A sampling of comments on Iliad Rhapsody 4

2016.07.21 / updated 2018.09.08 | By Gregory Nagy

The Trojan War is being fought here as if for the very first time. There is a sense of novelty at first in contemplating all the violent woundings and deaths yet to follow. Of special interest is all the beautiful detail lavished on the wounding of Menelaos: it is as if his bleeding wound here could be pictured as the original trauma of the Trojan War.

Image: The heart Mahhaon attends to the wounded Menelaos.  Engraving by Francesco Nenci for an edition of the <i>Iliad</i> published in 1838.
Image: The healer Makhaon attends to the wounded Menelaos. Engraving by Francesco Nenci for an edition of the Iliad published in 1838.


The Trojan War is being fought here as if for the very first time. There is a sense of novelty at first in contemplating all the violent woundings and deaths yet to follow. Of special interest is all the beautiful detail lavished on the wounding of Menelaos: it is as if his bleeding wound here could be pictured as the original trauma of the Trojan War. [[GN 2016.07.21.]]


subject heading(s): dais ‘feast, division of portions (of meat), sacrifice’; isos/isē ‘equitable’; daiesthai ‘feast, divide (meat), apportion, distribute’; Strife Scene

A deeper meaning of the noun dais is revealed here in the wording of Zeus, who says that his bōmos ‘altar’—which is ‘mine’, he adds—has never lacked an equitable dais or ‘portion’ of sacrificial meat whenever Priam and the people of Troy sacrificed to him. This wording reveals that a dais is not only a ‘feast’ but also a sacrifice to the gods. See the comment on I.01.423–425. The division of meat on the occasion of a dais necessarily concerns immortals as well as mortals, and the epithet isē ‘equitable’ referring to the dais or ‘division of portions’ here concerns primarily the god Zeus himself. It looks as if the word dais can evoke a primordial time when immortals and mortals once actually feasted together at one table, as it were. [[GN 2016.07.21 via BA 218.]]


subject heading(s): ar-ar-iskein ‘fit together, join together’; tektōn ‘carpenter, joiner’; collocation

The collocation ērare tektōn (ἤραρε τέκτων) ‘the joiner joined together’ is relevant to the etymologies of both the verb and the noun here, which are respectively ar-ar-iskein ‘fit together, join together’ and tektōn ‘carpenter, joiner’. Although the Indo-European verb-root from which tektōn is derived, *tek(s)-, is no longer attested in Greek, it does in fact survive in Latin as texō, which can refer to the craft of woodworking, not only the craft of weaving. Correspondingly, although there is no Greek attestation of an abstract noun *ar-ti- derived from the verb-root of ar-ar-iskein, such a noun does in fact survive in Latin as ars, artis ‘craft’. [[GN 2016.07.21 via BA 300.]]


subject heading(s): eukhesthai ‘pray’

Epitome from Nagy 2015 §85. When the hero Pandaros makes his announcement-in-prayer, as expressed by the verb eukhesthai, I.04.119, he says that he will perform an animal sacrifice, I.04.120, in hopes that Apollo, the god to whom he is praying, will grant him what he is wishing for, which is a safe homecoming, I.04.121. But the wish—and therefore the prayer—is a failure, since Pandaros will soon be killed on the battlefield, I.05.290-296. To paraphrase in cognate Latin terms: the vōtum as an ‘announcement-in-prayer’ is a failure here because the same vōtum as a ‘wish-in-prayer’ is not fulfilled: the hero Pandaros will never return home safe and sound. [[GN 2017.04.06.]]


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

The epithet Dios thugatēr / thugatēr Dios ‘daughter of Zeus’, applied here to Athena, can signal the beneficence of such goddesses toward privileged heroes like, in this case, Menelaos. [[GN 2016.07.21 via BA 205 and GMP 128.]]


