Hector and Paris sweep back into battle, and each kills an Achaean. Athena notices the Trojan surge and prepares to help the Achaeans, but Apollo sees her coming and intercepts her, asking her to help him end combat for the rest of the day. Athena agrees, and Apollo devises a plan. In the guise of Helenus, Apollo tells Hector to challenge the Achaeans to fight him in single combat. Hector approaches the Achaean lines and issues his challenge to any Achaean strong enough to fight him.
Again, the gods pull the strings on the battlefield, engineering a duel to prevent further bloodshed. Now Hector, the subject of the previous book, will prove his strength against an Achaean champion.
No Achaean is brave enough to accept the challenge until Menelaus stands up on behalf of the Achaeans. Agamemnon checks him, knowing that Menelaus is not strong enough of a fighter to battle Hector. Menelaus yields, and Nestor speaks to the troops, recounting his younger exploits and telling them to stand up for their army’s honor. After his speech, nine Achaeans stand up, including Agamemnon, Odysseus, and the Aeantes. The challengers cast lots, and Great Ajax wins.
Hector is considered to be very strong by the Achaeans, as no one immediately rises to fight him. The troops have a sense of who the strongest fighters are, and in the poem there is always a quality of ranking the champions, as each hero portrayed may possibly surpass the previous one.
Ajax prays to Zeus and prepares himself for battle. The duel begins, and Hector’s spear throw fails to pierce Ajax’ shield. Ajax’ spear tears Hector’s shield apart, but Hector just manages to dodge the throw. The two then fight with lances, and Ajax knocks Hector over. Apollo pulls Hector back up. Before they can continue the fight with swords, heralds from both sides separate the fighters, telling them that night is coming on.
As the duel progresses, Ajax is portrayed as being slightly stronger than Hector. Often the assistance of a god endows a man with superhuman strength, but here Hector needs Apollo’s assistance just to stay standing.
Hector and Ajax agree to end their duel. They exchange gifts of friendship: Hector gives up his sword, and Ajax gives up his war-belt. The two armies return to their camps. The Achaeans sacrifice to Zeus and lay out a banquet, where Ajax receives a choice cut of meat.
Both men have conducted themselves honorably in the duel, and they see fit to exchange gifts as a token of respect. After the battle, the Achaeans pay their respects to the gods.
Nestor speaks to the Achaean captains, lamenting the casualties and asking that the next day be dedicated to burying the dead. He also advises that the Achaeans build fortifications around the ships, including a steep rampart and a ditch lined with stakes. The captains agree to follow his council.
This passage indicates the extreme respect that the Achaeans have for the dead who fall in battle. It is necessary and proper that the deceased be treated correctly, as battle is perhaps the most honorable way to die.
In the gathering of Trojan leaders, Antenor suggests that the time has come to give back Helen and her treasure in order to end the war. Paris refuses to give up Helen, but offers to return to the treasure that he took when he carried her off. Priam suggests that this proposal be taken to the Achaeans, and that the Trojans should also take time to bury their dead.
By suggesting that the Trojans give up Helen, Antenor appeals to the idea that Troy can go back to the way it was before the Achaeans landed. Paris’ offer is a last attempt to avoid a war to the death. The Trojans similarly pay great respect to the dead.
A Trojan emissary goes to the Achaean ships and offers Paris’ treasure for peace. The Achaeans reject the Trojan offer immediately, but agree to a temporary truce in order to bury the dead. Agamemnon says he would never “grudge their burning.” Two Achaean detachments are formed, one to bury the dead and the other to build fortifications.
The offer of peace is scorned by the Achaeans, who have performed successfully over the course of the day. Agamemnon indicates that he would not dream of interfering with the Trojans efforts to honor their dead. Any such interference would itself be seen as disrespectful of all the dead.
On Olympus, Poseidon is angered that the Achaeans are building fortifications without sacrificing to the gods. Zeus calms him, and tells him that he may destroy the fortifications as soon as the war is ended. The Achaeans finish the fortifications, take their meal, and fall asleep.
Homer shows that the gods demand to be respected at all times, in all things. Zues’ prediction is a statement of the decay of mortal works: the sea will easily wash away everything the Achaeans have built after they leave. The only thin remaining to indicate that a great war was fought at all is the story itself—the Iliad.