On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book II

Index | Text

Even gods must sleep; but under the weight of his responsibility to Thetis, Zeus cannot. As Achilles pointed out in Book I, “dreams are often sent from Jove”; now we shall have a case in point.

All ways cast, this counsel serv’d his mind
With most allowance; to despatch a harmful Dream to greet
The king of men, and gave this charge: ‘Go to the Achive fleet,
Pernicious Dream…’

The dream comes to Agamemnon as Nestor, telling him that

Jove’s messenger, who, though far off from thee,
Is near thee yet in ruth and care, and gives command by me
To arm thy whole host. Thy strong hand the broad-way’d town of Troy
Shall now take in; no more the Gods dissentiously employ
Their high-hous’d powers; Juno’s suit hath won them all to her;
And ill fates overhang these tow’rs, address’d by Jupiter.

This is a lie, though one might quibble and say that the Greeks will indeed ultimately take Troy. That is so, but it will not happen now. Homer acknowledges this:

O fool, he thought to take
In that next day old Priam’s town; not knowing what affairs
Jove had in purpose, who prepar’d, by strong fight, sighs and cares
For Greeks and Trojans.

One is a fool to trust a god! Rather, one is a fool to think one knows the mind of God. There would seem to be many fools abroad today.

Agamemnon calls a council, “of old great-minded men / At Nestor’s ships.” He relates his dream. He will test the army by proposing to turn tail and run back home. If the men actually try do this, their leaders should stop them.

Can any idea be more stupid than Agamemnon’s?

If anybody else but Agamemnon reported such a dream, Nestor says, one would question it and interpret it as actually recommending flight. This is just what Agamemnon proposes to recommend ironically. Nestor however does not appear to recognize any irony in his own words. He just says they all must accept the dream as true, “since our General / Affirms he saw it.” He does not question Agamemnon’s proposal.

The councillors disperse to call the troops. In a marginal note, Chapman labels a simile as such. The army are like swarming bees:

as when of frequent bees
Swarms rise out of a hollow rock, repairing the degrees
Of their egression endlessly, with ever rising new
From forth their sweet nest; as their store, still as it faded, grew,
And never would cease sending forth her clusters to the spring,
They still crowd out so; this flock here, that there, belabouring
The loaded flow’rs; so from the ships and tents the army’s store
Troop’d to these princes and the court, along th’ unmeasur’d shore.

Agamemnon stands up with a scepter, which is given a more detailed history than Achilles’s in Book I. Hephaustus made it and gave it to Zeus, who gave it to Hermes, who gave it to Pelops, who gave it to his son Atreus, who left it to his brother Thyestes, who left it in turn to his nephew, Atreus’s son Agamemnon:

His sceptre, th’ elaborate work of fi’ry Mulciber,
Who gave it to Saturnian Jove; Jove to his messenger;
His messenger, Argicides, to Pelops, skill’d in horse;
Pelops to Atreus, chief of men; he, dying, gave it course
To prince Thyestes, rich in herds; Thyestes to the hand
Of Agamemnon render’d it, and with it the command
Of many isles, and Argos all…

The Greek army are more than ten times as numerous as the Trojan; but the Trojan army have been augmented with foreigners:

But their auxiliáry bands, those brandishers of spears,
From many cities drawn, are they that are our hinderers.

We should give up and go home, says Agamemnon. The army agree; they are moved by Agamemnon’s words, just as water and wheatfields are moved by the wind:

All the crowd was shov’d about the shore,
In sway, like rude and raging waves, rous’d with the fervent blore
Of th’ east and south winds, when they break from Jove’s clouds, and are borne
On rough backs of th’ Icarian seas: or like a field of corn
High grown, that Zephyr’s vehement gusts bring eas’ly underneath,
And make the stiff up-bristled ears do homage to his breath;
For ev’n so eas’ly, with the breath Atrides us’d, was sway’d
The violent multitude.

Masses of men are easily swayed. The Greeks would leave Troy, if Hera did not send Athena to tell Odysseus to stop them. He heeds the call. He wields the scepter of Agamemnon. To the better sort, the “prince, or man of name,” he counsels obedience, saying,

“You know not clearly, though you heard the king’s words, yet his mind.”

The worst sort, he cudgels with the scepter and with words of derision.

“We must not all be kings. The rule is most irregular,
Where many rule…”

The men are now assembled, but their flight has been stopped. Thersites addresses them, taking Achilles’s side in the quarrel with Agamemnon, and urging all to fly home. Perhaps it is not meaningful, in Homer’s terms, to say whether Thersites is actually right. Agamemnon is leading the men into disaster. Nonetheless, Homer describes Thersites as being inferior in body and mind. He is a loudmouth, if not the class clown:

A most disorder’d store
Of words he foolishly pour’d out, of which his mind held more
Than it could manage; any thing, with which he could procure
Laughter, he never could contain…

Odysseus threatens to lash Thersites if he ever speaks this way again. As it is, Odysseus strikes Thersites with Agamemnon’s scepter, and Thersites cries.

