Mind (Iliad Book XVII)

At the end of Book XVI of the Iliad, Hector

  • pulled his spear from the body of Patroclus,
  • took off in pursuit of Automedon, his victim’s charioteer, who was being drawn by Achilles’s immortal horses.

Around the mossy trunk of a plane tree, four chickens—two white, one brown, one black—scratch in the little dirt that has been left uncovered by the setts that pave a road through a settlement
Postacı Halil Sokağı (Street of Halil the Postman)
Tarabya (Θεραπειά), Sarıyer, Istanbul
Thursday morning, March 2, 2023

At the head of Book XVII, Menelaus notices that Patroclus has been killed. Homer is explicit on this point, perhaps by way of explaining why some other heroes will not appear in the book: they do not notice Patroclus’s fall, but continue fighting elsewhere (if they are not wounded).

I wondered about that in 2019, and about how

  • the poet kept his listeners’ attention,
  • war kept warriors’ attention.

Then I passed to summarizing. I shall be doing that here, at more length than before, while noting:

  • the supreme wretchedness of humanity, at least according to Zeus;
  • the ongoing theme of how Zeus and other gods make us do things (for Socrates in the Republic it is different parts of us that to the job, and I take the opportunity to review his analysis in an appendix);
  • the poem of Sappho that takes up divine influence while suggesting an idea that Hector alludes to;
  • poems of Eliot and Donne that come to mind;
  • how Homer says lion when he ought to mean lioness.

In Book X of the Iliad, Agamemnon said his brother often needed to be told what to do. We shall see this when, after much fighting over Patroclus’s body, Aias sends Menelaus to tell Antilochus to tell Achilles what has happened. Antilochus himself will not have known.

Meanwhile, Menelaus stands alone over the body like a heifer over her newborn calf. As I understand English usage, you can infer from her being a heifer that the calf is her first. Homer tells us that too. The new mother is not sure what to do, and neither is Menelaus.

He has to contend with the man who first struck Patroclus, in the back, before Hector dealt the death blow, in the lower belly. Euphorbus asks Menelaus to let him win glory for himself by taking the armor of Achilles from Patroclus’s body. It’s a good opportunity for Euphorbus, since Hector has run off.

Euphorbus’s tone is not clear to me. He could be making a polite request, but then he does back it up with a threat of death. Menelaus does not like Euphorbus’s attitude, and he says so. He reminds him that he killed his brother, Hyperenor. This was the last killing of a named person in Book XIV, while Zeus was still sleeping off the bout of marital activity that Hera had seduced him into.

I did not bother then to name all of the men who lost their lives at the end of that book; apparently I should have. Still, Homer did not tell us then what he has Menelaus tell us now, that Hyperenor had insulted him.

As I said, I remarked in 2019 on the value the warriors can place on a dead body, even after it has been stripped of its armor. Hector will want to cut off Patroclus’s head, then feed the rest of the body to the dogs. Meanwhile, Euphorbus hopes to seize Menelaus’s head, along with his armor, in order to take them to his parents (called Panthous and Phrontis) and to his brother’s widow.

He will not get the chance. Under the spear of Menelaus, Euphorbus falls, as does, in a tempest, an olive tree that a man has reared from a sapling. It’s not clear from the text how old the sapling has grown, but I would not expect a young tree to be blown over, unless so newly planted it has not taken root. In any case, Menelaus is not stripped, but does the stripping, or at least he begins to, while the Trojans fear to approach him, just as dogs and herdsmen fear to approach the lion that has taken down a heifer.

Menelaus is stopped when, in the guise of Mentes, Apollo tells Hector not to pursue those immortal horses, since he would not be able to handle them anyway. Hector is going to try again later, but meanwhile, Homer gives us a nice couplet (lines 82–3):

ὣς εἰπὼν ὃ μὲν αὖτις ἔβη θεὸς ἂμ πόνον ἀνδρῶν,
Ἕκτορα δ᾽ αἰνὸν ἄχος πύκασε φρένας ἀμφὶ μελαίνας.

So spake he, and went back again, a god into the toil of men. But the soul of Hector was darkly clouded with dread sorrow. (Murray)

So he spoke, and went back, a god, to the mortals’ struggle.
But bitter sorrow closed over Hektor’s heart in its darkness. (Lattimore)

Hector yells at Menelaus, who now has a choice to make between

  • abandoning the armor and Patroclus and being faulted by his comrades;
  • letting shame keep him in place, though the Trojans may then surround him.

