The Iliad Book 4 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 4 of Homer's The Iliad, in which the gods reignite the fighting between the Greeks and the Trojans. A bloody battle ensues as the tentative truce is utterly forgotten.

A Spectator Sport

The start of Book 4 of Homer's The Iliad shows the gods sitting around, enjoying refreshments, and watching the simmering tension between the Trojans and the Greeks down below. It's like a bunch of Americans watching the Super Bowl. We read, ''Hebe went round with the nectar, and they pledged one another with their golden goblets.''

The gods even goad one another like friends would who root for opposing teams. Zeus points out that Hera (Zeus's wife) and Athena are rooting for the Achaeans (which is one of the names used to refer to the Greeks) while most of the other assembled company would prefer victory for the Trojans. Zeus also chides Aphrodite for saving Paris from certain death during his duel with Menelaos.

Divine Intervention

Unlike Americans and the Super Bowl, however, the gods have the ability to manipulate the outcome of the game. Zeus declares Menelaos the clear winner of the duel that occurred in Book 3, since Paris was saved only when Aphrodite whisked him away. As such, Zeus asserts that Menelaos should collect his wife Helen, over whom this war has been fought for the last nine years, and head home.

Hera is outraged, calling Zeus a ''dreadful creature.'' She is mad not because of a genuine love for the Greeks, but because she doesn't want to see all of her hard work in trying to destroy the Trojans wasted-- ''How I sweated and sweated!'' she complains. Despite his own desire to help Troy, Zeus eventually gives in, telling Hera, ''If I ever want to destroy some city where you have friends of yours, do not try to thwart my vengeance.''

Athena Stirs up Trouble

After Zeus capitulates to Hera's demands, they agree to send Athena down to induce the warriors to end the truce. Because she doesn't like Troy, Hera decides to make it look like the Trojans' fault. Athena disguises herself as a Trojan warrior, finds the archer, Pandaros, and convinces him that if he is able to shoot Menelaos with an arrow he will be a great hero. ''He let himself be persuaded, poor fool!'' we read, ''and at once he stript his bow.''

The shot is fired and is flying sure to its target. Athena intervenes again, however, because she really wants the Greeks to win. She deflects the arrow so it hits Menelaos in the leg instead of killing him. It is enough, though, and Athena's goal is accomplished as the fighting begins again.

Bloodshed and Mayhem

That one arrow unleashes an onslaught of bloody battle. After seeing Menelaos's wound, King Agamemnon, ''all eagerness for battle and glory,'' marches through the ranks of soldiers stirring up their courage and anticipation. To some he lavishes praise and strokes their pride, to others he lobs goading insults to pique their desire to prove him wrong. In all cases, he is successful.

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