The Iliad ~ Book V & Book VI

The Iliad Read-along

I’ve been having some computer problems but am still almost on track as the read continues.  I hope that you’re all enjoying it.  Once you become familiar with the characters, the interplay between and around them is fascinating.  In these next books, we learn more about Diomedes, are introduced to Hektor’s family and learn more about the ancient Greek worldview.  And, of course, the gods work towards fate often in confusing ways, as the story unfolds.

Helen on the Walls of Troy

Helen on the Walls of Troy (1885) Gustave Moreau

Book V

Athene bestows favour upon Diomedes and he fights with extraordinary courage and success, but she then pulls Ares from the fighting so as not to anger Zeus unduly.  Diomedes still ranges up and down the plain “scattering battalions” but Pandaros lets another arrow fly which pierces the right shoulder of Diomedes. After enlisting Sthenelos to pull the arrow through, Diomedes appeals to Athene for victory over the man who caused his injury.  She answers, giving him strength and triple-rage, yet cautions him not to engage in battle with a god on either side unless it is Aphrodite; he is allowed to stab her with “the sharp bronze.”

As Diomedes vents his rage by kiling the Trojan warriors and their allies, Aineias searches for Pandaros, urging him to send an arrow at the raging Greek warrior. Pandaros reveals that he has already tried but a god must have turned his arrow. In fact, he thinks he recognizes that the warrior is Diomedes who is slaughtering men on their side, but if not him, perhaps a god.  He then laments leaving home with his bow instead of choosing horses and chariot as he has had nothing but bad luck with it.  Aineias offeres Pandaros his chariot to drive but the man refuses, saying that he will encounter Diomedes with his spear.  Sthenelos recognizes the two mighty warriors and alerts Diomedes, counselling him to move closer to the fighting Achaians, however Diomedes say he will meet them, having victory over at least one and planning to capture the horses of Aineias, offspring of horses given by Zeus and stolen by Anchises, the father of Aineias (his mother was Aphrodite). And so, Pandaros throws his spear, gleeful when it pierces the middle of Diomedes’ shield, but Diomedes is not injured and he kills Pandaros with his spear.  Aineias stands over the body, daring anyone to come forth, while Diomedes picks up a stone and hurls it, smashing the hip socket of Aineias.  Yet Aphrodite protects her son, spiriting him away.  While Sthenelos takes the horses of Aineias, Diomedes wounds Aphrodite who drops Aineias, but Apollo retrieves him and bears him away.  Aphrodite retreats, injured, and begs her brother Ares to lend her horses to return to Olympos, and with Iris, she returns to be comforted by her mother, Dione, who tells her of gods who have suffered because of men and predicts a short life for Diomedes.

Meanwhile, Diomedes attempts, for the third time, to kill Aineias until Apollo warns him not to interfere with the gods and removes Aineias to his temple at Pergamos. Apollo then appeals to Ares to stop the raging Diomedes, and Ares appears to the Trojans as Akamas, lord of the Thracians, to spur them on to battle.

Sarpedon (a leader of the Lykians, an ally of the Trojans) abuses Hektor, claiming the allies of Troy perform all the fighting and stirs Hektor to rally the Trojans, and Aineias returns to his companions.

Fighting now begins in earnest, and Diomedes shivers at the sight of Hektor and Ares ranging together.  He begs his companions to give ground as they should not battle with divinities.  Tlepolemos, the son of Herakles, taunts Sarpedon, saying that he is a coward, not the equal of other men descended from Zeus and that he’s going to Hades (and in this monologue we learn that Troy has been sacked before).  Sarpedon responds in kind:

“But I tell you, what you will win from me here will be death

and black destruction; and broken under my spear you will give me

slory, and give your sould to Hades of the famed horses.” (Lines 652 – 654)

They throw their spears, Sarpedon wounding Tlepolemos in the throat, yet getting a spear through his thigh.  He is carried out of battle and Odysseus, seeing this confrontation, revenges himself upon the Lykians, even though the Achaians continually give way under the onslaught of Hektor and Ares.

Hera discovers Athene, and they appeal to Zeus to allow Athene to stop Ares raging and he agrees.  Athene then appears to Diomedes, urging him not to give way but he reminds her that he was forbidden to engage the gods, except for Aphrodite.  Throwing Sthenelos out of the chariot, Athene takes his place, giving Diomedes leave to fight.  As Ares moves to engage them, she stabs him in the belly.  Shocked, Ares returns to Olympos to exclaim bitterly over the injustice but Zeus silences him with harsh words”

“Do not sit beside me and whine, you double-faced liar.

