Focus (Iliad Book XVI)

Book XVI of the Iliad is where Patroclus

  • comes out to fight in Achilles’s armor,
  • kills Zeus’s son Sarpedon,
  • pushes on to the walls of Troy,
  • is killed by Hector.

In 2019, I gave a fair summary of the book, saying the story was that of Icarus. This time, I shall look at some other details:

  • Achilles continues his struggle for equality.
  • His mother sent him off with a chest of warm clothes.
  • Boys have always taunted wasps.
  • As if he were a boy, Hera tells Zeus, “What if everybody else did the same thing?” when he considers saving his son.
  • Automedon’s response to a problem is not autonomic, but autonomous.
  • Glaucus has a personal relationship with God.
  • It is Zeus’s mind that takes our own off things we mean to do.

A squatting man aims his mobile at several crows who are confronting a cat on a concrete wharf. Beyond them is the Bosphorus, leading out to the Black Sea beneath a suspension bridge between Europe and Asia
Kireçburnu, Sarıyer, Istanbul, Friday, March 10, 2023
The cat whom the crows were harrassing soon walked off

In 2019, I was reading the translation of Chapman, who gives a moralistic interpretation to a certain analogy. Homer himself is not literally judgmental. When the Trojans flee from inside the Achaean defenses, now that Patroclus has indeed come out fighting, Homer says (lines 384–93),

And even as beneath a tempest the whole black earth is oppressed, on a day in harvest-time, when Zeus poureth forth rain most violently, whenso in anger he waxeth wroth against men that by violence give crooked judgments in the place of gathering, and drive justice out, recking not of the vengeance of the gods; and all their rivers flow in flood, and many a hillside do the torrents furrow deeply, and down to the dark sea they rush headlong from the mountains with a mighty roar, and the tilled fields of men are wasted; even so mighty was the roar of the mares of Troy as they sped on.

That’s 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 revision by William F. Wyatt, who updates Murray’s intentionally archaic diction. In “Homer for the Civilian” in 2017, I said Wyatt had improved Murray; but I am not sure about that any more.

For quotations of the Iliad in my current series of posts, I started out using mainly the translation of Lattimore, because he translates verse by verse (and his was the first translation I had ever read); I switched to Murray’s prose for Book XIV, when I brought in also quotations from Dick Davis’s prose translation of the Shahnameh. For comparison, here is Lattimore’s version of the passage above:

As underneath the hurricane all the black earth is burdened
on an autumn day, when Zeus sends down the most violent waters
in deep rage against mortals after they stir him to anger
because in violent assembly they pass decrees that are crooked,
and drive righteousness from among them and care nothing for what the gods think,
and all the rivers of these men swell current to full spate
and in the ravines of their water-courses rip all the hillsides
and dash whirling in huge noise down to the blue sea, out of
the mountains headlong, so that the works of men are diminished;
so huge rose the noise from the horses of Troy in their running.

In the last line, Murray follows Homer in calling the Trojan draft animals not just horses, but mares. The Greek noun ἵππος (plural ἵπποι), as in hippodrome and hippopotamus, can be masculine or feminine; but in the present instance, Homer modifies it with the feminine form of the adjective “Trojan”: ἵπποι τρῳαί.

We were taught in French class that if a group of people contained at least one man, the group got the masculine plural pronoun ils, rather than the feminine elles. Possibly Greek has the opposite convention, at least for horses.

Masha Gessen began an essay of January 13, 2021, in the New Yorker by observing,

Every night, when I walk my dog, several strangers, similarly tethered, will ask me the same two questions: “Boy or girl?” and “How old?” The pragmatic meaning of these questions escapes me.

Me too. (Gessen is said to use they/them pronouns; but the quotation shows the use of I/me pronouns.)

I quoted Chapman’s version of Homer’s analogy in 2019:

And as in Autumne the blacke earth, is loden with the stormes,
That Ioue in gluts of raine poures downe …

So now the foule defaults of some, all Troy were laid vpon.

Not only do the Trojans sound as if they are being punished; for Chapmen, they are being punished.

