A sampling of comments on Iliad Rhapsody 19

2016.12.01 / updated 2018.09.20 | By Gregory Nagy

The time has come for Achilles to re-enter the war against the Trojans. For this to happen, Agamemnon must first settle with Achilles. But the over-king feels the need to say more than simply to formulate his proposed terms of settlement. His aim is to excuse himself from responsibility for dishonoring Achilles, and the story that he tells in order to achieve this aim is a retelling of a cosmic atē ‘aberration’ that resulted in the Labors of Hēraklēs. Such a retelling, however, is destined to backfire: it will result in further damage to Agamemnon’s own royal status and in further advancement for the heroic prestige of Achilles, for whom Hēraklēs now becomes a perfect model.

Herakles at the tree of the Hesperides, holding three of the golden apples in his left hand. Behind him is the apple tree with the guardian serpent clinging around it.Bronze, 104.5cm (Roman, 1st century C.E.).Image via The British Museum.
Herakles at the tree of the Hesperides, holding three of the golden apples in his left hand. Behind him is the apple tree with the guardian serpent clinging around it.
Bronze, 104.5cm (Roman, 1st century C.E.).
Image via The British Museum.


The time has come for Achilles to re-enter the war against the Trojans. For this to happen, Agamemnon must first settle with Achilles. But the over-king feels the need to say more than simply to formulate his proposed terms of settlement. His aim is to excuse himself from responsibility for dishonoring Achilles, and the story that he tells in order to achieve this aim is a retelling of a cosmic atē ‘aberration’ that resulted in the Labors of Hēraklēs. Such a retelling, however, is destined to backfire: it will result in further damage to Agamemnon’s own royal status and in further advancement for the heroic prestige of Achilles, for whom Hēraklēs now becomes a perfect model. [[GN 2016.12.01.]]


subject heading(s): Ēōs; Ōkeanos

The goddess of dawn, Ēōs, is pictured here as emerging from the streams of the cosmic river Ōkeanos at sunrise. The dawn emerges just as the sun itself is pictured as emerging from the Ōkeanos at every sunrise after having submerged into it at every sunset. See the comments on I.07.421–423 and I.08.485–486. [[GN 2016.11.28 via GMP 252.]]


subject heading(s): armor of Achilles; Shield of Achilles; selas ‘flash of light’; Will of Zeus; look of Zeus; look of Achilles

The goddess Thetis proceeds to bring for Achilles the armor that was made for him by the god Hephaistos, I.19.003, and she finds the hero embracing the body of Patroklos and weeping over it, mourning together with all his fellow warriors, the Myrmidons, I.19.004–006; she now makes a formal presentation of the armor to Achilles, I.19.007–013. At the sight of this armor, all the Myrmidons recoil: no one can bear to look at the divine work of art, I.19.014–015—no one, that is, except for Achilles, who now looks directly at the Shield, I.19.015–017, and whose eyes, as he is looking, now give off a terrifying selas ‘flash of light’, I.19.017. The first time we saw this word selas in the Iliad was at I.08.076, where it referred to the lightning that comes from Zeus as he thunders from on high on the top of Mount Ida—and this flash of light brings holy terror for the Achaeans, I.08.076–077. See the comment on I.08.066–077. There is a comparable reference at I.17.739 to the selas ‘flash of light’ in a thunderstorm. See the comment on I.17.736–741. Other evocative occurrences of selas ‘flash of light’ include the references at I.08.509 and at I.08.563 to the threatening fires of the Trojans. And we see yet again this powerful word in the context of I.15.599–600: it is said there that Zeus has been waiting to see with his own divine eyes the selas ‘flash of light’, I.15.600, that will appear when the first of the beached Achaean ships is set on fire. Once this divine vision is visualized, the Will of Zeus will have been fulfilled. Thus this word selas ‘flash of light’ signals the driving force of the whole epic, which is the Will of Zeus. See the comment on I.15.592–602. Another powerful moment where the Will of Zeus manifests itself as a selas ‘flash of light’ happens at I.18.214, where this word refers to the fire that bursts from the head of the enraged Achilles. See the comment on I.18.214. With regard to I.15.599–600, I also note a coextensiveness between the selas ‘flash of light’ at I.15.600 and the terrifying look of Zeus. I deliberately use the word look here because, unlike other English words for the act of seeing, the verb look and the noun look or looks can refer to a stream of vision not only as it comes into the eye but also as it goes out of it. Zeus can look at the terrifying flash of light when the beached ship of Protesilaos is set on fire, but that look of his can translate into the terrifying flash of light that comes out of his own eye in the act of his casting his thunderbolt. Zeus hurls his thunderbolt by casting his eye on the target: see the comment on I.13.242–244. I see a comparable pattern of coextensiveness here at I.19.015–017: the selas ‘flash of light’ at I.19.017 that comes from the terrifying look of Achilles as he looks at the Shield will translate into a flash of light that comes from the Shield itself: only Achilles dares to look at it, while the other Myrmidons shrink back in terror, avoiding the gaze. [[GN 2016.11.26.]]


