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Free Study Guide-The Iliad by Homer-Free Online Book Notes Summary
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BOOK XII: The Fight before the Wall


The Trojans are divided into five battalions, each with its own leader. Their goal is to reach the Greek wall and destroy it, which will not be an easy task. Hector, still aided by Zeus, rides through each of the battalions to encourage the troops.

The Trojan calvary tries to assault the wall, but fails because their chariots cannot cross the Greek trench. The second Trojan attack is on foot. After much fighting and many deaths, the Trojans are repulsed by Aias and his men. As the Trojan troops are being pushed back, Polydamas, a Trojan soothsayer, sees an eagle flying over the Trojans. It is carrying in its talons a snake that is still alive. Polydamas watches as the snake fights its captor until the eagle is forced to drop it and interprets what he has seen as a bad omen. Polydamas goes to Hector and explains the symbolic meaning of what he has witnessed. The eagle represents the Trojans, who will triumph briefly but will be unable to permanently subdue the Greeks. Hector scoffs at the explanation and says that he will rely upon Zeus, not avian omens. He vows to fight harder than ever.

As the fighting continues, the Trojans make several sallies against the wall, but are again repulsed. Then in the next major attack, Hector himself leads the Trojans en masse against the Greek wall and successfully breaches it. Breaking one of the wall gates with a large stone, the Trojans stream inside. The Greeks quickly retreat to their ships.


Book XII centers on the Greek wall, which was built in three stages with each stage having a gate. In front of the wall was a trench, and to the rear lay the Greek ships, stretched out along the coast for two or three miles. The Trojans view the wall as a symbol of Greek power and are determined to destroy it. Although they breach the wall in this book, it will be destroyed at a later time. Apollo and Poseidon will tear it down after Troy falls and the Greeks depart. Poseidon cannot allow it to remain standing, for it was built without a blessing from the gods.

The vision of Polydamas is very significant, for it clearly foreshadows the eventual downfall of the Trojans. After he sees the eagle drop the struggling snake, Polydamas interprets the vision and explains it to Hector. Like the eagle that at first overpowers the snake, the Trojans will have some victories and appear to overpower the Greeks. The Greeks, however, will continue to struggle endlessly and finally win the war, just like the snake wins his battle against the eagle. Hector scoffs at the explanation of Polydamas and refuses to accept it as a bad omen. Instead, he rallies his troops to attack the wall.

Although the Greeks successfully repel several Trojan attacks, they cannot hold out. With most of their warriors wounded, they are no longer able to protect the wall and repulse the might of Hector, who is still being aided by Zeus. At the end of the battle, the wall is breached, and the Greeks run for protection in their ships, which they must now struggle to save.

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