I guess the armor is Euphorbus’s, not Achilles’s, because I don’t think Menelaus would value that above the body of the man who had been wearing it. In any case, Menelaus goes on thinking:

  • There is no shame in flight when a god has inspired one’s foe.
  • There is a third choice anyway: go get Aias.

Menelaus retreats like a lion before dogs and men and finds Aias, to whom he proposes to save Patroclus’s body, even though Hector has stripped the armor by now. Hector wants to cut off the head too, as I said earlier, but Aias chases him off and defends the corpse as a lioness would her whelps. Homer uses the masculine noun λέων, and masculine pronouns, but Cunliffe notes that a female animal is being referred to. It seems Homer has no feminine noun for a lioness, although Herodotus uses one, λέαινα, when illustrating his observation (III.108),

Somehow the forethought of God (just as is reasonable) being wise has made all creatures prolific that are timid and edible, so that they do not become extinct through being eaten, whereas few young are born to hardy and vexatious creatures.

Glaucus calls Hector a cowardly woman and says his fellow Lycians should no longer support the Trojan struggle. Glaucus began this chiding in Book XVI, when Hector abandoned Sarpedon’s corpse. Glaucus does not seem to have observed what Zeus told Apollo to accomplish, namely the carriage of that corpse back to Lycia. Indeed, Glaucus proposes using the body of Patroclus to ransom Sarpedon’s armor, and then to carry the body of Sarpedon to Troy. Perhaps Glaucus has noticed that the corpse is missing and assumes the Achaeans have taken it.

To excuse his running from Aias, Hector uses Homer’s own account, from Book XVI, of why Patroclus did not heed the words of Achilles: the mind of Zeus is too strong.

Our own mind is the first agent that we recognize in life. When things happen that we could have willed, but didn’t, how is this possible?

  • The Homeric explanation is the mind of Zeus.
  • The Anaxagorean explanation is similar, only Anaxagoras did not make proper use of it, at least by the account of Socrates in the Phaedo. (I looked at this especially in “War and Talk,” based on a chapter of War and Peace.)
  • The Socratic explanation comes in the Republic.
  • The Freudian explanation is perhaps similar: the mind of Zeus is really our mind, or some part of it, which may however be hidden from us.

I am using popular Freud here, not his actual writings. I didn’t spend a lot of time on the Socratic explanation when reviewing Republic Book IV in 2021. I am going to spend some time on it in an appendix below. Let me just note now that when we whirl a weight on a rope, we say that centrifugal force is pulling the weight away from us. In the Newtonian theory, there is no such force, and this is why the weight does move in a circle around us: it changes its direction of motion, precisely because only we are pulling on it, with a centripetal force. One may likewise consider Zeus to be a fictitious force.

Hector tells Glaucus, “Stand by me all day and see whether I am a coward.” But then he runs off to don Achilles’s armor (confirming that he has indeed managed to take possession of it).

Homer interrupts to tell us that Achilles is going to die. When he grew old, Peleus gave that armor to his son, who however is not going to grow old.

As we may address people who we know cannot hear us, so Zeus tells Hector he was wrong to take the armor. He shall have strength for a while, but not enough to be able to give the armor to Andromache.

Zeus makes the armor fit Hector with a nod; Ares enters Hector; and Hector speaks to a list of allies:

  • Mesthles,
  • Glaucus,
  • Medon,
  • Thersilochus,
  • Asteropaeus,†
  • Deisenor,
  • Hippothous,†
  • Phorcys,†
  • Chromius,†
  • Ennomus the augur.

We have already heard from Glaucus; we shall hear later about some of the others (marked with a dagger). As far as I understand, Hector tells them all that he has called them to Troy, not because he is among those to whom Sappho alludes in the first verse of the “Anactoria poem.” This work incidentally supplies a commentary on the Iliad, and I looked at it, along with other poems, in “Some Say Poetry” in 2017. Here is the 1982 translation of Thomas Meyer, illustrated by Sandra Fisher, whose work had appeared in one of my favorite art shows, “Representation Abroad,” at the Hirshhorn Museum in 1985:

Some say an army on horseback or foot
others a navy, but I tell you
the most beautiful thing on earth
someone you love.