Standing with Odysseus, Athena gets the army to listen. According to Odysseus, after nine years of an unsuccessful seige, going home now would be “absurd and vile.” Anyway, back at Aulis, where the Greek fleet assembled, a snake was seen to eat eight sparrow chicks. The mother made a ninth, and then Zeus turned the snake to stone. Calchas explained the meaning: Troy would be taken in the tenth year.

Members and supporters of the ruling party in Turkey today are at war, but as on the plain of Troy, not all are equally keen to fight. Technically here, “party” should be understood loosely, since the president of the country is not supposed to belong to any official political party. He was however a founder of the party that has held a majority in parliament since 2002. Not all supporters of this party supported a yes vote on the referendum of April 16. A yes vote was a vote to abolish the office of prime minister, giving all power to the president. The vote was close, and given the “irregularities” observed during the voting, I think we can assume that the referendum was not rightfully approved by the voters. It is being counted as approved though. In any case, before the vote, on April 11, apparently a worker for the Istanbul municipality wrote on Facebook:

Dear Friends! The Republican People’s Party [CHP] has openly declared war and is doing all that it can [against us]. The attacks [the CHP] have started at the parliament with all their rhetoric and action now targets yes-sayers. On April 17, after we win the war, their wives and daughters are available as loot [and] as halal to [those who vote] yes.

This is reported by Pınar Tremblay in “Has Turkey’s referendum emboldened hate?” (Al-Monitor, April 21, 2017). Apparently the quoted municipal worker has since closed his Facebook account; but an image of his original post (linked to in the article) was preserved, and I transcribe it:

SEVGİLİ DOSTLAR!!!! Chp açıkça savaş ilan ederek bu hususta elinden geleni ardına koymamaktadır. Meclis de başladıkları saldırganlıklarını tüm eylem ve söylemleri ile EVET çilerin üzerine çevirmişlerdir. 17 Nisan günü savaşı kazanınca, bunların karıları ve kızları GANİMET olarak EVET çilere HELALDİR

The word ganimet here means loot, spoil, booty. The word is Arabic, according to both the Redhouse Turkish-English dictionary and Sevan Nişanyan’s etymological dictionary of Turkish; but it certainly looks like the Greek Ganymede (Γανυμήδης). This came into English as “catamite,” defined delicately in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a boy kept for unnatural purposes.”

The quoted municipal worker is perhaps only following Nestor, who urges the Greek army,

Let therefore none once dream of coward flight,
Till (for his own) some wife of Troy he sleeps withal, the rape
Of Helen wreaking, and our sighs enforc’d for her escape.

Since our woman was raped, we must rape their women.

Nestor also recommends that Agamemnon have the men “array’d / In tribes and nations,” so that he can see who fights well or not, and who leads well or not. This advice will justify the “Catalogue of Ships,” tedious today, with which the book will end. Meanwhile, if Agamemnon can judge the strengths of the various divisions of his army, then he will be able to know whether to attribute a loss in the war to a false prophecy or to human weakness.

And then shalt thou, if thou destroy’st not Troy,
Know if the prophecy’s defect, or men thou dost employ
In their approv’d arts want in war, or lack of that brave heat
Fit for the vent’rous spirits of Greece, was cause to thy defeat.’

Agamemnon wishes he had ten counsellors like Nestor: then he could take Troy instantly. If he ever makes friends with Achilles again—and Agamemnon admits he started the quarrel—Troy will fall in an hour. Meanwhile, the army should still prepare to fight, after a good meal; and then, nobody must hold back, on pain of death.

He said; and such a murmur rose, as on a lofty shore
The waves make, when the south wind comes, and tumbles them before
Against a rock, grown near the strand which diversely beset
Is never free, but, here and there, with varied uproars beat.

For the ritual meal,

The king of men an ox of five years’ spring
T’ almighty Jove slew, call’d the peers;

but Menelaus does not need to be called. He can see that something is afoot, and so he comes. This seems to be Homer’s first naming of Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon, husband of Helen, for whose sake the war is being fought. Listeners are expected to know this basic story.

Agamemnon prays to Zeus that the sun may not set before Agamemnon destroys Troy.

He pray’d; Jove heard him not, but made more plentiful the birth
Of his sad toils, yet took his gifts.

