HOMER: The Iliad [Book XX]

In Book XX of Homer’s Iliad, Jove assembles the gods. He is worried that Achilles, in his quest for revenge, will conquer Troy before the time appointed by Fate; and therefore, he rescinds his command to the gods to refrain from interfering in the war. After Jove lifts his ban, many of the gods eagerly descend to Troy in order to aid their favorite side.

Apollo, who favors Troy, encourages the Trojan Aeneas to confront Achilles. Aeneas and Achilles exchange a few words before Aeneas cuts their conversation short, claiming that words are for children. “Let there be no more of this prating in mid-battle as though we were children. We could fling taunts without end at one another; a hundred-oared galley would not hold them. The tongue can run all whithers and talk all wise; it can go here and there, and as a man says, so shall he be gainsaid. No words of yours shall turn me now that I am fain to fight – therefore let us make trial of one another with our spears.” Words are vain; they cannot turn a spear; they are the weapons of prating children, not men. The culture of ancient Greece revered men of action more than men of rhetoric.

Achilles quickly gains the advantage in the fight. The god Neptune temporarily blinds Achilles and rushes Aeneas away from the battle because Aeneas is fated to survive the Trojan War and establish a powerful empire. The Roman poet Virgil seizes on this prophecy and claims that Aeneas and his ancestors established the great empire of Rome. Virgil describes this fate of Aeneas in his celebrated epic, The Aeneid.

After Neptune saves Aeneas, Achilles turns his anger towards the other Trojans. Apollo tells Hector to avoid Achilles at all costs, otherwise Hector will be killed. Hector obeys Apollo’s order until Achilles kills Hector’s brother Polydorus. Rage overcomes Hector; he disregards Apollo’s warning and throws his spear at Achilles. The spear falls harmlessly beside Achilles, who turns and lunges at Hector. At the moment when Achilles aims to strike the deathblow, Apollo rescues Hector by conveying him away from the battle in a cloud. Frustrated once again, Achilles returns to his endeavor to slaughter as many Trojans as he can.

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