Iliad

Summary and Analysis of Books 1-4

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Book 1:

Summary:

The Iliad begins with the Trojan War already in progress. Greek audiences would have been familiar with the background of the story, and here a brief summary of events is necessary to help the reader to put these events in context. It is important to remember that these stories had a life outside of Homer: he did not invent his characters or the main events of the epic. He did make key choices regarding which events and characters were to be emphasized and reinterpreted. The Iliad focuses on events that take place in the tenth year of the Trojan War. Myth, in constant retelling, changes its form constantly. The myths have some elements that are very familiar to modern readers but were unknown or ignored by Homer. For example, a widely known story holds that Achilles was immortal, except for his heel. But although Homer's Achilles is an unmatched warrior, not once in the Iliad does Homer present Achilles as more or less vulnerable than anyone else; either the story was a later addition or Homer chose to ignore it. The myths Homer drew on for his tale had many variants, so in giving the background outside of Homer's text this study guide will try to present only the most fundamental elements of the story of Troy. Paris, also known as Alexander, was a prince of Troy, a kingdom in Asia Minor. During his travels, he was a guest of Menelaus, a king in Sparta. Menelaus' wife was Helen, a woman of legendary beauty; she and Paris fell in love and he took her with him back to Troy. The rulers of the Greek kingdoms raised a powerful army and a fleet of over a thousand ships to win back Helen with strength of arms. Led by Agamemnon, Menelaus' older brother, the Greeks (called "Achaeans" or "Argives" or "Danaans" throughout the poem) sailed for Troy and began a war that was destined to last for ten long years.

In the tenth and final year of the Trojan War, the fighting is temporarily stalemated. While on a previous raid, Agamemnon, commander-in-chief of the Achaean forces, has taken as plunder the beautiful girl Chryseis. Chryseis' father, Chryses, is a priest of the god Apollo. Chryses pays a visit to Agamemnon, treating him with great respect and courtesy and offering an opulent ransom in exchange for the freedom of his daughter. Although the Achaeans cry out their approval for Chryses' request, Agamemnon refuses to grant it. He threatens to kill Chryses if the priest should ever come into Agamemnon's presence again. Chryses flees, but he prays to Apollo for vengeance and justice. The god, angered by Agamemnon's disrespect for his priest, rains arrows on the Achaeans. The result is a horrible plague, as men and animals die mysteriously for nine days.

On the tenth day, Achilles calls the Greeks to assembly, the idea put into his head by the goddess Hera, who sides with the Achaeans against Troy. Achilles asks for some prophet or seer to tell them what has caused the plague and what must be done to end it. Calchas, a great prophet, says that he knows the answer, but he makes Achilles vow to protect him once he has revealed it. Achilles vows, and Calchas tells them that the plague has been sent by Apollo in punishment for Agamemnon's treatment of Chryses. To atone for the sin, the Achaeans must give Chryseis back without accepting any ransom and in addition they must give a hundred sacred bulls to Chryses for sacrifice. Agamemnon is furious with Calchas, saying that the seer enjoys delivering evil prophecies, but the king agrees to give up the girl. He insists, however, that one of the Achaeans give him a prize to compensate him for his loss.

Achilles is enraged by the request. The plunder has already been distributed, he argues, and a good man does not take back what he has given. Agamemnon and Achilles argue, each man insulting the other. Agamemnon threatens to take a prize if one is not given to him, and Achilles reminds him that all of the Achaeans are fighting against foes who have only wronged Menelaus. For the sake of the two royal brothers, the Argives bloody their hands against men who have done them no wrong. Achilles also complains that though he bears the heaviest burden in battle, it is the king who is always greedy for prizes. Achilles refuses to fight anymore: he will go home to Phthia. Agamemnon responds that to compensate for the loss of Chryseis, he will take Achilles' own prize, the girl Briseis.

Because of this dishonor, anger seizes Achilles and he strides toward Agamemnon to kill him. Hera sends the goddess Athena to stop him. Only Achilles can see Athena, who tells him not to kill the king. She promises that Achilles will be justly compensated for this great dishonor. Achilles obeys her, but he vows to Agamemnon that one day the Achaeans will come begging Achilles for help. They will need his protection from Hector, the greatest of the Trojan warriors, and Agamemnon will regret his pride.

Nestor, oldest of the Achaean kings, rises and tells the two men that they must listen to him, because he is old and has lived and fought with warriors greater than any now living. He asks Agamemnon not to take Briseis, Achilles' fairly won prize, and he tells Achilles that he must respect Agamemnon's position as commander-in-chief.

