On Homer’s Iliad Book I

In Book I of the Iliad, Achilles restrains an impulse to run a sword through Agamemnon.

That may be the greatest act in the whole epic. I say so, having recently completed a reading of Njal’s Saga, which features a lot of impulsive killing. Now I am embarking on the Iliad again, a book at a time. Here I take up Book I, some comparisons with the saga, and some connections with Plato, Augustine, and Collingwood.

I wrote here about Homer’s epic, book by book, between April, 2017, and September, 2019. I was reading Chapman’s Elizabethan translation. In my account of Book I from then, there are details that do not otherwise stand out to me now, when

  • I am reading mainly Murray’s translation in the Loeb Classical Library, and
  • comparisons with Njal’s Saga are in mind.

Bench on concrete wharf, looking out across a bay to the hills beyond; coast guard vessel in view
Sarıyer, Istanbul (European side)
Loeb Iliad, volume I
November 25, 2022

Sections of this post:

First Summary of Book I of the Iliad

Instead of killing Agamemnon on the spot for an insult, Achilles plans to teach him he cannot beat the Trojans without his greatest warrior.

Second Summary of Book I of the Iliad

This is still terser than the one from 2017.

  • The theme of the epic will be the anger of Achilles.
  • We shall start with the strife between him and Agamemnon.
  • The Achaeans have been suffering a plague.
  • This is because Agamemnon has dishonored Chryses, a priest of Apollo.
  • Chryses came to ransom his daughter, but Agamemnon rejected the offer.
  • Chryses prayed Apollo to make the Danaans pay, and he is doing this.
  • On the tenth day, Achilles calls a council, to figure out why Apollo is angry.
  • Calchas will tell why, if Achilles will protect him.
  • Chryseis needs to be returned.
  • Agamemnon will allow this, but wants another woman.
  • Achilles says he cannot have her.
  • Agamemnon will take Achilles’s woman, Briseis.
  • Achilles puts his hand on his sword, but instead of drawing, will withdraw himself.
  • Nestor tells
    • Agamemnon not to take Briseis,
    • Achilles to respect the king.
  • Agamemnon insists that Achilles should obey him.
  • Achilles says he would be a coward to do that.
  • Agamemnon sends
    • Chryseis off in a ship with Odysseus in command;
    • two men to take Briseis.
  • Achilles gives up the woman.
  • He goes to the seaside and cries for his mother.
  • Thetis comes from the sea.
  • She will talk with Zeus when he is back from the Ethiopians’.
  • Odysseus arrives in Chryse:
    • Chryseis is returned,
    • Apollo is called off,
    • sacrifice is made.
  • Thetis gets the nod that Zeus will help Achilles by helping the Trojans.
  • Hera is suspicious, but Zeus tells her off.
  • Hephaestus makes peace.
  • The gods laugh at his lameness as he serves them nectar.

We shall come back to much of this.

Summary of This Post

Contents of this post that are not just descriptions of what Homer says include:

  • how Njal’s Saga differs by having more impulsive violence, but less physical labor, and a view of tears as shameful;
  • comments on translation by Lattimore and Murray;
  • a distinction between
    • love as an appetite and
    • anger as a passion,

    while there is a similarity between

    • another kind of love and
    • Achilles’s anger,

    because each is a person’s own responsibility;

  • how the word mênis for Achilles’s anger is otherwise used only with gods;
  • a review of the parts of the soul in Plato’s Republic, one of these being irascible;
  • a likening of Agamemnon to Axl Rose;
  • a verbal analogy—lumê : luma :: gnômê : gnôma—relating polluting and knowing;
  • how the Greek word tekmôr for the nod of Zeus is defective; the Turkish translation işmar, rare.

