All posts tagged Homer

F is for Fei Lian

Published April 7, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


Fei Lian is a Chinese wind spirit of monstrous appearance, though my sources have contrasted greatly on just what his monstrous appearance actually looks like.  “Deer” and “snake” came up in both, but the former came up in different places.  (Honestly, I think the description of him as a dragon with the head of a deer and the tail of a snake sounds a bit more authentically Chinese than the description of him as having the body of a deer, the head of a sparrow, the horns of a bull and the tail of a snake.  But what do I know?  I was dazed most of the day today (I think I accidentally took one of my medications twice) and could be typing upside down and inside out for all I know.)

Regardless of what Fei Lian looks like, he keeps the winds in a bag, so that he can let them out to do his bidding whenever he wants.  However, he is also rebellious, and once rose up against Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor.  He was, of course, brought down, and forced to toe the line.  (Or perhaps hoof the line, if he does indeed have the body of a deer.)

So, it’s not a terribly great comparison — that’s starting to be a running theme, I’m sorry to say — but I know of another individual who could keep the winds in a sack:  Aiolos, who put all the winds but Zephyros into a sack and gave them to Odysseus so he would have smooth sailing to get back home again…which obviously didn’t work out too well, due to the greed of Odysseus’ crew.  (Or so Odysseus claimed, anyway.  How much of the tale he told to the Phaiacians we should take seriously is a difficult matter to determine.)

Obviously, there are huge differences.  Aiolos would not normally keep the winds in a sack, and only put them there as a special favor to a mortal he had taken a shine to — or to curry favor with that mortal’s guardian goddess, whichever — and even then it wasn’t all the winds, merely all the ones that would interfere with Odysseus’ return to Ithaca.  And Aiolos is one of those characters who may well have been created for the story in which he is now found, as opposed to a character whose stories all post-date him, as Fei Lian almost certainly is.  And Aiolos is not the least bit rebellious, either.

So really the only strong comparison between them is that they both keep the winds in a sack.  And there are probably others who do that as well,  who I just didn’t encounter.



Ugh.  I swear, at some point I am going to start putting out some of these that don’t suck.

It just may take me a while!

(Okay, no, actually, tomorrow’s shouldn’t be too bad.  It’s got a bit more meat to it, at any rate.)

Words Crush Wednesday – Embracing the Dead

Published October 21, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

So this week’s Words Crush Wednesday is continuing last week’s trend of Halloween-appropriate epic quotes.  Last week we saw the dead, but this week we embrace them…

Once again, we’re starting with the epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Stephanie Dalley, from the book Myths from Mesopotamia:  Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh and Others, and our quote is again from Tablet XII:

And the spirit of Enkidu came out of the Earth like a gust of wind.
They hugged and kissed (?),
They discussed, they agonized.

And from there it goes right into the quote from last week.  The other half of the “they,” of course, is Gilgamesh himself.  This is one of several passages in the epic of Gilgamesh that are routinely compared to passages in the Iliad

Specifically, it’s compared to this passage:

In sleep came to him the soul of unhappy Patroclos, his very image in stature and wearing clothes like his, with his voice and those lovely eyes.  The vision stood by his head and spoke:

“You sleep, Achilles, and you have forgotten me!  When I lived you were not careless of me, but now that I am dead!

[Skipping Patroclos’ speech, in which, among other thing, he gives extensive instructions about how he wants to be buried.]

Achilles said in answer:

“Why have you come here, beloved one, with all these charges of this and that?  Of course I will do as you tell me every bit.  But come nearer; for one short moment let us lay our arms about each other and console ourselves with lamentation!”

He stretched out his arms as he spoke, but he could not touch, for the soul was gone like smoke into the earth, twittering.

That was from Book XXIII of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation.  (And I’ve actually quoted that passage before, so if you want to read Patroclos’ speech, you can do that here.)

And moving on, now, to the Odyssey, Book XI, also W.H.D. Rouse translation:

“Then came the soul of my dead mother, Anticlea daughter of the brave Autolycos; she was alive when I left Ithaca on my voyage to sacred Ilion.  My tears fell when I saw her, and I was moved with pity; but all the same, I would not let her come near the blood before I had asked my questions of Teiresias.

