Prologue I.1-7 (I)
Prologue I.1-7 (II)
Quarrel I.8-21 (I)
Quarrel I.8-21 (II)
Quarrel I.8-21 (III)
Agam. I.101-20 (I)
Aga. I.101-20 (II)
Achilles I.147-71 (I)
Ach. I.147-71 (II)
Sceptre I.215-44 (I)
Nestor I.245-84 (I)
Apart I.285-325 (I)
Softer I.325-92 (I)
Softer Achilles (II)
Plea I.393-427 (I)
Vow I.393-427 (II)
Sea I.428-87 (I)
Back I.428-87 (II)
Thetis I.488-530 (I)
Thetis and Zeus (II)
Iliad I.428-87 (I)
Bill Long 1/27/10
To Sea and Back
Because the very last word that Thetis used in speaking to her son Achilles was "I think" (oio-427), we as readers are cast into thought for a moment as we try to imagine the ways she will have to manipulate Zeus in order to fulfill her son's treacherous prayer. 'How is this going to happen?' we wonder. But because Thetis told us that it would take 12 days before she could approach Zeus, we just have to wait. We don't know at first, however, whether Homer will just "skip over" the 12 days, like he has apparently skipped over the first eight years of the Trojan War to drop us in medias res in the ninth at the beginning of Book I. Maybe he will begin the next paragraph or thought with "twelve days later...," and we will be off to the races.
But no, Homer has other things he wants to do. In fact, he has one little detail hanging in his narrative that he has to "clean up." Briseis has been seized from Achilles and Chryseis is to be sent back to her father (where is her mother in all of this?). But it has not yet been accomplished. Thus we are to assume that the plague, which had led to bodies being piled up as early as line 52, still rages. Homer needs to get rid of one disaster before he visits the Achaians with another one.
We may divide Homer's narrative into three parts: (1) The return of Chryseis to her father (428-56); (2) A description of their sacrifice to propitiate the god (457-74); (3) A description of their return home (475-87).
Getting Chryseis Back to Chryses (428-56)
While we are thinking about how Thetis thinks she can persuade Zeus, she rapidly disappears, leaving her son stewing in his anger (428-29). We are told that he is "angered in spirit" or "sorrowing in his heart" [Lattimore translates it as the latter; I think the former is better] as she disappears. No formal leave-taking is described. There is no falling in each other's arms. Emotion has been more than adequately described already by Homer. The quick disappearance, without more, stresses Thetis' determination and resolve to help her son.
We are left, for one split-second, with Achilles alone. He still nurses his hurt over Briseis. But the brief description in 429-30 drops in a few precious morsels which heighten the pathos of the scene. He continues angry, which is no surprise. But his anger is "for his well-girdled" or "beautiful-waisted" woman. This is the first appearance of euzonos, and it stresses that Briseis is no less inferior to the "beautiful-faced" Chryses. The thing that angers him is that she was taken away "by force against his will." It is academic at this point to quibble over whether he feels a bigger affront to his sense of honor or to his sense of personal delight in his prize. It is the double reference to force here, though, that strikes us. Interesting, too, is the use of "against his will" (aekontos), because that was the same word used to describe the taking of Briseis in 348. She went along with the heralds "against her will" (aekousa). When we realize that the entire Iliad is about the "will of Zeus being accomplished" (boule--line 5), we wonder about the connection between what the gods will and what humans desire. It is an age-old question, and Homer skillfully tweaks it, without giving us the chance to mull it over.
We are given no chance to do this because Homer quickly changes the scene. We see that 12 days are not immediately going to elapse, but that he will "clean up" the detail of Chryseis' return. We join the crew of the good ship "Chryseis Return," led by the shrewd Odysseus, as they are entering the harbor of the island Chryse (431ff.). He describes the landing in terms laden with technical and traditional detail. We have masts and mast receivers, letting down of sails with forestays, and then rowing the ship to the anchorage or mooring. Many commentators tell us that when beaching a ship the custom was to turn it around, so that its stern was facing the shore and the bow towards the open sea. The bow was anchored by stones, while the stern cables tied the stern to the shore (436).
The sailors in his audience would no dout have visualized every step of the description and even thought back to times when they had made such a landing. Brilliant stories are brilliant not only because they plumb emotional depths or tell a compelling narrative but also because they afford sufficient detail so that experts "in the field" will recognize their lives in what is being described. So here we have a landing described; later we will have a sacrifice described; still later Homer gives us a rich description of the return home from Chryse. Thus, Homer, perhaps unwittingly, gives us clues on how to become a great writer. By all means link your little stories to big themes; by all means give us a window into the 'big history' by portraying the inner struggles of leading actors; but, also, by all means, tell us in spare but accurate language the details about activities or places which require expert knowledge. You don't realize at first how much you will touch many appreciative readers by your display of accurate, detailed specialized knowledge.
To the Return (436-45)
But readers will only take so much detail. After the detail they want a quick and entertaining way to return to the main narrative. Homer does that in lines 436-40 by a most arresting series of what one commentator referred to as "exaggerated epanaphoras," Kirk, Op. cit., p. 100. We have to stop, of course, on this one. Actually the better word is anaphora, but I suppose "exaggerated epanaphora" sounds good. I would prefer "a series of arresting anaphoras." Why? Read on.
