Friday, September 26, 2008

The Iliad: Books 1-4

Book 1: The Rage of Achilles
Selfish Agamemnon. He wouldn't give the priest his daughter back, so the god is angered. Achilles tells him to take back the portioned plunder from the rank and file would be a disgrace.

So return the girl to the god, at least for now.
We Achaeans will pay you back, three, four times over (150
Aggie orders that one of the captains should return the girl and offer the animal sacrifices. Achilles has had enough. Dear Aggie says well so what? Go then. I don't need you. I'll take yours though.
But I, I will be there in person at your tents
to take Briseis in all her beauty, your own prize--
so you can learn just how much greater I am than you... (219)
Achilles is hopping mad...but Pallas Athena comes down from the heavens to bid him hold back. Even so, Achilles has some choice words for Agamemnon. Nestor oozes diplomacy. (And these are supposed to be on the same side.) Achilles stalks off to his ship with good friend Patroclus; Odysseus is captain to Agamemnon as they return Chryseis to the priest. But still Aggie sends two heralds to do his dirty work to commandeer the lovely Briseis from Achilles. To him, she is spoils of war, and he should have him some, being king and all. But I suspect Achilles has more feeling for her than that.

Side note: I read this 23 years ago,
Lattimore translation. It was my very first reading of my college experience at St. John's. My tutor (Johnny-speak for professor) would read this and other Greek readings translating into English directly from the Greek. I seem to recall I re-read it a few summers later and liked it much more because I was more skilled as a reader. I am really liking this Fagles translation. Still, that long ago, I do not remember whether these he-men liked their women, or like liked their women.

Achilles nurses his anger. He is steamed.
But he raged on, grimly camped by his fast fleet, the royal son of Peleus, the swift runner Achilles. now he no longer haunted the meeting grounds where men win glory, now he no longer went to war but day after day he ground his heart out, waiting there, yearning, always yearning for battle cries and combat. (586)
Meanwhile, much politicking among the gods. Zeus and Hera spat. You know she's mad when she says son of Cronos. (I think.) Thetis, daughter of Poseidon, clasps Zeus by the knees and pouts to get her way. While Zeus is annoyed that succumbing to Thetis will bring more battle with Hera, he still does it. Why does Thetis care? Achilles is her son, so she wants Aggie to get his, even if then it appears Zeus takes the side of the Trojans, which bugs Hera to pieces. Why doesn't she get to win sometimes? (Boy, gods are spoiled brats.)

Book 2: The Great Gathering of Armies

Parade after parade of commanders and their troops. My eyes cross as the next and the next and the next are listed. Can't leave anyone out, can you Homer (Fox news of ancient times)? Gotta keep the rank and file lining up to be heroes...keep the lists of names, and they'll keep coming to make more wars.

Book 3: Helen Reviews the Champions

Paris has an eye for the ladies, but not really for actual combat.
But soon as magnificent Paris marked Atrides shining among the champions, Paris' spirit shook. Backing into his friendly ranks, he cringed from death as one who trips on a snake in a hilltop hollow recoils, suddenly, trembling grips his knees and pallor takes his cheeks and back he shrinks. (39)
Somehow I suspect this image will be significant:
And Iris came on Helen in her rooms... weaving a growing web, a dark red folding robe, working into the weft the endless bloody struggles stallion-breaking Trojans and Argives armed in bronze had suffered all for her at the god of battle's hands. (154)
Helen shows old Priam of Troy who all the champions are. Ha! Odysseus: "The man keeps ranging the ranks of fighters like a ram--yes, he looks to me like a thick-fleeced bellwether ram making his way through a big mass of sheep-flocks, shining silver-gray." (239)

Paris and Menelaus cut a deal. Truce if the two fight it out and to the winner goes "Helen and all her treasures." (304) Paris=wimpy. Menelaus=manly. Paris' spear gets bent, Menelaus' spear goes clear through the shield. Still, Aphrodite luuuuuvs Paris, and interferes: Paris' helmet strap snaps allowing him to escape; a mist arises and he lands back in his romantically scented bedroom. Methinks Aphrodite wants a little show...she sends Helen, herself a tad annoyed at the effects of the Goddess of Love. Helen tries to resist, "Not I, I'll never go back again. it would be wrong, disgraceful to share that coward's bed once more." (476)

Helen may be sat down by the goddess herself, but she has nothing but scorn for Paris. That just turns him on. Does he like a little pain, I wonder. ;-) ...fade to black.

Book 4: The Truce Erupts in War

Uh-oh. Godly domestic dispute spills down to the humans. Zeus, Hera, get a room! Learn to understand the jealousy! Something!

Hera wins. Zeus has to send Athena to make the Trojans break the truce first. Ever hear that little voice in your head, urging you to do the daring thing, the somewhat reckless thing, the glorious yet most likely doomed thing? That must be the wildly dark and impish Athena urging that wildish warrior spirit alive in you. So she does with Pandarus, son of Lycaon...."But swear to Apollo, Wolf-god, glorious Archer, you'll slaughter splendid victims, newborn lambs when you march home to Zelea's sacred city." So Athena fired the fool's heart inside him. (120)

Boy, Aggie just has no tact, does he. Even "the great tactician Odysseus gave him a dark glance."(405)

Or does he? Maybe he's just being a Commander-in-Chief getting his men riled up for war. The Achaeans are discliplined. The Trojans...not.
...their tongues mixed and clashed,
their men hailed from so many far-flung countries.
Ares drove them, fiery-eyed Athena drove the Argives,
and Terror and Rout and relentless Strife stormed too,
sister of manslaughtering Ares, Ares' comrade-in-arms--
Strife, only a slight thing when she first rears her head
but her head soon hits the sky as she strides across the earth.
Now Strife hurled down the leveler Hate amidst both sides,
wading into the onslaught, flooding men with pain. (516)

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