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Book 13

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 13 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 13 | Summary

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Summary

With the Trojans through the Achaean wall, Zeus takes his eyes off the fighting, and the sea-god Poseidon takes advantage. He inspires Great Ajax, Little Ajax, and the troops around them to hold back Hector. After his grandson is killed, Poseidon inspires Idomeneus of Crete and his fierce aide Meriones on the left of the battle. He doesn't dare openly defend the Achaeans for fear of Zeus's punishment, but with his support Idomeneus and other Achaeans kill or wound many Trojans.

Polydamas successfully urges Hector to withdraw a bit and regroup. Looking for his captains, he finds that many are dead or wounded. However, Paris speaks bravely and raises Hector's spirits. Now Zeus remembers to drive on the Trojans, who advance like pounding waves. Great Ajax is not intimidated, making a brave speech. Hector responds, promising to kill Ajax and the Achaeans. With many war cries, the armies clash again before the ships.

Analysis

Zeus, who has kept tight control of the action for the last few books, now takes his eye off the ball. Gazing at the peaceful land of Thrace to the north of Troy, he doesn't notice that Poseidon defies his order of noninterference—it seems Zeus isn't completely all-seeing. Poseidon manages to avoid detection by waiting until Zeus is distracted, and staying disguised and hidden. He avoids fighting directly for the Achaeans, which would presumably attract Zeus's attention. Instead he sticks to giving advice and whipping up morale. The effects of Poseidon's intervention can also be viewed as the bravery of desperation. The Achaeans rally because they have nowhere left to retreat to and need to protect their ships, without which they cannot survive.

The action in Book 13 displays more strategy than past scenes of war. Leaders on both sides consider which part of their fighting line needs to be reinforced. Hector's and the Aeantes's (plural of Ajax) position in the center of the line illustrates their central roles in the conflict—at this point the Aeantes are the best fighters still unharmed on the Achaean side. Paris, who has been less than heroic in most of his appearances, actually demonstrates a fighting spirit that lifts up Hector at a time when he is tired and discouraged.

The beginning of a pattern in the poem of warriors fighting to protect their comrades's bodies can be seen in this section. This interaction directly pits the honor of one side against the other. Both collecting plunder from fallen enemies and protecting a comrade's body can be honorable and glorious, but only one side of each conflict can claim the honor.

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