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Book 10

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 10 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 10 | Summary

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Summary

Agamemnon and Menelaus can't sleep with the Trojans camped so near, so they rouse the other commanders for a council. When Nestor proposes someone use the remaining darkness to learn the Trojans's plans, Diomedes quickly volunteers and selects Odysseus to go with him. Outfitted with others' armor and weapons and backed up by the goddess Athena, they sneak toward the Trojan camp.

In the Trojan camp, Hector has a similar idea and calls for a volunteer. A man named Dolon says he will scout all the way to Agamemnon's ship if Hector gives him Achilles's chariot and horses as a reward. Sadly he has no chance. Diomedes and Odysseus see him coming from a mile away and easily capture him. Dolon tells them of a group of newly arrived Thracian allies exposed on one edge of the Trojan camp. Odysseus has told him he will live, but instead Diomedes kills him.

Diomedes and Odysseus sneak into the sleeping Thracian camp and slaughter the Thracian king and a dozen of his men. Before the god Apollo can wake some opposition, they drive off in the king's chariot with his team of magnificent white horses.

Analysis

Book 10 takes a break from the simple if chaotic head-on battles described in the rest of the poem. Instead, it examines the murkier realm of spying and psychological warfare. It may be a necessary part of war, but it contains little in the way of honor, casting Diomedes and Odysseus in a different light than the rest of the poem.

Odysseus is described as crafty and cunning throughout the poem. (Odysseus appears even more treacherous in Virgil's characterization of him in The Aeneid.) In Book 10, he crosses into brutal dishonesty when he falsely assures Dolon he will not be killed. (Dolon would have been better off asking his captors to swear to Zeus than having Hector do so for a prize that hadn't been taken yet.) The same Diomedes who recognized an enemy's claim to guest-friendship during the heat of battle now kills a defenseless man and wonders what the "worst/most brazen thing he can do" might be.

The loss of a relatively small number of fighters and one chariot will not significantly weaken the Trojan army. However, an attack at a vulnerable time and the loss of a valuable prize would demoralize the Trojans. It also gives the Achaeans a psychological boost at a time when they are losing badly.

The thematic, narrative, and linguistic differences between Book 10 and other books in the poem have sparked debate about its authorship since ancient times. Was it composed by Homer to show a different aspect of war or added by a later contributor? Regardless of the answer, it provides an exciting interlude from the chaos of battle and a bit of a change in the tide of the war for the Achaeans, who are currently suffering crushing losses.

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