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Homer (ancient Greek: Ὅμηρος, Homēros) is a legendary ancient Greek epic poet, traditionally said to be the author of the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. The ancient Greeks generally believed that Homer was a historical individual, but modern scholars are skeptical: no reliable biographical information has been handed down from classical antiquity, and the poems themselves manifestly represent the culmination of many centuries of oral story-telling and a well-developed "formulaic" system of poetic composition. According to Martin West, "Homer" is "not the name of a historical poet, but a fictitious or constructed name." The poems are now widely regarded as the culmination of a long tradition of orally composed poetry, but the way in which they reached their final written form, and the role that an individual poet, or poets, played in this process is disputed. By the reckoning of scholars like Geoffrey Kirk, both poems were created by an individual genius who drew much of his material from various traditional stories. Others, like Martin West, hold that the epics were composed by a number of poets. Gregory Nagy maintains that the epics are not the creation of any individual; rather, they slowly evolved towards their final form over a period of centuries and, in this view, are the collective work of generations of poets. The date of Homer's existence was controversial in antiquity and is no less so today. Herodotus said that Homer lived 400 years before his own time, which would place him at about 850 BC; but other ancient sources gave dates much closer to the supposed time of the Trojan War. For modern scholarship, "the date of Homer" refers to the date of the poems' conception as much as to the lifetime of an individual. The scholarly consensus is that "the Iliad and the Odyssey date from the extreme end of the 9th century BC or from the 8th, the Iliad being anterior to the Odyssey, perhaps by some decades.",i.e. somewhat earlier than Hesiod, and that the Iliad is the oldest work of western literature. Over the past few decades, some scholars have been arguing for a 7th-century date. Those who believe that the Homeric poems developed gradually over a long period of time, however, generally give a later date for the poems: according to Nagy, they only became fixed texts in the 6th century. Alfred Heubeck states that the formative influence of the works of Homer in shaping and influencing the whole development of Greek culture was recognised by many Greeks themselves, who considered him to be their instructor.
TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE EARL COWPER, THIS TRANSLATION OF THE ILIAD, THE INSCRIPTION OF WHICH TO HIMSELF, THE LATE LAMENTED EARL, BENEVOLENT TO ALL, AND ESPECIALLY KIND TO THE AUTHOR, HAD NOT DISDAINED TO ACCEPT IS HUMBLY OFFERED, AS A SMALL BUT GRATEFUL TRIBUTE, TO THE MEMORY OF HIS FATHER, BY HIS LORDSHIP'S AFFECTIONATE KINSMAN AND SERVANT
June 4, 1791.
Whether a translation of Homer may be best executed in blank verse or in rhyme, is a question in the decision of which no man can find difficulty, who has ever duly considered what translation ought to be, or who is in any degree practically acquainted with those very different kinds of versification. I will venture to assert that a just translation of any ancient poet in rhyme, is impossible. No human ingenuity can be equal to the task of closing every couplet with sounds homotonous, expressing at the same time the full sense, and only the full sense of his original. The translator's ingenuity, indeed, in this case becomes itself a snare, and the readier he is at invention and expedient, the more likely he is to be betrayed into the widest departures from the guide whom he professes to follow. Hence it has happened, that although the public have long been in possession of an English Homer by a poet whose writings have done immortal honor to his country, the demand of a new one, and especially in blank verse, has been repeatedly and loudly made by some of the best judges and ablest writers of the present day.
I have no contest with my predecessor. None is supposable between performers on different instruments. Mr. Pope has surmounted all difficulties in his version of Homer that it was possible to surmount in rhyme. But he was fettered, and his fetters were his choice. Accustomed always to rhyme, he had formed to himself an ear which probably could not be much gratified by verse that wanted it, and determined to encounter even impossibilities, rather than abandon a mode of writing in which he had excelled every body, for the sake of another to which, unexercised in it as he was, he must have felt strong objections.
I number myself among the warmest admirers of Mr. Pope as an original writer, and I allow him all the merit he can justly claim as the translator of this chief of poets. He has given us the Tale of Troy divine in smooth verse, generally in correct and elegant language, and in diction often highly poetical. But his deviations are so many, occasioned chiefly by the cause already mentioned, that, much as he has done, and valuable as his work is on some accounts, it was yet in the humble province of a translator that I thought it possible even for me to fellow him with some advantage.
That he has sometimes altogether suppressed the sense of his author, and has not seldom intermingled his own ideas with it, is a remark which, on viii this occasion, nothing but necessity should have extorted from me. But we differ sometimes so widely in our matter, that unless this remark, invidious as it seems, be premised, I know not how to obviate a suspicion, on the one hand, of careless oversight, or of factitious embellishment on the other. On this head, therefore, the English reader is to be admonished, that the matter found in me, whether he like it or not, is found also in Homer, and that the matter not found in me, how much soever he may admire it, is found only in Mr. Pope. I have omitted nothing; I have invented nothing.
There is indisputably a wide difference between the case of an original writer in rhyme and a translator. In an original work the author is free; if the rhyme be of difficult attainment, and he cannot find it in one direction, he is at liberty to seek it in another; the matter that will not accommodate itself to his occasions he may discard, adopting such as will. But in a translation no such option is allowable; the sense of the author is required, and we do not surrender it willingly even to the plea of necessity. Fidelity is indeed of the very essence of translation, and the term itself implies it. For which reason, if we suppress the sense of our original, and force into its place our own, we may call our work an imitation, if we please, or perhaps a paraphrase, but it is no longer the same author only in a different dress, and therefore it is not translation. Should a painter, professing to draw the likeness of a beautiful woman, give her more or fewer features than belong to her, and a general cast of countenance of his own invention, he might be said to have produced a jeu d'esprit, a curiosity perhaps in its way, but by no means the lady in question.
