The Iliad Book 12 Summary

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

'The Iliad' is a doozy of a story. It's long, and sometimes it seems like the least interesting parts drag on forever, while the action-packed scenes are barely mentioned. In this lesson, we will take a look at Book 12 and focus on the most important events.

The Wall

At the start of Book 12 of The Iliad, the Trojans decide to charge the Achaean walls and defenses. The city is well-protected, and the Achaeans, who are really the Greeks, even dug a ditch around the wall to make it more difficult for the Trojans to attack. Despite all this effort, we are told that ''they'd built it without sanction from immortal gods - they'd made no splendid offering, no sacrifices to the gods.'' In other words, this really strong wall is doomed.

On Foot

Hector decides to lead the attack against the city, but when his horses reach the trench, they are too afraid to continue because it is too wide to jump over. Polydamas tells Hector that it is not a good idea to try to cross the trench with the horses. Polydamas argues that everyone will get hurt if they try to jump over it, and that the best idea would be to get off the horses and cross the trench on foot. Hector agrees, and he leads the Trojans forward.

The Bird and the Snake

As Hector and Polydamas rush forward with their troops, an eagle flies over them. The eagle is carrying a large red snake in its talons. The snake is still alive, and it bites the eagle on the neck. The eagle drops the snake in the middle of the troops. They are worried, and believe that ''it was a sign, a powerful omen, from aegis-bearing Zeus.''

Polydamas tells Hector that since the eagle failed to get the snake back to its nest, it means that they too will fail in their mission against the Achaeans. This angers Hector, who tells Polydamas that it is stupid to put faith in a bird. The only true omen is to ''fight for your country.'' Hector doesn't stop there: he tells Polydamas that if he prevents others from going into battle or if he himself runs from the war, ''then you'll die, struck by my spear.'' Hector walks away, and he and his troops start ripping the wall apart.

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