On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book IV

Index | Text

The gods confer. The humans can make war or peace; which shall it be? Juno insists on war, so that Troy can be punished. When Jove objects, Juno offers up her most beloved Greek cities in return. Mycenae, Argos, and Sparta: let Jove destroy them at will, if only Pallas be sent to induce one of the Trojans to break the truce.

Jove agrees. Pallas shoots down to earth like a comet, and this is observed and known to presage war or peace:

  1. When straight one to another turn’d, and said: “Now thund’ring Jove
  2. (Great Arbiter of peace and arms) will either stablish love
  3. Amongst our nations, or renew such war as never was.”

Pallas takes on the appearance of one Laodocus, of the race of Antenor,

  1. And sought for Lycian Pandarus, a man that, being bred
  2. Out of a faithless family, she thought was fit to shed
  3. The blood of any innocent, and break the cov’nant sworn;
  4. He was Lycaon’s son, whom Jove into a wolf did turn
  5. For sacrificing of a child, and yet in arms renown’d
  6. As one that was inculpable…

Pandarus hits Menelaus with an arrow, and the war is on again. The Trojans charge, and Agamemnon rallies the defense like the master politician that he is.

That is the story; how much more need be said?

Jove has already acted as the master politician. He needs the war to heat up again, so that he can fulfil his promise to Thetis and allow the Greeks to suffer without Achilles. To avoid the ire of his sister-wife, he must make the battle appear to be her fault. Chapman’s Homer does not seem to provide this explanation, but he describes the trick:

  1. The mirth at whose feast was begun by great Saturnides
  2. In urging a begun dislike amongst the Goddesses,
  3. But chiefly in his solemn queen, whose spleen he was dispos’d
  4. To tempt yet further, knowing well what anger it inclos’d,
  5. And how wives’ angers should be us’d. On which, thus pleas’d, he play’d.

Jove observes that his wife and daughter have been at cross purposes with Venus. Pallas is incensed to think that Venus could not have saved Paris from Menelaus without the connivance of Jove. Though Pallas can restrain herself from complaining, Juno cannot:

  1. …[Pallas’s] wrath yet fought beneath
  2. Her supreme wisdom, and was curb’d; but Juno needs must ease
  3. Her great heart with her ready tongue…

The three cities whose demolition Juno will trade for that of Troy: they are the homes of Agamemnon, Diomedes, and Menelaus respectively. We ask why in vain. The gods are destructive, and the female ones especially so. Such a myth was used, and continues to be used, against the female candidate in the 2016 Presidential election in the United States. I even wonder about an article I have just read, Paul Street, “If Hillary Had Won,” Counterpunch, September 1, 2017:

Just how much a President Hillary’s likely mass-murderous militarism would reflect her strong ideological commitment to the American Empire Project (never forget her U.S. Senate vote to let George W. Bush criminally invade Iraq if he wanted to [he did]) and how much it would reflect a “wag the dog” need to deflect attention from domestic political chaos is an interesting question.

For being potentially just as bad as a man would be, are some persons angrier with Ms Clinton than with the man? Paul Street says presently, “Horrible moronic white-male Republicans in the White House tend to reinforce the narrative that the national fix is electing a Democrat,” and I’m afraid I may tend to accept that narrative.

Meanwhile, Agamemnon will urge Diomedes to battle by recalling the prowess of his father Tydeus, who was involved in the story that, under the pen of Aeschylus, would become the Seven Against Thebes (which I have not read). To show how poetically obscure George Chapman can be, I quote the description of Tydeus that Chapman’s Homer puts in the mouth of Agamemnon:

