Diomedes in The Iliad
The son of Tydeus and Deipylos who succeeded Adrestos as king of Argos. He comes to Troy with eighty ships and is, next to Achilles, the bravest hero of the Greek army. A perfect gentleman, he is known for his wisdom and courteous ways.
DIOMEDES: son of Tydeus, great warrior whose exploits form the subject of book five; he also accompanies Odysseus on a bloody spying mission to the Trojan camp (bk. 10)
Diomedes in ‘The Iliad’
Diomedes is one of the main characters in Homer’s great epic ‘The Iliad’. This epic narrates a series of events that took place during the final year of the great war. Diomedes is the key fighter in the first third of the epic. According to some interpretations, Diomedes is represented in the epic as the most valiant soldier of the war, who never committed hubris. He is regarded as the perfect embodiment of traditional heroic values because he displays virtues such as courage while fighting in the front ranks for honor and glory, respect for his commander Agamemnon and the gods, and finally self-restraint/humility to remain within mortal limits.
Diomedes’ aristeia (‘excellence’ –the great deeds of a hero) begins in Book V and continues in Book VI. Some scholars claim that this part of the epic was originally a separate, independent poem (describing the feats of Diomedes) that Homer adapted and included in The Iliad. Diomedes’ aristeia represents many of his heroic virtues such as outstanding fighting skills, bravery, divine protection/advice, carefully planned tactics of war, leadership, humility and self-restraint.
Book V begins with Athena, the war-like goddess of wisdom putting valour into the heart of her champion warrior. She also makes a stream of fire flare from his shield and helmet. Diomedes then slays a number of Trojan warriors including Phegeus (whose brother was spirited away by Hera’s son before being slain by Diomedes) until Pandarus wounds him with an arrow. Diomedes then prays Athena for the slaughter of Pandarus. She responds by offering him special vision to distinguish gods from men and asks him to wound Aphrodite if she ever comes to battle. She also warns him not to engage any other god.
The king of Argos continues to make havoc among the Trojans by killing Astynous, Hypeiron, Abas, Polyidus, Xanthus, Thoon, Echemmon and Chromius (two sons of Priam). Finally, Aeneas (son of Aphrodite) asks Pandarus to mount his chariot and fight Diomedes together. Sthenelus warns his friend of their approach.
Diomedes faces this situation by displaying both his might and wisdom. Although he can face both of these warriors together, he knows that Aphrodite may try to save her son. He also knows the history of Aeneas’ two horses (they descend from Zeus’ immortal horses). Since he has to carry out Athena’s order, he orders Sthenelus to steal the horses while he faces Aphrodite’s son.
Pandarus throws his spear first and brags that he has killed the son of Tydeus. The latter responds by saying “at least, one of you will be slain” and throwing his spear. Pandarus is killed and Aeneas is left to fight Diomedes (now unarmed). Not bothering with weapons, Diomedes pickes up a huge stone and crushes his enemy’s hip with it. Aeneas faints and is rescued by his mother before Diomedes can kill him. Mindful of Athena’s orders, Diomedes runs after Aphrodite and wounds her arm. Dropping her son, the goddess flees towards Olympus. Apollo now comes to the rescue of the Trojan hero. Disregarding Athena’s advice, Diomedes attacks Aeneas twice before Apollo warns him not to match himself against immortals. Respecting Apollo, Diomedes then withdraws himself from that combat. Although he has failed in killing Aeneas, following his orders, Sthenelus has already stolen the two valuable horses of Aeneas. Diomedes then became the owner of the second best pair of horses (after Achilles’ immortal ones) among Achaeans.
The transgression of Diomedes by attacking Apollo had its consequences. Urged by Apollo, Ares came to the battlefield for helping Trojans. Identifying the god of war, Diomedes protected the Achaeans by ordering them to withdraw towards their ships. Hera saw the havoc made by her son and together with Athena, she came for Achaeans’ aid. When Athena saw Diomedes resting near his horses, she mocked him reminding him of Tydeus who frequently disobeyed her advice. Diomedes replied “Goddess, I know you truly and will not hide anything from you. I am following your instructions and retreating for I know that Ares is fighting among the Trojans”. Pallas answered “Diomedes most dear to my heart, do not fear this immortal or any other god for I will protect you”. Throwing Sthenelus out of the chariot and mounting it herself, the goddess (who invented the chariot and taught humans to drive it) drove straight at Ares. She also put on the helmet of Hades, making her invisible to even gods. Ares saw only Diomedes in the chariot and threw his spear which was caught by Athena. Diomedes then threw his spear (which was guided by Athena) at Ares, wounding his stomach. The god screamed in a voice of 10000 men and fled away. This was how Diomedes became the only human to wound two Olympians in a single day.
