Dawn (Iliad Book XXIV)

The games of Book XXIII of the Iliad have not been enough to let Achilles sleep. He tosses and turns,

yearning for the manhood and valorous might of Patroclus, thinking on all he had wrought with him and all the woes he had borne, passing through wars of men and the grievous waves. (lines 6–9)

It occurs to me to ask: Is that what we call a description? It is a “setting down in words”; however, if it is a “verbal portrait,” this only goes to show what a remarkable power we have, to know what somebody is thinking by how he looks.

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Murray sees “thinking” in Homer’s verses, but it is not literally there, as a word. Above I bolded the verbs that are there:

Πατρόκλου ποθέων ἀνδροτῆτά τε καὶ μένος ἠΰ,
ἠδ᾽ ὁπόσα τολύπευσε σὺν αὐτῷ καὶ πάθεν ἄλγεα
ἀνδρῶν τε πτολέμους ἀλεγεινά τε κύματα πείρων.

Murray could have put “and” in place of “thinking on,” as Lattimore does:

in longing for Patroklos, for his manhood and his great strength
and all the actions he had seen to the end with him, and the hardships
he had suffered; the wars of men; hard crossing of the big waters.

Lattimore misses the zeugma in the last verse though, where both wars and waters are subjected to the same action. Murray could have brought out the zeugma better by talking of Achilles and Patroclus as “piercing” or “cleaving” these things, rather than just “passing through” them.

Murray does give us a note saying that Aristophanes (of Byzantium) and Aristarchus (of Samothrace) rejected the three lines that we are looking at. I do not know how these ancient scholars worked, but I suppose they somehow thought the lines in question must have been inserted into Homer’s original poem. The other lines at the beginning of Book XXIV still tell us that Achilles is having a difficult night. In Book III of the Republic (388a), Socrates wants to ban those lines, for giving us an example that should not be followed.

Socrates proposes such bans, along with more extreme measures amounting to eugenics, and Adeimantus just nods along. I keep expecting Socrates to invite Adeimantus and Glaucon to contemplate the absurdity and horror of what they are agreeing to; but they never do. I talked about this in the context of the latter part of Book VII of the Republic. I recalled “The Third Wave,” a project alleged developed by Ron Jones to show how ordinary people can become fascists.

At the beginning of Book X of the Iliad, Homer gave us a portrait of another man who could not sleep, though not for grief, but for worry: Agamemnon.

In Book XXIV now, Achilles sees the dawn. By telling us this, Homer may reveal that seeing dawn is not common. However, I should think somebody in the Achaean camp must see it, lest the Trojans attack. In the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, warriors fight several battles at night, although it is not clear to me how they can see well enough to do this. At the end of Book XXIV of the Iliad, when the Trojans heap a mound over the bones of Hector, some of the men keep watch, lest the Achaeans attack. The Trojans are wary, even though Achilles has told Priam, and Priam has told his men, that Achilles will withhold attack till the twelfth dawn, and only eleven have been seen.

It will be possible to bury Hector’s bones, because Priam is going to visit the Achaean camp to retrieve the body; but he will have to get past guards to do this.

Meanwhile, Achilles is holding onto the body of Hector, so that he can drag it around the mound that holds the bones of Patroclus. Apollo protects the corpse with the aegis. There are twelve dawns of this; Murray says “morning,” but Homer has ἠώς (line 31). The other gods urge Argeiphontes to take the body away from Achilles; however, Hera, Poseidon, and Athena object. Now we hear why the ladies, at least, hate Troy so much: they remember the Judgment of Paris.

Apollo makes an argument for saving Hector’s body:

  • Hector has always burned for the gods the thighs of unblemished bulls and goats.
  • Achilles’s
    • mind (φρένες) is not right (line 40)
    • purpose (νόημα) cannot be swayed,
    • compassion (ἔλεος) is lost (line 44),
    • shame (αἰδως) is absent.

