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King Diomedes leader of the troops and unsung hero. Source: serhiibobyk / Adobe Stock.

Diomedes, the Unsung Hero of Troy

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Any Greek epic by the poet Homer should never be read quietly to one’s self but spoken out loud to all who wish to listen, especially if it has to do with the Trojan War. His epic poems sing praises of familiar heroes such as Achilles and Odysseus. But what of Diomedes?

Throughout the Iliad, Diomedes is named “King Diomedes, the Scourge of Troy”, or “Diomedes, the Lord of War” and mentioned in two-thirds of the epic poem, yet he is not remembered by many who have read it. Why is it that such a man was not as recognized as any other hero? Could it be because he was a man and not descended from the gods?

Was it his consistent need to remain honorable and dutiful in the eyes of aversion that kept him from being great? If one were to hear the poem read aloud, perhaps these questions could be answered. In further examination of Diomedes's character, maybe an answer can be found.

Sins of the Father. Diomedes’s Early Life

Diomedes was the son of Tydeus, who was banished from Caydon after killing his relatives and paternal uncles, hoping to usurp his father Oeneus’s throne. Oeneus then exiled Tydeus and young Diomedes was forever marked by the dishonor of his father. On the family's journey to find safety, Tydeus found sanctuary in Argos from the king Adsastus in exchange for his support against Thebes.

Given no options, Tydeus accepted, and this resulted in his death on the Theban battlefield. This single act brought more blood feuds to Diomedes's family and, even though Oeneus had banished Tydeus, by imprisoning Oeneus the sons of Argios led Diomedes to act once he came of age. 

House of Diomedes near the walls of Pompei. (Αππο / Public Domain )

Out of dutiful obligation, Diomedes killed the sons of Argios. This freed his grandfather Oeneus which resulted in the forgiveness of his father deeds and the reward of the Kingdom of Andriamon. Though, seeming a beautiful end to a family story, two surviving sons named Onchestos and Therisites ambushed Diomedes and Oeneus on their way to Peleponnese, killed Oeneus, and then fled.

Though his grandfather had died, he returned the body to Argos for a proper burial. Diomedes then married Aigialeia, daughter of Adrastos, and became the youngest King of Argos. As King of Argos, Diomedes revealed himself to be a skilled politician and brought much wealth and stability to his kingdom. Many rulers, including Agamemnon, respected him.

Diomedes Was a Suitor of Helen

As the poem says, King Tyndareus had raised Helen as his stepdaughter but worried as she became the most beautiful woman in the world that she would cause men to war against each other. When Helen came of age, King Tyndareus's halls were flooded by many princes and kings who wished to gain her hand in marriage.

One such suitor was Diomedes himself. In fear of male jealousy, King Tyndareus made all the suitors take an oath of honor to defend and protect whoever won Helen's hand in marriage. In the end, it was King Menelaus of Sparta who would be given Helen to wed.

When Paris swept Helen away to Troy, Menelaus angrily demanded retribution. By the sworn oath of Tyndareus, all the former suitors, including Diomedes, were summoned by King Agamemnon to bring Helen back from Troy. Of all the suitors who pledged their fleets, Diomedes promised to give 80 of his warships to join.

Paris and Helen. (Tarawneh / Public Domain )

This was the second-largest pledge next to that of King Agamemnon , who pledged 100 ships. However, before the fleet could set sail, Diomedes and Odysseus needed Achilles to partake in this endeavor.

Diomedes and Achilles

As the fleets gathered at Aulis to prepare for war against Troy, the prophet Calchas declared that the Achaean army would never sack Troy unless they had the help of the demigod Achilles. Odysseus and Diomedes were then tasked by Calchas to find Achilles’s ocean vessel somewhere near Scyros. However, Achilles's location was still somewhat vague.

