On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XIX

Book XIX of the Iliad consists mostly of speeches.

Myself on the beach with dogs, pines behind

Thetis

Do not grieve so, Achilles. It was a god who killed your friend, and the will of god is law. However, a god has also provided this new armor.

Achilles

That’s jolly good armor. I’ll use it, but I’m worried about the flies on this corpse.

Thetis will watch over Patroclus’s body. She embalms it with nectar and ambrosia. Meanwhile, Achilles calls a general council.

Achilles

Hector, it’s too bad we fought over a woman. Would that Diana had gored her with a javelin. Fire consumes all of its fuel, but men should curb their rage. Let’s go fight the Trojans.

Agamemnon

Greeks, be quiet and listen; not everybody can speak at such a meeting. I’m talking to Achilles mainly, but you all should hear.

Achilles, people blame me for taking your woman; but really, it was the gods that did it: Jove, and Erinys, and especially Até, through whom all things are done. Look what she did to Jove, by allowing Juno to trick him into making his son Hercules subject to his great grandson Eurystheus.

Jove grieved for what Hercules suffered, as I grieve for what the Greeks have suffered. Now I offer you the gifts that I did before, through Ulysses.

Achilles

Give the gifts or keep them; it’s all the same to me. This is a council of war.

Ulysses

We gotta eat! Let the men be fed; let Atrides give his gifts; let him swear not to have touched the woman; and let yourself accept it.

Agamemnon

I couldn’t have said it better myself. After all that, Talthybius shall sacrifice a boar to Jove and Apollo.

Achilles

Feed your men if you want, but I still say we should fight now, eat later.

Ulysses

Look, man, I’m smarter than you. Don’t ask the Greeks to mourn with their bellies.

Ulysses selects noble youths to transfer the gifts.

Agamemnon

I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

Achilles

Father Jupiter, Agamemnon did not take that woman from me; you did. Now let everybody follow Ulysses’s advice and eat.

Briseis

Patroclus, I mourn your death, because when Achilles killed my husband and three of my brothers, you promised to have him make it up by marrying me.

Achilles

Look, folks, I’m not gonna eat. When we were doing well against the Trojans, you would give me good breakfasts; but now I could not be worse off if I heard of the death of my father or of my son Neoptolemus on the island of Scyros.

Jove

Minerva, go fill up Achilles with nectar and ambrosia.

The Greeks march out like a blast of sleet from the north. Achilles’s new armor gives him wings. Automedon and Alcimus put the horses in harness.

Achilles

You horses, Xanthus and Balius, don’t leave me in the field the way you did Patroclus.

Juno gives voice to Xanthus.

Xanthus

We won’t; but you’re gonna die anyway.

Achilles

Don’t remind me.

Still on the beach; sea behind

To blame the gods for a dispute may be convenient. It may even be a way of accepting responsibility for previous egotism, as discussed in the context of Book IX.

Nonetheless, it continues to be a problem today that men blame their wrongdoing on women. “Honor” killings are excused this way. Among the meditations of “The Istanbul Seaside,” I noted the absurdity of suggesting, as some men did, that a woman could in any way cause herself to be raped.

Achilles suggests that the killing of a woman might have solved his problems; and the killing would have been by impalement, a metaphor for rape, though it would have been performed by a female god. Here is the relevant part of his speech (lines 487–53).

Atrides, had not this
Conferd most profite to vs both? when both our enmities
Consum’d vs so? and for a wench? whom, when I chusde for prise,
(In laying Lyrnessus ruin’d walls, amongst our victories)
I would to heauen (as first she set, her daintie foote abord)
Dianas hand had tumbl’d off, and with a iauelin gor’d.

Looking up impalement as a method of torturing to death, I do find perhaps a worse, described by Plutarch as performed by the Persians, though Plutarch’s source, Ctesias of Cnidus, is considered unreliable. Somebody’s twisted mind imagined this torture, at least. It is called scaphism, and I refrain from describing it. (I see also that Ctesias’s Indica may be an ultimate source for the Dufflepuds of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader of C. S. Lewis.)

I really don’t know whether the Achilles of Book XIX is an improvement on the Achilles of Book IX, who had good reason for not fighting. Now, perhaps, since he wants to fight, he finds reason for that. This may be good, if “Be who you are” is good advice, and who Achilles is is a warrior. At any rate, he continues his speech, introducing fire as something not to be like, even as he burns to be on the battlefield (lines 54–68).

For then, th’vn measurable earth, had not so thick bene gnawne,
(In deaths conulsions) by our friends; since my affects were drawne
To such distemper. To our foe, and to our foes chiefe friend
Our iarre brought profite: but the Greeks, will neuer giue an end
To thought of what it preiudic’t them. Past things yet, past our aide;
Fit griefe, for what wrath rulde in them; must make th’amends repaid
With that necessitie of loue; that now forbids our ire;
Which I with free affects obey. Tis for the senslesse fire
Still to be burning, hauing stuffe; but men, must curbe rage still,
Being fram’d with voluntarie powres, as well to checke the will,
As giue it raines. Giue you then charge, that for our instant fight,
The Greeks may follow me to field; to trie if still the Night
Will beare out Troians at our ships. I hope there is some one,
Amongst their chiefe encouragers, will thanke me to be gone;
And bring his heart downe to his knees, in that submission.

In wanting the Trojans to submit, Achilles does not even explain this as revenge for the death of Patroclus.

One Trackback

  1. By On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XXIV « Polytropy on September 26, 2019 at 8:26 am

    […] Book XIX, Achilles would not eat before avenging Patroclus’s […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: