Iliad: Book 5 | Diomedes Fights the Gods

Deacon Harrison Garlick and Adam Minihan are joined by Grayson Quay. Grayson Quay Grayson Quay is a writer and News and Opinion Editor for the Daily Caller. He earned his M.A. from Georgetown University in 2019.

Book Five

Diomedes Fights the Gods

Now take heart, Diomedes, fight it out with the Trojans!

Deep in your chest I’ve put your father’s strength.

Athena (5.137)

30. What happens in book five of the Iliad

Athena grants Diomedes, an Achaean, power to fight the Trojans (5.01) and convinces Ares, who has sided with the Trojans, to refrain from entering the fray (5.33). Diomedes is “smashing the Trojan lines before him” (5.105) when Pandarus, the Trojan who previously broke the truce by shooting Menelaus, shoots Diomedes (5.107). Diomedes is restored by Athena who tells him not to fight any of immortals save Aphrodite and grants him the ability to see the gods (5.142). Diomedes delivers a brutal death to Pandarus (5.321) and gravely wounds Aeneas (5.340). As she did for Paris, Aphrodite now attempts to whisk Aeneas, her son, away from his immanent death, but Diomedes spears the immortal goddess in the wrist (5.380). Apollo, who has to repel Diomedes several times, is able to rescue Aeneas and places a “phantom” Aeneas on the battlefield (5.517). Apollo convinces Ares to return to the fight on behalf of the Trojans (5.523). Sarpedon, son of Zeus, chides his fellow Trojan, prince Hector, for his lack of courage in the face of the onslaught of Diomedes (5.540), and Aeneas, having been tended to by the gods, returns to the battle (5.592). 

Hector and Ares push the Trojans forward, and Diomedes—who was given the gift to see the gods by Athena—warns his fellow Achaeans of the war god’s presence (5.694). Hera and Athena return to the field of battle, and Athena assists Diomedes in spearing the god of war (5.989). A wounded Ares returns to Olympus and, after a tirade against Athena to Zeus, is healed and then sits next to Zeus (5.1050). 

31. Is Athena or Ares the actual god of war?

The more robust presentation of Athena in book five challenges our preliminary understanding of Athena as the goddess of wisdom and Ares as the god of war. Note she arguably outwits Ares by having him refrain from fighting (5.33) while she continues to intervene (5.136). Zeus seemingly defers to both regarding war, as he tells the wounded Aphrodite that “Athena and blazing Ares will deal with all the bloodshed” (5.494). Athena’s role is not reducible to simply influencing warriors, as she has her own war-gear (5.841) and, after seeking Zeus’ blessing, Zeus states, “she’s the one—his match, a marvel at bringing Ares down in pain” (5.880). Athena outwits Ares and helps Diomedes spear him in the bowels (5.989). 

In contrast, Ares is a “maniac” and without a “sense of justice” (5.874). He is “born for disaster, double-dealing, lying two-faced god” (5.960). He a “butcher” (5.978). He is called the “war-god” (5.960), and his “lust for slaughter never dies” (5.997). In short, Homer presents Ares as a god of slaughter, violence, and chaos, while Athena retains her rationality in war—a goddess of tactics and strategy. One recalls here her affinity for Odysseus, the great tactician of the Achaeans.

At the end of book five, Homer gives a comical juxtaposition of Ares and Athena. The war-god is racked with “self-pity” (5.1006) and “whining” to Zeus about Athena (5.1029). In the mouth of Ares, Homer provides one of the earliest accounts of Athena’s origin: she emerged from the head of Zeus (5.1017). The favor Zeus shows Athena, as described by Ares, is compared with the hatred Zeus shows to Ares, i.e., “You—I hate you most of all the Olympian gods” (5.1030). A statement reminiscent of Agamemnon to Achilles (1.208).

