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 (lines 92–4):

When straight, one to another turn’d, and said; Now thundring Ioue
(Great Arbiter of peace, and armes) will either stablish loue
Amongst our nations: or renue, such warre, as neuer was.

Pallas takes on the appearance of one Laodocus, of the race of Antenor (lines 98–103),

And sought for Lycian Pandarus; a man, that being bred
Out of a faithlesse familie, she thought, was fit to shed
The blood of any innocent, and breake the couenant sworne.
He was Lycaons sonne, whom Ioue, into a Wolfe did turne
For sacrificing of a child; and yet in armes renownd,
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 (lines 5–9):

The mirth, at whose feast, was begun, by great Saturnides,
In vrging a begun dislike, amongst the Goddesses.
But chiefly, in his solemne Queene, whose splene he was disposd
To tempt yet further; knowing well, what anger it inclosd.
And how wiues angers should be vsd. On which, (thus pleasd) he playd.

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 (lines 28–30):

… [Pallas’s] wrath yet fought beneath
Her supreme wisedome, and was curb’d: but Iuno needs must ease
Her great heart, with her readie 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 (lines 399–425):

He came to the Mycenian Court, without armes, and did sue,
At Godlike Polinices hands, to haue some worthie aid,
To their designes, that gainst the wals, of sacred Thebes were laid.
He was great Polinices guest, and nobly entertaind:
And of the kind Mycenian state, what he requested gaind,
In meere consent: but when they should, the same in act approue,
(By some sinister prodigies, held out to them by Ioue,)
They were discourag’d; thence he went, and safely had his passe
Backe to Aesopus flood, renowm’d, for Bulrushes and grasse;
Yet, once more, their Ambassadour, the Grecian Peeres addresse,
Lord Tydeus to Eteocles: to whom being giuen accesse,
He found him feasting with a crew, of Cadmians in his hall;
Amongst whom, though an enemie, and onely one to all;
To all yet, he his challenge made, at euerie Martiall feate;
And easly foild all, since with him, Minerua was so great.
The ranke-rode Cadmians (much incenst, with their so foule disgrace)
Lodg’d ambuscados for their foe, in some well chosen place,
By which he was to make returne. Twise fiue and twentie men,
And two of them, great captaines too, the ambush did containe.
The names of those two men of rule, were Mæon, Hæmons sonne,
And Lycophontes, Keepe-field cald, the heire of Autophon,
By all men honord like the Gods: yet these and all their friends,
Were sent to hell by Tydeus hand, and had vntimely ends.
He trusting to the aid of Gods, reueald by Augurie;
Obeying which, one Chiefe he sau’d, and did his life apply,
To be the heauie messenger, of all the others deaths;
And that sad message (with his life) to Maeon 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 the 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 (line 169):

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 (lines 184–5):

For though Olympius be not quicke, in making good our ill,
He will be sure, as he is slow; and sharplier proue his will.

Indeed, the will of Jove is indistinguishable from that of Agamemnon (lines 188–91):

For both in mind, and soule, I know, that there shall come a day,
When Ilion, Priam, all his powre, shall quite be worne away;
When heauen-inhabiting Ioue shall shake, his fierie shield at all,
For this one mischiefe. This I know, the world cannot recall.

And yet Menelaus is going to die, and “Then let the broade earth swallow me, and take me quicke to death” (line 203).

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 (lines 232–3):

Then medicines wondrously composd, the skilfull Leech applyed,
Which louing Chyron taught his Sire; he from his Sire had tryed.

Now Agamemnon goes to rouse the troops, assuring them that God is on their side: “For they might be assur’d that Ioue, would patronise no lies” (line 250).

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

As for the Ajaces, the two warriors named Ajax, Agamemnon need tell them nothing (lines 300–5):

… I disclaime, all my command of you,
Your selues command with such free minds, and make your souldiers shew,
As you, nor I led, but themselues. O would our father Ioue,
Minerua, and the God of light, would all our bodies moue
With such braue spirits as breathe in you: then Priams loftie towne
Should soone be taken by our hands, for euer ouerthrowne.

Nestor knows how to marshall his troops, so that none can avoid fighting (lines 317–8):

The slouthfull, and the least of spirit, he in the midst inclosd;
That such as wanted noble wils, 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 (lines 340–9).