  1. “He came to the Mycenian court, without arms, and did sue,
  2. At godlike Polynices’ hands, to have some worthy aid
  3. To their designs that ’gainst the walls of sacred Thebes were laid.
  4. “He was great Polynices’ guest, and nobly entertain’d,
  5. And of the kind Mycenian state what he requested gain’d,
  6. In mere consent; but when they should the same in act approve,
  7. By some sinister prodigies, held out to them by Jove,
  8. They were discourag’d. Thence he went, and safely had his pass
  9. Back to Asopus’ flood, renown’d for bulrushes and grass.
  10. “Yet, once more, their ambassador, the Grecian peers address
  11. Lord Tydeus to Eteocles; to whom being giv’n access,
  12. He found him feasting with a crew of Cadmeans in his hall;
  13. Amongst whom, though an enemy, and only one to all;
  14. To all yet he his challenge made at ev’ry martial feat,
  15. And eas’ly foil’d all, since with him Minerva was so great.
  16. “The rank-rode Cadmeans, much incens’d with their so foul disgrace,
  17. Lodg’d ambuscadoes for their foe, in some well-chosen place
  18. By which he was to make return. Twice five-and-twenty men,
  19. And two of them great captains too, the ambush did contain.
  20. “The names of those two men of rule were Mæon, Hæmon’s son,
  21. And Lycophontes, Keep-field call’d, the heir of Autophon,
  22. By all men honour’d like the Gods; yet these and all their friends
  23. Were sent to hell by Tydeus’ hand, and had untimely ends.
  24. “He trusting to the aid of Gods, reveal’d by augury,
  25. Obeying which, one chief he sav’d, and did his life apply
  26. To be the heavy messenger of all the others’ deaths;
  27. And that sad message, with his life, to Mæon he bequeaths.”

One confusing point is the description of Tydeus as Polynices’s guest. He was that in a sense, but then both were guests of the unnamed king of Mycenae. This nesting of hosting recalls to me the recent (August 28, 2017) infamous tweet, “Woman cradles and protects child. Man carries and protects both.” Thus Matt Walsh, concerning whose generalizations see my previous article, about classes and societies.

Tydeus came to Mycenae with Polynices in order to ask help in taking Thebes from Polynices’s brother Eteocles. Mycenae would have provided aid, but for the warning of omens. Being unknown to Eteocles, Tydeus was next sent to visit him. He challenged the men to contests and won them all, with the help of Athena. The defeated men ambushed Tydeus on his way home, but he killed them all, save for Maeon, whom an omen told him to save.

The story of Tydeus is is an epic within an epic. We shall return to it later.

The fourth book of the big epic is full of rich details. Disguised as another Trojan, Athena entices Pandarus to break the truce by telling him of the rewards that Paris will give him if he should slay Menelaus. Pallas encourages Pandarus to invoke the Sun God in making the attempt; but then, when the arrow of Pandarus actually reaches the flesh of Menelaus, Athena ameliorates its sting, as if she were a mother brushing the flies from her sleeping baby.

The arrow does draw blood, which flows out onto the skin of Menelaus like purple die, poured by a Carian maid onto ivory that is intended to deck the cheeks of a horse that is fit to draw the chariot of a king:

  1. For nothing decks a soldier so, as doth an honour’d wound.

I sense no irony here, though one may read with irony.

Agamemnon has a crisis of faith, as much as he is capable of. Did he arrange the truce for the single combat of his brother with Paris, only to see that brother die by treachery? The will of God will be done, and it will favor the Greeks:

  1. “For though Olympius be not quick in making good our ill,
  2. He will be sure as he is slow, and sharplier prove his will.”

Indeed, the will of Jove is indistinguishable from that of Agamemnon:

  1. “For both in mind and soul I know, that there shall come a day
  2. When Ilion, Priam, all his pow’r, shall quite be worn away,
  3. When heav’n-inhabiting Jove shall shake his fiery shield at all,
  4. For this one mischief. This, I know, the world cannot recall.”

And yet Menelaus is going to die, and

  1. “Then let the broad earth swallow me, and take me quick to death.”

Menelaus gives his brother a manly reassurance that his wound is but a scratch. Nonetheless, Agamemnon calls for a son of Asclepius to treat the wound. Machaon is capable, not because he keeps abreast of the latest medical research, but through the legacy of his father’s teacher, who was a centaur:

  1. Then med’cines, wondrously compos’d, the skilful leech applied,
  2. Which loving Chiron taught his sire, he from his sire had tried.

Now Agamemnon goes to rouse the troops, assuring them that God is on their side:

  1. For they might be assur’d that Jove would patronise no lies.

We learn several personalities. Idomeneus can drink fine old wine undiluted, and still keep his head, as well as Agamemnon himself; he must now be a greater warrior than “whatsoever heretofore thou hast assum’d to be” (line 278).

