Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Iliad: Books 8-13

Another St. John's alumn shares the information that the Fagles translation I'm reading is "rather free," while the more recent version by Rodney Merrill is more accurate. (Which is what we said about Fitzgerald and Lattimore in the 80s.) He said the most accurate version is the revised loeb, and the original loeb (I'm presuming not quite as accurate) can be found here. He even gave me an interlinear translation (my two years of Greek are long vanished from my brain) here.

(woo, now I can link to the book...though not the same translation I'm reading.)

Book 8: The Tide of Battle Turns
I think football coaches must read this as a training manual:

And King Agamemnon, thrilled at the sight of Teucer
whipping arrows off his bow, reaping the Trojan ranks,
strode up and sang his praises: "Teucer, lovely soldier,
Telamon's son, pride of the armies--now you're shooting!" (321)
Athena now thinks Zeus hates her, doesn't think much of his response to Thetis, but knows she'll be daddy's girl again.
...He fulfills the plans of Thetis
who cupped his chin in her hand and kissed his knees,
begging Zeus to exalt Achilles scourge of cities.
But the day will come when Father, well I know, calls me his darling gray-eyed girl again. (427)
Zeus sends Iris with a message for Hera and Athena, who delivers the message nearly verbatim. She just tacks some choice name-calling at the end.
Here is Father's threat--he will fulfill it too:
he'll maim your racers for you,
...he'll hurl you from your chariots, smash your car,
...and not once in the course of ten slow wheeling years
will you heal the wounds his lightning bolt rips open!
you insolent brazen bitch--you really dare
to shake that monstrous spear in Father's face?" (487)
Book 9: The Embassy to Achilles

Aggie would have them turn around and scuttle home.
The swaggering Diomedes has a few choice words.
Spare me your anger. My courage--
mine was the first you mocked among the Argives,
branding me a coward, a poor soldier. Yes, well,
they know all about that, the Argives young and old.
But you--the son of Cronus with Cronus' twisting ways
gave you gifts by halves: with that royal scepter
the Father gave you honor beyond all other men alive
but he never gave you courage, the greatest power of all. (45)
I remember that, Aggie rallying the troops to greater fervor by telling them what pussies they were. See what that gets him? Interesting insight,"gifts by halves."

Nestor scolds Agamemnon for seizing Achilles' gift of honor, and counsels setting it right. Aggie confesses, blaming his own rage. (143) I dunno about that, I seem to recall he felt he should have booty as he was king, even though it meant taking someone else's. It didn't seem to be about anger. Aggie attempts to appear gracious, offering loads of riches, girls, and even Briseis, the point of contention. Yet he still thinks he's justified in feeling aggrieved:
All this--
I would extend to him if he will end his anger.
Let him submit to me! Only the god of death
is so relentless, Death submits to no one--
so mortals hate him most of all the gods.
Let him bow down to me! I am the greater king,
I am the elder-born, I claim--the greater man. (193)
Achilles won't be bought, or fooled again:
He cheated me, did me damage, wrong! But never again,
he'll never rob me blind with his twisting words again! (459)
Book 10: Marauding Through the Night

They keep saying Hector is Zeus' favorite. So it appears to them. Nestor may have a clue:
Oh I think he'll have his troubles to shoulder,
plenty of them too, if Achilles ever turns away
from the heartbreaking anger deep inside him. (125)
Nestor has the ideas. Why not infiltrate the enemy camp, find out what they're doing?
Diomedes is the guy, and he gets to pick his guy, who of course is Odysseus. You always want the wily one....err...tactician...for your stealth projects.

Meanwhile, back at the fort, Hector has the same idea, but it is a neophyte who volunteers. No fair.
they sprang in pursuit
as a pair of rip-tooth hounds
bred for the hunt and flushing fawn or hare. (422)
No fair match at all. I so do not like Diomedes for killing him after getting the intel he wants. But, I suppose, all's fair etc. So the two heroes slaughter the Thracians left vulnerable by the would-be spy's information. They have more horses and gear now.

Book 11: Agamemnon's Day of Glory

Fighting fighting fighting yada yada yada. Zeus schemes to make Hector more glorious, sending Iris with strategy:
So long as he sees lord marshal Agamemnon storming
among the champions, mowing columns down in blood,
Hector must hold back, command the rest of his men
to fight the enemy, stand their headlong charge.
But soon as a spear or bowshot wounds the king
and Atrides mounts his chariot once again,
then I will hand Hector the power to kill and kill
till he cuts his way to the benched ships and the sun sinks
and the blessed darkness sweeps across the earth. (227)
So the bigger the hero that Achilles eventually kills, the greater Achilles' glory? I'm not sure I buy it. Achilles has been a whiny brat. I doubt that will be erased from my mind when he has his big moment.

