The Iliad of Homer

Page: 361

"As hungry wolves with raging appetite,
Scour through the fields, ne'er fear the stormy night—
Their whelps at home expect the promised food,
And long to temper their dry chaps in blood—
So rush'd we forth at once."

—Dryden's Virgil, ii. 479.


The destinies ordain.—"In the mythology, also, of the Iliad, purely Pagan as it is, we discover one important truth unconsciously involved, which was almost entirely lost from view amidst the nearly equal scepticism and credulity of subsequent ages. Zeus or Jupiter is popularly to be taken as omnipotent. No distinct empire is assigned to fate or fortune; the will of the father of gods and men is absolute and uncontrollable. This seems to be the true character of the Homeric deity, and it is very necessary that the student of Greek literature should bear it constantly in mind. A strong instance in the Iliad itself to illustrate this position, is the passage where Jupiter laments to Juno the approaching death of Sarpedon. 'Alas me!' says he 'since it is fated (moira) that Sarpedon, dearest to me of men, should be slain by Patroclus, the son of Menoetius! Indeed, my heart is divided within me while I ruminate it in my mind, whether having snatched him up from out of the lamentable battle, I should not at once place him alive in the fertile land of his own Lycia, or whether I should now destroy him by the hands of the son of Menoetius!' To which Juno answers—'Dost thou mean to rescue from death a mortal man, long since destined by fate (palai pepromenon)? You may do it—but we, the rest of the gods, do not sanction it.' Here it is clear from both speakers, that although Sarpedon is said to be fated to die, Jupiter might still, if he pleased, save him, and place him entirely out of the reach of any such event, and further, in the alternative, that Jupiter himself would destroy him by the hands of another."—Coleridge, p. 156. seq.


Thrice at the battlements. "The art military of the Homeric age is upon a level with the state of navigation just described, personal prowess decided every thing; the night attack and the ambuscade, although much esteemed, were never upon a large scale. The chiefs fight in advance, and enact almost as much as the knights of romance. The siege of Troy was as little like a modern siege as a captain in the guards is like Achilles. There is no mention of a ditch or any other line or work round the town, and the wall itself was accessible without a ladder. It was probably a vast mound of earth with a declivity outwards. Patroclus thrice mounts it in armour. The Trojans are in no respects blockaded, and receive assistance from their allies to the very end."—Coleridge, p. 212.


Ciconians.—A people of Thrace, near the Hebrus.


They wept.

"Fast by the manger stands the inactive steed,
And, sunk in sorrow, hangs his languid head;
He stands, and careless of his golden grain,
Weeps his associates and his master slain."

Merrick's Tryphiodorus, v. 18-24.

"Nothing is heard upon the mountains now,
But pensive herds that for their master low,
Straggling and comfortless about they rove,
Unmindful of their pasture and their love."

Moschus, id. 3, parodied, ibid.

"To close the pomp, Æthon, the steed of state,
Is led, the funeral of his lord to wait.
Stripp'd of his trappings, with a sullen pace
He walks, and the big tears run rolling down his face."

Dryden's Virgil, bk. ii


Some brawny bull.

"Like to a bull, that with impetuous spring
Darts, at the moment when the fatal blow
Hath struck him, but unable to proceed
Plunges on either side."

—Carey's Dante: Hell, c. xii.


This is connected with the earlier part of last book, the regular narrative being interrupted by the message of Antilochus and the lamentations of Achilles.


Far in the deep. So Oceanus hears the lamentations of Prometheus, in the play of Æschylus, and comes from the depths of the sea to comfort him.


Opuntia, a city of Locris.


Quintus Calaber, lib. v., has attempted to rival Homer in his description of the shield of the same hero. A few extracts from Mr. Dyce's version (Select Translations, p. 104, seq.) may here be introduced.

