The Aristeia of Diomedes and the Plot of the Iliad

"The Aristeia of Diomedes and the Plot of the Iliad," Agon 2 (1968): 10-38. Reprinted in The Argument of the Action, 2000.


“Blunt Ajax states the paradox of heroic virtue: “Alas, even a fool would know that Zeus himself aids the trojans: the spears of all, no matter whether good or bad do hurl them, hit their target: Zeus makes all go straight.” Zeus’s partiality makes it almost impossible to practice virtue. Were Ajax to retreat, he would be blameless. Zeus can render vain and useless the distinction between good and bad, base and brave. What should prove merit – success – may be wholly undeserved. The javelin cast of Paris, were Zeus to wish it, would go as straight as that of Hector; if the gods had always favored Nireus, he would have equalled Achilles. Were not the providence of the gods inconstant and fitful, they would be obscure completely any intelligible order of excellence; but as it is, they sometimes withdraw and let the heroes run themselves. Then the world proceeds in the way we know it, and we see the heroes for what they would be among ourselves.”