It will however be necessary to speak a little more largely to this subject, on which discordant opinions prevail even among good judges.
The free and the close translation have, each, their advocates. But inconveniences belong to both. The former can hardly be true to the original author's style and manner, and the latter is apt to be servile. The one loses his peculiarities, and the other his spirit. Were it possible, therefore, to find an exact medium, a manner so close that it should let slip nothing of the text, nor mingle any thing extraneous with it, and at the same time so free as to have an air of originality, this seems precisely the mode in which an author might be best rendered. I can assure my readers from my own experience, that to discover this very delicate line is difficult, and to proceed by it when found, through the whole length of a poet voluminous as Homer, nearly impossible. I can only pretend to have endeavored it.
It is an opinion commonly received, but, like many others, indebted for its prevalence to mere want of examination, that a translator should imagine to himself the style which his author would probably have used, had the language into which he is rendered been his own. A direction which wants nothing but practicability to recommend it. For suppose six persons, equally qualified for the task, employed to translate the same Ancient into their own language, with this rule to guide them. In the event it would be found, that each had fallen on a manner different from that of all the rest, and by probable inference it would follow that none had fallen on the right. On the whole, therefore, as has been said, the translation which partakes equally of fidelity and liberality, that is close, but not so close as to ix be servile, free, but not so free as to be licentious, promises fairest; and my ambition will be sufficiently gratified, if such of my readers as are able, and will take the pains to compare me in this respect with Homer, shall judge that I have in any measure attained a point so difficult.
As to energy and harmony, two grand requisites in a translation of this most energetic and most harmonious of all poets, it is neither my purpose nor my wish, should I be found deficient in either, or in both, to shelter myself under an unfilial imputation of blame to my mother-tongue. Our language is indeed less musical than the Greek, and there is no language with which I am at all acquainted that is not. But it is musical enough for the purposes of melodious verse, and if it seem to fail, on whatsoever occasion, in energy, the blame is due, not to itself, but to the unskilful manager of it. For so long as Milton's works, whether his prose or his verse, shall exist, so long there will be abundant proof that no subject, however important, however sublime, can demand greater force of expression than is within the compass of the English language.
I have no fear of judges familiar with original Homer. They need not be told that a translation of him is an arduous enterprise, and as such, entitled to some favor. From these, therefore, I shall expect, and shall not be disappointed, considerable candor and allowance. Especially they will be candid, and I believe that there are many such, who have occasionally tried their own strength in this bow of Ulysses. They have not found it supple and pliable, and with me are perhaps ready to acknowledge that they could not always even approach with it the mark of their ambition. But I would willingly, were it possible, obviate uncandid criticism, because to answer it is lost labor, and to receive it in silence has the appearance of stately reserve, and self-importance.
To those, therefore, who shall be inclined to tell me hereafter that my diction is often plain and unelevated, I reply beforehand that I know it,—that it would be absurd were it otherwise, and that Homer himself stands in the same predicament. In fact, it is one of his numberless excellences, and a point in which his judgment never fails him, that he is grand and lofty always in the right place, and knows infallibly how to rise and fall with his subject. Big words on small matters may serve as a pretty exact definition of the burlesque; an instance of which they will find in the Battle of the Frogs and Mice, but none in the Iliad.
By others I expect to be told that my numbers, though here and there tolerably smooth, are not always such, but have, now and then, an ugly hitch in their gait, ungraceful in itself, and inconvenient to the reader. To this charge also I plead guilty, but beg leave in alleviation of judgment to add, that my limping lines are not numerous, compared with those that limp not. The truth is, that not one of them all escaped me, but, such as they are, they were all made such with a wilful intention. In poems of great length there is no blemish more to be feared than sameness of numbers, and every art is useful by which it may be avoided. A line, rough in itself, has yet its recommendations; it saves the ear the pain of an irksome monotony, and seems even to add greater smoothness to others. Milton, whose ear and taste were exquisite, has exemplified in his Paradise Lost the effect of this practice frequently.
