In Iliad, Book 20, Zeus allows the gods to enter the fray on the plain before Troy.
"Such was the uproar as the gods came together in battle;
· Apollo with his arrows took his stand to face King Poseidon,
· Athena took hers against the god of war
· Artemis with her golden arrows…stood to face Hera;
· Hermes…faced Leto”
· Xanthos, matched himself against Hephaistos”
"Zeus heard as he was sitting on Olympus, and laughed for joy when he saw the gods coming to blows among themselves." (21.389)
How will the close reading of this text and multiple others predict the outcome of each duel?
Apollo with his arrows took his stand to face King Poseidon
Earlier in the Iliad Poseidon was very angry and said, “Great heavens—strong as Zeus may be, he has said more than he can do if he has threatened violence against me," (15.185). Iris does not try to dissuade him but rather Iris points out the Erinyes will take Zeus side. (15.200)
Earlier in the Iliad Apollo covered himself in a great cloud of mist in order to attack Patroclus from behind. (16.790) In other texts the god of lyre appears manlier; "As he goes through the house of Zeus, the gods tremble before him and all spring up from their seats." (HH to Apollo). Of course Poseidon doesn't live on Olympus.
During the preamble of their duel King Apollo quibs that we "miserable mortals, come out like leaves in summer and eat the fruit of the field, and presently fall lifeless to the ground.” At which point he refuses to fight his uncle over us. Was he afraid of Poseidon? His sister Artemis certainly thought so (21.470)
Athena took hers against the god of war
"Here did man-slaughtering Arēs strike her with his great spear. She drew back and with her strong hand seized a stone that was lying on the plain—great and rugged and black— [21.405] which men of old had set for the boundary of a field. With this she struck Arēs on the neck, and brought him down."
Strictly brains over brawn here; (the daughter of) metis versus bia. No other text can dissuade us of the obviousness of the outcome. But maybe we are seeing a trend that suggest another reason for her victory. Based on Hesoid list of Zeus’ wives (Theogony 886) it is possible to assume that Athena was the eldest of her siblings. Maybe her greater age is what guarantees her victory as did her uncle’s previously.
Artemis with her golden arrows…stood to face Hera
"She caught both Artemis’ wrists with her left hand as she spoke, [21.490] and with her right she took the bow from her shoulders, and laughed as she beat her with it about the ears while Artemis wriggled and writhed under her blows."
Even now after after all the readings of this text, Hera's success and brutality in this duel surprises me. Multiple other text make Artemis seem equally as brutal; the deaths of Niobe’s daughters (Homer, Iliad 24. 602) her hunting down of the Giant Tityus (Pindar, Pythian Ode 4) and murder of Orion (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 25). But her older step-mother easily abuses her. It might be noted that Artemis like her brother was the aggressor in the dual according to Book 20 because “Artemis with her golden arrows…stood to face Hera”
"Then the slayer of Argos, guide and guardian, said to Leto, “Leto, I shall not fight you; it is ill to come to blows with any of Zeus’ wives.  Therefore boast as you will among the immortals that you worsted me in fair fight. ".
Hermes the dog-slayer, I mean, slayer of a hundred eyed giant isn't famous for too many other combats. So is he afraid of Zeus? Leto's son, Apollo? Afraid of ending up like Peleus, "second-rate hero who lost a wrestling match to a girl"? Or afraid of Leto.
Our image of Leto is based on Hesiod; "Leto, always mild, kind to men and to the deathless gods, mild from the beginning, gentlest in all Olympus. (Theogony 404 ff). In other text she isn't so kind, turning peasants into frogs (Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 313 ff) and orderingthe death of Niobe's children (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 46 ). In the beginning of the HH to Apollo she confidently disarms here own son. Still maybe the dog-killer, I mean Hermes has another cause to fear a conflict with Leto. She is older than he and hence/possibly more powerful then he. Maybe he feared her “great might”. Plus he was the aggressor according to Book 20.
Xanthos, matched himself against Hephaistos.
The implication of the above title is that Xanthus is the aggressor, not a good omen for victory in this list. You would think in this elemental spirits’ version of rock-paper-scissors that water would quench fire but instead Hephaestus sets the river aboil until his mother says “Son Hephaistos, hold now your flames; [21.380] we ought not to use such violence against a god for the sake of mortals.” An attitude similar to where we started the list. Hey! Ring composition.
Ring composition is a technique that layers meaning and literary tension on an event. Sort of; "Tell 'em what you are going to tell 'em; tell 'em; tell 'em what you told 'em."
According to Book Twenty the list of duels starts with one, which never actually happen because one of them didn’t wish to fight over miserable mortals and the last duel on list ends because gods ought not to fight over mortals.
“And King Apollo answered, “Lord of the earthquake, you would not think me moderate [sōphrōn] if I were to fight you about a pack of miserable mortals, ( βροτῶν ἕνεκα πτολεμίξω ) who come out like leaves in summer [21.465] and eat the fruit of the field, and presently fall lifeless to the ground. Let us stay this fighting at once and let them settle it among themselves.”
“As soon as goddess of the white arms, Hera heard this she said to her son Hephaistos, “Son Hephaistos, hold now your flames; [21.380] we ought not to use such violence against a god for the sake of mortals.” (βροτῶν ἕνεκα στυφελίζειν)
Actual sequence of duels
Of course, the sequence of duels on the list in Book 21, doesn't match the sequence as listed in Book 20 (see above)
The lists don’t match because;