Book 2 Notes from The Iliad

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The Iliad Book 2

Zeus wakes up and sends a dream to Agamemnon instructing him to attack Troy full force. In this dream, Agamemnon is led to believe that all the gods favor him. Agamemnon rises newly inspired and dons his battle gear, even though it is not yet day. At dawn, heralds call the armies to order and Agamemnon calls together a council of the warlords. Agamemnon repeats the dream to the collected chiefs and suggest that it is time to attack although he wishes to test the courage of his men first. Nestor supports the words of the king stating that they would have been doubted from a lesser man. The chiefs leave their meeting and go to the assembled armies. After a brief description of the history of his scepter, Agamemnon announces that Zeus has ordered him to retreat to Greece. He points out how greatly the Greeks outnumber the Trojans. Describing how the work of war has dragged on, Agamemnon urges his men to "cut and run". This calculated deception fails, panicking the soldiers who run towards the ships. Hera, upset at seeing this, approaches Athena and tells her to go to Troy and convince the Greeks to stay. Athena goes to Odysseus and tells him that this is not the way it should be, encouraging him to stop the fleeing army. Odysseus recognizes the voice of the goddess and runs through the ranks meeting kings and telling them that the rage of Agamemnon will be strong if they do not obey him. Odysseus verbally assaults the enlisted men and tells them to obey their betters.

After Odysseus placates the army Thersites, a man described as ugly morally and physically, tells the collected armies that while they have earned no war prizes their leaders, Agamemnon, have gained a lot, while Agamemnon disgraces Achilles, the better man. Therefore, the Greek armies should desert Agamemnon. Odysseus verbally attacks Thersites and then physically abuses him:

"[I]f I catch you again blithering on this way
Let Odysseus' head be wrenched off his shoulders
never again call me the father of Telemachus
If I don't grab you, strip the clothing off you
Cloak, tunic and rags that wrap you private parts
And whip you howling naked back to the fast ships
Out of the armies' muster - whip you like a cur!"
Book 2, lines 302-308

Then, he speaks to Agamemnon, telling him that they have been here a long time and it would be shameful to go home early. Alluding to an earlier omen of a snake at Aulis, Odysseus says that with the prophecy of Calchas they will be triumphant.

Topic Tracking: Divine Intervention 4

In all of this fanfare, Nestor gives Agamemnon some military advice. He tells him that he should execute deserters and arrange the men in their tribes so that these groups will compete with each other for glory. Agamemnon praises Nestor and sends the army to eat their meals and prepare for battle. During this time period, Agamemnon prays to Zeus for victory and makes a sacrifice. Zeus acknowledges his prayer but does not make any promises.

After they have eaten, Zeus gathers the armies and they are compared to many aspects of nature: a brush fire, a flock of birds, flies on shepherd's stalls and flocks herded by shepherds. The next long section is known as the Catalogue of Ships. This section mentions every Greek captain and his contingent. The army comes from Crete to Thrace and Thessaly to Argos. This sort of a catalog of names and places is a literary technique used frequently in ancient oral and written traditions. Since the Iliad was recited all over Greece, all of Greece is mentioned in this section. Every warrior has a tangible geographic origin. Many of these warriors had actual hero cults in their home cities during the classical age.

Topic Tracking: Nature Imagery 1

With the naming of the last Greek contingent, Iris arrives in the guise of a Trojan, calling the Trojan leaders to gather their troops. Iris points out the activity in the Greek camp and addresses Priam and Hector. Hector calls up the Trojan Troops and they gather on a mound outside the city. The next section names the leaders of the Trojans and their allies and the places from where they have come.

Topic Tracking: Divine Intervention 5

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