Diomedes: A Hero of the Trojan War
Diomedes, the legendary king of Argos and founder of many southern Italian cities, was the hero of two of the most famous wars of Greek lore.
He first marched against Thebes, avenging the seven famous leaders who died on their failed assault of the city and bringing glory back to his own family.
He then became one of the greatest leaders of the Trojan War. As a Greek king he was regarded as one of the wisest and most skilled fighters in the entire conflict.
Most amazingly, Diomedes had done all of these things as the youngest king in Greece at the time. Fighting his first war before the age of fifteen according to most sources, he proved to be a greater fighter than all but the most gifted heroes of his age.
He was even a personal favorite of Athena, who shielded him from harm and never took action against him. The goddess held him in such high esteem that some people claimed she even made him a god.
Keep reading, because the story of Diomedes is the story of the ideal Greek king, strategist, and hero!
Diomedes was the son of Tydeus, the heir to the throne of Calydon. Unfortunately, however, Tydeus never had the chance to become king.
Tydeus had been exiled from his homeland and took refuge in Argos. There, he won the friendship of King Adrastus and was soon married to the king’s daughter, Deipyle.
When Polynices, a banished prince of Thebes, came to ask for help in winning back his throne, Adrastus offered his aid. He sent seven champions, his son-in-law Tydeus among them, to lead a troop in a march against the city.
The assault against the seven gates of Thebes was a disaster, however. The champions of the Seven Against Thebes were regarded as brave for going against a well-defended city that had many more troops, but they were all slaughtered in the battle.
Diomedes was just four years old when his father was slain in the battle against Thebes. He and the sons of the six other champions vowed to one day avenge their fathers’ deaths and succeed where those champions had failed.
Ten years later these sons, the Epigoni, launched their own campaign against Thebes. While they had gained more allies, they were still outnumbered by the mighty Theban army.
The war of the Epigoni was known to have been the subject of many great epics. Sadly, none of these have survived so the only accounts of the war in the modern age are from fragments.
What is known from those fragments is that Adrastus’s son and heir was killed by the king of Thebes. King Laodamas himself was then killed in battle by one of the Epigoni, Alcmaeon.
With their king dead, the people of Thebes panicked. The famous seer Tiresias advised them to flee the city.
With no opposition remaining, the Epigoni were able to march into Thebes and take the city in memory of their fathers. Polynices had died, but his son was installed as the new king.
When Adrastus learned that his son had been killed in the battle, the elderly king died of grief. Still a teenager, Diomedes became the last male heir of the king of Argos and the new ruler of the powerful state.
Despite his youth, Diomedes was a skilled politician and an effective leader. Marrying his cousin cemented his claim to the throne and Argos enjoyed five years of prosperity.
Diomedes still kept abreast of political affairs in his father’s homeland, however. When his cousins jailed his grandfather, King Oeneus, and installed his uncle Agrius on the throne, Diomedes set off to defend the rightful king.
Diomedes attacked Calydon to restore his grandfather to the throne. All but two of his cousins were killed in the assault and Oeneus was returned to his rightful position.
Ceding power to his son-in-law, Oeneus traveled to Argos to thank his grandson for his rescue. Along the way, however, he was assassinated by Thersites and Onchestus, the two corrupt grandsons who had escaped the attack on Calydon.
Diomedes established the mythical city of Oenoe on the site of his grandfather’s death. While Onchestus escaped, the king of Argos would meet his cousin Thersites again in the Trojan War.
The young king had been among Helen’s suitors and had thus been part of the pact they all made. Whichever man married the beautiful young woman, they all swore to support him.
Menelaus of Sparta became Helen’s husband. When she eloped with Paris of Troy, Menelaus called upon her former suitors to remember their vow and help him get his wife back.
Agamemnon, the brother of Menelaus, rallied the suitors and their armies to gather at Aulis. The combined forces of most of the Greek kingdoms would sail against Troy.
Diomedes brought a fleet of eighty ships to Aulis, the third highest of all the Greek kings. Only Agamemnon and Nestor pledged more men and ships to the war effort.
