Homer’s Iliad: Book XIII

Questions for Book XIII:

  • Why is Poseidon on the side of the Greeks against the Trojans?
  • What is the grisliest wounding you’ve read about?

“Zeus never dreamed in his heart a single deathless god
would go to war for Troy’s or Achaea’s forces now.
But the mighty god of earthquakes was not blind.
He kept his watch, enthralled by the rush of war”
(13.10-13).

Poseidon intervenes on behalf of the Greeks, in disguise as Calchas, but with his godlike powers, emboldening both of the Ajaxes, one of whom recognizes the sense of a divinity in their midst.

“I can feel it too, now, the hands on my spear,
invincible hands quivering tense for battle, look —
the power rising within me, feet beneath me rushing me on!”
(13.93-95).

The adrenaline rush is contagious and the Greeks rally. Note the confluence of literal and metaphor: Hector is compared to a deadly “boulder” (12.164), and recently the heaving of boulders was literal material. Zeus’ influence aids the Trojans, but Cassandra’s fiancĂ© is killed in the battle.

“Next Antilochus, watching Thoon veer for a quick escape,
sprang and stabbed him, slashing away the whole vein
that runs the length of the back to reach the neck–
he severed it, sheared it clear
and the man went sprawling, back flat in the dust”
(13.631-635).

It doesn’t matter that there is no such vein (except maybe in shrimps). The wounds are especially grisly in this book. Another guy gets it “between the genitals and the navel — hideous wound, / the worst the god of battles deals to wretched men” (13.657-658). Yet another is hit “between the eyes, / the bridge of the nose, and bone cracked, blood sprayed / and both eyes dropped at his feet to mix in the dust” (13.708-710). War itself is called “the great leveler” (13.732).


Iliad: Book XIV
Iliad Index