On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XI

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

After the active night of Book X comes the dawn of a thrilling day.

  1. AVrora, out of restfull bed, did from bright Tython rise,
  2. To bring each deathlesse essence light, and vse, to mortall eyes.

The deathless essence called Jove sends Discord to the Greeks. She lights on the ship of Ulysses, in the middle of the fleet, so all can hear as she belts out her “Orthian song.”

  1. And presently was bitter warre, more sweet a thousand times
  2. Then any choice in hollow keeles, to greet their natiu climes.

The sweetness of war is the theme of the book. There is fighting, killing, injuring, taunting, and boasting. Hidden behind “a hill of earth,” Paris shoots at Diomedes:

  1. …and his keene shaft
  2. (That neuer flew from him in vaine) did naile vnto the ground
  3. The kings right foot: the spleenfull knight, laught sweetly at the wound,
  4. Crept from his couert, and triumpht: Now art thou maimd, said he.

Diomedes jests at the wound, at the wounder, and at the wounder’s equipment, while praising his own to the skies:

  1. …as little suffer I
  2. In this same tall exploit of thine, perform’d when thou wert hid:
  3. As if a woman or a child, that knew not what it did,
  4. Had toucht my foote: a cowards steele, hath neuer any edge:
  5. But mine (t’assure it sharpe) still layes, dead carkasses in pledge;
  6. Touch it: it renders liuelesse straight: it strikes the fingers ends
  7. Of haplesse widowes in their cheeks; and children blind of friends:
  8. The subiect of it makes earth red; and aire with sighes inflames:
  9. And leaues lims more embrac’t with birds, then with enamour’d Dames.

Ulysses pulls out the arrow and sends Diomedes away in a chariot. Left alone, he now must ponder which is worse: the dishonor of flight, or the danger of surprise. He is inclined to the latter, but the Trojans surprise him anyway, and we are given one of the book’s lovely similes:

  1. In this contention with himselfe, in flew the shadie bands
  2. Of targateres, who sieg’d him round, with mischiefe-filled hands.
  3. As when a crew of gallants watch, the wild muse of a Bore;
  4. Their dogs put after in full crie, he rusheth on before:
  5. Whets, with his lather-making iawes, his crooked tuskes for blood:
  6. And (holding firme his vsuall haunts) breakes through the deepned wood.

Casualties of Ulysses include Deiops, Thoon, Ennomus, Chersidamas, and finally Charops, brother of Socus. The last manages to wound Ulysses, telling him,

  1. This houre, or thou shalt boast to kill, the two Hypasides,
  2. And prize their armes, or fall thy selfe, in my resolu’d accesse.

Ulysses strikes back with lance and with speech. The battlefield is no place for the modesty he showed in the Greek camp, the previous night:

  1. O Socus, you that make by birth, the two Hypasides:
  2. Now may your house and you perceiue, death can outflie the flier:
  3. Ah wretch, thou canst not scape my vowes: old Hypasus thy sire,
  4. Nor thy well honord mothers hands; in both which lies thy worth,
  5. Shall close thy wretched eyes in death; but Vultures dig them forth,
  6. And hide them with their darksome wings: but when Vlysses dies,
  7. Diuinest Greeks shall tombe my corse, with all their obsequies.

Ulysses knows when to speak how. Now he shouts for help. Menelaus hears and mounts a rescue, and Homer makes the scene into poetry:

  1. He led, and Aiax seconded: they found their Ioue-lou’d king
  2. Circled with foes. As when a den, of bloodie Lucerns cling
  3. About a goodly palmed Hart, hurt with a hunters bow,
  4. Whose scape, his nimble feet inforce, whilst his warme blood doth flow,
  5. And his light knees haue power to moue: but (maistred of his wound,
  6. Embost within a shadie hill) the Lucerns charge him round,
  7. And teare his flesh; when instantly, fortune sends in the powres
  8. Of some sterne Lion, with whose sight, they flie, and he deuours:
  9. So charg’d the Ilians Ithacus, many and mightie men:
  10. But then made Menelaus in, and horrid Aiax then.

It is all a matter of course.

Achilles notices Nestor’s taking another injured man from the field, and he sends Patroclus to find out who it is. Nestor tells a long story about how he became a warrior. Here is one old man who cannot get enough of war. He was honored as a fighter when young. Now Achilles ought to fight.

Early in the book, similes come in quick succession:

  • Hector runs around like a star that sometimes passes behind cloud;
  • the two armies fight evenly, like teams of reapers made to complete by their lord, so that they will do the job more swiftly;
  • they do the job with the avidity of fighting wolves;
  • at the time of day when a lumberjack feels a powerful hunger, the Greeks take the advantage.

Agamemnon is at the lead. His armament has already been described in detail. On his shield are twenty bosses surrounding a gorgon; on the baldric, a dragon. Homer describes more decorations later. Thus in Nestor’s tent is an enslaved woman called Hecamede, Nestor’s share when Achilles sacked Tenedos; she prepares for the wounded man, Machaon, a potion in

  1. A right faire cup, with gold studs driuen; which Nestor did transfer
  2. From Pylos; on whose swelling sides, foure handles fixed were;
  3. And vpon euerie handle sate, a paire of doues of gold;
  4. Some billing, and some pecking meate. Two gilt feet did vphold
  5. The antique body: and withall, so weightie was the cup,
  6. That being proposd brim full of wine, one scarse could lift it vp:
  7. Yet Nestor drunke in it with ease, spite of his yeares respect.

In this blog, as in speech, I may give all details and connections that occur to me, in case they may be of interest; they may only be too many. By telling us how the handles of Nestor’s cup were decorated, what does Homer contribute to the story? Nestor boasts to Patroclus how, in a feud with some obnoxious neighbors in Pylos,

  1. My Sire yet, would not let me arme, but hid away my horse,
  2. Esteeming me no souldier yet: yet shin’d I nothing lesse
  3. Amongst our Gallants, though on foote; Mineruas mightinesse
  4. Led me to fight, and made me beare, a souldiers worthie name.

He tells us of his first kill:

  1. …For as soone, as Phoebus fierie Carre
  2. Cast nights foule darknes from his wheeles (inuoking reuerend Ioue,
  3. And the vnconquerd maide—his birth) we did th’euent approue,
  4. And gaue them battell: first of all, I slue (the armie saw)
  5. The mightie souldier Mulius, Augeus sonne in law;
  6. And spoyld him of his one-hou’d horse:…

What does it contribute to tell us of the victim’s offspring? We learn,

  1. …his eldest daughter was
  2. Bright Agamede, that for skill, in simples did surpasse:
  3. And knew as many kind of drugs, as earths brode center bred:
  4. Him charg’d I with my brasse arm’d lance, the dust receiu’d him dead.

Jerry Seinfeld suggests an ancient equivalent to clicking through television channels: lining up rhapsodes and listening to them for five seconds each. As I have mentioned, Seinfeld (or his persona) cannot conceive of reading a book more than once. He may not have read the Iliad even once. This book is already the ancient equivalent of clicking through channels. Reading The Waste Land has been likened to listening to a radio while constantly turning the dial. Homer does this turning too. It can be a way to avoid the simple horror of what is being described.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] civil war instead, as the Aegean polity is, when Jove sends Eris to sing her song, at the head of Book XI of the […]

  2. By Soap (Iliad Book XI) « Polytropy on February 8, 2023 at 7:44 am

    […] I never thought about whether the idea was original to Patroclus. When I wrote about Book XI in 2018, I did not point out Nestor’s introduction of the idea […]

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