[Skipping the dialog with Teiresias]

“I stayed where I was until my mother came near and drank the red blood.  At once she knew me, and made her meaning clear with lamentable words:

” ‘My love, how did you come down to the cloudy gloom, and you alive?

[Skipping most of the conversation here.  Odysseus is very long-winded, and apparently he gets that from his mother…or he’s making all this up on the fly to trick the Phaiacians…]

” ‘And this is how I sickened and died.  The Archeress did not shoot me in my own house with those gentle shafts that never miss; it was no disease that made me pine away:  but I missed you so much, and your clever wit and your gay merry ways, and life was sweet no longer, so I died.’

“When I heard this, I longed to throw my arms round her neck.  Three times I tried to embrace the ghost, three times it slipt through my hands like a shadow or a dream.  A sharp pang pierced my heart, and I cried out straight from my heart to hers:

” ‘Mother dear!  Why don’t you stay with me when I long to embrace you?  Let us relieve our hearts, and have a good cry in each other’s arms.  Are you only a phantom which awful Persephoneia has sent to make me more unhappy than ever?’

My dear mother answered:

” ‘Alas, alas, my child, most luckless creature on the face of the earth!  Persephoneia is not deceiving you, she is the daughter of Zeus; but this is only what happens to mortals when one of us dies.  As soon as the spirit leaves the white bones, the sinews no longer hold flesh and bones together — the blazing fire consumes them all; but the soul flits away fluttering like a dream.

So we can add one more innocent person’s death to Odysseus’ tally, his own mother. (And yet I doubt there were any ancient Greeks who believed he’d been sent to Tartaros or anything.  In fact, I’m sure they all believed he ended up in the Elysian Fields/Island of the Blessed/White Island.  (Though you’d think he’d be unwelcome on the White Island, given his feud with Aias, and the fact that Aias is cousin and one of the best buddies of the dead demi-god running the place…))  BTW, as I was checking which (of the ten zillion) post-it notes I could remove from my copy of the Odyssey to re-use for this semester’s reading, I noticed something interesting:  in the Odyssey, Autolycos is merely favored by Hermes, not his son.  I wonder if his twin brother is still the son of Apollo in the Odyssey‘s version?

And, of course, since Odysseus has such an encounter, you know Aeneas does, too!  (Actually, he doubly has to have encounters with the dead, since Achilles has one also.  Must be hard work for poor Aeneas, trying to be two Greeks, one after the other!)  Anyway, this is from Book VI of the Aeneid, Robert Fitzgerald translation:

                                   Aeneas said:
“Your ghost,
Your sad ghost, father, often before my mind,
Impelled me to the threshold of this place.
My ships ride anchored in the Tuscan sea.
But let me have your hand, let me embrace you,
Do not draw back.”
At this his tears brimmed over
And down his cheeks.  And there he tried three times
To throw his arms around his father’s neck,
Three times the shade untouched slipped through his hands,
Weightless as wind and fugitive as dream.

[Apologies, but for some reason it won’t let me do the indentation on the quote above.  The second line should line up roughly with the end of the first line, and”At this his tears brimmed over” should line up with the end of the line before.  But for some reason it’s ignoring all the spaces I added in front of them to position them.]

Actually, I’m surprised I don’t have two Aeneid passages for you; I guess because of the compressed time (or because he hadn’t finished the poem when he died) Virgil didn’t have time for Pallas’ ghost to show up before Aeneas.  Or maybe Dido’s shade in the Underworld section is supposed to take the place of Patroclos’, but it’s more like Aias’ shade, considering how she treats him.  (There’s certainly no attempted embrace there.)