The word ἔλεος appears only the once in all of Homer, but is the ultimate source of our “eleemosynary” and “alms.” As for αἰδως, it can also mean compassion. Apollo grants that it can be a source of harm as well as profit, and Murray elaborates on this in a footnote:

shame, or fear for what men may say, while it may deter one from doing wrong, may also prevent one from doing what he knows to be right, see especially Euripides, Hippolytus, 385 f.

In revising Murray’s edition of the Iliad in the Loeb Classical Library, Wyatt was as shameless as Achilles, for keeping only the first part of Murray’s note, while leaving out the reference to the Hippolytus. This is precisely the part of the note that we readers cannot recover for ourselves, just by thinking things over. The relevant verses are spoken by Phaedra, here in the poetic 1973 translation of Robert Bagg (his lines 589–600):

And life, especially a woman’s, seethes with pleasures—
exhilarating hours of gossip,
and daydreaming, that sweet waste of time.
And even shame gives pleasure.
But there are two shames: shame that ensures
purity pleasing to the inner soul,
and shame that makes us do
what the world wants—
that kind annihilates dynasties.
If we could always tell
which of the two shames pleasured us
we wouldn’t have one word for both.

Bagg’s is the translation that I bought in college, after tutors warned that another translation was misleading on σωφροσύνη. This concept, like shame, is ambiguous: it can connote moderation or extremism. See the words that Karl Hess gave Barry Goldwater to say:

Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.
Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.

See also the 2016 essay about those words by Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center. Perhaps I should count extremism and moderation as another one of the “Antitheses,” like punishment and forgiveness, or liberty and responsibility.

The verses above from the Hippolytus above turn out to be part of the excerpt posted as a doc file on Robert Bagg’s website. They are an elaboration of Euripides’s own lines 383–7:

… εἰσὶ δ᾽ ἡδοναὶ πολλαὶ βίου,
μακραί τε λέσχαι καὶ σχολή, τερπνὸν κακόν,
αἰδώς τε. δισσαὶ δ᾽ εἰσίν, ἡ μὲν οὐ κακή,
ἡ δ᾽ ἄχθος οἴκων. εἰ δ᾽ ὁ καιρὸς ἦν σαφής,
οὐκ ἂν δύ᾽ ἤστην ταὔτ᾽ ἔχοντε γράμματα.

The translation of David Kovacs on the Perseus site is more literal:

Life’s pleasures are many, long leisurely talks—a pleasant evil—and the sense of awe. Yet they are of two sorts, one pleasure being no bad thing, another a burden upon houses. If propriety were always clear, there would not be two things designated by the same letters.

He may be more literal than Bagg, but Kovacs does interpolate “pleasure” where Bagg puts “shame”; Euripides has no word that these translate.

We were observing that Apollo says Achilles is shameless. He is wrong. At least, Achilles will be able to turn over a new leaf, by surrendering Hector’s body to Priam, even though it gives him shame before the memory of Patroclus.

Meanwhile, Apollo urges the suppression of emotional displays. Socrates does this too, while overlooking how, at the beginning of the Iliad, Achilles restrained himself from killing Agamemnon, as I mentioned in the context of Book XXIII.

According to Apollo, even somebody who has lost a full brother or a son would not weep so long as Achilles has been. Dragging Hector’s body around Patroclus’s tomb,

in sooth neither honour nor profit shall he have therefrom; (Murray)
and nothing is gained thereby for his good, or his honor; (Lattimore)
οὐ μήν οἱ τό γε κάλλιον οὐδέ τ᾽ ἄμεινον. (line 52)

The translators use nouns where Homer uses comparative adjectives: “in sooth it will not be more honorable or more profitable for him.”

Apollo says we humans are supposed to be able to deal with loss:

for an enduring soul have the Fates given unto men.
τλητὸν γὰρ Μοῖραι θυμὸν θέσαν ἀνθρώποισιν. (line 49)

It’s a paradox: How can somebody need telling that he already has a power that he can use for his own good? I talked about this in “Biological History,” quoting Collingwood from Outlines of a Philosophy of Art:

You can make a novice climb by roping him and leading him; he supports himself because he thinks some one else is supporting him.