Q&T via GMP 299
subject heading(s): syntax of expressing wishes

The syntax here conveys a wish for a general situation based on a specific situation. [[GN 2016.07.21 via GMP 299.]]


subject heading(s): xanthos/xanthē ‘golden’ (with reference to hair); epithet; immortalization; Achilles; Menelaos

The epithet applied to the hair of Menelaos, xanthos/xanthē ‘golden’, is a marker of the hero’s future immortalization. [[GN 2016.07.20 via BA 210.]]


subject heading(s): elliptic plural

The plural toxa here and at I.04.206 is elliptic: whereas singular toxon as at I.04.124 means ‘bow’, plural toxa as at I.04.196 and I.04.206 means not ‘bow+bow+bow+bow…’ but rather, elliptically, ‘bow+arrow+arrow+arrow…’. In other words, toxa means ‘bow and arrows’. [[GN 2016.07.21 via PH 177 and HTL 158.]]


subject heading(s): penthos ‘grief’; akhos ‘grief’; synonym

What is penthos ‘grief’ for the Achaeans becomes a kleos ‘glory’ for the Trojans. We see here a clear example of penthos ‘grief’ as a synonym of akhos ‘grief’ in Homeric diction. In the present context, the underlying sense of pain conveyed by penthos ‘grief’ is not only individual, made real by the wounding of the hero Menelaos: it is also collective, since the pain of Menelaos becomes a pain felt by all the Achaeans, who now find themselves on the losing side of the battle because they have lost Menelaos as leader—at least, they have lost him for the moment. The healing of the pain will be up to the warrior-physician Makhaon, son of the ultimate physician Asklepios. [[GN 2016.07.21 via BA 94.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’; Eurymedon; Sthenelos; Patroklos; chariot driver/fighter; “taking the hit”

This is the first Iliadic occurrence of the noun therapōn in the singular; at I.01.321, this noun occurs in the dual; at I.02.110, it occurs in the plural. Besides the surface meaning, ‘attendant’, we can see here some traces of the deeper meaning, ‘ritual substitute’. In Iliadic battle scenes, a chariot driver sometimes “takes the hit,” as it were, for the chariot fighter who ordinarily rides with him on the platform of the war chariot. In “taking the hit,” the chariot driver could die for the chariot fighter, and, in this role, the chariot driver is sometimes described as a therapōn of the chariot fighter. Thus the chariot driver becomes the ‘ritual substitute’ as well as ‘attendant’ of the chariot fighter. Also relevant is the word hēni-okhos ‘chariot driver’, the first occcurrence of which in the Iliad is at I.05.231. See Nagy 2015.05.01, 2015.05.08, 2015.05.15, 2015.05.20. Such is the relationship between Achilles as chariot fighter and Patroklos as his premier chariot driver and therapōn in the dual sense of ‘ritual substitute’ and ‘attendant’: see H24H 6§§24–42. In the present context, we see that the hero Eurymedon, named at I.04.228, is described at I.04.227 as the therapōn of Agamemnon. Eurymedon is at this moment taking care of the horse team and chariot of Agamemnon while the king leaves him behind and goes off ‘on foot’, pezos, at I.04.231, in order to harangue the troops. Evidently, Eurymedon is pictured here as the chariot driver of Agamemnon, who is of course the chariot fighter and who has just stepped off his chariot. Potentially, then, Eurymedon as therapōn of Agamemnon is also his ritual substitute. The name Eurymedon recurs at I.08.114, where he is paired with Sthenelos, the chariot driver of Diomedes: the two of them are seen in the act of taking the disabled chariot and horse team of Nestor back to a zone of safety, I.08.116–117. In the act of taking care of Nestor’s horse-team, both Sthenelos and Eurymedon are described at I.08.113—and already at I.08.109—as theraponte, which is of course therapōn in the dual. Evidently, Eurymedon is visualized as the therapōn ‘attendant’ of Nestor already at I.08.113, and the context there shows that he is also the designated chariot driver of Nestor: see the comment on Ι.08.076–117. Later on, at I.11.620, Eurymedon is explicitly called the therapōn of Nestor, functioning as the ‘attendant’ of the old hero: at this moment, Eurymedon is taking care of the horse team of Patroklos, who has just driven his chariot to the headquarters of Nestor as the old hero’s guest, I.11.618–622. [[GN 2016.07.21 via BA 292 and H24H 6§§24–42, Nagy 2015.05.01, 2015.05.08, 2015.05.15, 2015.05.20.]]


subject heading(s): neikeîn ‘quarrel with’; language of praise/blame

The verb neikeîn ‘quarrel with’ here again marks the language of blame as opposed to the language of praise. [[GN 2016.07.21 via BA 258.]]


subject heading(s): elenkhos ‘disgrace’; language of praise/blame

The objects of blame here are those who hesitate in battle, described as elenkhees, plural of the adjective elenkhēs ‘disgraceful’, which is a derivative of the noun elenkhos ‘disgrace’, on which see also I.02.235. [[GN 2016.07.21 via BA 258.]]


