On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book VII

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

On the recommendation of his brother Helenus, Hector invites any one of the Greeks to single combat—as his brother Paris did, though this is not recollected. The proposed combat will not resolve the war, but may remove from one side, by death, its best man. No Greek takes the challenge until Menelaus offers to. Agamemnon stops him, since he is not good enough. Nestor chides the Greeks, recalling how he once took the challenge of fighting Ereuthalion and won. Nine Greeks now come forward. A lot being picked from Agamemnon’s helmet, Ajax Telemon recognizes it as his own. His combat with Hector ends not with death, but with night and exchange of gifts. In Troy, Paris rejects a suggestion that he return Helen to Menelaus, but he is willing to return her property, and more. This offer is rejected, but not an offer of a truce for burial of the dead. The Greeks build a wall around their burial site and themselves, offending Neptune by not making due sacrifices first. Jove says Neptune may raze the wall when the Greeks go back home. Meanwhile the Greeks enjoy wine purchased from a merchant fleet of Lemnos.

That is my concise prose summary of Book 7 of the Iliad, read in the translation of George Chapman. Chapman himself provides, even more concisely, two summaries or “arguments” for each book: one argument is a poem of five or more heroic couplets; the other, a couplet in iambic tetrameter.

Why summarize at all? It is an attempt to see at once a work that unfolds over time, like music. I say this as somebody who enjoys concerts, but cannot then remember what he has heard. Besides the reckless consumption of fossil fuel, a regret I have about the world today is the prevalence of recorded music. The popular music that I listened to when young is now an endless source of earworms—currently Cat Stevens’s Lady D’Arbanville, because it was part of a mix that some neighbors were listening to yesterday, here at our seaside resort. They and I had a shared interest in the Istanbul Biennial, though we did not discuss the title of this year’s event, opening soon, A Good Neighbor.

An earworm is a distraction. It is not necessarily annoying, but I wonder what kind of earworms one has if one has not grown up able to fill every silent hour with the sound of a radio. I have a head full of simple tunes, but do not know how to remember a longer serious work of several movements. How do I then remember Homer?

When I started visiting Washington art museums on my own as an adolescent, I would want to take home something tangible, perhaps a print or a book from the shop. Later, the memory of the visit was enough to take home.

Now I have read the Iliad a number of times, in at least three translations, along with some of the original. I want to take away something tangible or at least visible from my reading: these blog articles. At the Aegean beach where I am now, I have read at a pace of four books a day, so as to finish in six days; but this is too fast for details. To write an article for each book is at least a way to notice some things.

At the end of Book 6, Hector and Paris were getting ready to rejoin the battle. At the beginning of Book 7, they come out of Troy like a wind that allows exhausted oarsmen to rest. Paris kills Menestheus; Hector, Eioneus; Glaucus, Iphinous. Seeing Greeks fall, Pallas comes down from Olympus to Troy. Apollo follows her and suggests that today, no more should die. Pallas is willing, but asks how this is to be accomplished. Apollo suggests giving Hector the idea of single combat.

By augury, Helenus sees the design of Apollo and Pallas. He proposes the combat to Hector, telling him he is not fated to die in it. Hector advances between the hosts with his spear. The Trojans are immediately silent; Agamemnon silences the Greeks. Pallas and Apollo look on like vultures from “Ioues Beech” (line 47)—supposedly a Valonia oak, though the Greek φηγός would seem to correspond to the Latin fagus, used for the genus of beeches.

Meanwhile, the troops take some time to settle down, but first are like black waves excited “By rising Zephyre” (line 50). Hector makes his speech. The war will not end until one side is destroyed; but meanwhile, let there be a single combat (lines 53–60).

Heare Troians, and ye well arm’d Greeks, what my strong mind (diffusde
Through all my spirits) commands me speake; Saturnius hath not vsde
His promist fauour for our truce, but (studying both our ils)
Will neuer ceasse till Mars, by you, his rauenous stomacke fils,
With ruin’d Troy; or we consume, your mightie Sea-borne fleet.
Since then, the Generall Peeres of Greece, in reach of one voice meete;
Amongst you all, whose breast includes, the most impulsiue mind,
Let him stand forth as combattant, by all the rest designde.

The body of the loser will be stripped of its arms, but returned to its people. If Hector is victor, the Greeks will erect a monument to the loser, “where Hellespontus fals Into Egaeum,” and thus, like the rose in that Cat Stevens song, the fame of Hector will never die.

Menelaus condemns the Greeks for falling silent. He will fight, though they think he will lose; for victory is the gods’ to give. Then steps up his more practically minded brother (lines 92–3),

Who tooke him by the bold right hand, and sternly pluckt him backe:
Mad brother, tis no worke for thee, thou seekst thy wilfull wracke.

Not forgetting his feud, he says even Achilles is reluctant to face Hector.

Achilles’s father Peleus was impressed by the list of names, supplied by Nestor, of the warriors sailing to Troy; now he will weep. Nestor recalls at some length the single combat (mentioned in the initial summary above) with Ereuthalion, who wore the arms of Areithous, who fought not with spear or bow (lines 122–5),

But with a massie club of iron, he brake through armed bands:
And yet Lycurgus was his death, but not with force of hands;
With sleight (encountring in a lane, where his club wanted sway)
He thrust him through his spacious waste, who fell, and vpwards lay.

So Lycurgus tricked Areithous and got his arms, which, when he was old, he gave to his soldier Ereuthalion; but Nestor slew him. If Nestor still had his powers of youth (lines 140–2),

Soone should bold Hector be impugn’d: yet you that most are crownd
With fortitude, of all our hoast; euen you, me thinkes are slow,
Not free, and set on fire with lust, t’encounter such a foe.


On December 12, 2020, I add this note on how, in the three lines above, Chapman

  • joins lust with freedom, which we might then understand as license;

  • adjusts Homer’s lines to do so, shrinking one line by half, so that another can become half again as much.

Freedom and license are in antithesis. Chapman may get Homer’s meaning better than a literal translator such as Murray, whose prose is thus (broken into verses corresponding to Homer’s):

then should Hector of the flashing helm soon find one to face him.
Whereas ye that are chieftains of the whole host of the Achaeans,
even ye are not minded with a ready heart to meet Hector face to face.

“Minded with a ready heart”! It sounds funny, but the references to heart and mind have technical justification.

  • Murray’s adverbial phrase “With a ready heart” comes from προφρονέως, which might be rendered more literally as, “with heart in front”: heart taking the lead, heart making free.

    The heart, φρήν, is not necessarily the blood-pumping muscular organ. It seems to be something in the trunk, but it could be a lung. I talk more about the possibilities in “On Translation” (which post I was able to find by searching my site for φρήν in Greek letters; the post on Book I of the Odyssey also came up).

    In his Greek etymological dictionary, Beekes finds it plausible that φρήν is connected to φράζομαι “to think, consider.” This word is the origin of our “phrase.”

  • Murray’s verb “to be minded” corresponds to the Greek verb used in the perfect form μέμονα (though Cunliffe defines it under the unattested present form *μάω). The Indo-European root is *men- “think,” which is the origin of our “mind.” Beekes derives from the root

    • μιμνήσκω “to remind (oneself), remember, heed, care for, make mention”;

    • αὐτόματος “spontaneous, automatic, of one’s own accord.”

    Evidently from the latter we obtain “automatic.” There is a curious progression in the meaning of this adjective: from what is deliberate to what is precisely not deliberate. The word then represents another antithesis, or an instance of what Heraclitus is referring to in the fragment,

    Ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή,

    The road up and the road down is one and the same.

    Whether the road is up or down depends on whether we are going up or down. If something else is going up or down, on its own, we can see it in two ways, corresponding to the two senses of “automatic”:

    1. It moves itself the way we move ourselves.

    2. It moves independently of us or anybody like us.

    The two senses are illustrated in what we have seen in the Iliad far:

    1. In Book II, when Agamemnon calls a council of war, but does not call his brother to it, Homer tells us in lines 408–9:

      αὐτόματος δέ οἱ ἦλθε βοὴν ἀγαθὸς Μενέλαος:
      ᾔδεε γὰρ κατὰ θυμὸν ἀδελφεὸν ὡς ἐπονεῖτο.