To me you are most hateful of all gods who hold Olympos.

Forever quarrelling is dear to your heart, wars and battles.” (Lines 889- 891)

Yet Zeus heals him, and Hera and Athene return after their slaughter is done.

The Combat of Diomedes Jacques Louis David

The Combat of Diomedes (1776) Jacques-Louis David
~ source Wikipedia


An aristeia is when a warrior completely dominates the battle.  In this book, Diomedes has his aristeia, slaughtering countless warriors with a courage and confidence that indeed makes him stand out.  Agamemnon had an aristeia in book II.  Look for other examples as we read on.


I probably should have posted this earlier but better late than never! There is a concept in ancient Greek thought called xenia or the guest-host relationship. It is based on hospitality, in that when someone visits, you are obligated to treat them as a guest, and there was a formal ritual to follow. This concept was very important to the Greeks and I rather think it was so important that one could never be sure if the person you were hosting wasn’t a god in disguise.  And you will see that it extends from generation to generation as seen by the exchange between Diomedes and Glaukos in the next book.

So extrapolating from that, when Paris originally visited Menelaus, xenia was given. By stealing Helen, Paris damaged and disrespected that xenia which would have been an enormous insult in itself.  One may ask if the war, even though Helen is the focus, is more about dishonouring xenia instead of the abduction of a wife?


Andromache and Astyanax

Andromache and Astyanax (1819) Pierre-Paul Prud’hon
~ source Wikiart

Book VI

The fighting continues with Telamon Aias, Diomedes, Odysseus, Agamemnon, Menelaus and other warriors slaughtering their way through the Trojan ranks. Adrestos becomes a supplicant of Menelaus, begging him to ransom his life and Menelaus agrees, however Agamemnon strides forward, declaring, “let not one live” and stabs him dead.

Nestor stirs the Achaians to greater combat with a rousing speech and Ilion (Troy) would have lost ground if not for Helenos, son of Priam, who urges Hektor to return to the city and get the women to promise hecatombs at the temple of Athene to save the Trojans, as Agamemnon is going beserk with bloodlust and they now fear him more than Achilles (who, of course, is still fuming at his ships).

Glaukos, a Trojan warrior, encounters Diomedes, and Diomedes inquires if he is a god since he will not fight a god, but if he is a man, he invites him to his destruction.  Glaukos offers a philosophical response:

“High-hearted son of Tydeus, why ask of my generation?

As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.

The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber

burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.

So one generation of men will grow while another

dies.” (Lines 145-150)

Yet he gives his genelogoy, including a story of Bellerophontes, who was seduced by Proitos’ wife, Anteia, but he virtuously resisted her advances so she plotted to have him killed (This story sounds similar to the Biblical story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife).  He relates other heroic deeds of his ancestor.  After his great story of his forefathers, Diomedes, to his delight, recognizes him as a guest-friend, as their grandfathers exchanged hospitality and gifts years ago.  The two warriors pledge to avoid each other in battle and exchange armour so all will know they are friends, yet Zeus took the wits of Glaukos and he accepted bronze instead of gold.

Hektor reaches the Skaian gates, and as he enters the palace, he is greeted by his mother, Hekabe, and his sister, Laodike.  His mother offers him sweet wine and tells him to pray but he instructs her to pray and made offerings instead, while he searches for Paris. Hekabe makes offerings to Athene who “turned her head from her,” but Hektor discovers Paris in his chamber handling his armour and, upon Hektor’s rebuke, Paris offers an excuse that he is giving himself over to sorrow, but he will accompany Hektor to the battle and will surely outpace him (good grief!). Helen speaks endearing words to her “brother,” urging him to rest but he refuses, telling her to urge Paris to combat and then leaves to search out his wife (Andromache).  She is not with the other women and he is informed that when she heard that the Trojans were losing, she rushed to the wall, “like a woman gone mad,” the nursemaid with his baby (Astyanax) trailing after.  When Andromache meets him, she begs him to remain inside the citadel as Achilles slaughtered most of her family, and she has no one but him.  Hektor counters that he must fight for great glory, even though he knows Ilion will perish and his most grievous thought is of his wife being taken captive; he hopes that he will meet death before he witnesses such a sight.  His son wails at the sight of him in his helmet, yet Hektor laughs, removes the helmet and takes his son in his arms.  Taking pity on his wife’s distress, he speaks of fate and then returns to battle.  Andromache returns to their house where she and her handmaidens mourn him yet while he lives.  Paris, gleeful in battle armour, meets up with Hektor who calls him a “strange man,” and while he praises his ability to fight, he disparages his cowardice and is ashamed of him.

