The Iliad By Homer Summary and Analysis Book X

Summary

Agamemnon is unable to sleep because of his concern about the fate of the Achaian army. After much tossing and turning, he rises and awakens all his senior commanders. Old Nestor advises that under cover of darkness a scout be sent into the Trojan camp. With luck, this maneuver will enable them to learn the strengths, as well as the plans, of the enemy.

Diomedes volunteers to reconnoiter behind the Trojan lines, and he selects Odysseus to accompany him. The two men arm themselves and set out. In the area between the camps, they capture Dolon, a Trojan nobleman who was sent by Hektor to conduct a reconnaissance of the Achaian camp. The warriors promise Dolon that they will not harm him and from him they learn the whereabouts of Hektor and his staff, key information about the various units of the Trojan army, and the precautions that the Trojans have taken to guard the camp. Diomedes then treacherously kills the Trojan spy. The two Achaian heroes also learn that a new contingent of troops from Thrace lies asleep and unprotected on the Trojan flank. They kill many of these warriors until Apollo intervenes.

After returning to camp the two warriors take a ritual bath.

Analysis

Book X, often called the Doloneia, provides a bridge between the speeches of Book IX and the extended battle scenes in Books XI-XVIII. Book X deals with a totally different aspect of war — espionage. The episode with Odysseus, Diomedes, and the Trojan, Dolon, contrasts with the straightforward battle scenes where carnage and brutality are paired with nobility and honor. The events in Book X are still violent, but there is no honor or nobility to offset the brutality. The foray of Diomedes and Odysseus is a foray behind enemy lines by men without scruples. Later in the Middle Ages, Dante noted this aspect of the passage and placed Diomedes and Odysseus in the 8th Circle of Hell, Bolgia, the Evil Counselors. The deceitful murder of Dolon is Dante's basis for this placement.

The bath that Diomedes and Odysseus take in the sea at the end of Book X may be symbolic of their need to cleanse themselves both physically and spiritually of this dirty night's work. The events in Book X, in fact, have often been referred to as "dirty work." That Homer looked on the deceitful killing of Dolon as low, immoral business is accentuated by the ironic ritual cleansing the two warriors go through after they have committed the murder of Dolon and the sleeping Trojans. Homer's consummate artistry shows up time and time again in the way the small events in the poem relate to larger issues.

At the end of Book X, Apollo, unable to put up with the slaughter of the sleeping Trojans, awakens Hippocoon, a Trojan captain. Earlier, Athena had helped Odysseus and Diomedes; now Apollo helps the Trojans. This recurring theme of the gods' involvement in human affairs continues to emphasize the anthropomorphic nature of the Greek gods and to show how the two groups — gods and men — deal with similar concerns on different levels. Behind this interference of the gods though, lies fate, which cannot be changed. Apollo cannot save Dolon, nor can he ultimately save the Trojans from losing the war. The gods have their own sympathies in the battle, but they also have certain limitations.

Glossary

brooch an ornament held by a pin or clasp and worn near the neck.

Doloneia name sometimes given to Book X for the Trojan character Dolon who is killed by Odysseus and Diomede.

tunic a loose, gownlike garment worn by men and women in ancient Greece and Rome.

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On what day after the return of Hektor’s body to the Trojans will the battle begin again?




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