Tuesday, September 2, 2014

TFBT: Correct Conversation in the Iliad

In preparation for a live discussion on the Language of Heroes Professor Richard Martin asked members of Hour 25 to make sense in context of the speech-acts in three passages of The Iliad;
·      Text A - Iliad 1.1-52,  Chryses and Agamemnon
·      Text B -  Iliad 20.176-258,   Aeneas and Achilles
·      Text C – Iliad 11.618 – 654, Nestor, Machaon and Patroclus

And then try to apply our sense of the overall speech-situation to Text D - Iliad
6.119 -236, Glaucus and Diomedes.  Unfortunately my observations seem to have turned the post and gone back the other way.  But I suppose that is to be expected with discussing conversation and Nestor.

Here’s what I got so far;

In “Text A” the priest Chryses demands the return of his daughter in the name of the god Apollo.  Lord Agamemnon  “spoke fiercely to him”, and maybe with good reason.  Based on the examples of Thetis supplication of Zeus and Priam’s of Achilles, Chryses was not supplicating Agamemnon  properly.  If the priest had maybe Agamemnon’s response might have been similar to Nestor in “Text C”; “he sprang from his seat, seized his (Patroclus’ s) hand, led him into the tent, and bade him take his place among  them”  Of course that didn’t happen, Agamemnon sent the priest away.  “The old man feared him and obeyed.”  But as we know from Hour 24 in HeroesX just because one party goes away, the dialogue doesn’t end, rather “Not a word he spoke, but went by the shore of the sounding sea and prayed apart to King Apollo whom lovely fine haired Leto had borne.”  Chryses continuation of the conversation foreshadows Achilles own prayer apart by the sounding sea.  And we all know how affective that was for Achilles in the Iliad and for Demeter in her Homeric Hymn.

In Text B when I read Aeneas say, “I will, can brag and talk unseemly…We could fling taunts… and talk all sorts of ways” I took this for the normal sort of chest puffing, trash-talk you can witness before some sporting events and on the playground before recess.  It wasn’t until Text D when  I heard the graciousness of the son of Hippolokhos and the son of Tydeus on the battlefield that I realized Achilles barely got a word in edgewise and that Aeneas was disrespectful of Achilles lineage. Maybe if Aeneas hadn’t been talking like Thersites he might have walked away with the much coveted armor of Achilles.

Text C brings us a man who knows how to converse.  Nestor as host takes Machaon to the shore so they can dry their shirts in the breeze, while a wise woman sets a meal for them.  And the mixing of the wine took on such precision and ritual that it conjured up images of Demeter’s sacred drought  then “they fell talking with one another”.  You just know this was a great talk.  Enter Patroclus, greeted graciously as mentioned above.  His response to the offer of wine is almost as curt as Demeter’s had been.  He gets what he wants and is gone.

In Text D two chivalrous Bronze Age nobles exchange gracious respectful words  and part with gifts to amaze their peers for generations to come.  One would have the armor of Diomedes and the other armor of gold.  (As to Glaucus taking leave of his wits; keep in mind these are the words of an envious iron age bard who sings for his dinner singing of two bronze age heroes whose world view was as different from his as ours is of all of them. )

Visit the full text of Professor Martin's book at the Center for Hellenic Studies; http://chs.harvard.edu/wa/pageR?tn=ArticleWrapper&bdc=12&mn=3366


  1. I would never think that a reason why Chryses was ordered out was his failure to use the proper formula for supplication! But after you explain it, this looks quite possible.
    I would disagree, however, about the dialog between Achilles and Aeneas. Achilles starts it with insults (unlike Diomedes), claiming that Aeneas was fighting for Troy only because of power-craving, that Aeneas was weak, cowardly and stupid. I have no impression that Aeneas was disrespectful of Achilles' lineage. Except if calling Achilles "only son" was a hint of his mother being a serial child killer, but this detail of the story seems to be completely absent from Homeric epic. And though both heroes were descendants of Zeus, there were no episodes of friendship among their ancestors as between those of Diomedes and Glaucus; anyway, Achilles was on the field not to show himself noble, but to kill every Trojan in sight.
    It was Apollo who, talking to Aeneas, was disrespectful of Achilles' lineage, calling Thetis a lower goddess. In my story, this attitude to her as a second-rate being is key to the plot, because it gives her motivation to save the rule of Zeus.

  2. Maya,
    Good call on Aeneas and Achilles. If you get a minute our conversation from today is posted at Hour 25