Nonetheless, mourners can be advised today to ignore the advisors who tell them how much mourning is enough. WebMD says,

There’s no “normal” amount of time to grieve. Your grieving process depends on a number of things, like your personality, age, beliefs, and support network. The type of loss is also a factor.

Back in the Iliad, Apollo has made his case, and now Hera reminds him that Achilles was born to a goddess, – whom Hera had nurtured, and – at whose wedding Apollo himself played.

Zeus comes in as moderator, saying:

  • Achilles is due more honor than Hector.
  • The latter is nonetheless the dearest of mortals, to Zeus at least.
  • The corpse of Patroclus cannot be taken without Achilles’s knowledge.
  • This is because Thetis is always visiting her son.

In Book XV, Hera travelled from Ida to Olympus as fast as one could think of doing so. In Book XVI, Glaucus believed a god like Apollo could hear his prayer from any distance. It is not clear to me now whether Zeus thinks Thetis would intuit any divine plan to steal Hector’s corpse, or whether alternatively she would observe any such plan in action, during one of her visits with Achilles.

As usual, Zeus does not summon Thetis directly by thought alone, but Iris goes to fetch her from under sea, so that Zeus can tell her to tell Achilles to let Priam ransom Hector’s body. He mentions the other gods’ wish too:

They are for bestirring the keen-sighted Argeiphontes to steal the body away, yet herein do I accord honour unto Achilles. (lines 109–10)

κλέψαι δ᾽ ὀτρύνουσιν ἐΰσκοπον ἀργεϊφόντην:
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ τόδε κῦδος Ἀχιλλῆϊ προτιάπτω.

Murray thinks the honor here lies in the ransom that Priam is going to pay. In that case, Socrates tries to change our sense of what honor is. He criticizes several of the scenes that we have seen lately, though it is not clear how carefully he is reading. This is in the Republic, again in Book III (390e–1c, in Shorey’s translation):

—… nor shall we think it proper nor admit that Achilles himself was so greedy as to accept gifts from Agamemnon [in Book XIX] and again to give up a dead body after receiving payment but otherwise to refuse.

—It is not right, he [Adeimantus] said, to commend such conduct.

—But, for Homer’s sake, said I, I hesitate to say that it is positively impious to affirm such things of Achilles and to believe them when told by others; or again to believe that he said to Apollo [in Book XXII]

Me thou hast baulked, Far-darter, the most pernicious of all gods,
Mightily would I requite thee if only my hands had the power.

And how he was disobedient to the river [in Book XXI], who was a god and was ready to fight with him, and again that he said [in Book XXIII] of the locks of his hair, consecrated to the other river Spercheius:

This let me give to take with him my hair to the hero, Patroclus,

who was a dead body, and that he did so we must believe. And again the trailings of Hector’s body round the grave of Patroclus and the slaughter of the living captives upon his pyre, all these we will affirm to be lies, nor will we suffer our youth to believe that Achilles, the son of a goddess and of Peleus the most chaste of men, grandson of Zeus, and himself bred under the care of the most sage Cheiron, was of so perturbed a spirit as to be affected with two contradictory maladies, the greed [φιλοχρηματία] that becomes no free man and at the same time overweening arrogance [ὑπερηφανία] towards gods and men.

—You are right, he said.

Achilles may be arrogant, but I don’t think the accusation of greed fits, especially when the Greek is more literally “love of money.”

  • In Book XIX, he wasn’t interested in Agamemnon’s gifts.
  • In Book IX, he scorned the gifts, not because they were not valuable enough, but because his services were not for sale at any price.

Now Thetis goes to Achilles, strokes him, and tells him sleeping with a woman would be good for him. How many mothers do that? In Pasolini’s early film Mamma Roma, as I recall, the character of Anna Magnani wants one of her prostitute friends to sleep with her adolescent son; but again, that’s fiction.

