Tag Archives: Caroline Alexander

Automatia

One day during the Trojan War, Apollo and Athena decide to give the combatants a break. The general conflict is to be replaced with a one-on-one. The Olympians induce Helenus to tell his brother Hector to take on whichever of the Greeks is up for it.

Only Menelaus will accept the challenge at first. His brother Agamemnon makes him withdraw. When none of the other Greeks comes forward, Nestor chides them. After a story of his former prowess, he utters the words that Chapman renders as two couplets:

O that my youth were now as fresh, and all my powers as sound;
Soone should bold Hector be impugn’d: yet you that most are crownd
With fortitude, of all our hoast; euen you, me thinkes are slow,
Not free, and set on fire with lust, t’encounter such a foe.

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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; edited and augmented, December 20, 2020. This may be the post I return to the most, of those on the books of the Iliad through Book XIV. I began the original post with Chapman’s four-line “Argument”; but for now, his two-line “Other Argument” 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 (of which I originally quoted all but the first two):

He answerd; Noble Telamon, Prince of our souldiers here:
Out of thy heart I know thou speakst, and as thou holdst me deare:
But still as often as I thinke, how rudely I was vsd,
And like a stranger for all rites, fit for our good, refusd:
My heart doth swell against the man, that durst be so profane
To violate his sacred place: not for my priuate bane;
But since wrackt vertues generall lawes, he shamelesse did infringe:
For whose sake I will loose the reines, and giue mine anger swinge,
Without my wisedomes least impeach. He is a foole, and base,
That pitties vice-plagu’d minds, when paine, not loue of right giues place.

Achilles defends not only virtue, but his own right to disrespect somebody who lacks virtue. This may not be the “blow for civilization” that I attribute to Achilles, unless perhaps punching Nazis is also such a blow (and it may be).

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 one 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.”

Here the adverbial clause, “as though I were some alien that had no rights,” correponds to ὡς εἴ τιν᾽ ἀτίμητον μετανάστην. According to Beekes (2010), the noun μετανάστης occurs in Homer only in the phrase ἀτίμητον μετανάστην, as here in line IX.648, which repeats as line XVI.59. The ninth and sixteenth letters of the Greek alphabet being Ι and Π, the books are called also by those letters; but Beekes writes “I 648 = P 59” by mistake. He says Herodotus and contemporaries

already understood the word as ‘wanderer’, and connected it (as μετ-ανά-στη-ς) with μετ-ανα-στῆ-ναι ‘to move, emigrate’, μετανάστασις ‘removal, emigration.’

Beekes thinks the etymology wrong, but that the word is better analyzed as μετα-νάσ-της, coming from an unattested compound *μετα-ναίω.

Cunliffe (1963/1924) has the same analysis, but reads μετά as indicating change here, rather than being among. By itself, ναίω means “to live, inhabit,” and (by Beekes’s account) is possibly connected with ναός “temple, house of a god, sanctuary.”

As for ἀτίμητον, the formation suggests the meaning, “not capable of receiving τιμή.” The standard translation of τιμή seems to be “honor”; but the root sense may be of value or price, and Cunliffe gives the meaning of ἀτίμητον as

Despised; or perh., to whose life no blood-money is attached, whom anyone may slay with impunity.

This is plausible, since at the dramatic time of our passage, Ajax has been pointing out that the brother or father of a slain man will accept blood-money for the crime. That argument does not work for Achilles, against whom Agamemnon has committed a crime worse than murder. A slain man still has rights, but Achilles has none that Agamemnon feels bound to respect.

Despite the possibility of such an interpretation, for ὡς εἴ τιν᾽ ἀτίμητον μετανάστην,

  • Lattimore has “as if I were some dishonoured vagabond”;

  • Alexander has “as if I were some worthless vagabond.”

Such translations may be wrong, if they suggest that Achilles denies being a kind of person that he himself dispises. It may be better to liken him to the professor not named with her title, when a male colleague is named with his; see language: a feminist guide on that issue.

Even for Herodotus, μετανάστης is not “vagabond” in the sense of an isolated rootless individual. He has Athenians describe themselves as (VII.162)

μοῦνοι δὲ ἐόντες οὐ μετανάσται Ἑλλήνων

who alone among the Greeks have never changed our place of habitation.

