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BOOK XI: The Turn of The Battle

Summary

As dawn breaks, Zeus watches over the proceedings of the war. Agamemnon enters the battlefield and slaughters several Trojans, including the sons of Antimachus, who fruitlessly begged to be spared. Fearing the wrath of Agamemnon, the Trojans retreat to the Scaean Gates. Seeing what is happening, Zeus sends Iris to find Hector and warn him not to fight until Agamemnon is wounded.

When the battle begins again, Coon, son of Antenor, wounds Agamemnon, forcing the king to retire from the fighting. As soon as he sees that Agamemnon is incapacitated, Hector sallies forth and slays many Greeks. Diomedes is even wounded in the foot by an arrow sent by Paris. Rushing up to pull the arrow from the foot of Diomedes, Odysseus finds himself surrounded by Trojans. Although he puts up a strong fight, he is severely wounded and must be rescued by Menelaos and Ajax. Then Machaon, the Greek physician, is hit in the shoulder, and Eurypylos is wounded when he tries to aid Aias.

Achilles has emerged to watch the battle and is clearly concerned about what is happening to the Greeks. When he sees the wounded body of one of the warriors being carried in by Nestor, he sends Patroclos to find out the identity of the man and to talk to Nestor about the status of things. Patroclos, after discovering that the wounded soldier is Machaon, is about to leave when Nestor stops him to tell about the day's losses and to relate a story about his past. Patroclos listens as the old king tells about the defeat of the Epeians by the Pylians. Nestor then reminds Patroclos that he has been instructed by his father to give good counsel to Achilles and asks him to convince Achilles to enter the fight. If he fails with Achilles, Nestor suggests that Patroclos should put on the armor of Achilles and enter the fighting himself, for the Greeks need help. After listening to Nestor's moving words, Patroclos hastens on his way, but stops to aid the wounded Eurypylos before returning to the tent of Achilles.

Notes

Although the fighting at first wavers between the two sides, the Trojans soon take the upper hand. Although the Greek heroes fight with valor, without the help of Achilles they are unable to subdue the aroused Trojans. As the best Greek warriors are wounded one by one, they soon have no one left to lead the troops. To add to their troubles, Machaon, their chief physician, is disabled. Things could not be worse for the Greeks, who seem to have been reduced to impotence.


In describing the battle, Homer masterfully contrasts the techniques of the heroic Greeks and the weaker Trojans. Although they cannot gain the upper hand, the Greeks fight more valiantly and would certain gain advantage over the Trojans if not for the interference of Zeus. Diomedes even ridicules the fighting ability of Paris, and the sons of Antimachus pathetically beg for mercy from their Greek captors, much like Dolon. Amongst the Trojans, only the heroism of Hector stands out.

It is very important to note that Achilles watches the Greek losses with concern. When he sees Nestor carrying a warrior from the field, he even sends Patroclos to find out the name of the wounded. Although Achilles is still nursing his wounded pride and is not ready to enter the battle at this point in time, Homer is laying the groundwork for the eventual return of the hero.

The conversation between Nestor and Patroclos is significant. Nestor openly admits his concern for the Greek cause and for the first time criticizes Achilles for being pitiless and unconcerned. He begs Patroclos to convince Achilles to join the fight, insuring a change in the tide of the battle. Nestor even suggests that if Patroclos fails to convince Achilles to join the fight, he should don the armor of the great Greek hero in order to rally the troops. Patroclos promises to try and influence Achilles but feels he will have no luck. He states that Achilles' anger is great and his pride is excessive.

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