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BOOK V: The Deeds Of Diomedes
In this book, the fighting continues between the Greeks and the Trojans. Diomedes, a Greek warrior, distinguishes himself on the battlefield. After a successful encounter with the sons of Dares, Diomedes finds himself matched against Pandaros, the Trojan soldier who initially broke the truce. When Pandaros hits Diomedes, he calls on Athena for help. She quickly heals his wound and gives him strength and the power to see when the gods are on the battlefield offering protection to the enemy.
Returning to the conflict, Diomedes kills six men. He then turns his attention to Pandaros, who now has the gallant Aeneas for an ally and chariot driver. Pandaros shoots at Diomedes, but his weapon is turned aside by Athena. Diomedes then kills Pandaros and wounds Aeneas, who is saved from death by the intervention of his mother, Aphrodite. Diomedes then wounds the goddess of love in the hand as punishment for her interference. She gathers the horses of Ares, her brother, and flees to the safety of Olympus, where she seeks the consolation of her mother, Dione. The wounded Aeneas is carried safely from the battlefield by Apollo.
Ares, the god of war, is prompted by Apollo to aid the Trojans against the raging Diomedes. He enters the battle and stirs Priam's men to fight harder. He also offers protection to Hector, who is struggling to gain any ground against the Greeks. When the Trojans begin to advance, Diomedes realizes that they are receiving help from the immortals and wisely retreats from a fight he cannot win.
Seeing the slaughter of the Greeks by the Trojans, Hera and Athena plot a counter attack. After attiring themselves in battle gear, the two goddesses present themselves before Zeus to gain permission to enter the fight. He approves their plan to stop the raging Ares. They quickly descend to earth, where Athena mounts a chariot with Diomedes and rushes upon Ares, who is busily stripping the body of one of his victims. Noticing the approaching chariot, Ares aims his spear at Diomedes, but Athena pushes it aside. As Diomedes readies his spear to strike at Ares, Athena leans on it, driving it into the belly of the war god. Ares leaves the field with a howl and returns to Olympus, where he laments his plight before Zeus. The king of the gods summarily dismisses his son, calling him a liar who delights in quarreling and strife. Despite his displeasure with Ares, Zeus heals his wound since he is his son.
Athena and Hera return to Olympus, leaving the battlefield void of immortals. The fighting continues to rage between the Greeks and Trojans, with neither side receiving outside help.
In Book V, Achilles is still absent from the battlefield. Diomedes, the second greatest warrior of the Greeks, does his best in the battle, but struggles to some degree until he is aided by Athena. After she comes to his aid, Diomedes is given unbelievable strength, as indicated by the fire blazing from his helmet. He is then able to overcome the strongest Trojan warriors, killing Pandaros and wounding Aeneas. Only Aphrodite's intervention saves the latter.
The appearance of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, on the battlefield is strange. When she comes to Zeus in despair and reports that mortals are now contending with immortals, Zeus tells her to stick to the art of love, leaving the art of war to those who know more about it. He claims that the Trojans do not need Aphrodite in their ranks when they have such supporters as Apollo and Ares. Aphrodite, however, does not heed Zeus' warning and enters the battlefield to save her son Aeneas. In the process, she herself is wounded by Diomedes.
In truth, it is appropriate that Aphrodite becomes part of the conflict on the side of the Trojans. After all, the Greeks have good reason to contend with her, not as the mother of Aeneas, but as the motivating force behind the whole war. It was the power of Aphrodite that led Helen away from Menelaos and into the arms of Paris. She is also the one who keeps Helen in Troy. In contrast to Aphrodite, Athena, the goddess who supports the Greeks, represents wisdom. In helping Diomedes, Achilles, Agamemnon, and Menelaos, she is rational and wise in her approach.
Since Aphrodite can do little to aid the Trojans in battle, Ares enters the fight to further their cause. As the god of war, slaughter, and destruction, he revels in the brutality of the battle and does much to help the Trojans. Even Diomedes is reticent to fight with this force. When Hera and Athena see that Ares is playing havoc with the Greeks, they gird themselves for battle and go to Zeus to plead their cause. Zeus grants them permission to enter the fight on the side of the Greeks against Ares, for he believes the god of war is hateful and untruthful; he knows that Ares would like to see the whole world leveled by war. Zeus also knows that Ares has the power to completely unbalance the harmony that Zeus is really trying to obtain.
On the battlefield, Athena joins Diomedes in his chariot and succeeds in helping him to drive a spear through the abdomen of Ares. The wounded god of war leaves the battlefield howling and returns to Olympus to plead his cause before Zeus. Zeus, however, tells Ares that he is a liar who delights in violence. In spite of the displeasure of the king of the immortals, Ares will be healed, for he is a god and Zeus' son.
With Ares out of the fight, Athena and Hera also leave the battlefield. Now both Greeks and Trojans are on their own. Without help or protection from the immortals, the fighting is furious with many casualties on both sides.
Since Book V is really centered on Diomedes, many critics think that it may have been created as a separate piece of literature prior to The Iliad. They argue that Homer simply included the work into his own epic poem. In truth, the long explanations of the successes of Diomedes add little to the overall progression of the plot, and the entire book can be omitted without losing much impact on the poem as a whole. The book does, however, serve as an implied comparison between Diomedes and the missing Achilles. Like Achilles, Diomedes is strong and courageous. Unlike Achilles, he is also consistent, courteous, circumspect, and loyal to the cause. In many ways, Diomedes is a much more appealing hero than Achilles.