Astyanax, in Andromache's lap, reaches to touch his father's helmet

Astyanax, in Andromache’s lap, reaches to touch his father’s helmet (370-360 BC)
~ source Wikipedia


Is it my imagination or is this book ripe with irony?  Diomedes encounters a guest-friend, Glaukos, and they will not fight yet Glaukos accepts less than his due. Hektor, their great warrior, is urged by the women of Troy to drink wine and rest and not fight.  And Paris, though he is hiding from the fighting, is found handling his armour.  And then Hektor is fighting even though he knows Troy will perish. Irony is commonly used for emphasis so what can we understand better from these examples?



I was puzzled over why the armour exchange between Diomedes and Glaukos was unequal.  Why did Zeus addle Glaukos’ wits?  Was this a damaging of the xenia between them that was initiated by their grandfathers?  However, there is a parallel between this scene and the war of the Trojans.  Why would Troy fight a war, outmanned 10 to 1, over one woman that is stolen by a younger son who is not well-respected?  There is a complete imbalance in their actions, just as there is imbalance in the exchange of armour between these two warriors, once again a Greek triumphing over a Trojan.



Although it says the Trojans would nearly be overrun if not for Helenos telling Hektor to offer sacrifices to Athene, when Hektor’s mother, Hekuba, offers hecatombs, Athene turns her face away as if she will not respond.  So did Helenos’ command make it sound as if Athene would respond?  Confusing ……


A Sympathetic Enemy

Homer’s sympathy for the “enemy” continues as the Trojans are seen in a very human light.  In book VI,  we have a very sweet, poignant scene between Hektor and his family that is as tragic as it is touching, given what we know will happen.  Homer continues a compassionate portrait of the Trojans, perhaps even more sensitive to the Trojans than the Greeks.  Any ideas as to why he might portray them in this light?


⇐ Book III – IV                                                                                   Book VII – VIII ⇒





19 thoughts on “The Iliad ~ Book V & Book VI

  1. I haven’t had a chance to read your whole post yet. But wanted to comment really quick. Were you able to get your computer fixed?

    I have to say that Book V was pretty tedious for me to read. But I’m looking forward to reading your commentary and hopefully it will help make some sense out of it for me. (I know it will. 🙂 ) Basically I got that they were fighting. The humans were fighting; the gods and goddesses were fighting with each other and helping the humans.

    I will be starting Book VI tomorrow hopefully. 🙂

    • Sadly, not yet. I’ve been so busy and now we have snow which makes it hard to get around because we’re not used to it. I’ve been writing my posts long-hand and then typing them in all at once. Not optimum, but it’s working.

      I liked Book V but I like Diomedes and we’re introduced to Sarpedon and Aineias, so that was kind of fun.

      Great! I’ll be looking forward to your comments when you finish!

  2. I’m a few pages away from finishing book VI, but I went ahead and read your whole post.

    I’m in awe.

    Reading III and IV for a second time, has helped me. I’ve finally making a note card where I’m keeping names on each side. I’m noticing, finally, that the poem is clicking. I still miss lots of things, but I have YOU for that, ha ha ha. I like working on it in circles. It doesn’t bother me to know about parts I haven’t read, to read some parts again, to come back to your post. This is getting to be so much fun.

    I had caught up a bit on the irony. I’m glad you’ve spelled it out here. It gives the poem depth and it makes things stand out more.

    Parallels. This is brilliant. It’s one of those I overlooked, but when you wrote it, I went, yesss! LOL.

    Contradictions. That particular one was also over my head. I’ll keep my eyes peeled, though, as I’m sure there’s got to be more. Maybe there’s also something similar, not fully contradictory, but inconsistent behavior, maybe? The Paris observation you listed as irony, could overlap as a contradiction. And Helen? Didn’t she first show indignation upon Paris not fighting Agamemnon, and now she’s inciting Hecktor to rest?

    Back to the terms, Aristeia and Xenia. Aristeia, I always thought it was excellence. Actually, my 7th grader attends a classical inspired school called Aristoi 🙂 So in the Iliad aristeia would be excellence in battle, right? As I read, I admit I was rooting for Diomedes, I found he was possessed of an unusual bravery. This type of courage does a lot for their army’s moral, and it hurts the enemy’s moral, for sure.

