Inter​pretation

1.1 The Chimaera Model

The Iliad divides into three(1) battle parts: 1.1 the immortal hero - 11.1 the plan of Zeus - 18.1 the mortal hero. The first centers on Diomedes, the mortal hero is Achilles whose death is the underlying subject of the poem. The Plan of Zeus, Διὸς βουλή, is his gift to Achilles: the restoration of his honour by having many Achaeans slaughtered at the ships (Il 2.1-). The three parts are surrounded by four "Embassy and Assembly" episodes, dedicated to speech rather than to battle. All the E&A parts are mainly focused on Achilles. The first two deal with his life, the last two with his death.
A fitting model for the top level structure is the Chimaera(2) (she-goat), a fire-breathing monster killed by Bellerophon (Il 6.179-). She has three parts and four legs: a lion (representing the immortal hero) in front, a goat (a common sacrificial animal) in the middle and a snake at the back (representing both death and immortality). All this will be explained below in commentaries on the individual parts.

Chimaera
The Chimera on a red-figure Apulian plate, c. 350–340 BC (Musée du Louvre)
Picture and text from wikipedia

The boundaries of the parts (or "themata") have been chosen because of a strong shift of focus there in the poem and because of internal symmetry. Some parts fall more or less outside the symmetry of the structure: mainly the proem, the catalogue of ships, the shield and Patroclus' funeral games. The Embassy and Assembly 2, books 8-10, is a bit of an anomaly. This is dealt with here.
For more on the structure, see here. There may also be a time-structure corresponding to the "what was, what is and what will be" that is the expertise of the seer Kalchas (Il 1.70). So the first part would refer to the past, the middle part, the long day of battle, to the present (the poet's time, whenever that was) and the last, the Achilles part, to the future. More about this ad loc.

I: 1.1 The Immortal Hero

In the E&A themata of the "immortal hero", Achilles still thinks he can get out of there alive. He chooses life, so to speak. In the quarrel with Agamemnon, when he sheaths his sword; in the Embassy of E&A 2, when he refuses to go to battle. See the (im)mortal hero.
The "immortal" in the title of this thema applies not only to Achilles at this stage, but also to Diomedes, the too-good-to-be-true hero. For more on Diomedes see here.
The two "Truce and Duel" themata surrounding the aristeia are one reason to associate this thema with 'past'. See here for more explanation of this.

1.1 Embassy & Assembly 1

A most carefully structured part of the poem. Two assemblies surround an intermezzo which is set up as a repeated sequence of themes. The assembly parts start off with a short introduction, the first explaining the wrath of Apollo, the second the plan/wrath of Zeus(3). The two assemblies have a number of likenesses and contrasts, mainly:

First Assembly
Second Assembly

Wrath of Apollo

Plan/Wrath of Zeus

Apollo sends a disease (killing many)

Zeus sends a deadly dream, killing many

Achilles attacks Agamemnon

Thersites attacks Agamemnon

Athena intervenes

Odysseus, Athena's favourite, intervenes

Achilles: 'we are not winning, let's go home'

Agamemnon: 'we are not winning, let's go home'

1.1 proem: the Wrath of Achilles, the will of Zeus

About Il 1.5:

1.8 the First Assembly

On the surface, Agamemnon is shown to be most in the wrong during the visit of Chryses and the quarrel with Achilles. This is a rhetorical must: Achilles is after all a proxy for the listener, the hero one is supposed to identify with. But we do have to notice what Achilles is actually doing:

  1. He calls an assembly without consulting either the king himself or the council. In every day and age, a king would see this as a challenge to his leadership(4).
  2. Moreover, his statement 'we have been rebuffed, we had better go back' is a direct attack: it says 'you have failed'. Even if it is only sarcasm.
  3. Achilles reassures Kalchas who is afraid of the anger of the king, that he will be protected by Achilles, explicitly naming Agamemnon.
  4. In this society, the king typically promises a share of the loot to the men in return for fighting for him and in accordance with their status. Here, ironically, it is Achilles who promises the king a new prize when they sack Troy (Il 1.127-9)
1.8 the Wrath of Apollo, Chryses' embassy

See the page on Apollo.

1.53 Achilles calls an assembly

Here, in Homer's "Achilles judgement", is his first choice: power or kingship. Hera seems to offer him this (1.55) - calling an assembly is the act of a king - and the ensuing quarrel makes clear that he cannot have it: Agamemnon already has it. And Hera loves them both (1.195-6).

