We have more battling between the two sides, with more conniving and dishonestly displayed by the gods, and Agamemnon continues to display a concerning lack of leadership.
While Zeus’ gaze is drawn from the battle, Poseidon arrives to rally the Argives back to battle. He first concentrates on the Aiantes, appearing as Kalchas, but the lesser Aias recognizes him as a god. Soon Poseidon has stirred up the battle spirit of the Achaians at their ships:
“Shame, you Argives, young fighting men, since I for my part
have confidence that by fighting you can save our ships from destruction;
but if you yourselves are to go slack from the sorrowful fighting
now is seen your day to be beaten down by the Trojans.
Oh for shame! ……………..”
(Line 95 – 99)
Poseidon berates Agamemnon, saying he was wrong in his treatment of Achilles and is a weak leader, as they have triumphed over the Trojans previously.
Hektor now leads a thunderous charge but is held by the newly roused Achaians. The battle continues and as Poseidon’s grandson, Amphimachos, is slain, the god stirs the Achaians to greater fury. Poseidon presently speaks to Idomeneus at his ship, as Idomeneus appears uninspired but dons his war gear, however he encounters Meriones outside. He inquires if Meriones is injured or has a message, but he has only returned to get a spear since he threw his at Deïphobos with no success. Idomeneus offers his spears, of which he has many as he’s taken them from Trojans he’s killed, then he lectures Meriones before letting him get a spear and off they go to battle. They discuss on which flank they should enter the fray and then go to battle.
We learn that Zeus and Poseidon are brothers but since Zeus is the elder, Poseidon will not openly go against him and instead, sneaks among the Achaians, while his heart is angry at his brother.
The fighting rages with the warriors taunting each other and, when the brother-in-law of Aineais is killed, Deïphobos urges him to find Idomeneus, his murderer, and avenge him. Idomeneus calls for men to shield him and then so does Aineais, as they fight over the body of Alkathoös. Paris’ guest-friend is killed and he avenges him, killing Euchenor, a man who was told he’d die at home of a terrible sickness or die at Troy, so he chose the latter.
While the Greeks are now winning on the left side, Hektor is still holding the Achaians, however while the Achaians are rallying, the Trojans are slowly losing their taste for battle. Poulydamas scolds Hektor, telling him he has the talent for battle, but one man is not given all gifts and implies he is lacking wisdom. He counsels Hektor that his forces are spread too thinly and that they should pull back and regroup. Hektor agrees, setting off to find the leaders of the Trojans, however he only finds Paris over whom he vents his anger, as he cannot find his best warriors:
“Evil Paris, beautiful, woman-crazy, cajoling:
where is Deïphobos gone, and the strength of the prince Helenos,
Adamas, Asios’ son, and Asios, son of Hyrtakos?
Where is Othryoneus? Now all steep Ilion is lost
utterly; now your own headlong destruction is certain.”
(Line 769 – 773)
Paris assure him that the warriors are injured but alive and deftly convinces his brother that all will be well and to lead on, so they join the fighting where it rages the most. Hektor attempts to shield his identity but is recognized by Aias, who taunts him, yet Hektor rejoins, calling Aias an “inarticulate ox”. The fighting rages, with both sides fighting to their utmost.
It’s occurred to me that Zeus, while he’s giving Hektor and the Trojans success in battle, is not actually on the side of the Trojans. Instead, he’s on the side of Achilles. And Achilles is really part of the Achaian contingent, even though he will not fight. Another paradox in this exciting poem!
A Fallen Comrade
Since the Greeks believed the psyche (soul) left the body at death and went to the underworld, I’m wondering why they fought so intensely to protect dead comrades? Was it because they didn’t want the other side to get the armour and any weapons? Was it a badge of further honour, not only to kill a man, but to take his body (and/or armour/weapons) too? I’d like to learn more about this practice.
It’s used as a metaphor, but in this chapter we learn the Greeks ate black beans and chickpeas!
Goodness, there are TONS of metaphors in this poem. So effective!
As he hears the outcry of battle, Nestor leaves Machaon to discover what is happening. Seeing the wall brought down, he encounters an injured Agamemnon who reveals to Nestor that he is afraid of Hektor and concerned that the Achaians will turn against him, like Achilles. Nestor, surprisingly says that since they are wounded (is Nestor wounded? I thought he just brought a wounded Machaon back to camp …???), they should not fight, whereupon Agamemnon proposes setting their ships in the water and running away. Odysseus is scandalized and has some harsh words for his commander:
“Son of Atreus, what sort of word escaped your teeth’s barrier?
