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Book 15

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 15 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 15 | Summary

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Summary

As the Trojans are driven back to their chariots outside the wall, Zeus wakes up and sees what is happening. He threatens to punish Hera, but she protests her innocence. Zeus seems to accept her answer but puts her to work to undo Poseidon's interference. She obeys, but not before goading the war-god Ares into almost defying Zeus to avenge his son—he is only stopped by Athena. Iris calls off a reluctant Poseidon, and Apollo strengthens Hector and accompanies him back to the battle.

The uninjured Achaean champions gather together to face Hector and his army. With a war cry, Apollo shakes Zeus's storm-shield at the Achaeans, who are struck with terror and retreat. The god fills the trench and knocks down the wall for the Trojans's charging chariots. But Nestor prays to Zeus for help, and the charge stops just before the ships, with neither side able to gain ground. With the ships in imminent danger, Patroclus goes to persuade Achilles to fight.

Fighters rally to protect and avenge fallen comrades, first on one side and then the other. The great archer Teucer aims at Hector, but Zeus breaks his bow. Death comes to brave fighters on both sides while Hector rampages, glorified by Zeus with only a little time left. Finally, with Zeus's help, Hector reaches a ship! Great Ajax stands alone on the deck fighting off Trojan torches.

Analysis

Zeus's reaction to Hera's meddling and Poseidon's interference in the war sheds light on the relationships between the gods. Hera manages to wriggle out of punishment by swearing her innocence. However, her oath on the river Styx—a vow the gods cannot break—cuts the truth pretty fine. It is true she did not send Poseidon to help the Achaeans, but she seized the opportunity to assist him. If Zeus recognizes this, he lets it go, perhaps in favor of preserving his relationship with his touchy wife.

In addition to holding a grudge against the Trojans, Poseidon is motivated by a rivalry with Zeus, his older brother. The first-born Zeus is more powerful, but Poseidon bristles at having to give up his own interests for Zeus's priorities. This parallels the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon. Achilles resents Agamemnon, the more powerful king, who expects Achilles to give up something he values for Agamemnon's whim. Poseidon gives way rather than face Zeus's punishment—clearly he fears his brother's power—but with a threat that calls to mind Achilles's ultimatum.

Zeus reveals to Hera, and the audience, the full pattern of fate to come: The audience has already heard that Achilles, Hector, and Patroclus will die, but more details are revealed. Zeus's son Sarpedon will be killed by Patroclus before he dies. After Achilles kills Hector, the Achaeans will advance until they have taken Troy, an event that occurs after the end of The Iliad. This creates the tragic irony of the audience knowing Hector's fate even as he gains ground in battle and boasts of Zeus's support.

When Hector finally battles through to the Achaean ships, with one about to be set on fire, Zeus's promise is fulfilled. From this point on the tide of battle will turn, and the Trojans will be driven back for the final time.

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