How is everyone doing? Is the going getting easier? Are the characters beginning to stick in your mind? Now we move to more battle scenes with interesting exchanges and the gods are plotting against each other.
Hektor and Paris enter the battle with success and seeing that the fighting is going in favour of the Trojans, Athene flies down to meet with Apollo. They both agree to engineer an end to the days fighting by having a Trojan challenge an Achaian in single-combat. Helenos persuades Hektor to fight for the Trojans, and Hektor challenges the Achaians but in fear, they hang back until Menelaus ridicules them as girls for their cowardice and, shamed into action, moves to accept Hektor’s challenge. Agamemnon, however, stays him, saying that even Achilles trembles before this Trojan champion, and Hektor is a better man than Menelaus. Instead, let another fight him. Nestor steps forward and proceeds with a long monologue complete with digressions of his younger feats, and his scolding prompts nine warriors to agree to fight Hektor.
- Telamon Aias
Lots are drawn from the helmet of Agamemnon, and it falls to Telamonian Aias to meet Hektor. After exchanging words of challenge, they go at each other “like lions who live on raw meat,” untl messengers of Zeus, Idaios and Talthybios, bid them hold off fighting until morning, as night approaches. Telamon Aias graciously allows Hektor to decide and Hektor agrees, just as graciously praising Telamon Aias, and as they fought in hate, they now exchange gifts of friendship though on the morn, the gods will decide the victor. While the Achaians sacrifice to Zeus, Nestor urges them to ask for a day to burn their dead and build fortifications; in the citadel of Troy, Antenor presents an option: that Paris return Helen to the Achaians to end the war. Paris adamantly refuses, although he offers to return the spoils he took from Menelaus and add to them. Priam seems to support Paris’ choice, saying (as did Nestor) that they should take a day to bury their dead before a victor in the fighting between Hektor and Telemon Aias is declared. At dawn, Idaios travels to the Achaian ships to deliver Paris’ offer but, lead by Diomedes, the Achaians refuse both the spoils AND Helen because he believes the Trojans are near defeat. Yet they agree to pause to deal with the dead.
Now Poseidon complains to Zeus that the Achaians built their fortifications without proper sacrifice, and Zeus gives leave to destroy the walls. And so the Achaians feast at the end of the day while the gods plot evil against them.
Respect in Battle
In life, whenever we learn information about another person, it allows us to dispel some of our prejudices and there is a connection formed, even if it is a tenuous one. While the listing of the ancestors of many of these warriors in this poem might be tedious, especially to a first time reader. it is important. All the warriors know the background of each other. This fact seems to make the war more than a bloodthirsty, hateful battle. There is often respect shown towards each other that seems to transcend what is practically occurring. We saw the respect between Glaukos and Diomedes as guest-friends and in this book, we have a rather cordial exchange of words and gifts between Hektor and Telemon Aias. I don’t have the sense in this epic of hatred towards the enemy, or at least, a sustained hatred. They often seem more interested in capturing spoils than killing a man (which must link back to kleos and timê – see Introduction). The warriors behave better than the gods in this respect. This war and the mindset behind it seems very different than modern wars. Do you think so as well?
Zeus calls an assembly of the gods and they are all stunned when he announces that he will assist the Trojans and commands that none go against his will. Athene agrees but says they won’t fight but will counsel the Argives / Achaians.
Zeus winds his chariot to Mount Ida to watch the conflict, even sending a thunderbolt over the Achaians, which sent the best of them running for their ships. However, Nestor’s horse is shot with an arrow and the old warrior would have lost his life to Hektor if Diomedes, after futilely called after a fleeing Odysseus, hadn’t taken him up in his chariot. They kill Hector’s charioteer, but Zeus thunders and Diomedes hesitates in indecision whether to pursue Hektor. Hektor rallies his warriors and horses, claiming that if he can capture the shield of Nestor and the corselet of Diomedes, surely the Achaians will depart.
Meanwhile, Hera, piqued by Hektor’s boasting, appeals to Poseidon to go against Zeus’ command yet he balks at her suggestion. Hektor continues his aresteia, yet Hera spurs Agamemnon to rally the Achaians while he pleads to Zeus for their survival. Thus an eagle drops a young fawn on the alter of Zeus and the Achaians recognize the sign of the god; they fight with greater strength of purpose. Telemonian Teukros, the half-brother of Aias, and spurred on by Agmemnon’s fury, attempts to skewer Hektor with an arrow but he misses twice and Hektor’s aim with a crushing boulder finds its mark, smashing him in the chest and rendering his arm useless.
Hektor battles the Achaians back to their ships. The wily Hera now appeals to Athene, and they plot to enter the fray on the side of the Argives, yet Zeus is angered at their machinations and instructs Iris to tell Athene that he will lame her horses and give her lightning wounds from which will take her ten years to recover. However, with Hera he is not so angry as ever he expects her to cross him.
The goddesses stand down, as Hera decrees:
“Alas, daughter of Zeus of the aegis: I can no longer
let us fight in the face of Zeus for the sake of mortals.
Let one of them perish then, let another live, as their fortune
wills; let him, as is his right and as his heart pleases,
work out whatever decrees he will on Danaans and Trojans.”
When Zeus returns to Mount Olympus, Hera and Athene are sulking, and Zeus chastizes them and reveals a foreknowledge of what will occur to bring Achilles back into the battle.
Darkness falls, giving pause to the fighting. Hektor makes a confident speech, and the Trojans make camp by the Achaian ships, burning watch-fires so no Achaian can escape or make mischief.
“So with hearts made high these sat night-long by the outworks
of battle, and ther watchfires blazed numerous about them.
As when in the sky the stars about the moon’s shining
are seen in all their glory, when the air has fallen to stillness,
and all the high places of the hills are clear, and the shoulders out-jutting,
and the deep ravines, as endless bright air spills from the heavens
and all the stars are seen, to make glad the heart of the shepherd;
such in their numbers blazed the watchfires the Trojans were burning
between the waters of Xanthos and the ships, before Ilion.”
What do you think the gods stake is in this battle? What do they gain by their interaction with humans? Are the humans simply pawns for their entertainment, or is there some deeper purpose behind their machinations? Does it appear that the humans have respect for the gods or do they simply “use” them in hopes that their favour will get them what they want? (Thanks to Keely for bringing this question to light on her blog!)
⇐ The Iliad – Book V & VI The Iliad – Book IX & X ⇒