We’ll get into why Athena wants to hurt Aphrodite, later (it’s a really good story with appropriate trash-talk). For now, however, all we need to know is that Athena has authorized the use of force against Aphrodite. She does, indeed, take to the field of battle. She has no actual interest in the outcome of the war. Instead, she’s there to protect her son Aeneas because Diomedes will wreck him. Actually, he pretty much did wreck him. He smashed his hip joint pretty badly. He was going to die.She flies down and scoops up Aeneas to take him away from the field of battle interposes herself between Aeneas and Diomedes, unaware that the Greek hero can actually see her. He thrusts at her with his spear . . . okay, that could probably be worded better. He strikes her with his weapon. . . . Yeah, I need one more try. Diomedes does grievous injury to the person of Aphrodite upon the field of honor in a totally non-sexual way. He cut her hand.
While this doesn’t sound like a big deal, we need to think about this in terms of a goddess. One, she’s never been injured before. Two, a slice on the hand hurts like hell. Three, she was injured by a mortal man with a common bronze spear!
This is, in fact, a huge deal. This hasn’t happened before. A mortal wounded a goddess. Athena is not helping him directly with this, either. She allowed him to see the gods, yes, but that was all. Diomedes by himself was able to wound Aphrodite, spilling immortal blood on the field of battle.
We have to ask about the how of all this. How is it that a goddess can be wounded? What does this mean for the Greek concept of gods? Well, if we jump to one extreme, it means that the gods, however immortal they are, can be injured. If they can be inured, they can be killed. So the Greek concept of immortality references only old age. They won’t die from natural causes, and they have vast power, but they are not invulnerable. They can be wounded, and must even be “made whole again and the strong pains rested” (V 417).
Again, I have to point out that this is not Hercules with his great strength. This is not Perseus going nuclear or wielding a divinely-wrought spear from the god Hephaestus. This is an ordinary man with an ordinary bronze spear, and he hurt Aphrodite enough to send her running from the battlefield. This means, on a practical level, that ordinary human beings are closer in strength and nature to the gods than we ever thought before. Yes, they have vast powers and will not age and die, but they can be wounded. They can lose against mortals.
Now, we could also discount this. After all, Aphrodite is the goddess of love, and “not for [her] are the works of warfare” (V 428) as said by Zeus himself. This is valid. Likely her only skill with armor and weapons is in taking them off of Ares, her lover. She simply doesn’t belong on the battlefield. So this could simply be a matter of not having any appropriate power to deal with the situation. The Greek gods are pretty specialized in their domains. Likely Demeter, Apollo, or another god would likewise be in trouble because a battlefield is out of her element.
Is this a fluke because it was Aphrodite, or does it apply to other gods, perhaps ones that are more suited to the field of battle?
As a quick aside, Apollo, seeing what happened to his sister, doesn’t actually engage with Diomedes. He blocks three times, and then runs away like Arthur and his knights away from a rabbit.