While Diomedes was the youngest of all the Greek kings, still being only about twenty years old, he was widely regarded as one of the most experienced. His battles against Thebes and Calydon had marked him out as a skilled military leader and strong fighter.
Diomedes was marked out by the gods, as well. He was given a cuirass made by Hephaestus, the only general besides Achilles to receive such a gift.
Besides this great cuirass, Diomedes also stood out for his golden weapons and shield. His sword had belonged to his father and been blessed by Athena.
In most matters, Diomedes was second only to Achilles. The great hero was the strongest fighter the Greek army had, but Diomedes was always just behind him in skill and renown.
Thus, the young king is mentioned often in the Iliad as being a key member of Agamemnon’s war councils. He was among the Spartan commander’s most trusted advisors and a key part of the Greek military leadership.
He and Odysseus were trusted by Agamemnon before the fleet even set sail for Troy. They were among the few Greeks who knew of his plan to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to Artemis so that the Greek ships could set sail.
The king of Argos and the king of Ithaca were often together through the war, both in battle and off the field. When Odysseus murdered Palamedes, the officer who had forced him into the war and away from his family, Diomedes was either aware of the plan or an active accomplice.
Diomedes did not only gain renown as a strategist with Agamemnon, however. He excelled in battle, as well.
One of the most famous battles in which Diomedes took part occurred in Book V of the Iliad. In the final year of the war, he faced off against the great Trojan hero Aeneas.
Diomedes entered the battle with the blessing of Athena. The goddess gave him strength that set him apart from the other warriors of Greece, but advised him to not attempt to harm any god other than Aphrodite.
Then Pallas Athena granted Tydeus’ son Diomedes strength and daring – so the fighter would shine forth and tower over the Argives and win himself great glory. She set the man ablaze, his shield and helmet flaming with tireless fire like the star that flames at harvest, bathed in the Ocean, rising up to outshine all other stars.
-Homer, Iliad 5
With the aid of Athena, and his own abilities, Diomedes quickly killed many of the Trojan army’s fighters. He was only slowed when Pandarus shot him in the foot with an arrow.
Diomedes turned his attention to Pandarus, but the Trojans were aware that the king of Argos was their greatest threat in the battle. Aeneas took Pandarus onto his chariot so the two could attack the Greek warrior together.
Diomedes knew that Aeneas could quickly turn the tide against him. His horses were descended from the immortal and swift steeds of Zeus, and as the son of Aphrodite he enjoyed the protection of the goddess.
He ordered Sthenelus, one of the Epigoni who had accompanied him to Troy, to capture the horses first. Without his chariot, Aeneas might not fare as well in combat.
Pandarus threw the first spear, bragging that he had killed the son of Tydeus. His shot had missed, however, and Diomedes quickly struck him down with his own throw.
Diomedes was now facing Troy’s greatest warrior unarmed. Not deterred, he picked a rock up off the battlefield and threw it at his opponent.
The rock hit Aeneas in the hip, crushing his bones. The Trojan hero fell on the battlefield, almost certainly to die.
He was rescued, however, by his mother. Aphrodite swooped down to the field of battle to pick up her son and take him to be healed.
Diomedes remembered that Athena had told him to wound Aphrodite if possible. He chased after the goddess, hitting her in the arm.
Aphrodite dropped Aeneas as she fled, but the hero was soon picked up again by Apollo. Disregarding Athena’s command, Diomedes attacked the god three times as he carried Aeneas off the field.
Finally, the god of light turned to him and advised him not to match himself against mortals. Aeneas respected the command and left the battlefield as Ares joined the fray.
When Athena saw Diomedes holding back with the horses of Aeneas, which he now laid claim to, she mocked him. He responded however that he was only following her command and leaving the battle to avoid fighting another god.
Athena, however, took back her earlier advice and pledged that she would protect Diomedes herself if he faced Ares. She took control of the chariot that had once belonged to Aeneas and drove Diomedes back into battle.
Ares threw his great spear at the Greek king, but it was caught by Athena. Diomedes replied with his own attack, which struck Ares in the stomach.