"In the wide circle of the shield were seen
Refulgent images of various forms,
The work of Vulcan; who had there described
The heaven, the ether, and the earth and sea,
The winds, the clouds, the moon, the sun, apart
In different stations; and you there might view
The stars that gem the still-revolving heaven,
And, under them, the vast expanse of air,
In which, with outstretch'd wings, the long-beak'd bird
Winnow'd the gale, as if instinct with life.
Around the shield the waves of ocean flow'd,
The realms of Tethys, which unnumber'd streams,
In azure mazes rolling o'er the earth,
Seem'd to augment."

On seats of stone. "Several of the old northern Sagas represent the old men assembled for the purpose of judging as sitting on great stones, in a circle called the Urtheilsring or gerichtsring"— Grote, ii. p. 100, note. On the independence of the judicial office in The heroic times, see Thirlwall's Greece, vol. i. p. 166.


Another part, &c.

"And here
Were horrid wars depicted; grimly pale
Were heroes lying with their slaughter'd steeds
Upon the ground incarnadin'd with blood.
Stern stalked Bellona, smear'd with reeking gore,
Through charging ranks; beside her Rout was seen,
And Terror, Discord to the fatal strife
Inciting men, and Furies breathing flames:
Nor absent were the Fates, and the tall shape
Of ghastly Death, round whom did Battles throng,
Their limbs distilling plenteous blood and sweat;
And Gorgons, whose long locks were twisting snakes.
That shot their forky tongues incessant forth.
Such were the horrors of dire war."

—Dyce's Calaber.


A field deep furrowed.

"Here was a corn field; reapers in a row,
Each with a sharp-tooth'd sickle in his hand,
Work'd busily, and, as the harvest fell,
Others were ready still to bind the sheaves:
Yoked to a wain that bore the corn away
The steers were moving; sturdy bullocks here
The plough were drawing, and the furrow'd glebe
Was black behind them, while with goading wand
The active youths impell'd them. Here a feast
Was graved: to the shrill pipe and ringing lyre
A band of blooming virgins led the dance.
As if endued with life."

—Dyce's Calaber.


Coleridge (Greek Classic Poets, p. 182, seq.) has diligently compared this with the description of the shield of Hercules by Hesiod. He remarks that, "with two or three exceptions, the imagery differs in little more than the names and arrangements; and the difference of arrangement in the Shield of Hercules is altogether for the worse. The natural consecution of the Homeric images needs no exposition: it constitutes in itself one of the beauties of the work. The Hesiodic images are huddled together without connection or congruity: Mars and Pallas are awkwardly introduced among the Centaurs and Lapithae;— but the gap is wide indeed between them and Apollo with the Muses, waking the echoes of Olympus to celestial harmonies; whence however, we are hurried back to Perseus, the Gorgons, and other images of war, over an arm of the sea, in which the sporting dolphins, the fugitive fishes, and the fisherman on the shore with his casting net, are minutely represented. As to the Hesiodic images themselves, the leading remark is, that they catch at beauty by ornament, and at sublimity by exaggeration; and upon the untenable supposition of the genuineness of this poem, there is this curious peculiarity, that, in the description of scenes of rustic peace, the superiority of Homer is decisive—while in those of war and tumult it may be thought, perhaps, that the Hesiodic poet has more than once the advantage."


"This legend is one of the most pregnant and characteristic in the Grecian Mythology; it explains, according to the religious ideas familiar to the old epic poets, both the distinguishing attributes and the endless toil and endurances of Heracles, the most renowned subjugator of all the semi-divine personages worshipped by the Hellenes,—a being of irresistible force, and especially beloved by Zeus, yet condemned constantly to labour for others and to obey the commands of a worthless and cowardly persecutor. His recompense is reserved to the close of his career, when his afflicting trials are brought to a close: he is then admitted to the godhead, and receives in marriage Hebe."—Grote, vol. i. p. 128.



"The blue-eyed maid,
In ev'ry breast new vigour to infuse.
Brings nectar temper'd with ambrosial dews."

Merrick's Tryphiodorus, vi. 249.


"Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering. He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them." Job xxvi. 6-8.