subject heading(s): Shield of Achilles; blinding of Homer

This detail about Achilles as the only hero who can look at the selas ‘flash of light’ streaming from his Shield, I.19.017, is relevant to a myth about the blinding of Homer. I epitomize here from my analysis in Nagy 2016.02.18 §§11–12 (via HPC 256–257n13). In the Life of Homer traditions, Vita 6 (see the Inventory of terms and names), there is a myth that explains the blinding of Homer as the result of a mistake he made. He conjured the poetic vision of Achilles wearing the new set of bronze armor that the divine smith Hephaistos had made for him. Here is my translation of the text (Vita 6.46–50): ‘Visiting the tomb of Achilles, he [= Homer] prayed if he could only see the hero just the way the hero was like at the moment of entering the field of battle while wearing his second set of armor. The hero then appeared to him, and, as soon as Homer looked at the hero, he was blinded by the gleam [augē] of the armor’ (ἐλθόντα γὰρ ἐπὶ τὸν Ἀχιλλέως τάφον εὔξασθαι θεάσασθαι τὸν ἥρωα τοιοῦτον ὁποῖος προῆλθεν ἐπὶ τὴν μάχην τοῖς δευτέροις ὅπλοις κεκοσμημένος· ὀφθέντος δ’ αὐτῷ τοῦ Ἀχιλλέως τυφλωθῆναι τὸν Ὅμηρον ὑπὸ τῆς τῶν ὅπλων αὐγῆς). This heroic moment, when Achilles finally returns to the field of battle, is what we have just read at I.19.014–017, where it is said that the gleam emanating from the new bronze armor of Achilles was so blindingly bright that none of his fellow warriors could even look directly at it. It is this gleam that blinds Homer himself, who is imagined as the only poet in the whole world who could conjure such a blinding vision in his own poetry. [[GN 2016.11.26.]]


subject heading(s): arēïphatoi ‘killed in war, killed by Ares’

This epithet, applied generically to warriors killed in war, is relevant to their relationship with Ares as god of war. [[GN 2016.11.26 via BA 294.]]


subject heading(s): tamiai ‘dividers of meat’; dais ‘feast, division of portions (of meat), sacrifice’

This reference made by Achilles to workers whose work it is to divide meat at feasts is relevant to the special links of this hero to the concept of dais ‘feast’ in its basic sense of ‘division (of meat)’. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 129.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’; theraponte (dual) of Ares

In contexts where the dual theraponte in combination with Arēos ‘of Ares’ is applied to the Achaeans=Danaans=Argives (here, to the pair of Diomedes and Odysseus) as a grouping of warriors, the deeper meaning is more evident than in other contexts. [[GN 2016.08.04 via the comment on I.02.110 via BA 293–295; GMP 48; H24H 6§32.]]


subject heading(s): mēnis ‘anger’

In this speech of Achilles, he himself refers to his mēnis ‘anger’ by way of the verb apomēniein at I.19.062 (ἀπομηνίσαντος). This anger has been the main theme of the Iliad ever since I.01.001, and Achilles now expresses regret over the many deaths that resulted for his Achaean companions. (On theme, see the Inventory of terms and names.) The speech of the hero here contains also other words that are relevant to mēnis: of special interest are meneainein ‘get angry’ at I.19.058 (μενεήναμεν) and mimnēskein ‘mentally connect, remind’ at I.19.064 (μνήσεσθαι). Both of these words convey a sense of mental reciprocity in the feelings of anger as experienced by both heroes. See the comments on I.01.207 and I.01.247. See also BA 73 and 312. In the present speech, Achilles goes so far as to regret that he and Agamemnon quarreled over Briseis. If only she had died, he says at I.19.059–060, on the day when he captured her after he conquered the city of Lyrnessos. But Achilles stops short of saying that he regrets having conquered Lyrnessos. [[GN 2016.11.26.]]


subject heading(s): Briseis the Aeolian; conquest of Lyrnessos by Achilles the Aeolian

In referring to Briseis here, the words of Achilles briefly retell the story about his conquest of Lyrnessos and his capture of Briseis. I refer here again to my three anchor comments about Aeolian women in the Iliad. See also anchor comment at I.02.689–694 on: Aeolian women in the Iliad, part 1; anchor comment at I.09.128–131 and at I.09.270–272 on: Aeolian women in the Iliad, part 2; and anchor comment at I.11.624–627 on: Aeolian women in the Iliad, part 3. [[GN 2016.11.27 via BA 140.]]


Q&T via BA 92
subject heading(s): unsaying the mēnis ‘anger’; root khar-, in the sense of ‘rejoicing’ in response to the unsaying

The mēnis ‘anger’ of Achilles has now finally been ‘un-said’ by the hero, as expressed by the verb apo-eipeîn, I.19.075. The response of the Achaeans as an aggregate is a collective feeling of joy, as expressed by the root khar– of the verb khairein in the sense of ‘rejoice’. By contrast, while the mēnis ‘anger’ was still ongoing, the Achaeans had collectively felt grief, as expressed by the root akh– of the verb akhnusthai ‘feel grief’ and of the noun akhos ‘grief’. See especially the comments on I.01.188 and on I.01.509. Such a semantic contrast between collective joy and collective grief is re-enacted in names like Khari-lā(u̯)os  and *Akhi-lāos. The second of these two names is my reconstruction of an older form of the name Akhil(l)leús: see the comment on I.01.002. (BA 77, 79; also 65). [[GN 2016.11.27 via BA 92.]]