His words are lost on the two men. Achilles returns to his ships with his companion Patroclus. The Achaeans send the ships to make the sacrifice, with Odysseus in charge of the expedition. Meanwhile, Agamemnon sends men to fetch Briseis, who is given up without a fight‹Achilles does not resist because the girl was a gift distributed by Agamemnon and the great warrior feels it is not his place to refuse the king. But Achilles is humiliated, and he calls on his mother, the goddess Thetis; she hears him and emerges from her home in the sea. He weeps and asks his mother to help him to win justice. Zeus is in Thetis' debt; in a revolt of the gods in which Zeus was nearly defeated, only Thetis' intervention saved him. Achilles tells her what has happened and asks Thetis to go as a suppliant to Zeus, to ask him to intervene so that the Achaeans might know suffering as long as Achilles does not fight. Thetis responds with sadness. She tells her son that he is destined to die young and with great sorrow, but she agrees to do as he asks. The gods are away for feasting in Ethiopia, but they will return soon and Thetis will make her plea then.

Meanwhile, Odysseus delivers Chryseis back to her father and helps the priest to make the sacrifice. Chryses prays to Apollo to stop the plague; the god is appeased. The Achaeans who sailed on the ships bringing the sacred bulls now feast on the meat left over after the sacrifice. The men return to the front, where Achilles is still withdrawn into his ship, refusing to fight.

The gods return to Olympus and Thetis clasps Zeus' knees‹the position of a supplicant‹and asks that the Trojan win victory after victory as long as her son does not fight. Zeus is anxious because his wife, Hera, queen of the gods, despises the Trojans and will be furious with him. But he agrees. When he returns to his house, where all the gods are assembled, Hera is waiting in anger for him. She knows that he has seen Thetis, and fears the disasters that might be brought down on the Achaeans if Zeus decides to help bring Achilles honor. The two argue bitterly, until Zeus threatens to harm her, and she takes her place quietly. Hephaestus, god of the forge and child of Zeus and Hera, urges his parents not to fight over the fate of mortals. He wants Hera to obey Zeus because he does not wish to see his mother harmed. He serves the gods sweet nectar to drink, beginning with his mother, and the gods feast and listen to song. As night falls, they return to their beds and sleep, Hera by Zeus's side.

Analysis:

One of the key features of Homer's language is the use of ornamental epithets, labels that accompany the names of heroes, gods, or objects. The epithets are made to fill in the line in a way that fits the poetic meter, dactyllic hexameter, easing the job of the poet by giving him a list of ready-made phrases that can be used according to how many syllables are left on the line. The epithets, some have argued, indicate that Greek oral poetry may have included strong elements of improvisation. A poet would have a wide range of set passages, short phrases and whole mini-narratives, to draw from as he improvised an epic on the spot right in front of an audience. Alternately, the epithets might have made a rehearsed epic easier to remember. Many of these epithets were probably handed down to Homer; it is his skill in using and arranging them, rather than sheer inventiveness, that marks him as a great poet. There are also set phrases, such as "and do battle." For a modern reader, Homer can seem extremely repetitive at times, but repetition here is part of his art. A character might say that he is going to go fight and do battle, even though the statement is repetitive, because the set phrase neatly completes the line. Also, there is a sense in Homer that a good passage can and should be repeated almost in its entirety. When Achiles tells Thetis about what Agamemnon has done to him, he repeats whole passages verbatim.

Some of the epithets include "brilliant," "god-like," or "swift-footed" Achilles; Trojans, "breakers of horses"; "glorious" Hector, "Hector of the shining helm"; "resourceful" or "brilliant" Odysseus; "Zeus of the counsels" or "Zeus of the wide brows." These epithets are generally used to fit the meter rather than the mood of the moment. Achilles may be "swift-footed" even while he is sitting and doing nothing; "laughing" Aphrodite might be furious. While the epithets fit the characters and places in general and sometimes fit the moment beautifully, it is important to remember that meter is often the first consideration for these phrases when it comes to specific moments. If the reader attempts to close-read Homer, he must beware of being misled by set phrases chosen to fit the meter. A good example of a potential misread is when Menelaus and Paris prepare to duel over Helen, and the winner will have the faithless Helen as his "beloved" wife. Irony is probably not intended, because "beloved" goes with "wife" (Lattimore 40). Still, at other times the epithets can and do fit the things they describe quite well. While reading, listen for these patterns and set phrases. These epithets and repetitions create a beautiful rhythm that is part of the pleasure of reading Homer.

