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Nestor, the king of sandy Pylos, is considered a small and unimportant character in the Iliad compared to other Greek characters like Odysseus,Menelaus and Agamemnon. Though he is often seen as a nagging,long-winded, old king that is past his prime and enjoys reliving days past, Nestor is one of the most important characters in the Iliad. It seems like he is the brain behind the Achaen operation, the problem is that most, if not all, of Nestor’s plans end up being detrimental to the Achaens.

The first time we see Nestor in the Iliad, he is intervening in the fight between Agamemnon and Achilles.  He says, “ No more— or enormous sorrow comes to all Achaea,”(1.297).  This is a simple, seemingly non important sentence, however it is important to note that this sentence is not only true, but prophetic as well. Granted the reader doesn’t know that line is prophetic until later in the Iliad, but the fact remains that Nestor predicts what will happen if Agamemnon and Achilles stay divided before Achilles divorces himself from the fighting.  In the same speech, Nestor talks about his experience with the great warriors of his time, and how he was a necessary part of their expeditions.  At first glance, this seems like a old man reliving his glory days, but I think it is meant to stress that every man involved in any element of war brings a unique and essential trait to the table, and every single trait is necessary to bring the Argives victory, “ they enlisted me themselves and I fought on my own…and none of the men who walk the earth these days could battle with those fighters,none, but they,they took to heart my counsels, marked my words. So now you listen too. Yielding is far better…” (1.315-320). Here Nestor is telling the  Achaeans that it is going to take every single one of them to defeat the Trojans and that the men, particularly Agamemnon and Achilles, need to put aside whatever personal problems they may have with each other.

The next speech that Nestor gives is regarding the dream that Zeus sent to Agamemnon. In this particular scene, Nestor is trying to boost the men’s  confidence in Agamemnon, “ friends, lords of the Argives, O my captains! If any other Achaean had told us of this dream we’d call it false and turn our backs upon it” (2.94-96).  This speech is similar to the speech Nestor gave in Book One, the difference being that this one is very specific to the issues the soldiers and other Argive kings have with Agamemnon.  The picture that has been painted of Nestor thus far is one of a wise old king that is the glue that holds the Argive army together.

The third speech Nestor gives is in Book Two and takes place after Odysseus beats Thersites for being insubordinate, this also after Agamemnon tests his men and they fail.  In this speech, Nestor is trying to rally the troops by addressing the issue of dissension, “the rest of them? Let them rot. the one or two who hatch their plans apart from all the troops—what good can they win from that,” (2.411-413).  Following this line, Nestor provides encouragement by reminding the Argive forces that the gods have blessed them, “ Zeus the son of almighty Cronus, all the Argives laden with blood and death for Troy— his lightning bolts on the right, good omens blazing forth” (2.416-419). He also goes on to give the Argives the two options they have before them, the first “ let no man hurry to sail for home…not till he beds down with a faithful Trojan wife, payment in full for the groans and shocks of war we have all borne for Helen,” and the second, less rosy option, “ but any soldier wild with desire to reach his home at once—just let him lay a hand on his black benched ship and right in front of rest he’ll reach his death” (2.420-427).

In this same speech, we also see the first glimpse of Nestor as a strategist,

“Range your men by tribes, even clans,Agamemnon, so clan fights by the side of clan, tribe by tribe. Fight this way, if the Argives still obey you, then you can see which captain is a coward,which contingent too,and which is loyal,brave since they fight in separate formations of their own. Then, what’s more, if you fail to sack the city, you will know if the will of god’s is to blame or the cowardice of your men—inept in battle” ( 2.430-438).

 

Though we know of his affinity for words before this passage, it isn’t something that is generally attributed to Nestor. By this speech, we have learned several things about Nestor, beyond the fact that he is king of Pylos, namely that he is wise,well respected, gifted with words and a trusted friend of Agamemnon.  Given all of these qualities it is easy to see why the Argives would trust the ideas that Nestor puts forth, but it doesn’t account for how misguided the plans he puts forth are.

The fourth speech Nestor gives comes after the Greeks sacrifice to Zeus and feast. Here, Nestor again tries to rally the troops, but he goes about it in a different way.  This time instead of giving the Argives two options, he uses the gods, “ no more trading speeches now. No more delay, putting off the work the gods put in our hands” (2.515-516). He also emphasized the importance of being united here as well, “ now down we go, united—review them as we pass” (2.519).  After this Nestor is quiet until Book 4 when he gives his fifth speech. This fifth speech is reminiscent of the third as it is instructions to the Argive horsemen. Essentially, Nestor tells the horsemen not to be overly confident, “ let no man, so sure of this horsemanship and soldier’s prowess, dare to fight it out alone with the Trojans, exposed in his front lines. No heroics now,” (4.347-350).  He uses knowledge from the past to cement this sentiment, “ Better that way—it’s tighter,stronger fighting. So men before your time stormed  walls and cities, holding fast to that tactic, warring on with heart” (4.354-356).  With that he effectively ties the greatness of past men to heart and intelligence in the minds of the Achaean soldiers, and that alone is enough to inspire them.

As if that speech weren’t enough to inspire the Argives to think before they act, his next comment would, “ …the gods won’t won’t give us all their gifts at once…Nevertheless, I’ll still troop with the horsemen, give them maneuvers,discipline and commands: that is the right and pride of us old men” (4.369,371-373).  This sentence implies that the gods are just waiting for the right time to bless the Argives with another gift, and, whether it is meant to or not, implies that Nestor may be a gift from the gods that isn’t recognized as such by the Greeks.

The speeches I have examined are just a few of many given by Nestor throughout the Iliad. However, they paint a very specific, very positive picture of the man. Though the plans that he laid out were, more often than not, detrimental to the Greeks, Nestor still manages to be a great motivator for them. He is in essence the coach of the Argives, as he frequently displays and explains traits that are necessary for the survival of the cause and the survival of the friendships between the Greeks.

20 Responses to “Lindsey Hawkins – Nestor – A Fool or Tactician”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Lindsey,

    This is a solid treatment of Nestor’s first five (unless we have both miscounted) speeches. I agree that he is more prominent in the Iliad than in the Odyssey, though we should not forget that Nestor’s son, Pisastratus, is likely the first friend that Telemachus has ever had. So Nestor plays a key, though much more limited role, there.

    Given that he gives so many speeches and is key in certain junctures of the book (e.g., reorganizing the troops ten years into the war [!]), it is exceedingly strange that he is not sent on the embassy to Achilles. Maybe they choose to send the ones that Achilles will like the most, but still it is curious that Nestor is not part of the contingent. Is this because, as you suggest, that his plans are often not the greatest? If Nestor is a coach, then what is he coaching the Greeks to do?

    KH

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