x Having mentioned Milton, I cannot but add an observation on the similitude of his manner to that of Homer. It is such, that no person familiar with both, can read either without being reminded of the other; and it is in those breaks and pauses, to which the numbers of the English poet are so much indebted both for their dignity and variety, that he chiefly copies the Grecian. But these are graces to which rhyme is not competent; so broken, it loses all its music; of which any person may convince himself by reading a page only of any of our poets anterior to Denham, Waller, and Dryden. A translator of Homer, therefore, seems directed by Homer himself to the use of blank verse, as to that alone in which he can be rendered with any tolerable representation of his manner in this particular. A remark which I am naturally led to make by a desire to conciliate, if possible, some, who, rather unreasonably partial to rhyme, demand it on all occasions, and seem persuaded that poetry in our language is a vain attempt without it. Verse, that claims to be verse in right of its metre only, they judge to be such rather by courtesy than by kind, on an apprehension that it costs the writer little trouble, that he has only to give his lines their prescribed number of syllables, and so far as the mechanical part is concerned, all is well. Were this true, they would have reason on their side; for the author is certainly best entitled to applause who succeeds against the greatest difficulty, and in verse that calls for the most artificial management in its construction. But the case is not as they suppose. To rhyme, in our language, demands no great exertion of ingenuity, but is always easy to a person exercised in the practice. Witness the multitudes who rhyme, but have no other poetical pretensions. Let it be considered too, how merciful we are apt to be to unclassical and indifferent language for the sake of rhyme, and we shall soon see that the labor lies principally on the other side. Many ornaments of no easy purchase are required to atone for the absence of this single recommendation. It is not sufficient that the lines of blank verse be smooth in themselves, they must also be harmonious in the combination. Whereas the chief concern of the rhymist is to beware that his couplets and his sense be commensurate, lest the regularity of his numbers should be (too frequently at least) interrupted. A trivial difficulty this, compared with those which attend the poet unaccompanied by his bells. He, in order that he may be musical, must exhibit all the variations, as he proceeds, of which ten syllables are susceptible; between the first syllable and the last there is no place at which he must not occasionally pause, and the place of the pause must be perpetually shifted. To effect this variety, his attention must be given, at one and the same time, to the pauses he has already made in the period before him, as well as to that which he is about to make, and to those which shall succeed it. On no lighter terms than these is it possible that blank verse can be written which will not, in the course of a long work, fatigue the ear past all endurance. If it be easier, therefore, to throw five balls into the air and to catch them in succession, than to sport in that manner with one only, then may blank verse be more easily fabricated than rhyme. And if to these labors we add others equally requisite, a style in general more elaborate than rhyme requires, farther removed from the vernacular idiom both in the language xi itself and in the arrangement of it, we shall not long doubt which of these two very different species of verse threatens the composer with most expense of study and contrivance. I feel it unpleasant to appeal to my own experience, but, having no other voucher at hand, am constrained to it. As I affirm, so I have found. I have dealt pretty largely in both kinds, and have frequently written more verses in a day, with tags, than I could ever write without them. To what has been here said (which whether it have been said by others or not, I cannot tell, having never read any modern book on the subject) I shall only add, that to be poetical without rhyme, is an argument of a sound and classical constitution in any language.
A word or two on the subject of the following translation, and I have done.
My chief boast is that I have adhered closely to my original, convinced that every departure from him would be punished with the forfeiture of some grace or beauty for which I could substitute no equivalent. The epithets that would consent to an English form I have preserved as epithets; others that would not, I have melted into the context. There are none, I believe, which I have not translated in one way or other, though the reader will not find them repeated so often as most of them are in Homer, for a reason that need not be mentioned.
Few persons of any consideration are introduced either in the Iliad or Odyssey by their own name only, but their patronymic is given also. To this ceremonial I have generally attended, because it is a circumstance of my author's manner.
Homer never allots less than a whole line to the introduction of a speaker. No, not even when the speech itself is no longer than the line that leads it. A practice to which, since he never departs from it, he must have been determined by some cogent reason. He probably deemed it a formality necessary to the majesty of his narration. In this article, therefore, I have scrupulously adhered to my pattern, considering these introductory lines as heralds in a procession; important persons, because employed to usher in persons more important than themselves.
It has been my point every where to be as little verbose as possible, though; at the same time, my constant determination not to sacrifice my author's full meaning to an affected brevity.
In the affair of style, I have endeavored neither to creep nor to bluster, for no author is so likely to betray his translator into both these faults, as Homer, though himself never guilty of either. I have cautiously avoided all terms of new invention, with an abundance of which, persons of more ingenuity than judgment have not enriched our language, but incumbered it. I have also every where used an unabbreviated fullness of phrase as most suited to the nature of the work, and, above all, have studied perspicuity, not only because verse is good for little that wants it, but because Homer is the most perspicuous of all poets.
In all difficult places I have consulted the best commentators, and where they have differed, or have given, as is often the case, a variety of solutions, I have ever exercised my best judgment, and selected that which appears, at least to myself, the most probable interpretation. On this ground, xii and on account of the fidelity which I have already boasted, I may venture, I believe, to recommend my work as promising some usefulness to young students of the original.
The passages which will be least noticed, and possibly not at all, except by those who shall wish to find me at a fault, are those which have cost me abundantly the most labor. It is difficult to kill a sheep with dignity in a modern language, to flay and to prepare it for the table, detailing every circumstance of the process. Difficult also, without sinking below the level of poetry, to harness mules to a wagon, particularizing every article of their furniture, straps, rings, staples, and even the tying of the knots that kept all together. Homer, who writes always to the eye, with all his sublimity and grandeur, has the minuteness of a Flemish painter.
But in what degree I have succeeded in my version either of these passages, and such as these, or of others more buoyant and above-ground, and especially of the most sublime, is now submitted to the decision of the reader, to whom I am ready enough to confess that I have not at all consulted their approbation, who account nothing grand that is not turgid, or elegant that is not bedizened with metaphor.
I purposely decline all declamation on the merits of Homer, because a translator's praises of his author are liable to a suspicion of dotage, and because it were impossible to improve on those which this author has received already. He has been the wonder of all countries that his works have ever reached, even deified by the greatest names of antiquity, and in some places actually worshipped. And to say truth, were it possible that mere man could entitle himself by pre-eminence of any kind to divine honors, Homer's astonishing powers seem to have given him the best pretensions.
