The Iliad, Book VIII

Overview
Book I Book II Book III Book IV Book V Book VI Book VII
Book VIII Book IX Book X Book XI Book XII Book XIII Book XIV Book XV 
Book XVI Book XVII Book XVIII Book XIX Book XX Book XXI Book XXII
Book XXIII Book XXIV

The Trojans gain the upper hand

Zeus warned all of the gods not to help either side in the fighting; if they did they would either be thrashed and sent back to Olympus or thrown down into Tartarus. Athena, speaking on behalf of all the gods, said they would obey although would continue to advise the Greeks. Zeus then withdrew to Mount Ida.

Whilst fighting resumed between the two sides, Zeus balanced the Greeks’ and Trojans’ deaths on his scales. It came down on the Greeks’ side, spelling their doom, and Zeus relayed this to the Greeks by throwing a lightning flash at them and inspiring them with fear. They began to withdraw but Nestor was prevented from doing so because one of his horses had been wounded by an arrow from Paris.

Nestor and Diomedes, painting by Louis Moritz, 1810.

Nestor was saved by Diomedes from being killed by Hector and, in Diomedes’ chariot they both charged at Hector: Diomedes’ spear killed Hector’s charioteer but Zeus prevented Hector from being killed by hurling his thunderbolt and frightening Diomedes’ horses. Unwillingly, for fear of the Trojans calling him a coward, Diomedes was persuaded by Nestor to retreat and was jeered at by Hector for doing so. Only Zeus, thundering from Mount Ida in favour of the Trojans, prevented him from turning to fight Hector.

Hector raced towards the Greek camp, stirring on the Trojans and his two chariot horses, in the hope of capturing Nestor’s shield and Diomedes’ body armour made by Hephaestus. While Hera tried and failed to persuade Poseidon to help the Greeks, Hector was within striking distance of setting fire to the Greek ships when Agamemnon prayed to Zeus to save them and received the omen of an eagle dropping a fawn at the altar where the Greeks sacrificed to Zeus.

Battle at the Greek Ships. Detail from a Roman sarcophagus, c. 225-250 AD. Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.

Interpreting this as a good omen, the Greeks renewed their fighting against the Trojans, with some success, particularly from Teucer. However, when Teucer tried to kill Hector and failed, killing one of Hector’s brothers and his charioteer instead, Hector wounded Teucer with a huge rock and the Greeks were driven back inside their ditch and to their ships.

Hera and Athena armed themselves, preparing to help the Greeks, but Zeus saw them and sent Iris to stop them, warning them of the revenge he would take if they defied him. Both goddesses withdrew to Olympus and their unhappiness was clear to see when Zeus returned there. He told them he was unmoved by their anger; it was fated that Hector and the Trojans would have more success until Patroclus was killed and Achilles returned to the fighting. As night fell Hector issued orders to protect themselves and confidently predicted that, with the gods’ help, they would have victory on the next day. The Trojans encamped outside Troy, in front of the Greek defences, lighting countless fires, for warmth, for cooking and to intimidate the Greeks.

Book VII Book IX