The Iliad
Homer
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano

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Book 7-8
Summary

Summary: Book 7

The battle escalates with the return of Paris and Hector. However, Athena and Apollo soon opt to end the battle for that day. They decide to have a duel to stop the current bout of conflict. Hector moves to the Achaean line, offering himself to any man who will fight him. Menelaus is the only one who is brave enough to step forward, but Agamemnon dissuades him. He knows that Menelaus is not able to effectively fight Hector. Nestor is too old to fight Hector, but he encourages his comrades to take up the challenge. Nine Achaean men step forward. After a lottery, Great Ajax is selected.

The duel between Hector and Ajax begins with the tossing of spears. Neither is successful in this. After that, lances are used. Ajax is able to draw Hector’s blood. The two men are just about to fight with their swords when they are stopped by heralds sent by Zeus. They are to cancel the fight because night has fallen. The two men give one another gifts and their duel is ended with a pact of friendship.

That evening, Nestor delivers a speech recommending that the Achaeans request a day to bury their dead. He also says that they should build fortifications for their camp. In the Trojan camp, King Priam proposes something similar with regard to the Trojan dead. Additionally, Antenor, his advisor, requests that Paris give up Helen and end the war. Paris refuses to do this, but he offers to give back all the loot he seized from Sparta. However, when this offer is presented to the Achaeans by the Trojans the next day, the Achaeans refuse to accept the compromise when they sense desperation. It is agreed by both sides, though, to set aside a day of respite during which they may bury their dead. Poseidon and Zeus observe as the Achaeans build their fortifications. They plan to destroy them when the men leave.

Summary: Book 8

After he has forbidden the other gods from any interference in the war, Zeus makes his way to Mount Ida, which overlooks the Trojan plain. It is there that he weighs in his scale the fates of Achaea and Troy. The Achaean side sinks downward. Zeus puts the battle in the Trojans’ favor, unleashing a shower of lightening on the Achaean army. The Greeks retreat, terrified. Encouraged by the Trojans’ sudden success, Hector looks for Nestor. Nestor is in the middle of the battlefield. He is scooped up by Diomedes into a chariot just in time. Hector goes after both men, trying to push them towards Greek fortifications. He plans to set fire to their ships while they are there. When he sees the Achaean army begin to collapse, Hera inspires Agamemnon to gather his troops. He tries to strengthen their pride, encourages them to have heart, and prays to Zeus for relief. Zeus finally gives them a sign. It is an eagle with a fawn in its talons. This divine symbol inspires retaliation from the Achaeans.

The Achaeans continue working to regain their power, and many Trojans are killed by the archer Teucer. Hector is finally able to wound this archer, however, thereby changing the tide of the battle again. Hector pushes the Greeks behind their fortifications, for the entire way to their ships. Hera and Athena feel unable to endure any additional suffering on the part of the Greeks, and they get ready to enter  the fray. However, Zeus sends Iris, a goddess, to tell them what the consequences of interfering could be. Aware that they are unable to compete with Zeus, Hera and Athena give up and go back to Mount Olympus. After Zeus returns, he informs them that the following morning will hold their final chance to save the Achaeans. He points out that only Achilles will be able to prevent the destruction of the Greeks.

The Trojans feel confident that they are still dominant. That night, they camp outside the walls of the city. Hector tells his men to set up hundreds of campfires so that the Greeks will be unable to escape without being seen. The Greeks have been rescued by nightfall for now, but Hector plans to deal with them the next day.

Analysis

Despite Achilles’s absence, the Achaeans have been able to keep up their success so far. This fact combined with Hector’s despair and hopelessness as well as Paris’s cowardice in Book 6 have indicated impending failure for the Trojans. However, by Book 8’s ending, we tend to see the bravado of the Achaeans with significant irony. Hector has almost seized their fortifications, and the Trojans seem more determined than they have ever been. Mutual weariness and frustration with the war were the motivations for the cease-fire that we saw in Books 3 and 4. These factors have now disappeared. Now having abandoned the wish to end the war, the Trojans hope to win it. Their desire to engage in battle is clear in their decision to camp immediately beside the Achaeans. The fact that Hector is determined to burn the ships gives a sense of the severity of the loss the Achaeans will suffer. The future of Achaea is in a way symbolized by the ships. This is because while some Achaeans have remained behind in Greece, only a few of the fathers and sons of the land are still at home. Additionally, the men who have made their way to Troy are the “best of the Achaeans,” as the poet refers to them. If the Trojans were to burn their ships, the strongest and noblest and the Achaean race’s rulers would either be stranded on foreign shores or die in fire.

The dramatic change in the fortune of the Achaeans adds suspense and drama. Additionally, it marks a development in the gods’ feuds and helps in the overall plot progression. While the gods have become extensively involved in the war already by this point, the entrance of Zeus to the conflict causes significant changes. While earlier on he shows disapproval of the other gods’ infighting, he stays aloof himself. Also, he now decides to forbid other Olympians from interference, and he enthusiastically enters the struggle. The Achaeans’ decline signifies not just an alteration in the behavior of the gods but also a more significant change in the human dynamics of the poem. The eventual collapse of the Achaeans is the motivation of their appeal to Achilles in Book 9, and this helps to ensure that the most important figure in the work is in the center of the action. When Zeus tells Hera that Achilles is the only one who can save the Achaeans, this foreshadows the work’s coming focus on the hero and his pride. Up until this point, readers have seen the results of Achilles’ rage. In Book 8, the scene is set for manifestations of his rage on the battlefield.  

Readers are shown some aspects of Greek belief and ritual in Books 7 and 8. The Trojan warriors uphold this culture, as it was dominant all over the ancient Mediterranean world. In Book 7, we see an encounter between Ajax and Hector. It ends with the two men exchanging arms, and this resolves their conflict with a pact of friendship. This pact shows the value that is placed on individual dignity and respect. We see evidence of the fact that Greek culture emphasizes friendship and enmity. Gift-giving and the taking of lives are seen as equally significant. Each of these has its proper place. The appropriate balancing of these two seemingly opposing concepts is shown as a demonstration of the worthiness of an individual.

The agreement entered into by both sides to pause the fighting to bury the dead is a manifestation of adherence to the ancient Greek value system. In Greek culture, the pious ensure that the dead, especially individuals who have died in glorious circumstances, are given proper burials. It is true, though, that there could be a number of different ways to properly bury an individual. In this situation, the corpses are burned on a pyre while people mourn. In other circumstances, the dead are actually buried. In the ancient Greek belief system, it is only souls of bodies that have been properly disposed of that are able to enter the underworld. Disrespect for the dead or for established religious traditions is indicated by leaving the dead unburied. It is even worse to leave them as carrion for wild animals.

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