The possibility of such an interpretation (though not the fact that Chapman made it) is acknowledged by Richard Janko, who gives to the analogy more than a page of volume IV of The Iliad: A Commentary (Cambridge University Press; volume IV [1994] covers books 13–16).

I do not know whether I shall ever reach the point of wanting to read such commentary systematically. Nonetheless, there are useful words by general editor G. S. Kirk in the “Editorial introduction: the methods and aims of the Commentary” in the first volume (1985). We are reminded not to assume that perceived incongruities in the Iliad are intentional, since the epic need not be the work of one person:

… the study of Homer presents special problems which make a-historical criticism, of whatever sort, hard to apply. For oral poems are in important respects different from literate ones, or from those invented by a single poet with a self-conscious creative intent … To take a very simple instance, the frequent repetitions which are an essential element of oral poetry need ‘explaining’ in that sense …

Another obvious instance of the effects of ignoring the oral background and special mode of composition of the Iliad arises out of the interpretation both of character and of customs and practices. Agamemnon emerges from the text as complex and at times highly erratic; but the chances are that some, at least, of the erratic quality stems from the imperfect conjunction of originally distinct elements of the oral tradition …

For similar reasons many matters of concrete detail in the Iliad require a kind of examination and explanation which is usually unnecessary in the case of the nineteenth-century novel, for example …

On the other hand, there is no reason why a single poet should not introduce complexities that seem incongruous to the reader. In Kirk’s 2003 obituary in the Independent, Hugh Lloyd-Jones writes that Kirk’s thinking may need updating: his earlier works

belong to an unfortunate phase in English and American Homeric scholarship, which assumed that Milman Parry’s proof that the Homeric poems had many features of oral poetry showed that those poems themselves must have been oral. English and American scholars were neglecting important German work, which indicated that, though Homer’s poems belonged to a tradition that had been oral, and retained many of its features, they were the work of a great poet or poets who used writing and they had a basic unity …

Kirk was the general editor of The Iliad: a commentary … His commentary contains much valuable matter … in spite of its adherence to the mistaken theories of such oralists as Sir Denys Page.

For corroboration, I can refer to comments of Iliad translator Caroline Alexander, which I quoted in the context of Book III and at greater length in “Creativity,” to the effect that people who have actually grown up in an oral tradition can tell that Homer’s epic is different. Alexander’s ultimate question about Homer is, “did he see himself as doing something with the traditional material that had never been done before?” It’s a good question, but I would ask simply, “What can we see in Homer?”

In 2019, I did not see why Achilles gave his armor to Patroclus. I may see no better now, although I have noticed what I did not then, that Nestor gave Patroclus the idea of borrowing Achilles’s armor, back at the end of Book XI. In Book XVI, we are still in the same day, perhaps even the same hour. Achilles faces several challenges:

  • he may be thought a coward for not fighting;
  • his friend Patroclus is “tearful, like a girl” (lines 7–8), over the Achaeans’ plight;
  • his troops, the Myrmidons, of whom there are fifty for each of fifty ships, are ready to fight “like ravening wolves in whose hearts is fury unspeakable” (lines 156–7).

Achilles tells Patroclus (lines 52–4) more or less what he told the embassy in Book IX:

but herein dread grief cometh upon heart and soul, whenso a man is minded to rob one that is his equal, and take from him his prize, for that he surpasseth him in power.

“Equal” here is ὁμοίος, as in homoeopathy and homoeomorphism. One could translate it as “like,” but Lattimore also chooses “equal”:

but this thought comes as a bitter sorrow to my heart and my spirit
when a man tries to foul one who is his equal, to take back
a prize of honor, because he goes in greater authority.

Probably Achilles is not arguing that he and Agamemnon are similar men. As Achaeans or as leaders of Achaean divisions at Troy, they are equal. Agamemnon may be commander in chief, but then he is only first among equals. Achilles emphasizes the point in line 59, which is a repetition of line 648 of Book IX. In either case, Achilles complains of being treated by

Ἀτρεΐδης ὡς εἴ τιν᾽ ἀτίμητον μετανάστην,

this son of Atreus, as though I were some alien that had no rights.

Wyatt changes “alien” to “refugee.”

