On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XIII

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

Usually when your defenses are breached, you are lost. Thus when the Ottoman Turks under Mehmet I found a way through the Theodosian Walls on Tuesday morning, May 29, 1453, the city of Constantinople was theirs.

Path to a gate in a crenellated stone wall; people gathered around the plaque next to the gate
The gate where the invasion of Constantinople is supposed to have been made

Now the Trojans under Hector have breached the wall around the Greek ships, and—the ships are not theirs. How does Homer explain this?

The literary term is deus ex machina. It does not really fit, even though Homer literally appeals to the gods. Jove departs the scene, because he wants to go visit some folks in Thrace, and he figures no other god dare interfere; but his brother Neptune does interfere, on behalf of the Greeks. He does this, however, in the guise of Calchas. No supernatural interpretation need be given to anything that happens.

We were told at the head of Book XII how Neptune, leading other gods, would cause the Greek defenses to be washed into the sea. In Book VII, Neptune had been offended by the impiety of the construction of the wall. However, he does not now hold a grudge.

As Homer tells us through Chapman at the beginning of Book XIII, echoing perhaps the visit of the gods to “the blamelesse Æthiops” in Book I (lines 1–6),

IOue helping Hector, and his host; thus close to th’ Achiue fleet,
He let thē then their own strēgths try; & season there their sweet
With ceaslesse toils, and grieuances. For now he turnd his face,
Lookt down, & viewd the far-off land, of welrode mē in Thrace.
Of the renown’d milk-nourisht men, the Hippemolgians,
Long-liu’d; most iust, and innocent. And close-fought Mysians.

Jove lets the Greeks and Trojans try their own strengths; more precisely, he leaves them to their fate, which, as he said in Book VIII, is that Hector shall prevail until Patroclus is killed, and Achilles is brought back onto the scene.

Neptune then delays that fate. Jove tolerates this, as we shall later learn explicitly (lines 324–32):

Ioue honouring Aeacides, (to let the Greeks still trie
Their want without him) would bestow, (yet still) the victorie
On Hector, and the Troian powre; yet for Aeacides,
And honor of his mother Queene, great Goddesse of the seas,
He would not let proude Ilion see, the Grecians quite destroid:
And therefore, from the hoarie deepe, he sufferd so imploid
Great Neptune in the Grecian aid; who grieu’d for them, and storm’d
Extremely at his brother Ioue. Yet both, one Goddesse form’d,
And one soile bred: but Iupiter, precedence tooke in birth.

Watching the battle from Samothrace, Neptune does storm. He visits his undersea palace, suits up in “golden weeds,” and drives his chariot to the Argive ships through a sea that (lines 29–30)

For ioy did open; and his horse, so swift, and lightly flew:
The vnder-axeltree of Brasse, no drop of water drew.

That brazen axle-tree thus has not the problem sung by Eliot in the second movement of “Burnt Norton,” the first of the Four Quartets:

Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.

There are many boars and boarhounds in the similes of Homer, but everything moves to an Olympian pattern.

We must be a pattern for one another. In the Greek camp, Neptune takes the guise of Calchas the Augur, who in Book I explained the plague on the Greeks. Now he tells the Ajaces (lines 53–7),

… Be you conceited so,
And fire so, more then humane spirits; that God may seeme to do
In your deeds: and with such thoughts chear’d, others to such exhort,
And such resistance: these great minds, will in as great a sort,
Strengthen your bodies, and force checke, to all great Hectors charge.

Editor Nicoll glosses “be conceited” as “hold belief, think.” The polarity of subject and object in a verb can reverse. If you find of a car that you can handle it well, then the car handles well; “methinks” means it thinks, or seems, to me. The Ajaces are to be conceived, or to conceive themselves, as gods.

The conception will make them so. Thinking they are gods will make the men as gods. To make the point poetically, Homer says Neptune (lines 59–61)

… toucht, with his forckt scepters point
The brests of both; fild both their spirits, and made vp euery ioynt
With powre responsiue …

Ajax Oileus feels it first, and tells Ajax Telamonius that they have just been visited by “some God” in “the hew / Of th’ Augure Calchas.”

The same god visits “The Greeks that were behind at fleet.” They are offended by Agamemnon on Achilles’s behalf, but Calchas recommends forgiveness. Of the Trojans, he says (lines 99–106),

Yet now, farre from their walles they dare, fight at our fleet maintaine;
All by our Generals cowardise, that doth infect his men;
Who (still at ods with him) for that, will needs themselues neglect;
And suffer Slaughter in their ships. Suppose there was defect
(Beyond all question) in our king, to wrong Aeacides;
And he, for his particular wreake, from all assistance cease:
We must not ceasse t’assist our selues. Forgiue our Generall then;
And quickly too: apt to forgiue, are all good minded men.