I cannot conclude without due acknowledgments to the best critic in Homer I have ever met with, the learned and ingenious Mr. Fuseli. Unknown as he was to me when I entered on this arduous undertaking (indeed to this moment I have never seen him) he yet voluntarily and generously offered himself as my revisor. To his classical taste and just discernment I have been indebted for the discovery of many blemishes in my own work, and of beauties, which would otherwise have escaped me, in the original. But his necessary avocations would not suffer him to accompany me farther than to the latter books of the Iliad, a circumstance which I fear my readers, as well as myself, will regret with too much reason.
I have obligations likewise to many friends, whose names, were it proper to mention them here, would do me great honor. They have encouraged me by their approbation, have assisted me with valuable books, and have eased me of almost the whole labor of transcribing.
And now I have only to regret that my pleasant work is ended. To the illustrious Greek I owe the smooth and easy flight of many thousand hours. He has been my companion at home and abroad, in the study, in the garden, and in the field; and no measure of success, let my labors succeed as they may, will ever compensate to me the loss of the innocent luxury that I have enjoyed, as a translator of Homer.
PREPARED BY MR. COWPER, FOR ASECOND EDITION.
Soon after my publication of this work, I began to prepare it for a second edition, by an accurate revisal of the first. It seemed to me, that here and there, perhaps a slight alteration might satisfy the demands of some, whom I was desirous to please; and I comforted myself with the reflection, that if I still failed to conciliate all, I should yet have no cause to account myself in a singular degree unfortunate. To please an unqualified judge, an author must sacrifice too much; and the attempt to please an uncandid one were altogether hopeless. In one or other of these classes may be ranged all such objectors, as would deprive blank verse of one of its principal advantages, the variety of its pauses; together with all such as deny the good effect, on the whole, of a line, now and then, less harmonious than its fellows.
With respect to the pauses, it has been affirmed with an unaccountable rashness, that Homer himself has given me an example of verse without them. Had this been true, it would by no means have concluded against the use of them in an English version of Homer; because, in one language, and in one species of metre, that may be musical, which in another would be found disgusting. But the assertion is totally unfounded. The pauses in Homer's verse are so frequent and various, that to name another poet, if pauses are a fault, more faulty than he, were, perhaps, impossible. It may even be questioned, if a single passage of ten lines flowing with uninterrupted smoothness could be singled out from all the thousands that he has left us. He frequently pauses at the first word of the line, when it consists of three or more syllables; not seldom when of two; and sometimes even when of one only. In this practice he was followed, as was observed in my Preface to the first edition, by the Author of the Paradise Lost. An example inimitable indeed, but which no writer of English heroic verse without rhyme can neglect with impunity.
Similar to this is the objection which proscribes absolutely the occasional use of a line irregularly constructed. When Horace censured Lucilius for his lines incomposite pede currentes, he did not mean to say, that he was xiv chargeable with such in some instances, or even in many, for then the censure would have been equally applicable to himself; but he designed by that expression to characterize all his writings. The censure therefore was just; Lucilius wrote at a time when the Roman verse had not yet received its polish, and instead of introducing artfully his rugged lines, and to serve a particular purpose, had probably seldom, and never but by accident, composed a smooth one. Such has been the versification of the earliest poets in every country. Children lisp, at first, and stammer; but, in time, their speech becomes fluent, and, if they are well taught, harmonious.
Homer himself is not invariably regular in the construction of his verse. Had he been so, Eustathius, an excellent critic and warm admirer of Homer, had never affirmed, that some of his lines want a head, some a tail, and others a middle. Some begin with a word that is neither dactyl nor spondee, some conclude with a dactyl, and in the intermediate part he sometimes deviates equally from the established custom. I confess that instances of this sort are rare; but they are surely, though few, sufficient to warrant a sparing use of similar license in the present day.
Unwilling, however, to seem obstinate in both these particulars, I conformed myself in some measure to these objections, though unconvinced myself of their propriety. Several of the rudest and most unshapely lines I composed anew; and several of the pauses least in use I displaced for the sake of an easier enunciation.—And this was the state of the work after the revisal given it about seven years since.
Between that revisal and the present a considerable time intervened, and the effect of long discontinuance was, that I became more dissatisfied with it myself, than the most difficult to be pleased of all my judges. Not for the sake of a few uneven lines or unwonted pauses, but for reasons far more substantial. The diction seemed to me in many passages either not sufficiently elevated, or deficient in the grace of ease, and in others I found the sense of the original either not adequately expressed or misapprehended. Many elisions still remained unsoftened; the compound epithets I found not always happily combined, and the same sometimes too frequently repeated.
There is no end of passages in Homer, which must creep unless they are lifted; yet in such, all embellishment is out of the question. The hero puts on his clothes, or refreshes himself with food and wine, or he yokes his steed, takes a journey, and in the evening preparation is made for his repose. To give relief to subjects prosaic as these without seeming unreasonably tumid is extremely difficult. Mr. Pope much abridges some of them, and others he omits; but neither of these liberties was compatible with the nature of my undertaking. These, therefore, and many similar to these, have been new-modeled; somewhat to their advantage I hope, but not even now entirely to my satisfaction. The lines have a more natural movement, the pauses are fewer and less stately, the expression as easy as I could make it without meanness, and these were all the improvements that I could give them.
