Summary and Analysis
The gods meet in conference on Olympos. Zeus proposes that because Menelaos has obviously won the duel, the long, nine-year war be brought to a close. Hera and Athena dislike this course of action, and Hera, in particular, vehemently protests to Zeus. She wants the complete destruction of Troy, a city she bitterly hates. She wants no truce. Zeus gives in and sends Athena to somehow arrange a resumption of the fighting.
At Troy, Athena seeks out Pandaros, one of the Trojan leaders, and tempts him to kill Menelaos, thereby gaining great glory. Pandaros foolishly acts on her advice and draws his bow, as the truce is still in effect. He shoots an arrow at Menelaos, but Athena makes sure that it only wounds Menelaos because she doesn't want him dead, but she does want the battle to begin anew. Agamemnon and the Achaians are shocked by this violation of the truce and by the seemingly serious injury to Menelaos. Fortunately, the wound is not fatal, but while an army surgeon is treating it, several of the Trojan regiments begin to advance suddenly in battle order.
Agamemnon immediately orders his troops to prepare to fight, and he goes through the ranks of his army, praising the men. The Achaians respond to their king's spirit and they eagerly and cheerfully arm themselves and fall into line. The war begins again. The two armies clash violently, and large numbers of men on both sides are killed.
Book IV begins with an argument among the gods in which Zeus taunts Hera and Athena about the possibility of ending the war at once because Paris has lost the duel with Menelaos. However, after Hera's impassioned argument against the Trojans, Zeus immediately sends Athena to trick Pandaros. Pandaros, referred to as a "fool" for being taken in by Athena, breaks the truce and attempts to kill Menelaos with an arrow. These two scenes — the argument and attack — are followed by parallel scenes among the Greeks. Agamemnon reviews his troops, taunting or praising the warriors as he thinks best. He is similar to a modern football coach "psyching up" individual players in different ways before the game. Agamemnon's attitude toward his warriors is similar to Zeus' attitude toward the other gods. His comments are intended to produce a particular response. Zeus mocks another god to produce a particular reaction. Agamemnon criticizes or praises based on his assessment of the warrior's personality. After the review, the first major battle scene of the Iliad begins.
The significant comparison between the scenes involving the gods and those involving Agamemnon and the troops is that for the gods, their decisions are almost jokes; Zeus can mock Hera and Athena even though he knows that he will send Athena to Pandaros and that the war will continue. In contrast, for Agamemnon and the soldiers, the taunting and the fighting are matters of life and death, of individual and collective survival.The significance of Pandaros' shot at Menelaos should not be overlooked; it is a crucial moment in the epic. If Pandaros does not take the shot, the war could end. To accentuate the importance of the moment, Homer describes the bow and the shot in extended detail. Such involved descriptions of weaponry are common in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The technique is also used in later epics, such as the long histories of the swords in the great Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf.
Humor in the Iliad is most often associated with the gods but does occasionally show up among the humans, most often in connection with Nestor. In Book IV, however, Agamemnon's reaction to Menelaos' flesh wound is humorous. Agamemnon, seeing blood, thinks that his brother has been mortally wounded and begins a long speech of lament and revenge, concluding with the idea that eventually he will return to Greece "leaving behind the hero Menelaos/ mouldering in his wake." Menelaos undercuts Agamemnon's oration by saying that he is not really hurt. Agamemnon's concern for his brother may be genuine, but he comes across as overprotective.
Finally, the graphic nature of the battle scenes startle some first-time readers, but the straightforward nature of these depictions is part of Homer's technique. The description of wounds and death may be realistic, but the actual battle descriptions are stylized, examples of the set pieces used in epic composition (see Introduction). Examples of this stylized description are phrases such as, "the sound of struggle roared and rocked the earth," "rushing madly to strip his gear," or "loosed his limbs." Homer understandably focuses on individual combat of heroes while ignoring the multitude of foot soldiers who must have borne the brunt of the fighting. The gods, representing elemental forces and passions, help both sides.
Aias the Greek forces in the Iliad have two Aiases (also known as Ajax). The stronger and more prominent one is Telamonian Aias, King from Salamis. He is a notable fighter often referred to as the Great Aias. Oilean Aias is from Locris and is sometimes called Little Aias.
breastplate a piece of armor for the breast.
Chiron wise centaur (part horse, part human) who taught Achilles.
Machaon son of the famous healer Asclepius. Machaon is from Thessalia and is often used as a healer in the Iliad.
wall Troy is a fortress, surrounded by an almost impregnable wall of stone that Poseidon helped construct. The Greeks made a wall of rocks, sand, and wood to protect their ships. The Greek wall is the one most often referred to in the Iliad.