The Iliad | Study Guide


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Book 12

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 12 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 12 | Summary



As the Trojans advance on the Achaean wall, the poet reveals that the gods will destroy it as soon as they depart. The trench before the wall blocks their chariots, so Hector and his troops attack on foot. One captain and his men race ahead toward the still-open gates, but they are blocked and cut down by two valiant fighters. The Trojans hesitate to follow when they see a sign: an eagle bitten by the huge snake it is carrying. Polydamas advises falling back, saying the sign means the Achaeans will defeat them, but Hector mocks him and charges the wall.

The two Ajaxes rally to defend the wall. Zeus sends his son Sarpedon forward, and he fights through all opposition to rip a section of the wall away. Achaeans rush to block the breach, and neither side can push the other back. Finally, Zeus helps Hector heroically lift a giant rock and smash it through the gates, and Trojans stream over and through the wall to the Achaean ships.


More doom is foretold at the beginning of Book 12. In a passage that jumps forward in time to predict the death of the "best of the Trojan captains," Hector, and the Achaean victory and departure "in the tenth year." Because there have already been nine years of war, all of this is going to happen pretty soon.

Hector's reaction to Polydamas's advice begins moving him toward his doom. He takes Polydamas's first suggestion to attack on foot because it promises "less danger, more success." But he rejects Polydamas's accurate reading of the bird sign warning of the Trojan defeat. It would mean retreating, a dishonorable move, and an illogical one based on how the battle is going—except for the sign. Hector decides to ignore the omen and fight honorably for his home, fulfilling the destiny laid out by Zeus that ultimately leads to his death.

Zeus gets more involved in orchestrating the conflict in Book 12, granting and denying specific fighters success and glory as they struggle for control of the wall. Both sides of the war claim his backing, but fighters are often confused about his will. When the battle turns against them, more than one Achaean rails at Zeus for breaking his promise that Troy will fall before they sail for home. Fear shakes their faith in the prophecy that supports them. In Book 12, Hector mistakes Zeus's current favoritism for a promise of ultimate success and ignores his sign to the contrary. As throughout the poem, the intervention of Zeus can be seen as providing an explanation for things that have no obvious explanation: the chaotic ebb and flow of war and individual instances of inspiration and extraordinary valor.

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