Did He Die or Not?

Homer. Iliad. 11.349-360.

. . . [Diomedes] hurled his long-shadowed spear
at Hector’s head and did not miss: he hit
his helmet’s tip. But bronze deflected bronze
from fair skin: the spear failed on Hector’s headpiece
(three layers, cone shaped, Phoebus Apollo’s gift).
Hector scurried back and blended with the pack,
fell to his knee and stayed there, thick hand bracing
the ground. Black night blanketed his eyes.
But while Tydeus’s son tracked his spear’s woosh
to where it fell far beyond the first fighters,
Hector revived, scuttered into his car,
and off he drove, into the crush of men.
He’d given black fate the slip.

ἦ ῥα, καὶ ἀμπεπαλὼν προΐει δολιχόσκιον ἔγχος
καὶ βάλεν, οὐδʼ ἀφάμαρτε τιτυσκόμενος κεφαλῆφιν,
ἄκρην κὰκ κόρυθα· πλάγχθη δʼ ἀπὸ χαλκόφι χαλκός,
οὐδʼ ἵκετο χρόα καλόν· ἐρύκακε γὰρ τρυφάλεια
τρίπτυχος αὐλῶπις, τήν οἱ πόρε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων.
Ἕκτωρ δʼ ὦκʼ ἀπέλεθρον ἀνέδραμε, μίκτο δʼ ὁμίλῳ,
στῆ δὲ γνὺξ ἐριπὼν καὶ ἐρείσατο χειρὶ παχείῃ
γαίης· ἀμφὶ δὲ ὄσσε κελαινὴ νὺξ ἐκάλυψεν.
ὄφρα δὲ Τυδεΐδης μετὰ δούρατος ᾤχετʼ ἐρωὴν
τῆλε διὰ προμάχων, ὅθι οἱ καταείσατο γαίης
τόφρʼ Ἕκτωρ ἔμπνυτο, καὶ ἂψ ἐς δίφρον ὀρούσας
ἐξέλασʼ ἐς πληθύν, καὶ ἀλεύατο κῆρα μέλαιναν.

11.355-356.[F]ell to his knee and stayed there . . . Black night blanketed his eyes” (στῆ δὲ γνὺξ ἐριπὼν . . . ἀμφὶ δὲ ὄσσε κελαινὴ νὺξ ἐκάλυψεν): 

The controversy in the scholia:

One scholiast says of Homer and these verses:  

“The blind one is fond of lies, and he is the perfect liar. For first, Hector was not wounded, as he himself says, and then there’s the scurrying [ἀνέδραμε] of a man who has his strength (11.354). Isn’t an account of why he fell to his knees and died of something insignificant missing?  

ώς φιλοψευδής ό τυφλός,  ότι και άριστα ψεύδεται· πρώτον μέν γάρ ούκ έτρώθη ó “Εκτωρ, ώς αύτός φησιν, . . . είτα δέ καί τό άναδραμεϊν (cf. Λ 354) πολύ έρρωμένου τινός έστιν. πώς ούν καί έπεσεν έπί γούνατα καί απέθανε μικρού δεΐν; (Schol. A. ad Il. 11.355c. ex vel. Porph.)

This scholiast and others, as well as the poem’s ancient editors, were vexed by the formular indication of Hector’s death (“black night blanketed his eyes”) when Hector obviously survived Diomedes’ spear. 

The scholia explains the seemingly inappropriate use of the formula in 11.355-356 by offering that it was improperly transferred from the 5.309-310 account of Aeneas (Schol. A. 356a. and T. 356c).

An alternative theory:

In Book 5, Apollo’s actions saved Aeneas following a boulder’s blow to the warrior’s hip  (5.343-346).  

In Book 11, Apollo’s action saved Hector from a spear’s assault: he had gifted Hector a spear-stopping helmet. 

The Cambridge Commentary says that the ascription of the helmet to Apollo is only an idiom for the gear’s strength and good construction. 

I’m not sure that’s right. It seems to me the helmet is in fact a metonym for Apollo’s intervention. That is to say, it is through the helmet that Apollo saved Hector. I’m building on what an insightful scholiast says: 

“He [Hector] would have died, were it not for the divinity of the helmet” ( . . . άπέθανεν αν, εί μή διά την θειότητα τοϋ so κράνους [Schol. T. 353b]). 

It is divinity itself, not good metalworking, which saved Hector. The divinity is an emanation from Apollo.  

In both the Aeneas and Hector episodes, (1) it is Diomedes who attempts a kill, (2) he only just fails, and that’s thanks to (3) Apollo’s intervention. Perhaps we can say that the formular verses “[he] fell to his knee and stayed there . . . black night blanketed his eyes” belong to a larger formula whose elements are Diomedes, a warrior’s near death at his hand, and Apollo’s saving intervention.

color photograph of pallbearers carrying a white coffin
Not a scene from the extant Iliad.

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 featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

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