HOMER: The Iliad [Book XIII]

In Book XIII of Homer’s Iliad, the god Neptune begins to assist the Greeks. He assumes the shape of the Greek prophet Calchas and encourages the Greek soldiers to defend their ships from the approaching Trojans. The Greek troops, led by the two Ajaxes, form a phalanx and repel the initial Trojan attack.

During the battle, Homer introduces the reader to a few more heroes on the Greek and Trojan sides. The Greek Idomeneus displays his exceptional courage by killing many Trojans until he is forced to retire from the battle because of exhaustion. On the Trojan side, Deiphobus earns recognition for his bravery by killing many Greeks, but he is forced to retire from the field after sustaining a shoulder wound.

The description of the battles are exciting and graphic, quintessentially Homeric. Here is a sample. “The bronze armour about their bodies rang fearfully as they took aim at one another in the press of the fight, while the two heroes Aeneas and Idomeneus, peers of Mars, out vied every one in their desire to hack at each other with sword and spear. Aeneas took aim first, but Idomeneus was on the lookout and avoided the spear, so that it sped from Aeneas’ strong hand in vain, and fell quivering in the ground. Idomeneus meanwhile smote Oenomaus in the middle of his belly, and broke the plate of his corslet, whereon his bowels came gushing out and he clutched the earth in the palms of his hands as he fell sprawling in the dust.”

In this book, Homer re-explores the theme of Fate. The Trojan Polydamas rebukes Hector for being deaf to council and for believing that he is smarter than everyone else. Polydamas asserts that the gods bless individual men to be soldiers, counselors, dancers, singers, etc., but do not bless one man with all these talents. A man’s talent, and therefore his occupation, is predetermined by the gods, and is independent of the will of the man himself. For example, no matter how passionate a person is about becoming a professional singer, he will never become a professional singer if he lacks the God-given talent required to become one. In other words, Polydamas is the Trojan version of Simon Cowell.

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