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Book 8

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 8 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 8 | Summary

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Summary

On Olympus, Zeus has had enough. He forbids the other gods from interfering in the war and goes off to the mountains of Ida near Troy to take charge. He weighs the fate of the two armies on his scales, and the Achaeans lose. Zeus drives them back with thunderbolts. Even bold Diomedes retreats. Hector and the Trojans advance, vowing to break down the Achaeans's new wall and burn their ships. The Achaeans are in danger of being wiped out. Hera rants at Poseidon, but neither wants to defy Zeus.

Agamemnon rallies the Achaeans and prays to Zeus to allow his men to live. Zeus sends a sign of assent. Achaean fighters kill some Trojans, but Zeus then spurs on Hector, who pushes Achaean fighters back against their own walls. Furious, Hera and Athena head for battle again despite Zeus's warning. He sends Iris to warn them off, telling them Hector will rampage until Achilles returns to battle.

Down on earth, night ends the fighting. Feeling victory is imminent, Hector has his army camp on the plain to ensure the Achaeans can't sail away. They watch fires blaze like stars.

Analysis

Until this point in the story Zeus has largely stayed out of the war, mostly overseeing the squabbles of the other gods and sending the occasional dream. Now he takes direct control, changing the dynamics considerably. Before, the gods fighting for each side tended to balance each other out, not giving either army too much of an advantage. But then Zeus sets his will against the Achaeans. Not even the bravery of Diomedes can save them from disaster. He slightly counteracts his own will by giving the Achaeans a bit of a rally to answer Agamemnon's prayer. But he makes it clear to Hera that the Achaeans will continue to lose until Achilles stops sulking and fights.

This section contains a number of significant symbolic objects. The Achaean ships represent home and escape to their army, so Hector's intention to burn them is a direct threat to their survival. Without any means of escape they would be trapped and slaughtered—and this is exactly what Hector wants to do. Zeus's scales symbolically weigh the fates of the two armies, and they tip against the Achaeans. Rather than determining fate, the scales seem to be an official indicator of what has already been decided. Zeus's promise to Thetis means the Achaeans must lose until Achilles relents. However, the scales provide a sense of fairness and balance that makes Zeus's intervention more detached than the meddling of the other gods.

Zeus's rebuke of Hera portends an important future event—at some point Achilles's comrade Patroclus will die. He also says Hector will not stop fighting until then. Because Hector is unlikely to ever stop fighting to defend his city, this likely means his death as well.

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