The Iliad of Homer

Page: 363


In reference to the whole scene that follows, the remarks of Coleridge are well worth reading:—

"By a close study of life, and by a true and natural mode of expressing everything, Homer was enabled to venture upon the most peculiar and difficult situations, and to extricate himself from them with the completest success. The whole scene between Achilles and Priam, when the latter comes to the Greek camp for the purpose of redeeming the body of Hector, is at once the most profoundly skilful, and yet the simplest and most affecting passage in the Iliad. Quinctilian has taken notice of the following speech of Priam, the rhetorical artifice of which is so transcendent, that if genius did not often, especially in oratory, unconsciously fulfil the most subtle precepts of criticism, we might be induced, on this account alone, to consider the last book of the Iliad as what is called spurious, in other words, of later date than the rest of the poem. Observe the exquisite taste of Priam in occupying the mind of Achilles, from the outset, with the image of his father; in gradually introducing the parallel of his own situation; and, lastly, mentioning Hector's name when he perceives that the hero is softened, and then only in such a manner as to flatter the pride of the conqueror. The ego d'eleeinoteros per, and the apusato aecha geronta, are not exactly like the tone of the earlier parts of the Iliad. They are almost too fine and pathetic. The whole passage defies translation, for there is that about the Greek which has no name, but which is of so fine and ethereal a subtlety that it can only be felt in the original, and is lost in an attempt to transfuse it into another language."—Coleridge, p. 195.


"Achilles' ferocious treatment of the corpse of Hector cannot but offend as referred to the modern standard of humanity. The heroic age, however, must be judged by its own moral laws. Retributive vengeance on the dead, as well as the living, was a duty inculcated by the religion of those barbarous times which not only taught that evil inflicted on the author of evil was a solace to the injured man; but made the welfare of the soul after death dependent on the fate of the body from which it had separated. Hence a denial of the rites essential to the soul's admission into the more favoured regions of the lower world was a cruel punishment to the wanderer on the dreary shores of the infernal river. The complaint of the ghost of Patroclus to Achilles, of but a brief postponement of his own obsequies, shows how efficacious their refusal to the remains of his destroyer must have been in satiating the thirst of revenge, which, even after death, was supposed to torment the dwellers in Hades. Hence before yielding up the body of Hector to Priam, Achilles asks pardon of Patroclus for even this partial cession of his just rights of retribution."—Mure, vol. i. 289.


Such was the fate of Astyanax, when Troy was taken.

"Here, from the tow'r by stern Ulysses thrown,
Andromache bewail'd her infant son."

Merrick's Tryphiodorus, v. 675.


The following observations of Coleridge furnish a most gallant and interesting view of Helen's character—

"Few things are more interesting than to observe how the same hand that has given us the fury and inconsistency of Achilles, gives us also the consummate elegance and tenderness of Helen. She is through the Iliad a genuine lady, graceful in motion and speech, noble in her associations, full of remorse for a fault for which higher powers seem responsible, yet grateful and affectionate towards those with whom that fault had committed her. I have always thought the following speech in which Helen laments Hector, and hints at her own invidious and unprotected situation in Troy, as almost the sweetest passage in the poem. It is another striking instance of that refinement of feeling and softness of tone which so generally distinguish the last book of the Iliad from the rest."—Classic Poets, p. 198, seq.


"And here we part with Achilles at the moment best calculated to exalt and purify our impression of his character. We had accompanied him through the effervescence, undulations, and final subsidence of his stormy passions. We now leave him in repose and under the full influence of the more amiable affections, while our admiration of his great qualities is chastened by the reflection that, within a few short days the mighty being in whom they were united was himself to be suddenly cut off in the full vigour of their exercise.

The frequent and touching allusions, interspersed throughout the Iliad, to the speedy termination of its hero's course, and the moral on the vanity of human life which they indicate, are among the finest evidences of the spirit of ethic unity by which the whole framework of the poem is united."—Mure, vol. i. p 201.


Cowper says,—"I cannot take my leave of this noble poem without expressing how much I am struck with the plain conclusion of it. It is like the exit of a great man out of company, whom he has entertained magnificently; neither pompous nor familiar; not contemptuous, yet without much ceremony." Coleridge, p. 227, considers the termination of "Paradise Lost" somewhat similar.