will and doing of the gods, not of man.

There have been instances in the Iliad which indicate that the gods do not need to adhere to the decrees of Fate – Jove considered saving his son Sarpedon against the orders of Fate. However, the gods do not disobey Fate. Why? I believe that the gods realize that chaos would ensue if they altered from the course of history designated by Fate. They realize that there is an inscrutable goal that will never be attained if they deviate from Fate. They are aware that if they disobey Fate, then their very existence will be in jeopardy.

Book 20 – The Battle of the Gods, and the Acts of Achilles

  • Jupiter, upon Achilles’ return to the battle, calls a council of the gods, and permits them to assist either party. The terrors of the combat described, when the deities are engaged. Apollo encourages Æneas to meet Achilles. After a long conversation, these two heroes encounter; but Æneas is preserved by the assistance of Neptune. Achilles falls upon the rest of the Trojans, and is upon the point of killing Hector, but Apollo conveys him away in a cloud. Achilles pursues the Trojans with a great slaughter.
  • The same day continues. The scene is in the field before Troy.

“Now that he is roused to such fury about his comrade, he will override fate itself and storm the city.”

“Let there be no more of this prating in mid-battle as though we were children. We could fling taunts without end at one another; a hundred-oared galley would not hold them. The tongue can run all whithers and talk all wise; it can go here and there, and as a man says, so shall he be gainsaid. What is the use of our bandying hard like women who when they fall foul of one another go out and wrangle in the streets, one half true and the other lies, as rage inspires them? No words of yours shall turn me now that I am fain to fight- therefore let us make trial of one another with our spears.”

Jove calls a council of the gods to exhort them to take part in the Trojan War so that Achilles does not override fate and storm the city himself. This implies that even mortals can alter Fate barring divine intervention. The gods are thus very wary about preserving the course of Fate. “’Sblood, there is something in this more than natural, if philosophy could find it out.” Why are they so insistent upon obeying Fate? I believe that the gods realize that chaos would ensue if they altered from the course of history designated by Fate. They realize that there is an inscrutable goal that will never be attained if they deviate from Fate. They are aware that if they disobey Fate, then their very existence will be in jeopardy.

Another theme in this book of the Iliad is words vs. action. Hector, Aeneas, and Achilles assert that words are vain; they cannot turn a spear; they are the weapons of prating children, not men. The culture of ancient Greece reveres men of action more than men of rhetoric.

Book 21 – The Battle in the River Scamander

  • The Trojans fly before Achilles, some towards the town, others to the river Scamander: he falls upon the latter with great slaughter: takes twelve captives alive, to sacrifice to the shade of Patroclus; and kills Lycaon and Asteropeus. Scamander attacks him with all his waves: Neptune and Pallas assist the hero: Simois joins Scamander: at length Vulcan, by the instigation of Juno, almost dries up the river. This Combat ended, the other gods engage each other. Meanwhile Achilles continues the slaughter, drives the rest into Troy: Agenor only makes a stand, and is conveyed away in a cloud by Apollo; who (to delude Achilles) takes upon him Agenor’s shape, and while he pursues him in that disguise, gives the Trojans an opportunity of retiring into their city.
  • The same day continues. The scene is on the banks and in the stream of Scamander.

Achilles exercises no compassion for the Trojans who flee pell-mell before him. Lycaon, a son of Priam, begs Achilles to spare him, but Achilles angrily kills him. Homer describes Achilles as being possessed with bloodlust and desire to avenge Patroclus’ death. Only Agenor attempts to fight Achilles while the rest of the Trojans and their allies flee to the safety within the city walls. Although Agenor does not succeed in killing Achilles, he does prevent Achilles and the other Achaeans from entering the city. He realizes that Achilles is mortal and his flesh can be pierced by pointed bronze. Achilles likely appears immortal to the fleeing Trojans because of his prowess on the battlefield.

Book 22 – The Death of Hector

  • The Trojans being safe within the walls, Hector only stays to oppose Achilles. Priam is struck at his approach, and tries to persuade his son to re-enter the town. Hecuba joins her entreaties, but in vain. Hector consults within himself what measures to take; but at the advance of Achilles, his resolution fails him, and he flies. Achilles pursues him thrice round the walls of Troy. The gods debate concerning the fate of Hector; at length Minerva descends to the aid of Achilles. She deludes Hector in the shape of Deiphobus; he stands the combat, and is slain. Achilles drags the dead body behind his chariot in the sight of Priam and Hecuba. Their lamentations, tears, and despair. Their cries reach the ears of Andromache, who, ignorant of this, was retired into the inner part of the palace: she mounts up to the walls, and beholds her dead husband. She swoons at the spectacle. Her excess of grief and lamentation.
  • The thirtieth day still continues. The scene lies under the walls, and on the battlements of Troy.

“There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind.”

“My doom has come upon me; let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.”

Jove, Folly, and Fate compelled Hector to remain camped close to the ships in spite of Polydamas’ counsel to the contrary. Hector fears that a lesser man than he will chastise him for his decision, and blame his over-confidence for the destruction of Troy. He also considers offering Helen and half of the riches of Troy to Achilles to end the war, but realizes that Achilles will not parley. Thus, Hector feels compelled to face Achilles before the city walls.

