Iliad: Book 11 | Agamemnon’s Day of Glory

Deacon Harrison Garlick and Adam Minihan sit down to talk about Book 11 of the Iliad, Agamemnon’s Day of Glory.

In this episode we will discuss:

  • What happens in Book 11?
  • What should be noted about Patroclus?
  • What should be noted about Peleus’ command to Patroclus?
  • What else should be observed in book 11?

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Achilles will listen to you—for his own good. So the old man told you. You’ve forgotten. – Nestor to Patroclus (11.943)

55. What happens in book eleven?

Dawn has finally arisen from her bed (11.01). To welcome the new day, Zeus sends the goddess Strife to the Achaean camp (11.03), and the goddess releases a “high-pitched cry, great and terrible” that drives the Achaeans “mad for war and struggle” (11.14). Agamemnon rallies the Achaeans and Hector the Trojans, as Zeus rains blood from the sky (11.62) and Strife continues her “wild groans” (11.84). Following Diomedes advice to fight on the front lines (9.865), Agamemnon leads the Argives on a bloody warpath against the Trojans (11.107). Agamemnon slaughters his enemies—including one Trojan who Agamemnon cuts off his head and arms and, as Homer says, sends him “rolling through the carnage like a log” (11.170). Zeus sends Iris to tell Hector to stay off the front lines and command his men from the back until Agamemnon is wounded—then Zeus will bless Hector to lead a counteroffensive all the way back to the Achaean ships (11.217). After Agamemnon is wounded and retreats (11.310), Hector pushes the Achaeans all the way back to their rampart (11.330). One by one the Achaean warlords—Diomedes (11.443), Odysseus (11.515), and Machaon the healer (11.598)—are all injured and retreat. Great Ajax desires to hold his ground but is forced to retreat by Zeus (11.638). 

Still by his ship, Achilles watches the onslaught and tells Patroclus he thinks the Achaeans are ready to “grovel at his knees” (11.719). Achilles sends Patroclus to Nestor for advice (11.722), and Nestor tells Patroclus that Achilles should at least let Patroclus lead the Myrmidons into battle wearing Achilles’ armor (11.951). Patroclus leaves to return to Achilles but stops to assist an Achaean suffering from an arrow wound (11.1001). The book ends with Patroclus caring for his fellow solider, and the foretold “doom of Zeus” about the body of Patroclus inches closer (8.551).

56. What else should be noted about Patroclus?

Of important note is how Patroclus speaks of Achilles to Nestor (11.773). He states that Achilles is a “great and terrible man” and would “leap to accuse a friend without fault” (11.774). It is not the language one would expect from Patroclus, the “great friend” of Achilles (Question 49). We are told that Nestor was part of the group of Achaeans who went to the house of Peleus seeking recruits for the Trojan war (11.916). Peleus tells his son, Achilles, to “always be the best, my boy, the bravest, and hold your head up high above the others,” which is the exact same advice given the Glacus by his father except it lacks the exhortation to “never disgrace the generation of your fathers” (6.247). Whether Homer is inviting a comparison here is a matter of some discussion. 

We should note well Peleus’ command to Patroclus to counsel Achilles, and that Achilles will listen to him (11.940). Amongst all the rage of Achilles, we have little evidence of Patroclus playing the role of counselor or attempting to diffuse the situation. Nestor critiques Patroclus that he has forgotten his role as counselor to Achilles (11.943). One may hold that Achilles sitting by his ships as the Achaeans are slaughtered is evidence, at least in part, of the failed mission of Patroclus.

57. What else should be observed in book eleven? 

One might expect that Hector would balk a bit at being told to stay off the from lines (11.237), but he does not despite his habit of leading from the front. We could attribute this to his piety toward the gods, especially Zeus, or more critical voices would recall that he’s slunk to the back before (5.540). It is most notable that Homer invokes the Muses again (11.253). This fourth invocation seems to illuminate the importance of Agamemnon leading the charge against the Trojans. We may observe that Hector is once again saved by the gods, as Diomedes’ spear hits him in the head but does not penetrate his helmet (11.414, 427). Paris stays true to his character, as he first gloats over shooting Diomedes in the foot—after leaping out of his “hiding place” (11.446)—and then shoots the Achaean healer, Machaon (11.598). 

It should be noted that Odysseus, who has been criticized in the past for strategically holding back, is left alone against the Trojans, and he holds his ground well like a “wild boar” against a circle of hunters (11.473, 491). Hector, despite knowing he has the favor of Zeus, stays away from Giant Ajax (11.638)—apparently still wary from their last duel (Question 41). Old man Nestor, who is the link to an older more glorious age, is shown being able to lift a cup with “ease” that the average man would “strain to lift off the table” (11.751). Nestor, who has a penchant for telling stories about himself, shares that Heracles (or Hercules) killed all eleven of his brothers (11.820). Nestor ending his testimony with “so, such was I in the ranks of men… or what it all a dream?” (11.908) is certainly worthy of some consideration.

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