Last Updated on April 28, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 790
Nestor leaves his hut to observe the battle and sees that the Trojans have broken through the Achaian wall. He soon encounters Diomedes, Odysseus, and Agamemnon, and they discuss strategy. Agamemnon proposes that they drag the ships into the sea and sail away under cover of darkness. He sees no point in fighting the Trojans when the gods are on their side. Odysseus chides him for his lack of courage. He points out that if the Achaians know they will retreat in their ships, they will lose the spirit for fighting and be destroyed on the battlefield before they reach the shore. Diomedes then proposes that the three wounded leaders go back to the fighting to encourage the men, and they all agree to do so.
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Hera looks down from Olympus and happily sees Poseidon on the battlefield spurring on the Achaians. She immediately thinks of a plan to keep Zeus out of his way. She bathes and perfumes herself, dresses herself in beautiful clothing, and borrows the magic Band of Love and Desire from Aphrodite. She then enlists the aid of Sleep, promising him one of the Graces in marriage if he will put Zeus to sleep after she has lain with him. She goes to Zeus on Mount Ida, and he is overwhelmed with desire for her, wraps them in clouds, and lies with her. Sleep then overtakes him.
Ajax and Hector meet in combat, and Hector is brought down with a large stone. As he is carried from the battlefield, the Achaians are spurred on and force the Trojans back. As book 15 opens, the Trojans are pushed back across the ditch on the far side of the wall. When Zeus awakens and sees the Trojans in retreat and Hector lying wounded on the field, he is furious with both Hera and Poseidon. Zeus then lays out the major events that will take place in the battle. Iris is sent to order Poseidon to leave the battle, and Apollo is sent to panic the Achaians, spur on the Trojans, and strengthen Hector.
When the Achaian army sees Hector back in the fighting, they are afraid and retreat back to their ships. The Trojans press forward through the wall, and the panicked Achaians pray to the gods for their lives. The fighting now takes place among the Achaian ships, and Hector calls for fire to burn them.
Agamemnon is ready to give up and sail for home. He interprets the signs as an indication that the gods now favor Troy and no longer believes that the Achaians will eventually be victorious. Agamemnon is again showing his weakness and inability to lead. This time it is Odysseus who harshly reminds Agamemnon of his position of responsibility. Odysseus is not quite as diplomatic as Diomedes when facing Agamemnon. He calls Agamemnon a “catastrophe” and reminds him that if they flee, all the fighting of the last nine years would be in vain. Also, it is a tactically dangerous proposition. Many men would certainly be lost in attempting to escape. Agamemnon is in such a state of panic that he is not offended by Odysseus’s tone in the least. Diomedes again emerges as the voice of reason, and the men set off to encourage the warriors.
Hera’s seduction of Zeus is an interesting picture of the behavior of the gods. Far from being above the desires and temptations of men, Zeus is tricked by the very human element of sexual desire. Though supremely powerful among the gods, Zeus is not capable of perceiving Hera’s lie. Likewise, Sleep himself is motivated by his desire for a woman. While frightened of Zeus’s retribution, Sleep quickly agrees to defy him when offered the object of his desire. With Zeus safely asleep, Hera is able to give Poseidon time to openly help the Achaians without fear of discovery.
In book 15 the narrator again reveals the plot. This time Zeus reveals events that will take place in the full scope of the Iliad. These include one last drive by the Trojans that will force the Achaians to their ships; the appearance of Patroclus on the battlefield; the death of Sarpedon, Zeus’s son, at the hand of Patroclus; the death of Patroclus at the hand of Hector; and Hector’s death at the hand of Achilles. At this point the Achaians are certain they will die. They are now fighting for their lives as the Trojans attempt to torch the ships. Zeus delivers his list of coming events to avoid further interference by the gods in his plan to honor Thetis’s request to help Achilles. He reassures them that although things appear grim for the Achaians, they will eventually be victorious.