Author Archives: David Pierce

Mathematician & logician; amateur of philosophy; having journalists in family; alumnus of St John’s College (USA); living in Ankara & Istanbul since 2000

On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book IX

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

Book VIII of the Iliad is easily summarized. Chapman does it in four lines.

TO Agamemnon (vrging hopelesse flight)
Stand Diomed, and Nestor opposite:
By Nestors counsell, Legats are dismist,
To Thetis sonne, who still denies t’assist.

These lines hide a wealth of thought. To suggest some of the gems of the book, I expand the summary.

Dog and seaweed on shore opposite Lesbos, 2017.09.14


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NL XXIV: The Body Politic, Social and Non-Social

Index to this series

Dialectic is the way to come to terms with a world of constant change. On the internet in particular, too many persons engage in eristic, staking out a position like the Greeks at Troy, who built a wall around their ships on the shore and tried to defend it against all comers.

Dogs stake out their positions in the shade,
2017.09.14

In the argument of the New Leviathan, we pass from the family to the state, which Collingwood calls the body politic. This is what political theory must give a scientific account of (24.1). We consider three phases of political theory:

  1. ancient,
  2. medieval, and
  3. modern.

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book VIII

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

In the eighth of the twenty-four books of the Iliad, the battle is even all morning, until Jove weighs out the fates of the two sides. The fate of the Greeks is heavier. They are driven back to the wall around their ships. Juno and Pallas try to help them, until warned off by Jove. The Trojans camp outside the Greek wall, lighting fires, at Hector’s command, so that they can see through the night whether the Greeks are trying to escape.

Altınova 2017.09.13

In the fourteenth of the sixteen chapters of the 1884 novel Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans (in the translation by Margaret Mauldon, Oxford World’s Classics, 1998/2009, from the French original, A rebours), the narrator describes a thought of the main and indeed only character that is connected to the aim of the present series of articles on the Iliad.

Many times had Des Esseintes reflected upon the thorny problem of how to condense a novel into a few sentences, which would contain the quintessence of the hundreds of pages always required to establish the setting, sketch the characters, and provide a mass of observations and minor facts in corroboration. The words chosen would then be so inevitable that they would render all other words superfluous; the adjective, positioned in so ingenious and so definitive a manner that it could not legitimately be displaced, would open up such vistas that for days on end the reader would ponder over its meaning, at once precise and manifold, would know the present, reconstruct the past, and make conjectures about the future of the souls of the characters, as these were revealed by the light of that single epithet.

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NL XXIII: The Family As a Society

Index to this series

The last chapter was called “The Family As a Mixed Community,” because the family consists of both a society and a non-social part, called the nursery. Now we are looking at “The Family As a Society.” We are not in contradiction, but are in the flux that Heraclitus observed in all existence (24. 62). The inmates of the nursery normally grow and join the society of their parents: the family as a whole is a society in this sense.

Altınova bazaar, Wednesday, September 13, 2017

If the child is to join the society of its parents, an act of will on both sides is required. This is a key idea of the chapter, one to be carried on to considerations of the state. Collingwood talks a lot about the implications of contraception for the family. He seems to find the practice distasteful; but the possibility of the practice is a boon to freedom, for making us think about things.

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book VII

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

On the recommendation of his brother Helenus, Hector invites any one of the Greeks to single combat—as his brother Paris did, though this is not recollected. The proposed combat will not resolve the war, but may remove from one side, by death, its best man. No Greek takes the challenge until Menelaus offers to. Agamemnon stops him, since he is not good enough. Nestor chides the Greeks, recalling how he once took the challenge of fighting Ereuthalion and won. Nine Greeks now come forward. A lot being picked from Agamemnon’s helmet, Ajax Telemon recognizes it as his own. His combat with Hector ends not with death, but with night and exchange of gifts. In Troy, Paris rejects a suggestion that he return Helen to Menelaus, but he is willing to return her property, and more. This offer is rejected, but not an offer of a truce for burial of the dead. The Greeks build a wall around their burial site and themselves, offending Neptune by not making due sacrifices first. Jove says Neptune may raze the wall when the Greeks go back home. Meanwhile the Greeks enjoy wine purchased from a merchant fleet of Lemnos.

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NL XXII: The Family As a Mixed Community

Index to this series

This chapter and the next concern the family, which like most communities is a mixed community (22.11): part of it is a non-social community, but some part of it is a society proper (22.1), this being, again, as in Chapter XX especially, a community constituted as an act of will on the part of its members.