Anyone can understand this
easily enough, imagine a woman
whose beauty has no human equal
think of Helen

who deserted a good husband, sailed
for Troy, her child, her fine parents
completely forgotten once that Kyprian goddess
let love misguide her.

I’m reminded now of Anaktoria
so far away

her lovely walk, her fresh bright face
for them I’d give up the spectacle
of Lydia’s chariots, her soldiers marching
fully armed.

Hector has no time to appreciate beautiful things. However, he has asked the allies to come defend the women and children of Troy. Whoever can seize the body of Patroclus shall share half the spoil. I don’t know why that person would not be entitled to all of whatever he could get for the body from the Greeks.

Those Lycians are fools who now rush on Aias, for he kills many of them. He also gets worried about being killed himself. He says this to Menelaus, who in turn calls for the help of the other Danaans. He apologizes for not being able to see them well enough to address them by name. He could be remembering the advice his brother gave him in Book X; in any case, he seems to be alluding to a darkness that Homer will presently make explicit. Meanwhile, the Danaans who heed Menelaus’s call are

  • Aias, son of Oïleus;
  • Idomeneus;
  • Meriones his comrade;
  • too many others for one man to name from his own mind—however, the verse saying this was rejected by Zenodotus, the first librarian of Alexandria and first editor of the Iliad.

The Trojans are as loud as waves at the mouth of a river.

The Achaeans stand firm in defense of the body of Patroclus, and Zeus casts an unexplained darkness over their helmets.

They do not actually stand firm at first, but Trojans are able to start dragging the body away. Until Aias kills him, one of those Trojans is the aforementioned Hippothous, son of the Pelasgian called Lethus, who with his wife will have no recompense for having raised a child.

Hector casts at Aias, but strikes Schedius, son of Iphitus (Hector killed a different Schedius in Book XV).

Aias now kills a second man, the aforementioned Phorcys, son of Phaenops. The Argives drag off and begin to strip the two bodies.

In the guise of Periphas, Apollo enlists the help of Aeneas, who can tell he’s a god, though perhaps not which god. Aeneas wounds Leocritus, son of Arisbas, whose comrade Lycomedes kills Apisaon, son of Hippasus, whose peer, the aforementioned Asteropaeus, seeks revenge, but is unsuccessful, because of the tight formation that Aias has urged on the Danaans: he has told them that none of them should retreat or charge ahead. Perhaps Socrates would want us to ask whether Homer was really passing along good military advice here. However, advice cannot be reckoned good if nobody actually listens to it.

All is still shrouded in darkness, so that sun and moon cannot be seen—around Patroclus; elsewhere the war continues in broad daylight.

Thrasymedes and Antilochus are among those who are elsewhere, having been directed thither by their father Nestor. Thus they are ignorant of Patroclus’s death.

Those who are not ignorant are pulling on the body as if they were stretching a fat-smeared hide (by way of making it into useful leather, apparently).

Achilles himself is ignorant. His mother has not told him what happened. He knows from her that he will not live to see Troy sacked. Therefore he does not expect Patroclus to try to bring this about. That is naïve of him, I would say.

Both the Achaeans and the Trojans tell their comrades to fight to the death for Patroclus’s corpse. I continue to wonder why this is so important. The body may be a tangible prize, but not merely for being a body; what matters is whose it was.

We return to Automedon, who can move Achilles’s horses, neither by whip, nor soft words, nor threats. The immortal beasts stand weeping, still as a column erected over the tomb of some man (ἀνήρ) or woman (γυνή).

I wonder who such a woman might be. I wonder too whether what comes next is the kind of thing that Eliot refers to in “Burnt Norton”:

Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Zeus pities the horses, because they have been given to one of us, and (lines 446–7):

οὐ μὲν γάρ τί πού ἐστιν ὀϊζυρώτερον ἀνδρὸς
πάντων, ὅσσά τε γαῖαν ἔπι πνείει τε καὶ ἕρπει.

For in sooth there is naught, I ween, more miserable than man among all things that breathe and move upon earth. (Murray)

Since among all creatures that breathe on earth and crawl on it
there is not anywhere a thing more dismal than man is. (Lattimore)

Zeus has a plan:

  • Hector shall not take the horses and chariot.
  • The horses shall have strength to carry Automedon home safe to the ships.
  • The Trojans shall again fight up to the ships.

