The Lyre of Achilles

Homer, Iliad, 9.185-189.

They came to the Myrmidon huts and ships
And found Achilles happy-hearted with his clear-toned
handsomely designed lyre with its silver bridge.
He’d gotten it from the spoils of Etion’s sacked city.
With it he cheered his heart when he sang of the fame of men.

Μυρμιδόνων δʼ ἐπί τε κλισίας καὶ νῆας ἱκέσθην,
τὸν δʼ εὗρον φρένα τερπόμενον φόρμιγγι λιγείῃ
καλῇ δαιδαλέῃ, ἐπὶ δʼ ἀργύρεον ζυγὸν ἦεν,
τὴν ἄρετʼ ἐξ ἐνάρων πόλιν Ἠετίωνος ὀλέσσας·
τῇ ὅ γε θυμὸν ἔτερπεν, ἄειδε δʼ ἄρα κλέα ἀνδρῶν.

D Schol. ad Hom. Il. 9.188b [Erbse]

[Achilles] brought the lyre when he came to the foreign war.. In fact, they say, he found it unseemly to pass time without song.

. . . άνοίκειον γαρ είς πόλεμον ήκοντα κιθάραν έπικομίζεσθαι. | εύρόντα ούν, φησίν, παρελθείν ώς άμουσον άπρεπές ήν.

Plutarch. Lives (Alexander). 15.4-15.5.

When he, Alexander, went up to Ilium, he made offerings to Athena and poured libations to the heroes. He also anointed the grave of Achilles with oil, raced before it (naked, as is the custom) with his comrades, and placed garlands on it. He declared Achilles happy, for in life he had a faithful friend and in death a great herald of his name.

While he was there, touring the city and seeing the sights, someone asked if he would like to see Paris’s lyre. He had little interest in that, he said, but he would like to see the lyre of Achilles, the one to which he sang of the fame and deeds of brave men.

ἀναβὰς δὲ εἰς Ἴλιον ἔθυσε τῇ Ἀθηνᾷ καὶ τοῖς ἥρωσιν ἔσπεισε. τὴν δὲ Ἀχιλλέως στήλην ἀλειψάμενος λίπα καὶ μετὰ τῶν ἑταίρων συναναδραμὼν γυμνὸς, ὥσπερ ἔθος ἐστίν, ἐστεφάνωσε, μακαρίσας αὐτόν ὅτι καὶ ζῶν φίλου πιστοῦ καὶ δὲ τελευτήσας μεγάλου κήρυκος ἔτυχεν. ἐν δὲ τῷ περιϊέναι καὶ θεᾶσθαι τὰ κατὰ τὴν πόλιν ἐρομένου τινὸς αὐτόν εἰ βούλεται τὴν Ἀλεξάνδρου λύραν ἰδεῖν, ἐλάχιστα φροντίζειν ἐκείνης ἔφη, τὴν δὲ Ἀχιλλέως ζητεῖν, ᾗ τὰ κλέα καὶ τὰς πράξεις ὕμνει τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἀνδρῶν ἐκεῖνος.

Color photograph of a black painted amphora with a red figure on it: Young man singing and playing the kithara.Terracotta amphora. Attributed to the Berlin painter. c.490 BCE. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Young man singing and playing the kithara.
Terracotta amphora. Attributed to the Berlin painter.
c.490 BCE. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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