Who Cares about Bird-Signs?

Homer, Iliad 12.230–257

“Glaring at him, shining-helmed Hektor answered:
Poulydamas, you never announce things dear to me in public.
You know how to make a different, better speech than this one.
If you are really arguing this out loud earnestly,
Well then the gods have ruined your thoughts themselves,
You who order me to forget the counsels of loud-thundering Zeus,
What he himself promised and assented to for me.
Now you ask me to listen to some tender-winged bird?
I don’t notice or care at all about these birds,
Whether they go to the right to dawn and the sun
Or whether they go to the left to the dusky gloom.
We are obeying the plan of great Zeus.
He rules over all the mortals and the immortal too.
One bird omen is best: defend your fatherland.
Why do you fear the war and strife so much?
If all the rest of us are really killed around
The Argive ships, there’s no fear for you in dying.
Your heart is not brave nor battle-worthy.
But if you keep back from the fight, or if you turn
Any other away from the war by plying him with words,
Well you’ll die straight away then, struck down by my spear.”

So he spoke and led on, and they followed him
With a divine echo. Zeus who delights in thunder
Drove a gust of wind down from the Idaian slopes,
Which carried dust straight over the ships. It froze the minds
Of the Achaeans and gave hope to the Trojans and Hektor.
Trusting in these signs and their own strength,
They were trying to break through the great wall of the Achaeans.”

Τὸν δ’ ἄρ’ ὑπόδρα ἰδὼν προσέφη κορυθαίολος ῞Εκτωρ·
Πουλυδάμα, σὺ μὲν οὐκ ἔτ’ ἐμοὶ φίλα ταῦτ’ ἀγορεύεις·
οἶσθα καὶ ἄλλον μῦθον ἀμείνονα τοῦδε νοῆσαι.
εἰ δ’ ἐτεὸν δὴ τοῦτον ἀπὸ σπουδῆς ἀγορεύεις,
ἐξ ἄρα δή τοι ἔπειτα θεοὶ φρένας ὤλεσαν αὐτοί,
ὃς κέλεαι Ζηνὸς μὲν ἐριγδούποιο λαθέσθαι
βουλέων, ἅς τέ μοι αὐτὸς ὑπέσχετο καὶ κατένευσε·
τύνη δ’ οἰωνοῖσι τανυπτερύγεσσι κελεύεις
πείθεσθαι, τῶν οὔ τι μετατρέπομ’ οὐδ’ ἀλεγίζω
εἴτ’ ἐπὶ δεξί’ ἴωσι πρὸς ἠῶ τ’ ἠέλιόν τε,
εἴτ’ ἐπ’ ἀριστερὰ τοί γε ποτὶ ζόφον ἠερόεντα.
ἡμεῖς δὲ μεγάλοιο Διὸς πειθώμεθα βουλῇ,
ὃς πᾶσι θνητοῖσι καὶ ἀθανάτοισιν ἀνάσσει.
εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάτρης.
τίπτε σὺ δείδοικας πόλεμον καὶ δηϊοτῆτα;
εἴ περ γάρ τ’ ἄλλοι γε περὶ κτεινώμεθα πάντες
νηυσὶν ἐπ’ ᾿Αργείων, σοὶ δ’ οὐ δέος ἔστ’ ἀπολέσθαι·
οὐ γάρ τοι κραδίη μενεδήϊος οὐδὲ μαχήμων.
εἰ δὲ σὺ δηϊοτῆτος ἀφέξεαι, ἠέ τιν’ ἄλλον
παρφάμενος ἐπέεσσιν ἀποτρέψεις πολέμοιο,
αὐτίκ’ ἐμῷ ὑπὸ δουρὶ τυπεὶς ἀπὸ θυμὸν ὀλέσσεις.
῝Ως ἄρα φωνήσας ἡγήσατο, τοὶ δ’ ἅμ’ ἕποντο
ἠχῇ θεσπεσίῃ· ἐπὶ δὲ Ζεὺς τερπικέραυνος
ὦρσεν ἀπ’ ᾿Ιδαίων ὀρέων ἀνέμοιο θύελλαν,
ἥ ῥ’ ἰθὺς νηῶν κονίην φέρεν· αὐτὰρ ᾿Αχαιῶν
θέλγε νόον, Τρωσὶν δὲ καὶ ῞Εκτορι κῦδος ὄπαζε.
τοῦ περ δὴ τεράεσσι πεποιθότες ἠδὲ βίηφι
ῥήγνυσθαι μέγα τεῖχος ᾿Αχαιῶν πειρήτιζον.

Schol. T ad Il. 12.238–238

“you order me to obey bird signs: the prudent person will both honor the gods and obey birdsigns, like Odysseus does. This is obeying instead of believing.

τύνη δ’ οἰωνοῖσι<—κελεύεις / πείθεσθαι>: ὁ φρόνιμος καὶ θεοὺς τιμήσει καὶ οἰωνοῖς πείσεται, ὡς ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεύς (cf. Κ 274—82). τὸ δὲ πείθεσθαι (238) ἀντὶ τοῦ πιστεύειν.

Schol b. ad Il. 12.238

“The prudent person both knows to honor god and to obey bird signs, a thing which Hektor does not understand”

ὁ φρόνιμος καὶ θεὸν τιμᾶν οἶδε καὶ οἰωνοῖς πείθεσθαι, ὅπερ ῞Εκτωρ οὐ συνίησιν.

Black Figure Amphora, Walters Art Museum Baltimore

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