The Iliad

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The Iliad Book 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The gods sit in council on Mt. Olympus, watching events take place in Troy. Zeus begins to taunt Hera, mocking her and Athena for standing by while Aphrodite rescues Paris. He notes that Menelaus is the victor, and that he should now lead Helen home. Hera explodes with anger, saying that she won’t let the duel stop her effort to destroy Troy. In turn, Zeus becomes angry, criticizing her relentless desire to raze Troy. He tells Hera that when he wishes to destroy a city “filled with men you love—to please myself”, she shouldn’t stand in his way. Hera agrees, offering him the Achaean cities of Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae in return for Troy.
The gods treat the war as their playground, and are more than willing to trade barbs—and mortal’s lives—with one another. To some extent, the fact that men are mortal is what makes men appealing to the gods of Homer: ultimately, they are expendable. Hera doesn’t worry at all about trading the destruction of three whole cities for the destruction of Troy.
Themes
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Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
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Zeus, satisfied with Hera’s offer, agrees to ensure Troy’s destruction. He orders Athena to fly down to the battlefield in order to provoke the Trojans into breaking the truce. Athena speeds to Troy, where the troops are anxiously wondering what will happen after the duel’s incomplete result. Athena, in form of a Trojan soldier, induces the archer Pandarus to shoot an arrow at Menelaus, promising him fame and gifts from Paris.
Zeus, the strongest of the gods, is easily able to bend men to his will, giving him the appearance of being in control of men’s fates. For instance, Athena is easily able to coax Pandarus into breaking the truce, furthering Zeus’ overall plans for the war.
Themes
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Pandarus prays to Apollo and shoots at Menelaus, but Athena deflects the arrow, causing it to merely graze its target. Menelaus sees his own blood, but realizes the wound is not serious. Agamemnon also sees the bleeding and curses the Trojans for breaking their oath. Menelaus reassures Agamemnon of his health, and the healer Machaon is summoned to treat the wound. Realizing the oath has been broken, both armies ready themselves for battle again.
In the period of the Trojan War, any wound could be potentially fatal, so every injury is taken seriously. At the same time, injury and death is a natural part of the way of life. A healer like Machaon is extremely valuable for his knowledge of medicine.
Themes
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Agamemnon goes out on foot among the troops, rousing them to battle. He praises the Cretan Idomeneus and the two Aeantes (Great Ajax and Little Ajax) for their skill and courage. The elder captain Nestor gives advice to his troops, telling them to hold their formation, and Agamemnon compliments Nestor’s wisdom. Next, Agamemnon goads Odysseus, accusing him of hanging back in the ranks. Odysseus’s anger flares, but Agamemnon reassures him.
The ability to raise the morale of troops is an important ability throughout the poem. Agamemnon’s role as king is to organize and marshal his troops, and he will say anything he can to make his men fight more fiercely.
Themes
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Agamemnon meets Diomedes and similarly prods him for shirking his place in battle. He compares Diomedes to his father Tydeus. Agamemnon tells a story of Tydeus defeating his enemies in feats of strength. Diomedes’ co-commander Sthenelus tells Agamemnon that men today are much stronger than the men of their fathers’ generation, but Diomedes silences him and remarks that Agamemnon is simply trying to provoke them.
The only way men like Diomedes’ father are remembered is through their heroism on the battlefield. Diomedes and Sthenelus measure their own strength against the tales of generations past, and hope to live up to or surpass the deeds of their legendary fathers.
Themes
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The Achaean army moves forward to battle, and their march is described as being like the surf pounding the shore. The Trojan army is described as a clamor of different languages crying out and clashing. The armies finally collide in battle, and the bloodshed begins in earnest. The Achaean captains Antilochus and Great Ajax kill Trojans in grisly fashion. A comrade of Odysseus is killed by the Trojans, and Odysseus kills a bastard son of Priam in reprisal.
This passage begins the pattern seen throughout the poem of reprisal killings. When Odysseus’ comrade is killed, Odysseus is spurred on to avenge his fallen friend. Throughout the poem, compassion for a fallen comrade is one of the greatest sources of strength for soldiers.
Themes
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Mortality Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Under the Achaean assault, the Trojans are forced back. Apollo watches the battle from above, and cries out for the Trojans to fight back, noting that Achilles is not fighting. However, Athena spurs the Achaean forces onward. Homer finishes the book with descriptions of two deaths: Diores is struck by a rock thrown by Pirous and speared, and Pirous is speared as he springs away from his kill. Many Achaeans and Trojans lie dead in the dust.
The end of the book can be seen as a miniature picture of the killing between Trojans: ultimately, both sides end dead on the ground, casualties of a war in which they are only minor players. Meanwhile, the gods play with the fate of the armies.
Themes
The Gods Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon