On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book X

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

In Book X of the Iliad, Diomedes and Ulysses go to spy on the Trojan camp at night. When they return to the Greek camp,

  1. Then entred they the meere maine sea, to cleanse their honord sweate
  2. From off their feet, their thighes and neckes…

I can enter the same sea now. After more than ten months, I return to my reading of Homer, and Chapman’s Homer, as I have returned to the place where I was doing it last year, on the Aegean coast opposite Lesbos, after the sweat-soaked struggle of—teaching in the Nesin Mathematics Village, south of here, in the hills above Ephesus.

I spent a grueling two weeks outside the village of Şirince, lecturing twice as many hours a week as I do at home, in courses that I was creating as I went along, concerning some matters that I had never taught before. The photos here are from a three-hour solo hike in the first week. I repeated the hike in the second week with Ayşe and the eight students who opted to come; it was more fun, but took an hour longer.

A military man once chastened me for thinking anything in my peaceful life let me understand what had happened on the plain of Troy, as ignorant armies clashed by night. What I claim is not to understand what happened at Troy, but to enjoy reading about it, if only as a child may enjoy a violent fairy tale.

I can also use the retort found in an old Taoist book, which I am also reading on the beach:

Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu were walking beside the weir on the River Hao, when Chuang Tzu said, ‘Do you see how the fish are coming to the surface and swimming around as they please? That’s what fish really enjoy.’

‘You’re not a fish,’ replied Hui Tzu, ‘so how can you say you know what fish enjoy?’

Chuang Tzu said: ‘You are not me, so how can you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?’

Hui Tzu said: ‘I am not you, so I definitely don’t know what it is that you know. However, you are most definitely not a fish and that proves you don’t know what fish really enjoy.’

Chuang Tzu said: ‘Ah, but let’s return to the original question you raised, if you don’t mind. You asked me how I could know what it is that fish really enjoy. Therefore, you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. And I know it by being here on the edge of the River Hao.’

This is from Chuang Tzu, The Tao of Nature (Penguin, 2010). He hints at an important epistemological point, that our original form of knowledge is knowledge of one another. The “one another” may include animals, or for that matter deities. The point then is suggested also by Collingwood, in his earliest published work, the 1916 essay called “The Devil”:

God, as present to the religious mind, is not a hypothesis at all; He is not a far-fetched explanation of phenomena. He is about our path and about our bed; we do not search the world for traces of His passing by, or render His existence more probable by scientific inductions.

Our knowledge of others will be imperfect. If today we have evolved a concept of animal rights, does this reflect progress in moral knowledge, or only an attempt to return to the sensitivity that we once possessed, when we lived on more intimate terms with nature?

If I can return to my mission of talking about Book X of the Iliad, I shall talk about what Ulysses and Diomedes did after Agamemnon sent them out for reconnaissance.

The Trojans have the upper hand. They are camping outside Troy, near the Greeks. Agamemnon cannot sleep for worry. He calls a council where Nestor presides, offering to whoever will go spy on the Trojans,

  1. A blacke Ewe and her sucking Lambe, (rewards that now exceed
  2. All other best possessions, in all mens choice requests)
  3. And still be bidden by our kings, to kind and royall feasts.

Diomedes offers to go, and he takes along Ulysses, after Agamemnon warns him,

  1. Chuse thy associate worthily; a man the most approu’d
  2. For vse and strength in these extremes. Many thou seest stand forth:
  3. But chuse not thou by height of place, but by regard of worth,
  4. Lest with thy nice respect of right, to any mans degree,
  5. Thou wrongst thy venture, chusing one, least fit to ioyne with thee,
  6. Although perhaps a greater king: this spake he with suspect,
  7. That Diomed (for honors sake) his brother would select.

I assume “his brother” is Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus. Ability before family. The invading Greek king differs from the man currently ruling this part of the world.

When he catches Thracian guards sleeping, Diomedes kills them. Ulysses tries to protect the horses of their ruler, by not letting the animals see the dead bodies:

  1. As when a hungrie Lion flies, with purpose to deuoure
  2. On flocks vnkept, and on their liues, doth freely vse his power:
  3. So Tydeus sonne assaild the foe; twelue soules before him flew;
  4. Vlysses waited on his sword; and euer as he slew,
  5. He drew them by their strengthlesse heeles, out of the horses sight;
  6. That when he was to leade them forth, they should not with affright
  7. Bogle, nor snore, in treading on, the bloudie carkases;
  8. For being new come, they were vnusde, to such sterne sights as these.

The Thracians and their horses have been betrayed by the man whom Diomedes and Ulysses met when setting forth. With a remarkable precision, or at least a precision to be understood by a peasant who works with animals, Homer describes how the Greeks let the Trojan agent come,

  1. Suspecting nothing; but once past, as farre as Mules outdraw
  2. Oxen at plough; being both put on, neither admitted law,
  3. To plow a deepe soild furrow forth; so farre was Dolon past.

I actually do not understand what “law” is here, or whether some standard furrow length is intended, as I should think it ought to be, if the reference is to be of any use. Diomedes catches the man, Dolon,

  1. As when a brace of greyhounds are, laid in, with Hare or Hind.

Ulysses questions him, and Diomedes kills him, as vigilantes do a boy in John Sayles’s movie Matewan, after they catch him stealing coal for striking miners. However, Dolon has been compliant. He has offered truthful information about the Trojan camp. Of the foreign auxiliaries, he has said that the Thracians are camped furthest from the others, and their King Rhesus has excellent horses, “More white than snow.” The boy in Matewan seems compliant too; he gives the names of ten agitators. However, though he has lost sphincter control—his captors say he needs a diaper change—he does not lose his loyalty. The men whom he seems to betray are already in the graveyard, dead from a mining accident.

Dolon has agreed to spy for the Trojans, on condition he be awarded with the divine horses of Achilles. They are what Dolon first pursues when setting out on his mission. The Greeks actually return home with prize horses, of which Nestor says,

  1. Neuer the like to any sence, that euer I possest;
  2. But some good God, no doubt, hath met, and your high valours blest.

The response is modest and pious, attributing all goods to the gods, or to other humans:

  1. Vlysses answerd, Honord Sire, the willing Gods can giue
  2. Horse much more worth, then these men yeeld, since in more power they liue:
  3. These horse are of the Thracian breed; their king Tydides slue,
  4. And twelue of his most trusted guard: and of that meaner crew
  5. A skowt for thirteenth man we kild, whom Hector sent to spie
  6. The whole estate of our designes, if bent to fight or flie.

As we have seen, it was Diomedes, son of Tydeus, who killed Rhesus and the twelve guards; and as for the thirteenth man, the first man killed, Ulysses questioned him; but after hearing Dolon’s offer of ransom, and his pleas for mercy, it was Diomedes who said,

  1. But if I take thy life, no way, can we repent thy harmes.
  2. With this, as Dolon reacht his hand, to vse a suppliants part,
  3. And stroke the beard of Diomed; he strooke his necke athwart,
  4. With his forc’t sword; and both the nerues, he did in sunder wound;
  5. And suddenly his head, deceiu’d, fell speaking on the ground.

I hope never to see any head fall to the ground. Ulysses says to Nestor that “we killed” Dolon. Ulysses may be stealing not credit, but blame.

4 Trackbacks

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    […] « On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book X […]

  2. […] all knowledge is acquired by this method. I refer now to the suggestion, in my discussion of Book X of the Iliad, that the original form of knowledge is interpersonal knowledge, and this is not […]

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    […] One also needs imagination. Must it be based on battlefield experience, or on having any kind of ability that others take for granted? Perhaps not, by the account of Chuang Tzu; but I have already talked about that in my original post on the next book, Book X. […]

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    […] watching, lest the Achaeans sail away in the night. Achilles is staying in his own camp. As we open Book X of the Iliad, Agamemnon cannot sleep. He worries, not just about the Trojans, but about whether his […]

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