A sampling of comments on Iliad Rhapsody 15

2016.10.27 / updated 2018.09.11 | By Gregory Nagy

The climax of the fighting in the Iliad is now approaching. Patroklos is about to enter the war, and the Will of Zeus is about to be fulfilled.

Ajax defending the ships of the Greeks. After a drawing by John Flaxman. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Ajax defending the ships of the Greeks. After a drawing by John Flaxman. Image via Wikimedia Commons.


The climax of the fighting in the Iliad is now approaching. Patroklos is about to enter the war, and the Will of Zeus is about to be fulfilled. [[GN 2016.10.27.]]


subject heading(s): swearing by the Styx

When gods swear by the waters of the underworld river Styx, as the goddess Hērā does here, I.15.037, their oath must be irrevocable and therefore absolute. The basis for the absoluteness of the oath is the absolute imperishability of the material substance that has been chosen as the basis for the oath. That substance is the water of this river. And the imperishability is signaled by the adjective aphthito- ‘imperishable’, which is actually used as the epithet of the Stygian waters at Hesiod Theogony 805. Further, aphthito- ‘imperishable’ at Hesiod Theogony 397 is the epithet of Styx as a personified female divinity. On the epithet aphthito- ‘imperishable, unwilting’, see the comments on I.02.325, where further attestations are also cited. [[GN 2016.10.27 via BA 187.]]


subject heading(s): menos ‘mental power’; en-pneîn ‘breathe into’

The god Apollo is about to be engaged here in the act of en-pneîn ‘breathing into’ the hero Hector something called menos ‘mental power’, I.15.060. See the comment on I.15.262. [[GN 2016.09.27 via GMP 114.]]


subject heading(s): boulē ‘wish, plan’; Will of Zeus; Plan of Zeus; plot of the Iliad; narrative arc

Zeus here reaffirms what he wishes or wills, that is, he reaffirms his plan. And this Plan of Zeus, which is the wish or Will of Zeus, will be coextensive with the plot or narrative arc of the Iliad, starting with the original promise of Zeus to Thetis at the beginning of the epic, at I.01.524–530. What the god had then promised, that he will honor Achilles by letting the Achaeans lose until the fire of Hector reaches their beached ships, had been signaled when Zeus originally nodded his head at I.01.524–530. Now at I.15.075 Zeus refers again to this nodding of his head as he briefly retells the plot or narrative arc extending from the time of inception, which was the time when he had originally nodded. That narrative arc now extends not only to the present time of his retelling but also into a future time that has not yet been narrated in the Iliad: within this time-frame of future events, Poseidon will stop interfering on behalf of the Achaeans, I.15.056–058, and then Hector will be re-energized by Apollo and will thus stop the present momentum of the Achaeans, chasing them back to their beached ships, I.15.059–064, and then Achilles will send out Patroklos to stop the Trojans, I.15.064–065, and then Patroklos will be killed by Hector, I.15.065—but not before Patroklos himself kills many heroes fighting on the Trojan side, I.15.066–067, and among those killed heroes will be Sarpedon, who is the son of Zeus himself, I.15.067—and then, to top it all off, Achilles will experience anger [kholos] over the killing of Patroklos by Hector and will kill Hector, I.15.068. In the course of this almost breathlessly rapid retelling of the plot by Zeus, the foretelling of events yet to happen touches on the upcoming drama of the god’s personal loss of Sarpedon, who is his own human son. But the drama of this divine loss is still being elided for the moment, since Zeus at present is saying only that Sarpedon will be killed by Patroklos. The god is not yet saying that Sarpedon is his own beloved son. But that is not all. All has not yet been retold, even at this point, at I.15.068, which signals the killing of Hector by Achilles. The god’s retelling of the plot in the form of a foretelling is not yet completed at this point. The retelling by Zeus continues even further, starting with I.15.069: after Achilles kills Hector, Zeus will plan to bring about a reversal for the Trojans, who will now be driven back from the beached ships that they had threatened to destroy under Hector’s leadership, and the story of this paliōxis ‘driving back’, I.15.069, is described in the god’s wording as if it were some kind of an artifact that Zeus himself has fashioned in the mode of an artisan: the key word is teukhein ‘make-as-an-artisan’ (τεύχοιμι), I.15.070, which takes the noun paliōxis ‘driving back’ as its direct object, I.15.069. After this story of the paliōxis ‘driving back’, fashioned by Zeus in the mode of some divine artisan who creates the story by narrating the story, there will be a relentlessly consequential narrative that will lead all the way to the very end, which is, the destruction of Troy, I.15.070–071. This ending, however, extends beyond the time-frame that will be narrated in the Iliad. And such an ending, perhaps surprisingly, is said by Zeus to result from the boulai ‘plans’ of the god’s divine daughter, the goddess Athena, I.15.071 (Ἀθηναίης διὰ βουλάς). Why does Zeus speak here about the plans of Athena, as if they were not his own plans? It is because the plans of the goddess are by implication coextensive with the plans of her divine father as well. But Zeus is not yet finished with the announcement of his plan. Having indicated the outer limit of the epic plotline, which is the destruction of Troy at I.15.071, Zeus now returns to the present, indicating how it will extend into the immediate future of the Iliad. I will not cease my anger [kholos] against the Achaeans, the god declares at I.15.072, and I will not let any other god intervene on their behalf, I.15.073, until the wish of Achilles is fulfilled, I.15.074. That wish, as we already know, is that the Achaeans will keep losing until the fire of Hector reaches their beached ships. But Zeus here does not repeat the wording of that wish, even though he has promised to make the wish happen. Instead, he simply declares that he had made for Achilles a promise by way of nodding his divine head, I.15.075, and that this promise had been formulated for him by Thetis, the mother of Achilles, I.15.076–077. What Zeus had promised, the god says, was that Achilles should be ‘given honor’, as expressed by the verb tīmân, I.15.077 (τιμῆσαι). [[GN 2016.10.27 via HTL 83.]]