The word anaphora came into English in the late 1590s and was noted in the leading rhetorical treatise of the time, while epanaphora only slunk in in 1678, and isn't well attested. They mean the same thing--the repetition of the same word or phrase in several successive clauses. Quoting George Puttenham's 1589 The Arte of English Poesie, we have:
"Anaphora, or the Figure of Report...as thus: 'To thinke on death it is a miserie, To think on life it is a vanitie: To think on the world verily it is; To thinke that heare man hath no perfit blisse."
I would have hated to compete in a late 16th century spelling bee! Well, we see what anaphora is. It begins each sentence or line with the same word or phrase, thus as it were "carrying you back" (the meaning of anaphora) to the same idea. The repetition allows you to continue with an idea but in an entertaining way.
The anaphora in these four lines lines is crystal clear in the Greek. It is the combination of "ek de" or "out of" that begins them. Out of the boat they cast the anchor stone and tied down the stern cables; out of the boat they disembarked onto the beach; out of the boat they brought the hecatomb, which they would offer to sharpshooting Apollo; out of the sea-traversing boat, finally, came Chryses. Down the aisle came the flower girl; down the aisle came the Bible carrier; down the aisle came the bridesmaids; down the aisle came the bride. In fact, Homer's narrative builds through these impressive anaphoras so much so that Chryseis actual appearance walking off the boat in 439 is almost like a bride appearing to her appreciative admirers.
And, I want to continue with the bride/wedding metaphor here because of the action in the following lines (440-41). The shrewd Odysseus leads her then in front of the altar and then places her hand in that of her beloved father, before saying a few words. Most Engish translations have Odysseus laving her "in her father's arms," but the Greek word used is hands (chersi). He takes her by the hand and hands her off. Indeed, if we play with the image being created for a moment, our marital categories become confused. In American wedding tradition, the bride-to-be walks down the aisle with her father, arm in arm, hand in hand. He takes her hand and places it in the hand of her husband. Whether or not you like the notion that this may have, at one time, indicated something of an economic transaction taking place (responsibility for the "girl" from one man to another), it is the way it has traditionally been done. But in Homer we have Odysseus taking the "bride" Chryseis by the hand and delivering her over to her father! I am sure that there are scholars of a structuralist bent or gender investigating bent who could now write articles on "incestuous hints in the Iliad," but I go no further. You see the picture, and Homer has succeeded in making it vivid for us.
Odysseus speaks to the father, and his words help us by describing clearly the situation and his hope. Agamemnon authorized the journey to lead the child (the word paida is used here--child--to emphasize her youth and vulnerability) to you, Chryses. But that isn't all. We will also peform the hecatomb sacrifce, so that we may appease or win over the ruler (Apollos), who has brought these griefs "causing many groans" (polystonos) on the Argives. That is the gist of 442-45. Homer's eloquent and simple clarity gives us only one interpretive possibility for what is going on. Otherwise said, Homer skillfully closes what I call the reader's "interpretive window," thus not allowing us to stray and build contrary or competing narratives in our mind, narratives that will make us lose interest in Homer's narrative and eventually put down the book.
A Word and a Prayer (446-57)
The action now cascades rapidly (446-57). Odysseus delivers Chryseis into the hands of her father; the Achaians quickly make proper arrangements for the hecatomb; Chryses utters a heartfelt prayer to Apollo to turn aside the plague from the Greeks. Each of these three acts invites a few words. All that the text says is that when Odysseus placed her hand in his hand, "He (Chryses), rejoicing, received his beloved child" (446-47). We have previously seen how that little word "beloved" (philen here) gives the narrative a special pathos. So, when it is combined with paida, we almost rejoice as much as does the father. A vulnerable, beloved child has been reunited with her father.
Homer then tells us that preparations for offering the hecatomb were made "quickly" (oka-447). They don't have a moment to lose. Even though we can imagine dozens of large animals milling around, defecating here and there, with mugient moans and offensive smells, Homer is quick to stress the order that is maintained. They set up the sacred hecatomb "in order" (hexeies) around the well-dressed altar; they poured lustral water on their hands; they took up some barley-corn. We are now in the realm of sacrificial practice, which Homer will describe in more detail presently, but this is the only "sample" that he here provides.
Then, dad speaks. He has been silent since he uttered his prayer to Apollo 400 lines previously, a prayer that brought the myriad sufferings on the Achaians. As Achilles stretched his hands fervently towards the sea, the place where his mother lived (351), before praying to her, now Chryses "lifts up" his hands to Apollo who lives on the Olympian mount (450). His prayer consists of three parts: (1) the address to Apollo (451-52); (2) a reminder of past acts of Apollo's intervention on Chryses' behalf (453-55); and (3) a request for Apollos' intervention now (456). The first section repeats lines from his earlier prayer (451-52 repeat 37-38). But his ultimate appeal to Apollo will be based on the second section. Again, pote ("if at any time") intervenes.
"If, indeed, at any time you heard me praying, and you honored me, to overwhelm the Achaian people; now, too, again accomplish this desire..."
That is, Apollo is in the habit of honoring the prayers of his priest. He did so in the past; may it be true again today. The prayer itself is very brief:
"Turn aside (or "ward off") the destructive plague from the Danaans," 456.
That's all we hear.