The Iliad
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
Book 11-12

Summary: Book 11

The following morning, the Achaean lines descend into panic when Zeus causes blood to rain down on them. There is a massacre amongst them. However, they have started to make some progress by the time afternoon arrives. Agamemnon is impressively armed, and he is able to cut down many men. He forces the Trojans to move back to the gates of the city. Iris is sent by Zeus to inform Hector that he is compelled to wait until Agamemnon is wounded before he starts his attack. Coon soon wounds Agamemnon. Coon is Antenor’s son. He kills Agamemnon after he kills Coon’s brother. Although injured, Agamemnon continues to fight and he cuts down Coon. He is in a great deal of pain, however, and he eventually leaves the field.

Hector sees his cue. He charges the Achaean line, successfully driving it back. In a panic, the Achaeans are ready to retreat, but the words of Diomedes and Odysseus give them courage. Diomedes then throws a spear that makes contact with Hector’s helmet. Hector is stunned by this, and he retreats. Paris responds to the actions of the Achaeans by using an arrow to wound Diomedes. This means that a great warrior is sidelined for the remainder of the poem. Odysseus is now encircled by the Trojans, and he must fight alone. He is able to beat them off, but before he is successful in doing so, a man called Socus wounds him through the ribs. Odysseus is carried by the Great Ajax back to camp prior to the Trojans being able to harm him any more.

Hector continues with his assault on a different component of the Achaean line. The Greeks are able to hold him off at first, but they begin to panic when Machaon, the healer, is wounded by Paris. Ajax is forced by Hector and his men to retreat. Nestor takes Machaon to his tent. In the meantime, Achilles witnesses Machaon pass quickly by in a chariot. He sends Patroclus, his companion, to ask about Machaon’s status. Nestor informs Patroclus about the wounds that the Trojans have caused the Achaean commanders to incur. He appeals to Patroclus, asking him to push Achilles to go back to the battle, or at minimum enter the battle disguised in the armor of Achilles. This is a ruse that would at minimum provide the Achaeans with the benefit of Achilles’ frightening aura. Patroclus assents to the idea of appealing to the Achilles. He treats the wound of a man called Euryplyus, who is injured as result of fighting at the side of Ajax.

Summary: Book 12

We find it is fated that the Achaean fortifications are destined for destruction by the gods. For now they continue to hold, though, and the Trojan chariots are blocked by the trench that is in front of them. Hector isn’t intimidated. He follows the advice of Polydamas, the young commander, to order his men to leave their chariots and attack the ramparts. While the Trojans get ready to traverse the trenches, an eagle appears flying in the sky to the left of the Trojan lines. It drops something into the midst of the soldiers. It is a serpent. This is interpreted by Polydamas as a sign that the charge will be a failure. However, Hector will not agree to retreat.

The ramparts are now charged by the Trojans Sarpedon and Glaucus. Helped by the Great Ajax and Teucer, Menestheus struggles to restrain them. The first breach is made by Sarpedon. Hector follows this by using a boulder to break one of the gates. The Achaeans are terrified and move back against their ships as the Trojans come through the fortifications.


There are two examples of divine intervention that strengthen the sense of suspense in these parts of the poem. Firstly, Zeus takes firm measures in manipulating the battle. He helps Hector become the first Trojan to pass through the fortifications of the Achaeans, and he overwhelms the Achaeans with blood. The Achaeans see his presence, and they recognize that in engaging with the Trojans they are making an enemy of the king of the gods. Zeus’s act of clear favoritism is interpreted by Diomedes to mean that the god has chosen the Trojans to be victorious. However, the epic simultaneously reminds readers of a second instance of the plotting of the gods. Soothsayers say that Troy’s fate is to fall. Homer creates intense tension through the juxtaposition of this specific prophecy with well-drawn descriptions of the setbacks and distress of the Achaeans. The poet consistently hints at an expectation of the defeat of the Trojans while destroying this possibility with many examples of the success of the Trojans and Zeus’s favoritism. As a result, readers cannot trust any of the signs.

The fact that Zeus often reappears also serves as an indirect reminder of Achilles. This maintains the reader’s focus on the most important conflict of The Iliad. It is Thetis’s prayers that cause Zeus to first become involved in the war. He now causes the same kind of damage among the Achaeans that we are made to think Achilles could readily cause to happen to the Trojans if his rage could be controlled. The overpowering of the Achaeans by Zeus causes the absence of Achilles more apparent. It is possible that Homer is concerned that his readers are like the Achaeans in that they will miss Achilles. It seems that the poem utilizes Machaon’s wounding as a chance to cause Achilles and Patroclus to appear. The sounded Machaon is taken past Achilles’s tent by Nestor. Nestor and Patroclus’s encounter presents an additional look at life with Achilles and Patroclus behind the lines. It also helps to show the difference in the attitudes of these two men. As information on Patroclus’s background is provided, we start to wonder whether Patroclus’s is full of rage like Achilles. We are also pushed to consider whether he may desire to again take part in the fight in spite of feelings of loyalty.

The scene with Nestor and Patroclus also has an example of foreshadowing. It hints at the occurrences when Patroclus eventually decides to again take part in the battle. Homer declares that Patroclus’s “doom [is] sealed” as soon as Achilles tells him to talk to Nestor (11.714). Nestor conveys to Patroclus the idea of going back to battle while wearing Achilles’s armor. It is this tactic that cause Patroclus to be killed. We see foreshadowing of Patroclus’s death as well as the event that will push Achilles to return to the battle in the reference to what will happen to Patroclus.

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