They are not settlers who have ever lacked the rights of the native population. They are not the “outlanders” described in the note of Benner (1903) on μετανάστην at Iliad IX.648:

The South African Uitlander (outlander) affords a suggestive modern instance of the prejudice against the intruding foreigner.

There is a twofold reason why I return now (in 2019) to Book IX and this post:

  1. The book has words such as Julian Jaynes cites, in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, to argue that Agamemnon and Achilles are not conscious.

  2. There is a counterargument in the Finnish movie Upswing, which the post mentions.

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

Seeing the Greeks hard pressed, Agamemnon proposes to give up the fight. Diomedes ridicules this. Nestor proposes further to send to Achilles an embassy consisting of Ulysses, Ajax Telamon, and Phoenix, the last having been Achilles’s teacher. The embassy will offer gifts if Achilles will return to the fight.

Ulysses details those gifts to Achilles, who declines them. He knows from Thetis his fate: a short glorious life, or a long anonymous one. He chooses the latter.

Achilles’s father took in Phoenix, after events that symbolize male adolescence, if not the Oedipus complex. Phoenix plies Achilles with a theology of prayers, these being personified as daughters of Zeus. Phoenix cites precedent for burying the hatchet, notably in the story of the Calydonian Boar and the ensuing but belated defense of Calydon against the Curetes by Meleager, despite his feud with his mother. Still Achilles will not budge.

Ajax simply cannot understand how a man can turn down the wealth embodied in the proffered gifts. Agamemnon took one woman from Achilles, but now offers seven! Achilles tries to enlighten Ajax. This will bear consideration at length. I therefore turn now to the details of Book IX.

From Book VIII, we know that the Greeks are pressed by Jove and Troy. They are pressed, as if by the North and West Winds, Boreas and Zephyrus, which drive onto the shore the seaweed that farmers use to manure their crops. The specific likening of the two winds to the two powers of Jove and the Trojans seems to be Chapman’s embellishment of Homer. So does the stated practical use of seaweed blown onto land. I am no longer reading by the seaside; but when I was there, south of the Troad, on a windy day, the sea would indeed drive strands of weed onto the shore, and a man would come rake them up.

The Greeks are terrified (lines 2 and 3):

The feeble consort of cold feare (strangely infusde from heauen)
Griefe, not to be endur’d, did wound, all Greeks of greatest worth.

Agamemnon speaks privately with the Greek leaders. They have come to Troy, neither for his own glory nor his brother’s revenge, but for the honor of their country. They would not have come, had Jove not given signs of approval. Evidently they have lost his approval, and so they should flee.

Diomedes recalls how Agamemnon belittled him in Book IV, to goad him to fight. Diomedes forbore to object; now he will give Agamemnon the same treatment. Diomedes and Sthenelus will fight till Troy is conquered.

Nestor commends the speech of Diomedes, despite his youth. Nestor recognizes the responsibility of Agamemnon for the welfare of all, and he recommends that Agamemnon host all of the Peers in his tents for supper with wine.

For this meeting to take place, seven captains of the watch are appointed:

  1. Nestor’s son Thrasymedes,

  2. Ascalaphus,

  3. Ialmenus,

  4. Meriones,

  5. Alphareus,

  6. Deipyrus, and

  7. Lycomedes, son of Creon.

If only for euphony, Homer refers to the second and third as sons of Ares; Chapman does not make use of this information.

At the council of the peers, Nestor observes diplomatically that Jove has given Agamemnon the scepter whereby he commands. It is right that Agamemnon should speak—but also listen, particularly to Nestor, as he failed to do, back in Book I, when Nestor recommended not taking Briseis from Achilles. Now Achilles should be enticed to rejoin the battle with “kind words and pleasing gifts.” Here is how Chapman has Nestor put it (lines 107–18):

For me; what in my iudgement stands, the most conuenient
I will aduise; and am assur’d, aduice more competent
Shall not be giuen: the generall proofe, that hath before bene made
Of what I speake, confirmes me still; and now may well perswade,
Because I could not then, yet ought, when thou (most royall King)
Euen from the tent, Achilles loue, didst violently bring,
Against my counsell, vrging thee, by all meanes to relent:
But you (obeying your high mind) would venture the euent,
Dishonoring our ablest Greeke, a man th’immortals grace:
Againe, yet let’s deliberate, to make him now embrace
Affection to our generall good, and bring his force to field:
Both which, kind words and pleasing gifts, must make his vertues yeeld.

