The Iliad By Homer Summary and Analysis Book XI

Summary

Agamemnon leads the Achaians into battle, and, at first, they prevail, driving the Trojans back as far as the city gates. But then, in quick succession, Agamemnon and most of the other Achaian leaders are wounded and are forced to withdraw from the fighting. The Trojans soon regain the ground they lost, and they inflict many casualties on the Achaians.

Clearly, Achilles has continued to observe the progress of the battle, and although he is unable to voice the feeling, he is obviously troubled by the dangerous predicament of his Achaian comrades-at-arms and by his own self-imposed inability to help them. But he senses with some relief that the time is drawing near when he will be able to get satisfaction for his wounded pride. Thus, he sends Patroklos to get information from old Nestor because his own pride will not allow him to show any interest in the fate of the Achaians.

In the Achaian camp, old Nestor gives Patroklos a long account of the day's events, with many reminiscences of past battles. Finally, coming to the point, he convinces Patroklos to try yet another time to persuade Achilles to return to battle against the Trojans. If Patroklos cannot do this, Nestor says, perhaps Patroklos himself could put on the armor of Achilles and join in the fighting. Nestor says that if the Trojans were to recognize the mighty Achilles' armor, they would think that Achilles had settled his dispute with Agamemnon and that he had returned to the battlefront. This strategy alone may be sufficient to save the day. Patroklos is impressed by this advice and returns to Achilles' tent.

Analysis

From Book I to Book IX, the anger of Achilles seems justified. But, Achilles' petulant refusal of Agamemnon's offer of atonement in Book IX sets up a reversal of positions. No longer does Achilles' wrath have a moral force behind it; now it seems childish and pointless. Earlier, Agamemnon had appeared weak and haughty, but in Book XI he emerges as a great warrior and leader. Book XI is, in fact, the aristeia of Agamemnon as he battles majestically across the field. In Book XI, Homer moves into the second of the great structural waves of the Iliad — Books IX-XVIII — where Achilles is clearly in the wrong and Agamemnon in the right.

Among several important battle incidents in Book XI is the wounding of Diomedes by Paris. Paris shoots an arrow that hits Diomedes in the foot. This incident shows Paris' prowess with the bow and foreshadows the death of Achilles. Paris eventually kills Achilles with an arrow shot into the Greek's vulnerable heel.

Nestor is once again presented in a humorous light in Book XI. He helps Machaon, the wounded surgeon from the field. Once they are out of danger, Nestor pulls up chairs for them and begins to reminisce about the old days. Around them the battle rages, but Nestor is intent on his stories. Like all garrulous old men, he recalls the older times and heroes as superior to the present. Nestor is, of course, more than a comic figure — his stories do tie in importantly with the action — but his attitude and actions are so stereotypical that the comic implications cannot be overlooked.

Finally, Book XI contains a major turning point in the Iliad. Achilles decides to send Patroklos to check on the wounded Machaon. This action by Achilles shows that he is following the battle with interest, but it also sets in motion the events that will lead to Achilles' re-entry into the battle. By letting Patroklos take his own place in checking on Machaon, Achilles foreshadows his allowing Patroklos to enter the battle — a step that will lead to the death of Patroklos.

Book XI also refers to the Greek belief concerning burial of the dead. After Odysseus kills Socus, he taunts the body: "Now your father and noble mother/ will never close your eyes in death — screaming vultures/ will claw them out of you, wings beating your corpse!" The Greeks believed that if a body was not buried, the soul would wander eternally seeking rest. This belief is described in Sophocles' Antigone, as well, where Creon refuses to bury the body of Oedipus' son Polynices. Homer, in the Iliad, accentuates the horror of war by having Odysseus do more than kill Socus; he condemns him to an eternity of pain and sorrow. This idea will come up again at the end of the poem when Achilles does even worse to the body of Hektor.

At the end of Book XI appears a reference to the centaur, Cheiron. In mythology, Cheiron was a wise centaur who taught Achilles. In the Inferno of Dante's Divine Comedy, Dante assigns Cheiron as one of the guards of the Violent Against Neighbor in the River of Blood. Oddly, Dante does not place Achilles in the River of Blood but places him with the Lustful in Circle II because of his love for Polyxena, Priam's daughter.

Glossary

bastard not a pejorative term for an illegitimate child but more of a description. Bastard children were acknowledged and honored, although they were not considered royalty.

lion lions and other large beasts of prey were common in ancient Greece and Asia Minor.

triple-flanged a flange is a ridge used for guiding a projectile. The Greek arrows have three edges or flanges.

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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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