Diomedes: Iliad’s Hidden Hero

It seems as if there is little mention of Diomedes in the Iliad, considering the importance of his exploits to the continuation of the storyline.

A respected king in his own right, Diomedes comes into the war as the King of Argos. Bound by the Oath of Tyndareus, he came to defend Menelaus and Helen’s marriage, as he had promised as her suitor. Upon arrival, he quickly became one of the Greek’s most clever and useful fighters.

While Achilles sulked in his tents angry at Agamemnon’s taking his war-prize Briseis, Diomedes steps up, taking part in several important conflicts.

Who Is Diomedes in The Iliad?

Variously known as Diomedes, the Scourge of Troy, and Diomedes, the Lord of War, he is only a man at the end of all things. One of the few Heroes who are truly Human, without divine heritage or blood to mark his legacy, Diomedes is, nonetheless, one of the pillar characters of the epic.

The son of a banished king, Diomedes had a past to overcome. His father, Tydeus, was banished from his homeland of Caydon after killing other potential successors to the throne of Oeneus, his father. Tydeus and his son Diomedes were exiled for Tydeus’ treachery, and his father’s misdeeds forever marked Diomedes.

When they reached Argos, Tydeus earned sanctuary from king Adsastus in exchange for his assistance in a war against Thebes. In return for the sanctuary he was offered, he became one of the Seven Against Thebes in a war to aid Polynices. Tydeus paid dearly for his acceptance in Argos because he ended up dying on the battlefield.

Despite having been banished from his land of origin, Diomedes avenged Oeneus when the sons of Argios imprisoned him. Once Diomedes came of age, he went out to rescue his grandfather from his imprisonment. He killed the sons of Argios, earning both his grandfather’s freedom and forgiveness for his late father’s deeds. 

The pair set out for Peleponnese but were ambushed by two surviving sons, Onchestos and Therisites. Oeneus was killed in this attack, and Diomedes was forced to travel the remainder of the distance alone. He returned his grandfather’s body to Argos for a proper burial.

Once he arrived, he married Aigaleia, a daughter of Adrastos. He then became the youngest king of Argos. Despite his age and the difficulties he encountered at the beginning, Diomedes ran the kingdom with a skill that earned him the respect of other rulers, including Agamemnon.

Diomedes vs. the Gods: A Mortal Who Fights the Gods

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Before Diomedes even reaches the field of battle, he is caught up in some of the war’s earlier dramas. He gains an honored place amongst the fighters by offering 80 ships to the effort, second only to Agmemnon’s 100 ships and Nestor’s 90.

In Book 7, he is among those chosen to fight Hector. During the battle, he would once again encounter Thersites, one of his grandfather’s murderers. In a show of nobility, however, he battles the other without bias. When Achillies kill Theresites for mocking him, Diomedes is the only one who calls for Achilles to be punished for the deed, a vain but symbolic gesture to honor the dead.

Perhaps it is his honorable and just nature that earned him a place of honor among the gods as they squabbled and assisted their various favorites. Although Diomedes is among the youngest of the Achaean kings, he was considered the most experienced warrior after Achilles.

Before him, his father lost the favor of goddess Athena as he lay dying by devouring the brains of a deceased and hated enemy, but Diomedes won her favor with his bravery and honor. She even drove his chariot once as he went into battle. He is the only Hero beside Hercules, son of Zeus, who attacked and wounded Olympian gods, striking Ares with his spear. Of all the Heros of the Iliad, only Diomedes fights the gods, and he and Meneclause were offered the opportunity to live forever. 

Diomedes: Weapons Befitting a Warrior

Athena favored two warriors heavily during all of the battles: Odysseus and Diomedes. Greek mythology tells us that the men each reflected important aspects of Athena’s character.

Odysseus, the Greek warrior, was known for his wisdom and cunning nature, and Diomedes showed courage and great skill in battle.

Only Achilles and Diomedes carried weapons created by a god. Hephaestus, the blacksmith to the gods and the one who crafted Achilles’ armor also created Diomedes’ cuirass. The special piece of armor was designed to protect both the front and back. Also, he had golden armor marked with a boar sign, another legacy of his father, Tydeus. A Human blacksmith crafted his lesser gold armor, but it did carry Athena’s blessing. His sword was also inherited from his late father and bore a lion and a boar’s images.

The weapons would serve him well, but it was not a sword that bought Diomedes the greatest infamy. When fighting the god Ares, Diomedes managed to wound him with a spear.