Q&T via H24H 1§36
subject heading(s): the apology of Agamemnon; aitios ‘responsible’; atē ‘aberration’; Hēraklēs

In seeking to settle his quarrel with Achilles, Agamemnon claims that he was not aitios ‘responsible’, I.19.086. Rather, it was atē ‘aberration’ or ‘derangement’ that made him act deranged, I.19.091. The verb that is used in this verse, aâsthai, has as its grammatical subject the noun atē ‘aberration’ or ‘derangement’, and I accordingly translate this verb as ‘cause to veer off-course’. The same translation can be used at I.19.129, where the grammatical subject of the verb aâsthai is once again atē. Elsewhere, however, the grammatical subject of this verb is not atē but the person who is passively experiencing atē. In such contexts aâsthai can be translated simply as ‘veer off-course’, not ‘cause to veer off-course’. At I.19.095 and I.19.113, the grammatical subject of the verb aâsthai ‘veer off-course’ is the god Zeus himself. And then, finally at I.19.137, the grammatical subject of the same verb aâsthai is Agamemnon. The difference between the contexts where aâsthai means ‘veer off-course’ and other contexts where it means ‘cause to veer off-course’ can be explained in terms of the noun atē, which for the moment I will translate simply as ‘mistake’. In juridical terms, atē can refer either to a mistake that you made or to the damages that you have to pay to remedy that mistake. The mistake is the cause of the damages, and the damages are the effect of the mistake. And, since atē can refer either to the cause or to the effect of the mistake, it can be personified as a malevolent goddess Atē who presides over the whole process of cause-and-effect. That is why Agamemnon can say that I am not aitios ‘responsible’, but Zeus and his entire divine apparatus are responsible, since they inflicted on me the goddess Atē. In effect, the goddess Atē made me do it. In the verses that are being covered in this general comment, here are the occurrences of atē/Atē: Ι.19.088, Ι.19.091, Ι.19.126, Ι.19.129, I.19.136. Agamemnon has more to say about the personified Atē: this goddess had once upon a time caused even Zeus himself to make a big mistake. It is in this context that the verb aâsthai in the sense of ‘veer off-course’, at I.19.095 and I.19.113, has as its grammatical subject the god Zeus himself. The mistake of Zeus, his ‘veering off-course’, resulted in the epic traditions about Hēraklēs, to be analyzed in the comment on I.19.95–133. This mistake could not be undone, but Zeus now took a drastic step that prevented any further such divine mistakes. Happily for the gods, Atē no longer lives in Olympus: she was thrown out of there by Zeus for having caused him to make a mistake, and she landed on Earth, where she could now cause trouble only for us humans. We are the ones who make mistakes, while the Olympians no longer make mistakes—now that Atē cannot go back to Olympus. I see at work here a theological fact of life: in the age of myth, gods used to make mistakes, but not today in the age of ritual. [[GN 2016.11.27.]]


subject heading(s): public speaking while seated

The following is epitomized from H24H 1§36. Agamemnon, who is the high king among all the kings of the Achaean warriors participating in the war at Troy, is speaking here in a public assembly of the Achaeans. Strangely, he speaks to his fellow warriors while remaining in a seated position, I.19.077, saying that it is a good thing to listen to a man who speaks in a standing position and that it is hard for even a good speaker to hupoballein (ὑββάλλειν) him, I.19.080. So, what does this mean? Achilles had just spoken to the assembly at verses I.19.056–073, and it is made explicit at I.19.055 that he was standing. In the Greek-English dictionary of Liddell, Scott, and Jones (LSJ), hupoballein is interpreted as ‘interrupt’ in the context of I.19.080 here. A related context is the adverb hupoblēdēn (ὑποβλήδην) at I.01. 292, where Achilles is responding to Agamemnon in the course of their famous quarrel. Some translate that adverb as ‘interruptingly’ (details in PR 20). Instead, I interpret hupoballein and hupoblēdēn as ‘speak in relay [after someone]’ and ‘speaking in relay’ respectively, and I argue that the concept of relay speaking is a characteristic of competitive speech-making (PR 21–22). As Richard Martin has shown, the Iliad can dramatize Agamemnon and Achilles in the act of competing with each other as speakers, not only as warriors and leaders, and Achilles is consistently portrayed as the better speaker by far (Martin 1989:117; also 63, 69–70, 98, 113, 117, 119, 133, 202, 219, 223, 228). At I.01.292, where I interpret hupoblēdēn as ‘speaking in relay’, Achilles engages in verbal combat with Agamemnon not so much by way of ‘interrupting’ but by picking up the train of thought exactly where his opponent left off—and out-performing him in the process. So, here at I.19.080, Agamemnon backs off from verbal combat with Achilles, using as an excuse the fact that he is wounded: I can’t stand up, and therefore I can’t compete by picking up the train of thought where Achilles left off—and therefore I can’t out-perform him (and perhaps I don’t anymore have the stomach even to try to do so). The successful performer remains standing, and the unsuccessful performer fails to stand up and compete by taking his turn, choosing instead to sit it out. He will still speak to Achilles, but he will speak without offering any more competition (PR 22). [[GN 2016.11.29 via H24H 1§36.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’; therapontes (plural) of Ares

Agamemnon addresses his fellow warriors here as therapontes (plural) of Ares. In contexts where the plural therapontes in combination with Arēos ‘of Ares’ is applied to the Achaeans=Danaans=Argives as a grouping of warriors, the deeper meaning is more evident than in other contexts. [[GN 2016.08.04 via the comment on I.02.110 via BA 293–295; GMP 48; H24H 6§32.]]


subject heading(s): Agamemnon declares that he is making an offer

Instead of competing with Achilles as a public speaker, Agamemnon says that all he wants to do now is to make Achilles an offer. [[GN 2016.11.29 via H24H 1§36.]]