Energy is wasted in internal discord (lines 107–112):

Yet you (quite voide of their good minds) giue good, in you quite lost,
For ill in others: though ye be, the worthiest of your host.
As old as I am, I would scorne, to fight with one that flies,
Or leaues the fight, as you do now. The Generall slothfull lies,
And you (though sloughtfull to) maintaine, with him, a fight of splene.
Out, out, I hate ye from my heart; ye rotten minded men.

The scolding works. Hector comes at the Greeks like a boulder loosed from a mountaintop by winter rains: the stone comes tumbling down to the plain, and then—it is stopped, as Hector is by the Greeks.

I write here in this blog, about the books of the Iliad, to take note of things worth noting. I suggested this while commenting on or summarizing Book VII. In writing on Book VIII, I noted the fantasy of the main and only character of Huysmans’s A rebours, to condense a novel into the beef essence of literature, namely the prose poem. A problem with this approach to a book is suggested in a tweet by a friend from our recent Black Sea trip:

Tolstoy Savaş ve Barış’ı boşuna 544.406 sözcükle yazmadı. Ne eksik ne fazla öyle gerekliydi. İçinden bir iki cümleyi almak (Tanıtım amacı dışında) ne o karakterin ne de yazarın düşüncesini özetleyebilir. Her fikrin sağı, solu önü, arkası vardır. Hele altına Tolstoy yazmak korkunç

— Özlem Akıncı (@ozlemegeakinci) August 26, 2018

I interpret freely: “Not for nothing did Tolstoy write War and Peace with 544,406 words. Neither more nor fewer were needed. Every idea has a right and left, a front and back. You cannot summarize, you can only introduce, the thoughts of a character or the writer by taking one or two sentences from inside. It is offensive to write Tolstoy’s name under them.”

I spent the calendar year of 2017 reading War and Peace at a chapter a day with Brian E. Denton and others. Call it a way to stop and smell the roses, but everybody already knows that roses should be smelled. Reading slowly may dispel preconceptions, bringing out details that are easily overlooked.

We saw in Book XII that Hector listened to Polydamas when he agreed with him; otherwise he threatened him. Towards the end of Book XIII, Polydamas is circumspect, though not cringing. He (lines 646–54):

Thus spoke to Hector. Hector still, impossible tis to passe
Good counsell vpon you: but say, some God prefers thy deeds:
In counsels wouldst thou passe vs too? In all things none exceeds.
To some, God giues the powre of warre; to some the sleight to dance;
To some, the art of instruments; some doth for voice aduance:
And that far-seeing God grants some, the wisedome of the minde,
Which no man can keepe to himselfe: that (though but few can finde)
Doth profite many, that preserues, the publique weale and state:
And that, who hath, he best can prise …

No man can keep to himself the wisdom of his mind! The wisdom of Polydamas is that the Trojan advance into the Greek camp has been halted by the belief that victory has already fallen to Troy. It has not, and it may not, since Achilles may now be tempted to fight. Hector is advised to call a council. He does.

The troubles of the Trojans have been caused by archers: first Paris, for taking Helen in the first place; and now the Locrians. Brought to the battle by Ajax Oileus, they will not fight in front (lines 635–40),

Because they wore no bright steele caskes, nor bristl’d plumes for show,
Round shields, nor darts of solid Ash; but with the trustie bow,
And iackes, well quilted with soft wooll, they came to Troy, and were
(In their fit place) as confident, as those that fought so neare;
And reacht their foes so thicke with shafts, that these were they that brake
The Troian orders first …

When Hector goes to call “the Troyan Peres and Chiefes” to council, he fails to find a number of them, because they have been killed or wounded. He does find his brother Paris, whom, though actually fighting (lines 684–92),

But thus in wonted terms he chid: You, with the finest forme,
Impostor, womans man: Where are (in your care markt) all these?
Deiphobus, king Hellenus, Asius Hyrtacides?
Othryoneus, Adamas? now haughtie Ilion
Shakes to his lowest groundworke: now, iust ruine fals vpon
Thy head, past rescue. He replyed; Hector, why chid’st thou now
When I am guiltlesse? other times, there are for ease I know,
Then these; for she that brought thee forth, not vtterly left me
Without some portion of thy spirit, to make me brother thee.

It is a fine speech by Paris, and it continues. Paris will fight his best, and even the best can do no better. This may seem true, I would say; but then nobody knows what her best really is.

We have seen in the Book a good test for the best: the laying of an ambush (lines 255–66).

