Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published May 13, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Due to life stuff, I had almost forgotten about Words Crush Wednesday this week.  So I wasn’t thinking about “oh, what would be a good quote for this week?”  So I just flipped through my post-it-noted pages in the Iliad and picked one.  This is a passage that makes mythology-archaeology hybridists like myself squirm with delight.

It’s Book X of the Iliad, and Odysseus and Diomedes are preparing their night raid against the Trojans, which will end in the death of Rhesos.  From the W. H. D. Rouse translation.

Then both men armed themselves.  Tydeides had left his own sword behind, so Thrasymedes gave him one, and a shield; he put on a leather headpiece without boss or plume, what the lads wear–they call it a skullcap.  Meriones gave Odysseus bow and quiver and sword, and a well-made headpiece of leather; this was stiffened inside with a strong web of leather laces and padded with felt, and outside rows of boars’ tusks were fixed in a pattern.

This fine piece was one of the thefts of Autolycos; he took it once in Eleon, after breaking into the house of Amyntor Ormenides, and gave it to Cytherian Amphidamas, who took it home to Scandeia; Amphidamas gave it to Molos his guest, and Molos gave it to his son Meriones to wear.  Now it was fitted upon the head of Odysseus.

(NB, “Tydeides” is a patronymic meaning “son of Tydeus” and referring to Diomedes.  Also, Autolycos was Odysseus’ grandfather, so it’s extra appropriate for Odysseus to be wearing a helmet he’d stolen.)

Now, you’re probably wondering why this passage is so exciting?  (Unless you’ve read my A-to-Z entry on Diomedes, as I think I said most of this then.)  That’s because boar’s tusk helmets like that actually were used in Mycenaean times.  The remains of one was found at Dendra.  And given its age, boar’s tusk helmets would have been out of date by at least a hundred years by the time of the Trojan War, and given all the owners this one has passed between, it’s probably a hundred years old itself.  An awesome little bit of ancient fact working its way into literature of a later era.  (Which is not to say that I think the whole myth is based on reality.  But I do think it has roots in the myths, culture and events of the Late Bronze Age.)  Also, the “skullcap” Diomedes is wearing?  Patroclos might be wearing a similar one in the Sosias cup.  (Or he might have shaved his hair to make his helmet fit better; interpretations vary.)


3 comments on “Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

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