Homer now shifts the focus back to Aias, who at the end of Book XV was trying to keep the Trojans away from the ships; now he is dripping with sweat and gasping for breath. He retreats when his spear is broken by Hector.

The Trojans set fire to one of the ships. Perhaps they use a precursor of Greek fire, but Homer does not say. Achilles sees that now is the time to act. He tells Patroclus to suit up. Patroclus dons Achilles’s

  • bronze greaves with silver ankle pieces;
  • corselet, “spangled with stars”;
  • sword of bronze, “silver studded”;
  • shield;
  • helmet with horsehair crest.

He takes two spears that he can handle; he cannot handle Achilles’s own spear, given to Peleus by Chiron.

Achilles has Automedon yoke up

  • the immortal horses Xanthus and Balius, offspring of
  • in the side traces, the mortal horse Pedasus, taken from Eëtion.

Achilles places the twenty-five hundred Myrmidons under five commanders:

  • Menesthius,
  • Eudorus,
  • Peisander,
  • Phoenix,
  • Alcimedon.

Each of the first two is the nominal son of the man whom his mother married when already pregnant, supposedly by a god. Christianity explains the origin of its founding prophet the same way.

When fighting men are closely packed, Ferdowsi in the Shahnameh uses an insect metaphor several times as follows:

The Greek army bore down on Egypt, and so thick were their ranks that not a mosquito or an ant could find a way through them. For a week the armies fought, and on the eighth day Sekandar defeated the Egyptian forces.

For the Myrmidons, Homer puts the idea this way (lines 212–5):

And as when a man buildeth the wall of a high house with close-set stones, to avoid the might of the winds, even so close were arrayed their helms and bossed shields; buckler pressed on buckler, helm upon helm, and man on man.

In 2019 I wrote about Achilles’s special cup, used only for drinking to Zeus; I did not remark on how it was kept in a chest of warm clothing that Achilles’s mother had packed for him. How many in Homer’s original audience thought, “A mother would do that, wouldn’t she, even if she is a goddess?”

Of Achilles’s two prayers, that Patroclus

  • drive the Trojans from the ships,
  • come home afterwards,

Zeus will grant only the first. It may serve Achilles right for not going out himself.

The Myrmidons pour out like wasps from a nest that boys have been throwing stones at. The Trojans indeed think that Achilles has come out. Patroclus is able to put out the fire after

  • he strikes down Pyraechmus,
  • the Paeonians who were following him flee.

The Danaans are relieved, as a mountain may be relieved of a dense cloud by Zeus.

  • Patroclus hits Areïlycus in the thigh;
  • Menelaus hits Thoas in the chest;
  • Meges (son of Phyleus) hits Amphiclus at the top of the leg;
  • sons of Nestor hit sons of Amisodarus and comrades of Sarpedon:
    • Antilochus, Atymnius, in the flank;
    • Thrasymedes, Maris, in the shoulder.

It goes on.

  • Aias son of Oïleus kills Cleobulus.
  • Peneleos kills Lyco (only a flap of skin holds his head on).
  • Meriones kills Acamas.
  • Idomeneus kills Erymas.

The Achaeans are thus to the Trojans as wolves to lambs or kids that a foolish shepherd has allowed to scatter among the mountains. Here are the gory details on that last listed killing (lines 345–50):

Then Idomeneus smote Erymas upon the mouth with a thrust of the pitiless bronze, and clean through passed the spear of bronze beneath the brain, and clave asunder the white bones; and his teeth were shaken out, and both his eyes were filled with blood; and up through mouth and nostrils he spurted blood as he gaped, and a black cloud of death enfolded him.

The other Aias, the great one, can see that the tide has turned. The Trojans make a disorderly retreat. Hector gets out fine, but the mares of the other Trojans make noise, as in the analogy I opened with.

Patroclus kills first Pronous; then Thestor, son of Enops, who has been cowering in the chariot (lines 403–4):

for his senses had been driven from him and the reins had slipped from his hands.

ἐκ γὰρ πλήγη φρένας, ἐκ δ᾽ ἄρα χειρῶν / ἡνία ἠΐχθησαν.