"Swift from his throne the infernal monarch ran,
All pale and trembling, lest the race of man,
Slain by Jove's wrath, and led by Hermes' rod,
Should fill (a countless throng!) his dark abode."

Merrick's Tryphiodorus, vi. 769, sqq.


These words seem to imply the old belief, that the Fates might be delayed, but never wholly set aside.


It was anciently believed that it was dangerous, if not fatal, to behold a deity. See Exod. xxxiii. 20; Judg. xiii. 22.

"Ere Ilium and the Trojan tow'rs arose,
In humble vales they built their soft abodes."

Dryden's Virgil, iii. 150.


Along the level seas. Compare Virgil's description of Camilla, who

"Outstripp'd the winds in speed upon the plain,
Flew o'er the field, nor hurt the bearded grain:
She swept the seas, and, as she skimm'd along,
Her flying feet unbathed on billows hung."

Dryden, vii. 1100.


The future father. "Æneas and Antenor stand distinguished from the other Trojans by a dissatisfaction with Priam, and a sympathy with the Greeks, which is by Sophocles and others construed as treacherous collusion,—a suspicion indirectly glanced at, though emphatically repelled, in the Æneas of Virgil."—Grote, i. p. 427.


Neptune thus recounts his services to Æneas:

"When your Æneas fought, but fought with odds
Of force unequal, and unequal gods:
I spread a cloud before the victor's sight,
Sustain'd the vanquish'd, and secured his flight—
Even then secured him, when I sought with joy
The vow'd destruction of ungrateful Troy."

Dryden's Virgil, v. 1058.


On Polydore. Euripides, Virgil, and others, relate that Polydore was sent into Thrace, to the house of Polymestor, for protection, being the youngest of Priam's sons, and that he was treacherously murdered by his host for the sake of the treasure sent with him.


"Perhaps the boldest excursion of Homer into this region of poetical fancy is the collision into which, in the twenty-first of the Iliad, he has brought the river god Scamander, first with Achilles, and afterwards with Vulcan, when summoned by Juno to the hero's aid. The overwhelming fury of the stream finds the natural interpretation in the character of the mountain torrents of Greece and Asia Minor. Their wide, shingly beds are in summer comparatively dry, so as to be easily forded by the foot passenger. But a thunder-shower in the mountains, unobserved perhaps by the traveller on the plain, may suddenly immerse him in the flood of a mighty river. The rescue of Achilles by the fiery arms of Vulcan scarcely admits of the same ready explanation from physical causes. Yet the subsiding of the flood at the critical moment when the hero's destruction appeared imminent, might, by a slight extension of the figurative parallel, be ascribed to a god symbolic of the influences opposed to all atmospheric moisture."—Mure, vol. i. p. 480, sq.


Wood has observed, that "the circumstance of a falling tree, which is described as reaching from one of its banks to the other, affords a very just idea of the breadth of the Scamander."


Ignominious. Drowning, as compared with a death in the field of battle, was considered utterly disgraceful.


Beneath a caldron.

"So, when with crackling flames a caldron fries,
The bubbling waters from the bottom rise.
Above the brims they force their fiery way;
Black vapours climb aloft, and cloud the day."

Dryden's Virgil, vii. 644.


"This tale of the temporary servitude of particular gods, by order of Jove, as a punishment for misbehaviour, recurs not unfrequently among the incidents of the Mythical world."—Grote, vol. i. p. 156.


Not half so dreadful.

"On the other side,
Incensed with indignation, Satan stood
Unterrified, and like a comet burn'd,
That fires the length of Ophiuchus huge
In the arctic sky, and from his horrid hair
Shakes pestilence and war."

—Paradise Lost," xi. 708.


"And thus his own undaunted mind explores."—"Paradise Lost," vi. 113.


The example of Nausicaa, in the Odyssey, proves that the duties of the laundry were not thought derogatory, even from the dignity of a princess, in the heroic times.


Hesper shines with keener light.

"Fairest of stars, last in the train of night,
If better thou belong not to the dawn."

"Paradise Lost," v. 166.