Agamemnon admits his error. Jove has shown that the Greeks need Achilles. Overlooking the recommendation of ἔπη μειλίχια, pleasing words, Agamemnon thinks Achilles will be drawn by δώρα ἀγανά, mild gifts. I note that ἀγανός here has no known etymology, according to Robert Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek (Leiden: Brill, 2010); in any case, here is what Agamemnon says (lines 124–6):

Yet after my confest offence, soothing my humorous spleene,
Ile sweeten his affects againe, with presents infinite,
Which (to approue my firme intent) Ile openly recite.

The presents included tripods, talents of gold, cauldrons, horses—and women, taken from Lesbos by Achilles in the first place, along with Briseis herself. With her will come what Agamemnon may consider to be kind words: he has not had his way with her (lines 132–8):

Seuen Lesbian Ladies he shall haue, that were the most select,
And in their needles rarely skild: whom (when he tooke the towne
Of famous Lesbos) I did chuse; who wonne the chiefe renowne,
For beautie from their whole faire sexe; amongst whom Ile resigne
Faire Brysis; and I deeply sweare (for any fact of mine
That may discourage her receit) she is vntoucht, and rests
As he resign’d her …

Without any textual evidence, I nonetheless see no reason why Agamemnon’s denial of any relations with Briseis would not be entirely pro forma, and strictly a lie. Such a denial is made, and accepted, along with a parade of gifts, in a wonderful Finnish movie called Nousukausi or Upswing, from the seventh Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival in Ankara in 2004. In the film, a young professional couple take a new kind of holiday by forswearing their wealth and living in a slum. Formerly suppressed by bourgeois life, primitive urges like those of the Greeks at Troy start to come forth in the couple; but the expression of these urges has its own conventions within the pair’s new working-class apartment building.

For the record, Ayşe and I have so far kept the catalogue for the 2004 Flying Broom festival, along with the catalogues for a number of other years, not to mention other film festivals. I remembered neither the year nor the name of Upswing, but only that we had probably seen it in Flying Broom. Checking a few catalogue indexes for Finnish directors was not successful. I would have needed to find Johanna Vuoksenmaa, born six months after me. The way I ultimately found Nousukausi was by entering a plot description at What Is My Movie, an amazing website that turns out to have been developed in Finland as well. Thus it is not clear that we need give space to all of those catalogues, though they may still serve as souvenirs.


Flying Broom catalogue, 2004

Back in the Iliad Book IX, what Agamemnon will offer Achilles does not end with a declaration of not having slept with his woman. Should the Greeks prove victorious over Troy, Achilles shall choose:

  • for concubinage, the twenty most beautiful Trojan women after Helen (whom Chapman here calls Tyndaris, Tyndareus being her nominal father, in the way that Joseph was the father of Jesus), and

  • for a wife, the fairest of Agamemnon’s three daughters—

    1. Laodice,

    2. Chrysothemis, and

    3. Iphianassa

    —whose dowry shall be seven cities:

    1. Cardamyle,

    2. Enope,

    3. Hire,

    4. Pherae,

    5. Antheia,

    6. Aepeia, and

    7. Pedasus.

Is it clear to the listener that the offer of Agamemnon will not be accepted? He seems to emphasize the point himself, unwittingly, when he says critically of Agamemnon Achilles (lines 161–4),

Let him be milde and tractable: tis for the God of ghosts
To be vnrul’d, implacable, and seeke the bloud of hoasts;
Whom therefore men do much abhorre: then let him yeeld to me;
I am his greater, being a King, and more in yeares then he.

The god of ghosts is for Homer simply Hades (Ἀΐδης, the Homeric form of Ἅιδης or ᾅδης). Agamemnon does not understand that the very point at issue is whether he deserves to be a king.