Ruinous! I wish you directed some other unworthy
army, and were not lord over us, over us to whom Zeus
has appointed the accomplishing of wars, from our youth
even into our old age until we are dead, each of us.
Are you really thus eager to abandon the wide=wayed city
of the Trojans, over which we have taken so many sorrows?
Do no say it; for fear some other Achaian might hear this
word, which could never at all get past the lips of any man
who understood inside his heart how to speak soundly,
who was a sceptred king, and all the people obeyed him
in numbers like those of the Argives, whose lord you are.
Now I utterly despise your heart for the thing you have spoken;
you who in the very closing of clamorous battle
tell us to haul our strong-benched ships to the sea, so that even
more glory may befall the Trojans, who beat us already;
and headlong destruction swing our way, since the Achaians
will not hold their battle as the ships are being hauled seaward,
but will look about, and let go the exultation of fighting.
There, o leader of the people, your plan will be ruin.”
Agamemnon admits Odysseus has “hit me somewhere deep in my feelings with this hard word,” but seeks further counsel, which he received from Diomedes. The warrior, after a speech to support his right to counsel, tells them to return to battle wounded, not necessarily to fight, but to rally their troops so they do not succumb. They all comply as Poseidon approaches Agamemnon as an old man informing him of the gods’ anger against Achilles, but how he and the Achaians will be helped in their battle for victory.
Now Hera, on Olympus, spies Poseidon assisting the Achaians and she is happy but concerned about Zeus. She concocts a plan to disguise herself in beauty to approach him and addle his brains with love so he forgets the battle. She calls upon Aphrodite to give her tremendous beauty, beguiling her with a lie as she knows Aphrodite’s loyalty is with the Trojans. On her way to Zeus, she stops to visit Sleep, requesting him to fall upon Zeus after she has lain with him, but Sleep has experienced her wiles before to his near destruction and refuses. Now, instead of gifts, she promises him one of the younger Graces to marry and this is more to his liking. And so Hera beguiles Zeus with her beauty, as she lies to him about her presence on Ida, and afterwards, sleep overcomes him. Sleep then whisks to the side of Poseidon to tell him of Zeus’ short slumber and the sea god spurs the Achaians on to even greater effort. With the best men taking the best armour and the worst, the worst, Poseidon leads the Argives and Hektor, the Trojans.
Hektor casts his spear at Aias (the Lesser) but as he draws away, Telamon Aias picks up a boulder and strikes him with it, bringing him to the ground. The Achaians scream, thinking that they can drag him away, but his Trojans brothers protect him. He is shielded as he’s taken from the battle, placed in a chariot and moved to the back of the battle. When his comrades carry him from the chariot to bath his face in the river, he vomits blood but appears to recover slightly. Meanwhile, with his injury, the Argives gain even greater determination.
They battle back and forth, “vaunting” over each other, but soon the Achaians seem to be winning the most success.
Shrinking Away from Battle
I used to think that the descriptions of warriors shrinking away into their companions and disengaging from battle was a cowardly move and wondered why so many warriors did it. But it’s finally occurred to me that when they shrink away, they have thrown their spear and are unable to retrieve it, so to stay and fight without a weapon would simply be inviting death. I suspect now that they only shrink away until they can lay hold of another weapon.
Strangely though is the fighting scene, Lines 402-420, where Hektor throws his spear at Aias and is angry because his weapon is “loosed from his hand in a vain cast,” then shrinks back into his companions, but when he is hit from a boulder from Telamon Aias, he “let fall the spear from his hand.” How did he get it back when it appeared it was originally lost among the Achaians? Did he pick up another? What ….???
Is anyone else as disgusted with Agamemnon’s leadership as Odysseus? For the third time, he counsels running away from the battle for home. And he has no instructions or advice or opinions for the situation that they are in, but looks to others. Poseidon is actually leading the Argives/Achaians at the end of this section, with Hektor contrasted on the other side. It’s interesting that Hektor is appearing to hold his own against a god.
⇐ Book XI & Book XII Book XV & Book XVI ⇒