Kalchas, seer by the grace of Apollo

1.68 'Prophecy' is one of the domains of Apollo. Within the Ionian world of Homer's time, the Iliad itself is a prophecy "change your politics or you will be kicked out of Asia" in other words: "soon you will need Achilles".

1.101 hates Kalchas

Kalchas, a self-reflection of Homer, is of course hated by Agamemnon, a reflection of the intentions and policies of the Ionian migration or perhaps even of a specific person who considers himself the leader of this conquest. No wonder H. could not stay in Smyrna.

1.109 wants another prize

We see Agamemnon defending his number one position. Prize = honour.

1.121 Achilles: when we sack Troy

Achilles is acting like a king: dividing the loot of the yet-to-be-sacked city.

1.188 Athena's intervention

Here, in Homer's "Achilles judgement", is his second choice: success in war as represented by the goddess Athena. This means being a victor, getting the loot and living to enjoy it. Achilles takes it but he has yet to learn that he cannot have all of it.

1.195 Hera sends Athena to calm him

Hera loves them both: this means both of them can claim to be 'best of the Achaeans'.

1.233 Achilles swears by the sceptre

The description of the sceptre is a picture of exile: 'a man is like a tree' is an obvious metaphor. If he is exiled, especially if he has to leave wife and children behind, this sceptre which has been cut from its stump, is a fitting picture. For the stump I also refer to the 'stump that has not rotted in the rain' (Il 23.326-) that is a sign for Antilochos to turn around. Another reference may be the tree trunk that is the foundation of Odysseus' bed (Od 23.181-)

1.247 Nestor's advice

This whole thema appears to be about 'obeying'. The Greeks, being a warrior people, 'obey' the voice of heroism represented by Nestor. He wants the two quarrelsome heroes to obey him, just as the heroes of old did. But Agamemnon accuses Achilles of wanting to be the best of them all, the leader who orders everyone about. Agamemnon is not going to obey that. Achilles in turn refuses to follow the leadership of Agamemnon though he will not fight him because of the girl.

embassies

Note the repeated sequence: unwelcome request - complaints - harmony restoring meal. First it deals with the men, then the gods.

1.313 Agamemnon makes the men purify themselves

Note that after Chryseis is shipped back to her father, a cleansing is ordered by Agamemnon. See here

2.1 the Second Assembly

Here the Plan of Zeus, already mentioned in Il 1.5, is conceived. Its realization is somewhat delayed, in the first day of battle there is no question of the Achaeans being "slaughtered by the ships" (1). This plan properly refers to the great day of battle that starts at Il 11.1. That day the fighting actually reaches the ships which is the signal for Achilles to send Patroclus into battle.

2.16 the Deadly Dream

'οὖλε ὄνειρε' is hard to translate, mainly because the dream takes the appearance of Nestor. 'evil' or 'malicious' may be an obvious translation but not right because there is no sense that Nestor is either of those things. 'Lying dream' is not a translation but an interpretation. However, the kind of ruthless heroism that Nestor stands for certainly is deadly, so I chose 'deadly dream'. Robert Fagles translates it 'murderous'.

2.72 Nestor accepts it

Nestor is the one who always says things like this. See Il 2.336-. He is the generic 'voice of heroism'.

2.142 Odysseus' 2 speeches

Odysseus addresses two audiences. The first are 'kings and prominent men', the second the 'common people'. This corresponds to the double-layered rhetoric of the Iliad. More on this here.

2.211 Thersites, Odysseus' intervention

Thersites, the other side of Achilles, gets beaten with the sceptre just like the people in Odysseus' 'speech to commoners' (Il 2.198-). He and Achilles could be connected with the concept of "pharmakos", the scapegoat (sacrifice). Probably the Homer's public would notice this connection. The Patroclus story clarifies to us what the "sacrifice" entails. More about this here.

2.216 Thersites

Note that "worst of the Achaeans" Thersites' criticism of Agamemnon is the same as Achilles'.

2.278 Odysseus and Nestor, 2 speeches

Odysseus' message is "stay!". In the real world of Ionia this means: do not provoke the people inland, the inhabitants of the large floodplains, into attack so fierce that the Ionians would have to flee. The Cretan story of Odysseus in "Egypt" comes to mind, see Od 14.257-. The Ionians, especially those of Smyrna and Milete, were threatened in Homer's day and this threat never subsided.
Nestor's message as always is "attack!".