The anger of Achilles is at the center of the poem‹the opening line is an invocation of the Muse to "sing of the anger of Peleus' son Achilles." Achilles' rage causes the deaths of many of his friends and fellow soldiers, including his beloved companion Patroclus.

This rage is invoked by pride, a theme of pivotal importance for the Greeks. Pride is the source of the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon in Book 1. The king is angered by what he sees as a challenge to his authority. He is furious at Calchas for indicting Agamemnon as the cause of the plague. Rather than graciously admit his mistake, the king becomes monstrous and demands compensation for what should not have been his in the first place. He knows what he must do for the sake of the army, but he demands recognition of his privileged status as king.

Achilles, in turn, demands recognition of his status as the greatest warrior among the Achaeans. The loss of Briseis is not humiliating because he has any kind of romantic attachment to her. It is humiliating because she was a prize given to Achilles by Agamemnon for valor. When Agamemnon takes her away‹as is his technical right to do, although it clearly violates rules of respect and honorable conduct‹he dishonors Achilles horribly and devalues Achilles' contributions as a warrior. This grave dishonor happens in terms that the Greek audience would have understood. Athena herself calls the king's behavior an "outrage." This insult to Achilles' pride is what causes the great warrior's wrath. The fact that Achilles is fiercely proud does not mean that Achilles is not a great man, because the Greeks understood pride as an inseparable part of a hero's greatness. He is hot-tempered, insubordinate, prizing his honor above the wellbeing of his fellow troops. His wrath is the cause of his own later bitterness‹the bitter end that his mother predicts. But he is also destined to die gloriously, unequaled on the battlefield. The desire to win glory is one of the themes of the Iliad, and it is seen in Achilles choice to win glory instead of long life. Achilles is also courageous, capable of deep feeling, and, unlike most of the characters of the epic, he is eventually transformed by new understanding.

The interplay between gods and men is a complex and important theme throughout the Iliad. Gods intercede constantly. In Book 1 alone, a huge number of divinely influenced events occur. Hera is responsible for Achilles having the idea to call the assembly, Athena stops Achilles from killing Agamemnon, Apollo brings plague on the Achaeans. Gods constantly aid particular warriors. Fate and human will have a paradoxical relationship. Humans undoubtedly make choices‹part of the Iliad's power is that Achilles suffers because of choices that he has made‹but human will must coexist or clash with fate or the will of the gods. No strict theology of will and necessity is put forward by Homer. Humans undoubtedly make choices‹even at moments of divine interference. In Book 1, when Athena stops Achilles from killing Agamemnon, she uses language of persuasion rather than command. At times, all things seem to proceed according to the will of Zeus. But at key points, Zeus himself seems to be subject to the dictates of faith. At other times, human beings seem to act in ways that will overturn fate itself unless the gods intercede. Fagles, the translator of one of the best editions of the Iliad in English, points out that a difficult paradox presents itself for any civilization that believes in both free will (and with it, individual responsibility) and fate (which comes with pattern and thus, meaning) (Fagles 42). Experience seems to require a place in our stories for both concepts, as contradictory as they may be, and the fit is not always easy. Homer does not choose to bind his story within a rigid and unquestioning theology; he is a great storyteller, and like many great storytellers he is not afraid of paradox. On the issues of destiny and will, the Iliad seems to pose questions rather than provide systematic answers to them.

The characteristics of the gods are established in Book 1. All of the gods are incredibly willful, concerned with achieving their goals. Zeus is the ruler, but often by force alone‹when Hera opposes Zeus angrily because of his audience with Thetis, he threatens her with physical harm. We learn that Zeus was once nearly overthrown by Poseidon, Athena, and Hera, and only because of Thetis was he able to escape. His commands are obeyed because he is the strongest of the Olympians, and that has to be reason enough.

