HOMER: The Iliad [Book VIII]

In Book VIII of Homer’s Iliad, Jove summons the gods and threatens them with the pains of Tartarus if they interfere with the Trojan War. He then travels to Mt. Ida, where he overlooks the war and balances the Fates of the Trojans and the Greeks in a golden scale. The Fate of the Greeks descends and Jove throws lightning at the Greeks, driving them to their ships behind their newly constructed fortifications.

Juno and Minerva, seeing the Greeks in distress, prepare to assist them. Jove, however, sends his messenger Iris to stop them. Iris orders them to return to Mt. Olympus, where Jove meets them. He scolds both his wife Juno and his daughter Minerva. Juno complains that they were merely acting according to their feelings of compassion for the Greeks and never intended to disrespect him. Jove, however, is irate. He tells his wife that if she crosses him again, she will pay dearly. “For aught I care, you may go to the lowest depths beneath earth and sea, where Iapetus and Saturn dwell in lone Tartarus with neither ray of light nor breath of wind to cheer them. You may go on and on till you get there, and I shall not care one whit for your displeasure; you are the greatest vixen living.”

In this book, Jove flaunts his power to such an extent that it becomes laughable. His interactions with the other gods, especially his wife Juno, provide much needed comic relief after the many scenes of bloodshed in the preceding books. He expresses his utter lack of surprise at his wife’s disobedience; stating that she always contradicts him. They are the quintessential “old couple” of modern sitcoms, who are constantly bickering with one another.

Returning to the mortal affairs on the battlefield, night falls and Hector orders his soldiers to make camp on the beaches in between the Trojan walls and the Greek’s fortifications. This affords Homer the opportunity to display his poetic genius. He likens the Trojan campfires to bright stars on a serene night. The description is a momentary shimmer of beauty in the dark and dreadful scene of war.

“High in hope they sat through the livelong night by the highways of war, and many a watchfire did they kindle. As when the stars shine clear, and the moon is bright – there is not a breath of air, not a peak nor glade nor jutting headland but it stands out in the ineffable radiance that breaks from the serene of heaven; the stars can all of them be told and the heart of the shepherd is glad – even thus shone the watchfires of the Trojans before Ilius midway between the ships and the river Xanthus. A thousand camp-fires gleamed upon the plain, and in the glow of each there sat fifty men, while the horses, champing oats and corn beside their chariots, waited till dawn should come.”

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