He was among the only Heroes in The Iliad to openly stand and fight a god on the battlefield. His success made Diomedes a little skittish going forward. When he met Glaucus, grandson of Bellerophon, in the neutral zone between the armies, he demanded to exchange information about their origins for fear of confronting another deity. The conversation revealed to the pair that they were, in fact, guest-friends, and so they made a personal truce between them, even exchanging armor. Diomedes wisely offered his bronze armor, while Glaucus,  influenced by Zeus,  gave up his more desirable gold armor.

Odysseus and Diomedes Conspire to Murder a Princess

Of all of Agamemnon’s officers, Odysseus and Diomedes were two of the highest ranking. They were also the leaders he confided in the most. Prior to the war, the leaders of the Greeks gathered at Aulis, a small offshoot of Thebes.

Agamemnon killed a deer in a sacred grove overseen by the goddess Artemis and bragged about his hunting skills. That was a grave mistake. Artemis, thoroughly annoyed with the human’s hubris and arrogance, stopped the winds, preventing the ships from sailing on to their goal. 

The Greeks seek out the advice of a seer, Calchas. The seer has bad news for them. Agamemnon was offered a choice: He could resign his place as the leader of the Greek troops, leaving Diomedes in charge of the assault or offer a sacrifice to the vengeful goddess; his own eldest daughter, Iphigenia. At first, he refuses but pressured by the other leaders, Agamemnon decides to go ahead with the sacrifice and hang on to his own prestigious position.  

When the time comes to carry out the sacrifice, Odysseus and Diomedes participate in the ruse, convincing the girl she is to be wed to Achilles.

She is led away to a faux wedding to save the Greek’s opportunity to move on and go to war. In various mythologies following The Iliad, she is saved by Artemis, who substitutes a deer or goat for the girl, and Achilles himself, who is disgusted by Agamemnon’s behavior. 

Diomede’s Doom – A Tale of Adultery and Overcoming

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Diomedes is a key character throughout the war, moving the action forward quietly by his actions and by goading other characters into action.

In the first third of the epic, Diomedes is the key fighter, espousing heroic values, honor and glory. His journey embodies one of the main themes of the epic poem, the inevitability of fate.

Although the gods seem to be set against their victory, Diomedes points out that Troy’s fall has been predicted, and so it is fated to come. No matter how the war seems to be going, he is certain they will have the victory, as has been prophesied. He insists upon continuing, even when other Aecheans lose their faith and would leave the battlefield.

In Book V, Diomedes is given a divine vision by Athena herself, a gift that allows him to discern divinity from ordinary men. She allows him this ability to have the ability to wound goddess Aphrodite if she comes to the battlefield, but he is forbidden from battling any other god. He takes the warning seriously, refusing to fight Glaucus in concern that he may be a deity until they exchange information. 

His vision saves him when Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite, joins with the mortal Pandarus to attack. Together they come in Pandarus’ chariot to attack. Although he is confident that he can take the warriors, he remembers Athena’s instructions and is reluctant to risk attacking a goddess’s son. Rather than take the battle head-on, he instructs a warrior, Sthenelus, to steal the horses while facing Aeneas. 

Pandarus throws his spear and boasts that he has killed the son of Tydeus. Diomedes responds, “at least one of you will be slain,” and throws his spear, killing Pandarus. He then faces Aeneas unarmed and throws a large boulder, crushing his opponent’s hip.

Aphrodite rushes to rescue her son from the battlefield, and remembering his vow to Athena, Diomedes chases her and wounds her on the arm. Apollo, the god of plagues, comes to rescue Aeneas, and Diomedes, perhaps forgetting he is forbidden to fight with other gods, attacks him three times before being repelled and warned to follow Athena’s advice.

He backs off and withdraws from the field. Although he could not kill Aeneas or seriously wound Aphrodite, he does come away with Aeneas’ horses, the second best of all the horses on the field after Achilles’ steeds.

In a later battle, Athena comes to him and drives his chariot into battle, where he wounds Ares with a spear. In this way, Diomedes becomes the only mortal ever to wound two immortals on the same day. Once he has achieved this goal, he refuses to fight any further immortals, expressing respect and reverence for the gods and fate.

Diomedes’ death is not recorded in The Iliad. Following the war, he returns to Argos to find that the goddess Aphrodite has influenced his wife, causing her to become unfaithful. His claim to the throne of Argos is disputed. He sails to Italy. Later he founded Argyripa. Eventually, he made peace with the Trojans, and in some legends, ascended to immortality.

Being made a god is his reward for not only fighting with bravery and courage in the war but for rectifying his father’s mistakes with his honor and respect. 

In various tales from the period following The Iliad’s writing, there are several stories of Diomedes’ death. In some versions he dies while spending time in his newfound home. In others, he returns to his own kingdom and dies there. In several, he does not die at all but is taken to Olympus by the gods to be rewarded with infinite life. 

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