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BOOK VII: Aias Against Hector

Summary

As the battle between the Trojans and the Greeks rages on, the wise Athena approaches Apollo, and the two immortals, who meet near an oak tree, agree that the violent fighting must be stopped. They suggest that another individual combat should be conducted to end the fighting. The Trojan soothsayer, Helenos, intuitively knows what the two gods have planned. He reports his prophesy to Hector and advises him to participate in an individual duel against an appropriate Greek adversary in order to end the fighting, at least temporarily. When Hector makes the proposal to the Greeks, they accept the offer. Menelaos offers to be the Greek contestant against Hector, but Agamemnon will not allow it, for he knows that Hector is much stronger. When no other Greek warrior volunteers for the duel, Nestor gives a stirring speech, which motivates nine Greeks to come forward, including Diomedes, Aias, Odysseus, and Agamemnon. Lots are cast to decide who will be the opponent, and Aias is chosen.

The two warriors fight each other valiantly without one being victorious. When night falls, the contestants agree that the duel has ended in a draw. Hector and Aias then exchange gifts and pledge their friendship. The Greeks return to their ships, and the Trojans retreat into Troy. Both sides plan to rest for the night and come up with their strategies for the future.

In the Greek camp, an assembly is held, and Nestor proposes that a wall of protection be built on the beach as a security measure to protect the Greek ships. All of the Greeks agree with Nestor. In the Trojan camp, Antenor proposes the return of Helen and her belongings to Menelaos. Paris states that he will never give up Helen, even though he is willing to send Menelaos some of her belongings and some other gifts. Priam suggests that an embassy be sent to the Greeks, telling them of the willingness of Paris to return Helen's belongings. The Greeks refuse the offer, but they agree to a temporary truce, allowing both sides time to bury their dead.

During the interim truce, the Greeks begin construction of their protective wall. Poseidon, lord of the sea, goes before Zeus and complains that the Greeks made no sacrifices to him or the gods before building the wall. Zeus agrees with Poseidon that the walls should be destroyed after the war is ended.

Notes

Hector has been increasing in importance in the poem since his appearance in Book III. In Book VI his domestic qualities were touchingly revealed. In Book VII his fighting abilities are highlighted in the combat with Aias.


The continued interaction between the divine and the mortal is also shown in Book VII. Athena and Apollo, both rational immortals, decide that the violent fighting between the Greeks and Trojans must be stopped. They agree that another individual combat needs to be held in order to halt the battle. Helenos, the soothsayer, intuitively knows the decision of the gods. He goes to Hector and advises him to fight a Greek adversary to end the fighting. Under the influence of the gods, Hector agrees to the plan and so do the Greeks.

This second duel is quite different from the one between Menelaos and Paris. Hector does not offer the return of Helen to the Greeks if they should win the combat. He only agrees that the victor can strip the armor from the body of the slain and return that body to its proper camp for burial. In the first duel, Menelaos fought Paris, a weak opponent who was shamed into combat by his brother. When Menelaos volunteers to be Hector's opponent, Agamemnon will not allow it, for he knows Hector to be a better warrior than Menelaos. As a result, lots are cast to see who will fight Hector, and Aias is chosen.

In the duel, Aias and Hector seem to be equally matched. Hector's first throw is stopped by the shield of Aias, while the first throw of the spear of Aias barely misses the flesh of Hector. The son of Priam then heaves a rock at Aias, but Aias picks up an even larger rock and sends Hector sprawling to the ground with it. Although night falls before there is a clear victor, Aias definitely had the upper hand in the combat, foreshadowing Hector's eventual defeat by the Greeks.

Both sides retreat to their respective camps to rest and make plans for the future. In their planning, the Trojans decide to send a messenger to the Greeks offering to return Helen's belongings, an offer they hope will appease their enemy. The offer is firmly rejected by the Greeks. In their planning, the Greeks decide to build a wall on the beach to protect their ships from attack and begin its construction almost immediately. Poseidon, the god of the sea, is very upset that the Greeks are building the wall without making sacrifice to him. He pleads his cause before Zeus, who agrees with Poseidon that the wall must be destroyed. By involving the immortals, Homer is clearly emphasizing the importance of the Greek wall and the part it will play in the future fighting between the Greeks and Trojans.

It is important to note the pairing that Homer accomplishes throughout the poem and particularly in this book. The rational Athena, who protects the Greeks, is balanced by the rational Apollo, who supports the Trojans; Hector is very similar to Aias in ability; and the debate of the Greeks is matched by the debate of the Trojans.

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