Iliad: Book 4

Deacon Harrison Garlick and Adam Minihan discuss Book 4 of the Iliad – The Truce Erupts in War

Book Four

The Truce Erupts in War

The Iliad is a poem that lives and moves and has its being in war

Bernard Knox

26. What happens in the fourth book of the Iliad?

Zeus taunts Hera with possibly supporting the truce and ending the war (4.17). Amongst the bickering, Zeus reveals that he esteems Troy (Ilium) more than any other city, and its destruction is given to Hera by Zeus of his own free will (4.50-58). Moreover, Zeus’ jest of supporting the truce seems a bit of theatre given his promise to Thetis. Nonetheless, he sends Athena to do two things: first, ensure the Trojans break the truce; and second, that the Trojans “trample the Argives in their triumph” (4.83-84). Athena successfully tempts the Trojan archer Pandarus—who seems unable to perceive the goddess for who she is—into shooting Menelaus (4.145). Athena deflects the arrow into a non-mortal wound, and Agamemnon calls for the healer, Machaon, son of Asclepius, the god of medicine (4.223). With the truce broken by the Trojans with no observable attempt from Hector or anyone else to diffuse the situation, Agamemnon marshals his chieftains for war (4.257). The armies clash and various conflicts are recorded (4.517). The book ends with Apollo encouraging the Trojans, and Athena the Greeks (4.585, 596)—while the edict of Zeus for the Trojans to triumph, at least temporally, remains pending.

27. Is the Iliad an accurate depiction of fighting in the Bronze Age?

“The Iliad is a poem that lives and moves and has its being in war,” as Knox observes. The material of war is bronze. Iron, a rarity, makes an appearance as a precious gift later in the poem. Book four introduces the actual warfare, and we may observe that it presents as more individualistic than expected. It is less group tactics and strategies and more individual feats of skill and bravado. Moreover, rarely are the soldiers generic. The opponents are named and, later in the poem, entire backgrounds will be orated prior to the toss of a spear. In fact, at times, it will seem as if the entire war stops while opponents share genealogies and family histories before slaying one another. One may recall that Homer’s audience is an aristocratic class of Greeks whose ancestors fought in the Trojan war. It is in their interest to hear of the bravery (or cowardice) of their forefathers and their individual exploits. One could also compare these duels to another bronze age duel: David and Goliath. In addition to the duels, Homer will make it clear later in the work that the armies utilized a phalanx—“a disciplined line of overlapping shields” while striking out with spears. 

Another unique attribute of the warfare is the grasping for loot. The soldiers kill their opponents and then attempt to take the corpse and strip it of its armor and goods. Homer will develop the rationale behind this act, but, in short, to capture your opponent’s gear added to your glory (kleos).

28. Who is Cronus?

As Cronus (i.e., Cronos or Kronos) is referenced several times in book four. Who is he?

Homer and the Ancient Greek poets tell us that in the beginning there was the world, Gaia, and the heavens, Uranus. The earth and the heavens came together and gave birth to the great and powerful Titans—and the chief titan, Cronos, waged war against his own father and killed him and ascended in power and ruled over the world.

In turn, Cronos had children—the Olympian gods—but fearing his children would dethrone him, he ate them when they were born. Yet, at the birth of one of his sons, Cronos was tricked into swallowing a stone and the young male child, named Zeus, escaped and grew strong and bold until he led an assault against his own father and cast Cronos down—and Zeus, having defeated his own father, became the chief god of Mount Olympus. From his throne, Zeus used his power to live a life of adultery and manipulation.

Moreover, Cronus’ Latin name is Saturn and is the namesake of Saturday. He is the father of both Zeus and Hera (4.69), and, though defeated, his name is generally used in an epithet for Zeus, i.e., “son of Cronus” (4.192). It is worth mentioning that the epithet for Cronus is quite similar to the “man of twists and turns” used for Odysseus (4.88).

29. What else should be noted in book four?

The depth of Hera’s hatred for Troy is displayed in her offering up the cities she loves for destruction (4.61). It is a hatred for which we continue to seek an origin. Along with the promise to Thetis, we should now hold in our minds the Trojans breaking their oath and that oath-breaking bears a curse backed by Zeus (4.180-91). One may judge Agamemnon’s lament for his brother’s impending death and whether it is his relation with Menelaus or his own reputation that is primary (4.192-211). As we continue to track the character of Odysseus, one may discern what is to be made of Agamemnon’s critique of Odysseus “cowering” and letting others engage the fighting (4.394). Finally, Homer is famous for his metaphors and what may be mined by their meaning. It is hard not to note the comical introduction of the Trojan armies as ewes whose breasts are swollen with milk (4.503). Though Zeus has promised Thetis a temporary Trojan victory, fate seems to have already marked the Trojans as lambs for slaughter.

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