Iliad: Book 13 | Battling for the Ships

Deacon Harrison Garlick and Adam Minihan welcome Thomas Lackey back to the podcast to discuss Book 13 of The Iliad, Battling for the Ships

In this episode we will discuss:

  • What happens in book thirteen?
  • How does the story of Asius end?
  • Why Adam is frustrated with this book and why it’s Dcn. Garlick’s least favorite so far.
  • What else should be noted in book thirteen?

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Zeus, Father Zeus, they say you excel all others… all men and gods, in wisdom clear and call—but all this brutal carnage comes from you. – King Menelaus (13.727)

64. What happens in book thirteen?

Father Zeus, believing that the deathless gods will not violate his strict decree to not interfere with the Trojan war, turns his attention “a world away to the land of the Thracian horsemen” (13.06). Poseidon seizes this opportunity to help the Achaeans. He blesses the Aeantes (13.74) and whips up the fighting strength of the whole Argive army (13.112). Battalions are formed around the Aeantes, and they war against Hector and his Trojans (13.149). Meanwhile, the two Achaeans, Idomeneus and Meriones, rush to the left flank where the Argives are suffering the most (13.363, 80). Poseidon continues to secretly war against the will of Zeus by spurring on the Achaeans against the Trojans (13.408). Idomeneus, the Achaean, crushes the Trojan Asius (13.452) and Alcathous (13.512) on the left flank. In return, Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite, arrives to bolster the Trojans and both sides clash around the corpse of the Trojan Alcathous (13.575). Menelaus, the Spartan King, squares off with Helenus, the Trojan prophet (13.672). Helenus’ arrow bounces off the Achaean war-lord’s breastplate (13.679), but Menelaus’ spear goes through Helenus’ first (13.686)—and his Trojan campions drag him away from the battlefield for care (13.687). 

While the Argives hold the left flank, Hector, favored by Zeus, continues to collide against the Achaeans, blessed by Poseidon, back where Hector smashed the gate (13.785). Polydamas advises Hector to regroup, warning Hector that he has been blessed to fighting power but not necessarily in tactics (13.841). Hector listens, and he goes to recall his warlords (13.873). Hector finds Paris and the carnage that the Trojans suffered on the left flank (13.884). The two princes rejoin the main force at the broken gate, but the Achaeans are immovable under the leadership of giant Ajax (13.935). Ajax taunts Hector that the Trojans will be forced to retreat soon, and a bird-omen appears to confirm his words (13.948). Hector returns the taunt, and both sides prepare for another Trojan charge (13.951). 

65. How does the story of Asius end?

We met Asius charging his chariot into the Achaean wall and—as the attempt fails—calling Zeus a liar (Question 60). In book thirteen, Idomeneus spears Asius in the throat with the tip “ripping” through the nape of his neck (13.450). Later, Asius’ son, Adamas, is speared by Meriones “between the genitals and the naval—[a] hideous wound, the worst the god of battles deals to wretched men” (13.657). Homer describes him as “hugging the shaft he writhed, gasping, shuddering (13.660). Given the manner of their deaths, one is left inclined that Asius has brought the doom of Zeus upon himself by his own words.

 66. What else should be noted in book thirteen?

Despite his prowess on the battlefield, it is notable that giant Ajax does not immediately recognize Poseidon in the guise of Calchas (13.85). Poseidon calls Achilles a “worthless coward.” (13.139). Homer presents another good description of the phalanx (13.154). Teucer, an archer thus far, is shown to successfully use a spear (13.211). One may question whether the brutality of the war is increasing, as we see little Ajax toss the head of a dead Trojan at the feet of Hector (13.242). We see another practical import of stripping the bodies of their loot, as Meriones is able to replace his broken spear with one of the many Trojan spears stored by Idomeneus (13.309). One recalls the marriage offer of Agamemnon’s daughter to Achilles, as Idomeneus offers Agamemnon’s “loveliest daughter” in sarcasm to the dead Othryoneus (13.422). 

Homer presents a comparison between Ares who is aloof and unaware his son has even died (13.602) with Poseidon who actively aids the Achaeans, like Antilochus (13.642). Menelaus, like his brother (9.142), understands that the present “brutal carnage” comes from Zeus, and that Zeus is favoring the Trojans (13.729). We are introduced to the Achaean Euchenor who, like Achilles, was able to choose his fate: die fighting at Troy or die of a plague at home (13.764). Finally, it is not unremarkable that Homer uses the imagery of storm pounding the seas to describe the Trojans—backed by the storm god, Zeus—clashing against the Achaeans—backed by the sea god, Poseidon (13.920). 

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