Potential (Iliad Book XIII)

Let us first look at the calendar. We see the dawn of a new day in the Iliad in Book I, line 477, when the mission led by Odysseus to give Chryseis back to her father Chryses sails back to the Achaean camp at Troy.

The day before, when the mission arrived in Chryse, Thetis told Achilles that, the day before that, Zeus and the other gods had gone to visit the Ethiopians in Oceanus, but would return on the twelfth day (lines 423–5).

It is not clear to me just how the counting is done, but a twelfth dawn comes on line 493, when the gods return to Olympus, and Thetis gets the nod from Zeus that he will honor Achilles, who meanwhile has been going neither to the “place of gathering” (ἀγορή, line 490) nor to war. We are given no details, such as we now see in Book XIII, of how the war has been going.

Two dogs on a stone plaza among the shadows of the bare trees that are behind them
Two dogs play-fighting
Haydar Aliyev Parkı
Kireçburnu, Sarıyer, Istanbul
Saturday morning, February 18, 2023

We are on the fifth day of Zeus’s promise, in the sense that we have seen four dawns, in

  • Book II, line 48, when Agamemnon has just dreamt that he can take Troy;
  • Book VII, line 381, when Idaeus comes from Troy to offer the Achaeans
    • the treasure that Paris took from them, and more, but not Helen,
    • a day of ceasefire for making fires for the dead,

    and only the latter is accepted;

  • Book VIII, line 1, when Zeus warns the other gods not to interfere;
  • Book XI, line 1, when Zeus sends Strife to the ships of the Achaeans, so that making war shall become sweeter (γλυκίων, line 13) than going home.

There will be a lot more to this fifth day. If I am not mistaken, the next dawn comes at the beginning of of Book XIX. Meanwhile, in Book XI,

  • having been wounded in the arm by Coön, whose brother Iphidamas he had just killed, Agamemnon leaves the field;
  • suspecting correctly that it is the surgeon Machaon, who treated Menelaus in Book IV, Achilles asks Patroclus to go find out which wounded man Nestor is carrying off the field.

In Book XII, led by Hector, the Trojans break through the wall that, on Nestor’s suggestion, Agamemnon has had the Achaeans build around their ships on the day of ceasefire. In a flash-forward at the beginning of the book, Apollo and Poseidon are going to raze the wall, but only after the Achaeans raze Troy; and they are not going to do that in the Iliad.

Neither Agamemnon nor Achilles appears in Book XII or XIII. Why then does Homer give us the latter book? Some editors might remove it. Salley Vickers mentions such editors as she discusses one of the psychological novels that she has selected for Five Books:

That’s one of the areas where the book does become a little heavy-handed; I’m not a great fan of the Protestant-Catholic element of the book.

The book is Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, of which I am a fan, one reason being precisely that “Protestant-Catholic element,” which I looked at in “Miracles.” Meanwhile, Vickers continues:

Part of the effect of the book is down to its multifacetedness, though, and there are bits that she could probably have done with an eagle-eyed editor plucking out.

Perhaps Vickers’s “though, and” should have been “but.” Alternatively, the order of the two clauses should have been reversed, and the initial “And yet” struck from the following continuation:

And yet it’s a bit like 1984 which has this incredibly boring bit in the middle but if you took it out it wouldn’t be quite so effective and it’s really hard to say why. With modern editing there’s a tendency to pander to the reader and streamline and I know why that is—they have to sell the books and get them into the supermarkets and so on—but sometimes I think it would be interesting to leave those lumpy bits in.

The nun, the fact that there is a haunting, definitely acts as a kind of co-relative to Lucy Snowe’s fragmented state of mind and delirium, but it also links in with this bee in Charlotte’s bonnet about Catholicism and Protestantism. I don’t know that it would have been a better book without it. I suppose I do quite like the lumpiness of it.

This whole passage itself seems lumpy; should Vickers have thought out her feelings more carefully?