Such was his fate. After chasing the Trojans into the town, he was slain by an arrow from the quiver of Paris, directed under the unerring auspices of Apollo. The greatest efforts were made by the Trojans to possess themselves of the body, which was however rescued and borne off to the Grecian camp by the valour of Ajax and Ulysses. Thetis stole away the body, just as the Greeks were about to burn it with funeral honours, and conveyed it away to a renewed life of immortality in the isle of Leuke in the Euxine.


Astyanax, i.e. the city-king or guardian. It is amusing that Plato, who often finds fault with Homer without reason, should have copied this twaddling etymology into his Cratylus.


This book has been closely imitated by Virgil in his fifth book, but it is almost useless to attempt a selection of passages for comparison.


Thrice in order led. This was a frequent rite at funerals. The Romans had the same custom, which they called decursio. Plutarch states that Alexander, in after times, renewed these same honours to the memory of Achilles himself.


And swore. Literally, and called Orcus, the god of oaths, to witness. See Buttmann, Lexilog, p. 436.

"O, long expected by thy friends! from whence
Art thou so late return'd for our defence?
Do we behold thee, wearied as we are
With length of labours, and with, toils of war?
After so many funerals of thy own,
Art thou restored to thy declining town?
But say, what wounds are these? what new disgrace
Deforms the manly features of thy face?"

Dryden, xi. 369.


Like a thin smoke. Virgil, Georg. iv. 72.

"In vain I reach my feeble hands to join
In sweet embraces—ah! no longer thine!
She said, and from his eyes the fleeting fair
Retired, like subtle smoke dissolved in air."



So Milton:—

"So eagerly the fiend
O'er bog, o'er steep, through strait, rough, dense, or rare,
With head, hands, wings, or feet pursues his way,
And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies."

"Paradise Lost," ii. 948.

"An ancient forest, for the work design'd
(The shady covert of the savage kind).
The Trojans found: the sounding axe is placed:
Firs, pines, and pitch-trees, and the tow'ring pride
Of forest ashes, feel the fatal stroke,
And piercing wedges cleave the stubborn oak.
High trunks of trees, fell'd from the steepy crown
Of the bare mountains, roll with ruin down."

Dryden's Virgil, vi. 261.


He vowed. This was a very ancient custom.


The height of the tomb or pile was a great proof of the dignity of the deceased, and the honour in which he was held.


On the prevalence of this cruel custom amongst the northern nations, see Mallet, p. 213.


And calls the spirit. Such was the custom anciently, even at the Roman funerals.

"Hail, O ye holy manes! hail again,
Paternal ashes, now revived in vain."

Dryden's Virgil, v. 106.


Virgil, by making the boaster vanquished, has drawn a better moral from this episode than Homer. The following lines deserve comparison:—

"The haughty Dares in the lists appears:
Walking he strides, his head erected bears:
His nervous arms the weighty gauntlet wield,
And loud applauses echo through the field.
* * * *
Such Dares was, and such he strode along,
And drew the wonder of the gazing throng
His brawny breast and ample chest he shows;
His lifted arms around his head he throws,
And deals in whistling air his empty blows.
His match is sought, but, through the trembling band,
No one dares answer to the proud demand.
Presuming of his force, with sparkling eyes,
Already he devours the promised prize.
* * * *
If none my matchless valour dares oppose,
How long shall Dares wait his dastard foes?"

Dryden's Virgil, v. 486, seq.

"The gauntlet-fight thus ended, from the shore
His faithful friends unhappy Dares bore:
His mouth and nostrils pour'd a purple flood,
And pounded teeth came rushing with his blood."

Dryden's Virgil, v. 623.


"Troilus is only once named in the Iliad; he was mentioned also in the Cypriad but his youth, beauty, and untimely end made him an object of great interest with the subsequent poets."—Grote, i, p. 399.


Milton has rivalled this passage describing the descent of Gabriel, "Paradise Lost," bk. v. 266, seq.

"Down thither prone in flight
He speeds, and through the vast ethereal sky