“As long as they were stripping them of their gleaming weapons,
The young men who were the best and the greatest in number were following
Poulydamas and Hektor, they were especially eager to break the wall
And set fire to the ships. They were still struggling standing before the wall
When a bird went over them as they were struggling to cross it,
A high-flying eagle moving its way over the left side of the army
Holding in its talons a huge dark red snake
Still alive, breathing: it had not yet lost its fighting spirit.
For it struck back at the bird who held him in the skin along the chest
As it bent double. And the bird tossed him away to the ground
tortured with pains. It dropped the snake in the middle of the throng
But flew away on the breath of the wind, sounding out in pain.
The Trojans shivered when they saw the winding serpent
Lying there, a sign from Aegis-bearing Zeus.
Then Polydamas stood aside and addressed bold Hektor:
“Hektor, you are always threatening me in the public assemblies for some reason,
Even when I advise well, since it is not ever deemed proper
For some member of the people to advise differently, either in council
Or in war. Instead, we must always increase your strength.
But now I will tell you what seems to me to be best.
Let’s not go to fight the Danaans around their ships.
I think that it will turn out this way, if truly this bird
Came over the Trojans as we struggled to cross the wall,
A high-flying eagle moving its way over the left side of the army
Holding in its talons a huge dark red snake
Still alive. For it dropped it before it could return to its dear home
And did not complete the task of giving it to his children.
In the same way we, if we break through the gates and walls
Of the Achaeans by means of great strength and the Achaeans yield
So too we will not find the same paths in order among the ships.
We will lose many Trojans there as the Achaeans
Strike them down with bronze will defending the ships/
This is how a prophet would interpret, one who clearly understands
In his heart divine signs and one the people obey.”
<Lemma> his beauty in reputation was not of a kind with his family; Achilles, however, was adorned in both ways. Because [the poet] was a philhellene, he was trying to make everyone worthy of memory and used to praise everyone as far as he might be believed and so that we might imagine the Greeks to be differentiated in their manliness, or their body, or their beauty.”
“Diplai have been applied to question these three lines because Zenodotus athetized two of them, although he did not mark the middle one, (674) because Homer always strove to have Achilles stand out far in front of the rest.”
“And because of that, Homer mentioned [Nireus] only once and in the Catalog Of Ships, as it seems to me, to make a demonstration of the uselessness of the most beautiful men, when they have none of the other things that are useful for life.”
“Tyndareus allegedly called Helen’s suitors together and had them swear over the testicles of a castrated horse that they would defend Helen….
After they took the oath, they buried the horse on site as Pausanias writes in talking about Laconia. Indeed, it was a common practice of the ancients to take oaths over the testicles of sacrificial animals. This is why when Herakles made a treaty with the sons of Neleus, they swore an oath over the testicles of the sacrificed boar and the dual pledge to provide confirmation of the oath, as Hekataios writes in his Phoroneus.”
Tyndarus dicitur procos Helenae convocasse, qui super equi execti testibus iurarunt se Helenam defensuros … post illud iuramentum Tyndarus equum in eo loco infodit, sicuti scripsit Pausanias in Laconicis. fuit enim antiquorum consuetudo ut super testibus victimarum plerunque iuraretur, cum foedera inter aliquos percuterentur. idcirco ubi Hercules foedus iniit cum liberis Nelei, fide ultro citroque data, sue mactato, super eius testibus et ipse et illi iurarunt atque confirmarunt iuramentum insuper factum, ut scripsit in Phoroneo Hecataeus.
Tellis BNJ 61 F 1a (=Eustathios Comm. Ad Hom. Od.11.538, p. 1696, 51)
“But Tellis records that Penthesileia killed Achilles and, after Thetis begged him, Zeus returned him to life and he killed her instead. Penthesileia’s father, Ares, took Thetis to court. Poseidon was the judge and he ruled against Ares.”
“I know with some certainly that it is hard to teach all people, but easy to deceive them. And if they learn anything, they scarcely learn it from the few who do really know, while they are easily deceived by many who know nothing, and not only by others, but by themselves too. For the truth is bitter and unpleasant to the ignorant; a lie, however, is sweet and appealing. In the same way, I suppose, light is unpleasant for those with diseased eyes to see, while the darkness is harmless and dear, even if they cannot see. Or, how else would lies often be stronger than the truth, unless they prevailed because of pleasure? Although it is hard to teach, as I was saying, it is harder in every way to re-teach when people have heard lies for a long time and, even worse, when they have not been alone in their delusion, but their fathers, grandfathers and nearly every forebear has been deceived with them.