Hector initially fled Achilles as men flee death. Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, deceives Hector in the appearance of his brother Deiphobus into confronting Achilles/Death. Thus are men deceived by wisdom into believing that they can conquer Death (see John Donne). When Hector turns and discovers that Deiphobus/Minerva has left him, he knows that his death is near. In defiance of death, he strives to do “some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter,” which is what all brave and noble characters in the Iliad desire.

Book 23 – Funeral Games in Honor of Patroclus

  • Achilles and the Myrmidons do honours to the body of Patroclus. After the funeral feast he retires to the sea-shore, where, falling asleep, the ghost of his friend appears to him, and demands the rites of burial; the next morning the soldiers are sent with mules and wagons to fetch wood for the pyre. The funeral procession, and the offering of their hair to the dead. Achilles sacrifices several animals, and lastly twelve Trojan captives, at the pile; then sets fire to it. He pays libations to the Winds, which (at the instance of Iris) rise, and raise the flames. When the pile has burned all night, they gather the bones, place them in an urn of gold, and raise the tomb. Achilles institutes the funeral games: the chariot-race, a boxing match, a wrestling match, a foot-race, a single combat, a discus throw, a shooting with arrows, a darting the javelin: the various descriptions of which, and the various success of the several antagonists, make the greatest part of the book.
  • In this book ends the thirtieth day. The night following, the ghost of Patroclus appears to Achilles: the one-and-thirtieth day is employed in felling the timber for the pile: the two-and-thirtieth in burning it; and the three-and-thirtieth in the games. The scene is generally on the sea-shore.

“The woodman does more by skill than by brute force; by skill the pilot guides his storm-tossed barque over the sea, and so by skill one driver can beat another.”

“You know how easily young men are betrayed into indiscretion; their tempers are more hasty and they have less judgment.”

The funeral games of Patroclus were captivating. The games display the Greek culture’s fondness for competition, in which one can gain glory, fame, and recognition among one’s peers. Most of the Greek participants and observers think that success in war and in athletics is dependent upon divine aid rather than strength, skill, or luck. Apollo steals Diomed’s horse whip during the chariot race, Minerva broke the yoke of Eumelus’ chariot, Meriones wins the archery competition because he offers hecatombs to Apollo and Teucer does not, and Minerva helps Ulysses win the foot race.

However, Nestor tells his son, Antilochus, that men who use skill can overcome men who are stronger than them. Moreover, Epeus, who wins the boxing match, boasts before the competition begins that he is the best fighter of all the Achaeans. Epeus does win the competition with no divine intervention, but only with his skill.

Book 24 – The Redemption of the Body of Hector

  • The gods deliberate about the redemption of Hector’s body. Jupiter sends Thetis to Achilles, to dispose him for the restoring it, and Iris to Priam, to encourage him to go in person and treat for it. The old king, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his queen, makes ready for the journey, to which he is encouraged by an omen from Jupiter. He sets forth in his chariot, with a waggon loaded with presents, under the charge of Idaeus the herald. Mercury descends in the shape of a young man, and conducts him to the pavilion of Achilles. Their conversation on the way. Priam finds Achilles at his table, casts himself at his feet, and begs for the body of his son: Achilles, moved with compassion, grants his request, detains him one night in his tent, and the next morning sends him home with the body: the Trojans run out to meet him. The lamentations of Andromache, Hecuba, and Helen, with the solemnities of the funeral.
  • The time of twelve days is employed in this book, while the body of Hector lies in the tent of Achilles; and as many more are spent in the truce allowed for his interment. The scene is partly in Achilles’ camp, and partly in Troy.

“The immortals know no care, yet the lot they spin for men is full of sorrow.”

Compassion and forgiveness are two of the most important themes in the Iliad. The characters of the Iliad were not compassionate towards one another in the beginning of the narrative. Agamemnon spurned Chryses’ request to return his daughter to him in exchange for a ransom, Achilles refused to aid the Achaeans in battle despite the mounting death toll, and neither side granted mercy to soldiers begging for mercy. The characters also did not forgive one another for slights or offenses. Achilles does not forgive Agamemnon for taking Briseis, and Agamemnon does not forgive Achilles for disrespecting him in front of the other princes.

In the last book of the Iliad, the trend of coldness and cruelty is reversed. Priam kisses Achilles hands, the very hands that slayed many of his sons. He forgives Achilles, and begs him to return Hector’s body to the Trojans so that they may give him his due funeral rites. Achilles has compassion upon Priam, and forgives Hector for the death of his dear friend Patroclus. Thus, the Iliad concludes optimistically, presenting a vision of society unhindered by the banes of war, strife, and animosity. However, Achilles cannot help but remember the somber thought that the Fates spin lots for men full of sorrow, and not one man can escape sorrow during his life.

War is a microcosm of the universe; one life struggles against another in the quest for survival. However, only men desire something more than mere survival; they seek glory. The lion does not kill the zebra for glory, but rather for sustenance. Men kill each other for glory; men recognize that they cannot escape death, whether they are a coward or a brave man, and thus they want to achieve immortality by winning glory on the battlefield.

The Iliad (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

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