Study Guide

The Iliad Book 6

By Homer

Book 6

  • The battle rages on.
  • At one point, the Trojan warrior Adrestos is thrown from his chariot when it crashes.
  • Menelaos goes up to him to kill him, but Adrestos begs for mercy. He says his father will be able to pay a big ransom if Menelaos takes him alive.
  • Menelaos is about to spare him, when Agamemnon comes along and starts calling his brother a wuss. "What did the Trojans ever do for you?" He says. "We should kill them all."
  • Unfortunately, Menelaos gives in to peer pressure and knocks Adrestos away from him. Agamemnon then spears him, killing him.
  • Now Nestor comes along and tells the soldiers to stop wasting their time stealing things from the bodies of their enemies. His point could be summed up as: "Less grabbing, more stabbing!"
  • The Trojans are about to retreat when Helenos, a son of Priam, goes up to Aineias and Hektor and tells them to rally the troops and fight in front of Troy's gates.
  • Helenos also adds a special message for Hektor: he should go back to the city and tell the older women to find the best, loveliest robe they can, and present it to the statue of Athene in the temple on the heights. They should also promise to sacrifice twelve young female cows in her honor. In return, they should pray for the goddess to protect them from Diomedes.
  • Helenos says the Trojans are now more afraid of Diomedes than they ever were of Achilleus.
  • Hektor does as he's told. First he rallies the Trojans, then he tells them to hold out while he goes on his mission. Then he heads off.
  • Now, the Trojan warrior Glaukos is about to engage in battle with Diomedes. Diomedes, impressed with his opponent's courage, asks him who he is. (He also wants to make sure that he isn't a god—he's done enough fighting with divinities for one day.)
  • Glaukos first says, "Who cares who I am? People are born and die all the time like leaves." After that, though, he mellows out a bit and tells a long story about his ancestor.
  • Glaukos's story goes back to the city of Corinth in the region of Argos. Back in the day, the queen of Argos had the hots for Bellerophontes, a young warrior. (If his name rings a bell, you might know him by the more usual English spelling of "Bellerophon.") Bellerophontes, however, being an honorable man, wouldn't mess around with the king's wife.
  • Feeling rejected, the queen decided to get back at Bellerophontes by telling the king that he had been putting the moves on her.
  • The king of Argos didn't like the sound of this one bit. He decided to send Bellerophontes on a mission to Lykia. He gave him some tablets to take with him, on which were scratched symbols instructing the king of Lykia to do something nasty to Bellerophontes.
  • (This story is the origin of the expression "Bellerophontic letters," in which someone is made the unwitting bearer of a message harmful to them. For a parallel, think of what happens to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Alternatively, think of a time when you tricked someone—or maybe were tricked yourself?—into saying something stupid in a foreign language.)
  • When Bellerophontes arrived in Lykia, the king asked to see his references. As soon as he read what they said, he immediately sent Bellerophontes off to do battle with the horrible Chimaira—a beast with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a snake. The king was pretty sure that would finish him off.
  • (This creature is better known in English by its Latin spelling, "Chimera." In fact, "chimera" —uncapitalized—is a common English noun. Check out its definition here.)
  • Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), Bellerophontes defeated the Chimaira handily. He also made light work of the next enemies the king sent him to fight: the tribe of the Solymoi, and the Amazons, a tribe of female warriors. He even defeated an ambush the king set to kill him on his way back to Lykia.
  • When Bellerophontes got back, the king was so impressed that he said, "Hey! You're awesome! I don't want you to die—I want you to marry my daughter! And stay with me here in Lykia!" (Or something to that effect.)
  • Bellerophontes apparently thought this was a good way to patch things up, because Glaukos tells us that he and the princess of Lykia did settle down, and ended up having three children. The children's names were Isandros, Hippolochos, and Laodameia.
  • Here's how they turned out. Isandros was killed by the god Ares. Laodameia had a fling with the god Zeus, and became the mother of Sarpedon, whom we've met already. Hippolochos was the father of Glaukos. In this way, Glaukos finally wraps up his story.
  • When Diomedes hears this, he is overjoyed. It turns out that his grandfather, a guy called Oeneus, once hosted Glaukos at his place back in Argos. They also exchanged gifts. This means that they were bound by ties of "guest-friendship," a very sacred relationship.