As for the Ajaces—the two warriors named Ajax—, Agamemnon need tell them nothing:

  1. “…I disclaim all my command of you,
  2. Yourselves command with such free minds, and make your soldiers show
  3. As you nor I led, but themselves. O would our father Jove,
  4. Minerva, and the God of Light, would all our bodies move
  5. With such brave spirits as breathe in you, then Priam’s lofty town
  6. Should soon be taken by our hands, for ever overthrown!”

Nestor knows how to marshall his troops, so that none can avoid fighting:

  1. The slothful, and the least of spirit, he in the midst inclos’d,
  2. That, such as wanted noble wills, base need might force to stand.

Again, we may read this with irony, as a reminder of the horror of war; but Homer is just telling things as they are.

Agamemnon wishes Nestor’s knees could still be as hale and hearty as his mind. Nestor has a sage response.

  1. The old knight answer’d: “I myself could wish, O Atreus’ son,
  2. I were as young as when I slew brave Ereuthalion,
  3. But Gods at all times give not all their gifts to mortal men.
  4. “If then I had the strength of youth, I miss’d the counsels then
  5. That years now give me; and now years want that main strength of youth;
  6. Yet still my mind retains her strength (as you now said the sooth)
  7. And would be where that strength is us’d, affording counsel sage
  8. To stir youth’s minds up; ’tis the grace and office of our age;
  9. Let younger sinews, men sprung up whole ages after me,
  10. And such as have strength, use it, and as strong in honour be.”

It is impossible to combine in a single person the strength of youth with the wisdom of age. Agamemnon can dream; but some of us cannot let a sleeping dog lie.

With another reference to drinking, Agamemnon teases also Ulysses and Menestheus for not having joined the battle:

  1. “First you can hear, when I invite the princes to a feast,
  2. When first, most friendly, and at will, ye eat and drink the best,
  3. Yet in the fight, most willingly, ten troops ye can behold
  4. Take place before ye.” Ithacus at this his brows did fold…

Ulysses is not amused. He has not realized that the fight has started up again. Agamemnon smiles and takes back his words. Nonetheless, he next criticizes Diomedes and Sthenelus for not being at battle. He recalls Diomedes’s father Tydeus as above. Sthenelus bristles and boasts:

  1. “Atrides, when thou know’st the truth, speak what thy knowledge is,
  2. And do not lie so; for I know and I will brag in this,
  3. That we are far more able men than both our fathers were.
  4. “We took the sev’n-fold ported Thebes, when yet we had not there
  5. So great help as our fathers had…

Diomedes tells Sthenelus to calm down, since Agamemnon “did but what his place behov’d” (line 441).

We pass to the scene of battle, where, on the Greek side, the only voices are those of the leaders, urging on their men; but the Trojans are

  1. like a sort of ewes, penn’d in a rich man’s fold,
  2. Close at his door, till all be milk’d, and never baaing hold
  3. Hearing the bleating of their lambs.“

The Trojan side moreover baa in the “mix’d tongues from many a land of men call’d to their aid” (line 464). There ensues a lot of personification:

  1. Rude Mars had th’ ordering of their spirits; of Greeks, the learned Maid
  2. But Terror follow’d both the hosts, and Flight, and furious Strife
  3. The sister, and the mate, of Mars, that spoil of human life;
  4. And never is her rage at rest, at first she is but small,

—but then Strife grows into a flood such as could inundate Houston:

  1. And as from hills rainwaters headlong fall,
  2. That all ways eat huge ruts, which, met in one bed, fill a vall
  3. With such a confluence of streams, that on the mountain grounds
  4. Far off, in frighted shepherds’ ears, the bustling noise rebounds:
  5. So grew their conflicts…

From the Greek side, Antilochus slays Echepolus with a dart to the forehead. Elphenor tries to drag off the body to despoil it before his colleague can; but then Agenor strikes him with a javelin to his exposed flank:

  1. that made him lose his hold
  2. And life together; which, in hope of that he lost, he sold.
  3. But for his sake the fight grew fierce, the Trojans and their foes
  4. Like wolves on one another rush’d, and man for man it goes.