A plan that Odysseus concocted was for him and Diomedes to dress as peddlers and appear before the palace of Scyros with trinkets and dainty feminine treasures fit for the daughters of a king. They spread their gifts across a table and then drew a shield and sword. While the maidens of the palace came to admire his trinkets, Odysseus signaled for Diomedes to trumpet as if they were being attacked.

One person seized the shield and sword and leaped into action, giving himself away as young Achilles. Odysseus laughed at the amusement of Achilles’s urgency, and then both Diomedes and Odysseus convinced the young Achilles to join them in the battle against Troy.

To the testament of Diomedes and his unrelenting restraint, he was paired with Thersites, the surviving son of Agrios, who was responsible for the death of Diomedes's grandfather Oeneus and threatened his life. Diomedes's bond to the Achaean alliance was stronger than the blood feuds of the past. So strong was his oath, that when Thersites finally met his end by the sword of Achilles, Diomedes was the only one who hated Achilles for his impulsive action.

In book four of the Iliad, Achilles was insulted by King Agamemnon’s refusal to return the captured Chryseis to her father, Chryses, the priest of Apollo. After a plague from Apollo, which affected a large portion of Agamemnon’s army, Calchas and Achilles convinced Agamemnon to return Chryseis to her father. However, Agamemnon pressured Achilles to give him Briseis in Calchas’s place.

Angered by Agamemnon’s demands, Achilles refused to fight with the Achaean Alliance and left. Though Agamemnon tried to appease Achilles to return, Achilles ignored all gifts. Diomedes then offered himself to lead the rest of the Achaean army against Troy until Achilles returned.

Agamemnon tries to appease Achilles to return. (VladoubidoOo / Public Domain )

One of the most interesting comparisons between the heroes of the Trojan War is between Diomedes and Achilles. Even though they were drastically different, they were often seen as allegories to how one must deal with fate. Diomedes believed in fate, while Achilles constantly challenged it.

Diomedes and the Trojan War

In the fifth book of the Iliad, Athena bestowed Diomedes with wisdom, courage, the ability to distinguish gods from mortals, and fire encircling his shield and helmet. With the aid of Athena, his fury was unmatched against the Trojans.

Diomedes faced Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite, and Pandarus on their war chariot. A volley between Pandarus and Diomedes, resulted in Pandarus's death. Now left vulnerable, Diomedes toppled over Aeneas with his bare hands. As Diomedes tried to crush his hips with a large stone, Aphrodite appeared in the way to take the brunt of Diomedes’s assault.

Diomedes attacking Aeneas as Aphrodite stands behind him. (Dr. Yasas Bandara / Public Domain )

Apollo then distracted Diomedes to help Aphrodite escape to Mount Olympus and signaled for Ares to fight Diomedes. Without hesitation, Diomedes quickly wounded him in the stomach, forcing Ares to intensely scream the tortured voice of 10,000 men as he fled for safety. On that day, Diomedes became the only human ever to wound two Olympian gods.

In the battles to follow Diomedes became known as the “Terror of Troy”. So intense was his fury, that heroes from Troy hesitated to challenge him.

The combat of Diomedes as he led the troops into the Trojan War. (DcoetzeeBot / Public Domain )

Even the hero Glaucus declined to fight Diomedes in single combat. Instead, they exchanged armor which lead to Diomedes's victory, due to gaining Glaucus's better armor.

In book eight, Zeus fiercely warned the Achaeans that he now protected Troy and for everyone to retreat to the sea. Diomedes stayed behind to challenge Hector in a chariot duel but Zeus intervened by throwing lightning bolts at Diomedes’s chariot.

Against Diomedes's wishes, Nestor, who drove his chariot, forced him to retreat with the rest of the Achaeans. Unsatisfied by the retreat, Diomedes led a small counterattack in the middle of the night while Hector’s army slept. Hector and his men retreated behind the walls of Troy.

