How is Diomedes distinct among the other two "ultimate warriors" of the Achaeans?
I've always considered Diomedes the most impressive of the three, which also includes Achilles and big Ajax, because, unlike Achilles, Diomedes is not a demi-god with potentially invulnerable skin (aside from the heel;) and, unlike Ajax, does not possess extraordinary size, which brings benefits such as increased strength and range.
Of the three, Diomedes is the only one who survives Troy. What makes Diomedes special?
@bleh I have some ideas on the subject, but it's been a while since I've studied the epics (as opposed to the dramas) and I'm interested in what others think.
I think you're exaggerating the differences between the three heroes. Achilles wasn't invulnerable in the Iliad, that's a much later addition to the myth. And although Diomedes wasn't a demigod, he always had Athena by his side. As for Ajax, great size may offer strength and range, but at the same time it deprives a warrior of speed and stealth.
@yannis There is at least one reference in the Iliad to weapons not piercing Achilles skin: "but the spear-point passed above him and fixed itself in the earth, fain to glut itself with flesh.". The question I might ask you is why was Athena such a staunch benefactor of Diomedes? Could it have something to do with the meaning of his name?
Eh, that's a bit of a stretch, isn't it? The spear could have just missed its target or was reflected from Achilles (divine) armour. Now, don't get me wrong, I agree with you that Diomedes is the more impressive of the three, and I find the question fascinating. I just think it's more a matter of character than one of prowess.
@yannis regardless of Achilles powers, whether his nigh invulnerability is due to armor, he's still a demi-god. I like where you're leading with the character aspect, though. It's been a while since I last read the Iliad, but Diomedes was always my favorite Greek fighter, so I'm wondering if there are details I've forgotten (or never picked up in the first place.)
Why put Diomedes in a class with Achilles and Telamonian Ajax but then exclude Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Patroclus from that same class? Each has at least one *aristeia,* that is, one episode of divinely inspired supremacy as a fighter, within the *Iliad.* ("Ultimate warrior," though, smacks rather too much of a comic-book mind-set.)
Since no one wanted to jump on this, and I've had a few days to think on it, I'll posit an answer.
Diomedes is distinct in that he is the only hero at Troy to have wounded a god:
"Diomedes, good at the war-cry, drave at Ares with his spear of bronze, and Pallas Athene sped it mightily against his nethermost belly, where he was girded with his taslets. There did he thrust and smite him, rending the fair flesh, and forth he drew the spear again. Then brazen Ares bellowed loud as nine thousand warriors"
Source: Iliad 5.856 et seq. (Murray, 1924)
His ability to best the God of War on the field of battle is due to the patronage of Athena, but it seems to me what makes Diomedes distinct, and allows him to survive the war, are
- the qualities that make him Athena's favorite
It is notable that the other favorite of Athena was Odysseus, who was not always strictly honorable, but was unflaggingly cunning—the Goddess of Wisdom favors the strategists. Wisdom may be said to be more important than honor or any other attribute, certainly to the Ancient Greeks, who gave us Socrates.
Diomedes was held to be a wise and effective ruler in addition to being a gifted commander and valiant warrior.
By contrast, we think of Achilles strictly as a fighter, wholly driven by honor. "Sing, Goddess, of the rage of Achilles" in re: the dispute over Briseis, a slight to Achilles' honor that is the jumping off point for the epic. Achilles in partly defined by his choice of fame over life, knowing that if he goes to Troy, he never leaves.
Ajax is likewise brought down by his inflexibility—the loss of Achilles armor to Odysseus is a slight to great to bear, resulting in his suicide. Ajax remains true to himself, but nonetheless was known for his brawn, not his cunning.
Diomedes was more balanced. He could go to extremes but knew when to pull back. This discernment was useful, especially when confronted by Apollo (who was perhaps less loved by Zeus than Athena, but equal in status):
Diomedes, good at the war-cry, leapt upon Aeneas, though well he knew that Apollo himself held forth his arms above him; yet had he no awe even of the great god, but was still eager to slay Aeneas and strip from him his glorious armour. Thrice then he leapt upon him, furiously fain to slay him, and thrice did Apollo beat back his shining shield. But when for the fourth time he rushed upon him like a god, then with a terrible cry spake to him Apollo that worketh afar: “Bethink thee, son of Tydeus, and give place, neither be thou minded to be like of spirit with the gods; seeing in no wise of like sort is the race of immortal gods and that of men who walk upon the earth.” So spake he, and the son of Tydeus gave ground a scant space backward, avoiding the wrath of Apollo that smiteth afar.
Source: ibid. 5.432 et seq.
I would add that Diomedes survives to bear eloquent witness to the stupidity and futility of war, as does Odysseus if only by his weeping at Demodocus's songs, and Achilles in the underworld (in *Odyssey* 11). When (in the *Aeneid)* the Latins seek Diomedes' military support against the Trojans, he refuses them, having warred against Troy more than enough for any lifetime. He is also the Other Guy in the love-tragedy of Troilus and Cressida, as developed by Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Shakespeare.