[EDIT — I so totally fail.  There are two Aeneid passages, it’s just that the one with Anchises was actually the second, not the first.  The first was way back in Book II:

Time after time I groaned and called Creusa,
Frantic, in endless quest from door to door.
Then to my vision her sad wraith appeared —
Creusa’s ghost, larger than life, before me.
Chilled to the marrow, I could feel the hair
On my head rise, the voice clot in my throat;
But she spoke out to ease me of my fear:

‘What’s to be gained by giving way to grief
So madly, my sweet husband?  Nothing here
Has come to pass except as heaven willed.
You may not take Creusa with you now;
It was not so ordained, nor does the lord
Of high Olympus give you leave.

[skipping a fair chunk of her speech here]

No: the great mother of the gods detains me
Here on these shores.  Farewell now; cherish still
Your son and mine.’

With this she left me weeping,
And faded on the tenuous air.  Three times
I tried to put my arms around her neck,
Three times enfolded nothing, as the wraith
Slipped through my fingers, bodiless as wind,
Or like a flitting dream.

Obviously, that, too, was the Robert Fitzgerald translation.  I’m able to add this in now because I’m researching a paper on the Aeneid, and one of the pieces I read happened to mention that Aeneas’ attempts to embrace both the ghost of his wife and of his father used exactly the same lines.  Funny thing, though:  the scholar in question did not mention that said lines were essentially ripped wholesale out of the Odyssey.  (Virgilian scholars always seem to overlook the places where Virgil basically just translated Homer into Latin and ran with it…)  You’ll notice the quotes are not identical, though; presumably that means Fitzgerald changed things up a bit to make it more interesting to the reader.  (Sadly, as the semester has grown more intense, I’ve fallen behind in re-learning Latin, so I can’t go to the original to look for myself at how similar they are.  Though obviously they have a certain amount of difference:  the one in Book II is in the first person, and the one in Book VI is in the third person.)

So, Aeneas does get to have two failed attempts at embracing a ghost, one for each of his Greek antecedents.  It’s telling of how Virgil interpreted the Iliad that the one to parallel Achilles is not with the innocent young boy Pallas that Aeneas is briefly enamored of, but rather with his wife.  (I guess Virgil agreed with Aischylos on that score…)  Okay, end edit.]

Anyway, next week is going to be the most Halloweeny of all!  (Technically, this week and last week have been more Day of the Dead than Halloween, really…)


Words Crush Wednesday: Seeing the Dead

Published October 14, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

In honor of Halloween, I’m going all out with Words Crush Wednesday for the rest of the month.  You’re getting three quotes for the price(?) of one!  And all of them on the suitably Halloweeny theme of “the dead.”  But — true to my own obsessions — they are, naturally, all from ancient epic poetry.  Though we’ll be going a bit further back than just ancient Greece…

…because we’re starting with the Epic of Gilgamesh!  This Akkadian poem is of unknown date, though “Mesopotamian tradition ascribed authorship of the seventh-century version found at Ninevah to one Sin-leqe-unnini, a master scribe and lamentation-priest of the Kassite period,” however parts of the epic date back to around 2150 BC.  This translation is by Stephanie Dalley, from the book Myths from Mesopotamia:  Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh and Others, and the quote above is from the introduction to the Gilgamesh epic.  The main quote is from Tablet XII, which is apparently pretty badly damaged.  The situation is that Enkidu’s spirit has risen from the Underworld to speak to Gilgamesh (on which subject you’ll hear more next week!) and he’s describing the Underworld to Gilgamesh.  (Or that seems to be what’s going on.  There are a lot of gaps and question marks in the translation, as you’ll see.) Read the rest of this entry →

Words Crush Wednesday – Still the Homeric Version

Published September 16, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

I promise, though, after I finish quoting this section of the Iliad, I have something non-Homeric in mind for Words Crush Wednesday.  But first I want to show how Patroclos reacted to Nestor’s speech from last week.

So, diving right into Book XI of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation.

This touched the heart of Patroclos, and he set off at a run.  But as he was passing the ships of Odysseus, close to the place of public meeting and the altars, he met Eurypylos limping out of the battle with the arrow in his thigh.  Sweat poured over his head and shoulders, and the blood still ran from his cruel wound, but he was undaunted.  Patroclos was very sorry to see this, and he spoke out his feelings plainly:

“Oh, you poor captains and princes!  So you were to die far from home, your white fat to be gorged by the dogs of Troy!–But my dear man Eurypylos, tell me–will they keep off this fiend Hector, or will he make an end of us all?”

