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Book 6

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 6 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 6 | Summary

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Summary

As the Achaeans drive the Trojans back toward their gates, Menelaus catches a Trojan charioteer. The Trojan begs to be ransomed, and Menelaus is moved to grant the request. But Agamemnon wants "all Ilium blotted out"—no one will be spared. Together they kill the begging Trojan.

On the advice of his brother Helenus, a seer, Hector returns to Troy to ask the queen to make an offering to Athena. Meanwhile, Diomedes and Glaucus (a Trojan ally) meet on the battlefield. Diomedes wonders who Glaucus is because he's never noticed him before. Glaucus recites his lineage, and they discover their forefathers once exchanged friendship gifts. The two fighters also declare friendship and exchange armor.

Inside Troy, Hector rouses Paris to join the fighting and then he visits his wife, Andromache, and baby son, Astyanax. Andromache fears for Hector, wanting him to withdraw from the fighting, but his honor will not let him—he would "die of shame." The horsehair on his helmet frightens his son when he moves to hug him. He removes it and throws the boy into the air, and the family shares a moment of laughter. As Hector returns to battle, Andromache grieves as if he were already dead.

Analysis

Two scenes illustrate brutality and humanity in war: Menelaus is inclined to show mercy to the captured Trojan charioteer, but Agamemnon calls for the complete destruction of Troy—"all Ilium blotted out,/no tears for their lives, no markers for their graves!" He would not spare even the "baby boy still in his mother's belly," a statement that does not bode well for the future of Hector's baby son, Astyanax. This is a brutal new phase of war.

However, Glaucus and Diomedes manage to find a human connection in the middle of the war. In this case their connection is based on a pledge of guest-friendship made by their forefathers through the exchange of gifts. Guest-friendship was considered sacred and, as demonstrated here, can be passed down through generations. (Among other offenses, Paris violated the guest-host relationship with Menelaus by running away with Helen.) The peaceful honor of guest-friendship triumphing over the honor and glory to be gained in battle is a hopeful sign for humanity.

The scene with Diomedes and Glaucus also contains a profound epic simile in which Glaucus compares the lives of mortals to generations of leaves that die and bud again in the spring. It is the cycle of life, a hopeful image, but with a dark shadow. He and Diomedes are the old leaves who are due to die and be blown away and forgotten: Glaucus brings up this simile in response to Diomedes's request to know his lineage.

Homer doesn't just celebrate honor and glory in The Iliad, he also explores their costs. In this section, Andromache fears the consequences of Hector's courage and begs him to take a more defensive approach to the war. Although he is also tortured by the thought of terrible consequences—to his family, the city he loves, and especially his wife—if he should lose, his sense of honor will not allow him to take a less glorious path. When he prays for his son, he wishes him to be glorious rather than for him to survive. In the values of the ancient world, life without honor is not worth living.

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