About This Reading and Njal’s Saga

I am now reading the Iliad with my wife, Ayşe, at her suggestion. I was reading Njal’s Saga in a group organized by the Catherine Project; we met online, two hours a week. For the record, we met on what were Friday mornings here in Turkey: first at 2:30, then at 3:30 when North America went off Daylight Savings Time. Beginning September 16, 2022, we read successively through chapters 12, 36, 51, 70, 88, 106, 123, 136, 146, and 159 (that being the last chapter, ending on page 310 in the Penguin edition); in particular, our last meeting was November 18.

When I started reading the saga, I had to overcome my regrets that it was not the Iliad. The enthusiasm of my fellow readers helped. So did just reading on and getting a feel for the story and its characters. In Chapter 1, Hrut says of his niece Hallgerd, who has been “playing on the floor with some other girls,” here in the translation of Robert Cook (London: Penguin, 2001):

The girl is quite beautiful, and many will pay for that, but what I don’t know is how the eyes of a thief have come into our family.

The first time around, one can only guess how much foreboding should be read into this comment. Without being asked, Hallgerd is married to Thorvald by her father, Hoskuld Dala-Kollsson. In the sequence of events:

  1. Hallgerd criticizes Thorvald for not keeping the house well supplied with flour and dried fish.
  2. He strikes her so hard that she bleeds.
  3. She has him killed.

Willingly Hallgerd marries Gunnar Hamundarson of Hlidarendi, after he returns to Iceland from adventures in and around Norway; but then she gets into a feud with Bergthora, the wife of Gunnar’s best friend Njal. The feud consists of having one another’s servants killed.

A remarkable impulsive slaying comes in Chapter 155, in the dénouement of the saga, after Njal and his family have been burnt alive in their house. Njal’s son-in-law Kari escaped the burning. The setting is now Mainland, Orkney:

To tell now about Kari and David and Kolbein … They walked up to the earl’s residence and came to the hall at drinking time. It happened that Gunnar [Lambason] was telling his story just then, and Kari and his companions listened to him from outside. It was Christmas Day.

King Sigtrygg asked, “How did Skarphedin bear up during the burning?”

“Very well, to begin with,” said Gunnar, “but by the end he was weeping.”

He slanted his whole account and lied about many details. Kari could not stand this; he rushed in with his sword drawn and spoke this verse:

Men bold of battle
boast of the burning of Njal,
but have you heard
how we harried them?
Those givers of gold
had a good return:
ravens feasted
on their raw flesh.

Then he rushed along the hall and struck Gunnar Lambason on the neck; the head came off so fast that it flew onto the table in front of the king and the earls. The tables and the clothing of the earls were all covered in blood.

Earl Sigurd recognized the man who had done the killing and spoke: “Seize Kari and kill him.”

Kari is not in fact seized and killed, and perhaps this is an example of restraint. I just want to note three points of contrast with the Iliad.

  • Though it sometimes quotes poetry, the saga as such is told in prose.
  • To the men of the saga, crying is shameful.
  • Those men belong to an elite class, who (mostly) do no manual labor.

The Achaeans in the Iliad also live on the labor of others, by plundering towns around Troy. In one case though, they visit a town with a peace offering, and Homer describes in detail the labor involved (lines 430–7 of Book I):

… But Odysseus
meanwhile drew near to Chryse conveying the sacred hecatomb.
These when they were inside the many-hollowed harbor
took down and gathered together the sails and stowed them in the black ship,
let down mast by the forestays, and settled it into the mast crutch
easily, and rowed her in with oars to the mooring.
They threw over the anchor stones and made fast the stern cables
and themselves stepped out onto the break of the sea beach.

That is from the 1951 translation of Lattimore. See the next section for the sense in which Lattimore’s translation is verse. Murray’s 1924 prose translation in the Loeb Classical Library is online at Project Perseus, and from there, here is the same passage as above:

Odysseus came to Chryse bringing the holy hecatomb. When they had arrived within the deep harbour, they furled the sail, and stowed it in the black ship, and the mast they lowered by the forestays and brought it to the crutch with speed, and rowed her with oars to the place of anchorage. Then they cast out the mooring-stones and made fast the stern cables, and themselves went forth upon the shore of the sea.