subject heading(s): compressed narration; epic Cycle

The rapid retelling by way of foretelling here, starting from the time when Achilles will send forth Patroklos to stop the attack of the Trojans and continuing all the way to the time when Troy will be destroyed by the Achaeans, is a compressed narration that extends beyond the narrative arc of the Iliad as we know it. The outlines of such a compressed epic narrative, formulated here as the Plan of Zeus, resemble what we see in the surviving plot-summaries of the epic Cycle. On the epic Cycle, see the Inventory of Terms and Names. The narrative as narrated here by the god Zeus himself shows “the bare outlines of distinct phases in the development of the Iliad as a composition subject to ongoing recomposition-in-performance” (HTL 83). [[GN 2016.10.27.]]


subject heading(s): boulē in the sense of ‘intelligence’

The use of the word boulai ‘plans’ at I.15.071 (Ἀθηναίης διὰ βουλάς) conveys not only the idea of Athena’s divine planning as a prime motivation for the overall epic plotline but also the idea of intelligence as a prime characteristic of this goddess (see BA 24). On connotations of intelligence by way of the word boulē in the sense of ‘planning’, see the comments on I.10.043–052, to be supplemented by the comments on I.11.200 and on I.11.627. [[GN 2016.10.27 via BA 24.]]


subject heading(s): tripartition

The three-way division of the cosmos among the sons of Kronos is an example of various models of tripartition as studied in later comments. [[GN 2016.10.27 via GMP 285.]]


subject heading(s): Hellespont

The ships of the Achaeans are beached along the shores of the bay of the Hellespont. See especially the comment on I.08.220–227. [[GN 2016.10.27 via BA 343.]]


subject heading(s): menos ‘mental power’; en-pneîn ‘breathe into’

As foretold at I.15.059–060, the god Apollo is engaged here in the act of en-pneîn ‘breathing into’ the hero Hector something called menos ‘mental power’, I.15.262. To be compared is the intervention of the goddess Athena, earlier at I.10.482. Now too, at I.15.262, such ‘mental power’ makes the hero aware of his physical power and thus energizes him to perform heroic deeds. [[GN 2016.09.27 via GMP 114.]]


subject heading(s): khalkeus ‘bronze-smith, smith’

As the divine artisan or craftsman, the god Hephaistos is conventionally called a khalkeus ‘bronze-smith’, as here. It will become clear from later contexts, like I.18.474–475, that this appelation of the god does not restrict him to work in bronze: he works in other metals as well. See the comment on I.18.468–613. [[GN 2016.10.27 via HPC 291, 298; MoM 4§4.]]


subject heading(s): īs ‘force, violence, strength’

This noun īs ‘force, violence, strength’ is a synonym of the noun biē. Here, as elsewhere, it refers to the elemental force or violence of a storm. [[GN 2016.09.25 via BA 89, 321.]]