subject heading(s): mūthos ‘wording spoken for the record’

Agamemnon says that he will say a mūthos, and the word occurs twice here: I.19.084, I.19.085. As Richard Martin (1989) has shown, this word as used in Homeric poetry means ‘wording that is spoken for the record’. Thus mūthos “is a speech-act indicating authority, performed at length, usually in public, with a focus on full attention to every detail” (Martin 1989:12). Another example of mūthos occurs at I.19.107, where it is Zeus who says something for the record, ‘wording spoken for the record’. In Homeric terms, any wording that is called a mūthos by the Master Narrator himself in the act of actually quoting the words of the wording will have the prestige of reality—to the extent that the listeners were actually expected to accept the idea that such wording had once upon a time been really spoken exactly as quoted. In short, any mūthos that is quoted in Homeric poetry must be real because it is suppsedly spoken for the record by Homer himself. The modern word myth, derived from post-Homeric uses of the word mūthos, has obviously veered from the Homeric meaning (HQ 119-125, 127-133, 152). [[GN 2016.11.29 via H24H 1§36.]]


subject heading(s): myth as rhetoric

According to Agamemnon, the myth about Hēraklēs has been used against him by the Achaeans. But he will now try to use the same myth to excuse himself. [[GN 2016.11.29 via H24H 1§36.]]


subject heading(s): holding Zeus responsible; aitios ‘responsible’

Agamemnon in claiming that it was not he but rather Zeus together with his divine apparatus that can be held aitios ‘responsible’ for the mistake that resulted in what is narrated in the Iliad. Zeus is well aware of such claims, as we will see when we read the comment on O.01.32–34. [[GN 2016.11.29 via PH 242; also 238.]]


subject heading(s): atē ‘aberration’

The word atē, which I have been translating as ‘aberration’ or ‘derangement’ or even ‘mistake’ in the general comment on I.19.076–138, is both a passive experience, as described here by Agamemnon, and an active force that is personified as the goddess Atē, as we see later, starting at verse 91. See again the general comment on I.19.076–138. [[GN 2016.11.29 via H24H 1§36.]]


subject heading(s): Dios thugatēr ‘daughter of Zeus’

The application of the epithet Dios thugatēr ‘daughter of Zeus’ to the personified Atē as goddess confers on her an Olympian status here, despite her impending demotion from Olympus. [[GN 2016.11.29 via GMP 250.]]


subject heading(s): the epic narrative about Hēraklēs; atē ‘aberration’; Hērā; kleos ‘glory’ (of poetry); antagonism between immortal and mortal

The epic narrative about Hēraklēs, as retold here by Agamemnon, would never have happened if Zeus had not made a mistake, as indicated by the verb aâsthai ‘make a mistake’ at I.19.095, also at I.19.113. This verb, as I noted in the comment on the overall passage, I.19.076–138, corresponds to the noun atē, which I originally translated there as ‘aberration’. To say it more formally, then: the epic narrative about Hēraklēs resulted from an aberration on the part of Zeus, who was deceived by his divine wife Hērā. Call it what you will, Zeus made a big mistake. He inadvertently allowed it to happen that Hērā, who is normally the goddess in charge of perfect timing in the cosmos, threw off the timing for the birth of Hēraklēs, so that the hero’s cousin Eurystheus was born earlier and thus became king instead of Hēraklēs. Even though Hēraklēs was by far superior as a hero, he was now by birth forever socially inferior to Eurystheus, and throughout his life he was obliged to undertake seemingly impossible tasks that were imposed on him by his malevolent cousin. But Hēraklēs prevailed in performing these tasks, which became the famed Labors of Hēraklēs, as indicated by the programmatic word aethloi ‘labors’ at I.19.133, and these Labors conferred on Hēraklēs a poetic kleos ‘glory’ that became the epic tradition of Hēraklēs. It is these same epic traditions that Agamemnon is now retelling. This retelling, it must be added, is subversive. In the very act of retelling the epic narrative about Hēraklēs, Agamemnon is inadvertently undermining his own status: just as Eurystheus was socially superior but heroically inferior to Hēraklēs, so also Agamemnon is socially superior but heroically inferior to Achilles. One big question still remains about this whole epic narrative: why is the name of Hēraklēs connected to the name of Hērā, who was the direct cause of the the social inferiority experienced by the hero? Why does the “speaking name” (nomen loquens) of Hēraklēs have the meaning ‘he who has the glory [kleos] of Hērā’? The answer is evident: if it had not been for the intervention of Hērā, Hēraklēs would never have had to perform his Labors, and, if it had not been for these Labors, he would never have won the kleos or poetic ‘glory’ that was his to keep forever. We see here the positive side of myths about antagonism between immortal and mortal. [[GN 2016.11.19 via H24H 1§§35–39; also GMP 12.]]


subject heading(s): biē ‘force, violence, strength’; kleos ‘glory’; bíē Hēraklēeíē ‘force of Hēraklēs’

See the comment on I.02.658. [[GN 2016.09.25 via BA 318.]]


subject heading(s): divine deceit

The wording of Zeus hides the fact that Hēraklēs was fathered directly by him. [[GN 2016.11.29 via H24H 1§36.]]