I wonder whether Zeus ever gives strength to a humanoid immortal the way he does to the hippoid.

Regardless of Zeus’s plan, Automedon does not actually retreat, but chases Trojans. Unfortunately he hasn’t got a free hand to attack them with. Now it is Alcimedon, son of Laerces, son of Haemon, who expresses the idea that it must be a god who makes you do foolish things, like exposing yourself to the throw of a spear when you cannot throw back. Automedon flatters Alcimedon by saying he will be the best man to take the reins.

Hector sees these men and asks Aeneas’s help in capturing their horses; thus he has forgotten the advice that Zeus delivered as Mentes. The Trojan heroes are joined by Aretus and the aforementioned Chromius, but Homer calls them all fools again.


  • speaks to Alcimedon, rather as Sarpedon spoke to Glaucus in Book XII: “Let us fight till we die or kill”;
  • calls also for the help of the Aiantes and Menelaus, and then “the issue will rest with Zeus” (line 515);
  • strikes Aretus, who falls as does an ox when struck by an axe;
  • exults at getting some recompense for Patroclus’s death, as he strips the body while Aias holds off the other three Trojans.

There are so many killings in the Iliad, I forget how hard it is to achieve even one; perhaps I even forget to wonder why this should be counted as an achievement.

We return to the body of Patroclus. His mind having turned as regards the war, Zeus has sent Athena down, the way he sends a rainbow as portent of war or storm.

  1. Disguising herself as Phoenix, Athena tells Menelaus to defend Patroclus’s body.
  2. Menelaus says he wishes he had Athena’s help to do this.
  3. Athena gives him that help.

Has Menelaus guessed that Phoenix is really Athena? Does she suspect that he knows who she is, or is she just vain?

The help that Athena gives Menelaus is to have the daring of—a fly. Homer knows the abilities of all creatures great and small. John Donne’s thought is as wide-ranging; here is the middle of the five stanzas of “The Canonization”:

Call us what you will, wee are made ſuch by love;
    Call her one, mee another flye,
We’are Tapers too, and at our owne coſt die,
    And wee in us finde the’Eagle and the Dove.
        The Phoenix ridle hath more wit
        By us, we two being one, are it.
So to one neutrall thing both ſexes fit,
    Wee dye and riſe the ſame, and prove
    Myſterious by this love.

Menelaus kills Podes, Eëtion’s son, and then drags a body, but this is apparently Patroclus’s. Indeed, not as Asius, the way he did in Book XVI, but as his son Phaenops (who is currently distinguished on Wikipedia from the aforementioned father of Phorcys), Apollo chides Hector for letting Menelaus take Patroclus’s body and kill Podes.

Zeus now shakes the aegis to give victory to the Trojans.

Peneleos (who nearly cut off the head of Lyco in Book XVI) begins the rout of the Achaeans, but in a passive sense: he is killed by Polydamas.

Hector wounds Leïtus in the wrist.

Idomeneus strikes Hector beside the nipple, but the spear breaks.

Hector casts at Idomeneus, but kills Coeranus, who brought Meriones in a chariot; Idomeneus had come on foot, but was in the chariot when Hector cast. Meriones now gives the reins to Idomeneus for the return to the ships, because the Achaeans are now losing; but we shall see that Meriones himself is staying.

In Book XV, when Teucer started complaining about a broken bowstring, Aias told him to use a spear. Now Aias himself complains that the Trojan missiles strike home, but not the Achaean. He does successfully pray Zeus to lift the darkness. Now he can tell Menelaus to go tell Antilochus, if alive, to inform Achilles of the latest developments. Thus Menelaus needs directing, as Agamemnon said in Book X, as already mentioned above.

Menelaus goes searching with his eyes, like the bird said to have the best sight, the eagle. When found, Antilochus is long speechless, but takes the charge. Now Menelaus

  • Returns to Aias,
  • says Achilles probably will not come, for lack of armor;
  • wonders what plan can save him and Aias and the body.

Aias has a plan:

  • Menelaus and Meriones carry off the body.
  • Aias and Aias cover them.

It works:

  • M & M drag the body as mules do a tree felled in the mountains;
  • A & A hold back the Trojans as a mountain does a river. Still,
  • Achaean youth flee Hector and Aeneas as starlings or daws do a falcon.

