As the Achaeans prepare for battle, Zeus summons the gods to a council. Zeus tells the assembled gods that they may return to the battlefield and help the sides they support. He remarks that if the gods do not intervene, Achilles may overpower the Trojans and sack the city. The gods launch themselves onto the battlefield, taking their appropriate sides.
Zeus’ reason for allowing the gods to intervene seems peculiar. Zeus has shown himself more than capable of controlling the events that take place on the battlefield. Yet Zeus’ decree helps emphasize just how powerful the angered Achilles will be, and provides a climax of all the gods in strife alongside the fiercest fighting among the mortals.
Battle breaks out, and Achilles searches everywhere for Hector. Apollo, taking the form of the Trojan Lycaon, urges Aeneas to attack Achilles. Aeneas is resistant, remembering an earlier defeat at Achilles’ hands, but eventually agrees.
Aeneas, like Achilles, has a mother for a goddess, and he is naturally paired with Achilles as a combatant. Yet he fears to face Achilles. Achilles goes to fight knowing he will die. Aeneas still wants to live.
Hera, seeing Aeneas approach Achilles, asks Athena and Poseidon to help her give support to the Achaeans. Poseidon replies that their side is much stronger, and that it would be better if the gods watched the battle from the sidelines. The gods take seats overlooking the battle, each contingent on opposite sides.
Although the gods are now allowed to intervene in battle, they prefer to watch until they have to take action. For the immortals, the death of men is almost like a spectator sport.
Aeneas and Achilles prepare to fight. Achilles taunts Aeneas, recalling the time when Aeneas ran from his fury. Aeneas replies that Achilles cannot frighten him and recites to him the lineage of Troy. The two battle and Achilles immediately overpowers Aeneas. Achilles nearly kills him, but Poseidon pities Aeneas and his lineage. Against the wishes of Hera and Athena he rescues Aeneas, lifting him away from Achilles and placing him elsewhere on the battlefield.
Although Apollo urges Aeneas to fight Achilles, he cannot hope to match Achilles now, filled with grief as he is. In some sense, the heroism of Aeneas’ fathers saves him, as Poseidon decides that it would be a pity for Achilles to snuff out the noble line of Troy. Aeneas’ survival helps their memory live on. (And Aeneas will go on to be the central character of the Aeneid, in which he founds the civilization that will become the Roman Empire, making the Trojan line live on in history.)
Achilles and Hector both marshal their men forward. Apollo speaks to Hector, instructing him not to fight Achilles in front of the ranks, as Achilles will surely kill him. Achilles kills several Trojans, including Polydorus, Hector’s brother. Incensed by his brother’s death, Hector charges Achilles, who welcomes his approach. Achilles is too strong for Hector, and Apollo is forced to save him, shielding the Trojan as Achilles charges him repeatedly. Hector is whisked away by Apollo.
This brief meeting between Achilles and Hector foreshadows the lengthier battle between the two in Book 22. In this brief preview, it becomes clear that Hector is no match for Achilles, and the intervention of Apollo is necessary to keep battle going.
Achilles curses Hector for escaping, and blames Apollo for intervening. Achilles continues on his murderous warpath, “like inhuman fire raging.” He kills several Trojans, letting no man be taken alive. No Trojan can stand before Achilles’ “invincible arms.”
Achilles speaks his mind freely, being more familiar at speaking with the gods than most mortals. His exceptional status is mirrored in combat, where his feats surpass any other man.