In book nine and 10, Odysseus and Diomedes were ordered by Agamemnon to spy on the Trojan camp during nightfall. On their way, they discovered Dolon, who was on a mission from Hector to do the same to the Achaeans. Upon further interrogation of Dolon, Odysseus and Diomedes learned of the location of the Thracian camp.

After the two kings got the information they wanted, they killed Dolon and attacked the Thracians, killing 12 Thracian men and taking their horses back to the fleet of Agamemnon. Though they were tempted to kill the Thracian king, they feared further wrath from the gods and awakening the rest of the Trojan army.

Hector attacked in the afternoon, forcing the Achaeans to retreat behind their barricades. Odysseus and Diomedes defended the retreating Achaeans. Once again, Hector and Diomedes faced off.

Diomedes flung his spear towards Hector's head and if it weren't for his helmet blessed by Apollo, Hector would surely have been killed. Rather than retreat, Hector launched at Diomedes to disarm him.

Paris then wounded Diomedes by pinning his foot to the ground with an arrow. Seeing this, Odysseus gave cover to Diomedes so he could dislodge himself and retreat.

Meanwhile, Patrocles wore the armor of Achilles to rally the Myrmidons and then led them to battle. Patrocles pushed Hector’s forces back, but at the cost of his own life by the hands of Hector himself. Receiving word of Patrocles’s death, Achilles returned to battle.

It was then that the feud between Hector and Diomedes ended and the bloodlust between Achilles and Hector began. The result was a fury stronger than Diomedes could ever achieve. In the end, Achilles killed Hector and dragged his body behind his chariot in the city of Troy.

Triumphant Achilles dragging Hector's lifeless body in Troy. (Dr.K. / Public Domain )

Achilles then reached his fated end by the arrow from Paris, wounding his ankle. The loss of Paris by Philoctetes followed soon after, making the toll of heroes during this stalemated war a tragedy for both sides.

Odysseus and Diomedes once again spied on the Trojan city at night. They received a rumor that Troy would fall if the statue of Palladium did not remain within the walled city. Both took on their favorite disguises as beggars and entered the city undetected.

Though this trick had worked in other times, this time it was Helen who spotted them. With her assistance, Diomedes and Odysseus killed many guards and a few priests of Athena. They finally stole the Palladion.

Odysseus and Diomedes steal the Palladion from Troy. (Bibi Saint-Pol / Public Domain )

However, for reasons unknown, given the long history of adventures between Odysseus and Diomedes, Odysseus attempted to kill Diomedes for possession of the Palladion statue. However, Diomedes was able to defend himself and refrained from his urge to kill Odysseus, for the greater good of the alliance.

Though their friendship was put in jeopardy, one lesson that was learned in their heist of the Palladion statue was the Trojan's respect to the customs of the gods. Since their statues and relics of holy worship were held to such esteem, Odysseus gained the idea to construct the ultimate tribute offering known as the famous Trojan Horse.

Diomedes and the Trojan Horse

The construction of the Trojan Horse was to be the subterfuge in order to enter the walled city of Troy. After 10 years and countless battles, the success of taking the city seemed to be more of a hope than a reality. Though many wished to return home, Odysseus convinced Agamemnon to make one last attempt.

The Achaean alliance pretended to sail away and left a giant wooden horse where Odysseus and Diomedes, along with several other heroes, hid within the hollow spaces of the construction. Seeing this as a religious gesture to Athena for a safe return, the Trojans honored this gift and brought it into their walled city as a trophy.

However, once night-time arrived, Odysseus and Diomedes broke free from the horse, and along with several other Achaeans, opened the gates to allow the full force of the Achaean alliance to invade the city. This final act was what brought the end to the Trojan War.

Diomedes after Troy

After the war, Diomedes set sail for his journey home. He was thrown off course by a storm on the coast of Lycia, where he was captured and imprisoned by King Lycus. The king hoped to sacrifice him to Ares, but Lycus’s daughter Callirrhoe took pity on Diomedes and released him. Callirrhoe committed suicide shortly afterward.