As we see here, the sterns of the beached ships are contiguous with the Achaean Wall. See also the comment at I.14.027–036. [[GN 2016.10.27 via HPC 160.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’

A nameless therapōn is mentioned here in passing: he happens to be the ‘attendant’ of the hero Eurypylos. [[GN 2016.08.04.]]


subject heading(s): language of praise/blame

Even though the attacking Trojans here are fewer in number than the defending Achaeans, they are evenly matched in strength. This detail is relevant to the taunt of Sthenelos when he insults Agamemnon at I.04.407. See the comment on I.04.368–410. [[GN 2016.10.27 via BA 163.]]


subject heading(s): suspense

Hector and Ajax are struggling one-on-one with each other here: Hector is trying to set on fire the ship that Ajax is protecting from the fire. No clear outcome of the struggle is as yet visible. [[GN 2016.10.27 via BA 335.]]


subject heading(s): agōn ‘coming-together’

The ships of the Achaeans, as a sum total of all the ships, are pictured here as an agōn in the sense of ‘coming together’. See the comment on I.23.257–258. [[GN 2016.10.27 via PH 136.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’; “taking the hit”

Hector is throwing his spear at the hero Ajax but misses, and the flying spear hits instead the hero Lykophron, described here as the therapōn of Ajax, I.15.431. So, Lykophron as therapōn is not only the ‘attendant’ of Ajax but also his ‘ritual substitute’. When Lykophron “takes the hit” for Ajax, he is standing right next to him, as if the two of them were standing side by side on the platform of a chariot. It is the physical reality of thus standing side by side that makes the chariot driver the prime alternative target for “taking the hit” in place of the chariot fighter. The chariot driver is thus the perfect substitute for the chariot fighter. In this case, however, Ajax and Lykophron are standing side by side not on the platform of a chariot but on the deck of the beached ship that the two of them are defending from the fire of Hector. The venue for ritual substitution is different, but the ritual pose, as it were, of standing side by side remains the same. [[GN 2016.08.04 via the comment on I.04.227 via Nagy 2015.05.01, 2015.05.08, 2015.05.15, 2015.05.20.]]


subject heading(s): la belle mort

What follows is an epitome from HC 4§268. These verses containing the words of Hector, I.15.494–499, are quoted in a speech delivered by the Athenian statesman Lycurgus, Against Leokrates (103). The context is this: Lycurgus is arguing that the beautiful death foreseen by Hector, his belle mort, can be pictured as a model for Athenians when they contemplate the possibility that they too will die when they fight their wars. Lycurgus refers to the willingness of Athenian citizens to die in war not only for their own patris ‘fatherland’ but also for all of Hellas as a patris ‘fatherland’ that is koinē ‘common’ to all Hellenes (Against Leokrates 104). Lycurgus invokes as his prime example the belle mort of the Athenian citizen-warriors who fought at Marathon and who thereby won for Hellas a freedom from terror, an adeia ‘security’ that is koinē ‘common’ to all Hellenes (104). The Athenian statesman is making this reference to the interests of Athens in the context of actually quoting the words of Hector in the Iliad, who says that he is willing to die for his fatherland in order to protect it against the Achaeans (Lycurgus Against Leokrates 103 lines 4–9). These heroic words of Hector correspond to I.15.494–499 here, and Lycurgus quotes them in the larger context of saying that the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey, as performed at the quadrennial Athenian festival of the Panathenaia, are the ancestral heritage of the Athenians and the primary source of their education as citizen-warriors (Against Leokrates 102). In this invocation of Homeric poetry as the most sublime expression of the Athenian empire, the statesman is quoting the words of a Trojan, not the words of an Achaean. It is the belle mort of Hector that motivates the Athenians to live up to the heroic legacy they learn from Homer. [[GN 2016.08.04.]]



In urging his fellow-warriors to fight on, Ajax says that there is no ownership of kleos ‘glory’ for those who flee in battle. The implications here are most threatening for the epic reputation of Ajax, since the momentum of the fighting will soon be forcing him into making a strategic partial withdrawal, I.16.122: see the comment on I.16.122–124. [[GN 2016.10.27 via BA 32.]]


subject heading(s): thoós ‘swift’

This adjective is conventionally associated with the war-god Ares, pictured as the swiftest of runners. [[GN 2016.10.27 via BA 328.]]


subject heading(s): selas ‘flash of light’; kūdos ‘sign of glory’; Battle for the Ships, fire of Hector, breaking through the Wall of the Achaeans

Zeus has been waiting for the selas ‘flash of light’. It will appear when the first of the beached Achaean ships is set on fire, I.15.600. Once the god sees that fire with his own eyes, his promise to Thetis will be fulfilled. He will have given to Achilles the honor that he had promised when he had nodded his head to indicate his plan, which was the Will of Zeus up until now. But now the paliōxis or ‘driving back’ of the Trojans by the counterattacking Achaeans, I.15.601, can get underway, I.15.602. On the technical function of paliōxis or ‘driving back’ as a poetic term referring to a specific part of the Iliadic narration, see I.15.069 and the comment on I.15.056–077. And now the kūdos ‘sign of glory’ will shift away from the Trojans and return to the Achaeans, I.15.602. Earlier, at I.12.255, the kūdos ‘sign of glory’ had gone over to the Trojans. See the comment on I.12.255–257. [[GN 2016.10.27 via BA 64, 335–336.]]