Actually the text at Perseus is a little different from what I have on paper, which reads, in the second sentence, “When they were now got within the deep harbour …”

The sea voyages in Njal’s Saga are accompanied with no such detailed descriptions of the labor involved. Neither is there detail about religious rites, whether pagan or Christian; but Homer continues describing the scene at Chryse thus (now just in Murray’s translation, from Perseus, lines 438–68):

They brought forth the hecatomb for Apollo, who strikes from afar … they made haste to set in array for the god the holy hecatomb around the well-built altar, and then they washed their hands and took up the barley grains … when they had prayed, and had sprinkled the barley grains, they first drew back the victims’ heads, and cut their throats, and flayed them, and cut out the thighs and covered them with a double layer of fat, and laid raw flesh thereon. And the old man burned them on stakes of wood, and made libation over them of gleaming wine; and beside him the young men held in their hands the five-pronged forks. But when the thigh-pieces were wholly burned, and they had tasted the entrails, they cut up the rest and spitted it, and roasted it carefully, and drew all off the spits. Then, when they had ceased from their labour and had made ready the meal, they feasted.

The Achaeans thus make sacrifice in the process of returning a woman to her father. As in the initial summary above, Chryseis was the prize of Agamemnon, who at first refused to return her, even for ransom. However, as a priest of Apollo, Chryses was able to have the Achaeans afflicted with a plague. I note by the way that this is one case where a god actually responds to a prayer; often it does not happen (as I observed with an example in “Sacrifice and Simulation”).

To abate the plague, Agamemnon has now agreed to return Chryseis for no ransom; but he wants a consolation prize, in the form of a woman currently belonging to some other warrior. When Achilles objects, Agamemnon takes his prize, Briseis. This is when Achilles wants to kill Agamemnon. Instead he goes off and cries.

There is some manual labor in Njal’s Saga. In Chapter 53, it appears that the aforementioned Gunnar Hamundarson (who will be killed in Chapter 77) does his own planting.

Gunnar had walked away from his house all alone, with a basket of seed in one hand and his hand-axe in the other. He went to his field to sow grain and put his finely-woven cloak and the axe on the ground and sowed for a while.

To return to Otkel, who was going faster than he wanted to: he had spurs on his feet and came galloping up over the field, and neither he nor Gunnar saw each other. Just as Gunnar stood up straight, Otkel rode at him and his spur struck against Gunnar’s ear and made a big gash, and blood flowed at once.

A rumor is spread that Gunnar cried from the injury. Partly as a result, Gunnar kills Otkel in Chapter 54. It was mentioned in Chapter 36,

Gunnar and Njal together owned some woodland at Raudaskrid. They had not divided it up, and each of them was in the habit of cutting what he needed, without blame from the other.

The woodland will feature in the feud between the wives. The husbands do not cut wood themselves, but servants do it, as presently on the order of Njal’s wife:

Bergthora spoke with Svart and told him to go to Raudaskrid and chop wood—“and I will send men to haul it home.”

He said he would do as she wished. He went up to Raudaskrid and started chopping, and was to stay there for a week.

There is another scene of sowing in Chapter 111:

About that time Hoskuld the Godi of Hvitanes awoke; he put on his clothes and covered himself with his cloak, Flosi’s gift. He took his seed-basket in one hand and his sword in the other and went to his field and started sowing.

Skarphedin and the others had agreed that they would all inflict blows. Skarphedin sprang up from behind the wall. When Hoskuld saw him he wanted to turn away, but Skarphedin ran up to him and spoke: “Don’t bother taking to your heels, Hvitanes-Godi”—; and he struck with his axe and hit him in the head, and Hoskuld fell to his knees.

He spoke this: “May God help me and forgive you.”

