We cut away from Zeus for the moment to tackle an important myth that will directly relate to him. We’ve seen some things about Zeus over the years, going all the way back to Prometheus, but also manifesting in subtle ways with Perseus and Hercules. We’ve also encountered the other gods, which have their impact on this.
In book V of the Iliad, we have a chapter not about Achilles. This is a little odd in a book that is almost exclusively about Achilles, but he’s sulking in his tent, so let’s focus on a real man. I give you the most badass hero of them all, Diomedes, King of Argos!
Whaddaya mean you’ve never heard of him?
Pfft. Well, we’re going to change that.
I’m not kidding, this guy is the most badass Greek hero that ever was. Perseus, he’s nothing. Agamemnon, as if. Achilles, he’s a pouty wuss. Odysseus, he’s smart, but nowhere near tough enough. Jason, stick to sheep. Theseus, go play with your string. Diomedes has the stage, now.
He is known as Diomedes of the War Cry because he has a battle cry that makes his enemies tremble with fear and rallies his allies. He is a force to be reckoned with. Interestingly, he, unlike most of the other Greek heroes we’ve looked at, is entirely human. That’s right, this guy has no god or nymph for a parent to give him divine heritage. He doesn’t get a bunch of bat-stuff, super strength, or a dip in the Styx to make him invulnerable. He is 100% human hero, a relatively new breed of hero for the Greeks, which makes what he does that much more impressive.
So, in book V of the Iliad he does get blessings from Athena. First she grants him “strength and daring, that he might be conspicuous among the Argives and win the glory of valor” (V 2-3). This is not Herculean (or Samsonian) strength, but just enough strength to stand out among the others. It’s a challenge to anyone that he’s there. The Trojans are eager to take on skillful opponents, and he will stand out as such in the melee.
Next she makes a fire “blaze from his head and his shoulders” (V 7), but this isn’t some kind of Johnny Storm Human Torch fire he can use to burn his enemies. Instead, it’s a signal flare, once more pointing him out as someone to challenge. I wouldn’t exactly call the spotlight a tremendous gift from Athena, but Diomedes is up to the challenge, and takes on all comers.
He gets one last gift from Athena, “tak[ing] away the mist from [his] eyes, that before now was there, so that you may well recognize the god and the mortal” (V 127-8). This is an awesome gift, but not one that makes him uber strong. He’s still Diomedes, but now he can see gods on the battlefield, who are usually invisible. This is important because Athena gives him the directive to “stab with the sharp bronze,” the goddess “Aphrodite, Zeus’s daughter” (V 131-132).
Yeah, this sounds like an appropriate cliffhanger.