On Homer’s Iliad Book VI

View from a height (with tree branch in upper right corner): on the ground below, a settlement; beyond it, a bend in a strait (the Bosphorus); beyond that, the two sides of the straight, opening to a sea (the Black Sea)
Kireçburnu, Sarıyer, Istanbul
Friday, December 30, 2022

It was on the last Wednesday of 2022 that I first noted the existence of Andrew Tate. I was reading a blog post dated the previous day, December 27. The post was “Time Out,” by Neville Morley, who recalled,

there was a flurry last month when the loathsome Andrew Tate declared the pointlessness of all books and book-learning and was widely denounced on the Twitter.

Maybe I had noticed some of the flurry, while paying it little mind. Now I checked to see that Andrew Tate was (among other things) a kickboxer whose late father, Emory Tate, had been a chess player.

I once admired the professional pursuit of chess, but was chastened by my own father’s remarks about Bobby Fischer, as I recalled in “Nature.”

Having learned who Andrew Tate was, I was able to recognize that it was he whom Greta Thunberg was addressing when she told a man to write her at

Was she engaging in body shaming? Presumably she does not actually know the size of Tate’s organ of generation, and neither do we. A diminutive one is an imaginary symbol for why Tate feels threatened by a young female environmental activist.

The men in the Iliad are fighting to show that they are well endowed. This may not be a bad thing, if done in the spirit of Glaucus, who tells his nominal enemy Diomedes in Book VI (lines 206–11),

Hippolochus begat me and of him do I declare that I am sprung; and he sent me to Troy and straitly charged me ever to be bravest and pre-eminent above all, and not bring shame upon the race of my fathers, [210] that were far the noblest in Ephyre and in wide Lycia. This is the lineage and the blood whereof I avow me sprung.

Diomedes wanted to learn whether Glaucus was a god he should avoid or a human he should fight. He is neither, but a friend to exchange gifts with, since Diomedes’s grandfather Oeneus had done the same with Hippolochus’s father, Bellerophon, when the former played host to the latter.

Glaucus began the tale of his ancestry with the analogy of humanity as leaves on trees. We regularly die and are replaced. A teacher of mine at St Albans School was excited by the analogy, as I recalled in writing about Book III of the Iliad. In an address that he delivered three years later, George Constantinople spoke of the words of Xerxes (Herodotus VII.46), who explained why he had wept after viewing from a height the army that he had assembled to invade Hellas:

it came into my mind to feel pity at the thought how brief was the whole life of man, seeing that of these multitudes not one will be alive when a hundred years have gone by.

If our teacher had a message beyond the evanescence of life, I didn’t get it. I don’t recall his mentioning the response by Xerxes’s uncle, who said death might be bad, but it was better than living. Artabanus thus echoed the following words of Theognis:

The best of all things is never to have been born on earth, never to see the rays of the burning sun. And once a man is born the best thing for him to do is to travel quickly to the gates of Death and lie at rest under a close-fitted coverlet of earth.

(Source: The Presocratics, edited by Philip Wheelwright, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1997. I mentioned the words of Theognis also in my notes on §§31–4 of The Human Condition of Hannah Arendt.)

From Glaucus’s tale of his antecedents, not to mention Diomedes’s response, we can understand that our generations are not like those of leaves; for we can remember the older ones. In a word, we have a history.

Our biological connection to previous generations is irrelevant to our history as such. I alluded to this in the recent post “Parenthood and Sex,” where I pointed out that my real parents were the ones who had raised me.

Homer may illustrate the point by making a foreigner his most admirable male character. In Book I of the Iliad, Achilles said to Thetis (lines 352–4),

Mother, since you bore me, though to so brief a span of life, honour surely ought the Olympian to have given into my hands, Zeus who thunders on high; but now he has honoured me not a bit.

Now, in Book VI, Hector too expects but a brief span of life. Unlike Achilles, he asks nothing in compensation. He does appreciate that death will mean not seeing his wife enslaved by “some brazen-coated Achaean” (line 454). Meanwhile, he will do his civic duty, even with no such expectation of eternal reward as Christians have. Hector wants honor, but not for himself, and nor (for that matter) for Andromache. He wants their son to have honor, but by his own merit, not his birth.

The Achaean high king thinks all Trojans merit death for their birth. He lets the crime of Paris work corruption of blood, in the language of the US Constitution, which forbids such work. When Menelaus is about to show mercy to Adrastus, who is begging for his life and offering ransom from his rich father, Agamemnon stops his brother thus (lines 56–60):

Soft-hearted Menelaus, why carest thou thus for the men? Hath then so great kindness been done thee in thy house by Trojans? Of them let not one escape sheer destruction and the might of our hands, nay, not the man-child whom his mother bears in her womb; let not even him escape, [60] but let all perish together out of Ilios, unmourned and unmarked.