For it is not easy to take a false belief from them, not even if someone should refute it completely. Similarly, I imagine that, when children have been raised with superstitious beliefs, it is hard for someone to speak the truth later regarding the very things they would not have accepted if someone had just told them in the beginning. This impulse is so strong that many prefer wicked things and agree that they belong to them properly, if they have previously believed so, instead of good things they hear later on.”
“I would not even be surprised, Trojan men, that you believed Homer was more trustworthy when he told the harshest lies about you than me when I told that truth—since you believe him to be a divine man and wise and you have taught your children epic right from the beginning, even though he has only curses for your city, and untrue ones at that. But you wouldn’t accept that I describe things as they are and have been, because I am many years younger than Homer. Certainly, most people say that time is also the best judge of affairs, and, whenever they hear something after a long time, they disbelieve it for this very reason.
If I were dare to speak against Homer among the Argives and to show in addition that his poetry was false concerning the greatest matters, chances are they would be rightfully angry with me and expel me from the city if I appeared to be erasing and cleansing their fame. But it is right that you have some gratitude towards me and listen eagerly. I have stood in defense of your ancestors. I say at the outset to you that these stories have by necessity already been recited by others and that many have learned them. Some of those men will not understand them; others will pretend to discount them, even though they do not, and still others will try to refute them, especially, I think, those ill-fated sophists. But I know clearly that they will not be pleasing to you. For most men have their minds corrupted by fame to the extent that they would prefer to be infamous for the greatest failures rather than be unknown and suffer no evil.”
“For I think that the Argives themselves would not wish for the matters concerning Thyestes, Atreus and the descendants of Pelops to have been any different, but would be severely angry if someone were to undermine the myths of tragedy, claiming that Thyestes never committed adultery with Atreus wife, nor did the other kill his brother’s children, cut them up, and set them out as feast for Thyestes, and that Orestes never killed his mother with his own hand. If someone said all of these things, they would take it harshly as if they were slandered.
I imagine that things would go the same among the Thebans, if someone were to declare that their misfortunes were lies, that Oedipus never killed his father nor had sex with his mother, nor then blinded himself, and that his children didn’t die in front of the wall at each other’s hands, and the Sphinx never came and ate their children. No! instead, they take pleasure in hearing that the Sphinx came and ate their children, sent to them because of Hera’s anger, that Laios was killed by his own son, and Oedipus did these things and wandered blind after suffering, or how the children of previous king of theirs and founder of the city, Amphion, by Artemis and Apollo because they were the most beautiful men. They endure musicians and poets singing these things in their presence at the theater and they make contests for them, whoever can sing or play the most stinging tales about them. Yet they would expel a man who claimed these things did not happen. The majority has gone so far into madness that their obsession governs them completely.For they desire that there be the most stories about them—and it does not matter to them what kind of story it is. Generally, men are not willing to suffer terrible things because of cowardice, because they fear death and pain. But they really value being mentioned as if they suffered.”
“Still now—I hope your father Peleus lives every year he can
And that Pyrrhus come to the same good luck in weapons as you
But just notice worried Briseis, brave Achilles,
And don’t torture the miserable with painful delay.
If your desire for me has turned to boredom,
Force me to die rather than live without you.
You’re forcing it as you act now—my body and complexion are ruined;
This bit of breath that keeps me upright is only hope in you.
If that leaves me? I’ll meet my brothers and husband
And it won’t be glory for you to order a woman to die.
Why bother to tell me to? Strike at my body with bared steel.
There’s blood here to pour once my chest is opened.
Let that sword of yours find me, the very one the goddess stopped
From entering the breast of Atreus’ son.”
Nunc quoque—sic omnes Peleus pater inpleat annos,
sic eat auspiciis Pyrrhus ad arma tuis! —
respice sollicitam Briseida, fortis Achille,
nec miseram lenta ferreus ure mora!
aut, si versus amor tuus est in taedia nostri,
quam sine te cogis vivere, coge mori!
utque facis, coges. abiit corpusque colorque;
sustinet hoc animae spes tamen una tui.
qua si destituor, repetam fratresque virumque—
nec tibi magnificum femina iussa mori.
cur autem iubeas? stricto pete corpora ferro;
est mihi qui fosso pectore sanguis eat.
me petat ille tuus, qui, si dea passa fuisset,
ensis in Atridae pectus iturus erat!
“Periander was ruling Korinth as a tyrant. For the Korinthians claim (and the Lesbians agree with them) that the most wonderful thing happened in his life: Arion of Methymna was carried to Tainaron on a dolphin. He was a kithara player second to none at that time and the first man we know of who composed, named and taught the dithyramb at Corinth.