In Book VI, Diomedes continued his feats by killing Axylus and Calesius. Hector’s brother Helenus described Diomedes’ fighting skills in this manner – “He fights with fury and fills men’s souls with panic. I hold him mightiest of them all; we did not fear even their great champion Achilles, son of an immortal though he be, as we do this man: his rage is beyond all bounds, and there is none can vie with him in prowess”
Helenus then sent Hector to the city of Troy in order to tell their mother of what’s happening. According to the instructions of Helenus, Priam’s wife gathered matrons at the temple of Athena in the acropolis and offered the goddess the largest, fairest robe of Troy. She also promised the sacrifice of twelve heifers if Athena could take pity on them and break the spear of Diomedes. Athena of course, did not grant it.
Meanwhile, one brave Trojan named Glaucus challenged the son of Tydeus to a single combat. Impressed by his bravery and noble appearance, Diomedes inquired if he were an immortal in disguise. Although Athena has previously told him not to fear any immortal, Diomedes displayed his humility by saying “I will not fight any more immortals”.
Glaucus told the story about how he descended from Bellerophon, who killed the Chimaera and the Amazons. Diomedes realized that his grandfather Oeneus hosted Bellerophon, and so Diomedes and Glaucus must also be friends. They resolved not to fight each other and Diomedes proposed exchanging their armours. Cunning Diomedes only gave away a bronze armour for the golden one he received. The old phrase ‘Diomedian swap’ originated from this incident.
In Book VII, Diomedes was among the nine Achaean warriors who came forward to fight Hector in a single combat. When they cast lots to choose one among those warriors, the Achaeans prayed “Father Zeus, grant that the lot fall on Ajax, or on the son of Tydeus, or upon Agamemnon.” Ajax was chosen to fight Hector.
Idaeus of Trojan side came for a peace negotiation where he offered to give back all the treasures Paris stole (plus more) except Helen. In the Achaean council, Diomedes was the first one to speak; “Let there be no taking, neither treasure, nor yet Helen, for even a child may see that the doom of the Trojans is at hand.” These words were applauded by all and Agamemnon spoke “This is the answer of the Achaeans.”
In Book VIII, Zeus ordered all other deities not to interfere with the battle. He made Trojans stronger so they can drive away the Achaeans from battle. Then he thundered aloud from Ida, and sent the glare of his lightning upon the Achaeans. Seeing this, all the great Achaean warriors including the two Ajaxes, Agamemnon, Idomeneus and Odysseus took flight. Nestor could not escape because one of his horses was wounded by Paris’ arrow. He could have perished then and there if not for Diomedes.
This incident is the best example for Diomedes’ remarkable bravery. Seeing that Nestor’s life was in danger, the son of Tydeus shouted for Odysseus’ help. The latter ignored his cry and ran away. Left alone in the battleground, Diomedes took his stand before Nestor and ordered him to take Sthenelus’ place. Having Nestor as the driver, Diomedes bravely rushed towards Hector. Struck by his spear, Hector’s driver Eniopeus was slain. Taking a new driver Archeptolemus, Hector advanced forward again. Zeus saw that both Hector and Archeptolemus are about to be slain by Diomedes and decided to intervene. He took his mighty weapon ‘Thunderbolt’ and struck its lightning in front of Diomedes’ chariot. Nestor advised Diomedes that they must turn back for no person should try to transgress Zeus’ will. Diomedes answered, “Hector will talk among the Trojans and say, ‘The son of Tydeus fled before me to the ships.’ This is the vaunt he will make, and may earth then swallow me.” Nestor said “Son of Tydeus, though Hector say that you are a coward the Trojans and Dardanians will not believe him, nor yet the wives of the mighty warriors whom you have laid low.” Saying these words, Nestor turned the horses back. Hector, seeing that they have turned back from battle, called Diomedes a ‘woman and a coward’ and promised to slay him personally. Diomedes thought of turning back and fighting Hector three times but Zeus thundered from heaven each time.
