Athena grants Diomedes strength in battle “so the fighter would shine forth…and win himself great glory.” Diomedes dismounts his chariot and begins killing Trojans. Athena further assists Diomedes by luring Ares away from the battlefield. Multiple Achaean captains, including Agamemnon, Idomeneus, and Menelaus, kill their Trojan counterparts.
Book 5 begins a passage of extended individual heroism for Diomedes, something that the Greeks called an aristeia. The passages is designed to commemorate Diomedes’ bravery and glory as a hero. Naturally, a goddess, Athena, assists him in attaining this glory.
Diomedes continues his assault on the Trojans, acting like force of nature. The Trojans begin to panic. Pandarus shoots an arrow at Diomedes and hits him in the shoulder. He pulls back for a moment and prays to Athena, who infuses him with the strength of his father to continue fighting. The goddess also gives Diomedes the power to see the gods on the battlefield. She instructs him to keep clear of the other gods, except for one: if he sees Aphrodite, he should attack her with his spear.
Homer uses descriptions of nature to describe the strength of Diomedes as deeply powerful and nearly elemental. Similarly, the fact that Diomedes is wounded but keeps fighting only serves to bolster his glory on the battlefield. The powers Athena gives to Diomedes also set up a potential later encounter with a god in combat.
Diomedes charges back into battle, described as a lion attacking a flock of sheep. He kills several Trojans, including two sons of Priam. Seeing Diomedes’ fury, the Trojan hero Aeneas seeks out the archer Pandarus, who tells Aeneas that he already has shot Diomedes, and that Diomedes must have a god beside him. Aeneas asks Pandarus to board his chariot, and two set out in pursuit of Diomedes.
For the ancient Greeks, lions would not be an exotic metaphor, as they still existed in Greece and Anatolia. Homer uses the metaphor to describe Diomedes as an overpowering force. Aeneas and Pandarus become the foil to Diomedes’ rampage, attempting to stop him.
Diomedes’ co-captain Sthenelus notices the approach of Aeneas and Pandarus. He advises Diomedes to give ground to them, but Diomedes rejects his advice, saying that Athena will determine the victor. Diomedes throws his spear and kills Pandarus. Aeneas springs down from the chariot to protect Pandarus’ corpse. In a feat of strength, Diomedes lifts a boulder and throws it at Aeneas, hitting him in the socket of his hip. Aeneas passes out, but his mother Aphrodite appears before him and protects his body from harm.
Sthenelus’ advice lets the reader know what a “normal” soldier would do, but Diomedes is empowered by the gods. The boulder that Diomedes lifts is another example of a nearly superhuman feat, as Diomedes is temporarily almost more than a man. Aeneas, a character with an immortal mother, is Diomedes’ target, increasing the sense of glory.
Aphrodite attempts to lift Aeneas away from the fighting, but Diomedes is able to see her. Diomedes charges at Aphrodite and gouges her wrist with his spear. Aphrodite screams and drops Aeneas. Iris leads Aphrodite away from the battlefield, and she flies to Olympus using Ares’ team of horses. Aphrodite’s mother Dione comforts her, telling her stories of other gods wounded by men and noting that “the man who fights the gods does not live long”. She heals Aphrodite’s wound. Hera and Athena mock Aphrodite, taunting her delicacy.
Diomedes’ attack on Aphrodite, a goddess, emphasizes his heroic stature in battle. At the same time, Aphrodite, as the goddess of love, has no real place on the battlefield. Homer provides Dione’s story as a counterpoint to Diomedes’ rampage, indicating that there should still be deference to the gods, who are much stronger than mortal men, and that even mortal men with a god upholding them are doomed to fall from their heights of glory.
Back on the battlefield, Apollo protects Aeneas’ body. Diomedes, unafraid, charges at Apollo, intending to strip Aeneas’ armor from his body. He charges three times, but each time Apollo rebuffs him. On Diomedes’ fourth charge, Apollo commands Diomedes to stand clear, declaring that they “are not the same breed.” Diomedes gives ground, and Apollo lifts Aeneas far from the battlefield, taking him to the sacred mountain of Pergamus, where Apollo’s relations Artemis and Leto heal Aeneas’ wounds.