subject heading(s): divine deceit

The wording of Hērā hides the fact that she is speaking about the mother-to-be of Eurystheus, and that this woman is the wife of the hero Sthenelos, who is the son of the hero Perseus, who in turn was fathered directly by Zeus. Later, at I.19.116 and at I.19.123, the identity of this woman is revealed. For now, however, Zeus is being deceived into thinking that Hērā is speaking about the mother-to-be of Hēraklēs. [[GN 2016.11.29 via H24H 1§36.]]


subject heading(s): atē ‘aberration’; Agamemnon’s offer of compensation; apoina ‘compensation’

Having finished at I.19.134 with the retelling of the epic narrative about Hēraklēs, Agamemnon now comes back to his admission that it was atē for him to dishonor Achilles, I.19.136. This word, as we have seen, can be translated as ‘aberration’ or ‘derangement’ or even simply ‘mistake’. In the present context, the noun atē is paired twice with the verb aâsthai, at both I.19.136 and I.19.137, and I translate this verb here simply as ‘make a mistake’. Agamemnon then declares his readiness to pay apoina ‘compensation’, I.19.138. This gesture brings us back to I.09.115, where Agamemnon had already admitted his atai ‘aberrations’ in dishonoring Achilles, adding at I.09.120 that he was ready to pay apoina ‘compensation’ for these aberrations. See the comment on I.09.115–120. [[GN 2016.11.29 via PH 242; also 254.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’; therapontes (plural) of Ares

Agamemnon here refers to his unnamed attendants as therapontes. [[GN 2016.08.04.]]


subject heading(s): theoeikelos ‘looking like a god’

This epithet theoeikelos ‘looking like a god’ occurs only two times in the Iliad. Besides the occurrence here, I.19.155, we see it also at I.01.131. In both cases, the referent is Achilles. In Song 44 of Sappho, “The Wedding of Hector and Andromache,” the same epithet theoeikeloi ‘looking like gods’ occurs in the plural at line 34 (θεοεικέλο[ις]), applying to Hector and Andromache together. The act of comparing humans to divinities is a conventional trope in the ritual context of weddings, and so the application of the epithet theoeikeloi ‘looking like gods’ to Hector and Andromache on the happy occasion of their wedding is perfectly understandable. Most commonly, the bride is equated with Aphrodite and the bridegroom, with Ares. See the comment on I.18.492 (also H24H 4§§14–21). But there may be an irony in the application of the same epithet theoeikelos ‘looking like a god’ to Achilles in the Iliad, since this hero tragically dies before he can ever get married (H24H 5§§98–102, 110–114). Conversely, there may also be an irony in the application of theoeikeloi ‘looking like gods’ to Hector and Andromache in Song 44 of Sappho, since the lives of this couple, once happy, will now tragically be ruined by Achilles in his role as the bridegroom that never was: he will kill Hector and make Andromache a widow. This is not to say that the use of the epithet theoeikeloi ‘looking like gods’ in Sappho Song 44.34 evokes the Iliad as we have it. The evocation may center on a local epic tradition that was current in the Aeolic song culture of Lesbos. The doomed triad of bride and bridegroom and killer of bridegroom was surely involved in such a local tradition as well. Another sign of such a free-standing Iliadic tradition originating from a distinctively Aeolian song culture is the occurrence of the expression kleos aphthiton ‘imperishable glory [kleos]’ in the same song, Sappho 44.5. This expression corresponds exactly to the expression we find in the Iliad, kleos aphthiton ‘imperishable glory [kleos]’, as spoken by Achilles himself about his own poetic glory at I.09.413. The two matching expressions, in Song 44 of Sappho and in Iliad 9, are cognate with each other both in wording and in metrical positioning. See the comment on I.09.413. So, the doomed triad of bride and bridegroom and killer of bridegroom are not only part of comparable stories about the different kinds of doom that await each one of the three: they are also part of two comparable media, both of which are meant to make eternal the poetic ‘glory’ or kleos of all three. One of these two media has just barely survived, in Song 44 of Sappho. The other of the two, by contrast, became the definitive form of epic, as represented by the Homeric Iliad. [[GN 2016.11.30 via HPC 239; H24H 4§§15–21, 5§§36–48.]]


Q&T via BA 129
subject heading(s): dais ‘feast, division of portions (of meat), sacrifice’; dikē ‘judgment, justice’

The wording of Odysseus here refers to the special relationship of Achilles to the dais ‘feast’, I.19.179, as a ‘division’ of meat that needs to be equitable. See the comment on I.01.468 with regard to expressions like δαιτὸς ἐίσης ‘equitable dais’, referring to an ‘equitable’ (adjective isos/isē) division of meat on the occasion of a feast; see also the comments on I.04.048, I.07.319–322, I.08.228–235, I.09.225-228, I.19.044. In the present context, this kind of equitability is drawn into a parallel with the noun dikē in the sense of a ‘judgment’, I.19.180. Such ‘judgment’ likewise needs to be equitable. And for a ‘judgment’ to become so equitable, it can become idealized as absolute ‘justice’. [[GN 2016.11.30 via BA 129, 134.]]


subject heading(s): moira ‘portion; fate, destiny’

The use of this word moira in the sense of ‘portion; fate, destiny’ is relevant to the need felt by Achilles to get his equitable share. See the comment on I.03.059. [[GN 2016.11.30 via BA 129.]]



This speech is relevant to the need felt by Achilles to get his equitable share. [[GN 2016.11.30 via BA 129.]]



