In the case of Ares v Diomedes, Athena represents the butt-kicker, err, the defendant. The plaintiff contends that because he is a god, he will automatically win any battle with a mortal. Furthermore, he seeks to provide evidence of this with his willful slaughter of many, many Greeks on the field of battle outside of Troy.
For the Defendant, Athena seeks to prove that Ares is a blundering idiot who only knows how to swing a sword or jab a spear while invisible to the eyes of the Greeks, and that a hero of sufficient courage can defeat the god.
Sorry, no, Zeus is not presiding over this case, we’re doing this old-school, trial by combat.
Ares takes to the battlefield and just starts slaughtering Greeks wholesale, and they have no idea who or what is doing this because all they can see is that soldiers are getting cut down by something they can’t see. They just try to avoid the area, but Ares keeps wading into them. Well, everyone avoids him, even Diomedes.
No, he’s not afraid, Athena told him point-blank that he was only allowed to go after Aphrodite. But now she rescinds that order. In fact, she hops into the chariot with him and aims for Ares. Somehow, she also has gotten the helmet of Hades, and makes herself completely invisible to Ares.
Ares, though, sees Diomedes, and likewise charges him. They’re both going full-tilt at each other. Ares stabs out, and Athena deflects the blow. Diomedes stabs, and Athena helps by leaning into it. And boom, “Ares the brazen bellowed with a sound as great as nine thousand men make, or ten thousand” (V 859-860).
And then he’s gone. He doesn’t stick around. The god of war is unused to being injured and can likewise not handle it. Yes, Athena helped a little more this time, but, really, Diomedes could’ve done the job himself. She only leaned into the blow. What’s truly impressive is the fortitude of human beings vs that of the gods. Two gods can only take one injury before they go running back to Olympus.
Diomedes is not a perfect warrior. Before Athena found him again, he had been “cooling the wound that Pandaros made with the cast of his arrow . . . and wiped the dark blot of blood away” (794, 797), but he did so with style, not really noticing anything other than an entire day’s exhaustion from fighting the Trojans, Aphrodite, and Apollo. He’s just taking five and doesn’t hesitate to answer Athena’s call to do battle with Ares. He’s all in.