Book 11 - Summary, Themes, Motifs and Symbols

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  • Created by: chunks-42
  • Created on: 12-05-15 10:25


The dawn that begins Book 11 introduces the sustained and violent fighting in the Iliad, and a particular grimness invades the narrative. This long and crucial day stretches until the end of Book 18, and will see the Achaian wall breached, the ships fired, and Patroklos dead. This is the fufilment of Zeus' promis to Thetis, a complete granting of Achilleus' wish, but with unwished consequences disastrous to Achilleus himself - the fairy-tale motif of he maliciously granted wish is turned to high tragedy.

The importance of the day's fighting is marked at the start of Book 11 by divine manifestations (Zeus' sending of Strife, thunder from Athene and Hera, rain of blood), by the elaborate account of Agamemnon's arming and the description of his corselet, and by the similes which describe first the level fighting and then the time when the battle swings to the Achaians. Agamemnon now has his hour of glory, and drives the Trojans almost back to their city. Zeus tells Hektor to keep out of the fighting until Agamemnon is hit - then Zeus will grant him mastery until the end of the day. Three leadng Achaian fightes are wounded and disabled in succession - Agamemnon, Diomedes, Odysseus. Of the great Achaians only Aias remains on the field, and he threatens to reverse the tide of battle (Aias is constantly presented as a greater fighter than Hektor): but Zeus, in furtherance of his plan, causes Aias to retreat, and he slowly gives ground, like a donkey with difficulty out of a cornfield by little boys.

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Summary continued

Achilleus, watching the general Achaian rout, sees Nestor bringing a wounded man (Machaon) out of the fighting, and sends Patroklos to find out who it is. There follows a long scene in Nestor's hut. Patroklos is anxious to get back to Achilleus with the news (observing how quick Achilleus is to anger), but Nestor holds him with the longest of his reminiscenes, and turns to criticisms of Achilleus' attitude which recall the arguements of Book 9. He ends with the suggestion that Patroklos should persuade Achilleus to let him go into battle with the Myrmidons, wearing Achilleus' armour. On his way back to Achilleus, Patroklos meets the wounded Eurypylos: despite his main errand Patroklos helps Eurypylos to his hut, attends to his wound, and, as we learn later, spends some time entertaining him with talk.

Achilleus' interest and Patroklos' errand set in train the sequenceof events that leads directly to Patroklos' death, as is explicitly and succinctly noted by the poet - 'and this was to be the beginning of of his doom'. What is made clear also is that Patroklos' own character - the moral opposite of Achilleus' - is a major determinant of his fate. He is the kindest, one might even say the softest, of the Achaians, and treated with particular sympathy by the poet: the Greek epithet meaning kind attatches to Patroklos alone in the Iliad. His kindness dooms him - the kindness shown in his willingness to hear out Nestor, in his response to Eurypylos' need for help, and, fatally, in the emotion which spurs his appeal to Achilleus at the beginning of Book 16.

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Theme of Glory of War

"It was his intention to hurl down to Hades"

This shows us that Agamemnon wants to succeed well in battle and wants to be ambitious.

"Trojan warriors came one and penned him in"

This shows us that battle is not always glorious and the tables can turn in a split second. This shows us that also that men have to fight to survive the hardships of battle.

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Theme of Military glory over family life

"gladden the vultures, not their wives"

This shows us that men have to sacrifice that seeing their families again in order to achieve great things in battle.

"offered him his daughter"

This shows us that soldiers have different lives when not in battle, giving sympathy to the audience.

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Theme of Impermanence of human life

"Slept a bronze sleep"

Men die gruesome and painful deaths when in battle and some soldiers pay the price.

"sharp pains began to overcome his strength"

This shows us that when in combat, soldiers can come close to death, which would be scary for them.

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Theme of the interaction between fate and freewill

"Zeus the counsellor has not allowed me to fight"

This shows us that Agamemnon thinks that Zeus is controlling his actions and he is complying to them to please him.

"they must fall back on the black ships"

This means that soldiers must do important choices in order to stay alive for longer, despite straining from their fate.

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Theme of Intervention of the immortals

"Now Zeus drew Hektor away"

This means that Zeus is protecting Hektor, but what he does not know is that he is bringing him closer to his fate to Achilleus.

"when Zeus gave him the glory"

This shows us that the soldiers can be inspired to perform well in battle by the gods' own doing.

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Theme of Pride

"armed in gleaming bronze"

This shows us that he wants to show his army that he is a great warrior and a great leader for the Achaians to look up to.

"rousing their spirit for grim battle"

This shows us that leaders are proud of their army and they want their soldiers to perform well in battle in order to succeed.

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Theme of Anger

"now will you pay for your fathers abomible crime"

This shows us that Agamemnon is still angry with the way that the Trojans are acting towards his family, showing that his anger is acting in revenge.

"What will become of me now?"

This shows us that Odysseus is angry with the way that he has been left behind in battle and his anger is turning him into being desperate.

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Motif of Armour

"Once gave him as a gift of friendship"

This shows us that through his armour, he has got powerful alliances and he believes by wearing his armour he is trying to scare his enemies.

"Let him give you his own fine armour"

This shows us that sometimes armour has their own characteristics and that by wearing Achilleus' armour he will be impersonating Achilleus and give the Achaians hope.

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Symbols of The Achaian ships

"Take me to my black ship"

This gives us the impression that the black ships are a symbol of protection and comfort. That if anything goes wrong, they will retreat to their black ships.

"They must fall back on their black ships"

This means that the black ships are acting as a barrier against the Trojans and by falling back, they may be losing from the Trojans, leading to them losing the war and glory.

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