Small gnarled tree with purple leaves and orange lichen on its trunk, in front of a pond
Atatürk Kent Ormanı
Tarabya, Sarıyer, İstanbul
May 11, 2023

Zeus sends Iris to tell Priam to go with gifts to fetch Hector’s body, accompanied by no other Trojan—and yet a herald may attend. What does this say about his status? He will not be named for a while, but will be Idaeus, who appeared also in

  • Book III, to bring Priam for the ceremony before the duel between Menelaus and Hector:
  • Book VII, involved with the duel between Hector and Aias, and then with the ceasefire proposed by Priam.

In Book XXIV now, Zeus continues, explaining to Iris that Argeiphontes will guide Priam, and Achilles will not kill him or let him be killed:

for not without wisdom is he, neither without purpose, nor yet hardened in sin;
οὔτε γάρ ἐστ᾽ ἄφρων οὔτ᾽ ἄσκοπος οὔτ᾽ ἀλιτήμων. (line 157)

Every human can be humane; even Achilles can.

Priam mourns among his sons, while his daughters and his sons’ wives wail throughout the palace. He is very sensitive: in Book III he could not watch his son fight a duel with Menelaus, and now he trembles at the approach of Iris. She reassures him and transmits Zeus’s message.

Thus does God send Priam on a terrible journey. Abraham was sent on a terrible journey too; however, there is a good argument, made by some Muslim scholars at least, that God didn’t actually send him. I took this up in “Sacrifice and Simulation.” Hecabe argues against Priam’s plan, just as Sarah would have objected to Abraham’s, had she known it was to kill her son. Hecabe’s son is already dead; she doesn’t want to see her husband killed too.

The thread of Hector’s fate was spun at his birth. That could be Hecabe’s way of saying that retrieving Hector’s body will not change anything. As Achilles wanted to feed on Hector in Book XXII, so now Hecabe is angry enough to feed on Achilles. In her version of the “just-world hypothesis,” dogs must not be allowed to feed on her son, because he did nothing cowardly. (Criticism by Maugham of the just-world hypothesis was touched on in “Biological History.”)

Priam tells Hecabe that the command of Zeus has come to him not from a human seer or priest, but from a goddess (whom however he does not name, and who did not name herself to him). When he is ready to set off, Hecabe reminds him that she disapproves, unless Zeus sends a bird on the right when Priam pours out the libation that she has brought. The god would appear to comply. Maybe there are enough birds around that you can always see one on the right, if you want; but this one is an eagle, whose wings are “Wide as is the door of some rich man’s high-roofed treasure-chamber” (lines 317–8).

When Priam first asked Hecabe’s advice on whether to accept Zeus’s supposed commission, he was already in his treasure-chamber, having told his sons to get his wagon ready. The treasure he selects to give Achilles consists of:

Outside, Priam drives away the gathered mourning Trojans. I imagine he feels as Achilles did in Book IX: these people cannot understand how Priam really feels, and so their affected sympathy becomes in insult. He does not exactly call them cowards, for having left Hector alone to face Achilles; but he does say that soon they will really understand the loss of Hector, when Achaeans start slaying them with greater ease.

Priam’s accusations may not be fair; both he and Hecabe wanted Hector to stay or come inside.

Priam rebukes nine sons:

  1. Helenus,
  2. Paris,
  3. Agathon,*
  4. Pammon,*
  5. Antiphonus,*
  6. Polites,
  7. Deiphobus,
  8. Hippothous,*
  9. Dius;*

for his best sons are dead:

  1. Mestor,*
  2. Troilus,*
  3. Hector.

We have seen nothing else of the sons that I have marked. Deiphobus and Helenus were wounded in Book XIII, and Polites led the former off the field. Athena appeared to Hector as Deiphobus in Book XXII.

The living sons get their father’s kit ready, and Homer gives a lot of detail about this. There is a mule wagon, apparently for Idaeus; for Priam, his own special horses are led beneath the yoke.

Hecabe brings the libation that I mentioned, and the men go out, Idaeus in front; only now does Homer actually name him.

Past the mound of Ilus, the men stop at the river to let the equines drink. It is dark by now, but Idaeus notices the approach of a young man. Priam is terrified.