The lump of the Iliad in Book XIII gives us

  • a story of what the Achaeans can still do, without Achilles, without even such men as Agamemnon and Diomedes, wounded in Book XI;
  • a vignette of two brothers:
    • Hector, the overachieving elder;
    • Paris, not living up to his potential.

I review these things now, blow by blow.

We start with two divine brothers. Zeus thinks he is safe to withdraw his attention from Troy, but Poseidon still interferes. He appears to the two Aiantes in the guise of Calchas, praying that some god will do precisely what he is doing (lines 55–6):

σφῶϊν δ᾽ ὧδε θεῶν τις ἐνὶ φρεσὶ ποιήσειεν
αὐτώ θ᾽ ἑστάμεναι κρατερῶς καὶ ἀνωγέμεν ἄλλους.

But in the hearts of you twain may some god put it, here to stand firm yourselves, and to bid others do the like.

Murray translates literally, though “do the like” is an interpolation; Lattimore interpolates “message” as follows:

… May this
be the message some one of the gods gives your minds to carry,
that you stand fast strongly yourselves, urge the rest to stand also.

It seems to me that Poseidon wants the men to carry is not a message, but a command, or rather the power to fulfil it. In any case, when Calchas departs, he is recognized as some god by the son of Oïleus.

Poseidon tells the Achaeans at the back that there is no excuse for slacking off, unless they themselves are no good. Otherwise, they should fight, and it doesn’t matter if Agamemnon is to blame for insulting Achilles (thus causing him to slack off, though the god does not mention this). The men addressed are named as

  • Teucer and Leïtus,
  • Peneleos,
  • Thoas and Deïpyrus,
  • Meriones and Antilochus.

Homer does not make it explicit that Poseidon appears still as Calchas.

Hector comes on like a stone that rolls till it stops (lines 136–42). It is not clear to me how much will-power Homer attributes to minerals. Murray:

Then the Trojans drave forward in close throng and Hector led them, pressing ever forward, like a boulder from a cliff that a river swollen by winter rains thrusteth from the brow of a hill, when it has burst with its wondrous flood the foundations of the ruthless stone; high aloft it leapeth, as it flies, and the woods resound beneath it, and it speedeth on its course and is not stayed until it reacheth the level plain, but then it rolleth no more for all its eagerness.


The Trojans came down on them in a pack, and Hektor led them
raging straight forward, like a great rolling stone from a rock face
that a river swollen with winter rain has wrenched from its socket
and with immense washing broken the hold of the unwilling rock face;
the springing boulder flies on, and the forest thunders beneath it;
and the stone runs unwavering on a strong course, till it reaches
the flat land, then rolls no longer for all its onrush.

The bolded phrases correspond to

  • ἀναιδέος ἔχματα πέτρης, from
    • ἀ(ν)- “not,”
    • αἰδώς “shame,”
    • ἔχμα “support” (from ἔχω “to hold”),
    • πέτρη “rock (e.g. cliff),”

    and the case-endings let us know that what is shameless is not the supports, but the rock;

  • ἐσσύμενός περ, with a middle/passive participle of σεύω “to set in motion.”

Deïphobus struts out, and his shield holds when Meriones hits him. Now there is a brachylogy, which could be either zeugma or syllepsis (lines 165–6):

χώσατο δ᾽ αἰνῶς
ἀμφότερον, νίκης τε καὶ ἔγχεος ὃ ξυνέαξε.

I think a word-for-word translation would be something like this:

he-was-angry then, dreadfully,
both from-the-victory and also from-the-spear that he-broke.

Strictly, because its pronoun is neuter singular, the final relative clause applies only to the spear. Nonetheless, perhaps we should understand victory to be broken too, although this does not normally make sense. In that case, Homer’s figure is zeugma; but if one thinks that victory is metaphorically broken, as in the jaws of defeat, while the spear is literally broken, then the figure is syllepsis.

Likewise is it syllepsis if both victory and spear are to be understood as lost. Each of my translators interpolates a loss, but applies it only to victory, as Homer is not allowed literary cleverness.