Nestor recommends that Phoenix, Ajax Telamon, and Ulysses should be the king’s legates, with Odius and Eurybates as heralds. In Book I, it was Talthybius and Eurybates who were sent to take Briseis from Achilles.

In discussing Book VII, I lamented the prevalence of recorded popular music as inhibiting the memory of serious music. The mighty warrior Achilles makes his own music. The legates find him strumming a harp (lines 189–90):

To it he sung the glorious deeds, of great Heroes dead,
And his true mind, that practise faild, sweet contemplation fed.

Chapman has here expanded a single verse of Homer’s, which happens to have the same number, 189, as the first in Chapman’s couplet:

τῇ ὅ γε θυμὸν ἔτερπεν, ἄειδε δ᾽ ἄρα κλέα ἀνδρῶν.

Lattimore renders this as

With this he was pleasuring his heart, and singing of men’s fame.

In The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), Julian Jaynes describes the key term θυμός as referring to

a mass of internal sensations in response to environmental crises. It was, I suggest, a pattern of stimulation familiar to modern physiology, the so-called stress or emergency response of the sympathetic nervous system and its liberation of adrenalin and noradrenalin from the adrenal glands … [p. 262]

Homer’s words are truly echoed in the first line of Congreve’s Mourning Bride, “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast.”

The word θυμός is distinguished in its accentuation from θύμος, which is either the thymus gland or (as a variant of θύμον) the herb thyme. The Liddell–Scott–Jones lexicon observes that, in the Cratylus (419e), Plato “rightly” derives θυμός from the second of the two verbs θύω, namely the one that means to seethe or rage, rather than to make a burnt offering.

At “the quarter of the Myrmidons” (line 183), Ulysses stands in view. Achilles sees him and calls for wine. Patroclus and Automedon prepare a feast, which is described in some detail. Ajax signals impatience to Phoenix; Ulysses sees this and speaks up.

The question now is not whether the Greeks can take Troy, but whether they can save their own skins. With his thunderbolts, Jove has shown his favor of the Trojans. Ulysses recalls how Achilles’s father told him to let the gods use him for their own ends (lines 248–55):

O friend! thou knowest, thy royall Sire, forewarnd what should be done,
That day he sent thee from his Court, to honour Atreus sonne:
My sonne (said he) the victory, let Ioue and Pallas vse
At their high pleasures; but do thou, no honor’d meanes refuse
That may aduance her; in fit bounds, containe thy mightie mind;
Nor let the knowledge of thy strength, be factiously inclind,
Contriuing mischiefes; be to fame, and generall good profest;
The more will all sorts honour thee; Benignitie is best.

Ulysses details the gifts that Agamemnon offers. If these do not sway Achilles, let him pity the other Greeks and earn the glory of killing Hector.

It’s no good, says Achilles; Agamemnon has missed the point (lines 303–8).

Not Atreus sonne, nor all the Greeks, shall winne me to their aid:
Their suite is wretchedly enforc’t, to free their owne despaires;
And my life neuer shall be hir’d, with thanklesse desperate praires:
For neuer had I benefite, that euer foild the foe;
Euen share hath he that keepes his tent, and he to field doth go;
With equall honour cowards die, and men most valiant.

The spoils of war have been equally distributed, but not the pains. The kind words recommended by Nestor would acknowledge the injustice of the Greek system—or of Agamemnon’s perversion of the system, by taking Achilles’s share.


Cunliffe, A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963)

When I was young and the Bell System was broken up, I doubted it was progress that we now had to spend energy deciding which long distance provider to use. When I had my own telephone line in Hamilton, Ontario, in the 1990s, I accepted the local provider’s long distance service. After a while, another company called me up, offering better rates. I accepted the offer. Then the first company tried to lure me back with lower rates. I declined. I didn’t care about the money, I cared about fairness. Evidently the first company could have charged me less all along. They had done me an injustice.