Murray repeats “from” as Homer repeats ἐκ. One might try for more parallelism, as in, “Out of his mind he was with fear, and out of his hands were the reins.” Lattimore shows less parallelism of form:

he had lost all his nerve, and from his hands the reins / slipped.

This is still syllepsis, as when Meriones was angry to lose his victory and his spear in Book XIII. In that example, the spear is tangible, but victory is intangible, even if personified. In the new example, the reins are tangible, but the senses or nerve are intangible, even if φρήν did originally refer to the midriff or something in it (I took this up in “On Translation” and in posts listed automatically beneath it). I’m also not sure how φρένας fits in grammatically, but apparently it is accusative, not nominative like the neuter plural ἡνία “reins.”

Thestor must be the charioteer of Pronous, though Homer is not explicit. Patroclus kills both men with a spear, perhaps the same one, though, as we saw, he did go out with two. The spear that pierces Thestor’s jaw serves as a hook, so that Patroclus can drag his catch from the chariot as if he were pulling a fish from the sea.

Patroclus must put the spear aside then, because it is a stone that he throws at Erylaus, “and his head was wholly cloven asunder within the heavy helmet” (lines 412–3).

Homer himself gives the next victims in a list.

  • Erymas,
  • Amphoterus,
  • Epaltes,
  • Tlepolemus son of Damastor,
  • Echius,
  • Pyris,
  • Ipheus,
  • Euippus,
  • Plymelus son of Argeas:

“all these one after another [Patroclus] brought down to the bounteous earth” (line 418). Sarpedon is attracted to the scene: he wants to see who can accomplish so much. Now is when Zeus wishes he could save his son, and Hera gives him the kind of warning that children get: “What if all the other gods did that?”

Such a warning is needed by the Republicans in the United States Congress who want to invade their southern neighbor for being the source of the recreational drugs that American consumers enjoy. Claire Berlinski has drawn my attention to this problem in “On invading Mexico: Authorizing the use of American military force in Mexico is insane” (March 14, 2023):

Invading another country is a fundamental crime, codified in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.” This, precisely, is what we’re trying to get through Putin’s thick skull.

It matters a great deal whether countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia believe us—and support us—when we insist we’re defending the principle that big, powerful countries must not invade their smaller neighbors. Putin argues that in our concern for Ukraine, the United States is entirely hypocritical. That we support Ukraine only to expand our hegemony by means of our NATO lapdogs. That in invading Ukraine, he’s done nothing we wouldn’t do if our neighbors began to irritate us. That this is simply the way of the world: The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

These arguments are obscene. So why does the GOP seem determined to prove his point? Introducing a bill that authorizes just that invasion cuts our diplomacy off at the knees. It makes us look insane. Invading Mexico? Seriously?

Hera and Berlinski believe in order. I think this means believing that others share the belief, at least deep down, so that they can be persuaded into actually respecting it.

Hera offers Zeus a consolation prize: when Sarpedon shall have been killed, let his body by carried off by Death and Sleep for honorable burial in Lycia. Meanwhile, Zeus honors his son with bloody raindrops.

Patroclus strikes a man in the lower belly. He is called Thrasymelus (Θρασύμηλος) “in a few good MSS,” but this

is an old and sheepish error. Not all compound names need make sense … but … ‘Bold-sheep’ is laughable. Nicanor, a papyrus and the vulgate rightly read ‘Thrasudemos’. The error arose when copyists’ eyes strayed from -ΔΗΜΟΝ to (Α)ΛΛΗΛΟΙ- in 462; this also created -ΜΗΔΟΝ …

That’s what you can learn from Richard Janko’s commentary. Be Sarpedon’s attendant a bold sheep or a bold people, he is killed by Patroclus, at whom Sarpedon aims in turn, but striking instead Pedasus, who shrieks. The dead horse encumbers the immortal ones (line 472);

τοῖο μὲν Αὐτομέδων δουρικλυτὸς εὕρετο τέκμωρ:

Howbeit for this did Automedon, famed for his spear, find him a remedy. (Murray)
But for this Automedon, famed for his spear, found a solution. (Wyatt’s revision)
But at this spear-famed Automedon saw what he must do. (Lattimore)

That same defective neuter noun τέκμωρ (later τέκμαρ) had various translations also in Book I, where it indicated what a nod of Zeus’s head meant: a token, witness, or testament. If we take seriously the basic sense of a “fixed mark or boundary, goal, end,” this means Automedon’s response to the problem of tangled traces is

  • not autonomic or involuntary,
  • but autonomous or voluntary, as befits somebody of the charioteer’s name (μέδων means ruler).

