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BOOK VIII: The Wavering Battle
Zeus speaks to his assembled deities, particularly to Hera and Athena, and tells them that the war will swing in favor of the Trojans from this time forth. He emphasizes that under no condition are the gods to aid the Greek forces.
When the fighting begins again, Hector and the Trojans rage through the Greek troops, striking fear into their hearts and forcing them into retreat, all the way back to their protective wall. As Hera watches the battle, she grows angry to see the plight of the Greeks and decides to test the determination of Zeus. She attempts to enlist the aid of Poseidon on the side of the Greeks, but fails. She next resorts to stirring the heart of Agamemnon. Under Hera's influence, Agamemnon inspires his men to battle action; he also asks Zeus to relent and come to the aid of the Greeks. The father of the gods nods his head in assent.
Hera next enlists the aid of Athena, who agrees to disobey Zeus even though she should know better. The two goddesses then gird themselves in battle gear and prepare to enter the conflict. Zeus, however, spies their preparations. He immediately dispatches Iris, the messenger of the gods, to the disobedient duo. Iris tells Hera and Athena to get back where they belong or the wrath of Zeus will be visited upon them in all its fury. Hera and Athena feel they must obey, even though they regret leaving the Greeks in the hands of chance.
The two goddesses return to Olympus, where Zeus castigates them for their disobedience. They acknowledge to him that they are no match for their lord. Hera agrees to be good, but insists on helping the Greeks in spirit since she cannot help with her actual presence.
Book VIII book ends with a description of the nighttime activity in the Trojan camp. It is filled with bonfires and sacrifices to the gods.
Throughout the first seven books of the poem, the gods have seemed to move freely amongst men, helping them when they choose to do so. By aiding a favored warrior, the immortal makes him become godlike in strength and capable of inhuman feats. Zeus has not really interfered in their actions. In this book, however, Zeus asserts his control over his deities.
In the opening scene of Book VIII, Zeus sternly warns his fellow divinities about giving the Greeks any aid in future fighting. His words are strong, threatening, and majestic as he proclaims that he has enough power to throw them all out of heaven. Athena speaks for all the immortals when she says that they will not offend Zeus by aiding the Greek cause; she adds, however, that they will continue to offer counsel to them.
It is clear in this opening scene that Zeus is omnipotent over gods and mortals. He has promised to further the Trojan cause, and he now is acting upon that promise. Because of Zeus' aid, Hector is able to strike fear into the best of the Greeks as they push them into retreat. In exultation, the Trojan hero informs Diomedes that the power of Zeus has left the Greeks and now resides in him. Diomedes realizes the truth of Hector's claim when Zeus thunders, giving his fateful sign that the Trojans are to be favored in this day's fighting.
For a brief time, the Greeks are allowed to rally, as Diomedes, Agamemnon, Menelaos, and Teucros strike back at the Trojans with success. The physical power of Agamemnon is particularly impressive, indicating that Athena is giving him guidance to act beyond a mortal level. In the end, however, this is not to be a day of Greek victory. Zeus turns his attention to the Trojans again, helping them to counter-attack and push the Greeks back towards their protective wall.
Hera and Athena, the staunchest supporters of the Greeks in the immortal ranks, are horrified to see what the Trojans are accomplishing. Defying the direct order of Zeus, they put on battle armor and prepare to enter the fighting on the side of the Greeks. Zeus, however, spies what they are doing and sends Iris, the messenger of the gods, to stop them. Hera and Athena feel they must obey Iris' command from Zeus and return to Mt. Olympus, where Zeus chastises them.
It is important to note that in this book Hector reaches the third stage of his character development through Zeus' aid. Previously he has been pictured in family relationships as he shames his brother onto the battlefield and gives directions to his wife. He has also been seen holding his own in the fighting, especially in the individual combat with Aias. Now he is presented as a full- fledged warrior, successfully challenging all of the Greek heroes as he pushes them back toward their protective wall. He undoubtedly has become the foremost figure in the Trojan ranks, striking fear into the hearts of all he approaches. Not even with Achilles does Homer take such care to develop every facet of his character.