The elisions, I believe, are all cured, with only one exception. An alternative proposes itself to a modern versifier, from which there is no escape, xv which occurs perpetually, and which, choose as he may, presents him always with an evil. I mean in the instance of the particle (the). When this particle precedes a vowel, shall he melt it into the substantive, or leave the hiatus open? Both practices are offensive to a delicate ear. The particle absorbed occasions harshness, and the open vowel a vacuity equally inconvenient. Sometimes, therefore, to leave it open, and sometimes to ingraft it into its adjunct seems most advisable; this course Mr. Pope has taken, whose authority recommended it to me; though of the two evils I have most frequently chosen the elision as the least.
Compound epithets have obtained so long in the poetical language of our country, that I employed them without fear or scruple. To have abstained from them in a blank verse translation of Homer, who abounds with them, and from whom our poets probably first adopted them, would have been strange indeed. But though the genius of our language favors the formation of such words almost as much as that of the Greek, it happens sometimes, that a Grecian compound either cannot be rendered in English at all, or, at best, but awkwardly. For this reason, and because I found that some readers much disliked them, I have expunged many; retaining, according to my best judgment, the most eligible only, and making less frequent the repetitions even of these.
I know not that I can add any thing material on the subject of this last revisal, unless it be proper to give the reason why the Iliad, though greatly altered, has undergone much fewer alterations than the Odyssey. The true reason I believe is this. The Iliad demanded my utmost possible exertions; it seemed to meet me like an ascent almost perpendicular, which could not be surmounted at less cost than of all the labor that I could bestow on it. The Odyssey on the contrary seemed to resemble an open and level country, through which I might travel at my ease. The latter, therefore, betrayed me into some negligence, which, though little conscious of it at the time, on an accurate search, I found had left many disagreeable effects behind it.
I now leave the work to its fate. Another may labor hereafter in an attempt of the same kind with more success; but more industriously, I believe, none ever will.
ARGUMENT OF THE FIRST BOOK.
The book opens with an account of a pestilence that prevailed in the Grecian camp, and the cause of it is assigned. A council is called, in which fierce altercation takes place between Agamemnon and Achilles. The latter solemnly renounces the field. Agamemnon, by his heralds, demands Brisëis, and Achilles resigns her. He makes his complaint to Thetis, who undertakes to plead his cause with Jupiter. She pleads it, and prevails. The book concludes with an account of what passed in Heaven on that occasion.
Achilles sing, O Goddess! Peleus' son; His wrath pernicious, who ten thousand woes Caused to Achaia's host, sent many a soul Illustrious into Ades premature, And Heroes gave (so stood the will of Jove) To dogs and to all ravening fowls a prey, When fierce dispute had separated once The noble Chief Achilles from the son Of Atreus, Agamemnon, King of men.
Who them to strife impell'd? What power divine? Latona's son and Jove's. For he, incensed Against the King, a foul contagion raised In all the host, and multitudes destroy'd, For that the son of Atreus had his priest Dishonored, Chryses. To the fleet he came Bearing rich ransom glorious to redeem His daughter, and his hands charged with the wreath And golden sceptre of the God shaft-arm'd.
His supplication was at large to all The host of Greece, but most of all to two, The sons of Atreus, highest in command.
Ye gallant Chiefs, and ye their gallant host, (So may the Gods who in Olympus dwell Give Priam's treasures to you for a spoil And ye return in safety,) take my gifts And loose my child, in honor of the son Of Jove, Apollo, archer of the skies.
At once the voice of all was to respect The priest, and to accept the bounteous price; But so it pleased not Atreus' mighty son, Who with rude threatenings stern him thence dismiss'd.
Beware, old man! that at these hollow barks I find thee not now lingering, or henceforth Returning, lest the garland of thy God And his bright sceptre should avail thee nought. I will not loose thy daughter, till old age Steal on her. From her native country far, In Argos, in my palace, she shall ply The loom, and shall be partner of my bed. Move me no more. Begone; hence while thou may'st.
He spake, the old priest trembled and obey'd. Forlorn he roamed the ocean's sounding shore, And, solitary, with much prayer his King Bright-hair'd Latona's son, Phœbus, implored.
God of the silver bow, who with thy power Encirclest Chrysa, and who reign'st supreme In Tenedos and Cilla the divine, Sminthian Apollo! If I e'er adorned Thy beauteous fane, or on the altar burn'd The fat acceptable of bulls or goats, Grant my petition. With thy shafts avenge On the Achaian host thy servant's tears.
Such prayer he made, and it was heard. The God, Down from Olympus with his radiant bow And his full quiver o'er his shoulder slung, Marched in his anger; shaken as he moved His rattling arrows told of his approach. Gloomy he came as night; sat from the ships Apart, and sent an arrow. Clang'd the cord Dread-sounding, bounding on the silver bow. Mules first and dogs he struck, but at themselves Dispatching soon his bitter arrows keen, Smote them. Death-piles on all sides always blazed. Nine days throughout the camp his arrows flew; The tenth, Achilles from all parts convened The host in council. Juno the white-armed Moved at the sight of Grecians all around Dying, imparted to his mind the thought. The full assembly, therefore, now convened, Uprose Achilles ardent, and began.
Atrides! Now, it seems, no course remains For us, but that the seas roaming again, We hence return; at least if we survive; But haste, consult we quick some prophet here Or priest, or even interpreter of dreams, (For dreams are also of Jove,) that we may learn By what crime we have thus incensed Apollo, What broken vow, what hecatomb unpaid He charges on us, and if soothed with steam Of lambs or goats unblemish'd, he may yet Be won to spare us, and avert the plague.