Diomedes hoped to return to Argos to a welcome reception. However, during the 10 years he was gone, his wife Aegialia was convinced, by a begrudged Aphrodite, that he may have died and that she needed to move on and find another suitor.

Diomedes returned to Argos only to find that his wife was unfaithful and living with Hippolytus. Aegialia kept him from re-entering his city, therefore disputing his right as a king.

Diomedes went to Aetolia and founded the city of Argyirpa in Apuilla. However, his life of deeds and adventure did not end. Diomedes found himself once again dealing with the troubles of Agamemnon. He was invited to an expedition of taking Argos,and Diomedes accepted, resulting in its recovery.

In another account he met with King Daunus of the Daunians and Diomedes was asked to aid in Daunus's war against the Messapians in payment of land and the marriage of his daughter, to which Diomedes acted accordingly and not only rerouted the Messapians but also vanquished the two nations known as Mondai and Dardi in the cities of Apina and Trica.

The story of his death differs in several traditional accounts. In one account, Diomedes died making a canal to the sea whereas in another, he returned to Argos, where he died, leaving the project unfinished. In yet another account, he resided in Urium until he passed on, and albatrosses sang songs of his triumphs.

In more colorful accounts, he was fed to flesh-eating horses by Heracles. In the final and most poetic of endings, Diomedes never died but was blessed by Athena with immortality, therefore finally making him a god with the rest of the Olympians. Whichever the case, his deeds and his sense of duty remained his driving characteristics.

Diomedes was killed by Hercules and devoured by horses. (Shuishouyue / Public Domain )

In the Trojan War, Diomedes is depicted as the most valiant soldier who maintained honor, vigor, and obligation when other heroes failed to do so. He took command of the armies when Achilles abandoned the war. Though he was not the main hero, he was still praised for his consistency in duty and honor throughout the 10 year duration of the Trojan War.

Diomedes was ranked as a loyal king and fierce warrior mortal who, with the assistance of Athena, was able to injure the gods Ares and Aphrodite. Then why is he barely remembered while Odysseus and the others are?

Because he is not flawed and he accepted his place in life rather than persisting in challenging his fate. Therefore, no matter how good and incredible Diomedes was, his perfection never revealed what could be if one chooses to fight fate.

Top image: King Diomedes, leader of the troops and unsung hero. Source: serhiibobyk / Adobe Stock.

By B.B. Wagner

References

Belknap, J. Date Unknown. Who is Diomedes in The Iliad? – Role & Character Analysis . [Online] Available at: https://study.com/academy/lesson/who-is-diomedes-in-the-iliad-role-character-analysis.html

Gill, N. 2018. Diomedes: Leader in the Trojan War . [Online] Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/diomedes-116696

Hard, R. (Translation). 2008. Apollodorus - The Library of Greek Mythology . Oxford University Press

Powell, B. 1995. Classical Myth . Prentice Hall Press.

Quora. 2018. Was the Greek hero Diomedes just as fearsome as Achilles, if not more? What happened to him after the fall of Troy? . [Online] Available at: https://www.quora.com/Was-the-Greek-hero-Diomedes-just-as-fearsome-as-Achilles-if-not-more-What-happened-to-him-after-the-fall-of-Troy

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Date Unknown. Diomedes. [Online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Diomedes-Greek-mythology

Comments

Some commends:

-Diomedes’s was not the second largest fleet of ships. The second largest was Nestor’s (90 ships), while Diomedes 80 ships equaled those of two Cretan kings who sailed together.

-Obviously, the sentence should read “However Agamemnon pressured Achilles to give him Briseis in Chryseis’s place” (not in Calchas’s place).

-It is also worth mentioning that Diomedes took on huge Aias (Ajax) in a mock fight to honor Patrocles during his funeral rituals, but as the fight escalated dangerously, the judges rushed in to call it a draw (Iliad book 23, 815-823).

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