HOMER: The Iliad [Book XI]

In Book XI of Homer’s Iliad, dawn arrives and the opposing armies prepare for battle. Agamemnon leads the first charge of Greeks against the Trojans. He kills numerous Trojans, sending the majority of the army fleeing back to Troy. When Jove sees Agamemnon routing the Trojans, he sends his messenger Iris to the Trojan Prince Hector. Iris instructs Hector to fight defensively until Agamemnon is wounded. Then Hector can lead a charge against the Greeks.

Agamemnon succeeds in killing many more men, including Iphidamas, the son of the esteemed Trojan elder Antenor. When Iphidamas’ brother Coon sees Agamemnon kill his brother, he lashes out at Agamemnon and wounds him. Agamemnon, however, has just enough strength to turn and kill Coon. The scene is worthy of being recited here.

“When noble Coon, Antenor’s eldest son, saw this, sore indeed were his eyes at the sight of his fallen brother. Unseen by Agamemnon he got beside him, spear in hand, and wounded him in the middle of his arm below the elbow, the point of the spear going right through the arm. Agamemnon was convulsed with pain, but still not even for this did he leave off struggling and fighting, but grasped his spear that flew as fleet as the wind, and sprang upon Coon who was trying to drag off the body of his brother- his father’s son- by the foot, and was crying for help to all the bravest of his comrades; but Agamemnon struck him with a bronze-shod spear and killed him as he was dragging the dead body through the press of men under cover of his shield: he then cut off his head.”

Despite his success in exacting revenge, Agamemnon is forced to flee from battle to treat the wound he received at the hands of Coon. This is the moment for which Hector has waited. Seeing Agamemnon retreat from the battleground, Hector orders the Trojans to charge against the Greeks. The charge is successful and the Trojans slaughter many Greeks.

During the Trojan maneuver, even the great Diomedes is wounded. Paris shoots him in the foot with an arrow. Diomedes calls Paris a coward for using a ranged weapon. “Archer, you who without your bow are nothing, slanderer and seducer, if you were to be tried in single combat fighting in full armour, your bow and your arrows would serve you in little stead.” The Ancient Greeks looked unfavorably upon men who used ranged weapons. Often, archers and slingers were the poorest and youngest soldiers in the army. Thus, they would likely look unfavorably upon modern warfare, considering the fact that the majority of modern warfare is conducted with ranged weapons – including airplanes, grenades, and assault rifles.

From the safety of his tent, Achilles watches the battle as it rages. He sends his dear friend Patroclus to Nestor’s tent in order to learn whether a certain Grecian soldier had been wounded. When Patroclus arrives at Nestor’s tent, Nestor informs him of the day’s events and urges him to persuade Achilles to return to the war. If Achilles remains obstinate, then Nestor advises Patroclus to don Achilles’ armor himself and lead Achilles’ men into battle. “Let him send you into battle clad in his own armour, that the Trojans may mistake you for him and leave off fighting; the sons of the Achaeans may thus have time to get their breath, for they are hard pressed and there is little breathing time in battle. You, who are fresh, might easily drive a tired enemy back to his walls and away from the tents and ships.”

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