This speech is relevant to the need felt by Achilles to get his equitable share. [[GN 2016.11.30 via BA 129.]]


subject heading(s): ‘best of the Achaeans’; phertatos ‘best’

The addressing of Achilles here as phertatos ‘best’ of the Achaeans is most distinctive. See the comment on I.16.021. [[GN 2016.11.30 via BA 27.]]


subject heading(s): tamiēs ‘divider [of portions]’

The application of this noun to Zeus as the ultimate ‘divider’ of the portions of war is relevant to the need felt by Achilles to get his equitable share. [[GN 2016.11.30 via BA 129, 134–135.]]


Q&T via HPC 242
subject heading(s): conquest of Lesbos by Achilles the Aeolian; seven captive Aeolian women from Lesbos; conquest of Lyrnessos by Achilles the Aeolian; capture of Briseis by Achilles the Aeolian

The seven Aeolian women that Achilles had captured when he conquered the island of Lesbos—all of whom had originally been allotted to Agamemnon—are now re-allotted to Achilles, along with Briseis as an additional eighth woman. On the seven captive women from Lesbos, see the anchor comment at I.09.128–131 / 270–272. Once again, we see the dominantly Ionic traditions of Homeric poetry showing signs of influence from a dominantly Aeolic tradition as attested in the songs of Sappho and Alcaeus. Of special interest, with regard to such a tradition, is the emphasis here at I.19.245–246 on the expertise of the seven captive women of Lesbos in working on elaborate fabrics. The sub-text of such work, here and elsewhere, is the craft of pattern-weaving. See the comment on I.09.130. [[GN 2016.11.30 via HPC 242, 302.]]


subject heading(s): conquest of Lesbos by Achilles the Aeolian; seven captive Aeolian women from Lesbos; conquest of Lyrnessos by Achilles the Aeolian; capture of Briseis by Achilles the Aeolian

The property that Agamemnon promised to give as compensation to Achilles is now being delivered for possession. This property to be possessed by Achilles includes not only material objects but also women who are awarded as objectified war-prizes. Achilles the Aeolian will now be awarded possession of the seven captive women whom he had originally captured from Aeolian Lesbos. More than that, he will now get to repossess the captive woman Briseis, whom he had originally captured from Lyrnessos and who had originally been awarded to him by the Achaeans—before Agamemnon had forcibly taken Briseis away from him at the beginning of the Iliad, thus causing the monumental dishonor that had given shape to the entire narrative arc of the epic, up to this point. [[GN 2016.11.30.]]


subject heading(s): holding Zeus responsible; atē ‘aberration’

In this brief speech by Achilles, he seems to be holding Zeus responsible for causing the atai ‘aberrations’ that have led to this point in the epic. See the comment on I.19.086–088. The context here at I.19.268–275 shows that Achilles has in mind not only the atai ‘aberrations’ of Agamemnon but also his own. On the atē ‘aberration’ of Achilles himself, see the comment on I.09.502–512. See also the comment on I.09.115–120: there too we see atai ‘aberrations’ in the plural. [[GN 2016.12.01 via PH 242, 254.]]


subject heading(s): feasting and fighting

Achilles concedes here that the Achaeans must feast on meat before they can fight again. But Achilles refuses to join them, I.19.304–308. He craves instead to enter the bloody stoma ‘mouth’ of war itself, I.19.312–313. [[GN 2016.12.01 via BA 129, 136.]]


I.19.282–302 / anchor comment on: lament by Briseis
Q&T via HP 243–245
subject heading(s): lament; group performance of lament; Sappho as a choral personality; antiphonal refrain; epi-stenakhesthai ‘wail in response’

The wording of Briseis in addressing the corpse of Patroklos is not just a speech expressing her sorrows: morphologically, it is a song of lament. In what follows, I make ten points about this lament:

Point 1. On the morphology of lament, see already the comment on the wording of Andromache at I.06.407–439. It is worth repeating here a caution as expressed in that comment: the laments of characters quoted by epic do not represent the actual meter of lamentation as sung in real laments. The genre of epic regularly uses its own meter, which is the dactylic hexameter, in representing other genres that it quotes, including unmetrical genres (see again Martin 1989:12–42; also pp. 87–88, specifically on lament). But the morphology of laments quoted by epic still follows the rules of lament.

Point 2. In the case of the lament performed by Briseis here at I.19.282–302, the song is a performance by a group of captive women, led in this case by Briseis herself. Such a performance involves not only singing but also dancing, to be visualized as a stylized form of swaying accompanied by gestures such as beating the chest. See the comment on I.18.051–060, where we see Thetis and her Nereid sisters performing a song of lament for Achilles as if he were dead already. To be noted is the reference there at I.18.050–051 to the gesture of beating the chest. Such a group performance by Thetis and the other Nereids is choral, in the sense that the Greek word khoros can be defined as ‘a group of singers/dancers’: see the comment at I.18.590–606. And the same description applies to the group performance by Briseis and the captive women here at I.19.282–302: once again, the performance is choral.

Point 3. The occasion for a choral performance can be sad, as in the case of the laments led by Thetis and Briseis, or it can be happy: see the comment on I.18.590–606, where we see a description of a merry celebration at the time of a harvest.