They all ran at him and finished him off.

All of Iceland has become Christian by now, but this Hoskuld (not the one who is Hallgerd’s father) seems to be just about the only person who has taken the new religion to heart.

My interest now is the clues to the class structure of medieval Iceland. In Chapter 90, there is a landing with little detail, and an instance of absentee ownership:

That summer Kari and the Njalssons prepared to sail to Iceland, and when they were ready they went to the earl. He gave them good gifts, and they parted in great friendship. Then they put out to sea. They had a short passage, and the winds were good, and they came ashore at Eyrar. There they took horses and rode from the ship to Bergthorshvol, and when they arrived home everybody was happy to see them. They brought their goods home and drew the ship up on land. Kari spent that winter with Njal.

In the spring Kari asked for the hand of Helga, Njal’s daughter, and Grim and Helgi spoke up for him, with the result that she was betrothed to Kari and a wedding date was set and the feast took place two weeks before midsummer, and the couple spent the next winter with Njal. Then Kari bought land at Dyrholmar, over to the east in Myrdal, and set up a farm there. He and Helga put men in charge of it and went on living with Njal.

In Chapter 97, the aforementioned Christian who is destined to be a martyr will effectively live on the wealth of his foster-father:

Njal was home only a short time before he and his sons rode east to Svinafell and brought up the marriage proposal with Flosi, and Flosi said he would keep his word. Hildigunn was then betrothed to Hoskuld and a date for the wedding feast was fixed and the matter was settled. Then they rode home.

They rode to Svinafell again for the wedding. Flosi paid out the agreed dowry for Hildigunn and did so readily. The couple went to Bergthorshvol and lived there for a year, and Hildigunn and Bergthora got along well.

The next summer Njal bought land at Ossabaer and gave it to Hoskuld, and he went and settled there. Njal hired all the servants for him. They were on such warm terms that no one took a decision unless all the others agreed to it.

Njal’s Saga is in some ways closer to us than the Iliad in spirit, in others more remote.

Translators on Translating

Lattimore describes the loose sense in which his translation of the Iliad is verse:

My aim has been to give a rendering of the Iliad which will convey the meaning of the Greek in a speed and rhythm analogous to the speed and rhythm I find in the original. The best meter for my purpose is a free six-beat line. My line can hardly be called English hexameter … The line is to be read with its natural stress, not forced into any system.

Matthew Arnold has stated that the translator of Homer must bear in mind four qualities of his author: that he is

  • rapid,
  • plain and direct in thought and expression,
  • plain and direct in substance, and
  • noble.

… I have tried as hard as I could to reproduce the first three. I do not think nobility is a quality to directly strive for; you must write as well as you can, and then see, or let others see, whether or not the result is noble.

I added the bullets. In “‘It Was Good’,” I took up the looking back at one’s work that Lattimore mentions.

Murray too refers to nobility:

In rendering the Iliad the translator … has endeavoured to give a version that in some measure retains the flowing ease and simple directness of Homer’s style, and that has due regard to the emphasis attaching to the arrangement of words in the original; and to make use of a diction that, while elevated, is, he trusts, not stilted. To attain to the nobility of Homer’s manner may well be beyond the possibilities of modern English prose.

Anger and Love

The theme of the Iliad is announced in the first line, even the first word; and here Murray achieves his aim of following Homer’s word-order:

Μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος.

The wrath do thou sing, O goddess, of Peleus’s son, Achilles.

Fitzgerald (1974) is even more direct:

Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus’ anger …

Anger or wrath may be the theme of Njal’s Saga too; but there seems to be a difference. Indeed, anger may have as many different meanings as love.

The English words “wrath” and “anger” have no clear difference in meaning. If they did have such a difference; or if they could have it, if only people would take care; then Fowler would have have described the difference in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Oxford, 1926). However, in his article on wrath, Fowler proposes merely that

  • “wrath” be used only as a noun, equivalent to “anger”;
  • the corresponding adjective, equivalent to “angry,” be
    • “wroth,” when used predicatively, as in “God was wroth”;
    • “wrathful,” when used attributively, as in “a wrathful God.”