This is Achilles’s response to Ulysses (if I may say so; but see “Homer for the Civilian”). It’s not the wealth, it’s the respect. In Chapter XXI of the New Leviathan, Collingwood observes that inequalities between the members of a society can be compensated or turned into assets. The superior strength of Achilles has been an asset to the society of Greek warriors, but Achilles himself has not been properly compensated. In a remarkable simile for a warrior to use, Achilles has been like a mother bird feeding her chicks, only to be left with no food for herself. Achilles has taken twelve towns for the Greeks. Though he has stayed behind at Troy, Agamemnon has taken the best prizes for himself, distributing others to “Optimates and Kings” (line 322). Now Achilles alone has been bereft of his prize. The war has been fought over the theft of the wife of Menelaus; now the brother of Menelaus has stolen the woman whom Achilles could marry (lines 324–33).

But so he gaine a louely Dame, to be his beds delight,
It is enough; for what cause else, do Greeks and Troians fight?
Why brought he hither such an hoast? was it not for a Dame?
For faire-hair’d Hellen? and doth loue, alone the hearts inflame
Of the Atrides to their wiues, of all the men that moue?
Euery discreet and honest mind, cares for his priuate loue,
As much as they: as I my selfe, lou’d Brysis as my life,
Although my captiue; and had will, to take her for my wife:
Whom, since he forc’t, preuenting me; in vaine he shall prolong
Hopes to appease me, that know well, the deepnesse of my wrong.

Tomorrow Achilles will make sacrifice, set sail, and, in three days—Inshallah—make Phthia, where what he has won at Troy will only add to his gold, brass, women, and steel (lines 354–7).

These will I take as I retire, as shares I firmly saue;
Though Agamemnon be so base, to take the gifts he gaue.
Tell him all this, and openly; I on your honors charge,
That others may take shame to heare, his lusts command so large.

The father of Achilles shall choose his wife. Freedom is better than Mammon. Lost wealth can be regained, but not life, after we have breathed it forth (lines 389–95).

Not all the wealth of wel-built Troy, possest when peace was there:
All that Apollos marble Fane, in stonie Pythos holds,
I value equall with the life, that my free breast infolds.
Sheepe, Oxen, Tripods, crest-deckt horse, though lost, may come againe:
But when the white guard of our teeth, no longer can containe
Our humane soule, away it flies; and once gone, neuer more
To her fraile mansion any man, can her lost powres restore.

Achilles knows his destiny, but still has a choice (lines 396–402).

And therefore since my mother-queene (fam’d for her siluer feet)
Told me two fates about my death, in my direction meet:
The one, that if I here remaine, t’assist our victorie,
My safe returne shall neuer liue, my fame shall neuer die:
If my returne obtaine successe, much of my fame decayes,
But death shall linger his approach, and I liue many dayes.
This being reueal’d, twere foolish pride, t’abridge my life for praise.

Achilles is going home. Phoenix may come with him or not: that is his choice.

Phoenix asserts his moral authority. Peleus sent him to Troy to instruct Achilles (lines 422–3),

That thou mightst speake when speech was fit, and do, when deeds were done;
Not sit as dumbe, for want of words; idle, for skill to moue.

The feelings of a boy for his mother and father form a complex, which Freud named for the adopted son of the King and Queen of Corinth. He might just as well have called it the Phoenix Complex. Phoenix had been asked by his mother to sleep with the concubine of Amyntor Ormenides, his father, so that the attentions of the latter might be returned to his lawful wife. Chapman gives the concubine or “harlot” the name Clytia, but this information seems to come from a scholium to Homer’s text. The plan of Phoenix’s mother backfired. Amyntor prayed the Furies that no woman would love Phoenix, nor give him offspring. “The Deities obayd / That gouerne hell: infernall Ioue, and sterne Persephone” (lines 438–9). Infernal Jove is Ζεύς καταχθόνιος, Zeus of the nether world: Hades or Pluto.

Phoenix wanted to run away, but his friends kept him under guard at home. They drank Amyntor’s wine and ate his meat. On the tenth day, Phoenix broke free and fled to the court of Peleus, who treated him as a son.


William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Dover, 1994)

Phoenix hoped in turn to make Achilles his son. It is not clear how this is an argument for why Achilles should stay and fight; but Phoenix makes it anyway (lines 463–6).

