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Book 14

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 14 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 14 | Summary

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Summary

Hearing the sounds of battle, Nestor gathers the wounded Achaean commanders. Agamemnon fears losing and proposes sailing away while the army still fights. Odysseus contemptuously rejects the idea, and Diomedes offers a better plan: All the commanders should go to the front, not to fight because they are wounded, but to inspire their army. On the way to the front, Poseidon in disguise reassures Agamemnon that the Trojans will retreat from the ships at some point.

On Olympus, Hera decides to distract Zeus. Making herself beautiful as only an immortal can be, she tricks Aphrodite into giving her a band that contains the power of love. She also bribes the god Sleep to help her. She goes to Zeus on Ida, and he is overcome with desire for her. Hidden in a cloud they make love. Afterward, Sleep uses his power on Zeus and then informs Poseidon he is free to fight for the Achaeans.

Inspired by Poseidon, the Achaeans prepare for more fighting, giving the best fighters the best armor. The battle resumes, and Great Ajax and Hector soon face off. Hector strikes Ajax with a mighty spear throw, but it again fails to get through his armor. Ajax crushes Hector with a rock for a second time, and he begins to spit up blood. After Hector retreats, opposing fighters trade insults and battle, and Poseidon turns the tide against the Trojans.

Analysis

At the beginning of Book 14, top Achaean commander Agamemnon must once again be talked out of giving up and sailing away. At every setback he thinks Zeus has abandoned his promise of victory. Seeing defeat as inevitable, he proposes dishonorable survival, sailing away while part of his army still fights. Choosing a safe return home over glorious and honorable death is the opposite of Achilles's choice. Odysseus roundly denounces this plan and calls him a disgrace. As the audience knows, an Achaean defeat is not inevitable and Agamemnon needs to have more faith in the gods.

This revelation of Agamemnon as faltering and faithless helps explain why Achilles and other Achaeans resent his claim to the bulk of the plunder they seize. For the first time Agamemnon seems to feel some regret for offending Achilles, but only insofar as how it directly affects him. He worries that the men blame him for the current turn of events.

The gods again provide a humorous counterpoint to the brutal slog of war down on earth. Hera, who never misses an opportunity to take advantage, capitalizes on Poseidon's success and uses all her wiles to keep Zeus distracted a little longer. She comically takes advantage of Aphrodite's good will to manipulate Zeus on his weakest point, his fondness for beautiful woman. Although naive about Hera's intent, Aphrodite is supreme in her own area, love, and Zeus is helpless to resist the band she loans to Hera.

Book 14 also features Hector's second one-on-one face off with Great Ajax, in which he again comes out the loser. This illustrates the relative strength of each side's armies and heroes. Hector is the strongest Trojan fighter, but he consistently cannot stand up to the second-strongest fighter on the Achaean side. And if he falls, there is no fighter nearly as strong to replace him, whereas the Achaeans have a deep pool of mighty warriors. Even with Zeus's help, Hector's progress toward the ships is painfully slow and full of setbacks. Homer portrays both sides sympathetically—both display honor and fight heroically—but as the epic continues, it becomes increasingly clear the comparative strength of the Trojans just doesn't stack up.

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