  • Murray: “[He] waxed wondrous wroth both for the loss of victory and for the spear which he had shattered.”
  • Lattimore: “[He was] deeply angered / for two things, the broken spear and the loss of his battle.”

The fight continues.

  • A man on either side is killed.
    • Teucer, son of Telemon, kills Imbrius, son of Mentor;
    • Hector aims at Teucer, but kills Amphimachus, son of Cteatus, son of Actor.
  • Achaeans carry off both bodies:
    • Stichius and Menestheus, the body of Amphimachus (who is also somehow grandson of Poseidon);
    • the two Aiantes, the body of Imbrius (whose head the lesser Aias cuts off and throws at Hector).

Attention turns to Idomeneus and stays for a while. He is just about to suit up and go fight when told to do just that by Poseidon, who has now taken the guise of Thoas, son of Andraemon.

Carrying two spears, Idomeneus meets Meriones, who has come to replace the spear that has just angered him. Idomeneus tells him,

Spears, if thou wilt, thou shalt find, be it one or twenty, standing in the hut against the bright entrance wall, spears of the Trojans whereof it is my wont to despoil their slain. For I am not minded to fight with the foemen while standing afar off.

At first I thought the last sentence meant Idomeneus preferred a cutting weapon to a thrown; but now I think he means he gets close enough to his victims to strip them. The two men engage in the praise of one another that I summarized in my 2018 account.

Idomeneus is said to be “flecked with gray” (μεσαιπόλιος, line 361; Murray interpolates “hair”). This is the first of four allusions to his age. He kills Othryoneus, who, as bride-price for Priam’s daughter Cassandra, offered to drive the Achaeans from Troy. Idomeneus taunts the dead body for this (though there is no indication of why he would know the story).

In Book XII, Asius did not want to leave his horses behind in the assault on the Achaean wall; now, as he comes to fight for the body of Othryoneus, he is on foot, but his charioteer keeps the horses at his back.

  • Idomeneus kills Asius, who falls like an oak, poplar, or pine.
  • Antilochus, son of Nestor, kills the unnamed charioteer, who has frozen in panic.
  • The spear of Deïphobus, ducked by Idomeneus, kills Hypsenor, son of Hippasus. The killer gloats that he has given Asius company on the way to Hades, but this may be premature, as Hypsenor, “groaning heavily” (βαρέα στενάχοντα, line 423), is carried off by Mecisteus, son of Echius, and Alastor.
  • Helped by Poseidon, Idomeneus kills Alcathous, who is
    • son of Aesyetes,
    • son-in-law of Anchises, having married his eldest daughter, Hippodameia.

Idomeneus now boasts to Deïphobus of

  • having three kills to his one (so the wound of Hypsenor must be mortal);
  • being son of Deucalion, son of Minos, son of Zeus.

Debating what to do, Deïphobus decides to fetch Aeneas to rescue the body of Alcathous, “who, for all he was but thy sister’s husband, reared thee in the halls when thou wast yet a little child” (lines 465–6).

In a second allusion to his age (line 470),

Howbeit terror gat not hold of Idomeneus, as he had been some petted boy. (Murray)
Yet no fear gripped Idomeneus as if he were a stripling. (Lattimore)
ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ Ἰδομενῆα φόβος λάβε τηλύγετον ὥς.

He waits as a boar does for hunters and their dogs. And yet for help he calls to

  • Ascalaphus,
  • Aphareus,
  • Deïpyrus,
  • Meriones, and
  • Antilochus;

we shall hear more of each of them, the first three only because they are killed. Meanwhile, himself making the third allusion to his age, Idomeneus says he fears Aeneas for his youth: were the two the same age, the fight would be more even.