The young man takes Priam’s hand and asks whether he is seeking to secure his treasure somewhere, or to flee himself. He would have reason to do the latter, since his son is dead. The young man could observe Hector’s prowess when Achilles would not let him and the other Myrmidons fight. He is the seventh son of Polyctor and was the one of them chosen by lot to come to Troy. The Achaeans plan on doing battle tomorrow.

We otherwise know of no Polyctor in the Iliad. His supposed son has been sent by Zeus and is really Hermes. Gods lie. In Book II of the Republic, Socrates lays out two rules to govern stories about the gods:

  1. “God is not the cause of all things, but only of the good” (380d).
  2. The gods “are neither wizards in shape-shifting nor do they mislead us by falsehoods in words or deed” (383a).

Socrates’s example of misleading in the Iliad is the false dream that Zeus sends to Agamemnon at the beginning of Book II. Hermes now misleads Priam, but to good effect. Nonetheless, Socrates has Adeimantus agree to the assertion, “there is no motive for God to deceive … from every point of view, the divine and the divinity are free from falsehood” (382e).

Priam wants to know: is his son’s body intact? Hermes says that gods have preserved it. Priam rejoices, observing that it was good Hector was pious. However, he refers to Hector as

my son—as sure as ever such a one there was; (Murray)
my son—if ever in fact he was; (Wyatt)
my own son, if ever I had one; (Lattimore)
my son—if ever he was; (Alexander)
ποτ᾽ ἐμὸς πάις, εἴ ποτ᾽ ἔην γε. (line 426).

The point in each case may be that Priam has started to wonder whether Hector ever really existed. However, Murray and Wyatt suggest, respectively:

  1. Hector was more definitely my son than any other.
  2. A man can never be sure that the child borne by his wife is really his.

Moreover, earlier in the book, Apollo did suggest that, as much as Achilles mourned Patroclus, a normal man would not mourn even a brother of the same womb (κασίγνητος ὁμογάστριος, line 47). It so happens that the Turkish word for a sibling, kardeş, means literally “womb-mate” or “belly-mate,” from karın “womb.” In Book XXI (as I noted in 2019, though not this time around), one reason why Lycaon hoped for mercy from Achilles was that he and Hector were the fruit of different wombs, although they shared a father in Priam.

Priam now offers Polyctor’s son a goblet, but the god says accepting it would be cheating Achilles.

Hermes makes the guards at the walls and trench sleep. Thus, again, there are guards.

At Achilles’s hut—made of fir, roofed with thatch—Hermes reveals himself. Telling his name, he says he must not be entertained by a mortal.

Homer describes no reaction from Priam, who enters the hut alone and clasps the knees of Achilles. The man has just finished eating, having been served by Automedon and Alcimus. The three of them are as amazed as if Priam were a murderer seeking asylum.

Remember your father, says Priam, who has fifty sons, nineteen from the same womb or belly—the Greek word here is νηδύς, and Idomeneus used it in Book XIII (line 290) to describe where Meriones might be struck, because he would never turn his back on an attacker.

It seems the Ancients were using language that is today supposed to be “inclusive.” Those sons are not of the same mother, but of the same body part, which today some people think can belong to a father too. However, according to Prof. Jenny Gamble and Dr Karleen Gribble in a letter to the Guardian (May 6, 2022),

Alternative terms for “women” that refer to reproductive body parts or processes such as “uterus havers”, “birthers” or “menstruators” are recognised as dehumanising and so to be avoided.

Ares has killed an unspecified number of Priam’s sons; Achilles has killed the only one who defended the city single-handed. Achilles should

  • respect the gods,
  • remember his father, and therefore
  • pity Priam.

Priam weeps on the floor for Hector; Achilles, in his chair, for Peleus and Patroclus. When Achilles has had his fill, he rises and raises Priam. He is supposed to see in Priam his father; however (I would say), what he sees is himself and the unseemliness of excess mourning. He tells Priam what he himself has needed to understand:

  • The gods have already spun our thread.
  • They don’t care (or are carefree themselves).
  • Zeus has two urns, of ills and blessings.