Diomedes became the only Greek warrior to wound two Olympians in the same day. Additionally, he had grievously wounded the opposing army’s greatest leader.
Despite his occasional disobedience and involvement in some of the unjust actions of Odysseus and Agamemnon, Diomedes is often held up as the most truly heroic figure in the Iliad.
While he distinguishes himself in both battle and intellectual prowess, Diomedes never falls victim to hubris as many of the other Greek and Trojan fighters did.
Athena gave him enough power to injure a god, but Diomedes showed restraint in its use. He showed humility when confronted by Apollo and did not challenge Ares until urged to action.
While he possessed great strength and the favor of Athena, he still remained within mortal limits in his interactions with the gods.
Diomedes also embodied one of the Iliad’s overarching themes. He always believed in and deferred to the power of fate and the will of the gods rather than trying to fight those influences.
Among the heroes of the Trojan War, Diomedes stood out for many instances of valor. These included both militantism and wisdom.
Some notable examples of Diomedes as the heroic paragon included:
- When Agamemnon taunted Diomedes as a lesser soldier than his father, he endured the abuse under the belief that it was a leader’s duty to inspire his men in whatever way he saw fit, and that a man of valor should be able to endure such words. When Agamemnon did the same to Odysseus, however, Diomedes stepped in to defend his friend.
- When the Greeks lost faith in their cause because Zeus had interfered on behalf of Troy, Diomedes reminded them that the city was fated to fall. He vowed to trust in fate even if he was the last soldier who remained.
- When Diomedes was challenged by the Trojan ally Glaucus, he realized that his family had once given refuge to the other man’s grandfather, Bellerophon. He refused to fight, saying that their ancient family bonds meant that they should be friends.
- During a retreat, Diomedes saw that Nestor was too badly wounded to escape the field. He picked his comrade up in his own chariot even as the other soldiers, including Odysseus, refused to help.
- While the other kings slept in their tents, Diomedes slept outside in full armor so he would always be prepared for battle.
- When Agamemnon asked for someone to spy on the Trojan troops, Diomedes not only volunteered but inspired many more men to step forward.
- Diomedes launched a night mission to attack the Thracians and steal their horses. This was one of the only actions of the Iliad that used stealth and intelligence above force.
- At the funeral games of Patroclus, Diomedes proved his strength by winning every competition he took part in even though he had been wounded.
- When Therisides mocked Achilles and was killed in return, Diomedes was the only one to mourn him. Although he had killed their grandfather, Diomedes still wanted to avenge his cousin.
Diomedes displayed all the qualities necessary to be considered a great hero by Greek standards. In fact, the list of his qualities and deeds is the longest in the Iliad and some scholars believe it to be so lengthy that Homer borrowed the entire section from a poem dedicated to Diomedes alone.
Diomedes did not win great renown entirely on his own, however. He had the special patronage of the goddess Athena to help him.
While Athena was generally allied with the Greek army as a whole, Diomedes and Odysseus were singled out as her favored heroes. There is evidence, however, that Athena gave more favor to the king of Argos than she did to the king of Ithaca.
Diomedes began the war with a sword that had been blessed by the goddess on his father’s behalf. Moreover, he had already fought in two great campaigns in which he had prayed to the goddess of war and wisdom for aid.
By the end of the Trojan War, it was clear that Diomedes did not even have to ask for Athena’s help to receive it. While Odysseus said a prayer before running a footrace during the funeral games, Athena helped Diomedes win without such a request.
When the women of Troy gathered in the temple of Athena to ask for the goddess to weaken Diomedes, she refused.
During the nighttime spying mission undertaken by Diomedes of Odysseus, they came across a single spy sent out by the Trojans. Although he was the fastest runner in Troy, Athena gave Diomedes the speed to overtake him so he could learn the enemy’s secrets.
Athena was so trusting of Diomedes that she even gave him special protections so she could appear to him in her true form. Often described as being wary of men, Athena appeared to every other hero she favored in some form of disguise.
Only Diomedes was given the gift of being able to see the goddess as she truly was.
