HOMER: The Iliad [Book XV]

In Book XV of Homer’s Iliad, Jove awakens to find that Juno has deceived him so that Neptune can aid the Greeks. Jove becomes furious when he sees that Hector has been knocked unconscious and that the Greeks have pushed back the Trojans. He scolds Juno and commands her to summon Iris and Apollo to him.

Juno obeys Jove’s commands, and repairs to Mt. Olympus, where the gods are assembled. She tells Iris and Apollo that Jove wishes to speak to them, and then she tries to incite a revolt against Jove. She ironically states that the gods ought to accept the tyranny of Jove because he is much more powerful than they are. She also informs Mars that his son has fallen in the battle due to Jove’s will. “We keep on wanting to go up to him and stay him by force or by persuasion, but he sits aloof and cares for nobody, for he knows that he is much stronger than any other of the immortals. Make the best, therefore, of whatever ills he may choose to send each one of you; Mars, I take it, has had a taste of them already, for his son Ascalaphus has fallen in battle – the man whom of all others he loved most dearly and whose father he owns himself to be.”

The news of his son’s death infuriates Mars. He dons his armor and prepares to avenge his son’s death on the Trojans. Minerva, however, persuades Mars to remain on Mt. Olympus rather than enter the fray against Jove’s commands. “Do you wish to go through all kinds of suffering before you are brought back sick and sorry to Olympus? Jove would come to Olympus to punish us, and would grip us up one after another, guilty or not guilty. Therefore lay aside your anger for the death of your son; better men than he have either been killed already or will fall hereafter, and one cannot protect every one’s whole family.”

This scene is similar to the scene from the beginning of the epic in which Minerva persuades Achilles to refrain from striking down Agamemnon. The parallels between Achilles and Mars are clear. Both excel in military disciplines, both are easily angered, and both are indignant over their relative impotence within their respective social hierarchies. As Mars is inferior to Jove, Achilles is inferior to Agamemnon. The sense of inferiority can either arouse petty resentment – as it does in Mars and Achilles – or it can arouse a desire to improve one’s self so that the feeling of inferiority is replaced by feelings of success and superiority.

Meanwhile, Iris and Apollo visit Jove. Jove orders Iris to prevent Neptune from interfering any further with the war, and he orders Apollo to help the Trojans push the Greeks back to their ships. Iris and Apollo fulfill Jove’s commands. Neptune leaves the battle, and the Trojans, aided by Apollo and the recently revived Hector, push the Greeks back to their ships again and try to set the ships on fire. The Greek hero Ajax manages to prevent the Trojans from getting close enough to light the ships on fire, but he is quickly approaching the moment when he will no longer be able to hold off the Trojans alone.

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