The wounded man answered:

“Nothing can save us now, Patroclos.  They will soon be upon our ships.  All our best men are laid up here already, some shot with arrows, some stabbed with spears:  the enemy just grows stronger and stronger.  But you can save my life–just help me to my ship, and cut out this arrow, wash the blood off with warm water, put on a soothing plaster, that good stuff you learnt about from Achilles, which he got from Cheiron the Centaur, bless him! he was a gentleman.  You know our surgeons, Podaleirios and Machaon–one is in camp, I think, wounded, and wants a good surgeon himself; the other is on the battlefield!”

Patroclos said:

“What will come of it?  What are we do to do, my dear man?  I am in a hurry to give Achilles a message from Gerenian Nestor, but I can’t help that, I will not desert you in this dreadful state.”

He put his arm around Eurypylos and led him to his quarters.  His man saw them coming, and made a bed of hides on the ground.  There Patroclos laid the wounded man; he cut out the arrow, and washed the place with warm water, and crumbled a bitter root between his fingers, letting the shreds drop into the wound.  This was a bitter root which cures all pain, and it took away all his pain; the blood was staunched and the wound dried.

And that’s the end of the book.  (I wonder if that root would work on my arm?)  When it says “led him to his quarters” there, it means Eurypylos’ quarters, of course; Patroclos shares with Achilles.  (Seriously, even when they’re both sleeping with slave girls, they’re still in the same hut.)

Anyway, I just wanted to keep the quote going to show how Patroclos couldn’t bear to leave a wounded companion untreated.  Also I thought it was pretty cool that he’d learned medicine in second-hand lessons that originated with Cheiron.  (In Statius’ Achilleid, Patroclus is also being trained by Chiron.  But Statius was probably following the tradition that held Menoitios and Peleus to be brothers.  Can’t be sure, though; he didn’t get very far before dying.)  I need to check different translations (or re-learn Greek enough to check the text directly) though, because that “he was a gentleman” line’s past tense implies that Cheiron is dead.  (But the question is, was the past tense a translation thing, or was it always in the past tense?)  Cheiron, of course, is immortal, but there are versions where he had to give up his immortality, handing it over to someone else, usually the dying Heracles, but strangely there’s also a version where he gives it up to save Prometheus from his torment, which doesn’t actually make much sense.  Of course, in either of those instances, he would then be dead before Achilles was even born, which is just a wee bit awkward in this context!

Anyway, next week I’ll actually be quoting something (gasp) Roman…though it’s still Trojan War related.  (Well, what else did you expect?)


Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published September 9, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Today’s Words Crush Wednesday is continuing from last week‘s, but I’ll be skipping most of Nestor’s lengthy, lengthy speech.  Because that old guy can talk your ear off, even on paper.  I guess since he hasn’t got any strength to use on the field of battle, he gets to talk three times as much as everyone else?

Anyway, from Book XI of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation:

You see Heracles had come in former years and done a great deal of damage, when our best men were killed; for Neleus had twelve sons, and all perished but me alone.

That part was explaining why Elis had gotten cocky and made raids against Pylos, causing Nestor to lead reprisals by stealing the city’s cattle.  (I actually quoted this part for reasons that won’t become apparent until I’m done with this section of Iliad quoting…)

Anyway, Nestor spends a long time talking about that raid on Elis, to prove that he was once young, strong and a powerful warrior.  (Or something.)  When he finally finishes his lengthy digression, he resumes actually talking to Patroclos, instead of at him:

“Such was I, a man with men, as truly as I live.  But the valour of Achilles will profit Achilles alone–profit! no, repentance will be his lot, when our people are all destroyed.  And you, laggard!  What did Menoitios say to you, when he sent you from Phthia to Agamemnon?  We were there in the house, I and Odysseus, and heard all he said.