When all the Achaean seemed discouraged, Zeus sent an eagle as a good omen. Diomedes was the first warrior to read this omen and he immediately attacked the Trojans and killed Agelaus.
At the end of the day’s battle, Hector made one more boasting, “Let the women each of them light a great fire in her house, and let watch be safely kept lest the town be entered by surprise while the host is outside……. I shall then know whether brave Diomed will drive me back from the ships to the wall, or whether I shall myself slay him and carry off his bloodstained spoils. To-morrow let him show his mettle, abide my spear if he dare. I ween that at break of day, he shall be among the first to fall and many another of his comrades round him. Would that I were as sure of being immortal and never growing old, and of being worshipped like Minerva and Apollo, as I am that this day will bring evil to the Argives.”
These words subsequently turned out to be wrong. In spite of careful watch, Diomedes managed to launch an attack upon the sleeping Trojans. Hector was vanquished by Diomedes yet again and it was Diomedes that ended up being worshipped as an immortal.
Book IX – Agamemnon started shedding tears and proposed to abandon the war for good because Zeus was supporting Trojans. Diomedes pointed out that this behavior was inappropriate for a leader like Agamemnon. He also declared that he will never leave the city unvanquished for the gods were originally with them. This speech signifies the nature of Homeric tradition where fate and divine interventions have superiority over human choices. Diomedes believed that Troy was fated to fall and had absolute and unconditional faith in victory.
However, this was one of the two instances where Diomedes’ opinion was criticized by Nestor. He praised Diomedes’ intelligence and declared that no person of such young age could equal Diomedes in counsel. He then criticized Diomedes for not making any positive proposal to replace Agamemnon’s opinion – a failure which Nestor ascribed to his youth. Nestor believed in the importance of human choices and proposed to change Achilles’ mind by offering many gifts. This proposal was approved by both Agamemnon and Odysseus.
The embassy failed because Achilles himself had more faith in his own choices than fate or divine interventions. He threatened to leave Troy, never to return believing that this choice will enable him to live a long life. When the envoys returned, Diomedes criticized Nestor’s decision and Achilles’ pride saying that Achilles’ personal choice of leaving Troy is of no importance (therefore, trying to change it with gifts is useless). Diomedes said, “Let Achilles stay or leave if he wishes to, but he will fight when the time comes. Let’s leave it to the gods to set his mind on that”. (In Book 15, Zeus tells Hera that he has already planned the method of bringing Achilles back to battle, confirming that Diomedes was right all along)
Book X – Agamemnon and Menelaus rounded up their principal commanders to get ready for battle the next day. They woke up Odysseus, Nestor, Ajax, Diomedes and Idomeneus. While the others were sleeping inside their tents, king Diomedes was seen outside his tent clad in his armour sleeping upon an ox skin, already well-prepared for any problem he may encounter at night. During the Achaean council held, Agamemnon asked for a volunteer to spy on the Trojans. Again, it was Diomedes who stepped forward.
The son of Tydeus explained “If another will go with me, I could do this in greater confidence and comfort. When two men are together, one of them may see some opportunity which the other has not caught sight of; if a man is alone he is less full of resource, and his wit is weaker.” These words inspired many other heroes to step forward. Agamemnon put Diomedes in charge of the mission and asked him to choose a companion himself. The hero instantly selected Odysseus for he was loved by Athena and was quick witted. Although Odysseus had deserted Diomedes in the battlefield that very day, instead of bashing him, the latter praised his bravery in front of others. Odysseus’ words hinted that he actually did not wish to be selected.
Athena sent a heron as a good omen for her two favorite heroes. On their way to the Trojan camp, they discovered a man named Dolon -also a spy-, who approached the Achaean camp. The two kings lay among the corpses till Dolon passed them and ran after him. Dolon proved to be the better runner but Athena infused fresh strength into the son of Tydeus for she feared some other Achaean might earn the glory of being first to hit Dolon. Diomedes threw his spear over Dolon’s shoulders and ordered him to stop.
Dolon gave them several valuable pieces of information. According to Dolon, Hector and the other councilors were holding conference by the monument of great Ilus, away from the general tumult. In addition, he told about a major weakness in Trojan army. Only the Trojans had watchfires; they, therefore, were awake and kept each other to their duty as sentinels; but the allies who have come from other places were asleep and left it to the Trojans to keep guard.
