HOMER: The Iliad [Book VII]

In Book VII of Homer’s Iliad, the Trojan Prince Hector returns to the battlefield. His return renews the fighting and the Trojans begin to rout the Greeks. Athena, a goddess who favors the Greeks, and Apollo, a god who favors the Trojans, agree to end the fighting today by inciting Hector to challenge a Greek to a one-on-one duel.

In accordance with the gods’ wishes, Hector issues a challenge to the Greeks. The stakes of this duel, however, are different from the stakes of the duel between Menelaus and Paris in Book III. Instead of fighting for Helen and for victory in the war, Hector proclaims that the winner of the duel will win the defeated opponent’s armor.

None of the Greeks take up Hector’s challenge until Nestor scolds them for being cowards. 9 soldiers then offer to fight Hector. Lots are drawn between the 9 men and Ajax wins. Ajax and Hector enter the space between the two armies and begin to fight.

Ajax gains the upper hand in the duel when he wounds Hector in the neck with his spear and knocks Hector over by throwing a huge boulder into him. Despite his success, Ajax fails to kill Hector before night falls. Both Ajax and Hector agree to end the duel and exchange gifts as tokens of the respect they gained for one another during the duel. “They fought with might and main, but were reconciled and parted in friendship.” This is an interesting phenomenon that occurs again and again on schoolyards across modern America. Boys fight, and then they reconcile and become friends. Why does this happen?

During the night after the duel between Ajax and Hector, the Trojans gather in council. The Trojan elder Antenor advises the Trojans to restore Helen to the Greeks to end the war. Paris refuses to restore Helen, but he offers to return the treasure that he stole from the Greeks. King Priam sends an envoy to the Greeks with Paris’ message and also to ask the Greeks for a temporary truce so that both sides can burn and bury their dead properly. The Greeks reject Paris’ offer, but agree to the truce.

Both sides then perform the appropriate funeral rites for their dead. The Greeks, in accordance with Nestor’s advice, heap sand upon the graves of their dead. This massive funeral pile serves as a natural fortification against the Trojans. Along the earthworks, the Greeks also erect towers. In front of the mass of earth, the Greeks dig a ditch.

The god Neptune envies the Greek wall because it is greater than the wall he built in another land. He complains to Jove, who promises that Neptune will have the opportunity to destroy the fortification after the Trojan War. Why is an immortal god like Neptune jealous of mortals? Homer answers that mere immortality is insufficient for happiness. One must be remembered and revered by posterity; otherwise, an eternal existence means nothing.

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