And then he spends a paragraph setting the scene.  Because apparently he thinks Patroclos doesn’t remember.  (Well, okay, it’s just poetic.  But…yeah, not typing all that.  It’s got some cool cultural details, but…that’s not the point right now.)

“Peleus told his son to be first and foremost in the field, and this is what Menoitios said to you:

” ‘My son, Achilles is above you in rank, and he is stronger than you, but you are the elder.  You must give him good advice and tell him what to do; he will obey you for his own good.’

“That was your father’s bidding, and you have forgotten it.  Yet even now you should remind Achilles of this and see if he will listen.  Who knows whether you may have the good luck to move him by your persuasions?  The persuasion of a friend is a blessing in the end.  If there is some oracle from Zeus he is shy of, something his gracious mother has told him, well then, let him send you out with the Myrmidons, and you may show us light in the darkness.  Let him lend you his armour to wear, and then the Trojans may take you for him; they may leave us alone to have a breathing-space from the battle.  Hardly time to take your breath in the face of sudden death!  But your men are all fresh, and they could easily beat a weary enemy back to the city!”

Worst.  Advice.  Ever.

Okay, maybe not, but…following it was a terrible mistake for poor Patroclos!  (Though at least he went out in a blaze of glory, unlike his precious Achilles.)

BTW, Nestor was wrong about one thing:  Achilles would not have felt any repentance (or sorrow or anything else) if all the other Achaians were killed, so long as he and Patroclos were both fine.  In fact, a little bit later in the poem, he actually wishes for that to happen!  And yet he was considered a great hero, and actually worshiped.  Kinda scary, huh?


Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published September 2, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

(I know, it’s the first Wednesday of the month.  But…yeah, I’ve done too little writing lately to even have anything to say for IWSG.  So I’m just not bothering this month.)  So for Words Crush Wednesday lately, we’ve been following Patroclos as he finally gets to actually do something:  going to visit Nestor in his hut, and see if the wounded man he was bringing back from the battle was indeed Machaon, son of Asclepios.  (Yep, it was.  Because for some reason the Achaians didn’t stop to say “gee, maybe we shouldn’t send our healers out onto the battlefield.”)

Anyway, last week, Patroclos had only just gotten to Nestor’s hut, and wouldn’t sit down to accept Nestor’s hospitality, complaining that if he did, he might fall prey to Achilles’ bad temper.  (Silly of him; he’s the only person in the world Achilles would never get angry at!)  Now we’ll pick up from there, and see how Nestor responds.

From Book XI of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation:

Nestor answered:

“Indeed?  Why is Achilles crying about a wounded man?  Doesn’t he know the trouble that has come upon the whole army?  The best men are lying here in camp, wounded and stricken!  Diomedes Tydeides is shot, Odysseus has a spear-thrust, and so has Agamemnon; and here is this man I have just brought from the field, shot with an arrow from the bowstring.  But Achilles, brave man, cares nothing and pities none.  Is he waiting until all the ships along the shore are well warmed by a general conflagration, and we ourselves are killed in a row?

“Ah, my strength is not what it was when my limbs were supple.  If I were only young and strong now, as I was when that quarrel came up between Elis and our people over cattle-lifting, when I killed that brave man Itymoneus Hypeirochos’ son, who lived in Elis!

“I was driving away our reprisals; he was defending his flocks from seizure, and I struck him with my spear–

I’m going to cut Nestor off mid-sentence there because he keeps talking for three or four pages.  (And, actually, this seems a better abrupt stopping place than most of the sentence ends, if that makes any sense.)  Um, not all on that one story, mind you, but man!  I mean, I knew Nestor was the wordiest of the lot, even in a group who all like to make long speeches, but until I was trying to type out some of his dialog I hadn’t realized just how much more talkative the old man really was.

Anyway, notice that he is here proudly bragging about having raided cattle.  Yep.  That was honorable business in Nestor’s day.  Elis made Pylos mad, so the Pylians raided the Elis of its cattle.  Yeah, that makes sense.  The grim part there, of course, is that the manner in which it’s presented is so casual, so “naturally this is how the world works” that it probably is how the world worked, either at the time of the poem’s composition or some time not too long before that.