Thus some members of the family are wilfully so, and some are not. The latter are children, who constitute the nursery (22.12). This is self-emptying, in the sense that children grow up and leave it; it is not self-filling, since children themselves cannot have children (22.21). The nursery is rather replenished by parents (22.17).

The family being a politically sensitive topic, we want to know where Collingwood is going with his account of it. In the present short chapter, he will mention some qualifications and modifications of the basic set-up just described. The next chapter will mention how contraception changed the understanding of the family in Collingwood’s lifetime (he had been born in 1889).

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book VI

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

Book VI of the Iliad may illustrate or test what I have also been reading, whose second title is Man, Society, Civilization and Barbarism. For the Greeks, the Trojan war is a fight for civilization, against the barbarism of stealing the wife of the man who has played host to you. In Book VI is the great exemplar of civilization: the meeting of Diomedes with Glaucus. Discovering that the grandfather of his Trojan enemy had once been a guest of his own grandfather, Diomedes urges that he and Glaucus must exchange gifts, be friends, and avoid meeting on the battlefield; and Glaucus agrees.

One flame of the Chimera, with my backpack, 2009

The Greeks are still some ways from civilization. For Collingwood in New Leviathan,

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NL XXI: Society as Joint Will

Index to this series

A society is an act of will. To form a society is to say, or rather to mean, that we, the intended members of the society, will do something, and not just that we shall do something.

We ask how it is possible to say, “We will.” We ask, as readers, either of Collingwood’s New Leviathan, or at least of what I am writing about this book. I ask, while on holiday at the beach with, for the last few days, my nephew and niece, ages eight and three respectively. When I was a little older than they, I was incensed to think, as an American, that Ronald Reagan might destroy us all in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Later I read the words of Christopher Hitchens, from an older generation, who could remember where he was when John F. Kennedy almost killed him—along with everybody else, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Such worries now return under an American President who seems to embody the worst ruler that Plato could imagine.

Writing in England the early 1940s, Collingwood contended with Fascism and Nazism. He tried to articulate why they must be fought, and what was worth defending. Though generals are accused of always fighting the last war, I read Collingwood with the notion that his thoughts, like Plato’s, are still of value.

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book V

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

Book V of the Iliad is long and rich, with as many characters as War and Peace, and stories within stories. The main story is of Tydeus’s son Diomedes, who with Pallas’s help is able to wound both Venus and Mars—I follow Chapman in using the Roman names.

  • Mars agrees with Minerva not to interfere with the war, but she immediately breaks the agreement.
  • A skilled hunter is successfully hunted down.
  • An oracle is mentioned that the Trojans should not go to sea; the master builder of Paris’s ships is slain.
  • A man who can read the future in dreams is bereft of the sons he let go to war.
  • An old man loses his only sons, the offspring of his old age.
  • Pandarus, who broke the truce and shot Menelaus, had left his horses in Lycia, because he didn’t think they would eat well in Troy.
  • The story is mentioned twice of the horses of Aeneas, offspring of the horses of Jove.
  • Pandarus thinks the horses of Aeneas will respond better to his command than Pandarus’s.
  • Venus is not the first deity to have been injured by a mortal, and her mother Dione advices patience.
  • “He that fights with heaven hath never long to live”—or perhaps to have a faithful wife.
  • Dione can cure a wound without balm.
  • “The race of gods is far above men creeping here below.”
  • Sarpedon discusses justice and sets an example of it.
  • “Strength is but strength of will.”
  • To have self-confidence may be good, but not to tempt fate.
  • Pallas has a theory of just war.

At the beginning of the book, Pallas breathes on Diomedes, so that he shines “like rich Autumnus’ golden lampe” (line 6). This lamp is “Sirius, the star whose rising marked the beginning of” ὀπώρα or late summer, according to the Liddell–Scott lexicon, which refers to the passage of Homer under the featured adjectival form, ὀπωρ-ινός , ή, όν.

Diomedes’s first target is the sons of Dares, a priest of Mulciber (namely Hephaestus or, as the Romans, Chapman, and now I have it, Vulcan). The spear of Ideus hits the left shoulder of Diomedes, but does no harm, while Diomedes deals Ideus a fatal blow. Vulcan (called “the God, great president of fire” in line 23) helps Ideus’s brother Phegeus to flee.

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NL XX: Society and Community

Index to this series

A society is an act of will: it emerges and persists because its members will that it do so. We said this in the previous chapter; we say it now in more detail. In particular, we impose on a society no such further requirement of economic interest as Roman lawyers (apparently) did.

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