Compare Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which I looked at in “The Hands of an Angry Deity” and elsewhere.

In his account of the development of reason in the individual, in the first part of The New Leviathan, Collingwood treats

The distinction is this:

  • An appetite is not a feeling, but is a comparison between feelings that we respectively have and could have.
  • A passion is something we do, or “fly into,” when confronted.

In an ongoing Catherine Project seminar on the Confessions of Augustine, the question was raised of what it meant to love God. A supplementary question was whether love was a feeling. I recalled the assertion of an Episcopal priest at a wedding, that love was an act of will. The priest cited C. S. Lewis, as does Peter Kreeft in an essay called “Love” that somebody else in the seminar recommended. Kreeft focuses on what in Greek is called ἀγάπη and is translated in the King James Bible

  • sometimes (e.g. Romans 13:10) as love,
  • sometimes (e.g. I Corinthians 13) as charity.

According to Kreeft,

The first and most usual misunderstanding of agape is to confuse it with a feeling. Our feelings are precious, but agape is more precious. Feelings come to us, passively; agape comes from us, actively, by our free choice. We are not responsible for our feelings—we can’t help how we feel—but we are responsible for our agape or lack of it, eternally responsible, for agape comes from us; feelings come from wind, weather, and digestion.

It sounds perfectly sensible. We are responsible for our agapê. I would now suggest that Achilles is responsible for his mênis.

The Greek noun μῆνις, which is feminine, has no known etymology. Cunliffe gives us all of the occurrences of the word in the Iliad, and in each case the wrath or ire is the responsibility of a god—unless it is the responsibility of Achilles, uniquely among the mortals. Cunliffe distinguishes between the wrath itself and what it might do to you, and here are the corresponding instances of the word (you can see the entry for μῆνις in Cunliffe and several other dictionaries at ΛΟΓΕΙΟΝ; I have looked up Cunliffe’s Iliad references, to see whom they are about):

  • I.1 (Achilles) and 75 (Apollo); V.178 (τις θεός “some god”); IX.517 (Achilles, who ought to continue to be angry if Agamemnon “were furiously wroth” χαλεπαίνω); XV.122 (between the gods; also χόλος); XIX.35 (Achilles), 75 (Thetis tells Achilles to renounce his wrath, and then the Achaeans are glad that he has); XXI.523 (the gods);
  • V.34 (Zeus); V.444 = XVI.711 (Apollo); XIII.624 (Zeus).

The Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary (2002) has a short English-Greek section, which has no entry for “wrath,” and for “anger” only ἡ ὀργή -ῆς, which also means more generally disposition, impulse, mood. Plato uses the word in Book VI of the Republic (493a–d) when likening the sophist to what Bloom renders as

a man who learns by heart the angers and desires (τὰς ὀργὰς … καὶ ἐιθυμίας) of a great, strong beast … does this man seem any different from the man who believes it is wisdom to have figured out the anger and pleasures (ὀργὴν καὶ ἡδονάς)—whether in painting, music, or, particularly, in politics—of the multifarious many who assemble?

Anger is not one of the concepts that Bloom has seen fit to include in his Index of Subjects. Shorey may have done better to translate as follows:

It is as if a man were acquiring the knowledge of the humors and desires of a great strong beast … Do you suppose that there is any difference between such a one and the man who thinks [493d] that it is wisdom to have learned to know the moods and the pleasures of the motley multitude in their assembly, whether about painting or music or, for that matter, politics?

Homer does not use the noun ὀργή, which is cognate with “work.” He does use the verb ὀρέγω, which means reaching out; but this is unrelated to ὀργή and is cognate with “rule.”