2.284 9 years fighting without result

"ἐνιαυτός": a year. But it can really mean any period or cycle. I propose the poet really means 'generation', that would fit more or less the period 1000BC - 750BC or 9 generations, the period of the Ionian migration.

2.336 Nestor's speech: 'attack!'

Here we see Nestor in his role as Agamemnon's chief whip.

2.402 Prayer to Zeus: denied

The poet confirms here, together with the Deadly Dream episode, that Zeus will not allow them to take Troy "now".

2.455 catalogue of ships and men

This long catalogue does not really fit within the chimaera-model. That may mean that it is not normally recited during a performance of the whole Iliad.
My theory is that the Achaean catalogue is an adaptation of something that was part of the education of high-ranking members of the top aristocracy (the great houses). It would make sense for them to know and to teach to their sons all or most of the regions in Hellas, the names of their leading families and an estimate of their strength. Also, if this was something learned through many generations, it would explain older, even Mycenean remnants in the data. Updating it would always lag behind the real situation. All this is another reason for me to think the poet a member of a high aristocratic family.

3.15 Diomedes

The head of the chimaera has Diomedes' aristeia as the centre piece. The head is of course the most heroic part of the animal: it breaths fire. The aristeia is surrounded by two "truce and duel" themata which really would make sense only in the beginning of the war. So this thema is firmly associated with "yesterday" or "what was". Moreover it is not dedicated to Diomedes only. The two duels are a comment on proper heroic behaviour: be brave and take responsibility. In a warrior society the whole Helen-affair should have been settled by a duel, an ordeal, as the closest approximation to justice available. First the two most interested parties. That unfortunately is not a realistic option: see below. The next possibility is a duel of both side's champions. All duellers act as they ought to even though some of them are not strong fighters. Paris has to be shamed into this, an echo of Achilles. They do this for their own honour or for their comrades.
The tone of the Diomedes part is somewhat lighthearted and ironical. This characterizes the poet's approach to Diomedes as contrasted with Achilles, the tragic hero. Diomedes gets his golden armour at a very cheap price(4), Achilles pays for his with his life and that of his comrade.

3.15 A Truce and a Duel 1: Menelaos - Paris

"Pretty boy" Paris is a bit of a shirker - something Achilles would be called if he were not Achilles. Achilles has in common with Paris that he "chooses beauty" though with a rather different meaning.

3.340 Paris not on the battlefield but in the bedroom

The phenomenon "Paris", the pretty good-for-nothing who is preferred by the girls over "real" heroes, is not to be found on the battlefield - it is useless to seek revenge through war. The bedroom is where he is to be found. If you seek revenge on him, best leave it to Helen.

3.374 Aphrodite helps Paris

This is one of the places where a god does something very literal (breaking the strap) and it is not easy to reconcile this to my theory that the gods are "what we obey". More on this here

4.1 Zeus proposes peace but accepts war

This is one of the places where Zeus yields to the two main goddesses (see 4.68-)

4.50: Pandaros breaks the oath

This scene appears to put the blame on the Trojans, but Homer does set some flags here: the chain of command, normally starting with Zeus, is here: Hera->Zeus->Athena->Pandaros. Zeus proposed peace in the previous thema. Why does he accede to this?
There is a likeness to the Menelaos-Helen-Paris situation. Menelaos is "wounded" by Paris' betrayal, the war is started to heal him. Zeus, in the Iliad, was never really happy with this war.

4.68 Zeus sends Athena

"οὐδ' ἀπίθησε πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε": "the father of gods and men did not disobey", a rather remarkable scene. This will come back later in the raising of Achilles (see Il 18.356-)

4.188 Machaon heals Menelaos

Machaon: warrior, the healer. Menelaos is "wounded", real or metaphorically, and war is started or resumed to do the healing. Later (11.504-) Warrior the Healer will get wounded himself. Then they are really into trouble.

4.220 Diomedes' aristeia(5) or 'How to be a Hero and Live'

Here we have the head of the chimaera in a curious aristeia which seems to be mostly about the relationship between men and gods. It will be made clear that D. is an ironical hero. He is not being made fun of though, most of the ironies are true and important points. It's just that...things are not that simple in reality.

4.220 Intro: Agamemnon's epipolesis

Untypically, this introduction seems to be balanced by the 6.37 thema.
The epipolesis (Agamemnon goes the rounds): probably it is meant to be humorous. Agamemnon is encouraging those who do not need it, praising or criticising those who do not deserve it, reminding Nestor that he is too old and getting rebuffed by those who need criticism. Diomedes anyway is getting unfairly dissed in public by his commander. Does not talk back though.

4.327 to Menestheus and Odysseus

The Athenians are "Raisers of the war-cry". Good at the war-cry, reluctant to go and fight. That is an implied criticism of the Athenians. See also Il 2.550-, where Menestheus is called the greatest marshaller of armies. In the tradition about the Ionian migration, the men came east through Athens. Homer is saying that Athens is sending men to wage a war, but is reluctant to help when needed.

4.365 to Diomedes

One sure way to rile up Diomedes is to compare him to his father

4.457 War, with the gods taking part

The aristeia looks like an analysis of the role of gods on the battlefield. When the gods take part, there appears to be a to and fro of battle, with both sides winning individual duels. No doubt this is Homeric 'realism' because after all, both parties have gods on their side. When the gods retreat, all the killings are by Achaeans. This is a fantasy. It says: we, as men, are by far the better fighters. They are only women without breasts. The only reason we haven't won yet, is that gods are thwarting our efforts.

5.1 Diomedes and Athena 1: without Ares

The same goes double for the participation of the god of war, Ares. Diomedes is brave enough: even with Ares against him he wins a pair of horses.

5.1 Diomedes stands out, gets the horses

Capturing enemy horses: the highest accolade, even better than winning armour.

5.85 Diomedes wounded, asks Athena's help and gets it

This is what you ought to do when wounded or otherwise in trouble: pray to the gods. Considering what follows, this means here: rely on yourself, on untapped resources within you, even in untested situations. Agamemnon and the other "heroes at the back" should have done this in "four woundings" (Il 11.84-).
If you do this, you will be ok if you are clever enough to "know yourself" and distinguish gods from men. There is the crux and the problem that makes Diomedes an ironical hero. It is again explained in Nestor's advice to his son Antilochos, Il 23.306-.

5.274 Kills Pandaros, wounds Aeneas but Aphrodite saves him

Aeneas is a bit of a riddle. A "child of love", born out of wedlock, high-ranking but without real status, he is the only one who faces up to Achilles and lives. I see a self-reflection of the author in him, a former leader of men who lost the political struggle in his hometown and had to give up his "horses" to a fantasy hero.

5.330 Diomedes fights the gods

Our hero finding his limits here. Two extraordinary scenes that go to the heart of what the Iliad is about.

5.330 Diomedes vs. Aphrodite who is protecting Aeneas

Diomedes vs. the goddess of love: this goes directly to the Chryseis-Briseis-Helen theme. It says that sexual desire has no place in the war. If you go capturing girls for pleasure and a war ensues because of that, what you are doing is giving the reins of Ares' chariot in the hands of the goddess of desire. So, "Retreat, daughter of Zeus, from war and battle-strife"

5.370 Dione: mortals who fight gods

"Dione" appears to be a female form of the name "Zeus". She makes a rare appearance here as the mother of Aphrodite. Zeus, the god of Justice, of giving others their share, is a "rule" god. Justice is normally not a desire, see Plato's Republic. Dione would be a "desire" goddess, a desiring to share. Not a bad image of Love.

5.432 Diomedes vs. Apollo

First of three enactments of "the hero versus Apollo". Apollo being the god of prophecy and poetry, the reference is clear: the poet is warning his contemporaries: "do not go too far; defend your city with all your fierceness but do not go out and try to take Troy. For now, Zeus will not let you". Patrocles does go too far and pays for it, Achilles in ironical reversal does attack a fourth time but gets away with it. However, he does not storm the gates of Troy.

5.445 Diomedes and Athena 2: with Ares

Of course if Athena herself helps you, you can do the impossible, such as defeating Ares. This god is portrayed in the Iliad as a young brainless hothead. This hides the obvious fact that he is a very fearsome and powerful god especially for a warrior people like the Greeks. And he is against them! Consequently there is a warning woven into this thema: Hera raises her voice like 50 men; a wounded Ares gives a roar like 10.000 men. The mechanism here is "Nikē Heteralkēs" - a victory that fuels the fighting spirit of the other side. A small victory, an ambush with only 50 men, may call out a 10.000 strong army. The Smyrneans really needed their wall...

5.733 Athena puts on her father's tunic

Remarkably, Athena puts on Zeus' clothes. Is Homer telling us that sometimes we may mistake Victory for Justice?

5.743 puts on the helmet, grabs her enormous spear

In the Ancient Greek view, women cannot really be warriors (except the Amazons). Women were thought to lack the "do or die" mentality that men were supposed to have. So a woman in arms is someone who wants to do but not die. This fits in well with the kind of advice that Diomedes gets from Athena. It does not produce the greatest of heroes though: those are the ones, men or women, who give heir lives for us.

5.661 Menelaos obeys him, kills Adrastos

5.662: "αἴσιμα παρειπών": "convincing him that this is proper". This must be a secondary focalization, it tells us what Agamemnon's opinion is, not the narrator's.

6.73 A Truce and a Duel 2: Hector - Aias

The second best option in a heroic society for the solution of a conflict: a duel between the champions of both sides. But first some exercises in irony and an introduction to Hector, the realistic hero.

6.73 Helenos has a solution

Your army is in trouble. You are the leader and its strongest hero. So, your brother comes and tells you: "I know a solution. You go back to the city, tell the women to make a sacrifice, we will hold the line meanwhile". Aren't you lucky!

6.119 Diomedes and Glaucos: friendship

Having a golden armour is a surefire way of getting recognized as a superhero. See Achilles or Patrocles and Hector wearing his armour (but see also Il 2.867-). No doubt it has something to do with the way people of Homer's time imagined their heroes. As the cases of Patrocles and Hector show, it is not easy to win that glory. Except, naturally, for Diomedes: he gets it by an exchange of armour on the battlefield with a guest-friend of the family. Note especially the poet's comment at 6.234-.

6.122 Diomedes' challenge

"Watch out for me! But if you're a god, don't let me stop you". Did people talk like that on the battlefield?

6.234 poet's comment

Here we have a wonderful double entendre: the improbability of Diomedes earning his golden armour without having to work or suffer for it. The view of this hero is still the same in the Odyssey, where he and Nestor sail home without a hitch but all the others have endless trouble (Od 3.167-). Next to that, it is a characterization of the Iliad in two words: "ἑκατόμβοι' ἐννεαβοίων", literally "worth a hundred oxen, for nine". It also looks like "a hecatomb for nine oxen" which is exactly what the Iliad is. The number nine is explained here.

6.152 Story of Bellerophon

I must admit to not being able to figure out why this Bellerophon story is here. It has some points in common with Phoenix' lifestory (Il 9.430-): quarrel about father/patron's wife, exile etc. This makes me suspect that there is hidden self-reflection here, hidden in such a way that only intimates would understand it. Slaying the monster, obeying 'signs from the gods' seems self-reflective but the whole will remain a riddle.

II: 11.1 The Plan of Zeus

The middle part tells us the harsh reality of war. The name comes from Il 2.3-4 where Zeus is pondering how to honour Achilles and decides to have many Achaeans slaughtered. This is the first part of a Plan whose full meaning only becomes clear in book 24, with Priam's embassy to Achilles.
This thema forms the transition between the immortality and the mortality of the hero. The stories of Idomeneus, Patrocles, Menelaos and Hector illustrate this learning curve. The day starts with the confident marching out of the Achaeans, and it ends with Menelaos desperately defending the body of his comrade and Antilochos running for help to Achilles. In the middle, an irreverent story about Hera trying to get her way by seducing Zeus. In the middle of that, the counterattack: a short preview of Patroclus' aristeia surrounded by warning flags: this cannot happen, Zeus does not sleep, you cannot win "against fate". Their manipulation of Patroclus (the Achilles) is a trick (metis) and Homer makes it quite clear. See here.

11.1 Agamemnon's Aristeia

It should be noted how the balancing thema in this middle section show a high-low contrast: Agamemnon vs. Menelaos, Idomeneus and Poseidon vs. Patrocles and Apollo. By the time 'Hector resumes his attack', the high-born and the clever are off the battlefield(7). They have a good excuse naturally but I wonder if it is quite good enough in a heroic warrior culture. The result is anyhow that the therapontes and the young men are left to do the work (Patroclus, Menelaos, Antilochos, Meriones(8)). The word 'sacrifice' comes to mind. Even the name Meriones reminds of the thighbones of an ox which are wrapped in fat to make a sacrifice to Zeus.