He spake and sat, when Thestor's son arose Calchas, an augur foremost in his art, Who all things, present, past, and future knew, And whom his skill in prophecy, a gift Conferred by Phœbus on him, had advanced To be conductor of the fleet to Troy; He, prudent, them admonishing, replied.
Jove-loved Achilles! Wouldst thou learn from me What cause hath moved Apollo to this wrath, The shaft-arm'd King? I shall divulge the cause. But thou, swear first and covenant on thy part That speaking, acting, thou wilt stand prepared To give me succor; for I judge amiss, Or he who rules the Argives, the supreme O'er all Achaia's host, will be incensed. Wo to the man who shall provoke the King For if, to-day, he smother close his wrath, He harbors still the vengeance, and in time Performs it. Answer, therefore, wilt thou save me?
To whom Achilles, swiftest of the swift. What thou hast learn'd in secret from the God That speak, and boldly. By the son of Jove, Apollo, whom thou, Calchas, seek'st in prayer Made for the Danaï, and who thy soul Fills with futurity, in all the host The Grecian lives not, who while I shall breathe, And see the light of day, shall in this camp Oppress thee; no, not even if thou name Him, Agamemnon, sovereign o'er us all.
Then was the seer embolden'd, and he spake. Nor vow nor hecatomb unpaid on us He charges, but the wrong done to his priest Whom Agamemnon slighted when he sought His daughter's freedom, and his gifts refused. He is the cause. Apollo for his sake Afflicts and will afflict us, neither end Nor intermission of his heavy scourge Granting, 'till unredeem'd, no price required, The black-eyed maid be to her father sent, And a whole hecatomb in Chrysa bleed. Then, not before, the God may be appeased.
He spake and sat; when Atreus' son arose, The Hero Agamemnon, throned supreme. Tempests of black resentment overcharged125 His heart, and indignation fired his eyes. On Calchas lowering, him he first address'd.
Prophet of mischief! from whose tongue no note Of grateful sound to me, was ever heard; Ill tidings are thy joy, and tidings glad Thou tell'st not, or thy words come not to pass. And now among the Danaï thy dreams Divulging, thou pretend'st the Archer-God For his priest's sake, our enemy, because I scorn'd his offer'd ransom of the maid Chrysëis, more desirous far to bear Her to my home, for that she charms me more Than Clytemnestra, my own first espoused, With whom, in disposition, feature, form, Accomplishments, she may be well compared. Yet, being such, I will return her hence If that she go be best. Perish myself— But let the people of my charge be saved Prepare ye, therefore, a reward for me, And seek it instant. It were much unmeet That I alone of all the Argive host Should want due recompense, whose former prize Is elsewhere destined, as ye all perceive.
To whom Achilles, matchless in the race. Atrides, glorious above all in rank, And as intent on gain as thou art great, Whence shall the Grecians give a prize to thee? The general stock is poor; the spoil of towns Which we have taken, hath already passed In distribution, and it were unjust To gather it from all the Greeks again. But send thou back this Virgin to her God, And when Jove's favor shall have given us Troy, A threefold, fourfold share shall then be thine.
To whom the Sovereign of the host replied. Godlike Achilles, valiant as thou art, Wouldst thou be subtle too? But me no fraud Shall overreach, or art persuade, of thine. Wouldst thou, that thou be recompensed, and I Sit meekly down, defrauded of my due? And didst thou bid me yield her? Let the bold Achaians give me competent amends, Such as may please me, and it shall be well. Else, if they give me none, I will command Thy prize, the prize of Ajax, or the prize It may be of Ulysses to my tent, And let the loser chafe. But this concern Shall be adjusted at convenient time. Come—launch we now into the sacred deep A bark with lusty rowers well supplied; Then put on board Chrysëis, and with her The sacrifice required. Go also one High in authority, some counsellor, Idomeneus, or Ajax, or thyself, Thou most untractable of all mankind; And seek by rites of sacrifice and prayer To appease Apollo on our host's behalf.
Achilles eyed him with a frown, and spake. Ah! clothed with impudence as with a cloak, And full of subtlety, who, thinkest thou— What Grecian here will serve thee, or for thee Wage covert war, or open? Me thou know'st, Troy never wronged; I came not to avenge Harm done to me; no Trojan ever drove My pastures, steeds or oxen took of mine, Or plunder'd of their fruits the golden fields Of Phthia the deep-soil'd. She lies remote, And obstacles are numerous interposed, Vale-darkening mountains, and the dashing sea. No, Shameless Wolf! For thy good pleasure's sake We came, and, Face of flint! to avenge the wrongs By Menelaus and thyself sustain'd, On the offending Trojan—service kind, But lost on thee, regardless of it all. And now—What now? Thy threatening is to seize Thyself, the just requital of my toils, My prize hard-earn'd, by common suffrage mine. I never gain, what Trojan town soe'er We ransack, half thy booty. The swift march And furious onset—these I largely reap, But, distribution made, thy lot exceeds Mine far; while I, with any pittance pleased, Bear to my ships the little that I win After long battle, and account it much. But I am gone, I and my sable barks (My wiser course) to Phthia, and I judge, Scorn'd as I am, that thou shalt hardly glean Without me, more than thou shalt soon consume.
