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Book 5

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 5 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 5 | Summary

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Summary

Athena empowers Diomedes, who is one of the best fighters in the Achaean army, and he sweeps through the Trojan troops. The archer Pandarus shoots him in the shoulder, but Diomedes appeals to Athena. She willingly renews his strength and gives him the power to see the gods on the field, telling him not to fight most of them—but go ahead and spear Aphrodite!

Aeneas and Pandarus go after Diomedes to turn the tide, but Athena guides Diomedes's spear to kill the archer, and he crushes Aeneas's hip with a boulder. Aeneas's death is imminent, but Aphrodite appears to carry him away. Remembering Athena's directive, Diomedes stalks the goddess and slashes her wrist. Aphrodite screams, drops Aeneas, and flees to her mother. Luckily, Apollo takes over, bringing Aeneas to be healed and later returning him to battle. Apollo also brings Ares back to fight for the Trojans because an Achaean just wounded his sister.

As the fighting continues, heroes on each side take vengeance for the deaths of their men. Diomedes warns the Achaeans to avoid Hector—Ares is helping him. After a number of clashes, the Achaeans start to fall back. Alarmed, Hera and Athena gear up for war and secure Zeus's permission to deal Ares a "stunning blow." Hera shames the Achaeans, recalling that Achilles never let the Trojans out of their gates. Athena helps Diomedes spear Ares in the stomach. The god of war flees to Olympus, and Hera and Athena follow, having accomplished their goal.

Analysis

Book 5 is primarily Diomedes's aristeia, an extended passage in an epic celebrating a hero's "best work," although the exploits of others and actions of the gods are interspersed through it. This is the first aristeia of many in the poem and the longest and bloodiest except for Achilles's in Books 20–22. Typical of an aristeia, Diomedes is inspired and empowered by a god (Athena), his glorious armor is highlighted, and he triumphs despite being wounded. Many epic similes describe the hero. In several similes typical of battle scenes, Diomedes sweeps through the Trojans like raging water and attacks like a "claw mad" lion.

The concerns of the gods again seem petty compared to the seriousness of battle for the mortals. The gods have little regard for the consequences of their actions for humans, unless they are protecting a favored individual. Mainly, they seem concerned with opposing the other gods. Neither Aphrodite nor Ares handle their wounds well, both running home and whining about it to a parent as soon as they are hurt. The contrast with Diomedes's reaction after he is wounded is striking.

When not focusing on Diomedes, Homer alternates the killings pretty evenly between the two sides of the conflict. This rotating perspective keeps the action from becoming monotonous and builds the suspenseful ebb and flow of battle. The poet frequently gives the background of the fighter who is about to die, emphasizing the loss to his army and homeland. Vengeance killings form another pattern in the poem, such as Aeneas killing two Achaean captains after his comrade Deicoon is killed by Agamemnon.

Taunts are a frequent and important element in battle. Comrades challenge each other's bravery and honor to get in the battle mood. Sarpedon does this by telling Hector his Lycians are doing more than Hector's Trojans to defend Troy. In battle, fighters also taunt their opponents to dishearten them, such as when Heracles's son reminds Sarpedon that his father successfully sacked Troy. Even the gods get in on the taunts—Hera shames the Achaeans by saying Achilles never let the Trojans out of their gates.

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