  • Aeneas throws at Idomeneus, but misses (and hits nobody else).
  • Idomeneus kills Oenomaus and can retrieve his spear, but nothing else, since (in the fourth allusion) his joints are no longer nimble.
  • Aiming at Idomeneus, Deïphobus kills Ascalaphus, son of Enyalius, who is apparently Ares, who is oblivious back in Olympus, where Zeus wants the gods to stay.
  • Struck in the arm by Meriones, Deïphobus is led off by his brother, Polites.
  • With a spear in the neck, Aeneas kills Aphareus, son of Caletor.
  • Antilochus thrusts at Thoön and “wholly severed the vein that runneth along the back continually until it reacheth the neck” (lines 546–7).
  • Adamas, son of Asius,
    • throws at Antilochus, but the spear is stopped by his shield, thanks to Poseidon;
    • withdraws, “avoiding fate” (κῆρ᾽ ἀλεείνων line 566; the concept came up also in connection with Book XII);
    • is struck by Meriones with a spear, “midway between the privy parts and the navel, where most of all Ares is cruel to wretched mortals” (lines 568–9; Murray’s “cruel” can also be “painful”; Homer has ἀλεγεινὸς, from ἄλγος as in neuralgia and nostalgia).
  • Helenus kills Deïpyrus with a blow to the temple with a Thracian sword, but his helmet can be retrieved by one of the Achaeans.
  • At the same time,
    • Menelaus throws a spear at Helenus;
    • Helenus shoots an arrow at Menelaus;

    As a result (and the order of telling gives us an instance of chiasmus),

    • the arrow glances off Menelaus’s armor like a chickpea from a shovel on the threshing floor;
    • the spear passes through Helenus’s hand, and Agenor pulls out the spear and binds the wound with wool.
  • The spear of Menelaus cannot penetrate the shield of Peisander, who hits the former’s helmet with an axe, but is killed by sword; his eyeballs fall in the dust, and Menelaus exults over what happens to those who do not fear Zeus, “god of hospitality” (ξείνιος line 625).
  • Harpalion, son of Pylaemenes, like Adamas, son of Asius,
    • throws (or thrusts) with a spear, now at Menelaus, but the shield holds;
    • withdraws, avoiding fate;
    • is struck by Meriones, now with an arrow, in the right buttock and through the bladder; he lies on the ground like a worm, bleeding.
  • Sorry for Harpalion, who had been his host in Paphlagonia (no suggestion of irony on Homer’s part here), Paris with an arrow slays Euchenor of Corinth, son of Polyidus, a seer, who said his son would die of disease at home or at the hands of the Trojans by the ships.

Now the scene shifts to where Hector has broken through the Achaean wall. Homer names a number of defenders. Like a team of oxen, the two Aiantes stand shoulder to shoulder, but the one who is the son of

  • Telamon is followed by many men;
  • Oïleus, not by the Locrians, who haven’t got helmets, shields, and spears; but their arrows keep the Trojans in confusion.

Worried that

  • Achilles may no longer hold himself back (lines 746–9),
  • Hector has joined the cult of overachievement,

Polydamas convinces the latter to withdraw and regroup (lines 727–34):

Because the god has granted you the actions of warfare
therefore you wish in counsel also to be wise beyond others.
But you cannot choose to have all gifts given to you together.
To one man the god has granted the actions of warfare,
to one to be a dancer, to another the lyre and the singing,
and in the breast of another Zeus of the wide brows establishes
wisdom, a lordly thing, and many take profit beside him
and he saves many, but the man’s own thought surpasses all others.

Hector goes looking for

  • Deïphobus,
  • Helenus,
  • Adamas,
  • Adamas’s father Asius (son of Hyrtacus), and
  • Othryoneus.

Paris tells his brother what we already know: the first two are wounded, the others dead. Paris and whoever else is still alive will follow Hector (line 787),

but beyond his strength may no man fight, how eager soever he be.
πὰρ δύναμιν δ᾽ οὐκ ἔστι καὶ ἐσσύμενον πολεμίζειν.

The translation is Murray’s, but Lattimore’s is similar: “But beyond his strength no man can fight, although he be eager.” We saw the middle-passive participle ἐσσύμενος α ον applied to a boulder on flat ground that could not move, how eager soever it be. Word for word, the Greek of Paris now is something like,

Beyond power then, not is even the-set-in-motion to-fight.

