Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Iliad: Books 5-7

Book 5: Diomedes Fights the Gods

Well he wouldn't have, would he, if he wasn't egged on by Athena?
And she, well, she eggs on Ares too.

"Ares, Ares,
destroyer of men, reeking blood, stormer of ramparts,
why not let these mortals fight it out for themselves?
Yeah Athena, why dontcha?

Athena has done as Zeus the Trojan Pandarus to send the first arrow. He strikes Diomedes, but the goddess-fueled warrior treats it as but a scratch. Athena's not fighting fair, does this for Diomedes:
Look, I've lifted the mist from off your yes
that's blurred them up to now--
so you can tell a god from man on sight. ...
if Aphrodite daughter of Zeus slips into battle,
she's the one to stab with your sharp bronze spear! (147)
Before Diomedes wades back into battle, he instructs young Sthenelus to get Aeneas' horses. The horses man!
They are the very strain farseeing Zeus gave Tros (293)
Diomedes strikes a crippling blow with rock, but Aeneus is saved by....anybody? anybody?
...his mother Aphrodite
who bore him to Kind Anchises tending cattle once. (350)
And once upon a time all these relations would have been entirely transparent to the Homer, Bart, and Lisa are to me.

So Diomedes wounds Aphrodite...after all, Athena gave him the green light. But Apollo's got her back.
A piercing shriek--she reeled and dropped her son, But Phoebus Apollo plucked him up in his hands and swathed him round in a swirling dark mist... But Diomedes shouted after her, shattering war cries:
"Daughter of Zeus, give up the war, your lust for carnage!
So, it's not enough that you lure defenseless women
to their ruin? (393)
(While her wrist is wounded, Aphrodite's heart writhes in pain.)
Dione the light and loveliest of immortals (431) reminds Aphrodite "the man who fights the gods does not live long." (466) Athena taunts her in front of Father Zeus, who says, I paraphrase, "There there sweetie pie, keep the home fires burning and let Athena and Ares do the dirty work of war."
(is this a war between the Trojans and the Argives, or between Apollo and Athena?)
...Phoebus Apollo, lord of the golden sword, who ordered Ares to whip the Trojans' war lust once he spotted Athena veering off the lines, great Palla who'd rushed to back the Argives. (590)
All those video game sheroes, they must be based on Athena:
Then Athena, child of Zeus whose shield is thunder, letting fall her supple robe at the Father's threshold-- rich brocade, stitched with her own hands' labor-- donned the battle-shirt of the lord of lightning, buckled her breastplate geared for wrenching war and over her shoulders slung her shield, all tassels flaring terror-- (846)
Athena goads Diomedes for his waning fight. He blames her...she's said he couldn't fight the immortals but the one, yet clearly Ares was involved. So she says, Go for it! So even Ares is wounded and goes to complain to the Great Father. My, is Athena untouchable? Zeus scolds Ares,
"No more, you lying, two-faced... no more sidling up to me, whining here before me. You--I hate you most of all the Olympian gods. Always dear to your heart, strife, yes, and battles, the bloody grind of war. You have your mother's uncontrollable rage--incorrigible, that Hera--say what I will, I can hardly keep her down. Hera's urgings, I trust, have made you suffer this. (1035)
Book 6: Hector Returns to Troy

Menelaus (Helen's cuckolded husband) captures a man alive whose "horses snared themselves in tamarisk branches." (47) (I had to look that up. Photo by flickr user RobW) The man begs for his life, but the ever noble Agamemnon sneers at Menelaus for showing any concern for an enemy.

Diomedes gets snitty when Glaucus starts fighting in his territory. Glaucus, son of Hippolochus has the requisite blue blood though, so they become best buddies. Diomedes says,
"...The men must know our claim: we are sworn friends from our fathers' days till now!" Both agreed. Both fighters sprang from their chariots, clasped each other's hands and traded pacts of friendship. But the son of Cronus, Zeus, stole Glaucus' wits away. He traded his gold armor for bronze with Diomedes, the worth of a hundred oxen just for nine. (282)
And the Trojan women? All they get to do is pray. Which they do, to "Queen Athena--shield of our city--glory of goddesses! Now shatter the spear of Diomedes." (361) Heh. Good luck with that. Hasn't changed has it? Both sides praying to the same god? And each side thinks god likes them better?

I want to know more about Helen. She's bitter about Paris. She calls herself a whore, a bitch, vicious, scheming. (408) Did she willingly run away with Paris (albeit under the spells of Aphrodite) or did he steal her away against? Did the men of the time see no difference?

Hector's wife Andromache seems to have a good mind for strategy.
...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... (516)
But Hector doesn't want to look cowardly. Even worse, he doesn't want to lose and have Andromache be enslaved.

Andromache is sure he's made the wrong decision. Hector leaves again for battle.
And his loving wife went home, turning, glancing back again and again and weeping live warm tears. She quickly reached the sturdy house of Hector, man-killing Hector, and found her women gathered there inside and stirred them all to a high pitch of mourning. So in his house they raised the dirges for the dead, for Hector still alive, his people were so convinced that never again would he come home from battle, never escape the Argives' rage and bloody hands. (600)
That can't be good. I bet the Fates are just giggling maniacally.

Book 7: Ajax Duels with Hector

Paris suits up, keeps pace with Hector. Who knew?

OK, first they arranged the Paris vs Menelaus duel...that didn't work. Now Apollo and Athena arrange another duel, Hector vs whomever. Isn't that doomed to failure too? Are they just trying to make the game interesting? So Hector obliges, issues the challenge. You could hear the crickets chirp..."a hushed silence went through the Achaean ranks, ashamed to refuse, afraid to take his challenge...." (107)

They do the Ancient Greek equivalent of drawing straws. Internal monologues whisper, let it be Ajax let it be Ajax. And it's Ajax! Who acts like that's what he wanted. So why didn't he just step forward in the first place? Was it so Menelaus could act as though he'd do it? Agamemnon nobly holds him back, not without getting a dig in at Achilles, "Even Achilles dreads to pit himself against him." (130) as if Aggie has nothing to do with Achilles' absence. Old Nestor goads nine men into volunteering, thus the decision by lot. Is that the role of the old men, to taunt the younger ones to battle?

More battle description yada yada. Ajax knocks Hector flat. But wait for it...wait for it..."But Apollo quickly pulled him up." (316)

More strategizing. Nestor says to dig trenches. Among the Trojans, Antenor says to give Helen back. "We broke our sworn truce. We fight as outlaws." (404) Paris won't. He'll give the treasures back and more but not Helen. (He likes to be dominated...I guess no one can do it like Helen can.) The Achaeans do not accept...Diomedes thinks they've got it in the bag. So each side retrieved their dead, burned them, made their offerings to the gods, and feasted, ready to fight another day.

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