    In Book V, I found it a bit funny when Aeneas tells Pandaros, “don’t talk that much”. I noted that Pandaros disobeyed Licaón (my book’s spelling, 🙂 ), who very clearly told him to leave with some of his beautiful horses. But no, Pandaros left them graciously gracing, and left with his bow that he now detests because he’s not been able to kill anyone, but he’s only incited them to fight better, ha ha ha.

    I haven’t gotten to the beautiful part with Hecktor’s wife and son. I still remember from the older reading of the book, how moving it is. Is Homer Trojan?, or did he favor or worshiped the gods that were with Troy? Other than that, I have no clue as why he truly presents them well, specially Hecktor.

    I will write more as I finish these book 6 pages.

    • I replied to you yesterday but it was lost so here I am, trying again!

      Yes, I remember on my first read having to use all my brainpower to figure out who was who. Now that I recognize people, I’m able to devote that brainpower to other things. 😉 But I certainly remember that first-read confusion.

      Part of the contradictions and confusions could simply be due to translation inconsistencies however on the other hand, the differences in worlview and thought can certainly be confusing and sometimes appear contradictory.

      Yes, you are right about the meaning of aristeia. If my memory doesn’t fail me, I believe HeKtor will have one coming up.

      I’d forgotten about Pandaros from my previous readings. He’s an interesting character. And this time I’m really enjoying how Homer gives backstory on many of the characters, now that I know who they are, lol!

      Your enthusiasm is so fun to see, Silvia, and catching! I’m looking forward to your further comments!

      • And your enthusiasm keeps feeding mine! 🙂 I just read Hector’s aristeia today.

        Chleo, my wonderful note card, -it is a big one, hahaha- is my best friend. Di you know that today I, like you, experienced the joy of being a bit more familiar with the text thanks to the card, and your post on the section, and I felt such a rush of excitement, I am feeling the indignation, the trepidation, it’s highly entertaining this time.

        My advice is, read your posts before, that gives you a very welcome bit of clarity. And the adjectives are sticking: argivos de hermosas grebas (the beautiful manes), danaeneos, acayos, aqueos.

        The highlight today was Atenea getting dressed for war. I’m not a Marvel superhero fan at all, but she would have put any of those superheroes to shame, hahaha.

        I can’t believe how much this book is offering me. Accept this, I owe this to you. And to Kim and Karen, I owe the final catalist to make me choose to join.

        I’m sorry about your computer problems, and the comment lost. Thanks so much for retyping it.

        • It is so encouraging, Silvia and Cleo, to know I’m not alone in the confusion with this work. Things are just sort of all running together at this point…which makes it feel more tedious to read. *sigh* I am a bit familiar with parts of it from reading The Black Ships of Troy by Sutcliffe last year. I don’t know that my first reading of The Iliad has really helped me any. Ha!

          Silvia, I have been reading a bit of Cleo’s posts ahead of time for some chapters/books and other times I’m reading them after I read the chapter/book. I think I definitely need to just wait for your posts Cleo and read them first. Probably two or three times! 😉 THEN go to read the text itself. I’m going to try that for this upcoming week’s reading.

          And maybe I just need to take some time and go back and jot down the names on an index card like you have Silvia, even though my hardback edition has them listed. Sometimes the act of actually writing things yourselves may help you remember better. Plus having the index card to move around in my book more easily is a huge plus!

        • Oh my, when the text just starts to click, isn’t that a wonderful feeling? I’m so excited for you!

          My computer problems continue because of the snow but it’s warming up tomorrow so I should be able to get to the repair store and have someone there to fix it!

  3. Forgive my different spellings.

    I think the confusion is just in my brain when it happens. It’s true. I have read some parts several times, and I have seen that I didn’t understand at first.

    There could be mistakes in the translations, but you are using a solid one, and mine is qualitative too. It’s old and as said, when read carefully, my confusions disappear or they are just unanswered questions.

  4. I meant my advice to others new to the book, not to you, Cleo, hahaha.

    And that note card is my own cheat sheet that I keep adding to, it’s been super helpful.

  5. I just want to mention to everyone how much I am enjoying reading everyone’s comments.
    This being my first reading and so far it has been a real rollercoaster. There are times when things seem perfectly clear and then others when I read one of your comments and think how did I miss that.

    Homer has managed to do something no other author has done and that is to have me enjoying the battle scenes, I found myself totally involved especially the scenes with Diomedes.

