Iliad Books 12 and 13 Summary and Analysis
by Homer

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Books 12 and 13 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Poulydamas: Trojan soldier who advises Hektor to leave horses and attack the wall on foot

Meriones: Achaian warrior who comes to Idomeneus to replace his broken spear

The Achaians are penned back by their ships and Hektor attempts to bring his army over the ditch in front of the wall. However, as the Trojan horses are afraid of the ditch, crossing with the chariots is deemed too difficult. The Trojans decide to leave their horses and attempt to break through the wall on foot.

As Hektor, Poulydamas, and their men prepare to cross the ditch, they see an omen. An eagle holding a live snake flies over, and the snake twists and bites its captor in the neck. The eagle cries out and drops the snake among the men, who are gripped with fright at such a strong sign from Zeus. Poulydamas advises Hektor to heed the warning and turn back. However, Hektor is determined to attack and leads the charge on the wall. The two armies fight bitterly at the wall and many men on both sides are killed. Finally, Hektor hurls a great rock at the doors of the double gates and smashes the hinges, shattering the doors. The Trojans stream inside, sending the Achaians running for their ships in panic.

Poseidon, watching the Achaians fighting to save their ships, feels pity for them and great anger at Zeus. He mounts his chariot and rides over the sea to the battle. He leaves his horses and moves among the Achaians in the guise of Kalchas, the seer, giving the warriors new strength and courage for battle. The battle rages on, and Idomeneus fights bravely, bringing down many Trojans.

Discussion and Analysis
Homer is not one for excessive suspense. In the first paragraph of Book Twelve, he indicates that Troy is sacked in the tenth year and all the leading Trojan men are killed. While the outcome of the war had previously been more subtly alluded to, this statement is particularly blunt. We are reminded that the audience would have known the ultimate outcome of the war anyway. The purpose of the Iliad is not to relate the overall story of the Trojan War, but to tell of the quarrel between Achilleus and Agamemnon, and its disastrous effects.

The events related here highlight the difficulty of reading the omens. We are told that Zeus is determined to give the victory to Hektor, yet the signs would suggest otherwise. What Hektor fails to see is the limit of Zeus’ plan. Zeus promises victory only up to the ships of the Achaians. While Hektor interprets this to mean ultimate victory, the reality is the Achaians will come back strongly after the Trojans reach the Achaian ships. When an eagle suddenly drops a writhing serpent in the midst of the Trojan forces, Poulydamas understandably takes it to be a rather negative omen. Hektor disregards his pessimism and charges ahead. Hektor is incredibly...

(The entire section is 747 words.)