Zeus may give somebody an entirely bad lot, or else a mixed lot, as he did to Peleus, who was

  • king of the Myrmidons,
  • husband of a goddess, but
  • father of only one son, who is now away, causing ills for Priam.

As for Priam,

  • he once was happy (ὄλβιος, line 543), ruling Lesbos, Phrygia, and the Hellespont, because of his wealth and his sons;
  • now he has misery (πῆμα, line 547).

He should bear up: grieving will do nothing for Hector.

I take this all as Achilles’s way of admitting that similar things could have been said to him; or if they were said, he should have listened.

Achilles tries to put Priam in a chair, but the old man just wants to take Hector’s body. This makes Achilles angry; why? I’ll say it is because, with all of his talk, Achilles has been trying to steel himself to do what is a betrayal of Patroclus. If Priam wants sympathy, he should be sympathetic with Achilles’s own inner conflict.

Achilles goes out with Automedon and Alcimus to

  • unyoke the horses and mules,
  • bring in and seat Idaeus,
  • take the ransom, except two robes and a tunic for Hector’s body.

Achilles tells women to prepare Hector’s body, out of sight of Priam, lest

  • Priam show anger (χόλος, line 584),
  • Achilles be agitated and kill Priam, transgressing Zeus’s charge.

So Achilles knows himself and knows how to take precautions against difficult moments; why does Socrates not point this out, instead of wanting to ban Homer?

Achilles groans and apologizes to Patroclus, saying he will share with him the loot from Priam. Perhaps this means he will bury some of the goods with Patroclus’s bones.

As I noted earlier, Socrates says Achilles was affected by greed; but it seems to me that Achilles is generous. He goes back inside to tell Priam that he can see the body and take it away at dawn; meanwhile, he must eat, as even Niobe did, even though she had lost twelve children. Achilles tells the story at some length, referring to the weeping rock on Mount Sipylus that can apparently be seen today above the Turkish city of Manisa.

Again Achilles is giving advice that he would not follow earlier. Even though Achilles has had an evening meal, he has another one with Priam, and the two men admire one another.

Priam has not eaten or slept since Hector’s death, and now he wants to be put to bed.

When Achilles tells Priam that he will be sleeping on a bed outside, he does it ἐπικερτομέων (line 649)—mocking, which is how Patroclus was in Book XVI when he said Cebriones fell in death as if he were diving for oysters.

However, Achilles also asks Priam how many days to delay battle, as I mentioned; the number is twelve.

Apparently following his mother’s advice, Achilles sleeps with Briseis. Hermes comes to rescue Priam, lest Achaeans hold him for thrice the ransom that he has already brought. The god departs as the mortals ford the Xanthus.

It is dawn. Cassandra sees her father first. All the Trojan men and women come out to mourn. Priam tells them to let him go home with Hector.

  • Andromache leads the wailing. She regrets that Hector could not reach out and speak to her in dying.
  • Hecabe is glad the gods have cared enough to preserve her son’s body.
  • To Helen, as Hector’s father has been gentle, so is Hector himself.

Helen uses two adjectives for gentleness: ἤπιος (line 770) and ἀγανός (line 772). Hecabe used the latter for Apollo’s arrows (line 759).

Hector has a funeral pyre while guards keep watch.

Bushes of purple flowers
Atatürk Kent Ormanı
Tarabya, Sarıyer, İstanbul
May 11, 2023

2 Trackbacks

  1. By On Homer’s Iliad Book IV « Polytropy on May 20, 2023 at 4:56 am

    […] Trying to take that body, Odysseus’s man Leucus is killed by the spear of Priam’s son Antiphus, who was aiming for Ajax. (Agamemnon will kill Antiphus and his half-brother Isus in Book XI, but Priam will remember neither son in Book XXIV.) […]

  2. By On Religion and Philosophy « Polytropy on May 23, 2023 at 4:50 pm

    […] writing recently on the final book of Homer’s Iliad, I proposed extremism and moderation as constituting another […]

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