But Book 1 ends with Olympus in great harmony, as the gods celebrate with song and feasting, and when they go to bed at night, Hera sleeps peacefully by Zeus's side. There is beautiful symmetry in Book 1 between Olympus and the mortal men below: Book 1 has two feasts that occur in a context of conflict: the first feast is celebrated in the world of men, and the second feast is in the halls of Olympus. Although the Iliad concerns itself with war, there is a love for the world at peace. Moments of harmony are interspersed throughout the epic. For long stretches of Greek history, war was a fact of life. Homer depicts the brutality of war alongside the glory of its heroes. He shows us the suffering that war brings, while providing occasional glimpses of peace and harmony in a poem that is full of violence. There is something poignant in Achilles' pointed accusation of Agamemnon: when Achilles argues that all of the men fight for the sake of Menelaus' dishonor and the glory of Agamemnon, Achilles says that throughout the war he has killed men who have done nothing to him or his home. He speaks of his homeland, the homeland never assaulted by a Trojan, and his words conjure imagery of a kingdom in peacetime. Achilles is a fierce warrior, the best at what he does, and yet here he shows a glimmer not exactly of conscience but of consciousness. He is not, at this moment, an unthinking killing machine. He has some inkling of what it means to kill a man, to snuff out another life, and though he does not reflect on his actions seriously right at this moment, he is at least aware that the men he kills have done him no wrong. This moment may foreshadow the greater understanding of suffering that he reaches by the end of the epic.

Book 2:

Summary:

In order to lure the Achaeans into disaster, Zeus sends Dream to give Agamemnon a false vision that now is the time to attack the city of Troy. Agamemnon believes the dream, and wakes and dresses for battle. He believes he will take Troy that very day. He calls the Achaeans to assembly and tells them about the dream. The troops ready themselves, Zeus's servant Rumor buzzing around and exciting them.

Agamemnon then gives a speech to the Achaeans, telling them that the war has gone on too long. Though they outnumber the Trojans, they have not captured the city in nine long years. Now it is the tenth year, and Agamemnon tells the troops that they should go home in disgrace.

Although Agamemnon is testing the men's courage, the demoralized troops scatter and make for the ships. The shameful retreat is only halted by the actions of Hera and Athena. Athena goes down and urges Odysseus, her favorite, to stop the troops from leaving. Odysseus takes Agamemnon's scepter and runs among the ranks, persuading men and kings to stand their ground. When the troops are back in order, the unruly Thersites tries to undo Odysseus' work, insulting Agamemnon and trying to make the troops insubordinate. Odysseus answers him with words and force, arguing against Thersites' statements, insulting Thersites' character, threatening him with physical humiliation, and finally thrashing him with Agamemnon's scepter. The troops are amused and invigorated by the spectacle, and Odysseus reminds them that they promised to fight until they had taken the city of Troy. He also reminds them that before they set sail from Aulis, Calchas interpreted a sign from the gods: they are to take Troy in their tenth year, and this year is the tenth. Nestor berates the troops, reminding them of favorable signs from Zeus seen on the day they set out for Troy. He urges Agamemnon to arrange the men by clans and tribes, so it will possible to see which groups are brave and which groups are cowardly.

Agamemnon expresses regret over his previous anger with Achilles, but he does not do anything to make amends. The troops get ready, eating dinner and making sacrifices to the gods. The speaker tells us that Zeus accepts the sacrifice but will not grant victory yet.

After invoking the Muses so that he can rely on their divine memory, Homer then gives a long, complete list of all of the Greek chieftains involved in the Trojan war. He describes their attributes and the number of men they command, as well as their important family members and kingdoms of origin. Near the end, we learn that without Achilles, the best warrior on the Achaean side is Telamonian Ajax or Greater Ajax (not to be confused with Ajax, son of Oileus, also known as Oilean Ajax or Little Ajax). Achilles, ruler of the Myrmidons, is by far the greatest Achaean warrior, but he remains out of battle.

Iris, messenger of Zeus, warns the Trojans of the coming attack. The Trojans and their allies prepare for battle. Their leader is Priam's son, Hector "of the shining helm," a civilized man and a great warrior. He is their champion. Important also is Aeneas, favored by the gods to survive and be the father of all Trojans afterward.

Analysis:

Agamemnon is often unsteady as king, weighed down by the responsibility of his position. When he tries to use reverse psychology to goad his troops into battle readiness, he ends up demoralizing his own soldiers. He is reliant on Odysseus, a crafty man beloved of Athena and the perfect counselor, to bring the troops back into line. It is Odysseus, and not Agamemnon, who answers and humiliates the unruly Thersites. He uses the scepter of Agamemnon in these scenes, symbolizing Odysseus' important role as a leader behind the leader. But Odysseus never seeks to usurp Agamemnon's position. He is a great man, less overwhelming than some of the other heroes, but more balanced and less tainted by the weakness of pride.

