Saturday, March 30, 2013

TFBT: Random Notes from the Iliad

Iliad 9: 50 “Nestor the charioteer rose to speak. “Son of Tydeus,” said he, “in war your prowess is beyond question, and in council you excel all who are of your own years; [55] no one of the Achaeans can make light of what you say nor gainsay it,”  Talk about buttering someone up!

 Iliad 9: 192 “Meanwhile the two of them came in - radiant Odysseus leading the way.”  In the Embassy scene here, the ambassadors are Phoenix, Odysseus and Ajax.  I’ve heard in the Greek that Achilles is using the “dual” tense; in affect totally ignoring Odysseus.  Note that in the ensuing conversation Phoenix recites Agamemnon’s offer pretty much verbatim, while Odysseus paraphrases Achilles response.    To further the dual tense argument note Achilles parting words to Odysseus, 310 “ ... As hateful to me as the gates of Hades is one who says one thing while he hides another in his heart; therefore I will say what I mean.”  Quite a difference from Achilles greeting (to Phoenix and Ajax) [195] … “All hail and welcome …you, …are still dearest to me of the Achaeans.”

Iliad 15: 264 “as a horse, stabled and full-fed, breaks loose and gallops gloriously over the plain [265] to the place where he is wont to take his bath in the river - he tosses his head, and his mane streams over his shoulders as in all the pride of his strength he flies full speed to the pastures where the mares are feeding –“

Iliad 15:580 “as a dog springs on a fawn which a hunter has hit as it was breaking away from its covert, and killed it. Even so, O Melanippos, did stalwart Antilokhos spring upon you to strip you of your armor; but noble Hector marked him, and came running up to him through the thick of the battle.”  Why did Homer switch to the second person tense?

Iliad 15:615 “ Now, however, he kept trying to break the ranks of the enemy wherever he could see them thickest, and in the goodliest armor”  Do Greek Heroes have the same culture as Aztecs; look for someone of rank and noble equipage, when you enter the fray?

Iliad 15: 730 Here he stood on the look-out, and with his spear held back Trojan whom he saw bringing fire to the ships. All the time he kept on shouting at the top of his voice and exhorting the Danaans. “My friends,” he cried, “Danaan heroes, attendants of Ares, be men my friends, and fight with might and with main.  [735] Can we hope to find helpers hereafter, or a wall to shield us more surely than the one we have? There is no strong city within reach, whence we may draw fresh population to turn the scales in our favor. We are on the plain of the armed Trojans with the sea behind us,  [740] and far from our own country. Our salvation, therefore, is in the might of our hands and in hard fighting.”  Great speech by Ajax.


  1. I like most Hector's speeches about defending homeland.
    Also, the way Iliad heroes shout insults in the face of gods, often for trivial reasons, and get away with it.

  2. Maya, I was re-reading the Iliad once while also reading "Guns, Germs and Steel". In GG&S one Spaniard slew over a thousand Incan warriors in a day, meanwhile Diomedes took on Ares the god of war and drew blood. I wonder how the conquest of the New World would have gone if Homer had been born among the Aztecs?

  3. What a coincidence! I am re-reading both books right now.
    BTW, readers should be careful with "Guns, Germs and Steel". In order to make reality suit his theories, Diamond cherry-picks facts and sometimes gives them quite wrong. In fact, measles is the only infectious disease passed from domestic animals to humans. All other major pathogens have either co-evolved with humans or have been borrowed from wild animals. TB was passed from humans to cattle, not vice versa. I could check this because I am a biologist. I wonder how many similar examples of "creativity" Diamond offers in other fields where I cannot "catch" them because of lack of expertise. Despite this, the book is very useful.
    About the Aztecs, have you read Maurice Collis's "Cortes and Montezuma"? It presents the events from both points of view, and I think some of the Aztec sources are admirable. What a pity that most of them were destroyed.