For ambushes are seruices, that trie mens vertues most;
Since there, the fearefull and the firme, will, as they are, appeare:
The fearefull altering still his hue, and rests not any where;
Nor is his spirit capable, of th’ambush constancie,
But riseth, changeth still his place, and croucheth curiously
On his bent hanches; halfe his height, scarce seene aboue the ground,
For feare to be seene, yet must see: his heart with many a bound,
Offring to leape out of his breast, and (euer fearing death)
The coldnesse of it makes him gnash, and halfe shakes out his teeth.
Where men of valour, neither feare, nor euer change their lookes,
From lodging th’ambush till it rise: but since there must be strokes,
Wish to be quickly in their midst …

Speaking is Idomeneus of Crete. He has done so because, first of all, stopped like a stone in the mud as above, Hector has nonetheless encouraged the other Trojans, and Deiphobus has heard him best (lines 147–8):

With this, all strengths and minds he mou’d; but yong Deiphobus,
(Old Priams sonne) amongst them all, was chiefly vertuous.

Meriones charges him, but loses his dart, because it only sticks in Deiphobus’s shield. Meriones goes to his tent for another dart. Meanwhile Teucer kills Imbrius, who falls (lines 168–9),

As when, an Ash on some hils top, (it selfe topt wondrous well)
The steele hewes downe, and he presents, his young leaues to the soyle.

Though “he dwelt at Pedasus” (line 160; but the current Greek text has Πήδαιον, Pedaeum, which is unidentified), Imbrius was fighting for Troy, because he had married (line 162)

Medesicasté, one that sprung, of Priams bastard bed.

In taking the body, Teucer avoids the lance of Hector, but it kills Amphimachus instead. Incensed at this, Ajax Oileus cuts the head from the body of Imbrius and throws it at Hector’s feet. Amphimachus was a “nephew” (that is, grandson) of Neptune, who now, in the guise of Thoas, appears to Idomeneus, to join forces (216–20):

… Come then, take armes, and let our kind assay
Ioyne both our forces: though but two, yet being both combinde,
The worke of many single hands, we may performe; we finde
That Vertue coaugmented thriues, in men of little minde:
But we, haue singly, matcht the great …

We seem not to hear from Thoas again; but Idomeneus takes two darts from his tent and runs to battle, “Much like a fierie Meteor.” He encounters his friend Meriones and wonders why he has left the battle. We already know why:

“I just need a dart.”

“One dart? Take twenty-one from me. I have all kinds of fighting gear, since I love to fight.”

“I love to fight too. I fight whenever there’s a fight, even if not everybody knows.”

I know, and your virtue would be shown in an ambush,” says Idomeneus, giving the speech quoted above; “but let’s not stand around boasting, let’s go fight.”

Idomeneus kills Othryoneus, who has asked for Cassandra’s hand, in return for driving the Greeks from Troy. Idomeneus tells the dead body (lines 353–5),

Othryoneus, I will praise, beyond all mortall men,
Thy liuing vertues; if thou wilt, now perfect the braue vow
Thou mad’st to Priam, for the wife, he promisd to bestow.

The late Othryoneus may marry from the House of Atreus, if only he will raze Troy. Asius tries to avenge his death, but is himself killed (lines 369–70),

And downe he busl’d, like an Oake, a Poplar, or a Pine,
Hewne downe for shipwood, and so lay …

Antilochus (son of Nestor) now kills the charioteer of Asius. Deiphobus aims for Antilochus, but kills Hypsenor (as Hector, aiming for Teucer, killed Amphimachus).

Boasting to be son of Deucalion, son of Minos, son of Jove, Idomeneus challenges Deiphobus, who now has to make up his mind (lines 426–9):

Deiphobus at two wayes stood, in doubt to call some one
(With some retreat) to be his aide, or trie the chance alone.
At last, the first seem’d best to him; and backe he went to call,
Anchises sonne to friend; who stood, in troope the last of all.

Aeneas is bitter about being kept at the back. Idomeneus also calls his friends. Meriones wounds Deiphobus. Antilochus kills Adamas, son of Asius, after a struggle: he flies with the lance “betwixt the privie parts / And navill,” but ultimately succumbs. Menelaus throws a lance at Helenus, just as the latter shoots an arrow at the former; the arrow glances off the cuirass of Atrides, but his lance pierces the hand of Helenus, whose wound is treated as he is taken from the field.

This accounts for the men whom Hector misses. There is plenty more violence; it’s in the Book!

Archer’s-eye view from city wall to the trees of a cemetery
The cemetery outside the Theodosian walls

Edited February 19, 2023.
Chapman has Antimachus being a son of Actor;
but for Homer he is son of Cteatus,
who is son of Actor—but apparently Poseidon is an alternative father

One Trackback

  1. By NL XXX: War As the Breakdown of Policy « Polytropy on September 6, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    […] Chapman. I have also noted the fallacy that you can distil a poem (including a novel) down to an essence, which itself can be written […]

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