Home > Iliad, The > Diomedes, lord of the war cry

Diomedes, lord of the war cry

The characters of The Iliad are some of the best characters ever written. And out of all of them, my absolute favorite has got to be Diomedes (with a close second going to Hector). Everything Diomedes does or says exudes awesomeness.

The first time he really gets a chance to speak is in Book 4. Agamemnon has a plan to rouse the Achaeans into fighting: He will march down to his own troops, say that they are defeated, insult their cowardliness, and insult their families. His hope is to get his soldiers worked up so he can charge them into battle again. Ancient reverse psychology I suppose. At first his plan is a giant flop though, and everyone just wants to go home. But with help from silver-tongued Odysseus, it ends up succeeding.

So Agamemnon is making his rounds through the troops when he comes to Diomedes and Sthenelus where he proceeds to insult both them and their fathers. Sthenelus is incensed at this outrage. He gets up and starts screaming back, defending his courage and his honor – playing right into Agamemnon’s hands.

But Diomedes just sits there. Sthenelus asks him why he isn’t upset about what Agamemnon said, and Diomedes gives him a dark stare and tells him to sit down and be quiet. He explains that Agamemnon is just trying to get everyone riled up because he’s the commander and that’s his job. He doesn’t need Agamemnon’s goading to be glorious in battle, he handles that on his own.

Recognizing what Agamemnon was trying to do, Diomedes then rises up and gets his troops prepared for battle. That’s what I like about him. He sees through Agamemnon’s plan to the bigger picture, and yet he isn’t cynical about it, he goes along with it. Not because he was tricked into doing it, but because he understands that it’s what needs to be done.

When he does get to the battlefield he doesn’t disappoint either. In one of the greatest sections of the entire book, Athena grants Diomedes bravery and strength in battle, and gives him the ability to see the gods (something you normally can’t do unless the gods want to be seen).

And then Diomedes goes on his rampage. He is literally unstoppable. Not even the gods can control him. Aphrodite tries to interfere and Diomedes cuts her open, sending her crying back to Olympus. After that he even chases Apollo off the battle field. And if that’s not enough, he drives a spear into the stomach of Ares, the very god of war himself.

During his assault, the Trojans try time and time again to stop him, but nobody can do it. Even Aeneas (perhaps second in glory only to Hector himself) is powerless against him. Diomedes picks up a stone so large not even two of the strongest men alive could lift it, and he hurls it at him and crushes his leg.

Helplessly, the Trojans cry out:

He is the strongest Argive now, I tell you.

Never once did we fear Achilles so,

captain of armies, born of a goddess too,

or so they say. But here’s a maniac run amok –

no one can match his fury man-to-man!

It’s utterly insane. Your mouth hangs open in amazement as you read it. Diomedes is the greatest.

If a movie today could capture even a fraction of the intensity that takes place in Book 5 of The Iliad, it would be an instant success.

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