      As Chapman has it, in his lines 355–8,

      but at-a-martiall-crie,
      Good Menelaus, since he saw, his brother busily
      Employd at that time, would not stand, on inuitation,
      But of himselfe came.

      Chapman has a note in his “Commentarivs” on this passage,

      about which, a passing great peece of worke is pickt out by our greatest Philosophers, touching the vnbidden coming of Menelaus to supper or Counsell, which some commend; others condemne in him: but the reason why he staid not the inuitement, rendered immediatly by Homer, none of thē will vnderstand …

      If I understand Chapman, what the greatest philosophers do not understand is that Homer’s explanation for why Menelaus comes uninvited is ironical. I have figured Menelaus was sensitive enough to save his brother the trouble of summoning him; but perhaps he also knows he can get away with being where his big brother doesn’t really want him.

      Plutarch recognizes Homer’s irony (says Chapman), in Question II, “Whether the entertainer should seat the guests …,” of Book I of the Questiones Convivales (which Chapman calls Symposium):

      Menelaus is accounted absurd and passed into a proverb, for pretending to advise when unasked; and sure he would be more ridiculous that instead of an entertainer should set up for a judge, when nobody requests him or submits to his determination which is the best and which the worst man in the company; for the guests do not come to contend about precedency, but to feast and be merry.

    2. In Book V, when Juno and Athena are ready to fly down from Olympus to aid the Greeks, Homer tells us in line 749:

      αὐτόμαται δὲ πύλαι μύκον οὐρανοῦ ἃς ἔχον Ὧραι.

      Chapman renders this as, “the ample gates of heauen / Rung, and flew open of themselues; the charge whereof is giuen / … to the distinguisht Howres” (lines 756–8).

We return to Book VII, where Homer’s lines 158–60 read in full:

τώ κε τάχ᾽ ἀντήσειε μάχης κορυθαίολος Ἕκτωρ.
ὑμέων δ᾽ οἵ περ ἔασιν ἀριστῆες Παναχαιῶν
οὐδ᾽ οἳ προφρονέως μέμαθ᾽ Ἕκτορος ἀντίον ἐλθεῖν.

With the latter two lines, I think one can be even more literal than Murray, thus:

Of you, those who even are best of all [you] Greeks,
Not—those who are with heart in the lead—are you minded to go opposite Hector.

This does not read so well, but aims to use “those who” to correspond to the nominative plural pronoun οἵ, which occurs on either line and is third person, not second like the genitive plural pronoun ὑμέων and the verb that, isolated, would be μέματε. Actually the ὑμέων doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense unless joined with the Παναχαιῶν at the end of its line. But then I would still connect προφρονέως—even though it is an adverb—with the οἵ that precedes it; otherwise, why is οἵ there? So I get the meaning,

Even those who are best of all you Greeks, those who have heart in front: you are not minded to face Hector.

However, like Murray, the professional line-by-line translators construe προφρονέως μέματε as a unit:

  • Lattimore:

    But you, now, who are the bravest of all the Achaians,
    are not minded with a good will to go against Hektor.

  • Caroline Alexander:

    But you men who are best of all Achaeans,
    not even you with good heart seek to go against Hector.

These translations seem automatic in the sense of mechanical. There is something mechanical about composing in meter in the first place. The poet follows an algorithm that picks words according to the lengths or stresses of their syllables.

The words come with meanings as well as sounds, and the meanings are supposed to fit the context. Chapman would seem to take the meanings especially seriously here. But let us now continue beyond the passage.


After Nestor’s rebuke, Nine Greeks warriors come forward:

  • Agamemnon,
  • Diomedes,
  • both Ajaces,
  • Idomeneus and his “consort” Meriones,
  • Eurypylus,
  • Thoas,
  • Ulysses.

Nestor proposes drawing lots. Each man marks his own. The soldiers pray Jove that Ajax Telamon, or Diomedes, or Agamemnon will win. Nobody recognizes the lot that is drawn until finally it reaches Ajax. This suggests that these warriors are illiterate; on the other hand, what is there to write with on the battlefield?

Ajax is pleased to be chosen. He suits up like Mars. Hector is nervous, but knows he must stand firm; after all, he asked for this. Ajax tells him he will soon see there are great Greek fighters besides Achilles. Don’t treat me like a girl, says Hector: I know what I am doing and am going to fight fair.

Each throws a spear, but it sticks in the shield. To retrieve their spears, they come at each other like lions (lines 226–7),

Whose bloudie violence is increast, by that raw food they eate:
Or Bores, whose strength, wilde nourishment, doth make so wondrous great.

Ajax wounds Hector in the neck. Hector hits Ajax with a stone; Ajax, Hector, with a larger stone, but Phoebus holds him up.

The men would have at one another with swords, did a herald from either side not stop the fighting. Idaeus from the Trojan side says, in effect, it is time to go to bed. Tell Hector, says Ajax: he started it. Hector agrees to stop, saying he and Ajax must exchange gifts and be friends. Hector gives Ajax a sword; Ajax, Hector, “A fair well-glossed purple waste.”

On the morrow, says Nestor, we should burn all of the dead bodies that have piled up; make one tomb; and surround it with a wall that will protect us. In Troy, Antenor proposes to return Helen, with her wealth; otherwise, “No good euent can I expect, of all the warres we vse” (line 298). Paris refuses to give back the woman, but only her wealth. Priam accepts his son’s offer, or demand; on the morrow, Idaeus should make Paris’s offer to the Greeks, as well as suggesting a cease-fire, “till fire consume our souldiers slaine.”.

In the morning, Idaeus shares with Agamemnon the Trojan offer, even as he condemns Paris (lines 324–30):

Atrides! my renowned king, and other kings his aid,
Propose by me, in their commands, the offers Paris makes,
(From whose ioy all our woes proceed) he Princely vndertakes
That all the wealth he brought from Greece (would he had died before)
He will (with other added wealth) for your amends restore:
But famous Menelaus wife, he still meanes to enioy,
Though he be vrg’d the contrarie, by all the Peeres of Troy.

Diomedes says the offer should be refused. All agree. Agamemnon turns it down, but accepts the cease-fire. Idaeus tells the Trojans, and everybody gets to work (lines 350–9):

All, whirlewind like, assembled then: some, bodies to transport,
Some to hew trees: On th’other part, the Argiues did exhort
Their souldiers to the same affaires: then did the new fir’d Sunne
Smite the brode fields, ascending heauen, aud th’Ocean smooth did runne:
When Greece and Troy mixt in such peace, you scarce could either know:
Then washt they off their blood and dust, and did warme teares bestow
Vpon the slaughterd, and in Carres, conueid them from the field:
Priam commanded none should mourne, but in still silence yeeld
Their honord carkasses to fire, and onely grieue in heart.
All burnd: to Troy, Troyes friends retire: to fleet, the Grecian part.

The Greeks now build their wall, and Neptune is not pleased. Will anybody seek our consent again, he asks Jove, if the Greeks are allowed to build without first making sacrifices? The Greek wall will be remembered, and the walls built by Neptune and Apollo for Laomedon of Troy be forgotten (these were the walls beseiged by Hercules, as recalled by Sarpedon in Book V).

The Greek wall will be to the glory of Neptune, says Jove, since Neptune will be able to devour it after the Greeks go home (lines 386–7):

That what their fierie industries, haue so diuinely wrought,
In raising it: in razing it, thy powre will proue it nought.

Their work done, the Greeks slay their oxen and revive themselves with food (lines 391–6);

When out of Lemnos a great fleete, of odorous wine arriu’d,
Sent by Euneus, Iasons sonne, borne of Hypsiphile.
The fleete containd a thousand tunne: which must transported be
To Atreus sons, as he gaue charge; whose merchandize it was.
The Greeks bought wine for shining steele, and some for sounding brasse;
Some for Oxe hides; for Oxen some, and some for prisoners.

So with metals, hides, animals, and slaves, the Greeks buy wine, conveniently offered; but none dare drink before pouring out a libation to Jove. Nonetheless (lines 399–400):

And all the night Ioue thunderd lowd: pale feare all thoughts dismaide.
While they were gluttonous in earth, Ioue wrought their banes in heauen.

In short, it was a dark and stormy night.

6 Trackbacks

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