Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Iliad: Books 18-22

Book 18: The Shield of Achilles

[35] Then terribly did Achilles groan aloud, and his queenly mother heard him as she sat in the depths of the sea beside the old man her father. Thereat she uttered a shrill cry, and the goddesses thronged about her, even all the daughters of Nereus that were in the deep of the sea.
Thetis grieves for her son's grief. Her mother's love sees no flaw:
Ah, woe is me unhappy, woe is me that bare to my sorrow the best of men, [55] for after I had borne a son peerless and stalwart, pre-eminent among warriors...
Thetis goes to Hephaestus for armor for her son. Meanwhile Hera urges Achilles to defend and retrieve the dead Patroclus, via Iris the messenger. Iris add her usual colorful embellishment.
Up with you--
no more lying low! Writhe with shame at the thought
Patroclus may be sport for the dogs of Troy! (Fagles 210)
Thetis is welcomed warmly by the Immortal Smith Hephaestus. The shield he forges is amazing, depicting "two noble cities." It is as though he is forging the history and the fate of the warring sides. It all comes down to this, the armor and the man behind the god-made armor. It's as though the metal is alive and you can hear and smell the depicted scenes.
[520] But when they were come to the place where it seemed good unto them to set their ambush, in a river-bed where was a watering-place for all herds alike, there they sate them down, clothed about with flaming bronze....

Therein he set also a vineyard heavily laden with clusters, a vineyard fair and wrought of gold; ...And maidens and youths in childish glee were bearing the honey-sweet fruit in wicker baskets. And in their midst a boy made pleasant music with a clear-toned lyre, [570] and thereto sang sweetly the Linos-song1 with his delicate voice; and his fellows beating the earth in unison therewith followed on with bounding feet mid dance and shoutings.
And he forged the Ocean River's mighty power girdling round the outmost rim of the welded indestructible shield (Fagles 709)
Book 19: The Champion Arms for Battle

Achilles is eager to make war, now that his buddy is killed. He worries the body will rot before he can avenge Patroclus. Thetis assures him she'll keep the body fresh, fresher even. Oh, and now he sees that his petulant withdrawal is only better
for Hector and Hector's Trojans.
Not for the Argives. For years to come, I think,
they will remember the feud that flared between us both.
Enough. Let bygones by bygones. Done is done. (74)
This is Thetis' perfect son. At least he accepts some blame, unlike Agamemnon.
Often the armies brought this matter up against me--
they would revile me in public. But I am not to blame!
Zeus and Fate and the Fury stalking through the night,
they are the ones who drove that savage madness in my heart... (102) we say the devil made me do it. It wasn't me! I couldn't help it!

Now, Achilles would go to war at once, despite the fact that everyone else has been making war all along and needs to eat. So self-involved. "You talk of food? I have no taste for food--" (253)

Finally, we meet Briseis, an interesting passage.
And so Briseis returned, like golden Aphrodite,
but when she saw Patroclus lying torn by the bronze
she flung herself on his body, gave a piercing cry...
But you, Patroclus, you would not let me weep,
not when the swift Achilles cut my husband down,
not when he plundered the lordly Mynes' city--
not even weep! No, again and again you vowed
you'd make me godlike Achilles' lawful, wedded wife...
you were always kind. (356)
Patroclus is the noblest one of all I think. He is the glue that holds people together. He waited on Achilles, like a wife himself. He appeased the connection between Briseis and Achilles. It almost seems as though Achilles convinced himself of feelings for Briseis only due to Patroclus. Later, Achilles mourns for Patroclus as for a wife. Hmmm.

Achilles: I am in a distant land, fighting Trojans,
and all for that blood-chilling Helen! (387)

The horse speaks.
Then from beneath the yoke spake to him the horse Xanthus [Roan Beauty], of the swift-glancing feet; [405] on a sudden he bowed his head, and all his mane streamed from beneath the yoke-pad beside the yoke, and touched the ground; and the goddess, white-armed Hera, gave him speech:1 “Aye verily, yet for this time will we save thee, mighty Achilles, albeit the day of doom is nigh thee, nor shall we be the cause thereof, [410] but a mighty god and overpowering Fate. For it was not through sloth or slackness of ours that the Trojans availed to strip the harness from the shoulders of Patroclus, but one, far the best of gods, even he that fair-haired Leto bare, slew him amid the foremost fighters and gave glory to Hector.
Book 20: Olympian Gods in Arms

Aeneas tells his story. Zeus -> Dardanus -> King Erichthonius
and he was the richest man in all the world--
three thousand mares he owned, grazing the marshes,
brood-mares in their prime, proud of their leaping foals,
And the North Wind, lusting once for the herd at pasture,
taking on the build of a black stallion, mounted several
and swelling under his force they bore him twelve colts (261)
->Tros ->Assaracus -> Capys ->Anchises -> Aeneus
->Tros -> Ganymede...snatched away by the gods
->Tros -> Ilus -> Laomedon -> Priam ->Hector

After his pre-battle speech, Aeneus' lance simply pings off the god-forged shield. He dodges Achilles' spear (320), eventually Poseidon intervenes, sends Aeneus back. This isn't about Aeneus.