Much as I enjoy the myths, I wouldn’t want to go live in those times.  Yikes.


Anyway, when I pick up the story again next week, I’ll skip over the less necessary bits of Nestor’s massive, massive speech, and only present the parts that actually, you know, matter.  Because this whole sequence of quotes is supposed to be about Patroclos!  (*ahem*)  Okay, that’s not quite what I meant to say there….

Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published August 26, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

And continuing from last week‘s Words Crush Wednesday, Patroclos has finally arrived in Nestor’s hut on Achilles’ errand.  Nestor is playing host to the wounded Machaon, son of Asclepios, when Patroclos arrives.

From Book XI of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation:

While they were talking together comfortably, Patroclos appeared at the door.  The ancient man sprang up from his chair, and led him in and bade him be seated.  But Patroclos declined:

“No sitting for me, my lord!  I can’t think of it.  Formidable, hot-tempered, is he that sent me, to ask who the wounded man was that you were bringing in.  But I know him myself.  I see it is his honour Machaon.  Now I will go back and tell Achilles.  You know well enough, reverend sir, what he is like.  A terrible man!  He might easily find fault where there is none.”

Actually, I’m going to stop the quote there because it’s such a remarkable speech.  This is the nastiest stuff anyone says about Achilles (well, that any of the Achaians say about him, anyway) and it comes from the one person who loves him best, and who literally sacrifices his own life for him, and then post-mortem insists on their bones being buried in the same golden amphora so that they’ll never be parted.

So why does Patroclos say those things about Achilles here?  It is, to me, one of the larger mysteries of the character.  Is he annoyed at being sent on this errand?  (It is rather beneath his station.)  Is he ticked off that Achilles is being such a selfish brat about all this and getting so many good men killed?  (This one seems likely.)  Is he jealous because Achilles is sleeping with other slave girls now that Briseis is out of the picture, instead of just with Patroclos?  (Yeah, probably not.)  Or is he just being accurate about the fact that Achilles has a hair-trigger temper and will turn on anyone and everyone (except Patroclos) for absolutely anything?

Whatever his reasons, the irony is that this passage actually gives the impression–furthered by Aischylos in the Myrmidons–that Achilles was more in love with Patroclos than Patroclos was with Achilles, which I don’t think is the right way to look at their relationship; they’re more of a partnership of more-or-less equals, y’know?  Though the partnership relationship was somewhat alien in ancient times, I suppose; one did tend to be “more equal” than the other, as it were.  That happens in an age-class society, where even one year’s difference is a significant one.  But the age difference, in their case, was evened out by their class difference, since Patroclos was older and Achilles was more important, so…uh, yeah…I’m probably putting too much thought into this.  (Yeah, I do that.  Plus I don’t really want to go back to reading about the Gracchii right now, even though I really should.)


Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published August 19, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

So last week for Words Crush Wednesday, I started quoting the first time Patroclos actually gets to do something in the Iliad.  (Tragically, he only gets a few chances to really do things, and the biggest one culminates in his death.)  This week, I’ll continue the quote; where I left off, he was running after Nestor’s chariot, to see if the injured party was indeed Machaon the surgeon, son of Asclepios.

So, from Book XI of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation:

By this time the party had reached Nestor’s hut.  They got out; Eurymedon took out the horses, and the two men stood on the beach to dry the sweat off their garments in the sea-breeze.  Then they went in and sat down, and Hecamede set about making them a posset.  She was a woman from Tenedos, the daughter of Arsinoos; when Achilles sacked the place, she had been chosen as a special prize for old Nestor, in honour of his wisdom and good advice at all times.

Hecamede set before the two men a fine polished table with feet of blue enamel, and put on it a bronze basket, with an onion as a relish for the drink, and pale honey, and ground barley-meal.