If Andrew Tate read the Iliad, I have no idea whether he would agree with the Argive leader. I’m afraid many people might. They might also think again. Homer wants us to do that; for he invites us to consider that he has written the epic for a reason. When Hector goes to drag his brother back into battle, and finds him “in his chamber busied with his beauteous arms” (ἐν θαλάμῳ περικαλλέα τεύχε᾽ ἕποντα, line 321), Helen invites her current brother-in-law to sit (lines 355–8),

since above all others has trouble encompassed thy heart because of shameless me, and the folly of Alexander; on whom Zeus hath brought an evil doom, that even in days to come we may be a song for men that are yet to be.

Where Murray has “we may be a song,” Lattimore has “we shall be made into things of song,” which is a more literal rendition of the Greek πελώμεθ᾽ ἀοίδιμοι, at least if Cunliffe is correct in defining ἀοίδιμος as “that is a subject of song [ἀοιδή]”: according to him, the present use of the word is also the only one in Homer. The song that Helen alludes to is the one that we are now hearing (if only with our eyes). The second word of the whole Iliad is the imperative form of the root verb ἀείδω “sing.” (“No cognate outside Greek is known,” says Beekes.)

The song to be sung is about Zeus’s punishment of Paris, according to Helen. Is it a just punishment? All Troy will suffer, including, presumably, the mother of Paris and Hector, who tries to get the latter to stay home from the war. She tempts him with wine. She wants to keep him with her, enjoying life as it has been, regardless of such warnings about the future as might be made by Hector himself, or for that matter by Greta Thunberg.

Hector makes a pious excuse: he cannot pour a libation to Zeus with unwashed hands. Instead he tells Hecuba to give her best dress to Athena.

Here I think Chapman makes a mistake about the origin of that dress, unless his Greek text differs from the one used today. The dress is in the treasure-chamber (lines 289–92)

wherein were her robes (πέπλοι), richly broidered, the handiwork (ἔργα) of Sidonian women [290] that godlike Alexander had himself brought from Sidon, as he sailed over the wide sea on that journey on the which he brought back high-born Helen.

I have put “that” in place of Homer’s pronoun; but Murray himself uses “whom,” although Chapman has “which.” Homer uses τάς, a plural feminine accusative, which must therefore refer to the women of Sidon; the masculine, referring to “robes,” would be τούς; the neuter, to “handiwork,” τά.

The Trojans are being punished for the theft of Helen. On Hector’s advice, Hecuba will try to appease Athena by having her priestess offer up the work of more stolen women. Or perhaps those women were already slaves in Sidon, and Paris actually bought them fair and square. In any case, Theano prays. In response (line 311):

ἀνένευε δὲ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη.

“But Pallas Minerva granted not her prayer.”
“But Pallas Athene denied the prayer.”
“But Pallas Athene turned her head from her.”
“Pallas Athêna turned away her head.”
“But Pallas Athena turned away her head.”

Homer’s own verb ἀνανεύω refers to a turning. Cunliffe remarks, “app. the statue is supposed to move its head.” I don’t know whether he imagines that moving to be natural or supernatural. In any case, the moving is not to the side, but up, as shown by the prefix ἀνά. The base νεύω means to nod and is cognate (via Latin) with numen, nutation, and innuendo. Here in Turkey, as apparently in Greece and elsewhere in the region, nodding upwards is still a way to refuse something.

The gods may refuse your prayers.

I suggested earlier that, in a taunt at least, the micropenis was but a symbol of the victim’s low self-esteem. That biology can only be a symbol of history is a point made by Collingwood in “Notes on Historiography,” not themselves intended for publication, but included in The Principles of History and Other Writings in Philosophy of History (1999). As one form of what he calls historical naturalism, Collingwood discusses “biological history.” An example of this is Jewish thought, insofar as it confuses two things:

  • following a tradition established by Abraham;
  • actually being his biological descendents.

It is not clear to me that Jewish thought does confuse these things, since conversion to Judaism is possible, as the book of Ruth shows. Nonetheless, God does tell each believer (Exodus 20:5),

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

We have seen

  • Theano make an offering to a graven image, perhaps the Palladium;
  • Agamemnon call for visiting the iniquity of the Trojan fathers on their unborn children.

The Trojan boy Astyanax or Scamandrius may have a biological connection to his parents, but his mother implicitly denies the importance of such things. Achilles having killed her father and brothers, and Artemis her mother, Andromache tells Hector (lines 429–30),

thou art to me father and queenly mother, thou art brother, and thou art my stalwart husband.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Biological History « Polytropy on January 9, 2023 at 9:39 am

    […] « On Homer’s Iliad Book VI […]

  2. By On Homer’s Iliad Book VII « Polytropy on January 14, 2023 at 9:26 am

    […] Book VI, we saw how nominal enemies, Diomedes and Glaucus, could recognize themselves as friends, because […]

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