subject heading(s): biē ‘force, violence, strength’; kleos ‘glory’; bíē Hēraklēeíē ‘force of Hēraklēs’

See the comment on I.02.658. [[GN 2016.06.30 via BA 318.]]


subject heading(s): Battle for the Ships, fire of Hector, breaking through the Wall of the Achaeans; kūdos ‘sign of glory’

Here at last begins the final push made by the Trojans in the Battle for the Ships—before Patroklos enters the fighting. Hector and his Trojans have broken through the Wall of the Achaeans, and now his fire threatens to set on fire the beached ships of the Achaeans. [[GN 2016.10.27 via BA 335.]]


subject heading(s): ship of Protesilaos; Battle for the Ships, fire of Hector, breaking through the Wall of the Achaeans; kūdos ‘sign of glory’

The ship of Protesilaos, which had been the first of all the Achaean ships to be beached on the shores of the bay of the Hellespont, now becomes the prime target for the fire of Hector. What follows is an epitome of further analysis from Nagy 2011c:193. In the course of leading the attack, Hector grabs hold of the prumnē ‘stern’ of one of the beached ships—the ship that had belonged to the hero Protesilaos, I.15.705–706, who was first of the Achaeans to be killed at Troy. On Protesilaos, see the earlier comment on I.02.695–709 and I.13.681, also the later comment below on I.15.704–706. Holding on to the prumnē ‘stern’ of this ship, I.15.716, Hector now shouts to his fellow Trojans and calls on them to bring him fire so that he may set this specially prized ship ablaze, I.15.718. In this context, Hector describes himself as fighting next to the prumnai ‘sterns’of the ships, I.15.722, which had been pulled ashore with their backs facing away from the sea and facing toward the attacking Trojans, I.15.718–725. The view of the narrative now shifts to Ajax, who is shown to be unable to hold off the attacking Trojans any longer, I.15.727: Αἴας δ’ οὐκέτ’ ἔμιμνε ‘Ajax could not hold them off any longer’. Now Ajax makes a strategic partial withdrawal, I.15.728, stepping off the ikria ‘deck’ of the ship of Protesilaos, I.15.729, which is where he had been standing, I.15.730. So, Ajax now fights on a lower level, I.15.729, and from further back inside the ship, I.15.728, but at least he continues to fight back, I.15.743–746, encouraging his fellow Achaeans to fight back as well, I.15.732, and his words of encouragement, as quoted at I.15.733–741, are uttered in the form of a ritual shout, as expressed by the verb boân, I.15.732. The focusing at I.15.696–746 on the stern of the ship of Protesilaos will become an essential narrative link in later phases of the narration about the Battle of the Ships. Already at I.15.704–706, Hector’s action in grabbing the stern of the ship of Protesilaos signals a tipping point: the defenses of the Achaeans, especially as represented by Ajax, are about to fail. In Bacchylides Ode 13.105–108, on the other hand, there is a reference to an alternative epic tradition about the role of Ajax. In this version, Ajax stands his ground on the stern of the beached ship: |105 ὅστ’ ἐπὶ πρύμναι σταθ[εὶς] |106 ἔσχεν θρασυκάρδιον [ὁρ]|107 μαίνοντα ν[ᾶας]|108 θεσπεσίωι πυ[ρὶ ––]| ‘(Ajax,) the one who, standing on the stern of the ship, held off Hector of the bold heart. (Hector) was attacking the ships with his fire [pūr], wondrous to tell about, […]’. [[GN 2016.10.27 via HPC 162, Nagy 2011c:187–189.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’; therapontes of Ares

In contexts where the plural therapontes in combination with Arēos ‘of Ares’ is applied to the Achaeans=Danaans=Argives (at I.06.067, to the Danaoi) as a grouping of warriors, the deeper meaning is more evident than in other contexts. [[GN 2016.08.04 via the comment on I.02.110 via BA 293–295; GMP 48; H24H 6§32.]]

Bibliographical Abbreviations

BA       = Best of the Achaeans, Nagy 1979/1999.

GMP    = Greek Mythology and Poetics, Nagy 1990b.

H24H   = The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Nagy 2013

HC       = Homer the Classic, Nagy 2009|2008

HPC     = Homer the Preclassic, Nagy 2010|2009

HQ       = Homeric Questions, Nagy 1996b

HR       = Homeric Responses, Nagy 2003

MoM   = Masterpieces of Metonymy, Nagy 2016|2015

PasP    = Poetry as Performance, Nagy 1996a

PH      = Pindar’s Homer, Nagy 1990a.



See the dynamic Bibliography for AHCIP.


Inventory of terms and names

See the dynamic Inventory of terms and names for AHCIP.