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Book 11

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 11 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 11 | Summary

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Summary

In the morning the armies clash, wreaking destruction on both sides. Then Achaean fighters begin to gain ground. Agamemnon kills many enemies and drives the Trojan army back to the gates of Troy. Allowing Agamemnon his hour of glory, Zeus sends Hector a message to charge once Agamemnon is wounded and retreats. At the signal Hector advances, pushing back the Achaeans until Diomedes nearly knocks him unconscious with a spear to the helmet. He retreats back to his forces.

In quick succession most of the best Achaean fighters are wounded and forced to retreat. Paris shoots Diomedes in the foot with an arrow, leaving Odysseus vulnerable. He is also wounded and is about to be overwhelmed when Great Ajax arrives and beats back the Trojans. Hector, who is battling in another area, rushes to block Ajax's advance but avoids fighting him directly. Zeus forces Ajax to retreat, but he nonetheless holds the Trojans back until others come to support him.

Watching the battle from his ship, Achilles sends Patroclus to identify the wounded fighter Nestor is bringing in. Nestor wonders why Achilles cares about wounded Achaeans now after so many have died for his pride. He suggests Patroclus convince Achilles to return to battle, or at least let Patroclus, wearing his armor, lead his troops and intimidate the Trojans. They have little hope of holding off the Trojans otherwise.

Analysis

Book 11 begins with Agamemnon's aristeia, or "best work" in the poem, a passage in which he dominates the fighting and cannot be opposed. The traditional arming sequence is extended to focus on a detailed description of Agamemnon's arms and armor. They are gloriously decorated: precious materials emphasize his richness, and the Gorgon on his shield, which also appears on Athena's shield, symbolizes the support of the gods. For a time, he turns the tide of battle against the Trojans despite Zeus's plan for the Achaeans to be driven back.

Zeus is still the only god allowed to intervene, and he mostly works from afar to intimidate the Achaeans and nudge Hector this way or that. The goddess Strife (or Hate in some translations) appears as an extension of his will and a manifestation of the brutality of war. Homer shows the cost of this brutality throughout the poem, but he is by no means condemning war. Although it is terrible, it is also a vital means of winning the glory and honor that was so important in the ancient world. In other words, it is an unavoidable part of life.

Achilles's reappearance in the narrative at the end of Book 11 starts the progression of events that leads to the fated deaths of Patroclus, Hector, and (after the end of the poem) Achilles himself. When Patroclus answers Achilles's call to question Nestor, Homer says "from that moment on his doom was sealed." After Nestor's suggestion that Patroclus pretend to be Achilles in battle, the shape of that doom starts to become clear.

Patroclus's character also sheds light on Achilles. Although they are great friends and foster brothers, they are quite different. The humanity of Patroclus's compassion for the wounded fighter Eurypylus contrasts with Achilles's choice to place his pride above the fate of his fellow Achaeans. Patroclus himself even speaks with some disapproval of Achilles's anger, saying he would "leap to accuse a friend without a fault."

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