The Iliad Book 20 Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of Book 20 of Homer's 'The Iliad'. In this book, we see what happens when Achilles joins the battle with his new armor and a big pile of anger.

The Gods Take Sides

At the start of Book 20 of Homer's The Iliad, we see Zeus call all the gods together for another council. In the last group meeting he called, he instructed the gods to refrain from involving themselves in the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans. In this meeting, however, he does just the opposite.

He points out that an angry, divinely born Achilles is likely to mow down the entire Trojan army if the gods don't get involved. He doesn't insist that the gods only help the Trojans, however, so Hera, Athena, Poseidon, Hermes, and Hephaistos all go to help the Greeks. Ares, Phoibos, Artemis, Leto, Xanthos, and Aphrodite join the Trojan side.

Achilles vs. Aineias

As the gods surge onto the field of battle and stir up the fighting, Achilles shows up shining in his new armor and strikes fear into the hearts of the Trojans. He is on an angry mission, however, and he searches pointedly for Hector so that he might avenge the death of his friend Patroclus. Achilles is faced instead with Aeneas, whom Apollo goads into confronting him. Achilles has beaten Aeneas before in battle, so Apollo has some work to do in convincing Aeneas to challenge the formidable Greek warrior.

Aeneas gives in to Apollo and sets off in his chariot to find Achilles. The two face one another on the battlefield and shout insults at each other for a while. After exchanging words, the two exchange blows. Aeneas's spear bounces off Achilles' fancy new shield, but Achilles is able to pierce Aeneas's shield. Watching from afar, Poseidon can see that Aeneas is doomed. Even though he is supposedly on the Greeks' side, Poseidon scoops Aeneas out of harm's way. He sets the warrior down safely on the outskirts of battle and tells him he is an idiot for trying to fight Achilles.

Hunting for Hector

Understandably, Achilles is angry that Aeneas has been whisked away to safety in the midst of their fight. No matter, though - Achilles just returns to his primary purpose of finding and killing Hector. He calls to his men to give them courage, and then goes on killing dozens of Trojans as if they were bugs to be squashed.

Apollo warns Hector to refrain from combat with Achilles, but as he watches Achilles drop Trojans one after another, his resolve diminishes. Amid the slaughter, Achilles stabs Polydoros, Hector's brother. When Hector sees his brother ''clasping his bowels and sinking to the earth,'' we are told ''he could not keep away any longer, but went straight up to Achilles like a flash of fire.''

Achilles vs. Hector

When Hector and Achilles come together in battle, they are both furious. Achilles wants to kill Hector because Hector killed Patroclus. Hector wants to kill Achilles because Achilles just killed his little brother. As is usual, however, they take a moment to shout insults at one another first. Hector makes the first move as he launches his spear at Achilles. Athena rebuffs it, however, and it lands again at Hector's feet. Achilles then leaps at Hector, intent on murder - but this time Apollo intervenes, removing Hector to safety.

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