Summary: Book 13
Zeus, happy with the war’s progress, takes his leave of the battlefield. Poseidon, eager to help the Achaeans and realizing that Zeus has gone, visits Little Ajax and Great Ajax in the form of Calchas and gives them confidence to resist the Trojan assault. He also rouses the rest of the Achaeans, who have withdrawn in tears to the sides of the ships. Their spirits restored, the Achaeans again stand up to the Trojans, and the two Aeantes (the plural of Ajax) prove successful in driving Hector back. When Hector throws his lance at Teucer, Teucer dodges out of the way, and the weapon pierces and kills Poseidon’s grandson Amphimachus. As an act of vengeance, Poseidon imbues Idomeneus with a raging power. Idomeneus then joins Meriones in leading a charge against the Trojans at the Achaeans’ left wing. Idomeneus cuts down a number of Trojan soldiers but hopes most of all to kill the warrior Deiphobus. Finding him on the battlefield, he taunts the Trojan, who summons Aeneas and other comrades to his assistance. In the long skirmish that ensues, Deiphobus is wounded, and Menelaus cuts down several Trojans.
Meanwhile, on the right, Hector continues his assault, but the Trojans who accompany him, having been mercilessly battered by the two Aeantes, have lost their vigor. Some have returned to the Trojan side of the fortifications, while those who remain fight from scattered positions. Polydamas persuades Hector to regroup his forces. Hector fetches Paris and tries to gather his comrades from the left end of the line—only to find them all wounded or dead. Great Ajax insults Hector, and an eagle appears on Ajax’s right, a favorable omen for the Achaeans.
Summary: Book 14
Nestor leaves the wounded Machaon in his tent and goes to meet the other wounded Achaean commanders out by the ships. The men scan the battlefield and realize the terrible extent of their losses. Agamemnon proposes giving up and setting sail for home. Odysseus wheels on him and declares this notion cowardly and disgraceful. Diomedes urges them all to the line to rally their troops. As they set out, Poseidon encourages Agamemnon and gives added strength to the Achaean army.
Hera spots Zeus on Mount Ida, overlooking Troy, and devises a plan to distract him so that she may help the Achaeans behind his back. She visits Aphrodite and tricks her into giving her an enchanted breastband into which the powers of Love and Longing are woven, forceful enough to make the sanest man go mad. She then visits the embodiment of Sleep, and by promising him one of her daughters in marriage, persuades him to lull Zeus to sleep. Sleep follows her to the peak of Mount Ida; disguised as a bird, he hides in a tree. Zeus sees Hera, and the enchanted band seizes him with passion. He makes love to Hera and, as planned, soon falls asleep. Hera then calls to Poseidon, telling him that he now has free rein to steer the Achaeans to victory. Poseidon regroups them, and they charge the Trojans. In the ensuing scuffle, Great Ajax knocks Hector to the ground with a boulder, and the Trojans must carry the hero back to Troy. With Hector gone, the Achaeans soon trounce their enemies, and Trojans die in great numbers as the army flees back to the city.
Analysis: Books 13 & 14
The scene between Hera and Zeus in Book 14 does little to advance the plot of the poem, as Zeus has already departed the scene of battle and ceased to support the Trojans. However, the scene does provide some comic relief. Once again, it is striking how issues of life and death in the mortal world are so often determined by petty feuds in the godly realms. Here, the decisive turn in the battle results from Zeus’s libido and Aphrodite’s gullibility, as well as Hera’s indignant mischievousness. Time after time, these divinities prove that they are far from always rational and levelheaded, that they are constrained by many of the same emotions and needs as humans. Interestingly, Homer never passes judgment on or questions the gods’ temperaments. Instead, he accepts their sensitivities as fundamental to their existence.
Although the Greeks now rise again to power, the troops rally under a temporarily reduced set of leaders. With the exception of the two Aeantes and Menelaus, few of the most familiar Achaean warriors fight in Books 13 and 14. Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Diomedes have all been injured, and Nestor now tends to the wounded healer Machaon; Menelaus appears once, but only briefly. This new focus on Greece’s second string affects the narrative in a number of interesting ways. First, it spotlights the Trojan commanders; Hector, Paris, and Aeneas all play significant roles in these two books. Hector’s leadership abilities, for instance, come to the foreground as he must decide, with help from Polydamas, first how to divide his army along the Achaean line and second whether to retreat and regroup his forces. Similarly, by keeping less senior commanders in the thick of the fight on the Achaean side, Homer is able to focus on the leadership and tactical skills of the main Achaean characters.
This focus corresponds to the more general attention paid in Books 13 and 14 to the tactical rather than physical aspects of war. The fighting described in these books entails less chaos and more controlled movement between groups of men. Polydamas and Hector discuss which part of the line needs reinforcement, and Poseidon urges the Achaeans to redistribute their arms more efficiently between stronger and weaker soldiers. Even Hera’s collaboration with Poseidon and her deception of Zeus and Aphrodite contrast with the brute force that Zeus uses to put the Trojans ahead in Books 8 through 12.