The old knight answer’d: I my selfe, could wish (O Atreus sonne)
I were as young, as when I slue, braue Ereuthalion;
But Gods, at all times, giue not all, their gifts to mortall men.
If then I had the strength of youth, I mist the Counsels then,
That yeares now giue me; and now yeares, want that maine strength of youth;
Yet still my mind retaines her strength, (as you now said the sooth)
And would be, where that strength is vsd, affoording counsels sage,
To stirre youths minds vp; tis the grace, and office of our age;
Let yonger sinewes, Men sprong vp, whole ages after me,
And such as haue strength, vse 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 (lines 362–5):

First you can heare, when I inuite, the Princes to a feast,
When first, most friendly, and at will, ye eate and drinke the best;
Yet in the fight, most willingly, ten troopes ye can behold
Take place before ye. Ithacus, at this his browes 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 (lines 430–4):

Atrides! when thou know’st the truth, speake what thy knowledge is,
And do not lie so; for I know, and I will bragge in this;
That we are farre more able men, then both our fathers were;
We tooke the seuen-fold ported Thebes, when yet we had not there
So great helpe as our fathers had …

Diomedes tells Sthenelus to calm down, since Agamemnon “did, but what his place behou’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 on the other side (lines 460–2),

The Troians (like a sort of Ewes, pend in a rich mans fold,
Close at his dore, till all be milkt; and neuer baaing hold,
Hearing the bleating of their lambs) did all their wide host fill.

The Trojan side moreover baa in the “mixt tongs from many a land; of men, cald to their aid” (line 464). There ensues a lot of personification (lines 465–8):

Rude Mars, had th’ordring of their spirits: of Greeks, the learned Maid.
But Terror follow’d both the hosts, and flight; and furious Strife,
The sister, and the mate of Mars, that spoile of humane life;
And neuer is her rage at rest; at first she is but small

—but then Strife grows into a flood such as could inundate Houston (lines 478–82):

And as from hils, raine waters, headlong fall,
That all waies, eate huge Ruts, which, met, in one bed, fill a vall
With such a confluence of streames; that on the mountaine grounds
Farre off, in frighted shepheards eares, the bustling noise rebounds:
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 (lines 498–501):

that made him lose his hold,
And life together; which in hope, of that he lost, he sold.
But for his sake the fight grew fierce; the Troians and their foe,
Like wolues, on one another rusht; 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 do 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 (lines 506–29):

His name was Symoisius; For, some few yeares before,
His mother walking downe the hill, of Ida, by the shore
Of Syluer Symois, to see, her parents flocks; with them,
She (feeling sodainely the paines, of child-birth) by the streame
Of that bright riuer brought him forth; and so (of Symois)
They cald him Symoisius. Sweet was that birth of his
To his kind parents; and his growth, did all their care employ;
And yet those rites of pietie, that should haue bene his ioy,
To pay their honourd yeares againe, in as affectionate sort,
He could not graciously performe, his sweet life was so short:
Cut off with mightie Aiax lance. For, as his spirit put on,
He strooke him at his breasts right pappe, quite through his shoulder bone;
And in the dust of earth he fell, that was the fruitfull soyle
Of his friends hopes; but where he sow’d, he buried all his toyle.
And as a Poplar shot aloft, set by a riuer side,
In moist edge of a mightie fenne, his head in curls implide;
But all his bodie plaine and smooth: to which a Wheel-wright puts
The sharpe edge of his shining axe, and his soft timber cuts
From his innatiue roote; in hope, to hew out of his bole
The Fell’ffs, or out-parts of a wheele, that compasse in the whole;
To serue some goodly chariot; but (being bigge and sad,
And to be hal’d home through the bogs) the vsefull hope he had
Sticks there; and there the goodly plant, lies withring out his grace:
So lay, by Ioue-bred Aiax hand, Anthemions forward race.

No indignation, just the awesome facts of life. Chapman may embellish Homer; 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 the wandering stars (lines 575–81):

The Thracian, and Epeian Dukes, laid close with closed eyes,
By either other, drownd in dust; and round about the plaine
All hid with slaughterd carkasses; yet still did hotely raigne
The martiall planet; whose effects, had any eye beheld,
Free, and vnwounded (and were led, by Pallas through the field
To keepe of Iauelins, and suggest, the least fault could be found)
He could not reprehend the fight, so many strew’d the ground.

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

4 Trackbacks

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