Even the motivated warrior does not fight beyond his power. If this is correct, it is vacuously so, like saying success in school requires self-esteem (I took this up in “Biological History”). We never know the limits of what we can do, but only of what we did do.

Addendum: Figures

We have seen literary figures called brachylogy, chiasmus, syllepsis, and zeugma. All can be found in the handy dictionary of figures at the end of Smyth’s Greek Grammar (1920). Pope’s Rape of the Lock has the line

Or stain her Honour, or her new Brocade,

and at St Albans School I learned that this was an example of zeugma. By Smyth’s account it is syllepsis; but to my mind the greater error of my teacher was in not pointing out that the word zeugma was cognate with yoke.

The title of my paper “Abscissas and Ordinates” (Journal of Humanistic Mathematics 5 1, January 2015, pages 233–264, DOI 10.5642/jhummath.201501.14) comprised two technical terms whose etymologies ought to be explained—as they are in the paper—if the words are taught at all. So:

  • brachylogy is shortness of expression, as brachydactyly is shortness of finger;
  • chiasmus is shaped like an X or rather Χ, the letter chi;
  • syllepsis is taking (lep) together (syl- from syn-), as narcolepsy is being taken by sleep;
  • zeugma is yoking, as above.

There is also prolepsis, a taking forward. Some people say this is what a flash-forward is. Christine Smallwood is such a person as she reviews Ben Lerner, The Topeka School in “Novel, Essay, Poem,” Harper’s, October, 2019:

The novel’s stated project is to return to Adam’s childhood in order to unearth the “repetitions just beneath the threshold of his consciousness” and trace a “genealogy of his speech, its theaters and extremes.” That sounds dry, but it’s funny, and at times, painfully acute. A bildungsroman in lyric chorus, it looks back on the past with affection but without nostalgia, and lands in the frighteningly unsure coda of the present day, when Adam is the father of two young daughters. Usually prolepsis is used to make an ending more tidy by resolving plotlines and squaring futures neatly away. Here the prolepsis rips away whatever seemed contained about the past, showing us that the afterlife (of the novel) is just our own unwritten life; it also helps clarify what is driving the effort to gather the pieces of the past in the first place. Parenthood so often provokes interest in one’s own childhood, one’s own parents.

Two examples of grammatical prolepsis are as follows.

  • Matthew 6:28,

    Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,
    καταμάθετε τὰ κρίνα τοῦ ἀγροῦ πῶς αὐξάνουσιν,

    would normally be “Consider how the lilies of the field grow,” but Jesus brings forward the subject of the dependent clause, so that it becomes the object of the independent verb “consider.”

  • Socrates quotes himself in Republic Book VIII (565c):

    οὐκοῦν ἕνα τινὰ ἀεὶ δῆμος εἴωθεν διαφερόντως προΐστασθαι ἑαυτοῦ,
    καὶ τοῦτον τρέφειν τε καὶ αὔξειν μέγαν;

    “Aren’t the people always accustomed to set up some one man as their special leader
    and to foster him and make him grow great?”

    The adjective “great” is used proleptically, in anticipation of the result of making the chosen one grow.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Femininity (Iliad Book XIV) « Polytropy on March 3, 2023 at 5:21 am

    […] « Potential (Iliad Book XIII) […]

  2. By Masculinity (Iliad Book XV) « Polytropy on March 9, 2023 at 7:53 am

    […] points out that Ares’s son Ascalaphus has been killed (we saw it happen in Book XIII). The stupid war-god gets ready to take revenge, but wise Athena stops him. It is interesting how […]

  3. By Focus (Iliad Book XVI) « Polytropy on March 17, 2023 at 1:35 pm

    […] A.T. Murray’s translation, the one I am reading now. More precisely, since Book XIII, which begins the second volume of the Loeb Classical Library edition, I have been reading the […]

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