Here, as always, we see the theme of interaction of free will and fate. Although the gods initiate many of these events, Odysseus is not a pawn but a skilled agent. For the sake of Athena and his king, he pulls the troops back into line.

Agamemnon's unsteadiness manifests itself again in his admission of regret over his conflict with Achilles. Although he admits that he was the first to become angry, he is still too proud to truly make amends. This kind of admission is typical of how Agamemnon deals with wrongs he has committed. Note that in Book 1, he sends Odysseus to make amends to Chryses rather than go and apologize himself. Although attempts will later be made to set things right, Agamemnon is never capable of the kind of full apology that would restore Achilles' honor.

There are fine examples of Homeric simile in Book 2. In Homer, the beauty of a simile is not always based on perfect and thought-out similarity between the two things compared. When A is compared to B, Homer often continues talking about B with evocative language that does little to develop the similarity with A. For example, Homer compares the armies of the Achaeans to milling bees. He then goes on to loving describe swarms of bees as they hover around flowers in springtime. At this point, Homer is no longer interested in developing the similarities between the troops and bees. The simile is more ornamental, concerned with delivering the history of B, and the images Homer evokes are often those of the everyday. We move from the terrible scene of army preparing for war to bees at springtime, and Homer is content to stay for a moment with the bees, developing that imagery for its own sake. These similes, together, often (but not always) present glimpses of a peaceful and harmonious world. Homer often uses them to provide powerful contrast to the brutality of the Trojan War, juxtaposing images of violence with images of peace.

Book 3:

Summary:

As the armies move to meet each other, Paris strides forward ahead of the Trojan ranks, by this move challenging the best of the Argives to face him in combat. As soon as he does, Menelaus, thrilled at a chance for revenge, leaps down from his chariot. Paris loses heart and retreats back into the ranks. Hector, who is also his brother, insults and condemns Paris, calling him a coward and implicitly blaming him for the war. He says that if the men of Troy were not cowards they would have stoned Paris years ago for his misdeeds. Paris, chastised, tells Hector that he will fight Menelaus and the winner shall have Helen; then the two sides will part in peace. Hector makes the announcement to the Argive forces and Menelaus agrees. They call for lambs for sacrifice and for Priam to come down as witness to seal the oath.

Iris, servant of Zeus, takes the shape of one of Hector's sisters and rushes to tell Helen what is happening. Filled with homesickness, Helen goes up to the top of the Scaean Gates, where, invited by Priam, she sits among the elder men of Troy. Priam does not blame her for the war, but rather treats her with courtesy. Priam asks Helen questions about the different Argive fighters he sees. She tells him the names of Agamemnon, king of the armies; Odysseus, the great tactician and king of Ithaca; Ajax, enormous man and bulwark of the Achaeans; and Idomeneus, commander of the armies from Crete. Helen knows most of the great fighters' names, but look as she might she cannot find her two brothers, Castor and Polydeuces. She wonders if they came or if they have already died. The speaker of the poem then tells us that the two men are long dead, buried in their homeland of Lacedaemon.

A messenger arrives and asks Priam down to the plains to seal the men's oaths and witness their duel. Priam goes down with Antenor, an elder and one of his advisors. Agamemnon makes the prayer and the oath, killing the lambs. Priam, unable to bear watching his son fight in a duel, goes back through the city gates with Antenor. Menelaus and Paris duel, and as Menelaus is about to finish off Paris, Aphrodite intercedes. She carries Paris away and drops him in his own bed within the gates of Troy. She then goes to Helen and tells her to go back to bed, where Paris awaits her. Helen refuses, shamed now by her past actions and unwilling to go to bed with her cowardly husband. Furious, Aphrodite threatens to make her fate miserable if she does not obey. So she goes, although when she sees her husband she insults him, saying that it would be better if he had died. Paris shrugs her insults off and he and Helen make love. Down on the field, Menelaus looks in rage for Paris. The speaker tells us that no Trojan would have hidden him then, their hatred of Paris was so great. Agamemnon cries out that clearly Menelaus was the winner, and that the Trojans must hand over Helen, under the terms of the oath. The Argive soldiers roar their assent.