Automedon conceives a goal without perceiving it at the moment. We want our students to learn that they can do this. They may be inhibited by others: autocratic politicians, or just the people who make the following happen:

You are handed an iPad, you put in little earbuds, and the iPad tells you what to do—turn left; turn right; walk forward. In each room, a photograph of where you are appears on the screen, while a narrator describes it. So as we walked around we were surrounded by blank-faced people, looking almost all the time at their screens.

Thus Johann Hari in “Focus (if you still can)” (Guardian Weekly, 7 January 2022), from his book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention.

Automedon jumps from the chariot, cuts free the body of Pedasus, and helps up Xanthus and Balius. One might think this was an obvious thing to do. However, the poet has already told us about another charioteer, Thestor, who lost his wits.

Homer makes sure we get the point that thinking is something special. Janko does not point this out in his commentary on lines 470–5. What he talks about is

  • the exact set-up of the horses,
  • how “The theory that the Iliad draws on the tale of Memnon … rests partly on this scene.”

Sarpedon again misses with his spear. Patroclus doesn’t, and the son of Zeus falls like an oak, poplar, or pine that shipwrights are felling. He calls for Glaucus to save his armor, and then (lines 502–5),

ὣς ἄρα μιν εἰπόντα τέλος θανάτοιο κάλυψεν
ὀφθαλμοὺς ῥῖνάς θ᾽: ὃ δὲ λὰξ ἐν στήθεσι βαίνων
ἐκ χροὸς ἕλκε δόρυ, προτὶ δὲ φρένες αὐτῷ ἕποντο:
τοῖο δ᾽ ἅμα ψυχήν τε καὶ ἔγχεος ἐξέρυσ᾽ αἰχμήν.

Even as he thus spake the end of death enfolded him, his eyes alike and his nostrils; and Patroclus, setting his foot upon his breast, drew the spear from out the flesh, and the midriff followed therewith; and at the one moment he drew forth the spear-point and the soul of Sarpedon.

Though Murray removes it, there is chiasmus in the Greek: “He drew out the spear and the spirit; the soul and the spear-point.” What I have written as spirit, Janko takes to be the lungs; “otherwise 505 would be repetitious,” he says. Again though, why shouldn’t Homer make sure we get the point? In any case, even if line 504 doesn’t give us syllepsis, the next line does; Janko calls it zeugma.

As Hera could fly at the speed of thought in the previous book, so now can Apollo. At least, Glaucus thinks so (lines 514–6):

Hear me, O king that art haply in the rich land of Lycia or haply in Troy, but everywhere hast power to hearken unto a man that is in sorrow, even as now sorrow is come upon me.

Glaucon’s sorrows are two:

  1. A painfully wounded arm.
  2. A dead comrade to be saved from despoliation.

Even though Zeus may have abandoned his own son, Glaucus expects Apollo to listen. His pain does indeed go away (lines 530–1),

And Glaucus knew in his mind [φρήν in plural], and was glad that the great god had quickly heard his prayer.

Such is the power of prayer, sometimes. I see there is a Wiki-How article, “How to Have a Personal Relationship With God.” That would seem to be what Glaucus has, even if his god is one among many.

For the defense of Sarpedon’s body, Glaucus seeks out first his Lycian comrades, before calling on some Trojans:

  • Polydamas son of Panthous,
  • Agenor,
  • Aeneas,
  • Hector.

In specifically chiding the last for abandoning an ally, Glaucus names Sarpedon’s killer as Patroclus. Thus the identity of the man in Achilles’s armor must have been discerned; however, Homer does not remark on it.

Patroclus rallies the Achaeans. He proposes to the Aiantes that they strip the body of Sarpedon, who was the first man to penetrate the Greek defenses (he became this in Book XII, but I did not remark on it then).