Much haue I sufferd for thy loue, much labour’d, wished much;
Thinking since I must haue no heire, (the Gods decrees are such)
I would adopt thy selfe my heire: to thee my heart did giue
What any Sire could giue his sonne; in thee I hop’t to liue.

The real argument for why Achilles should accept the offer of Agamemnon is that it would be accepted by the gods themselves, who are not so strict as Achilles (lines 469–73).

The Gods themselues are flexible, whose vertues, honors, powers,
Are more then thine: yet they will bend, their breasts as we bend ours.
Perfumes, benigne deuotions, sauors of offrings burnd,
And holy rites, the engines are, with which their hearts are turnd,
By men that pray to them; whose faith, their sinnes haue falsified.

It is a bogus argument, since as William Blake reminds us, “All deities reside in the human breast.” This is the culmination of Plate 11 of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell (which I shall make use of also in “Antitheses”):

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.

And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity.

Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood.

Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.

And at length they pronounced that the gods had orderd such things.

Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.

Even Homer constantly reminds us that the gods may not hear our pleas. Nonetheless, Phoenix persists, with an obscure tale. As Collingwood reminds us in Chapter XXIII of the New Leviathan, we are born neither free nor in chains, but

a red and wrinkled lump of flesh having no will of its own at all, absolutely at the mercy of the parents by whose conspiracy he has been brought into existence.

This is roughly what prayers are, in appearance, for Phoenix. These are the Λιταί, the Litae: pleas for forgiveness.

I suspected a connection with liturgy, λειτουργία, as if this word meant prayer work; but it means public work, the first element coming from λαός, people: English gets from this lay, as in laity. However, litany does come from λιταί or its singular form λιτή (which in turn is from a verb λίσσομαι “beg, pray, implore,” whose etymology is unclear, according to Beekes).

Just as the newborn babe cries out for attention, so too, it seems, do the Litae, according to Phoenix; and the cries should be respected (lines 474–81):

For, prayers are daughters of great Ioue; lame, wrinkled, ruddie eyd,
And euer following iniury; who (strong and sound of feet)
Flies through the world, afflicting men: beleeuing prayers, yet
(To all that loue that seed of Ioue) the certaine blessing get
To haue Ioue heare, and helpe them too: but if he shall refuse,
And stand inflexible to them, they flie to Ioue, and vse
Their powres against him; that the wrongs, he doth to them, may fall
On his owne head, and pay those paines, whose cure he failes to call.

Chapman here twists English almost completely out of shape. Being strong and sound of foot, Injury flies through the world, afflicting men; but Prayers follow. By believing in prayers, it seems, men get the certain blessing of having Jove hear them and give help, at least to those who love this seed of Jove, namely prayers. Chapman’s Injury is Murray’s Sin and Lattimore’s Ruin. Here is Lattimore, whose lines, unlike Chapman’s, follow Homer (lines 502–12):


The Iliad of Homer, tr. Lattimore
(University of Chicago Press, 1961)

For there are also the spirits of Prayer, the daughters of great Zeus,
and they are lame of their feet, and wrinkled, and cast their eyes sidelong,
who toil on their way left far behind by the spirit of Ruin:
but she, Ruin, is strong and sound on her feet, and therefore
far outruns all Prayers, and wins in every country
to force men astray; and the Prayers follow as healers after her.
If a man venerates these daughters of Zeus as they draw near,
such a man they bring great advantage, and hear his entreaty;
but if a man shall deny them, and stubbornly with a harsh word
refuse, they go to Zeus, son of Kronos, in supplication
that Ruin may overtake this man, that he be hurt, and punished.

Ruin here is Homer’s Ἄτη. She is originally a stupor; hence mental blindness, which leads to harm; hence that harm itself. Does this harm come to those who are deaf to the prayers of others, or to the atheists who decline to pray for themselves? Phoenix seems to intend at least the former. At the beginning of the book, Agamemnon said Jove had sent the confusion called Atê, giving him the idea that the Greeks would be victorious at Troy. True to Phoenix’s tale, the Litae now come to Agamemnon, or from Agamemnon: he prays Achilles will return to battle. Did Agamemnon not back up his prayer with offer of gifts, Phoenix would not entreat Achilles to hear the prayer; but Agamemnon did, so Phoenix does.