Appendix: A Psycho-Analysis

In Book IV of the Republic, Socrates lists three “forms or qualities” (εἴδη τε καὶ ἤθη, 535e–6a):

  • τὸ θυμοειδές “high spirit,”
  • τὸ φιλομαθές “love of knowledge,”
  • τὸ φιλοχρήματον “love of money.”

Each of these can be found exemplified in a people, such as, respectively,

  • Thracians or Scythians;
  • Athenians or perhaps Atticans (Socrates just refers to “the region where we dwell”);
  • Phoenicians or Egyptians.

A people, or nation, has to get its quality from people, or persons; but how does a person have these qualities? Socrates continues (436a–b), with language that seems elliptical to us, so that translators add words such as “part” and “thing” (I italicize some of these additions, and I number phrases in correspondence with the Greek):

1. But the matter begins to be difficult
2. when you ask whether we do all these things with the same thing
3. or whether there are three things and we do one thing with one and one with another—
4. learn with one part of ourselves,
5. feel anger with another,
7. and with yet a third
6. desire
8. the pleasures of nutrition and generation
9. and their kind,
10. or whether it is with the entire soul
12. that we function
11. in each case
13. when we once begin. (Shorey)

  1. τόδε δὲ ἤδη χαλεπόν,
  2. εἰ τῷ αὐτῷ τούτῳ ἕκαστα πράττομεν
  3. ἢ τρισὶν οὖσιν ἄλλο ἄλλῳ:
  4. μανθάνομεν μὲν ἑτέρῳ,
  5. θυμούμεθα δὲ ἄλλῳ τῶν ἐν ἡμῖν,
  6. ἐπιθυμοῦμεν
  7. δ᾽ αὖ τρίτῳ τινὶ
  8. τῶν περὶ τὴν τροφήν τε καὶ γέννησιν ἡδονῶν
  9. καὶ ὅσα τούτων ἀδελφά,
  10. ἢ ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ
  11. καθ᾽ ἕκαστον αὐτῶν
  12. πράττομεν,
  13. ὅταν ὁρμήσωμεν.

1. But this now is hard.
2. Do we act in each of these ways as a result of the same part of ourselves,
3. or are there three parts and with a different one we act in each of the different ways?
4. Do we learn with one,
5. become spirited with another of the parts within us,
6. and desire
8. the pleasures of nourishment and generation
9. and all their kin
7. with a third;
12. or do we act
10. with the soul as a whole
11. in each of them
13. once we are started? (Bloom)

In order to divide up the soul somehow, Socrates promulgates what we call the Law of Contradiction (536b–c):

1. It is obvious that
2. the same thing
6. will never
3. do or suffer opposites
4. in the same respect
5. in relation to the same thing
7. and at the same time.
8. So that if ever we find
9. these contradictions in the functions of the mind
10. we shall know that
11. it was not the same thing functioning
12. but a plurality.

  1. δῆλον ὅτι
  2. ταὐτὸν
  3. τἀναντία ποιεῖν ἢ πάσχειν
  4. κατὰ ταὐτόν
  5. γε καὶ πρὸς ταὐτὸν
  6. οὐκ ἐθελήσει
  7. ἅμα,
  8. ὥστε ἄν που εὑρίσκωμεν
  9. ἐν αὐτοῖς ταῦτα γιγνόμενα,
  10. εἰσόμεθα ὅτι
  11. οὐ ταὐτὸν ἦν
  12. ἀλλὰ πλείω.

1. It’s plain that
2. the same thing
6. won’t be willing
7. at the same time
3. to do or suffer opposites
4. with respect to the same part
5. and in relation to the same thing.
8. So if we should ever find
9. that happening in these things,
10. we’ll know
11. they weren’t the same
12. but many.

This should all be continued, but I have nothing to add right now.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Reflection (Iliad Book XVIII) « Polytropy on March 30, 2023 at 6:16 pm

    […] « Mind (Iliad Book XVII) […]

  2. By Responsibility (Iliad Book XIX) « Polytropy on April 6, 2023 at 5:27 pm

    […] To explain this, we invent a fictitious force, as I suggested in the context of Book XVII. […]

  3. By Fishes (Iliad Book XXI) « Polytropy on April 19, 2023 at 6:51 pm

    […] Book XVII of the Iliad, Zeus pitied the immortal horses, Xanthus and Balius, as they wept for the slain […]

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