13.1 Idomeneus and Poseidon

A god and a man get most of the focus here. Idomeneus is a high aristocrat, claiming Minos himself as his ancestor. Poseidon is the brother of Zeus, grandfather of Nestor, founding father of the Neleids who play an important role in Greek history. Both are therefore very high on the aristocracy scale. Patrocles is nobody on this scale, a therapon of Achilles i.e. a common Greek soldier. The balancing thema about Patrocles and Apollo (Il 15.220) is clearly about the lower ranks. Apollo is a god, it is true, but a nothos, born out of wedlock. See Il 21.435, 'Apollo will not fight Poseidon'.

13.1 Idomeneus' aristeia

Curiously, it is Poseidon who gets the introduction to the aristeia. This aristeia itself is a remarkable piece. It has hardly any fighting in it, only exhortation and description of the to and fro of battle. Their battle appears to consist mostly of 'encouraging others' and it makes me suspect that it is meant as a kind of caricature.

13.70 I knew him by the back of his legs when he left

The trope here is "encouraging others to fight and then withdrawing yourself". It happens a lot in the Iliad and we may suppose that the Greek warrior class felt some scepticism against such exhortation. Moreover, Kalchas is a reflection of the poet himself, who encourages the Ionians to stand their ground while going into exile himself.

13.169 death of Poseidon's grandson

Another typical theme: the death of the son of a god. Here, there appear to be no consequences except Poseidon doing some "encouraging from behind". Is Poseidon being made to look foolish or weak?
In 13.516- a son of Ares is killed (Idomeneus conveniently left just before that), this will be played out in 15.78-. Then, of course, there is the poignant death of Zeus' son Sarpedon (16.419-) followed immediately by the killing of Patroclus. See the comments ad loc.

13.660 Paris kills Euchenor

The death of Euchenor ("boaster") is a small, humorous reflection of the Achilles story. The prophecy "you can go with the army and die in battle or stay home and die of a terrible disease" is a father's comment on, or the answer to, mother Thetis' prophecies that accompany Achilles. The terrible disease is of course shame. This is the social emotion that holds all city-states (but Sparta especially) together.

III: 18.1 The Mortal Hero

Here is a major transition, from the body of the chimaera to its tail. The action of the narrative goes on without a pause so it is hard to know where to draw the line here. But I think the ancients who created the division of the books got it right: here at 18.1 the focus changes from the battle to Achilles. The snake is a fitting metaphor of Achilles: it is a feared and deadly animal (Il 3.30-) and it lives forever: it just sheds its skin and lives on in a new skin. So it is with Achilles: just as in the Iliad there are several Achillesses (Patrocles, Hector, Antilochos), so there will be in reality. He both dies and is immortal: a half-god.

20.1 The gods may help you...



  1. Oliver Taplin also sees a "three-arched structure on four pillars" but his is not quite like mine.
  2. This metaphor is my own. I see no indication that Homer uses it in this manner, but the the likenesses are too good to pass up.
  3. Zeus is not shown to be angry in book 2, but his 'plan' will be experienced by the Achaeans as his wrath.
  4. Note that Telemachus also does this in the Odyssey. There may be no King in Ithaca at that moment, but the leaders of the community, whoever they may be, must see this as a challenge. There are situations where an individual may call an assembly (Od 2.25-) but these are not applicable, neither in Iliad 2 nor in Odyssey 2.
  5. Another indication that the first day of battle stands for "the past"
  6. "χρύσεα χαλκείων, ἑκατόμβοι' ἐννεαβοίων" (Il 6.236): "gold for bronze, a hundred oxen for nine" see here.
  7. An aristeia is a part of the poem with a typical structure (introduction - battle, where the introduction is typically made up of arming - praying - exhortation - marching out), likely an independent form of praise poetry describing the excellence in battle of one hero. There are 4 complete aristeia's in the Iliad: those of Diomedes, Agamemnon, Patroclus and Achilles. The latter two are presumably the most typical and un-ironical. Idomeneus and Menelaos also get a large stretch mainly devoted to them but they are not standard aristeia's.
  8. the saying 'heroes in front, heroes at the back, cowards in the middle' comes to mind.
  9. Aias is there of course, but Aias is always there. That is his meaning: he is the personification of the (almost-)unbeatable defense of the Achaians.
  10. sacrifice to the gods of a "hundred oxen" (or just many cattle), the ultimate sacrifice. Also simply meaning a great slaughter, like a battle.