Category Archives: Homer


The post below is a way to record a passage in the Euthyphro where Socrates say something true and important about mathematics. The passage is on a list of Platonic passages that I recently found, having written it in a notebook on May 23, 2018. The other passages are in the Republic; Continue reading

On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XIV

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

When Neptune was helping the Greeks stave off certain defeat, I tried to suggest that divine intervention in the course of events might be understood as human resolve to change that course. This was in Book XIII of the Iliad, where Neptune took the form of one of the Greeks—Calchas—in order to exhort the others. They would have listened to Calchas anyway; he was a prophet. Ajax Oileus said he could tell Calchas was “really” a god; we can read this to mean Calchas was inspiring. We can say this of somebody today, without meaning to suggest any supernatural influence.

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XIII

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

Usually when your defenses are breached, you are lost. Thus when the Ottoman Turks under Mehmet I found a way through the Theodosian Walls on Tuesday morning, May 29, 1453, the city of Constantinople was theirs.

Now the Trojans under Hector have breached the wall around the Greek ships, and—the ships are not theirs. How does Homer explain this?

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NL XXVIII: The Forms of Political Action

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 12, 2018), To condemn political discussion is to wish for tyranny: this continues a thought from the previous chapter. The ruling class need not share their deliberations with the ruled class, but it is better if they do. As our understanding of the reason for an action evolves—at first the action is merely useful, but later it conforms to a rule—, so ruling, originally by decree, has evolved to include legislation. However, to be enforced, law does not require a formal structure; international law is an example. The best reason for an action is duty. Though the German Treitschke says our highest duty is to the state, he gives the state no duty, and so his politics are entirely utilitarian.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates seeks understanding of the just human being through examination of the just state. In Collingwood’s New Leviathan, the order is reversed. What we first considered in somebody, we now look at in the “body politic.”

Narthex of the former Taksiyarhis Church (now museum), Ayvalık, Balıkesir, Turkey, August 30, 2018

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XII

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

Both first and last place may be prominent in a narrative. Occurring three-quarters of the way into Book XII of the Iliad, but presented last below, Sarpedon’s great speech on leadership ought to be known by everybody with authority and power.

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XI

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

After the active night of Book X comes the dawn of a thrilling day.

  1. AVrora, out of restfull bed, did from bright Tython rise,
  2. To bring each deathlesse essence light, and vse, to mortall eyes.

The deathless essence called Jove sends Discord to the Greeks. She lights on the ship of Ulysses, in the middle of the fleet, so all can hear as she belts out her “Orthian song.”

  1. And presently was bitter warre, more sweet a thousand times
  2. Then any choice in hollow keeles, to greet their natiu climes.

The sweetness of war is the theme of the book. Continue reading

On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book X

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

In Book X of the Iliad, Diomedes and Ulysses go to spy on the Trojan camp at night. When they return to the Greek camp,

  1. Then entred they the meere maine sea, to cleanse their honord sweate
  2. From off their feet, their thighes and neckes…

I can enter the same sea now. After more than ten months, I return to my reading of Homer, and Chapman’s Homer, as I have returned to the place where I was doing it last year, on the Aegean coast opposite Lesbos, after the sweat-soaked struggle of—teaching in the Nesin Mathematics Village, south of here, in the hills above Ephesus.

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book IX

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

Note added May 5, 2019. This may be the post I return to the most, of those on the books of the Iliad so far (through Book XIV). I begin with Chapman’s four-line “Argument,” but his two-line “Other Argument” for now serves better:

Iota sings the Ambassie,
And great Achilles sterne replie.

The stern reply is that Achilles will not fight, and his mind will not be changed by material gifts. Agamemnon has violated the “general laws of virtue,” according to lines 610–9, in the modernized spelling of the Wordsworth Classics edition (2003):

He answer’d: ‘Noble Telamon, prince of our soldiers here,
Out of they heart I know thou speak’st, and as thou hold’st me dear:
But still as often as I think how rudely I was us’d
And like a stranger, for all rites fit for our good refus’d,
My heart doth swell against the man that durst be so profane
To violate his sacred place; not for my private bane,
But since wrack’d virtue’s general laws he shameless did infringe,
For whose sake I will loose the reines, and give mine anger swinge,
Without my wisdom’s least impeach. He is a fool, and base,
That pities vice-plagu’d minds, when pain, not love of right, gives place …’

Achilles defends not only virtue, but his own right to disrespect somebody who lacks virtue. This is not really part of the “blow for civilization” that I shall attribute to Achilles, except insofar as it results in inaction rather than action.

The moral investigations are specific to Chapman, who makes ten lines out of Homer’s six (643–8), even while passing over most of the first of these:

τὸν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς:
“Αἶαν διογενὲς Τελαμώνιε κοίρανε λαῶν
πάντά τί μοι κατὰ θυμὸν ἐείσαο μυθήσασθαι:
ἀλλά μοι οἰδάνεται κραδίη χόλῳ ὁππότε κείνων
μνήσομαι ὥς μ᾽ ἀσύφηλον ἐν Ἀργείοισιν ἔρεξεν
Ἀτρεΐδης ὡς εἴ τιν᾽ ἀτίμητον μετανάστην.”

In Murray’s literal prose, some words of which I rearrange to make lines corresponding to Homer’s:

Then in answer to him spake Achilles, swift of foot:
“Aias, sprung from Zeus, thou son of Telamon, captain of the host,
all this thou seemest to speak almost after mine own mind;
by my heart swelleth with wrath whenso of this
I think, how hath wrought indignity upon me amid the Argives
the son of Atreus, as though I were some alien that had no rights.”

A twofold reason why I return now to Book IX and this post:

  1. The book’s words such as Julian Jaynes cites, to argue that Agamemnon and Achilles are not conscious.
  2. The post’s mention of the Finnish movie Upswing, which offers a counterargument.

In Book XIX, Agamemnon will attribute to Zeus the taking of Briseis from Achilles. For Jaynes (on pages 72–3 of Origin), “this was no particular fiction of Agamemnon’s to evade responsibility.” That seems right, but not the conclusion that Agamemnon “did not have any ego whatever.” In our terms, Agamemnon’s abnegation is an accepting of responsibility for an ego that caused the Greeks to suffer. Responsibility is shown by self-humiliation.

Book IX 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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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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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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