  • Okay, this calls out for explanation. That's why we interrupt our program (hey, if Glaukos can do it with his long family tree, why can't we?) to bring you the following Historical Context Lesson.
  • The good thing is, "guest-friendship" (called xenia in Ancient Greek) isn't all that complicated. Basically, it was a form of ritual friendship between members of different clans or social groups. Such friendships often sprang up between travelers and their hosts—hence the name. The start of such a friendship would be symbolized by some sort of ritual, often including the exchange of gifts.
  • Once this ritual had been performed, the guest-friends were linked by a bond similar to that of family. Just like a family connection, the guest-friendship connection was passed on the offspring of the respective guest-friends—just like what happens with Glaukos and Diomedes. This brings us to the end of our Historical Context Lesson.
  • Because Diomedes and Glaukos now regard each other as family, this makes it pretty much impossible for them to kill each other. (As Diomedes puts it, there are plenty of other people on each side for them to kill.) Instead, the two warriors exchange armor as a token of respect. (Though we are also told that Zeus confuses Glaukos so that he gets the short end of the stick—exchanging his own gold armor for Diomedes's bronze.) Then they part ways.
  • Meanwhile, Hektor has arrived back at Troy. First he heads to the palace of his father, King Priam.
  • There Hektor finds Hekabe, his mother. She tries to get him to relax with some wine and make a sacrifice to the gods. He says, "No way, I've got more important axing to do. And anyway, if I was going to make a sacrifice I'd have to clean myself up and stuff." Instead, he repeats Helenos's message about the women offering a robe to Athene.
  • Hekabe and the other women pick out their finest robe, and go up to Athene's temple. There, they make their sacrifice and pray for success. We are told the goddess ignores their prayer.
  • At the same time, Hektor goes and finds Paris back in his house. He cusses him out for not fighting.
  • Paris says he accepts the criticism—but also claims he was just about to head back to the fighting. He says Helen was just getting him ready
  • At this point, Helen approaches Hektor and tells him how she wishes she had either had a better husband or had died in infancy, instead of causing so much trouble. She also tells Hektor to relax with her.
  • Hektor says that he has to go see his wife and son.
  • When Hektor arrives at home, however, his wife and child aren't there. A servant tells him they have gone to the Skaian Gates.
  • Sure enough, once Hektor gets there, he finds Andromache holding their baby son, Skamandrios, whom the citizens have nicknamed "Astyanax," meaning "Lord of the City."
  • Andromache asks Hektor why he has to keep fighting. She predicts that he will be killed in battle. She explains that Hektor is all she has in the world—after her father and brothers were all killed by Achilleus. (Andromache mentions that Achilleus had the decency to give her father a proper burial —this is important to keep in mind for later in the book.)
  • She also tells Hektor how her mother was once taken prisoner by Achilleus and held for ransom. Soon after she was released, however, she was killed by disease.
  • Andromache suggests that Hektor should make the Trojans pull back to fight from a defensive position in front of the weakest point in the Trojan walls. This is the same place where a large fig tree grows.
  • Hektor says that he is troubled by the same thoughts as his wife. All the same, he insists on following the warrior's code. He grimly foresees the day on which Troy will be conquered, and when his wife will be forced into slavery. He says he would rather die before that day.
  • Now Hektor goes to embrace his son, but the boy is terrified of his helmet. This makes his parents laugh. Hektor removes his helmet, picks up his son, and prays to Zeus to make him a better warrior than his father.
  • At this point Hektor tries to reassure Andromache, saying that, if he is killed, that means it was fated, and no one can escape the fates. He tells her to go back to her weaving work in the home.
  • Andromache appears to obey her husband, but when she gets home, instead of working, she leads the household women in mourning for Hektor—even though he is still alive.
  • Meanwhile, Hektor meets up with Paris, who is now enthusiastic about rejoining the battle.
  • Hektor encourages Paris, telling him that he's a good warrior, he just has to keep his chin up.

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