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35. To Sea and Back, First Essay, I. 428-487
With this, she left him to his anger,
caused by their seizing of that lovely girl,
against his will. Meanwhile Odysseus
had touched at Chryse, bearing the sacrifice.
Entering the deep harbour,
they furled the sail and stowed it in the black ship,
dropped the mast by lowering the forestays,
and rowed her to her berth.
Then they cast out the anchor stones, made fast the hawsers,
and leapt on shore.
Next, the offering of cattle for far-striking Apollo was disembarked,
and Chryses’ daughter landed from the sea-going boat.
It was Odysseus, that man of resource, who led her to the altar,
and handed her to her dear father, saying:
"Chryse, our leader Agamemnon commanded me
to return your daughter, and make holy sacrifice
to Phoebus for all the Greeks, and propitiate
your lord Apollo, who has brought the Argives pain and mourning.’
With this, he handed her to her father who joyfully clasped her in his arms.
Swiftly now they tethered the offering of cattle
around the well-built altar,
rinsed their hands and took handfuls of sacrificial barley grains.
Then Chryses raised his arms and prayed on their behalf:
"Hear me, God of the Silver Bow, protector of
Chryse and holy Cilla, lord of Tenedos.
Just as once before when I prayed to you,
you honoured me and struck the Achaeans a fierce blow,
so grant my new plea,
and avert this dreadful scourge from the Danaans."
So he prayed, and Apollo listened.
Introduction to I. 428-457
Because the very last word that Thetis used in speaking to her son Achilles was “I think” (oio-427), we 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 twelve 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 twelve 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. More precisely, 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 (428-456); (2) A description of their sacrifice to propitiate the god (457-474); (3) the Achaian return to Troy (475-487).
Getting Chryseis Back to Chryses (428-57)
While we are thinking about how Thetis thinks she can persuade Zeus, she rapidly disappears, leaving her son stewing in his anger (428-429). 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 429-430 drops in a few precious morsels that 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 not
inferior to the “beautiful-faced” Chryseis. 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, which strikes us. Interesting, too, is the use of “against his will” (aekontos), because that was the same word used to describe Briseis’ reaction in line 348. She went along with the heralds “against her will” (aekousa). When we realize that the entire Iliad is about the “will/counel 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 twelve 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 enter 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 doubt 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 (436-445)
But readers will only endure so much detail before becoming bored. After a few details they want a quick and entertaining way to return to the main narrative. Homer does that in lines 436-440 by a most arresting series of what one commentator referred to as “exaggerated epanaphoras,” Kirk, Op. cit., p. 100. An epanaphora is the same as an anaphora—and it means, in rhetorical theory,
the repetition of identical initial phrases in successive lines.
A digression on the words epanaphora/anaphora is appropriate, only because we need to “correct” the Oxford English Dictionary here. The OED tells us that that these two classical terms, which were used interchangeably at least since the third century BCE, came into English at different times. It
gives the first attestation of anaphora in Puttenham’s 1589 The Arte of English Poesie:
“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 think that heare man hath no perfit blisse.”
The OED tells us, however, that epanaphora only entered English in 1678, and isn’t well attested. However, the OED is mistaken. Already if we go back to the first rhetorical treatise in English, Richard Sherry’s 1550 A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes, the two are equated. More famous than Sherry is Henry Peacham’s 1577 (second edition 1593) Garden of Eloquence. This can easily be found online, and we have, in the 1593 edition:
“Epanaphora, or Anaphora, is a forme of speech which beginneth diverse members, still with one and the same word.”
Thus, we have “improved” the best dictionary in English on the way to understanding the Iliad! The repetition allows a pleasing and emphatic manner of speaking, which will not quickly be forgotten by the reader.
The epanaphoras of 436-439 are crystal clear in the Greek. We see 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 sharp-shooting Apollo; out of the sea-traversing boat,
finally, came Chryseis. 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. Homer’s narrative builds through these impressive anaphoras so much that Chryseis’ actual appearance walking off the boat in 439 is almost like a bride appearing to her appreciative admirers or a conquering hero returning home.
I want to continue with the bride/wedding metaphor here because of the action in the following lines (440-441). The shrewd Odysseus leads her in front of the altar and then places her hand
in that of her beloved father before saying a few words. Most English translations have Odysseus leaving her “in her father’s arms,” but the Greek word used is "hands" (chersi). Odysseus 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 Anglo-Saxon 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 traditionally has 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 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 as readers by describing clearly the situation and his hope. Agamemnon authorized the journey to lead the child (the word paida is used here to emphasize her youth and vulnerability) back to Chryses. But that isn’t all. Also performed will be the hecatomb sacrifice in order to appease or win over the ruler (Apollos), who had brought these griefs “causing many groans” (polystonos) on the Argives. That is the gist of 442-445. 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 (446-457)
The action now cascades rapidly (446-457). 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 (446-447):
“He (Chryses), rejoicing, received his beloved child"
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 (451-452); (2) a reminder of past acts of Apollo’s intervention on Chryses’ behalf (453-455); and (3) a request for Apollo’s intervention now (456).
The first section repeats lines from his earlier prayer (451-452 repeat 37-38). But his ultimate appeal to Apollo will be based on the second section. Again, pote (“if at any time”) intervenes (453-455):
“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 (456):
“Turn aside (or “ward off”) the destructive plague from the Danaans"
That’s all we hear.