The Iliad By Homer Summary and Analysis Book VI

Summary

The battle continues, and although the gods are no longer taking part, the Achaians drive back the Trojans. There is much slaughter, and in their ardor to defeat the Trojans, the Achaians do not even pause to collect loot.

The Trojan force is in full retreat when Helenos, a soothsayer, suggests that his brother Hektor return to Troy and arrange for the queen and the other royal women of the city to make an offering in the temple of Athena in hopes of placating the goddess. Hektor agrees to the wisdom of this plan, and while he goes back to Troy, there is a short lull in the fighting.

During this interval, Agamemnon orders Menelaos to kill Adrestus even though Menelaos' intends to spare the Trojan. Diomedes and Glaukos step into the area between the two resting armies and challenge each other to personal combat. They discover, however, while explaining their individual pedigrees, that there were once ties of friendship between their grandfathers; thus, according to the heroic code, they must maintain these same bonds of friendship. They promise to avoid fighting each other in the battles to come, and, as a token of their fellowship, they trade armor. Diomedes comes out ahead in this exchange because his bronze armor is worth only nine oxen, while the golden armor of Glaukos is worth one hundred oxen, but the two men part as comrades.

In Troy, Hektor instructs his mother, Hekuba, about the rites to be held in Athena's temple, and then he goes to find Paris, who has been absent from the battlefield. He discovers his brother at home with Helen and her handmaidens, and he sternly rebukes him for his irresponsibility. Paris admits that he has been disgracing himself, and he prepares himself to join the fight. Hektor, meanwhile, goes to visit his own wife and baby son.

He finds Andromache and the baby Astyanax on the walls overlooking the battlefield. Andromache pleads with Hektor not to endanger himself any longer. Achilles has killed her father and all her brothers, and now Hektor is her whole family; she begs him to have pity on her and their infant child.

Hektor admits his concern for Andromache, but he says that he must consider his reputation and his duty. In his heart, he says, he knows that Troy will fall someday, but he is, after all, foremost a soldier and a prince, and he has many responsibilities. He adds that he often worries about the fate of his dear wife and son after he is dead and his city has been captured, but that a mortal cannot change the will of the gods. After saying this, Hektor kisses Andromache and Astyanax and leaves. Paris joins him at the city gate, and they both return to the battlefield.

Analysis

The fighting that began in Book V continues in Book VI. In the overall structure of the epic, this fighting involves three large movements between the ships and the city. These movements end in Books XV, XVI, and XVII when the Trojans fire the Greek ships, Patroklos is killed, and Achilles decides to re-enter the battle.

Within Book VI a distinctive movement from cold-heartedness to tenderness, from barbarity to honor occurs. The opening savagery is represented by Agamemnon, who forces Menelaos to kill the prisoner Adrestus, saying, "No baby boy, still in his mother's belly,/not even he escape."mailto:VI8--VI9 For Agamemnon, there can be no human feelings for the enemy in war.

Agamemnon's brutality is immediately contrasted with the kinship discovered by Glaukos and Diomedes. The two warriors discover that they have ties because of their forebears. They not only pledge friendship but exchange armor as well. The exchange of armor is especially significant because armor was associated with identity, and the exchange is a symbolic exchange of character. In this example, Homer shows that war can entail more than carnage, and that bonds of friendship can be established.

An interesting sideline in this scene is Glaukos' mention of symbols inscribed "on a folded tablet." This example is the only reference to writing in the Iliad.

But Homer goes on to show even greater humanity in wartime. As Hektor returns to Troy, he first meets the wives of the Trojan warriors, reminding the reader that for each soldier there is an individual life and story within the city. Likewise, when Hektor sees his mother, Hekuba, their meeting, too, is a reminder of the ties of kinship and love that implicitly exist for every character in the story. Moreover, these ties of love and kinship have all become disconnected by the war. The scenes in Book VI graphically remind the reader why the Greek soldiers rushed to their ships to return home in Book II when they were offered the opportunity to return home.

Before Hektor is reunited with Andromache, he encounters Paris and Helen. Hektor's anger toward Paris is palpable. Paris and Helen are the causes of the war that men such as Hektor and the husbands of the Trojan wives are fighting, while Paris himself lies in bed with Helen. The contrast between the responsible Hektor and the irresponsible Paris is obvious.

This contrast is carried further when Helen makes an oblique pass at Hektor. Hektor tactfully rebuffs her, saying, "Don't ask me to sit beside you here, Helen." Hektor controls his lust and passion even when tempted by Helen. Once again, the contrast with Paris is clear.

The end of Book VI is the famous scene between Hector and Andromache and their infant son, Astyanax. Most commentators consider this scene to be the most moving in the Iliad. It is a portrait of the warrior at home, war forgotten as he watches his son play and talks with his wife. Hektor's family becomes a symbol for all the soldier's families, what their lives could be if there were no war. Once again, Hektor is the perfect contrast to Achilles. As Hektor stands in the loving circle of his home and family, Achilles, alienated and alone, rages in his tent. Achilles is more dangerous, but Hektor is more human. In fact, with Hector and Achilles, Homer provides two different paradigms. Both are great warriors, both are destined to die; and yet they represent entirely different value systems. Achilles is the warrior; Hektor the family man. Achilles embodies the values of the individual who fights only for glory and honor; Hektor symbolizes the larger concerns of friends, of family, of home and civilization itself.

However, Homer makes it clear that both Hektor and Achilles are alike in one respect — they will fight and die for honor over all else. Home, family, peace — all mean everything to Hektor, yet he will return to the battle, knowing he will be killed, because honor demands it. Even Paris is roused to leave Helen when his honor is challenged. Similarly, Achilles goes into battle later, knowing he too will die, but feeling that honor requires his presence. Hektor and Achilles are worthy counterparts with different values in most respects, but ultimately alike in their deepest motivations. In the end though, both subscribe to the code that the ultimate honor for a hero is to die in battle.

Glossary

Bellerophon hero from Corinth who killed the Chimaera.

bravado blustering, swaggering conduct; the pretense of bravery. Much of the boasting in battle is a type of bravado.

Chimaera a monster with a lion's head, a snake's tail, and a goat's body, killed by Bellerophon.

distaff a staff on which fibers, such as flax or wool, are wound before being spun into thread.

loom a machine for weaving thread or yarn into cloth. Both the distaff and loom are associated with women in the Iliad.

Maenad a female votary of Dionysus who took part in the wild, orgiastic rites that characterized his worship; bacchante.

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