Q&T via GMP 301
subject heading(s): wishes correlated with premises

The expression of admiration here is amplified by way of a wish. And the admiration is the premise for the wish. For more on this kind of correlation of wishes and premises, see the comment on I.18.464–466. I now offer a working translation of I.04.313–314: ‘Aged sir, if only it could be that, just as surely as the spirit [thūmos] within your chest is steadfast, | so also your knees would keep up with the pace, and that your force [biē] would be steadfast [empedos] as well’ (ὦ γέρον, εἴθ’, ὡς θυμὸς ἐvὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισιν, | ὥς τοι γούνατ’ ἕποιτο, βίη δέ τοι ἔμπεδος εἴη). [[GN 2016.07.21 via GMP 301.]]


subject heading(s): Menestheus

Menestheus, as the leader of the Athenians who came to fight at Troy, is stationed here next to Odysseus and Agamemnon. On the significance of such proximity, see the comment on I.12.331–337. [[GN 2016.07.21 via HPC 161.]]


Q&T I.04.404–410
subject heading(s): neikeîn ‘quarrel with’; language of praise/blame

Agamemnon starts quarreling with Diomedes, as signaled by neikeîn ‘quarrel with’ at I.04.368. The over-king’s language of blame here is meant to diminish the epic reputation of Diomedes and his chariot-driver Sthenelos, who were prominent heroes in the Theban Wars epic tradition of the past before they became heroes also in the Trojan Wars epic tradition of the present. Diomedes and Sthenelos were main characters in the epic tradition known as the Sons of the Seven against Thebes, or Epigonoi, while their fathers Tydeus and Kapaneus were the main characters in the earlier epic tradition known as the Seven against Thebes. In terms of the blame directed at Diomedes and Sthenelos by Agamemnon, the fathers must have been better than the sons. But the rejoinder of Sthenelos at I.04.404–410 make an opposite claim: the sons were really better than the fathers, since they succeeded in capturing Thebes, whereas the fathers failed. The epic themes that we see at work here are comparable to the Hesiodic reference at Works and Days 156–173 to both the Theban and the Trojan Wars: here too, the burning question is whether a given generation of heroes in the present is superior or inferior to the immediately preceding generation of heroes in the past.  [[GN 2016.07.21 via BA 161–163.]]


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

The periphrasis of the name Eteokléēs here as bíē Eteoklēeíē is comparable to the periphrasis of the name Hērakléēs as biē Hēraklēeíē. See the comment on I.02.658. The element kleos in these names of Hēraklēs and Eteoklēs signals an epic theme, so that the names Hērakléēs and Eteokléēs are simultaneously treated as the epics belonging to Hēraklēs and Eteoklēs. [[GN 2016.07.21 via BA 319.]]


subject heading(s): nīkē ‘victory’

This verse indicates that the goddess Athena can be responsible for the nīkē ‘victory’ of a hero in an athletic event, not only in events of warfare. In most Homeric situations, however, it is Zeus who is primarily responsible for heroic victory. [[GN 2016.07.21 via HC 4§109, with a survey of all Homeric situations where either Zeus or Athena awards nīkē ‘victory’.]]


subject heading(s): kholos ‘anger’; [Meleagros];

The idea of mulling one’s kholos ‘anger’, where a more literal translation of pessein would be ‘cooking’ or ‘digesting’ the anger, is a theme that marks the epic traditions about not only Achilles but also Meleagros, who is presented as a model for Achilles at I.09.550–605. The same expression about mulling one’s kholos ‘anger’ appears in the story about Meleagros, I.09.565. [[GN 2016.07.21 via BA 104; on the story of Meleagros, see also H24H 2§§43–53.]]


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

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.