It seems an odd image. Do wolves go to war with one another? Individual males must, to establish dominance in the pack; I see dogs to this on the beach, who sleep in the shade of the umbrellas until the humans finish their breakfasts and come down to the sea.


Altınova (Golden Plain), Balıkesir (Paleocastron), 2017.08.31

Ajax Telaman slays the unwed heir of Anthemion in a lovely passage about childbirth by a river, then a spear through the right nipple, then a poplar tree again by a river, chopped down by a wheelright for the sake of cutting rims:

  1. His name was Simoisius; for, some few years before,
  2. His mother walking down the hill of Ida, by the shore
  3. Of silver Simois, to see her parents’ flocks, with them
  4. She, feeling suddenly the pains of child-birth, by the stream
  5. Of that bright river brought him forth; and so (of Simois)
  6. They call’d him Simoisius. Sweet was that birth of his
  7. To his kind parents, and his growth did all their care employ;
  8. And yet those rites of piety, that should have been his joy
  9. To pay their honour’d years again in as affectionate sort,
  10. He could not graciously perform, his sweet life was so short,
  11. Cut off with mighty Ajax’ lance; for, as his spirit put on,
  12. He strook him at his breast’s right pap, quite through his shoulder-bone,
  13. And in the dust of earth he fell, that was the fruitful soil
  14. Of his friends’ hopes; but where he sow’d he buried all his toil.
  15. And as a poplar shot aloft, set by a river side,
  16. In moist edge of a mighty fen, his head in curls implied,
  17. But all his body plain and smooth, to which a wheel-wright puts
  18. The sharp edge of his shining axe, and his soft timber cuts
  19. From his in native root, in hope to hew out of his bole
  20. The fell’ffs, or out-parts of a wheel, that compass in the whole,
  21. To serve some goodly chariot; but, being big and sad,
  22. And to be hal’d home through the bogs, the useful hope he had
  23. Sticks there, and there the goodly plant lies with’ring out his grace:
  24. So lay, by Jove-bred Ajax’ hand, Anthemion’s forward race.

No indignation here, just the awesome facts of life. Chapman may embellish Homer here; in the Samuel Butler translation (the one available at the Internet Classics Archive of MIT),

the wheelwright lays his axe to its roots that he may fashion a felloe for the wheel of some goodly chariot, and it lies seasoning by the waterside. In such wise did Ajax fell to earth Simoeisius.

There are a few more killings. Apollo cheers on the Trojans; Pallas, the Greeks. Samuel Butler ends the book in plain prose:

Thus the two corpses lay stretched on earth near to one another, the one captain of the Thracians and the other of the Epeans; and many another fell round them.

And now no man would have made light of the fighting if he could have gone about among it scatheless and unwounded, with Minerva leading him by the hand, and protecting him from the storm of spears and arrows. For many Trojans and Achaeans on that day lay stretched side by side face downwards upon the earth.

Chapman embellishes Homer again, but perhaps with justice, referring to the influence of Mars as one of wandering stars:

  1. The Thracian and Epeian dukes, laid close with closéd eyes
  2. By either other, drown’d in dust; and round about the plain,
  3. All hid with slaughter’d carcasses, yet still did hotly reign
  4. The martial planet; whose effects had any eye beheld,
  5. Free and unwounded (and were led by Pallas through the field,
  6. To keep off jav’lins, and suggest the least fault could be found)
  7. He could not reprehend the fight, so many strew’d the ground.

And so with his fourteeners Chapman speaks out loud and bold.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By NL XXIII: The Family As a Society « Polytropy on September 15, 2017 at 7:38 am

    […] should consider also the man who is not a paterfamilias (23. 33). In writing of Book 4 of the Iliad (in the second of the current spate of articles written at the beach), I had reason to […]

  2. By On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book IX « Polytropy on September 23, 2017 at 7:49 am

    […] recalls how Agamemnon belittled him in Book IV, to goad him to fight. Diomedes forbore to object then; now he will give Agamemnon the same […]

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