Homer uses θυμός, which can mean anger or its supposed seat in the body. He does not use the derived verb θυμόω for making somebody angry. Plato has Socrates use the verb, in middle-passive form; Bloom translates this as “to be spirited.” This is in the analysis of the soul into three parts or aspects in Book IV (439d–e):

“So we won’t be irrational,” I said, “if we claim they are two and different from each other, naming the part of the soul with which it calculates, the calculating, and the part with which it loves, hungers, thirsts and is agitated by the other desires, the irrational and desiring, companion of certain replenishments and pleasures.”

“No, we won’t,” he said. “It would be fitting for us to believe that.”

“Therefore,” I said, “let these two forms in the soul be distinguished. Now, is the part that contains spirit and with which we are spirited a third, or would it have the same nature as one of these others?”

In that passage, it is Shorey who brings in the connotation of anger:

“Not unreasonably,” said I, “shall we claim that they are two and different from one another, naming that in the soul whereby it reckons and reasons the rational and that with which it loves, hungers, thirsts, and feels the flutter and titillation of other desires, the irrational and appetitive—companion of various repletions and pleasures.”

“It would not be unreasonable but quite natural,” he said, “for us to think this.”

“These two forms, then, let us assume to have been marked off as actually existing in the soul. But now the Thumos or principle of high spirit, that with which we feel anger, is it a third, or would it be identical in nature with one of these?”

I think we have experience of getting angry, but I am not sure about getting “spirited.” In any case, it continues to be a puzzle for me why Plato does not have Socrates make more use of the Iliad for the analysis of the soul.

Third Summary of Book I of the Iliad

Let us review Book I of the epic again, noting some interesting details.

In lines 6 and 7, we are told that Achilles and Agamemnon strive together; the verb is ἐρίζω, used in the dual number.

On line 8, Homer brings us into the thick of things. The Achaeans are suffering plagues because Agamemnon has dishonored a priest of Apollo.

At the and of Book I, we are going to see how easily distracted the gods are from humane concerns. Meanwhile, Apollo grants the prayer of Chryses after the latter cannot ransom his daughter from Agamemnon.

Chryses has even prayed that the mission of Agamemnon and Menelaus would be successful on the whole, with Troy sacked and the invaders safely returned home.

Chryeis was in fact the prize of Agamemnon, who refused to return her and sent away her father with threats. Her father prayed that the Danaans would suffer. Apollo has heard the prayer and sent the plagues already mentioned.

On the tenth day, at the behest of Hera, Achilles calls a meeting, asking for consultation with a seer, priest, or reader of dreams (τινα μάντιν ἐρείομεν ἢ ἱερῆα ἢ καὶ ὀνειροπόλον).

Calchas offers his services, provided Achilles will defend him. We may guess that Achilles already had a pretty good idea of what Calchas is going to say, which is that the Danaans must return Chryseis without ransom.

Calchas is cursed by Agamemnon, who prefers Chryseis to his wife Clytemnestra; nonetheless, he will return Chryses’s daughter provided he is given a consolation prize.

Expressing concern for the general welfare, Achilles points out that there is no common treasury from which to draw a new prize for Agamemnon. Agamemnon will get his just reward when Troy is finally taken.

Nonetheless, Agamemnon threatens to take that reward now by force, from Achilles, Aias, or Odysseus. He also calls for Aias, or Idomeneus, or Odysseus, or Achilles to effect the return of Chryseis to her father.

The whole scene recalls for me a passage in a review of books about Guns N’ Roses that I wrote about in in June, 2016, in “Rock & Roll”:

At one point during the recording process, Axl refused to keep working because he didn’t feel the royalty split was fair. “He believed he was entitled to more than the rest of us,” Adler writes. “The other guys were smart. They just stared at the floor. No one said a fucking thing.” According to Slash, Axl said, “There’s no way Steven gets twenty percent, the same as I do.” Adler volunteered to give up 5 percent of his royalties so that Axl could have 25 percent. “I think Steven was permanently scarred by that,” Slash writes.