They say that this Arion spent much time at Periander’s palace but desired to sail to Italy and Sicily. After he made a lot of money there, he wanted to return to Korinth again. He left from Tarentum and hired a ship of Korinthian men because he trusted no one more than Korinthians. But once on the sea, they conspired to throw Arion out to keep his money. After he learned this, he was begging, offering money to them, trying to bargain for his life. But he was not able to persuade him—the sailors commanded him either to do himself in, so that he might have a burial on ground, or to leap into the sea as soon as possible.
When Arion realized he was at the end, he asked, since it might seem right to them, that he appear in full dress standing on the benches singing. And he promised to kill himself after singing. This came as a delight to them if they could hear the best mortal singer at work. They retreated to the middle of the ship from the stern and he donned all his equipment and took up the kithara. While standing on the benches he sang the entire Orthian nome. When he was done with it, he threw himself into the sea in full costume.
They sailed back to Korinth but people claim a dolphin picked him up and took him to Tainaros. Once he got to land, he went to Koronth with all his stuff and when he got there told the whole story. Since Periander distrusted him, he held Arion under guard, separated from everyone. He waited for the sailors. When they were present, they were asked if they could say anything about Arion. When they were claiming that they left him safe somewhere in Italy and he was doing well in Tarentum, he appeared to them looking just like he did when he leaped out of the boat. The sailors were shocked and were not able to deny it since they had been completely refuted. The Korinthians and Lesbians say these things. And there is a bronze dedication of Arion in Tarentum, not very large: a man riding a dolphin.”
Note: This essay was sent to me to be published anonymously. It is a powerful reminder that who you are fundamentally changes what the Iliad means and that the loudest voices are often the abusive ones.
CW: Sexual Assault
You hadn’t heard of Agamemnon when you started college. You didn’t know about the embassy to Achilles or Briseis or the wrath of the gods. You did know that you really liked this guy, let’s call him Carl, and you’d been hanging out with him for a while and you were excited to go to a party at his frat house.
If you had read the Iliad, you might have noticed that Briseis and Chryseis play an awfully big role for people who barely even speak. You might have thought it was weird that Agamemnon insists that he prefers Chryseis to Clytemnestra, but he would part with her if it’s for the best (εἰ τό γ᾽ ἄμεινον), because he’s so worried about the λαός—the people, but really the men. Turns out that sometimes men are only concerned about the well-being of men. But you didn’t see that on a first read anyway, and Homer couldn’t have really helped you navigate the men or the lions.
There’s a lot you don’t know about that party, but you do know that you had a lot to drink, and he took you down to his room and left you there. You might have fallen asleep, you may as well have. When you woke up, there was a stranger on top of you. “Stranger” is a bit strong – it was his ‘big brother,’ a relationship that apparently means quite a lot in a fraternity.
Agamemnon doesn’t want to part with Chryseis, but he will for a price. Or, more precisely, he will if he’s given a prize, a γέρας. Achilles and Agamemnon mention this all-important γέρας thirteen times in Book 1, and Agamemnon makes it very clear that he will not be prize-less (ἀγέραστος). We get another fourteen mentions of honor or dishonor (ἀτιμάω, τιμή, etc.), all of which have to do with the men involved. That’s a lot more than we hear about the women, the girls, whose feelings are inconsequential when men have their honor to worry about. The only feelings we hear anything about are the men—men cry, while women are bartered by men whose feelings are hurt.
Years later, you’d start to realize that words like assault and rape fit what happened to you that night, but that was after years of your pain being used as a punch line and a bargaining token among the brothers at this fraternity. Years of this being a story about how you were a slut and you shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. Years of ‘jokes’ about how you were ‘given’ to that man as a present, from little brother to big brother.
And really, the important thing is that Briseis doesn’t end up ruining the Greek army’s chance to win the war. Eventually, the men realize that it’s not worth getting upset over something as meaningless as a girl. As Achilles spits out the words ‘I will not fight with you for the sake of a girl’ (1.298), you feel it in your gut. Ajax says this to Achilles later too – you’re doing this over only a girl (9.637). What a senseless reason to disrupt the unity of the men. Bros before hoes has a longer history than you realized.
Over the next several years, you would remain friends with everyone at the fraternity. You were a liberated college student and not someone who would make a big deal about whatever happened to you. You’re not that kind of girl, and what did it matter that something happened to you that night, that something was taken from you, but you would never – still don’t – know what?
If you look through the Iliad to see what we actually hear about Briseis, you see that she mostly shows up in Book 1 and Book 9, which makes sense. But she gets mentioned in Book 24 in passing. Or, it would be in passing until you start to look for her, and you see that Briseis is sleeping near Achilles, after Priam’s visit. Until you read Silence of the Girls, you didn’t really give this much thought. You fell into the same trap that the Greek men do, you only thought that the men mattered. You don’t like that women are seen as objects, but it is what it is and, anyway, it was a long time ago. But what must it have been like for Briseis to sleep next to this man every night? The man who gave her to Agamemnon – did it matter that Achilles was mad about it? He still handed her over –and now possessed her again. What must it be like to lay next to him every night?
As it happens, you were such a cool girl who would never get hung up on silly things that happen at parties – honestly, what a funny mistake it all was! You were so cool about it that you kept coming back to Carl over the following years. Agonized over how he just wasn’t sure you two could date, because seeing you being assaulted was hard for him. You see, he felt like you’d betrayed him, and you were so sorry that you’d caused so much trouble. You kept seeing him, sleeping with him, understanding why he couldn’t date you, because this was really your fault anyway, and maybe you could show him that you could be trusted.
Now you teach students, and while you’ve always warned students about triggering content, you never really knew what that experience was actually like, to have old trauma wash over you with no warning. Not until Christine Blasey Ford testified about Brett Kavanaugh, and women in your life started holding each other tight to withstand the onslaught of stories about sexual assault and how boys will be boys. Something about the volume of women who were reliving their abuse at the same time was too much, and your body couldn’t hold it. A decade of grief poured out in gasping, shuddering tears that you didn’t know were being held in.
Briseis and the other enslaved women mourn for Patroclus, but Homer tells us that they’re also mourning their own pain. Like they needed something else to center their grief on, and once Patroclus was a vessel from grief, their own unexpressed grief poured out. You know that your students can’t prop you up if all this grief comes out in class, and you make it through the end of the class session, but your distance from this text is gone. You’ve fallen out of your own story and into this one. It’s safer not to talk about Briseis’ trauma in class anymore.
There’s no amount of philological rigor that can talk a body down that’s feeling dredged up trauma. You know that you aren’t enslaved and your family hasn’t been killed. You know that almost nothing about the Iliad is a particularly good fit for that night, but it’s not clear if you can separate the two stories anymore. You haven’t taught the Iliad since that day, but presumably you will have to again one day, and the thought is terrifying. Your body still holds the grief and the rage that you like to think your brain has processed, and what kind of a classicist can’t teach Homer anymore?
The academic part of your brain knows that no text is about one thing. The Iliad is about a million things, but for you, right now, it’s really just a story about how women have to pay terrible prices for what men want. How women have to suffer physical and psychological violence because men don’t want to be told no. For gold or glory or honor or because the gods were mad – what does it actually matter why? In the end, every woman in (or even just near) Troy is going to suffer because Paris and Agamemnon and Achilles want to take things that aren’t theirs. And how do you pull yourself out of that story enough to actually teach it?
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault and would like to talk to someone, there are a range of resources available from RAINN.org. (or call 1-800-656-HOPE) or NSVRC.
Nothing is credible, not a good reputation
Nor that one who is lucky will not do badly in the end.
The gods churn these waters up back and forth
Mixing in confusion so that we worship them
In our ignorance. But why mourn at all?
It has no effect on our sufferings to come.”
“You haven’t paid up, but perhaps you’ll pay soon.
Like a man who has fallen into water with no harbor
You’ll fall far from your heart’s desire
And lose your life. The meeting place
Of debt to Justice and to the gods
Is a terrible, terrible place.”
“…They will heap up a mound [sêma] on the broad Hellespont
And someone of the men who are born in the future may say
As he says over the wine-faced sea in his many-benched ship:
This is the marker [sêma] of a man who died long ago,
A man whom shining Hektor killed when he was at his best”
So someone someday will say. And my glory will never perish”
“After heaping up the mound [sêma] they returned. Then
Once they were well gathered they shared a fine feast
In the halls of the god-nourished king, Priam.
Thus they were completing the burial of horse-taming Hektor.”
“They quickly placed the bones in an empty trench and then
They covered it with great, well-fitted stones.
They rushed to heap up a marker [sêma], around which they set guards
In case the well-greaved Achaeans should attack too soon.”
“Don’t leave me unmourned, unburied when you turn around
And go back—so that I might not be a reason for the gods to rage—
But burn me with my weapons and everything which is mind
Then build a mound [sêma] for me on the shore of the grey sea,
For a pitiful man, and for those to come to learn of me.
Finish these things for me and then affix an oar onto my tomb,
The one I was rowing with when I was alive and with my companions”
I will speak to you an obvious sign [sêma] and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar into the ground