The Iliad Competition Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
(Diomedes:) The son of devious-devising Kronos has given you gifts in two ways: with the sceptre he gave you honour beyond all, but he did not give you a heart, and of all power this is the greatest. (9.37-39)
In these lines, Diomedes tells off Agamemnon, who earlier was saying that he didn't have any courage. Now Diomedes turns the tables on him, saying that he, Agamemnon, doesn't have courage (this is what he means by "a heart"). Here Diomedes expresses a deep truth about competition: nobody is the best at everything. How does this connect up with the role of Achilleus within the book? Doesn't he think he can go it alone?
'Son of Peleus, never hope by words to frighten me as if I were a baby. I myself understand well enough how to speak in vituperation and how to make insults. I know that you are great and that I am far weaker than you are. Still, all this lies upon the knees of the gods; and it may be that weaker as I am I might still strip the life from you with a cast of the spear, since my weapon too has been sharp before this.' (20.432-437)
In these lines, Hektor speaks up for every underdog. Even though the other guy has all the advantages, there's always room for an upset. The only trick is to hang on to a glimmer of hope – even if it's only hope for luck, or, as Hektor puts it, for the help of the gods. In the summary of Book 20, we compared this passage to the following famous lines from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, which present the same idea: "I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." For a comparison of alternative translations of this passage (9:11), check out this website.
They ran beside these, one escaping, the other after him. It was a great man who fled, but far better he who pursued him rapidly, since here was no festal beast, no ox-hide they strove for, for these are prizes that are given men for their running. No, they ran for the life of Hektor, breaker of horses. (22.158-161)
It is passages like this – from the scene when Achilleus is chasing Hektor around the walls of Troy – that make even experienced readers of Homer amazed at his complexity. Later on (in Book 23) we will see extended scenes of athletic competition that echo, in various ways, the earlier scenes of warfare. But what is Homer saying? Is he saying that warfare is really like a game, or is it that games are really a form of warfare? Or is the truth something else? Is there a third thing that both resemble – some underlying human need to be the best?