Diomedes is able to wound Aphrodite, but his newfound glory only extends so far. Apollo is far too strong for his advances. Aeneas’ rescue helps emphasize the truly unusual status of men who have immortal parents. The gods will heal Aeneas’ wounds and send him back into battle.
Apollo creates a “phantom” that resembles Aeneas’ body for the battlefield. Achaeans and Trojans swarm around the false body, battling for Aeneas’ armor. Apollo calls the war god Ares to his side, asking him to remove Diomedes from combat. Ares drives the Trojans forward, lending them his fighting spirit. The Trojan ally Sarpedon taunts Hector, and Hector drives his men into battle with new force. Aeneas reappears on the battlefield, and the Trojans, heartened to see him uninjured, plunge forward.
Apollo’s creation of Aeneas’ “phantom” suggests again the metaphorical nature of the gods. On one hand, the phantom makes it seem like Aeneas is really still there, and that his removal from battle by Apollo is actually the metaphor. On the other hand, the gods are a very real presence throughout the story and act in ways that are more than metaphorical.
The Achaeans stand up to the Trojan attack, led by Diomedes, Odysseus, and the Aeantes (the plural of Ajax). The two sides trade kills: Agamemnon kills a comrade of Aeneas, and Aeneas kills two Achaean captains. Next, Nestor’s son Antilochus and Menelaus drive Aeneas back. The battle rages back and forth. Tlepolemus, the son of Hercules, trades insults with Sarpedon. Sarpedon kills Tlepolemus but is also injured in the fight.
The back-and-forth nature of the killing keeps the tension of the battle high, as it always seems like the course of battle might be about to change. The fact that Tlepolemus is Hercules’ son contributes to the sadness of his death, as the sons of the soldiers are partly the remembrances of their fathers.
Odysseus, seeing the death of Tlepolemus, kills several of Sarpedon’s men in response. Sarpedon is Zeus’ son and is not fated to be killed by Odysseus. Hector pushes past the injured Sarpedon, looking to drive the Achaeans back to their ships, and the Achaeans slowly give ground.
Odysseus’ kills contribute to his glory. Homer clearly indicates that it is not Sarpedon’s fate to die at this moment, indicating that Zeus has a great deal of control over the specific events of the battle.
Hera and Athena, seeing the Achaeans pushed back, harness Hera’s chariot and put on their armor. They appeal to Zeus to help the Achaeans, and he allows them to do so. They fly to the battlefield, and Hera gives courage to the Achaean forces. Athena goes to Diomedes and reminds him of her protection, criticizing his fear. Diomedes replies that Ares is dominating the battle. Athena gets into Diomedes’ chariot and the pair charges Ares. With Athena’s help, Diomedes spears Ares, who shrieks and flies away to Olympus.
The gods constantly intervene in the war, and to some extent the tides of the war can be measured by the interventions of the gods. Usually when a god arrives, it marks a change in fortune on the battlefield, as soldiers will be given new courage. With Athena’s help, Diomedes’ aristeia reaches its peak as he spears the god of war himself.
On Olympus, Ares displays his wound to Zeus, complaining of Athena’s violence and of Diomedes’ attacks on the gods. Zeus replies that he hates Ares most of all the gods, and that his injury is the will of his mother Hera. Zeus remarks that if Ares were not his son, he would banish him from Olympus. Ares’ wound is treated and washed. Hera and Athena return to Olympus, having successfully turned back the Trojans.
Despite the fact that the Iliad is all about a war, Ares plays a minor role among the gods of the poem. Partly he is less invested in the outcome, unlike Aphrodite or Hera, but here Zeus also indicates that his regard for Ares is unfavorable. It may be an indication that neither side fights the war for war’s sake, but rather for other more important reasons—honor and glory.