Jane Austen, Emma (Oxford World’s Classics, 1980)

Other worthies have been amenable to prayer, though perhaps too late. Phoenix tells an elaborate story of Meleager, son of Oeneus, King of Aetolia. Because he failed to offer her first fruits (τά θαλύσια), though he gave hecatombs to other gods, Diana sent a boar to ravage Oeneus’s fields and orchards. Meleager slew the boar, but not before many men were killed. Diana then sent the Curetes to beseige the Aetolian city of Calydon. While Meleager fought, the Curetes could not approach the city walls. However, Meleager gave off fighting, like Achilles, because of strife with his mother, whom Homer names as Althea, though Chapman does not. Meleager had killed his mother’s brother, under circumstances unspecified by Homer, and was cursed by his mother for this. So Meleager withdrew with his wife Cleopatra, daughter of Marpessa and Ideus. Marpessa was also called Alcyone, apparently after the plaintive sound of the ἀλκυών, the kingfisher, because her friends—apparently friends in the sense of Jane Austen, whose Emma ends with a description of the marriage of the title character and Mr Knightley:

the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union

—such friends of Marpessa could not keep her from being raped by Apollo, though Ideus fought the god because of this. Meleager hid himself away with Marpessa’s daughter, since his mother had it in for him, to the point of pounding on the ground to bring the attention of Pluto and Persephone; even Erinys heard in Erebus. But when the Curetes started breaking into Calydon, even his mother entreated Meleager to help the Aetolians. He responded only when his own tower was attacked; but by now, the gifts he had been offered had been destroyed. Achilles should not wait so long to help his countrymen.

So says Phoenix, but the mind of Achilles is made up. He does have a bed made up for his mentor.

Ajax cannot believe his ears. Others are not so stubborn, even over men taken from them (lines 598–604).

Another for his brother slaine, another for his sonne,
Accepts of satisfaction: and he the deed hath done
Liues in belou’d societie, long after his amends;
To which, his foes high heart for gifts, with patience condescends:
But thee a wild and cruell spirit, the Gods for plague haue giuen,
And for one girle; of whose faire sexe, we come to offer seauen,
The most exempt for excellence, and many a better prise.

Like too many persons today, Ajax cannot understand why having more is not always better. Achilles tries to explain yet again his beef with Agamemnon (lines 612–9):

But still as often as I thinke, how rudely I was vsd,
And like a stranger for all rites, fit for our good, refusd:
My heart doth swell against the man, that durst be so profane
To violate his sacred place: not for my priuate bane;
But since wrackt vertues generall lawes, he shamelesse did infringe:
For whose sake I will loose the reines, and giue mine anger swinge,
Without my wisedomes least impeach. He is a foole, and base,
That pitties vice-plagu’d minds, when paine, not loue of right giues place.

This could be a stronger blow for civilization than the Greek seige of Troy. While considering the treatment by Menelaus of his prisoner Adrestus in Book VI, I cited Collingwood in describing civil behavior as abstention from arousing a passion that would diminish anybody’s self-respect. Agamemnon has aroused such passion in Achilles—at least according to Achilles’s own representations. It might then be counted as an advance to thwart Agamemnon’s uncivil actions by inaction.

If we think civilization has to do with how a society treats its weakest members, we must observe that, for Achilles, a woman is still a slave. After Ulysses and Ajax depart, and Phoenix is put to bed, whatever Achilles may have felt about Briseis, he still takes advantage of a concubine (lines 632–6):

Achilles lay in th’inner roome, of his tent richly wrought;
And that faire Ladie by his side, that he from Lesbos brought,
Bright Diomeda, Phorbas seed: Patroclus did embrace
The beautious Iphis, giuen to him, when his bold friend did race
The loftie Syrus, that was kept, in Enyeius hold.

Ulysses reports to Agamemnon. Diomedes wishes the embassy had not been sent, for Achilles will now burst with pride.


November 15, 2017: Having been reading Jaynes on the so-called bicameral mind, I have reread and edited the present article (keeping one indicated correction of Agamemnon to Achilles as a sign of this). I am considering how Jaynes’s notions of consciousness can affect one’s reading of Homer. It may be indeed be useful to keep in mind the physical meanings of words like θυμός (I wish Jaynes used the Greek letters, instead of writing thumos, but I suppose they might scare readers). However, the reading that I have undertaken here is specifically of Chapman’s version of the Iliad.