Refusing to be so scarred, cursing Agamemnon, Achilles points out that he has no personal reason to be at Troy, and yet Agamemnon always gets the better prizes. Now Achilles will return to Phthia.

See if I care! says Agamemnon. I’m better than you, and I’m taking Briseis from you.

Agamemnon has risked death by saying this; but Athena comes and prevents Achilles from drawing his sword. That is how Homer tells it, but I am content to say, in Platonic terms, that Achilles’s rational part has taken charge of his irascible part. I don’t know why Socrates does not give such an example.

Reading in Njal’s Saga of how Iceland was Christianized, I struggled to see what difference it made. We have seen that there was one man who accepted death and forgave his killers; but there continued to be various impulsive killings. Perhaps what the Icelanders needed was Greek religion, as illustrated by Homer’s account of Achilles’s restraint.

Achilles prophesies the day when Agamemnon will regret having dishonored him.

Belittling everybody, Nestor tells

  • Agamemnon not to take Briseis, but to let go of his anger (χόλος “bile”);
  • Achilles not to strive with the king.

Agamemnon agrees, but condemns Achilles’s overweening pride.

Achilles says he would be a coward to obey Agamemnon in all things. Agamemnon may take back what he gave, namely Briseis; he had better not try to take anything else.

Achilles returns to his camp with the son of Menoetius; the name “Patroclus” is not yet used. This is just one instance where it seems listeners are expected to know the story already.

Agamemnon launches a ship and puts on board

  • twenty rowers,
  • a hecatomb,
  • fair-cheeked Chryseis,
  • Odysseus as captain.

Homer tells us that the ship embarks, and then he tells us that the son of Atreus bids the men cleanse themselves of pollution, which they cast into the sea. They must be men who have stayed behind. To Apollo they offer hecatombs of bulls and goats.

The verb for the cleansing of pollution is ἀπολῡμαίνομαι, from the noun τὸ λῦμα -ατος, meaning dirt; according to Beekes, this noun and another, ἡ λύμη -ης meaning maltreatment, come from a lost verb, replaced by ἀπολῡμαίνομαι, but living on in the Latin pol-luō.

One could say that the two Greek nouns both mean pollution, in two senses:

  • λύμη, the effecting of pollution.
  • λῦμα, that whereby pollution is effected.

There is a similar distinction in other pairs:

  • γνώμη, that which knows (the mind);
  • γνῶμα, that which is known (knowledge).

Agamemnon sends Talthybius and Eurybates to take Briseis from Achilles. The men are fearful, but Achilles reassures them and has Patroclus hand over Briseis to them. Achilles knows who his enemy is.

Achilles bursts into tears and goes off by himself to the sea. Perhaps he does not cry till he is alone. Homer does not make a point of this, although in Njal’s Saga, men taunt each other over their crying.

Achilles calls his mother, who “sat in the depths of the sea beside the old man, her father.” We have to infer that she is a goddess; or perhaps we are supposed to know that she is Thetis, as we are to know that the son of Menoetius is Patroclus. Thetis asks what is wrong:

τέκνον τί κλαίεις; τί δέ σε φρένας ἵκετο πένθος;
ἐξαύδα, μὴ κεῦθε νόῳ, ἵνα εἴδομεν ἄμφω.

In Alexander’s translation:

Child, why do you cry? What pain has come to your heart?
Speak out, don’t hide it, so that we both know.

Achilles says she knows already. By telling her anyway, he gives us a little more information: that Chryseis was taken in the sack of Thebe, “sacred city of Eëtion.” Otherwise, it is what we have already heard, that Chryses tried to ransom his daughter, and all the Achaeans were willing to allow it, except Agamemnon, so Apollo shot his arrow at the Argives. Achilles mentions not his calling for a meeting, but his calling for the propitiation of Apollo, because of the prophecy of Calchas, whom Achilles does not call by name. Chryseis has now been sent to Chryse; Briseis, to Agamemnon.