    Being 64 I may never find time to read this again but am having such fun and it is all because of you three.

    Oh and Sylvia thanks for the idea of the index card though I may end up with several 🙂

    • That’s great, Connie. I know what you mean about the battle scenes; on my first read I expected not to be interested at all but I was riveted! I do hope you read it again because it just gets better with each read. And our comments are bringing clarity and enjoyment. I think it’s been a blast for all of us!

    • Connie! Isn’t this so great, that in life, at 64 in your case, and 49 in mine, we are, as you say, enjoying battle scenes, and it’s also a first time forme too. I was stocked with Diomedes, and after, -though in the Trojan camp-, with Hecktor.

      I’m glad the idea of the index card appeals to you and Karen. I love it, it’s organic, ha ha ha. I’m adding as I read, and if I see a name I don’t know by the side of a god or warrior that I know, then I get situated right away.

      Book V closed with Zeus rebuke to his quarrelsome son Ares, 🙂 It was interesting when he says, “I’ll heal you cause you are my son, conceived through Hera, but you have her warmonger spirit, ha ha ha, and I hate that. If you were the son of any other god, you’ll be the last of the Uranians”.

      And Karen, yes to reading Cleo’s posts a good two times before the text. They are like glasses that focus the text.

      I’m truly sorry about the computer problems. It’s so frustrating to not be able to type away, and to lose comments is one of the most frustrating things in life, I’m serious.

  6. I thought I’d share a couple of quotes from The Well-Education Mind that I thought were really good regarding The Iliad and poetry in general.

    First, regarding Homer and The Iliad and The Odyssey:
    “Homer, like the ideal poet Aristotle describes in his Poetics, is a ‘maker,’ a creator; he creates not just a story, but an entire universal system of cause and effect. So where is the poet in the Iliad and the Odyssey? He is speaking; remember that these epics were oral for centuries, so that the poet was always before the eyes of his audience. He wasn’t hidden behind paper. They could see and hear him; they knew that he was the maker of the poem, constructing a whole theory of human existence around the ‘bare facts’ of history.” (The Well- Educated Mind, p. 316)

    Second, this passage regarding how to read a poem:
    “The first step in reading poetry is to begin reading. Poetry is a meeting between reader and the poet. Sometimes, arming yourself ahead of time with too much information on technique, historical milieu, and the poet’s biographical background can keep you from meeting the poet; the background information serves to keep the poet at arm’s length.” (The Well-Educated Mind, p. 343)

    Cleo, this reminded me of comments you made previously about being careful to not read too much outside of the poem initially. 🙂

    • I like these quotes! Thanks for sharing them! While I do think if at all possible, it’s beneficial to read a biography of an author of whom you’re reading alot of his/her works, in the case of poetry, I agree it would be beneficial to experience the poetry first and THEN read a biography after. I do think The Iliad needed some historical background though to give a first time reader even a basic grounding to help them enjoy the poem more.

      Ha, ha, yes! I’m just very sensitive to speculation, considering people like to stretch it to the max nowadays, often to make money. So I’m just very careful of “theories” especially ones without basis in fact. Even this being an oral poem is something that we don’t really KNOW but a scholar has made a good case for it.

  7. I thought I shared my above comment on the most recent post! Ha! Oh well! Anyway, I was reading more in The Well-Educated Mind just now and came across this:

    “Coming to a poem without background knowledge, then, can actually be a plus; it helps you to identify with a familiar emotion or experience, before grappling with its difference. The exception to this rule is poetry that seems completely foreign in subject or form; if, for example, you tackled the Inferno with no understanding of the Christian distinction between heaven and hell, you might legitimately give up before reaching the end. But in most cases, you’ll find that an initial try at a poem will yield you with a surprising level of understanding; even Homer’s epics, crammed with unfamiliar names and odd conventions, tell a fairly straightforward story full of recognizable emotions.” (The Well-Educated Mind, p. 344)

    It’s interesting. I definitely see what she’s saying in that even with Homer’s Iliad, there is a fairly straight-forward story on a basic level. For me, though, all the unfamiliar names and just the structure of it being the epic poetry, makes it harder for me to understand. I do think all the names are in great part what make things begin to run together and get muddled.

    • I believe that it’s beneficial to have some background information before you begin these epics. While they are touching on our senses in a way, their main purpose is to tell a story. That’s not so with much poetry and THEN I think it’s fine just to read and allow it to affect you on an emotional level. But Homer’s epics are based on story so it’s fair to approach them differently.

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