Point 4. Viewed in such a larger context, the lament of Briseis can be seen as a masterpiece of verbal artistry. This song of lament starts as if it were a wedding song, not a lament, since Briseis is envisioned at I.19.282 as an eroticized bride who matches the goddess Aphrodite herself in beauty and gracefulness. On the convention of comparing the bride to a goddess, especially to Aphrodite, see the comments on I.18.492 and I.19.155. But as soon as Briseis sees the corpse of Patroklos, all cut up by the sharp bronze, I.19.283, happy thoughts about weddings now turn to sad thoughts about funerals. She instantly starts weeping bitterly and singing her song of lament.

Point 5. The vision of Patroklos all cut up by the sharp bronze leads to another vision for Briseis. In the back of her mind is another vision, stored in her memory. It is a vision of the husband she once had, Mynes. Just as she now sees the corpse of Patroklos, all cut up by the sharp bronze, I.19.283, she remembers seeing the corpse of her husband Mynes, all cut up by the sharp bronze, I.19.292. But the sad image of Mynes, who had once been the bridegroom of Briseis, brings back happy memories as she thinks of her own wedding—and of songs sung at that wedding. Such thoughts now evoke the sad image of Achilles, that bridegroom-to-be who will not live long enough ever to become a bridegroom—and who has killed the happy thoughts of Briseis about a bridegroom in her own past. It was Achilles, Briseis keenly remembers, who had killed her lover Mynes and conquered the city of Lyrnessos, I.19.295–296, but she also remembers that Patroklos would not let her lament for Mynes, saying that Achilles would become her new lover, making her a bride of his own, I.19.297–299.

Point 6. So, the theme of a wedding song returns in this lament of Briseis, but there is a sad irony to it all, since there will never be any future wedding for the doomed bridegroom. There will be no marriage for Achilles. All that Achilles has done for Briseis is to kill off her own marriage to Mynes, and meanwhile the death of the kind and gentle Patroklos has cut short that hero’s own intermediacy in trying to arrange a marriage for Briseis and Achilles. (On theme, see the Inventory of terms and names.)

Point 7. In her crying and singing, singing and crying, Briseis performs as a prima donna of lament. She is a distinctly choral personality, analogous to the personality of Sappho herself in the choral songs attributed to that Aeolian prima donna of a later era. (On Sappho as a choral personality, see PH 370, with reference to Calame 1977:367–377; also 126–127.)

Point 8. Meanwhile, the choral group of lamenting women who are likewise captives is singing and swaying in response to the lead song of Briseis, I.19.301–302. Here I epitomize from some relevant remarks in Nagy 2010a:23–24. The group is shown in the act of responding to the lament of Briseis by continuing it with their own lament, in antiphonal performance, at I.19.301: ‘So she [= Briseis] spoke, and the women wailed in response’ (ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες). The verb epi–stenakhizesthai, which I translate here as ‘wail in response’, is the conventional way for epic to signal an antiphonal performance in lamentation. See the anchor comment at I.24.720–776 on laments at Hector’s funeral.

Point 9. In singing her song of lament, Briseis as lead singer touches on her feelings as a captive woman who has become the war prize of Achilles—and who hopes to become his war bride. But she also touches on the projected feelings of the ensemble of captive women who respond to her lament in antiphonal song. These women too are war prizes, and they must therefore share in some ways the sorrows felt by the lead singer as she sings her lament. But the lead singer laments primarily the death of Patroklos and only secondarily her own misfortunes, while the ensemble of women who respond in antiphonal song are lamenting primarily their own misfortunes and only secondarily the death of Patroklos. Sorrow over the death of Patroklos seems to be the primary concern of Briseis—to the extent that her lament projects the sorrow of Achilles, which is a driving theme in the plot of the epic. (On theme, see the Inventory of terms and names.) By contrast, the sorrow expressed by the ensemble of captive women over their own misfortunes seems to be a primary concern only for them. Or is it? In what follows at Point 10, I argue that the overall lament will communalize the sorrow expressed by the epic narrative. 

Point 10. In the lament of Briseis, the sorrow of the captive women is projected as the primary sorrow of Briseis herself over her own misfortunes, which had been caused by the deaths of her husband and the rest of her family at the hands of Achilles. Briseis shows that she remembers that old sorrow, since her wording indicates that she had wanted to lament her dead husband in the same way that she now laments the dead Patroklos. That death in her past is relevant to the death of Patroklos in the present. And the love of Briseis for her husband and the rest of her family is relevant to her love for Patroklos as a stand-in for Achilles. There is a diversity of emotions here. And the antiphonal exchange of laments between the captive women and their lead singer leads to a communalization of these emotions. The example of Briseis, then, supports the argument that lament is a communalizing experience. It leads here to a communalization of diverse emotions. [[GN 2016.12.01 via HPC 243–245, 248–249.]]


subject heading(s): lament by an unnamed woman in the Odyssey

The wording here at I.19.284 in the lament by Briseis over Patroklos is comparable to the wording about a lament by an unnamed woman at O.08.527. See Nagy 2015.06.17. [[GN 2016.12.01 via HPC 249.]]


subject heading(s): prophasis ‘pretext’

Laments performed by women can focus on personal as well as communal sorrows. See the anchor comment on I.19.282–302. [[GN 2016.12.01 via HPC 247–248.]]


subject heading(s): feasting and fighting

See the comment on I.19.275. [[GN 2016.12.01 via BA 136.]]


subject heading(s): (apo-)phthinesthai ‘wilt, perish’; Phthiē (homeland of Achilles)

The name Phthiē here at I.19.323 is associated with the verb phthinesthai ‘wilt, perish’ at I.19.322. See also the comment on I.01.155 and I.19.329–330, 337. [[GN 2016.12.01 via BA 185.]]


subject heading(s): lament; lament by Achilles

After the epic is done with quoting, as it were, the lament of Briseis for Patroklos, I.19.282–302, it proceeds to quote the lament of Achilles himself for his best friend, I.19.314–338; like Briseis, Achilles too is represented as actually singing the lament. [[GN 2016.12.01.]] 


subject heading(s): Pyrrhos(/Neoptolemos) as Purēs

In the textual transmission of this verse, there is a trace of a variant form for the name of Pyrrhos(/Neoptolemos), son of Achilles: it is Purēs. [[GN 2016.12.01 via BA 119.]]


