A Few Thoughts and Reflections on Books (VI - X) The Iliad by Homer

Books VI - X

Reading through books VI - X many of the same themes that I mentioned in my first post on books I - V have remained true, so I won't repeat those. Rather, I'll just mentioned a few other new themes that have stuck out to me. First, I will say that books VI - X bring a bit more a human element, as you are starting to know the characters a bit more. These books especially give an insight into Hector, as you follow him back into Troy to rouse his brother back to battle, call for sacrifices to be made, and then say a heart-wrenching goodbye to his wife and baby son. And so this brings me to my first point...

It's Humanizing on Both Sides Showing Us Behind the Scenes 
One many naturally expect that an ancient epic about a war would only detail the side from which the book is written, leaving the enemy as a foreign element to the reader. And yet, the Iliad takes time to mention the names, backgrounds, relations, and drama from both sides of the war. As I mentioned above, the scene of Hector returning from the war back into the city to call upon the women to make sacrifices to Athena are heart wrenching to say the least because Hector finds his wife and newborn son before heading back out onto the lines. Hector is not a villainous figure. He embodies all the same characteristics as the heroes on the other side. He is trying to be a noble prince, to be a fearsome warrior, to defend his homeland, to love his wife and family, to honor the gods, etc. 


"The great man of war breaking into a broad smile, his gaze fixed on his son, in silence. Andromache, pressing close beside him and weeping freely now, clung to his hand, urged him, calling him: 'Reckless one, my Hector - your own fiery courage will destroy you! Have you no pity for him, our helpless son? Or me, and the destiny that weighs me down, your widow, now so soon. Yes, soon they will kill you off, all the Achaean forces massed for assault, and then, bereft of you, better for me to sink beneath the earth. What other warmth, what comfort's left for me, once you have met your doom? Nothing but torment! I have lost my father. Mother's gone as well. Father ... the brilliant Achilles laid him low when he stormed Cilicia's city filled with people, Thebe with her towering gates. He killed Eetion, not that he stripped his gear - he'd some respect at least - for her burned his corpse in all his blazoned bronze, then heaped a grave-mound high above the ashes and nymphs of the mountain planted elms around it, daughters of Zeus whose shield is storm and thunder. And the seven brothers I had within out halls ... all in the same day went down to the House of Death, the great godlike runner Achilles butchered them all, tending their shambling oxen, shining flocks. 

And mother, who ruled under the timberline of woody Placos once - he no sooner haled her here with his other plunder than he took a priceless ransom, set her free and home she went to her father's royal halls where Artemis, showering arrows, shot her down. You, Hector--you are my father now, my noble mother, a brother too, and you are my husband, young and warm and strong! Pity me, please! Take your stand on the rampart here, before you orphan your son and make your wife a widow.

Draw your armies up where the wild fig tree stands, there, where the city lies most open to assault, the walls lower, easily overrun. Three times they have tried that point, hoping to storm Troy, their best fighters led by the Great and Little Ajax, famous Idomeneus, Atreus' sons, valiant Diomedes. Perhaps a skilled prophet revealed the spot-or their own fury whips them on to attack." And tall Hector nodded, his helmet flashing: "All this weighs on my mind too, dear woman. But I would die of shame to face the men of Troy and the Trojan women trailing their long robes if I would shrink from battle now, a coward. Nor does the spirit urge me on that way. I've learned it all too well. To stand up bravely, always to fight in the front ranks of Trojan soldiers, winning my father great glory, glory for myself. For in my heart and soul I also know this well: the day will come when sacred Troy must die, Priam must die and all his people with him, Priam who hurls the strong ash spear . . .

Even so, it is less the pain of the Trojans still to come that weighs me down, not even of Hecuba herself or King Priam, or the thought that my own brothers in all their numbers, all their gallant courage, may tumble in the dust, crushed by enemies-That is nothing, nothing beside your agony when some brazen Argive hales you off in tears, wrenching away your day of light and freedom! Then far off in the land of Argos you must live, laboring at a loom, at another woman's beck and call, fetching water at some spring, Messeis or Hyperia, resisting it all the way- he rough yoke of necessity at your neck. And a man may say, who sees you streaming tears, There is the wife of Hector, the bravest fighter hey could field, those stallion-breaking Trojans, long ago when the men fought for Troy. So he will say and the fresh grief will swell your heart once more, widowed, robbed of the one man strong enough to fight off your day of slavery.

No, no, let the earth come piling over my dead body before I hear your cries, I hear you dragged away!" In the same breath, shining Hector reached down for his son--but the boy recoiled, cringing against his nurse's full breast, screaming out at the sight of his own father, terrified by the flashing bronze, the horsehair crest, the great ridge of the helmet nodding, bristling terror-so it struck his eyes. And his loving father laughed, his mother laughed as well, and glorious Hector, quickly lifting the helmet from his head, set it down on the ground, fiery in the sunlight, and raising his son he kissed him, tossed him in his arms, lifting a prayer to Zeus and the other deathless gods: "Zeus, all you immortals! Grant this boy, my son, may be like me, first in glory among the Trojans, strong and brave like me, and rule all Troy in power and one day let them say, 'He is a better man than his father! when he comes home from battle bearing the bloody gear of the mortal enemy he has killed in war-a joy to his mother's heart."

