Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published July 29, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

This week’s Words Crush Wednesday is gonna be another long one.  On account of I want to get the battle in the river to a good stopping point, and there’s a lot left.  (I know, I should just say “hey, just go read the whole Iliad already!” but that’s kind of been my point all along, right?)  Anyway, last week Poseidon and Athene showed up and showed that the reason Achilles has such a swelled ego is that the gods actually do pop down and help him out when he’s in a jam, and Poseidon told him (explaining that they were gods in disguise as mortal men) not to give up hope because they’d never let him die to an ordinary river.

Okay, so from Book XXI of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation:

Achillês was much encouraged by this advice, and he pushed across the plain.  The whole space was covered with water, all sorts of fine armour and weapons floating upon it, and the bodies of young men cut off in their prime.  He stumbled along wading through these and lifting his knees high to make way against the running current; Athena gave him strength enough to hold his own.

But Scamandrios was angrier than ever against Achillês.  He lifted a great crested wave on high and called loudly to Simoeis:

“I say, Brother!  This man’s too strong–let us both join to stop him, or he’ll drive the Trojans before him and sack the city!  Help here, quick!  Fill up your stream from the springs, bring down all your torrents, raise a flood, roll along trees and stones in confusion–we must stop this wild man who thinks himself as good as any god and sweeps the field!  I vow his strength shall do him no good, nor his handsome body, nor his fine armour–which will soon lie at the bottom, I think, buried in mud!  I’ll slime him over in sand and roll a mountain of shingle on the top!  His friends shall not know how to find his bones in all that slough!  Here shall be his sepulchre–there will be no need to pile a barrow when the Achaians make his funeral!”

Then the River rose in a mighty towering wave, roaring and swirling with a confused agglomeration of foam and blood and bodies, curving over the head of Achillês, and there he would have caught him:  but Hera saw the danger, and called to Hephaistos:

“Up with you, Crookshank, my son!  You were to mark River Xanthos, as we arranged.  Go and help the man, be quick, raise a conflagration, and I will bring West and Southeast with a heavy gale from the sea to drive the flames and burn up bodies and armour together.  You burn the trees along the banks and invade the river.  Don’t let him move you by prayers or by curses!  And don’t stop until you hear me calling and telling you to stop!”

Hephaistos at once raised a devil of a fire.  The conflagration first swept the plain and burnt up all the heaps of bodies which Achillês had left there.  As the wind blows in autumn on an orchard newly watered, and dries in it, and the harvester is glad, so the fire dried the water off the plain and consumed all the bodies.  Then he turned his flames to the river itself, burnt elms and willows and tamarisks, burnt clover and rushes and galingale and everything that grew along the banks.  Eels and fishes dived and darted about in great distress, as Hephaistos directed his fiery blast on the water.  The River was burnt himself, and called out:

“Hephaistos!  No god alive can stand against you, and how could I fight you, all ablaze with fire like that?  Make up the quarrel!  Let Achillês drive the Trojans out of their city and have done with it.  What are the quarrels and succours to me?”

He was well in the fire as he spoke, and his water was bubbling like a copper full of hog’s fat melting over a brisk blaze, with fagots of good dry wood piled all round: the water boiled, and he did not care to run any more while the fiery blast of Hephaistos tormented him.  So he appealed to Hera frankly:

“My dear Hera, why has your son pitched on my stream?  Why trouble me out of so many others?  You can’t blame me more than the others who help the Trojans.  Well, I will promise to stop if you say so, but let him stop too.  I give you my oath I will never help Trojans again, not even when the Achaians fire the city and burn the whole place up in the conflagration!”

At once Hera called out:

“Stop, Hephaistos, my admirable son!  It is not proper to knock about an immortal god like this for the sake of mortal men.”

At the word Hephaistos quenched his furious fires, and the river ran down between his banks as before.

So Hera stayed that quarrel, when Xanthos was pacified, although she was still angry.  But the other gods were bitter against each other on the opposing sides:  they soon fell to it with a great din, until the wide earth rang again, and the high heavens trumpeted.  Zeus heard the noise sitting on Mount Ida; his heart laughed with glee to see god meeting god in battle.

His sister/wife, brother and children are fighting each other, and his heart laughs.  Warm guy.

Seriously, though, the Homeric Hera is a horrible, horrible character.  She’s like the embodiment of all that’s misogynistic about ancient Greek culture.  I need to do some good research into the ancient Greek religious beliefs(my knowledge on the subject is only very basic) so I can do a good, accurate post on the subject, because I do want people to understand that the cultic Hera–the one who was actually worshipped–was entirely different than the one encountered in the myths.  That’s why you get the philosophers talking about how they dislike how Homer and the other poets make the gods act like human beings, because it’s so disrespectful, and because it’s so discordant with their cultic personae.  But that, too, should be its own post, and only after I’ve done more research on the actual religious side of things.  (After I’ve conquered some of my backlog of books I’ve actually already purchased.  Oh…yikes.  That may take a while…)

wcw

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