“Doesn’t the son of Tydeus know, down deep,/the man who fights the gods does not live long?”

Book 5 has the intriguing title “Diomedes Fights the Gods.” This being the Iliad, this of course is meant literally and not metaphorically.

Athena, after goading the Greeks on for a while to “fight, you bastards, fight!” (or words to that effect), decides to go for broke and put so much power into one man, Diomedes, that he is filled with strength, daring, and an all-around glowy gold light. This freaks out his opponents, just as it’s intended to, and he goes around cheerfully killing Trojans.

Down the plane he stormed like a stream in spate,
a routing winter torrent sweeping away the dikes:
the tight, piled dikes can’t hold it back any longer,
banks shoring the blooming vinyards cannot curb its course–
a flash flood bursts as the rains from Zeus pour down their power,
acre on acre the well-dug work of farmers crumbling under it–
so under Tydides’ force the Trojan columns panicked now,
no standing their ground, massed, packed as they were.

Actually, the Greeks seem a little freaked out, too.

You’d think some of the more Trojan-friendly gods might empower their own champion with some glowy gold light, but Athena, having interfered so effectively on behalf of the Greeks, wanders over to Ares and says, essentially, “Hey, you know what? We shouldn’t interfere! Lets go hang out on the beach and let these guys fight it out for themselves. What happens, happens, right?”

In this moment Ares proves he didn’t become the war god based on his brains. He follows Athena away.

Athena keeps helping her boy out, telling Diomedes that she’s lifted the mist over his eyes so he can tell men from gods. (Mist that keeps you from seeing the gods–Rick Riordan was being canonical!) Athena gives Diomedes strict orders that he’s supposed to use this awesome new power to make sure he only fights mortals, “Unless of course, you meet that bitch Aphrodite–her you can hurt all you want.” Or words to that effect.

Aphrodite, having spirited Paris away from the fighting and dragged Helen to his bed, is now trying to spirit her son Aeneas off the battlefield as well. Diomedes interferes, stabs Aphrodite in the “soft, limp wrist,” and Aphrodite runs crying home to her mother.

Until now, I’d been pretty annoyed at Aphrodite for protecting her pretty boys, especially Paris, whose fault this whole war is, after all. But then we get thoughts like these from Diomedes:

… knowing her for the coward goddess she is,
none of the mighty gods who marshal men to battle …


Diomedes shouted after her, shattering war cries:
‘Daughter of Zeus, give up the war, your lust for carnage!
So, it’s not enough to lure defenseless women
to their ruin. Haunting the fighting, are you?
Now I think you’ll cringe at the hint of war …”

And then Zeus gets in on the act, telling Aphrodite:

Fighting is not for you, my child, the works of war.
See to the works of marriage, the slow fires of longing.
Athena and blazing Ares will deal with all the bloodshed.

At which point it all seemed a little too much like a lot of condescending, “Little girl, don’t trouble your head with all that messy fighting.”

So I’ve changed my mind. From now on, Aphrodite can protect whoever she wants to, and I’ll be right there cheering her on.

Meanwhile, Apollo steps in the protect Aeneas, along the way calling Ares back to the battlefield. Ares goads the Trojans to “fight, you bastards, fight!” Athena tells Diomedes to forget that nonsense about not hurting any of the other gods, gets into Diomedes’ chariot right beside him and together they injure Ares–who goes crying home to his Dad. Their conversation goes something like this:

Ares: “You let Athena get away with everything.
Zeus: “Quit whining. I always loved you least anyway.”

The fighting goes on. Paris is still nowhere in sight.

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