He retained the goddess’s favor even after killing her priests and stealing the Pallidarium, the statue of Pallas that she had carved herself, from her Trojan temple. Athena had vowed that the city would not fall as long as the statue remained in it, so she took no vengeance against her favorite warrior for the action.
She did take vengeance on the Greek army as a whole for violating the protection of her temple. When Ajax the Lesser pulled Cassandra away from the statue of the Pallidarium, the goddess saw it as a serious crime against her protection.
When the Greeks conferred to decide whether or not to punish Ajax, he threw himself at the statue’s feet in turn. Unwilling to further assault the goddess’s protection, the Greeks left him behind rather than kill him.
Athena was so furious that she sent a storm against the Greek fleet, sinking many ships and scattering the rest. Even Odysseus, who had been one of her favorites, was struck by this event.
Only the ships of Diomedes were spared. Even when she turned against the entire Greek army, Diomedes retained special favor.
He was so favored that Athena eventually made him a god.
Diomedes had been favored in the war, but upon his return home he found a much different state of affairs.
Aphrodite had never forgiven him for wounding her in battle. She used her powers to turn Diomedes’s wife against him.
When he entered the city, he and his companions were forced to take shelter in Hera’s temple as his wife’s lovers threatened them. They escaped at night and set sail once more.
Diomedes traveled to Italy and was credited for founding several cities along its southern coast. He helped to unite the tribes of southern Italy, who would eventually be brought into the Roman world.
There were many traditions involving the death of Diomedes, with cities across both Italy and Greece claiming to be his final resting place. Many of these traditions, however, said that his men were so pained at his passing that they were turned into birds.
Death was not the end of the story for Diomedes, however. He was so favored by Athena that she turned him into a god for his service to her.
Athena had once made the same offer to his father, but had changed her mind when she heard that Tydeus had committed atrocities during the first attack against Thebes. He was one of the few mortals to ever attain godhood without having a divine parent.
He was also said to have married Hermione, the only daughter of Menelaus and Helen, who was made a goddess as well.
Diomedes came to be revered both as a Greek hero and a Roman founding father. His hero cult was active in both countries and many regarded him as an immortal god.
He is seldom mentioned among the great heroes of Greco-Roman mythology, however. This may be due to the fact that he has few tales of heroic feats on his own, but was instead one of many great men to take part in the legendary wars of the past.
In those wars, however, Diomedes proved himself to be a paragon of Greek heroism and a nearly ideal leader.
Diomedes was a hero of ancient Greek legend, best remembered for his role in the Trojan War as depicted in the Iliad. His father, an exiled prince of Calydon, was one of the seven great commanders who fell in their assault against Thebes.
Diomedes and the sons of the six other great leaders vowed to avenge their fathers. Ten years later, while Diomedes was still a teenager, they succeeded in capturing Thebes where their fathers had fallen.
His maternal uncle was killed in action, however, making Diomedes the heir to the throne of Argos. He ruled as a wise and honest king.
When his father’s brother and nephews imprisoned his grandfather to claim Calydon for themselves, Diomedes marched against them as well. He restored his grandfather to the throne, but the king was killed by his own grandsons shortly after.
As one of the former suitors of Helen, Diomedes was among the kings who were called upon to join the Trojan War. Despite being the youngest of the Greek kings, he soon distinguished himself as one of the wisest.
Diomedes was also among the best fighters, in part because he enjoyed particular favor from Athena. One of his most notable achievements in the war was wounding two gods, Aphrodite and Ares, in a single day, as well as the Trojan hero Aeneas.
Diomedes was arguably the favorite of Athena. He was also held up was the paragon of Greek heroism, displaying a combination of wisdom, humility, courage, and strength.
After the war, however, Aphrodite’s revenge drove him from his kingdom. He sailed to Italy where he became one of that region’s founding heroes.
Diomedes is largely forgotten because he has few individual stories to distinguish him. As one of the greatest heroes of the Trojan War, however, he was revered by both Greeks and Romans as a divinity and a model of the ideal leader.