He ceased, and Agamemnon thus replied Fly, and fly now; if in thy soul thou feel Such ardor of desire to go—begone! I woo thee not to stay; stay not an hour On my behalf, for I have others here Who will respect me more, and above all All-judging Jove. There is not in the host King or commander whom I hate as thee, For all thy pleasure is in strife and blood, And at all times; yet valor is no ground Whereon to boast, it is the gift of Heaven Go, get ye back to Phthia, thou and thine! There rule thy Myrmidons. I need not thee, Nor heed thy wrath a jot. But this I say, Sure as Apollo takes my lovely prize Chrysëis, and I shall return her home In mine own bark, and with my proper crew, So sure the fair Brisëis shall be mine. I shall demand her even at thy tent. So shalt thou well be taught, how high in power I soar above thy pitch, and none shall dare Attempt, thenceforth, comparison with me.
He ended, and the big, disdainful heart Throbbed of Achilles; racking doubt ensued And sore perplex'd him, whether forcing wide A passage through them, with his blade unsheathed To lay Atrides breathless at his foot, Or to command his stormy spirit down. So doubted he, and undecided yet Stood drawing forth his falchion huge; when lo! Down sent by Juno, to whom both alike Were dear, and who alike watched over both, Pallas descended. At his back she stood To none apparent, save himself alone, And seized his golden locks. Startled, he turned, And instant knew Minerva. Flashed her eyes Terrific; whom with accents on the wing Of haste, incontinent he questioned thus.
Daughter of Jove, why comest thou? that thyself May'st witness these affronts which I endure From Agamemnon? Surely as I speak, This moment, for his arrogance, he dies.
To whom the blue-eyed Deity. From heaven Mine errand is, to sooth, if thou wilt hear, Thine anger. Juno the white-arm'd alike To him and thee propitious, bade me down: Restrain thy wrath. Draw not thy falchion forth. Retort, and sharply, and let that suffice. For I foretell thee true. Thou shalt receive, Some future day, thrice told, thy present loss For this day's wrong. Cease, therefore, and be still.
To whom Achilles. Goddess, although much Exasperate, I dare not disregard Thy word, which to obey is always best. Who hears the Gods, the Gods hear also him.
He said; and on his silver hilt the force Of his broad hand impressing, sent the blade Home to its rest, nor would the counsel scorn Of Pallas. She to heaven well-pleased return'd, And in the mansion of Jove Ægis-armed Arriving, mingled with her kindred Gods. But though from violence, yet not from words Abstained Achilles, but with bitter taunt Opprobrious, his antagonist reproached.
Oh charged with wine, in steadfastness of face Dog unabashed, and yet at heart a deer! Thou never, when the troops have taken arms, Hast dared to take thine also; never thou Associate with Achaia's Chiefs, to form The secret ambush. No. The sound of war Is as the voice of destiny to thee. Doubtless the course is safer far, to range Our numerous host, and if a man have dared Dispute thy will, to rob him of his prize. King! over whom? Women and spiritless— Whom therefore thou devourest; else themselves Would stop that mouth that it should scoff no more. But hearken. I shall swear a solemn oath. By this same sceptre, which shall never bud, Nor boughs bring forth as once, which having left Its stock on the high mountains, at what time The woodman's axe lopped off its foliage green, And stript its bark, shall never grow again; Which now the judges of Achaia bear, Who under Jove, stand guardians of the laws, By this I swear (mark thou the sacred oath) Time shall be, when Achilles shall be missed; When all shall want him, and thyself the power To help the Achaians, whatsoe'er thy will; When Hector at your heels shall mow you down: The Hero-slaughtering Hector! Then thy soul, Vexation-stung, shall tear thee with remorse, That thou hast scorn'd, as he were nothing worth, A Chief, the soul and bulwark of your cause.
So saying, he cast his sceptre on the ground Studded with gold, and sat. On the other side The son of Atreus all impassion'd stood, When the harmonious orator arose Nestor, the Pylian oracle, whose lips Dropped eloquence—the honey not so sweet. Two generations past of mortals born In Pylus, coëtaneous with himself, He govern'd now the third—amid them all He stood, and thus, benevolent, began.
Ah! what calamity hath fall'n on Greece! Now Priam and his sons may well exult, Now all in Ilium shall have joy of heart Abundant, hearing of this broil, the prime Of Greece between, in council and in arms. But be persuaded; ye are younger both Than I, and I was conversant of old With Princes your superiors, yet from them No disrespect at any time received. Their equals saw I never; never shall; Exadius, Cœneus, and the Godlike son Of Ægeus, mighty Theseus; men renown'd For force superior to the race of man, Brave Chiefs they were, and with brave foes they fought, With the rude dwellers on the mountain-heights The Centaurs, whom with havoc such as fame Shall never cease to celebrate, they slew. With these men I consorted erst, what time From Pylus, though a land from theirs remote, They called me forth, and such as was my strength, With all that strength I served them. Who is he? What Prince or Chief of the degenerate race Now seen on earth who might with these compare? Yet even these would listen and conform To my advice in consultation given, Which hear ye also; for compliance proves Oft times the safer and the manlier course. Thou, Agamemnon! valiant as thou art, Seize not the maid, his portion from the Greeks, But leave her his; nor thou, Achilles, strive With our imperial Chief; for never King Had equal honor at the hands of Jove With Agamemnon, or was throned so high. Say thou art stronger, and art Goddess-born, How then? His territory passes thine, And he is Lord of thousands more than thou. Cease, therefore, Agamemnon; calm thy wrath; And it shall be mine office to entreat Achilles also to a calm, whose might The chief munition is of all our host.