On further questioning, Diomedes and Odysseus learnt that among the various allies, Thracians were the most vulnerable for they had come last and were sleeping apart from the others at the far end of the camp. Rhesus was their king and Dolon described Rhesus’ horses in this manner; ‘His horses are the finest and strongest that I have ever seen, they are whiter than snow and fleeter than any wind that blows’.
Having truthfully revealed valuable things, Dolon expected to be taken as a prisoner to the ships, or to be tied up, while the other two found out whether he had told them the truth or not. But Diomedes told him: “You have given us excellent news, but do not imagine you are going to get away, now that you have fallen into our hands. If we set you free tonight, there is nothing to prevent your coming down once more to the Achaean ships, either to play the spy or to meet us in open fight. But if I lay my hands on you and take your life, you will never be a nuisance to the Argives again.” Having said this, Diomedes cut off the prisoner’s head with his sword, without giving him time to plead for his life.
Although the original purpose of this night mission was spying on the Trojans, the information given by Dolon persuaded the two friends to plan an attack upon the Thracians.They took the spoils and set them upon a tamarisk tree in honour of Athena. Then they went where Dolon had indicated, and having found the Thracian king, Diomedes let him and twelve of his soldiers pass from one kind of sleep to another; for they were all killed in their beds, while asleep. Meanwhile, Odysseus gathered the team of Rhesus’ horses. Diomedes was wondering when to stop. He was planning to kill some more Thracians and stealing the chariot of the king with his armour when Athena advised him to back off for some other god may warn the Trojans.
This first night mission demonstrates another side of these two kings where they employed stealth and treachery along with might and bravery but more importantly fulfills one of the prophecies required for the fall of Troy: that Troy will not fall while the horses of Rhesus feed upon its plains (According to another version of the story, it had been foretold by an oracle that if the stallions of Rhesus were ever to drink from the river Scamander, which cuts across the Trojan plain, then the city of Troy would never fall. The Greeks never allowed the horses to drink from that river for all of them were stolen by Diomedes and Odysseus shortly after their arrival). These horses were given to king Diomedes.
According to some scholars, the rest of Thracians, deprived of their king, left Troy to return to their kingdom. This was another bonus of the night mission.
Book XI- In the forenoon, the fight was equal, but Agamemnon turned the fortune of the day towards the Achaeans until he got wounded and left the field. Hector then seized the battlefield and slew many Achaeans. Beholding this, Diomedes and Odysseus continued to fight with a lot of valor, giving hope to the Achaeans. The king of Argos slew Thymbraeus, two sons of Merops, and Agastrophus.
Hector soon marked the havoc Diomed and Odysseus were making, and approached them. Diomedes immediately threw his spear at Hector, aiming for his head. This throw was dead accurate but the helmet given by Apollo saved Hector’s life. Yet, the spear was sent with such great force that Hector swooned away. Meanwhile, Diomedes ran towards Hector to get his spear. Hector recovered and mingled with the crowd, by which means he saved his life from Diomedes for the second time. Frustrated, Diomedes shouted after Hector calling him a dog. The son of Tydeus, frequently referred to as the lord of war cry, was not seen speaking disrespectful words to his enemies before.
Shortly after that Paris jumped up in joy for he managed to achieve a great feat by fixing Diomedes’ foot to the ground with an arrow. Dismayed at this, Diomedes said “Seducer, a worthless coward like you can inflict but a light wound; when I wound a man though I but graze his skin it is another matter, for my weapon will lay him low. His wife will tear her cheeks for grief and his children will be fatherless: there will he rot, reddening the earth with his blood, and vultures, not women, will gather round him”. Under Odysseus’ cover, Diomedes withdrew the arrow but unable to fight with a limp, he retired from battle.
Book XIV- The wounded kings (Diomedes, Agamemnon and Odysseus) held council with Nestor regarding the possibility of Trojan army reaching their ships. Agamemnon proposed drawing the ships on the beach into the water but Odysseus rebuked him and pointed out the folly of such council. Agamemnon said, “Someone, it may be, old or young, can offer us better counsel which I shall rejoice to hear.” Wise Diomedes said, “Such a one is at hand; he is not far to seek, if you will listen to me and not resent my speaking though I am younger than any of you……. I say, then, let us go to the fight as we needs must, wounded though we be. When there, we may keep out of the battle and beyond the range of the spears lest we get fresh wounds in addition to what we have already, but we can spur on others, who have been indulging their spleen and holding aloof from battle hitherto.” This council was approved by all.
