HOMER: The Iliad [Book IV]

In Book IV of Homer’s Iliad, the Olympian gods convene to discuss the Trojan War. They decide that the war shall continue, so Jove sends Minerva to Troy in order to break the truce to which the Trojans and Grecians had agreed before the duel between Menelaus and Paris began. Minerva persuades the Trojan Pandarus to shoot Menelaus with an arrow.

Blood issues from Menelaus’ wound, drenching his leg in gore from his thigh to his ankle. Agamemnon fears that his brother is dying and curses the treacherous Trojans. Menelaus, however, reassures his brother that the wound is not fatal. Agamemnon orders some of his men to care for Menelaus and then he leads a retaliatory attack against the Trojans.

During the first battle of the epic, Homer vividly describes the carnage. “They met in fury with a mighty crash, with the clash of spears, shield-bosses, bronze-clad warriors, till the last moans of the fallen mingled with the victory cries of their killers, and the earth ran red with blood. Of the Trojans, noble Echepolos, son of Thalysius, was first to die, fighting in the vanguard, downed in his armour by Antilochus. The spear struck the ridge of his horse-hair crested helmet, and the point drove through the skin of his forehead into the bone. Darkness filled his eyes, and he dropped like a fallen tower on the field.”

Homer displays war’s most gruesome aspects, but he always reminds the reader of the soldier’s underlying motivations of fame and glory that help them cope with the darker sides of war. “Noble Agamemnon showed no reluctance, no cowardice or hesitation, only eagerness for the fight where men win glory.” The Ancient Greeks competed against one another over everything. They competed in contests of strength, speed, oratory skill, and, most importantly, war. War was the stage on which men could attain the most valuable things – fame and glory.

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