It's about Hector vs. Achilles. Apollo gives Hector an advantage.
But Apollo snatched up Hector full easily, as a god may, and shrouded him in thick mist. [445] Thrice then did swift-footed, goodly Achilles heap upon him with spear of bronze, and thrice he smote the thick mist. (Fagles 503)
After a fourth such godly feint, Achilles decides to move on to others, for now.

It's as though they line up for the privilege of getting killed by Achilles.

First he stabbed Dryops. Then Demuchus, then sons of Bias--Laogonus, Dardanus--, then Tros (who crawls begging such thing), next Mulius, next Echeclus, next Deucalion, then Rhigmus, then his driver Areithous.
[490] As through the deep glens of a parched mountainside rageth wondrous-blazing fire, and the deep forest burneth, and the wind as it driveth it on whirleth the flame everywhither, even so raged he everywhither with his spear, like some god, ever pressing hard upon them that he slew; and the black earth ran with blood. (Fagles 559)
Book 21: Achilles Fights the River
(and the gods fight each other)

So Achilles kills and kills and kills. The river god is getting clogged.
"Stop, Achilles!...
...if Zeus allows you to kill off all the Trojans,
drive them out of my depths at least, I ask you,
out on the plain and do your butchery there.
All my lovely rapids are crammed with corpses now,
no channel in sight to sweep my currents out to sacred sea--
I'm choked with corpses and still you slaughter more,
you blot out more! Leave me alone, have done--
captain of armies, I am filled with horror!" (Fagles 250)
Scamander of the river sends killer waves after Achilles. Finally Achilles calls for help from the gods. Poseidon and Athena tell him not to fear. Athena gives advice:
But once you've ripped away Prince Hector's life,
back to the ships you go! We give you glory--
seize it in your hands! (Fagles 336)
Scamander/Xanthus River continues to fight Achilles. Hera sends Hephaestus to battle Xanthus. (389) The river boils with fire. Zeus laughs at all the gods fighting. (443) Ares vs. Athena. Rock beats War. Aphrodite helps Ares. Aphrodite vs. Athena. Poseidon challenges Apollo. Apollo declines to fight. Artemis taunts Apollo. Artemis vs. Hera. Hera boxes her ears. Hermes assures Leto, no fighting, indeed Leto could claim a win.

The Trojans get behind the gates. Apollo sends Prince Agenor to keep Achilles out, but uses his swirls of mist to whisk Agenor away and take his place.

Book 22: The Death of Hector

Once the Trojans were in the gates, "Apollo turned to taunt Achilles. ...You can't kill me--" (15)
Priam would have Hector come inside. His mother would have Hector come inside. Briefly Hector considers bargaining with Achilles. (132) Faced with Achilles, Hector runs and runs and runs. I think, to be fair, Hector has been doing a heck of a lot more fighting than Achilles. Three times they run around the city perimeter.

Athena fights dirty. She bade Achilles wait.
And Athena left him there, caught up with Hector at once,
and taking the build and vibrant voice of Deiphobus
stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him, winging orders:
"Dear brother, how brutally swift Achilles hunts you--
coursing you round the city of Priam in all his lethal speed!
Come, let us stand our ground together--beat him back." (275)
Hector tries to bargain. "Achilles, I will give your body back to your loyal comrades. Swear you'll do the same." (307) After the way he fought over the body of Patroclus? I don't think so.

Achilles throws his spear, Hector ducks, Achilles misses.
--but Athena snatched it up
and passed it back to Achilles
and Hector the gallant captain never saw her. (327)
Now that's just not fair. Hector throws his spear.
and it struck Achilles' shield--a dead-center hit--
but off and away it glanced and Hector seethed,
his hurtling spear, his whole arm's power poured
in a wasted shot. He stood there, cast down...
he had no spear in reserve. So Hector shouted out
to Deiphobus bearing his white shield--with a ringing shout
he called for a heavy lance--
but the man was nowhere near him,
vanished-- (349)
Significant moment. The spear hits the dead center of the shield. The shield contains the whole of the conflict in its making. This would be the heart of the conflict, this moment. It all led up to this. Hector vs. Achilles. Ultimately the gods give Achilles the advantage in that shield.

As Hector wears Achilles' armor, Achilles knows his weak point, the throat. Dying, windpipe intact, Hector begs his body not be given to the dogs. Achilles, no sympathy. "The dogs and birds will rend you--blood and bone."(417) But Hector has the last word:
But now beware, or my curse will draw god's wrath
upon your head, that day when Paris and lord Apollo--
for all your fighting heart--destroy you at the Scaean Gates! (424)
Achilles drags Hectors body. (470) The spectacle goes on and on, but Andromache doesn't know yet. At her loom, heating a bath for Hector, she hears, and drops her shuttle. (517)
"...though we have such stores of clothing laid up in the halls,
fine things, a joy to the eye, the wrok of women's hands.
Now, by god, I'll burn them all, blazing to the skies!
No use to you now, they'll never shroud your body--
but they will be your glory
burned by the Trojan men and women in your honor!"

Her voice rang out in tears and the women wailed in answer. (606)
The men have destroyed each other. The women will destroy their handiwork in their grief.

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