God takes what you offer, but may give nothing in return. In the imaginary state that he describes in the Republic, if Socrates wants to raise a “pious generation” as the current Turkish president does, then Socrates would seem to do right in banishing Homer.

Nestor calls for a pep rally. Athena is the cheerleader for the Greeks; in place of pom-poms, she wields the peculiar tasselled aegis:

The Jove-kept kings, about the king all gather’d, with their aid
Rang’d all in tribes and nations. With them the gray-eyed Maid
Great Ægis (Jove’s bright shield) sustain’d, that can be never old,
Never corrupted, fring’d about with serpents forg’d of gold,
As many all suffic’d to make an hundred fringes, worth
An hundred oxen, ev’ry snake all sprawling, all set forth
With wondrous spirit. Through the host with this the Goddess ran,
In fury casting round her eyes, and furnish’d ev’ry man
With strength, exciting all to arms, and fight incessant. None
Now lik’d their lov’d homes like the wars.

That the aegis is Zeus’s shield is Chapman’s interpretation. It seems we don’t quite know what the aegis is.

Homer continues immediately with a long string of similes, though, strangely, Chapman does not indicate this with his marginal notes (at least as they are supplied in the Allardyce Nicoll edition). I enumerate them:

  1. The armor shines like a forest fire.

  2. The men and horses sound like flocks of birds.

  3. They are also thick as flowers,

  4. or spring leaves,

  5. or flies on pails of milk.

  6. Their leaders can distinguish them into tribes and nations as easily as goatherds can distinguish their herds.

  7. Agamemnon has eyes like Zeus,

  8. breast like Poseidon,

  9. waist like Ares.

  10. He is like the bull of the herd.

Here is the whole passage:

And as a fire upon
A huge wood, on the heights of hills, that far off hurls his light;
So the divine brass shin’d on these thus thrusting on for fight,
Their splendour through the air reach’d heav’n. And as about the flood
Caïster, in an Asian mead, flocks of the airy brood,
Cranes, geese, or long-neck’d swans, here, there, proud of their pinions fly,
And in their falls layout such throats, that with their spiritful cry
The meadow shrieks again; so here, these many-nation’d men
Flow’d over the Scamandrian field, from tents and ships; the din
Was dreadful that the feet of men and horse beat out of earth.
And in the flourishing mead they stood, thick as the odorous birth
Of flow’rs, or leaves bred in the spring; or thick as swarms of flies
Throng then to sheep-cotes, when each swarm his erring wing applies
To milk dew’d on the milk-maid’s pails; all eagerly dispos’d
To give to ruin th’ Ilians. And as in rude heaps clos’d,
Though huge goatherds are at their food, the goatherds eas’ly yet
Sort into sundry herds; so here the chiefs in battle set
Here tribes, here nations, ord’ring all. Amongst whom shin’d the king,
With eyes like lightning-loving Jove, his forehead answering,
In breast like Neptune, Mars in waist. And as a goodly bull
Most eminent of all a herd, most wrong, most masterful,
So Agamemnon, Jove that day made overheighten clear
That heav’n-bright army, and preferr’d to all th’ heroës there.

Now we have the transition to the “Catalogue of Ships, which I have nothing to say about, except that Nestor has prepared us for it. Homer does make a pious acknowledgement of human ignorance:

Now tell me, Muses, you that dwell in heav’nly roofs, (for you
Are Goddesses, are present here, are wise, and all things know,
We only trust the voice of fame, know nothing,) who they were
That here were captains of the Greeks, commanding princes here.

After many verses, we are given a shorter catalogue of the Trojan forces. Iris comes to Priam, reporting that the Greek forces are like autumn leaves, or sand on the beach. Since many have come to fight in defense of Troy, “of other lands and languages,” Hector should organize them. Recognizing the voice of a deity, Hector dismisses the war council and gets to work. The men and horses rush out of the city ports.

The “auxiliary bands” are distinguished, outside of town, at a place that Chapman calls a column, though the Greek is κολώνη “hill.” English “column” comes from Latin and is related to “excel”; the Greek for column or pillar is κίων. So perhaps Chapman made a simple mistake here.

Chapman gives the human name of the hill as Batieia, after the Greek Βατίεια. The Wikipedia article “Batea” currently says the hill is named for King Teucer’s daughter, who would seem to be Priam’s great-great-great grandmother; but the authority for such a claim is not clear. Lattimore calls Batieia the “Hill of the Thicket.”

Whatever the humans call the hill, the gods call it “Myrine’s famous sepulchre, the wondrous active dame.” Apparently we are not too sure who Myrine is either.

In Book III we shall meet Paris, who stole Menelaus’s woman.

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