I.19.329–330, 337
subject heading(s): (apo-)phthinesthai ‘wilt, perish’; Phthiē (homeland of Achilles)

The name Phthiē here at I.19.330 is associated with the verb (apo-)phthinesthai ‘wilt, perish’ at I.19.329 and at I.19.337. See also the comments on I.01.155 and I.19.322–323. [[GN 2016.12.01 via BA 185.]]


subject heading(s): armor of Achilles

Achilles finally puts on the armor that had been made for him by the divine artisan Hephaistos. What dominates the visualization of this armor is the Shield. [[GN 2016.12.01.]]


subject heading(s): Shield of Achilles; selas ‘flash of light’; Hellespont; pontos ‘crossing [of the sea]’; lighthouse; stathmos ‘station’; tomb of Achilles

As Achilles lifts the mighty Shield, there is a selas ‘flash of light’ that streams from its bright surface, I.19.374, which is compared to the radiant light that streams from the moon; then this same selas ‘flash of light’ streaming from the surface of the Shield at I.19.374 is also compared to a selas ‘flash of light’ streaming from a fire that sends forth its light from a lighthouse, I.19.375. This saving light, with its promise of salvation for sailors lost at sea who are longing to be reunited with their loved ones at home, I.19.375, I.19.377–378, streams from a fire that is burning at a remote place described here as a solitary stathmos ‘station’ situated in the heights overlooking the dangerous seas below, I.19.376–377. By way of ring-composition, the description now returns, I.19.379, to the picturing of the selas ‘flash of light’ that is streaming from the Shield. This flash of light is aptly compared here to the moon, not to the sun, since it is nighttime, not daytime: the sailors who are lost at sea are literally in the dark, desperately looking for a light to orient them. And the source of the light as a blazing fire is most appropriate not only from a practical point of view, since a strong fire is needed for sending from the lighthouse a light strong enough to be spotted in the darkness from far away at sea, but also from a symbolic point of view, since the burning looks that emanate from the angry eyes of Achilles are compared at an earlier point to a selas ‘flash of light’ that emanates from a blazing fire, I.19.366 (πυρὸς σέλας). On the angry looks of Achilles as he streams fire from his eyes and lights up the surface of his Shield, see the comment on I.19.003–017. As for the lighthouse that sends forth the light of salvation to sailors lost at sea, it is visualized as a solitary stathmos ‘station’ situated on the heights overlooking the sea, I.19.376–377. Such a stathmos, as I indicate in the comment on I.18.587–589, can be visualized more precisely as a herdsman’s shelter that looms over the shores of the Hellespont, where the ship of Achilles is beached. This shelter is actually the tomb of Achilles, located on a high promontory that reaches into the Hellespont. See the anchor comment at I.23.125–126 on the tomb of Achilles, part 1, and the anchor comment at I.23.245–248…256–257 on the tomb of Achilles, part 2; also to be noted is the anchor comment at O.24.076–084 on the tomb of Achilles, part 3, posted in 2017.01.03. Here at I.19.373–380, the gleam from the bronze surface of the Shield is being compared to the light that streams from the blazing fire of a lighthouse marking the tomb of Achilles, and this comparison can be seen as a metaphor for the overwhelmingly radiant prestige of the Bronze Age. [[GN 2016.12.01 via HPC 151–152, 297–298, 366–367; also BA 338–340, 342; GMP 220.]]


subject heading(s): Xanthos, immortal horse of Achilles; Erīnues ‘Furies’

Xanthos, immortal horse of Achilles, is telling the hero a prophecy: Achilles will be killed by an unnamed hero who will be helped by an unnamed god. Before the fate of Achilles is fully revealed, however, Erīnues ‘Furies’ block the divine horse from revealing any further details about the death of Achilles. Correspondingly, the Master Narrator of the Homeric Iliad is blocking—for now—the revelation of any further details. [[GN 2016.12.01 via BA 104, 144, 209–210, 327.]]


Bibliographical Abbreviations

BA       = Best of the Achaeans, Nagy 1979/1999.

GMP    = Greek Mythology and Poetics, Nagy 1990b.

H24H   = The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Nagy 2013

HC       = Homer the Classic, Nagy 2009|2008

HPC     = Homer the Preclassic, Nagy 2010|2009

HQ       = Homeric Questions, Nagy 1996b

HR       = Homeric Responses, Nagy 2003

LSJ      = Liddell, H. G., R. Scott, and H. S. Jones. 1940. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. Oxford.

MoM    = Masterpieces of Metonymy, Nagy 2016|2015

PasP    = Poetry as Performance, Nagy 1996a

PH      = Pindar’s Homer, Nagy 1990a



See the dynamic Bibliography for AHCIP.


Inventory of terms and names

See the dynamic Inventory of terms and names for AHCIP.



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