Analysis:

Homer's depiction of Helen is the most interesting part of this section. Later Greek writers were content to heap hatred on Helen, blaming her for the Trojan War and depicting her as an empty-headed strumpet‹as in the Orestes of Euripides. But that characterization is a far cry from what we see here. Although Helen's decision to leave with Paris has been the cause of the Trojan War, now she seems full of regret for what she has done. Although Priam assures her that the war is the will of the gods, Helen is not convinced. She wishes that she had died, and sympathy for her is increased when Homer tells us that her brothers, for whom she searches among the ranks, are long dead. She realizes that the death and destruction around her have in part been her fault, and she tries to resist Aphrodite when Aphrodite lures her back to Paris' bed. Resistance to the goddess is futile; when Aphrodite threatens Helen, Helen fearfully complies. But Helen's self-loathing sticks with her. When she sees her husband Paris she greets him with contempt, and though he shrugs aside her insults, Homer does not show us her reaction to his defense of himself. Still, there are limits to Helen's change of heart. She ultimately lacks the initiative to kill herself or hand herself over to the Achaeans; Homer gives her personality and remorse, but he must stay within the confines of the myth. No peaceful solution is possible.

Priam's kindness is consistent with Homer's tremendously sympathetic depiction of the Trojans. The old man does not blame Helen for the deaths of his people or the possible destruction of his city. He and the elders treat her better than she deserves.

We also see a glimpse of Hector in this chapter, as he goads his cowardly brother to fight Menelaus in a duel. Hector, greatest of the Trojans, is a brave man. But he suffers from a different kind of fear, connected to pride. Lattimore writes that Hector has a great weakness: his greatest failing is not fear on the battlefield, but fear of being called a coward (Lattimore 46). Otherwise, he would have surrendered Helen to the Achaeans and had Paris stoned‹he says to Paris that if the Trojans were real men they would have done that very thing. This action might save the city. Hector is still a brave man, but his pride prevents him from committing an act of courage that in some ways would be greater than any feat on the battlefield.

Book 4:

Summary:

In the halls of Olympus, Zeus and Hera argue over the fate of Troy. The Trojans and the Greeks are about to make a truce that will end the war and save the city. Hera longs to see the city destroyed, although Zeus loves Troy and its people because of their piety and virtue. Zeus is angry and warns her not to try and stop him when he hates a city himself, because he has given her Troy. Hera offers him three cities: Sparta, Mycenae, and Argos. They send down Athena to make sure that the truce does not hold. Athena tempts Pandarus, an archer on the Trojan side, to fire an arrow and bring down Menelaus. He does so, letting loose an arrow that would have been fatal, but Athena deflects the arrows course so that it makes a non-lethal wound. Agamemnon sends for Machaon, a healer, to tend to his brother. The truce breaks down into war. Agamemnon moves through the ranks, scolding cowards, praising the brave, rallying the troops, giving orders. He chides some of the men too strongly, including Odysseus. These men respond with anger: to Odysseus, Agamemnon apologizes, but the angry Sthenalus is calmed by Diomedes, who explains that as king Agamemnon must incite the troops to fight harder.

Homer now describes the combat. The battle scenes are gruesome and brutal, full of impaled men, gouged eyes, crushed skulls. These scenes are also exciting and fast paced, and include passages of great beauty. The brutality of war is clear. Characters are introduced only to die a few lines later, Trojans and Greeks alike.

Analysis:

The gods in Olympus, although they choose favorites among mortals, do not set a high premium on the value of human life. Hera and Zeus trade cities casually, as Hera offers him three cities beloved by her to compensate for Troy, a city beloved by Zeus. Hera and Athena hate Troy so much that they will not allow the truce to hold. This Greek attitude toward their gods is a response to a harsh world, where human beings, devout or not, are killed in droves by disasters both natural and man-made.

The truce is an example of human agency overridden by divine will, further developing the theme of interaction between fate and free will. The mortals are on the verge of saving themselves in a way honorable to all, but even a Greek victory is unsatisfactory to the gods if it means that Troy survives. Zeus cannot allow this to be, either, since he has vowed to Thetis that he will help Achilles to win glory. The gods are also not above tricking mortals: Dream was used to trick Agamemnon earlier, and in this section Athena tricks Pandarus by offering him great glory if he kills Menelaus.

We see Agamemnon here as an effective leader, marshalling the troops in battle, guiding them tactically and raising their spirits. This Agamemnon is a far cry from the man two chapters earlier, whose ploy to rally the Greeks nearly ended in an Achaean retreat. Although Agamemnon occasionally wavers and makes mistakes‹he apologize here to Odysseus‹he is still, in the capacities of leadership, the grandest of the Achaean chieftains.