In Book X of Homer’s Iliad, Agamemnon summons the Greek generals after learning that Achilles did not accept his apology. The leaders decide to send scouts through the Trojan camp at night to learn the Trojan’s intentions and the composition of their army. Diomedes volunteers for this dangerous reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines and chooses Ulysses as his companion.
Meanwhile, Hector and the Trojans also decide to send a scout into the Greek camp that very same night. Dolon volunteers for the reconnaissance mission after Hector promises to give him Achilles’ horses and chariot after the war if he is successful. Dolon immediately departs from the Trojan camp and makes his way to the shore, where the Greeks are camped for the night.
Diomedes and Ulysses spy Dolon approaching their position. They hide among the corpses that lie scattered on the plain and wait for Dolon to pass by. When Dolon passes them, they spring up from their hiding places and chase him. They overtake him and question him. Dolon discloses the position of King Rhesus and his men, who are Trojan auxiliary troops that recently arrived in Troy.
After questioning Dolon, Diomedes and Ulysses kill him and then proceed across the Trojan lines. They find King Rhesus and his men exactly where Dolon had indicated. Diomedes and Ulysses surprise the sleeping men and kill all of them. Then they steal the famous horses of Rhesus and return to the Greek camp triumphantly.
This is one of the most exciting books of the Iliad. The scenes of espionage and assassination could have been taken from a modern spy thriller; and Homer again delights in describing brutal killings. “They made a hideous groaning as they were being hacked about, and the earth was red with their blood;” and “Diomedes struck him in the middle of his neck with his sword and cut through both sinews so that his head fell rolling in the dust.”
It is important to pause here and consider that Homer’s Iliad was revered by the Ancient Greeks. It was the closest thing to a religious text that the Ancient Greeks possessed. They derived their morality and their understanding of the world from it. Thus, an important question arises, one that Nietzsche discusses in his essay, Homer’s Contest. “Why did the whole Greek world exult in the fighting scenes of the Iliad?” Nietzsche answers that “The Greek deemed it a positive necessity to allow his hatred to break forth unimpeded; in such moments the compressed and swollen feeling relieved itself.”
Nietzsche’s answer is similar to Aristotle’s theory of catharsis relating to drama. Recall that Aristotle believed that Tragedy had a cathartic effect. In other words, when one watches Tragedy, one purges the emotions of fear and pity from himself by allowing them to flow forth freely during the performance.
There is much debate about whether allowing emotions to flow forth freely purifies a person of those emotions. The Stoics and the Jedi Master Yoda argue that when a man acts upon hatred, the feeling of hatred grows stronger. Therefore, a man is less able to stifle his anger in the future. A man becomes more inclined to act upon hatred the more he acts upon it. What do you think? Is Aristotle right, or are the Stoics and Yoda right?
The debate will likely continue.