So Hector prayed and placed his son in the arms of his loving wile. Andromache pressed the child to her scented breast, smiling through her tears. Her husband noticed, and filled with pity now, Hector stroked her gently, trying to reassure her, repeating her name: "Andromache, dear one, why so desperate? Why so much grief for me? No man will hurl me down to Death, against my fate. And fate? No one alive has ever escaped it, neither brave man nor coward, I tell you-it's born with us the day that we are born. So please go home and tend to your own tasks, the distaff and the loom, and keep the women working hard as well. As for the fighting, men will see to that, all who were born in Troy but I most of all." Hector aflash in arms took up his horsehair-crested helmet once again. And his loving wife went home, turning, glancing back again and again and weeping live warm tears."

Interacting With the Gods 
Another interesting aspect to reflect on from these chapters is how the Greeks construe their understanding of the gods. If I had to summarize it, I would say that the gods represent those aspects of reality which are beyond man's conscious control. While there are clearly some of the gods who are on one side or another of the war, all of the gods at some point seem to be present on both sides. For example, even though Athena is clearly on the side of the Achaeans, the Trojans have a shrine in which they offer her sacrifices. Zeus is back and forth, swaying the battle between one side and the other. Ares seems to be on the side of the Trojans, and yet there are Achaean fighters who are blessed by Ares. And so one can begin to see that these gods represent different aspects of the human experience which are present for every person.

I'm not fully quite sure what to make of those characters who are said to have a parent(s) being one of the gods. What did they mean when they said that? Possibly it could be referencing their greatness as individuals, such as Achilles, or Diomedes in the story. Likewise, I found it interesting that the gods themselves comes to fight in the battle. Notably, earlier, Aphrodite was wounded when she came down into the battle by Diomedes. He cut her wrist and she fled back to Olympus. But here in these books as well, Athena and Ares are present in the battle fighting alongside the men. 


"And powerful Diomedes bowed to her at once: "well I know you, Goddess, daughter of storming Zeus, and so I will tell you all, gladly. I'll hide nothing. It's not some lifeless fear that paralyzes me now, no flinching from combat either. It's your own command still ringing in my ears, forbidding me to fight the immortals head-on, all but one of the blessed gods, that is-if Aphrodite daughter of Zeus slips into battle, she's the one to stab with my sharp bronze spear. So now, you see, I have given ground myself and told my comrades to mass around me here. Too well I know that Ares leads the charge." But the goddess roused him on, her eyes blazing: "True son of Tydeus, Diomedes, joy of my heart! Forget the orders- -nothing to fear, my friend, neither Ares nor any other god. You too, I'll urge you on with so much winning force.

Up now! Lash your racing horses at Ares first, strike him at close range, no shrinking away here before that headlong Ares! Just look at the maniac, born for disaster, double-dealing, lying two-faced god-just now he promised me and Hera, the War-god swore he'd fight the Trojans, stand behind the Argives. But now, look, he's leading the Trojan rampage, his pledges thrown to the winds!" With that challenge Athena levered Sthenelus out the back of the car. A twist of her wrist and the man hit the ground, springing aside as the goddess climbed aboard, blazing to fight beside the shining Diomedes. The big oaken axle groaned beneath the weight, bearing a great man and a terrifying goddess- and Pallas Athena seized the reins and whip. lashing the racing horses straight at Ares.

The god was just stripping giant Periphas bare, the Aetolians' best fighter, Ochesius' noble son-the blood-smeared Ares was tearing off his gear but Athena donned the dark helmet of Death so not even stark Ares could see her now. But the butcher did see Tydeus' rugged son and he dropped gigantic Periphas on the spot where he'd just killed him, ripped his life away and Ares whirled at the stallion-breaking Diomedes-the two of them closing fast, charging face-to-face and the god thrust first, over Tydides' yoke and reins, with bronze spear burning to take the fighter's life.

But Athena, her eyes afire, grabbed the flying shaft, flicked it over the car and off it flew for nothing-and after him Diomedes yelled his war cry, lunging out with his own bronze spear and Pallas rammed it home, deep in Ares' bowels where the belt cinched him tight. There Diomedes aimed and stabbed, he gouged him down his glistening flesh and wrenched the spear back out and the brazen god of war let loose a shriek, roaring, thundering loud as nine, ten thousand combat soldiers shriek with Ares' fury when massive armies clash.

A shudder swept all ranks, Trojans and Argives both, terror-struck by the shriek the god let loose, Ares whose lust for slaughter never dies. But now, wild as a black cyclone twisting out of a cloudbank, building up from the day's heat, blasts and towers so brazen Ares looked to Tydeus' son Diomedes. Soaring up with the clouds to the broad sweeping sky he quickly gained the gods' stronghold, steep Olympus, and settling down by the side of Cronus' great son Zeus. his spirit racked with pain, Ares displayed the blood, the fresh immortal blood that gushed from his wound, and burst out in a flight of self-pity: "Father Zeus, aren't you incensed to see such violent brutal work?"
1 - (Bk VI 490-590)
2 - (Bk V 940- 1000)