Book XXIII- In the funeral games of Patroclus, Diomedes (though wounded) won all the games he played. First, he participated in the chariot race where he had to take the last place in the starting-line (chosen by casting lots). Diomedes owned the fastest horses after Achilles (who did not participate). A warrior named Eumelus took the lead and Diomedes could have overtaken him easily but Apollo (who had a grudge against him) made him drop the whip. Beholding this trick played by the sun-god, Athena reacted with great anger. She not only gave the whip back to the son of Tydeus but also put fresh strength to his horses and went after Eumelus to break his yoke. Poor Eumelus was thrown down and his elbows, mouth, and nostrils were all torn. Antilochus told his horses that there is no point trying to overtake Diomedes for Athena wishes his victory. Diomedes won the first prize – ‘a woman skilled in all useful arts, and a three-legged cauldron’.
Next, he fought with great Ajax in an armed sparring contest where the winner was to draw blood first. Ajax attacked Diomedes where his armour covered his body and achieved no success. Ajax owned the biggest armour and the tallest shield which covered most of his body leaving only two places vulnerable; his neck and armpits. So, Diomedes maneuvered his spear above Ajax’s shield and attacked his neck, drawing blood. The Achaean leaders were scared that another such blow would kill Ajax and they stopped the fight. Diomedes received the prize for the victor. This is the final appearance of Diomedes in the epic.
It is seen that although Diomedes received Athena’s help without asking for it, Odysseus prayed for help even before the start of the footrace he participated.
It is generally accepted that Athena is closest to Diomedes in the epic. In the early traditions, Athena (a virgin goddess) is described as being shy in the company of males. But she spoke to the hero without any disguise in Book5 where he could see her in the true divine form (a special vision was granted to him). Such an incident doesn’t happen even in the other Homeric Epic, The Odyssey where Athena disguises herself while speaking to Odysseus.
Iliad Book VI
The Trojans and Achaeans are fighting and a lot of guys with funny names killed a lot of other guys with funny names. During the war, Adrestus’s horses break from his chariot and Adrestus falls in the dust flat on his face. Menelaus is about to kill him but he begged for his life, claiming that his father is rich and will offer a large ransom if he knew his son was alive among the Achaeans. Menelaus agrees and gives him to a squire to take to his ship. Then Agamemnon tells Menelaus not to spare a single Trojan and that they should all killed. Menelaus is persuaded by his brother and stabs Adrestus on his side, killing him.
Meanwhile Nestor senses that the Trojans are weakening and shouts to the troops to kill as many people as they can and loot them later. The Trojans feel like they are on the verge of defeat so Priam’s son, Helenus, Hector to rally the men outside of Ilios and form a defensive line to prevent the Greeks from storming the gates. Then Hector should return to the city and ask his mother, Queen Hecuba, to pray for mercy at the temple of Athena with her noblewomen. Hector performs all the tasks instructed, and all the women of Troy pray to Athena but she refuses the prayers of the Trojans.
Meanwhile, the two armies face off outside of Ilios, and a bold young Trojan named Glaucos steps into the space between them to challenge Diomedes, who defeated the god of war. Diomedes is impressed with Glaucos’ boldness, and asks for his lineage. The two discover that their ancestors were family friends; they then agree not to kill each other, since there are many other people to kill instead. Gluacos then exchanges his golden armor for Diomedes’ bronze armor, as a token of friendship.
Hector leaves to find Paris, who is sitting in his bedroom with Helen. Hector is angry with Paris because men are fighting for him and he is not out fighting among them. Paris says he will go fight when he has on his armor, and tells Hector to go on ahead.
Hector wanders through the city until he finds his wife Andromache and son, Astyanax. The couple lament the grief that is about to befall them all. Overwhelmed with grief, Hector takes his son in his arms and prays to Zeus that the boy will“kill his enemy and bring home the blood stained spoils and bring joy to his Mother’s heart.” Then he tells Andromache that fate is fate, and if he must die than so be it. Hector then prepares to return alone to the battlefield, where suddenly he is joined by Paris. Hector is happy that his brother has decided to join him in battle, and the two joke about how Paris has made them late for the war. The two then march off to take part in battle. So ends book six.