On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XX

The Wikipedia article “Superhero” traces the word itself to “at least 1917,” giving “such folkloric heroes as Robin Hood” as “Antecedents of the archetype.” I don’t know why Achilles should not be considered as an antecedent. According to the opening description,

A superhero is a type of heroic stock character, usually possessing supernatural or superhuman powers, who is dedicated to fighting the evil of their universe, protecting the public, and usually battling super-villains.

Achilles has superhuman powers; he has supernatural powers, when aided by the gods; and now in Book XX of the Iliad, as far as the Greeks are concerned, he is fighting the evil of their universe. However, the Trojans are not evil in Homer’s universe. Here there is no Manichaean principle of evil, and much less is Achilles personally devoted to fighting it.

Nonetheless, Book XX would seem to be a battle of the superheroes.

Spreading pine branches

The scene from where I read as the sun went down

Jove has Themis call a court. All floods come but Oceanus, and all nymphs. Neptune wants to know the point. The point is to give the gods one last chance to back their men, as Jove himself would the Trojans, since otherwise it’s all over for them (lines 17–30):

Thou know’st this counsell by the rest, of those forepurposes,
That still inclin’d me; my cares still, must succour the distresse
Of Troy; though in the mouth of Fate; yet vow I, not to stirre
One step from off this top of heauen; but all th’affaire referre
To any one. Here Ile hold state, and freely take the ioy
Of eithers fate: helpe whom ye please; for tis assur’d, that Troy,
Not one dayes conflict can sustaine, against Æacides,
If heauen oppose not. His meere lookes, threw darts enow, t’impresse
Their powres with trembling; but when blowes, sent from his fiery hand,
(Thrice heat by slaughter of his friend) shall come and countermand
Their former glories: we haue feare, that though Fate keepe their wall,
Hee’l ouerturne it. Then descend; and ceasse not till ye all
Adde all your aides; mixe earth and heauen, together with the fight
Achilles vrgeth …

Juno, Pallas, Mercury, and Mulciber line up for the Greeks; for the Trojans, Mars, Diana, Phoebus, Aphrodite, mother of Apollo (namely Latona), and Xanthus (the river).

Till the gods come, the Greeks are prevailing under Achilles; then Jove sends down thunderclaps, his brother raises earthquakes, and (lines 63–6) their brother, “th’infernall king,”

cried out, lest ouer him
Neptune should rend in two the earth; and so his house so dim,
So lothsome, filthy, and abhord, of all the gods beside,
Should open, both to gods and men …

There is quick description of the gods’ fighting; and then, in the guise of Priam’s son Lycaon, Apollo suggests to Aeneas that he must have been in his cups when he planned to fight Achilles. Aeneas admits to fear, recalling of Achilles how “his still breath’d furie chac’t // Our oxen from th’Idaean hill, and set on me” (lines 90–1). “Meere man then must not fight with him” (line 97); however, with a god’s aid, Aeneas would definitely go against Achilles.

Apollo (as Lycaon) reminds Aeneas that he has a divine mother, “the Queene, that reignes in Salamine” (line 104); Achilles’s mother is a deity of lower rank.

Aeneas is emboldened, and Juno is worried, lest Achilles think he is fated to fall now. Neptune takes Aeneas’s side, telling Juno, “at no time let your Care Exceed your Reason … Sit we by … And leaue the warres of men, to men” (lines 129–33)—unless Mars or Phoebus interferes.

Aeacides and Venus’s son stare one another down.

Remember that time on the Idaean hill? asks Achilles.

Words don’t scare me, says Aeneas. I could talk that way to you, but we are both too well born. Moreover, Jove begat Dardanus, who begat Erichthoneus, who begat Tros, who begat Ilus, Assaracus and Ganymed; Ilus begat Laomedon, who begat Tithon, Priam, Clytius, Hicetaon, and Lampus; Assaracus begat Capys, who begat Anchises; Anchises begat me; Priam, Hector. So he and I are of very good family. However, only Jove gives virtue; so why are we talking? Our steel will prove our worth.

So says Aeneas, who then launches a dart, which passes through two of the five plates of Achilles’s shield. Achilles is foolish enough to be unnerved, not understanding that arms made by a god will need yield so soon.

Achilles’s spear does pass through Aeneas’s shield, fixing it in the ground. Aeneas throws a two-man rock, but Achilles still comes on and would kill Aeneas, did Neptune not interfere.

I’m sorry for Aeneas, says Neptune. Why did Phoebus goad him to fight, without backing him up? Aeneas did nothing wrong to the Greeks, and he has often given us offerings.

Neptune suggests withdrawing from combat. If Achilles kills Aeneas, then Jove will be angry, and it will contradict fate, which says Virgil is going to be able to write the Aeneid.

Obviously Homer does not have Neptune say that exactly, but Jove hates Priam’s race, while loving Dardanus’s, and they will have to “propagate the names // Of Troians; and their sonnes sonnes rule, to all posteritie” (lines 270–1).

Juno says she and Pallas will not relent from destroying Troy. Neptune casts a mist about Achilles’s eyes, spirits away Aeneas, and tells him to avoid Achilles, since no other Greek is a threat.

Achilles recovers his sight, finds his lance at his feet, figures the gods love Aeneas, and tells each Greek to pick his man, since he (Achilles) cannot do everything himself.

Hector tells the Trojans not to fear Achilles, who is only a man.

Phoebus tells Hector again to stay away from Achilles.

Achilles kills some other guys, then encounters Hector (lines 375–80),

… the man that most,
Of all the world destroyes my minde: the man by whom I lost
My deare Patroclus; now not long, the crooked paths of warre,
Can yeeld vs any priuie scapes: Come, keepe not off so farre,
(He cryed to Hector) make the paine, of thy sure death as short,
As one, so desperate of his life, hath reason …

Hector is scared, but has the presence of mind to retort (lines 382–7),

Leaue threates for children; I haue powre, to thunder calumnies,
As well as others; and well know, thy strength superiour farre,
To that my nerues hold; but the gods, (not nerues) determine warre.
And yet (for nerues) there will be found, a strength of powre in mine,
To driue a lance home to thy life; my lance, as well as thine
Hath point, and sharpenesse, and tis this …

Hector throws, but the breath of Pallas blows that lance back to Hector’s feet. Achilles rushes him, but Apollo spirits him away again. Achilles detects the interference, vows to get Hector some day, but meanwhile turns to killing other Trojans again, as we learn in graphic descriptions. One victim, Alastor’s son Troas, first begs for mercy, but finds none:

He gladly would haue made a prayre, and still so hugg’d his knee,
He could not quit him: till at last, his sword was faine to free
His fetterd knees: that made a vent, for his white liuers blood,
That causd such pittifull affects: of which, it pour’d a flood
About his bosome; which it fild, euen till it drownd his eyes;
And all sense faild him. Forth then flew, this Prince of tragedies,
Who next, stoopt Mulius, euen to death, with his insatiate speare:
One eare it enterd, and made good, his passe to th’other eare.

The white liver could be the lung in Chapman’s English, as it is in Turkish; however, on line I see only that “white liver” is used in Appalachia (and perhaps elsewhere) for a strong sex-drive, particularly in women.

Yard through trees from above

Achilles’s horse trample all under foot, as oxen do the corn harvest in a barn.

One Trackback

  1. By On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XXI « Polytropy on September 23, 2019 at 10:11 am

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

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