Book 4 summary
Book 4 opens with an Olympian scene- the gods at their ease in Zeus' golden courtyard, drinking, and looking out over the human spectacle at Trpy. Zeus provokes Hera with a suggesting that they might now end the war: but Hera and Athene are insistent on pressing on to Troy's destruction. There follows a chilling agreement, a formalisation of Hephaistos' argument at the end of Book 1. Dissent over the fate of Troy cannot be allowed to distrub the god's peace. Hera may have her will with Troy, but on the understanding that Zeus in turn may, when he wishes, destroy human cities which are particularly favoured by Hera: and Hera offers a trio, Argos, Sparta and Mykenai. Then Athene is dispatched to induce the breaking of the truce by the Trojans. She easily persuades Pandaros to shoot an arrow at Menelaos. The wound is trivial, but decisive. Agamemnon declares his conviction that this perfidy will mean the destruction of Troy and its people: it is significant that his solemn words are echoed, with equal certainty, by Hektor to Andromache in Book 6. Then as the Trojans advance Agamemnon reviews his troops and their commanders - a scene which reestablishes Agamemnon's claims to leadership, and extends the survey of leading figures on the Achaian side which was begun in Helen's responses to Priam.
The two sides clash, gods driving them on, and the book ends with a brilliant account of the first full-scale fighting in the poem. First the massed encounter:
When they had advanced together to meet on common ground, then there was th clash of shields, of spears and the fury of men cased in bronze: bossed shields met each other, and the dim rose land. Then there were mingled the groaning and the crowding of men killed and killing, and the ground ran with blood. As when two winter-swollen streams coursing down the mountains hurl together of the mass of their waters where the valleys meet, joining in the gash f a ravine from the great well-heads above, and a shepherd hears their thunder from far in the mountains: such was the noise and the violence of the armies' meeting.
Then, in what will become a familiar mode of description, a series of individual encounters, enlivened by an intensity of detail, with an elaborate variety of circumstance, wound, and personal history. The arrangement of the encounters, and the summary which follows them ("on that day many of the Trojans and Achaians lay stretched side by side, face down in the dust"), suggest an eveness of intial fortune, soon to be disturbed by Diomedes' overwhelming career in Book 5. Characteristic of Homer's manner in his battle-poetry is his description of the death of the young Trojan Simoesios, brought down by Aias. The detailed treatment creates and illuminates an individual who is also a symbol of the pathos of war: and every detail speaks of sympathy for the young who must die, and the parents who…