Hardly more than a boy, Iphidamas is killed:
And there he dropped and slept the sleep of bronze,
poor soldier...far from his wedded wife, his new bride...
No joy had he known from her .... (282)
(That's just wrong.) His brother Coon would avenge his death. He has the honors of drawing Agamemnon's blood that brings Hector back into the fight, but Aggie promptly kills him too.

All the manly men despise Paris, but I like him. He likes the ladies, and I don't like the guys who have to get into the thick of a fight. He is an archer, and thus likes to do battle at a distance. He wings Diomedes. OK, he doesn't have to gloat though. "Now you're hit--no wasted shot, my winging arrow!" (447) Diomedes calls it a scratch, but then pulls it out and then "the raw pain went stabbing through his flesh. (470)

Later, Odysseus is wounded, which just seems to make him an angry bear, and kills the man. He too pulled out the offending spear and weakens himself. ~530 Vivid imagery of the Trojans as jackals surrounding wounded prey, and Ajax pouncing in like a lion, causing them to scatter in panic ~560.

Meanwhile, Achilles gloats at the wounded. He wants Aggie to beg.
" I think they will grovel at my knees,
our Achaen comrades begging for their lives. (720)
Nestor complains about the pettiness of Achilles and then goes on and on and on...and on about his past glories. It's about how many battles won, chariots won, etc. He says, "This Achilles--
he'll reap the rewards of that great courage of his alone, I tell you... (910)

He goes on some more, hoping at least Patroclus will join the battle. Patroclus is indeed moved to view the battle, and to clean Eurypylus' wound.

Book 12: The Trojans Storm the Rampart

Suddenly, we get great detail of this great trench and rampart the Achaens have built to protect their ships. Too wide and deep for chariots and horse to cross, with spikes at the other side, and a space too narrow next to the wall for chariots. Yet Hector would push through someway or somehow. His buddy Polydamas convinces him to leave the chariots and drivers behind.
So come, do as I say, and let us all unite.
Drivers, rein your horses hard by the trench--
the men themselves, armed for assault on foot,
we all follow Hector, all in a mass attack.
And the Argives? They cannot hold their line,
not if the ropes of death are knotted round their necks! (96)
Again Polydamas counsels caution, but this time Hector chooses otherwise:
All will end as the omen says, I do believe,
if the bird-sign really came to us, the Trojans,
just as our fighters tried to cross the trench.
That eagle flying high on the left across our front,
clutching this bloody serpent in both its talons,
still alive--but he let the monster drop at once,
before he could sweep it back to his own home...
he never fed his nestlings in the end.
Nor will we. (257)
Hector: You tell me to forget the plans of storming Zeus,
all he promised me when he nodded in assent? (273)
Can you pick and choose your omens? Indeed Hector breaks through. This would be quite the sight.
Hector hurled at the gates, full center, smashing the hinges left and right and the boulder tore through, ...and Hector burst through in glory, his face dark as the sudden rushing night but he blazed on in bronze and terrible fire broke from the gear that wrapped his body, two spears in his fists. (540)
Book 13: Battling for the Ships

Hoo. Poseidon gets involved. "...and filled their hearts with strength and striking force." (75)
Ajax feels the rush first. Imagine being hopped up with the forces of the sea and earthquakes. Hector has stormed the gate, yet Achilles still holds himself aloof. Hoo boy. Ajax beats Hector back. Hoo again. Poseidon is pissed off. His grandson (Imbrius? I need some charts.) is killed.

Idomeneus and Meriones compare fighting styles. I wonder if they are all talk?
Meriones: Though I never forget my courage I can tell you-- not I, there at the front where we win glory, there I take my stand whenever a pitched battle rears its head. (320)
Idomeneus: If we all formed up along the ships right now, our best men picked for an ambush-- that's where you really spot a fighter's mettle, where the brave and craven always show their stripes. (328)
Poseidon is crafty.
Both were gods of the same line, a single father, but Zeus was the elder-born and Zeus knew more. And so Poseidon shrank from defending allies out in the open--all in secret, always armed like a man the god kept urging armies on. Both gods knotted the rope of strife and leveling war, strangling both sides at once by stretching the mighty cable, never broken, never slipped, that snapped the knees of thousands. (419)
I guess Meriones was no braggart:
And back he shrank to his cohorts, dodging death but hounding him as he went Meriones speared him between the genitals and the navel--hideous wond, the worst the god of battles deals to wretched men. (658)
Again Polydamas has the plan...draw back...and Hector listens. They find Paris, and Hector assumes the worst.
"Paris, appalling Paris! Our prince of beauty-- mad for women, you lure them all to ruin! (889)
Paris retorts: At other times I might have shrunk from the fighting, true, but not today. Mother bore me--even me-- not to be a coward through and through. Think, since you fired our comrades' fury against the ships, from that hour we've held our ground right here, taking the Argives on, and nonstop, no rest. (902)

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