Hector kills the Myrmidon and son of Agacles called Epeigeus, who sought asylum with Peleus for slaying a kinsman.

Patroclus kills Sthenelaus, son of Ithaemenes.

Glaucus kills Bathycles, son of Chalcon.

Meriones kills Laogonus, son of Onetor, who was either a priest of Idaean Zeus (Murray) or an Idaean and a priest of Zeus (Lattimore).

Aeneas throws at Meriones, but misses. The two men mock each other. Patroclus complains about the waste of words, though he will waste them likewise when Hector strikes the death blow.

The men are

  • as loud as woodcutters,
  • as thick about Sarpedon’s body as flies about a pail of milk.

Zeus wonders when to kill Patroclus. He brings out the golden scales that he used in Book VIII, but this time the weight is in the other pan. At least, this is the conception of Hector, who flees and tells the other Trojans to do the same. Again we are reminded that Homer does not name every dead man (lines 659–63):

Then the valiant Lycians likewise abode not, but were driven in rout one and all, when they saw their king smitten to the heart, lying in the gathering of the dead; for many had fallen above him, when the son of Cronos strained taut the cords of (ἐτάνυσσε) the fierce conflict.

Murray sees an allusion here to the conflict of Zeus and Poseidon in Book XIII (lines 358–9):

So these twain knotted the ends of the cords of mighty strife and evil war, and drew them taut (τάνυσσαν) over both armies.

A taut line, such as the chalk line in the previous book of the Iliad, is something

  • that helps us understand geometry, or
  • that geometry helps us understand.

I have remembered how Anand Pillay discusses such a distinction in “Model Theory” (Notices of the American Mathematical Society, December, 2000):

The use of the word “model” in model theory is somewhat different from (and even opposed to) usage in ordinary language. In the latter, a model is a copy or ideal representation of some real object or phenomena. A model in the sense of model theory, on the other hand, is supposed to be the real thing. It is a mathematical structure, and that which it is a model of (a set of axioms, say) plays the role of the idealization.

I looked at the modern distinction between the real and the ideal last November (2022).

Its defenders having fled, Sarpedon’s body gets stripped of its armor, which Patroclus sends back the ships. Zeus tells Apollo to clean up the body and send it to Lycia, as mentioned above.

Patroclus now forgets the warning of Achilles. He could have avoided death (line 688),

ἀλλ᾽ αἰεί τε Διὸς κρείσσων νόος ἠέ περ ἀνδρῶν.

But ever is the intent of Zeus stronger than that of men. (Murray)
But ever is the mind of Zeus stronger than that of men. (Wyatt’s revision)
But always the mind of Zeus is a stronger thing than a man’s mind. (Lattimore)

It sounds as if only another mind can distract us from what we have set our own minds on. At least Automedon could keep his own mind focussed on the problem of keeping the dead from encumbering the living.

Homer lists some of Patroclus’s next kills, as before:

  • Adrastus,
  • Autonous,
  • Echeclus,
  • Perimus son of Megas,
  • Epistor,
  • Melanippus,
  • Elasus,
  • Mulius,
  • Pylartes.

The Achaeans would take Troy, if Apollo did not defend it. Hector wonders whether to go inside; but speaking as his maternal uncle Asius, Apollo tells him to attack Patroclus. He does, but Patroclus kills his charioteer, Cebriones, who takes a dive, says Patroclus, as if into the sea for oysters.

In what might be foreshadowing, if not prolepsis, Patroclus fights like lion that “has been struck in the breast” (line 753). Patroclus has not been struck, but he is about to be. While Hector pulls the head of Cebriones, Patroclus pulls on the feet; but then

  1. Apollo knocks him silly (and his helmet off).
  2. Euphorbus (son of Panthous) hits him in the back.
  3. Hector hits him in the belly.

That last man shows a lack of understanding by suggesting

  • that Achilles had told Patroclus to kill him;
  • that he himself may kill Achilles.

One Trackback

  1. By Mind (Iliad Book XVII) « Polytropy on March 24, 2023 at 3:00 am

    […] « Focus (Iliad Book XVI) […]

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