Beside them she placed a splendid goblet which the ancient man had brought from home, studded with golden knobbs; it had four ears, and each ear had a pair of doves pecking their food, one on either side.  Under it were two supports.  Another man would hardly move it from the table when it was full, but old Nestor could lift it easily.

In this goblet the woman mixed them a posset with Pramnian wine, grating in goat’s cheese with a grater of bronze, and sprinkled over it white barley-meal.  Then she invited them to drink of her posset.  So they drank, and slaked their parching thirst.

Well, that turned out to be so long that we’ll have to get back to Patroclos last week, ’cause I have to get down to campus and get my parking pass (not to mention pay my tuition!) and buy my books.

But that was quite a glimpse into a disappeared material culture, wasn’t it?  Whether some of the verses were inherited from older times and reflect Mycenaean realities or (far more likely) they reflect the Archaic Age in which the Iliad was composed, one thing is for sure:  if I ever time travel to ancient Pylos, I do not want to sample Nestor’s hospitality.  Eeew.

Oh, and according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

posset:  (noun)  a hot drink of sweetened and spiced milk curdled with ale or wine.  Origin Middle English poshet, possot.  First use:  15th century.

Since I didn’t know the word, I thought there was a chance others also wouldn’t know it, either, and thought I’d share the definition.

Anyway, disgustingness of their post-battle drink aside, the really telling part of this quote is Hecamede herself.  Nestor, too old to fight, is one of the first kings awarded a concubine.  (Tenedos, for those less familiar with the story, is an island off the coast.  They sacked it before actually arriving at Troy, and after Achilles’ death, during the Trojan Horse ploy, they hid the ships behind Tenedos so the Trojans wouldn’t see them.)   This throws a very sharp relief on the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon, especially given the way the text goes out of its way to point out how early she was obtained, and by whose spear the city was taken.  (A further point is that the king of Tenedos, Tennes, was a son of Apollo, and many versions describe Apollo’s desire to slay Achilles personally as being at least in part as vengeance for Tennes.  So her presence doesn’t just recall the quarrel, but also what’s at stake for Achilles beyond his pride:  his very life.)  I’m sure entire essays have been written just on Hecamede and what she indicates about the quarrel over Briseis.  (And if there haven’t, then why not?!  Get with the program, classicists!)


Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published August 12, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

So, this week for Words Crush Wednesday, I’m going to focus on a part of the Iliad where Patroclos is alive.  Because he’s my favorite character, dangit!

So, from Book XI of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation (I know, I always use that one, in large part because it’s the one conveniently on hand, also because it’s prose, so I don’t have to preserve line breaks):

Meanwhile Nestor’s horses were sweating and steaming, as they brought in Nestor and Machaon to the camp.  Achillês was standing on the poop of his great ship, and watching the lamentable rout.  He saw the chariot come, and noticed who it was, and shouted from the ship for Patroclos.  In their hut, Patroclos heard the call and came out–a splendid figure, but for him this was the beginning of evil things.  Patroclos said:

“Why do you call me, Achillês?  what do you want with me?”

Achillês said:

“Menoitiadês, friend of my heart!  Now I think I shall have the Achaians at my knees!  Dire necessity is upon them now.  Make haste, my dear Patroclos, go and ask Nestor who is this wounded man he is bringing out of the battle.  His back looks just like Machaon Asclepiadês, but I could not see the man’s face.  The horses were going too fast.”

Patroclos at once went off at a run into the camp.

And I’ll quote some of what happened when he got there next week.  (Just some, of course, because Nestor does tend to talk a lot.  I mean, they all do, but Nestor especially.  Well, he is an old man.)

So, a few comments.  Menoitiadês, of course, is the patronymic meaning “son of Menoitios,” and Asclepiadês is the patronymic “son of Asclepios.”  And for Machaon–or his brother Podaleirios–to be wounded in battle was a very bad thing for the Achaians, since the sons of Asclepios were their healers.  (Which leads to the question of why on earth they were fighting in the first place, instead of staying safely in the camp, but apparently that had not occurred to them.)  Anyway, presumably he recognized the decorative device on Machaon’s shield (Late Bronze Age shields, being nearly as large as the men who carried them, were kept on the back when not in use), but without seeing his face couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t someone else carrying a similar shield.