Achilles asks his mother to visit Olympus to demand return of a favor, since she once saved Zeus from a rebellion by Hera, Poseidon, and Athena by bringing in the hundred-handed Briareus.

Zeus and the other Olympians have gone to Oceanus to feast with the Ethiopians, says Thetis; meanwhile, Achilles should

  • maintain his wrath,
  • refrain from battle.

This is reason to say, as above, that Achilles is responsible for his anger.

The scene shifts to Chryse, and we hear the details already quoted of mooring the ship and returning Chryseis to her father, whose prayer for the lifting of the pestilence from the Danaans, Apollo hears. We hear more details of the sacrifice and the ensuing feast, which lasts all day. Sacrifice does not mean hardship.

Next day, Apollo gives the Achaeans a favorable wind.

Achilles stays in his camp.

Thetis visits Zeus on the twelfth day and cajoles him into affirming that he will do Achilles honor, though it will put him in strife with Hera, who already accuses him of favoring the Trojans.

Zeus makes his affirmation by nodding his head (lines 524–7):

εἰ δ᾽ ἄγε τοι κεφαλῇ κατανεύσομαι ὄφρα πεποίθῃς:
τοῦτο γὰρ ἐξ ἐμέθεν γε μετ᾽ ἀθανάτοισι μέγιστον
οὐ γὰρ ἐμὸν παλινάγρετον οὐδ᾽ ἀπατηλὸν
οὐδ᾽ ἀτελεύτητον ὅ τί κεν κεφαλῇ κατανεύσω.


Come, I will bow my head to you, that thou may be certain, for this from me is the surest token among the immortals; [525] no word of mine may be recalled, nor is false, nor unfulfilled, to which I bow my head.


See then, I will bend my head that you may believe me.
For this among the immortal gods is the mightiest witness
I can give, and nothing I do shall be vain nor revocable
nor a thing unfulfilled when I bend my head in assent to it.


Come, I will my bow my head for you, so that you may be convinced;
for among immortals this is the greatest
of my determination; for not revocable, nor false,
nor unfulfilled is anything to which I have bowed my head.

The neuter noun τέκμωρ is indeclinable or “defective.” Homer uses it a few times, but (according to Cunliffe) only here with the meaning of a sign or token; otherwise it is said to mean end, limit, conclusion, goal. Later Greek has the spelling τέκμαρ. Curiously, the noun seems to have but a single cognate in English: ukase, from Russian via French. The Indo-European root is *kweḱ-, meaning “see, appear.”

I take note of all of this because of the obscurity of the word used in Turkish by Azra Erhat and A. Kadir:

Başımı eğip bir işmar edeyim de rahat et,
benden gelme en büyük işmardır ölümsüzler arasında bu;
geri alınmaz, aldatmaz adamı, gerçekleşmeden olmaz.

Apparently işmar means “sign, nod, wink”; Nişanyan traces it to Armenian, to which it may have come from Old Persian.

Even a god needs a way to make himself believed.

Hera has seen that some god was talking with Zeus. He tells her she will be the first to know whatever is fit to tell her; meanwhile, let her ask nothing. He threatens her when she mentions Thetis. Hephaestus is the peacemaker. He recalls an earlier intervention, when Zeus hurled him from Olympus, and after a day of falling he landed in Lemnos, and the Sintians cared for him. It is not clear whether the fall is why he is lame; but because of the way he walks around serving nectar, the gods laugh.

Edited December 1, 2022, and January 20, 2023; on the latter day I added

  • the summary of contents that are not just summaries of Homer,
  • the reference to “‘It Was Good’.”

Edited again, May 13, 2023, after the completion of this round of reading and writing about the twenty-four books of the Iliad; now I have added the section names and taken the quotes on translating to a new section

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