The Iliad
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Book 5-6

Summary: Book 5

Pandarus wounds Diomedes, the Achaean hero, as the battle rages. Diomedes offers prayers to Athena, asking for revenge, and the goddess gives him extraordinary strength and the superhuman power to discern gods present on the battlefield. However, she warns him to refrain from challenging any of them, with the exception of Aphrodite. Diomedes kills every Trojan he meets, fighting in an extraordinary way. He slays the overconfident Pandarus. He also wounds Aeneas, a Trojan hero mentioned in the Aeneid by Virgil. Aphrodite tries to help her son, Aeneas, but Diomedes cuts her wrist, causing her to return to Mount Olympus. Dione, Aphrodite’s mother, heals her. Zeus says that Aphrodite should not take part in warfare again. With Aphrodite gone, Apollo tries to tend to Aeneas, but Diomedies attacks him, too. This aggressive action constitutes a breach of the agreement Diomedes has with Athena. Athena has limited Diomedes to challenging no god but Aphrodite. Apollo gives Diomedes a stern warning. He pushes him aside and then removes Aeneas from the field. Apollo leaves a replica of Aeneas’s body on the battlefield, hoping that it will affect his comrades. Additionally, he rouses the god of war, Ares, to fight with the Trojans.

With the gods’ assistance, the Trojans start being able to enjoy the upper hand in battle. Ares and Hector are too much for Achaeans to handle. Even Diomedes is frightened by the sight of a god and hero fighting side by side. Sarpedon, a Trojan, kills Tlepolemus, an Achaean. Odysseus kills entire lines of Trojans in response to this. Hector then kills more Greeks. Athena and Hera appeal to Zeus, and he provides permission to intervene on the Achaeans’ behalf. Hera rallies the remainder of the Achaean troops, and Athena provides Diomedes with encouragement. She takes back her earlier instruction to refrain from attacking any god except Aphrodite, and she even gets into the chariot to challenge Ares. She charges at Ares with the chariot. A tremendous collision occurs, and Ares is wounded by Diomedes. Ares promptly departs to Mount Olympus and offers his complaints to Zeus. Zeus says that Ares deserved to be injured. Hera and Athena also leave the scene of the battle.

Summary: Book 6

The gods are absent, and the Achaean forces are again successful in overwhelming the Trojans. The Trojans move back in the direction of the city. Menelaus thinks about taking a ransom in return for Adrestus’s life. Adrestus is a Trojan he has successfully subdued. However, Agamemnon pushes him to kill the man right away. Nestor realizes that the Trojans are becoming weaker and encourages the Achaeans not to spend any time stripping the weapons off their fallen enemies . He thinks that they should make their focus killing as many of the enemy as possible while they’re still able to do so. The Trojans believe that they will experience downfall, and Helenus, the soothsayer, encourages Hector to go back to Troy to ask Queen Hecuba, his mother, in addition to her noblewomen, to pray at the temple of Athena for mercy. Hector follows this advice, and he gives his mother and the noblewomen what they must do. He subsequently visits Paris, his brother, who is now withdrawn from battle, claiming that grief will now allow him to participate. Hector and Helen are contemptuous of Paris for not fighting and they show their scorn. Paris eventually decides to return to battle. Hector also gets ready to return to the fighting but he decides to first visit his wife, Andromache. He finds Andromache nursing Astyanax, their son, by the city’s walls. As Andromache holds the child, she shows her anxiety as she sees the occurrences on the plains located below. Andromache pleads with Hector not go return to the battle. He insists, however, that he is unable to escape his fate. Astyanax is at first scared of the crest on Hector’s helmet, but he is happy to see his father. Hector kisses his son. Hector subsequently departs. As she is certain that Hector will soon die, Andromache starts to mourn his death. As he is leaving the city, Hector sees Paris. The brothers get ready to again take part in battle.


Books 5 and 6 (and the last part of Book 4) contain battle narratives that constitute the descriptions of warfare first appearing in the book. These descriptions are also the first battles in which Achilles has not taken part. Diomedes tries to compensate for the absence of the great warrior. Helenus, the soothsayer, says that Diomedes is “the strongest Argive now” (6.115). The Achaeans continue to deal with the consequences of their greatest soldier’s pride and refusal to fight, and for a great deal of Book 5 they stay on the defensive. Even with divine assistance, Diomedes cannot quite muster the force that Achilles was able to provide. Hera is correct when she says, “As long as brilliant Achilles stalked the front / no Trojan would ever venture beyond the Dardan [Trojan] Gates” (5.907-908). Achilles ability to intimidate the Trojans is as strong as the anger he feels toward Agamemnon.

Homer uses long descriptive passages to convey the battle’s scope and intensity. There is clearly mass slaughter. However, he is able to include intimate characterization in these descriptions, and this helps to personalize the carnage. Home frequently provides more information on the characters meeting their deaths by telling stories on their upbringings or backgrounds. He employs this technique, for example, after Aeneas kills the twins, Crethon and Orsilochus in Book 5. He tells the story of how they joined the Achaean ranks. Additionally, Homer often moves back and forth between descriptions of Achaean and Trojan deaths. In doing so, he sometimes makes the victor of one exchange the victim of another. It is in this manner that he is able to create a sort of rhythm, transforming what would in any other circumstances be an unpleasant litany of death and destruction.

Homer also uses the battle narratives to explore the ways in which mortals and gods are similar and differ. We see that the mortals take part in armed warfare while the gods have their own fights. The conflicts of the gods always appear more frivolous than those of the mortals. They sometimes even seem almost petty. While additional violence between the mortals sometimes results as a consequence of the gods’ disagreements, it is clear that the latter’s motivations and loyalties are less serious than those of the mortals. An example of when conflict among the gods results in human violence is when Athena encourages Pandarus to act against the cease-fire in Book 4. The gods make their decisions on which sides they will support based on the heroes they happen to prefer, not any moral principle. They create pacts and scheme to assist one another. However, they frequently fail to honor these agreements. An instance of this is when Ares fights with the Trojans in Books 5 and 6 even though he had vowed to support the Achaeans. Additionally, the gods complain to Zeus whenever the consequences of war do not go in the way they desire. The gods’ conflicts always seem rather like those of a dysfunctional family. This stands in contrast to the glorious tragedy we see in human conflict.

It is possible that Homer intended to communicate the importance of living bravely and nobly. As human fate is controlled by such fickle gods, it is impossible to predict when or how death will occur. It is only possible to try to make life as meaningful as possible. Hector describes this idea to his wife, Andromache. This happens during their famous conversation in which he explores his idea of the central component of battle: kleos (“glory”). He is aware that he cannot escape his fate. However, as with all Homeric heroes, he feels he must live his life in a way that prioritizes his search for individual glory.

This scene also serves the purpose of humanizing the strong warrior, Hector. The audience is able to relate to his feelings and motivations as when fearing defeat, he rushes to his wife and is happy to see his son.  Homer uses the conversation between Hector and his wife, as well as setting and detailing, to achieve great pathos. He makes the meeting take place above the city’s grand entrance, the Scaean Gates. This is a place where numerous confrontations have taken place. This helps to elevate the love between Hector and Andromache, making it equal to the rage that is so prevalent throughout the epic. The use of detail in this work is also critical to the poignancy of the scene. When Andromache nurses Astyanax, the baby, we are reminded of how families are separated by war.  Hector sees how much his crested helmet alarms his son, and he takes it off. This makes us realize that while he is a great warrior, there is a tender side to his character. The scene as a whole helps to relieve some of the tension created by the descriptions of the battle. It also further emphasizes its tragic significance.

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