Notice how freakin’ pleased Achilles is that his friends and allies are being slaughtered.  Sheesh, what a jerk!


The Battle for Patroclos

Published August 1, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

In reading The Death and Afterlife of Achilles, by Jonathan S. Burgess, I came across a passage where I felt that the author may have been overlooking the point of the sequence he was discussing in the Iliad.  Purposefully overlooking, perhaps, because it was irrelevant to his argument, but…I felt like addressing it none the less.  (Because sometimes I’m anal like that.  Especially when it comes to Patroclos.)  So, the passage in question is the following:  “Yet one might wonder whether such a battle would normally arise over a figure of Patroklos’s stature.” (Pg 83)  The battle in question, naturally, being the one over his corpse, which lasted for an entire day (as did the later battle over Achilles’ corpse, which was Burgess’ point) despite that Patroclos was not a man of any significant social standing, and had already lost his armor prior to his death, so it’s not like they were trying to get his (borrowed) fabulous armor.

One might argue that the ancient Greeks had seen the same improbability in the desire of both sides to fight to obtain the remains of a socially insignificant man, and that was why later authors altered his father’s paternity so that his father, Menoitios, became the brother of Peleus and Telamon, and their fellow Argonaut as well, so that Patroclos became the first cousin of Achilles and Aias.  However, that could as easily have been done to excuse his ability to kick that much butt, and besides, that dates back as far as the Hesiodic Catalog of Women, which is roughly contemporaneous with the Iliad, so…the popularity of that notion in later writers probably has more to do with making Achilles’ favorite companion closer to his own rank than it has to do with making the object of that battle “worthy” of being fought over.

Because, let’s face it:  he just single-handedly turned the Trojan near-victory into a near-rout.  They wanted to get their hands on his body and rip it to shreds for that reason and that reason alone.  Who he was had nothing to do with it; simple human desire for vengeance was reason enough.  (Let’s not forget that at one point he killed 27 Trojans in a single sentence!  Even Achilles never managed that, as far as I know!)  And the Greeks wanted to protect his body in part because he was the nicest, most likable person in their entire camp, and in part because Achilles would have torn them all limb from limb if they hadn’t.  (Let’s be honest here.  You know he would have.  Allies or no allies.  That would not have stood, and they all knew that.)

But none of that is actually my point.  Those are all the “in world” reasons.  Those aren’t the points I think Burgess was missing/overlooking.  Now, maybe this is a little too close to “authorial intent,” but it seems to me that the main reason to have this huge battle over Patroclos’ body–the reason that any modern author would have put a similar huge battle there if they were writing in a world in which battles over corpses was the norm–was not to heighten the rather obvious Patroclos-as-Achilles-death-substitute thing, but rather to make Achilles’ anguish even greater, because he’s not only lost the one person he truly cares about, but there he is utterly helpless to do anything about it while everyone’s fighting this huge, lengthy battle over the body.

Because he’s without his armor, right?  And it’s specified then and there that there isn’t another set of armor in the whole of the camp that will fit him, except perhaps Aias’, but since he’s using his, that’s hardly an option, so all he can do is wait for his mother to return from Hephaistos’ forge with his new armor, so he’s as helpless as a child while his friend’s body–and thus his soul, since he can’t get into the afterlife without being properly buried!–is in terrible jeopardy, and all he can do is go to the edge of the camp and bellow to scare off the enemy.  (Which, bizarrely, actually works, but that’s another matter entirely.)

Anyway, that’s my opinion.  The real reason there’s an enormous battle like that is to torment Achilles.

So they have that battle not (solely) for symbolic reasons, but because the poem’s hero needed to suffer more.

(Be glad I had this awesome post saved up from last night.  Otherwise I might have bitched about how them closing a two block section of street on my way home from the museum today somehow got me lost for two hours because of other streets being closed for road work and this city not being built on a grid system.  Urgh.  And I had things I wanted to do today…)


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