Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1049
Talthybios: Achaian herald who breaks up the duel
Poseidon: also called “Earthshaker”; the god of the sea
The Trojans are greatly encouraged as Hektor and Paris rush back to the battlefield. Athene is distressed at the destruction these two cause and she meets with Apollo. Together they decide to encourage Hektor to challenge an Achaian to a duel. This plan will give the rest of the warriors a reprieve from the fighting. They put the idea in Helenos’ head, and he brings the suggestion to Hektor.
Hektor holds back the Trojans, and they all sit down on the battlefield. Likewise, Agamemnon holds back the Achaians, and they all sit on the battlefield to hear what Hektor has to say. Hektor offers his challenge, and Menelaos is the first to accept the task. However, he is dissuaded from fighting by the Achaians who know that Hektor is a far superior warrior. Nestor then urges the Achaians to act like men and to accept the challenge. After his speech, nine of the Achaians rise to volunteer. When lots are cast to choose among them, Telamonian Aias is chosen.
Prayers are offered to Zeus and the duel begins. The men are fairly evenly matched, and the fighting is fierce. When the sky darkens, a herald from each side holds his stave between the two and separates them. Gifts are exchanged, and both men return to their armies.
Agamemnon calls the Achaian leaders together for a strategy meeting and a great feast is prepared. Nestor suggests that a truce should be called to allow the Achaians to properly bury their dead. He also suggests that the Achaians build a high, towered wall around their camp to keep back the Trojans. Meanwhile, the Trojans also hold counsel and Antenor advises them to give up Helen in order to avoid great disaster. Paris is willing to give up the treasure taken and to add greater treasure, but he refuses to relinquish Helen. Priam then suggests that a truce be called so that the Trojans can bury their dead.
Idaios is sent the next morning to the Achaian camp to convey the Trojan message. While the Achaians quickly reject the offer of treasure from Paris, both sides nonetheless agree to a truce to bury the dead. Both armies tend to their dead, burning the bodies on great funeral pyres. Then the Achaians build their wall and surround it with a deep ditch full of stakes. As the gods watch from Olympus, Poseidon angrily points out that the Achaians neglected to offer gifts to the gods before building their wall. To placate him, Zeus agrees to sweep the wall into the sea after the Achaians have left Troy. Both the Trojans and Achaians feast and then sleep.
Discussion and Analysis
Here we see the gods intervening in the battle to give both sides some much needed rest. Throughout the story, the gods are constantly involving themselves at every level to control the outcome of the fighting. In this case, they do not appear in disguise, but instead put the idea for what they desire in the mind of a mortal. They are confident enough that the men will agree to the plan that they do not need to appear in physical form. Again, there has been no supernatural event, only a gentle urging to convince men to act.
Hektor’s strength as a warrior is highlighted in this book when no Achaian rushes to accept his challenge to a duel. When Menelaos volunteers, his companions will not allow him to fight, as Hektor is a far greater warrior. It takes another stirring speech by Nestor to stir the best Achaian warriors to step forward. Nestor represents the wisdom of age. He has been a witness to an epoch of great strength and superior people. With his stories of past glory, he attempts to prod the Achaians to greater courage and strength in battle. All through the Iliad, Nestor will continually offer roughly the same motivational speech, playing on the Achaian fear of being labeled a coward. While this seems to be a powerful motivator, the Achaians constantly need to be reminded. This is not surprising when you consider the fact that a duel of this sort would normally end with the death of one of the parties.
Both armies desire a truce at this point during which to bury their dead. Proper burial is a central issue of this culture and a major theme of the Iliad. Later in the epic there is a striking example of a hero’s burial in the funeral rites for Patroklos. The men who have died thus far did not hold the same status, and their burial will be far less elaborate. However, it is very important that their bodies be properly treated, and not left to decay. A recurring phrase is “left for the dogs”; or left for animals to devour and therefore defile. This is the ultimate insult to a warrior, and many times the phrase is used as a threat against an opponent in battle. A dead man’s soul cannot peacefully enter the afterlife until proper burial steps have been taken. Many battles described in the Iliad will occur over the bodies of those who have been killed. While the warrior’s companions wish to bring the body back and properly bury it, the opposing warriors seek to strip it of valuable armor and then mistreat it as a symbol of their power and victory.
This chapter also describes the building of the Achaian wall. This is an important tactical move on their part. The wall and its surrounding ditch will protect the Achaians to some degree from Trojan assault. The Achaian wall also serves as a parallel to the Trojan wall. The Trojans built the great wall around their city with the help and blessing of Poseidon. They failed, however, to compensate the god for his trouble. Poseidon’s siding with the Achaians in the battle is a direct result of that breach. The Achaian wall is built without the help of the gods, and without sacrifice to them. For this reason, the gods are angered by its presence and Zeus promises that after the Achaians sail home the wall will be destroyed.
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