December 2, 2020: I have added references to Beekes’s etymological dictionary of Greek, and that “litany” is from λιτή. Mainly, where before I said

The spoils of war have been equally distributed, but not the pains. The kind words recommended by Nestor would acknowledge the injustice of the Greek system

—meaning, if those words really were kind, they would acknowledge the injustice—I have added the qualification that the system as such may not be injust, but “Agamemnon’s perversion of the system” is.

The system is that spoil is booty, meaning it is to be shared. The Grolier International Dictionary (1981) does not preserve this sense of “booty,” but defines it as “plunder taken from an enemy in time of war.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (6th edition, 1976) qualifies booty as: “Plunder or profit acquired in common and to be divided”; this is a slight abridgement of what the full Oxford English Dictionary calls the original definition.

Spoil should be shared, and still Agamemnon has taken away the share of Achilles, in the injustice that started everything in Book I.

John Prendergast has drawn my attention to the issue here in his essay, “How to Choose the Best Translation of the Iliad: Revealing the Quality and Fidelity Compared to Homer’s Greek.” Among other examples, Prendergast takes up lines of Book IX including 318–22, which Caroline Alexander renders (in her 2015 translation, which I acquired recently):

the fate is the same if a man hangs back, and if he battles greatly,
in equal honor are both coward and warrior;
and they die alike, both the man who has done nothing and he who has accomplished many things.
Nor is there any profit for me, because I have endured affliction at heart,
ever staking my life to do combat.

A problem is that the Greek for “profit” here is only a pronoun, which in Prendergast’s plausible argument refers back to “fate” and “honor,” and the former ought rather to be rendered as “portion” or “share.” Achilles is complaining, not that he gets no more than others, but that Agamemnon has left him with no share at all.

The text at Project Perseus reads:

ἴση μοῖρα μένοντι καὶ εἰ μάλα τις πολεμίζοι:
ἐν δὲ ἰῇ τιμῇ ἠμὲν κακὸς ἠδὲ καὶ ἐσθλός:
κάτθαν᾽ ὁμῶς ὅ τ᾽ ἀεργὸς ἀνὴρ ὅ τε πολλὰ ἐοργώς.
οὐδέ τί μοι περίκειται, ἐπεὶ πάθον ἄλγεα θυμῷ
αἰεὶ ἐμὴν ψυχὴν παραβαλλόμενος πολεμίζειν.

In Prendergast’s word-for-word version,

Equal the portion for staying, and if very much one would battle,
and in one honor, whether bad or good,
he dies the same, he the unworked man and he the much worked?
And not any around me lies, after I suffered pains in heart,
forever my life casting aside to battle!

Prendergast observes about the middle of these five lines,

Achilles in line 320 expands his complaint about his lack of an immediate reward with the principle of an ultimate reward. This slight digression is tricky as it separates the connection between his thought about honor in 319 and the pronoun that refers back to his honor in 321. To avoid confusion from this disconnection, it is important to translate 320 exactly as written in Greek.

Alternatively, one may elide line 320, if one agrees with the note that Project Perseus supplies from those of Allen Rogers Benner, dated to 1903: “This line looks like the interpolation of a gnomic poet.” Perseus does not explain the source further, but evidently it is Benner’s Selections from Homer’s Iliad: With an Introduction, Notes, a short Homeric Grammar, and a Vocabulary (New York: D. Appleton, 1904). The book is available from the Internet Archive, and Benner’s Preface explains:

This edition of the Iliad includes the books commonly required for admission to American colleges, and in addition liberal selections from the remainder of the poem,—in all, the equivalent of nearly eight books. It has been long felt as a defect of Homeric study in our schools that the average student obtains no just conception of the unity of the Iliad as a work of literature and of art; this is particularly true, of course, when not over a year is given to the study of Homer and when the reading of the Iliad is not carried beyond the sixth book.

Benner signs himself, in May, 1903, as being at Phillips Academy.