Books 12 and 13 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on April 28, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 716

The Achaians are penned back by their ships, and Hector 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.

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As Hector, 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 Hector to heed the warning and turn back. However, Hector 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, Hector 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.

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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 Calchas, the seer, giving the warriors new strength and courage for battle. The battle rages on, and Idomeneus fights bravely, bringing down many Trojans.

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Latest answer posted November 30, 2011, 12:19 am (UTC)

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Homer is not one for excessive suspense. In the first paragraph of book 12, 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 Achilles 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’s 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. Hector disregards his pessimism and charges ahead. Hector is incredibly successful, pushing right through the Achaian wall and forcing the terrified Achaians all the way back to the ships. However, Poulydamas has read the omen correctly as a sign of the ultimate destruction of Troy. Regardless of omens, Hector’s responsibility will not allow him to run from conflict.

The gods are still at odds with Zeus over his plan to help Achilles by giving glory to Hector. Poseidon believes the slaughter of the Achaians is unfair and once again defies Zeus by rushing in to help them defend themselves. While Zeus and Poseidon are brothers, Poseidon knows that Zeus is older and wiser and has the upper hand. He therefore wisely avoids helping the Achaians openly. Instead, he stays quietly in the background out of Zeus’s sight, strengthening and encouraging the warriors.

Hector gives Paris another lecture about his lack of bravery. This time, however, it appears that Paris has been fighting after all. Even in battle, though, Paris tends to keep away from the fiercest segments of the fighting. His lack of responsibility is a constant bane to Hector, who serves as the symbol of duty and control. Homer has made it plain elsewhere that Hector is aware that Troy will fall. Even so, he will fight to the end, doing what he can to save his loved ones behind the wall. While Paris is not willing to give Helen back to Menelaus, his exploits on the battlefield show a real lack of concern for the safety of those left in Troy.

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