32. What should we make of the obedience of Diomedes?

Book five opens with Athena blessing Diomedes with power (5.01) and, after being shot by the archer Pandarus, Athena blesses Diomedes with the “strength of his father,” Tydeus (5.137). As such, Diomedes is often called “Tydides,” meaning “son of Tydeus.” Diomedes listens to Athena’s order to not engage the gods save Aphrodite (5.142)—though he arguably pushes the boundary by charging Apollo who was guarding the wounded Aeneas (5.495). One may observe that Aphrodite’s mother, Dione, comforts her daughter by describing the pain Diomedes’ wife will feel at his death—a fitting comfort for the goddess of love (5.465). Moreover, in her attempt to assuage her daughter, Dione tells Aphrodite of other times gods have suffered at the hands of mortals (5.431)—a series of tales that seem to have their sole origin in the Iliad.

Diomedes withdraws the Achaeans when he sees it is Ares approaching their ranks (5.694). Upon Athena’s return, she chastises Diomedes as unworthy of his father, Tydeus, due to his retreat (5.920). Diomedes’ response, however, seems tempered, as he responds that he was being obedient to her order not engage an immortal save Aphrodite (5.944). Athena then calls him the “joy of her heart,” and they go to engage Ares (5.953). One may question whether Athena did not understand Diomedes was being obedient to her command or whether her chastisement was a test of his piety. 

33. Did Heracles already sack Troy?

In book five, we see the son of Heracles, Tlepolemus, an Achaean, position himself against Sarpedon, the son of Zeus and member of the Trojan army (5.722). As Heracles—or Hercules in its Latin derivative—is the son of Zeus, Homer notes this is essentially the grandson of Zeus against the son of Zeus (5.725). It is notable that Tlepolemus asserts that his father, Heracles, has already “razed the walls of Troy” (5.738). He refers to the time Laomedon, the king of Troy and father of Priam, “cheated Apollo and Poseidon of their wages after at Zeus’ command they had built for the King the walls of Troy.” In response, Apollo sent a plague against Troy, and Poseidon sent a sea monster. The only way to satiate the sea monster was to let it devour the daughter of the Trojan king. Heracles offers to defeat the sea monster and rescue the king’s daughter in return for King Laomedon giving him horses that were originally gifts from Zeus. The Trojan king agrees, and Heracles saves the princess; however, as he did with Apollo and Poseidon, the king reneges and refuses Heracles the horses. 

Heracles musters an army and sacks the city of Troy. It is remarkable that amongst Heracles’ army is Telamon, the father of Giant Ajax or Telamonian Ajax, and also Peleus, the father of Achilles. Furthermore, Heracles gives the Trojan princess to Telamon, and she becomes the mother of Ajax’s half-brother, Teucer. As such, we learn that the famous walls of Troy were built by the gods at the command of Zeus, and that the fathers of the two greatest Achaean warriors, Ajax and Achilles, have already sacked Troy.

Returning to the duel, Sarpedon slays the son of Heracles, but he suffers a spear to the thigh (5.755). Finally, it is notable that Sarpedon, who had previously criticized Hector for not being on the frontlines (5.540), cries out to Hector for help (5.785). Homer provides the following line: “But Hector, his helmet flashing, answered nothing—he swept past him, Hector burning to thrust the Argives back at once and tear the life and soul out of whole battalions” (5.790). Sarpedon is laid below an oak sacred to Zeus under which his wounds are tended (5.795).

34. What else should we observe in book five?

As Aphrodite saved Paris, we see Hephaestus saving the son of one of his priests (5.24). We are also told of Phereclus, a Trojan, whom Athena loves most, “her protégé,” who built Paris his ships that were “freighted with death for all of Troy”—a freight named Helen of Sparta (5.70). Athena’s love for this Trojan affords him little, as he dies “screaming” speared through the buttocks and bladder (5.73). Homer notes, “what could the man know of all the gods’ decrees” (5.71). This is another consideration in our ongoing observance of the interplay between the providence of the gods and the actions of man. In addition to the duels and looting (Question 27), Homeric warfare also centers on corpses. For example, Aeneas stands over the broken body of Pandarus, his comrade, “like some lion” (5.332). We will need to observe this aspect of the war, as it will become a crucial plot point to the text. We should also take note of another divine vow, as Hera discloses that she and Athena had vowed to Menelaus that he would “sack the mighty walls of Troy” (5.820).

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