To whom the sovereign of the Greeks replied, The son of Atreus. Thou hast spoken well, Old Chief, and wisely. But this wrangler here— Nought will suffice him but the highest place: He must control us all, reign over all, Dictate to all; but he shall find at least One here, disposed to question his commands. If the eternal Gods have made him brave, Derives he thence a privilege to rail?
Whom thus Achilles interrupted fierce. Could I be found so abject as to take The measure of my doings at thy lips, Well might they call me coward through the camp, A vassal, and a fellow of no worth. Give law to others. Think not to control Me, subject to thy proud commands no more. Hear yet again! And weigh what thou shalt hear. I will not strive with thee in such a cause, Nor yet with any man; I scorn to fight For her, whom having given, ye take away. But I have other precious things on board; Of those take none away without my leave. Or if it please thee, put me to the proof Before this whole assembly, and my spear Shall stream that moment, purpled with thy blood.
Thus they long time in opposition fierce Maintained the war of words; and now, at length, (The grand consult dissolved,) Achilles walked (Patroclus and the Myrmidons his steps Attending) to his camp and to his fleet. But Agamemnon order'd forth a bark, A swift one, manned with twice ten lusty rowers; He sent on board the Hecatomb: he placed Chrysëis with the blooming cheeks, himself, And to Ulysses gave the freight in charge. So all embarked, and plow'd their watery way. Atrides, next, bade purify the host; The host was purified, as he enjoin'd, And the ablution cast into the sea.
Then to Apollo, on the shore they slew, Of the untillable and barren deep, Whole Hecatombs of bulls and goats, whose steam Slowly in smoky volumes climbed the skies.
Thus was the camp employed; nor ceased the while The son of Atreus from his threats denounced At first against Achilles, but command Gave to Talthybius and Eurybates His heralds, ever faithful to his will.
Haste—Seek ye both the tent of Peleus' son Achilles. Thence lead hither by the hand Blooming Brisëis, whom if he withhold, Not her alone, but other spoil myself Will take in person—He shall rue the hour.
With such harsh message charged he them dismissed They, sad and slow, beside the barren waste Of Ocean, to the galleys and the tents Moved of the Myrmidons. Him there they found Beneath the shadow of his bark reclined, Nor glad at their approach. Trembling they stood, In presence of the royal Chief, awe-struck, Nor questioned him or spake. He not the less Knew well their embassy, and thus began.
Ye heralds, messengers of Gods and men, Hail, and draw near! I bid you welcome both. I blame not you; the fault is his alone Who sends you to conduct the damsel hence Brisëis. Go, Patroclus, generous friend! Lead forth, and to their guidance give the maid. But be themselves my witnesses before The blessed Gods, before mankind, before The ruthless king, should want of me be felt To save the host from havoc—Oh, his thoughts Are madness all; intelligence or skill, Forecast or retrospect, how best the camp May be secured from inroad, none hath he.
He ended, nor Patroclus disobey'd, But leading beautiful Brisëis forth Into their guidance gave her; loth she went From whom she loved, and looking oft behind. Then wept Achilles, and apart from all, With eyes directed to the gloomy Deep And arms outstretch'd, his mother suppliant sought.
Since, mother, though ordain'd so soon to die, I am thy son, I might with cause expect Some honor at the Thunderer's hands, but none To me he shows, whom Agamemnon, Chief Of the Achaians, hath himself disgraced, Seizing by violence my just reward.
So prayed he weeping, whom his mother heard Within the gulfs of Ocean where she sat Beside her ancient sire. From the gray flood Ascending sudden, like a mist she came, Sat down before him, stroked his face, and said.
Why weeps my son? and what is thy distress? Hide not a sorrow that I wish to share.
To whom Achilles, sighing deep, replied. Why tell thee woes to thee already known? At Thebes, Eëtion's city we arrived, Smote, sack'd it, and brought all the spoil away. Just distribution made among the Greeks, The son of Atreus for his lot received Blooming Chrysëis. Her, Apollo's priest Old Chryses followed to Achaia's camp, That he might loose his daughter. Ransom rich He brought, and in his hands the hallow'd wreath And golden sceptre of the Archer God Apollo, bore; to the whole Grecian host, But chiefly to the foremost in command He sued, the sons of Atreus; then, the rest All recommended reverence of the Seer, And prompt acceptance of his costly gifts. But Agamemnon might not so be pleased, Who gave him rude dismission; he in wrath Returning, prayed, whose prayer Apollo heard, For much he loved him. A pestiferous shaft He instant shot into the Grecian host, And heap'd the people died. His arrows swept The whole wide camp of Greece, 'till at the last A Seer, by Phœbus taught, explain'd the cause. I first advised propitiation. Rage Fired Agamemnon. Rising, he denounced Vengeance, and hath fulfilled it. She, in truth, Is gone to Chrysa, and with her we send Propitiation also to the King Shaft-arm'd Apollo. But my beauteous prize Brisëis, mine by the award of all, His heralds, at this moment, lead away. But thou, wherein thou canst, aid thy own son! Haste hence to Heaven, and if thy word or deed Hath ever gratified the heart of Jove, With earnest suit press him on my behalf. For I, not seldom, in my father's hall Have heard thee boasting, how when once the Gods, With Juno, Neptune, Pallas at their head, Conspired to bind the Thunderer, thou didst loose His bands, O Goddess! calling to his aid The Hundred-handed warrior, by the Gods Briareus, but by men, Ægeon named. For he in prowess and in might surpassed His father Neptune, who, enthroned sublime, Sits second only to Saturnian Jove, Elate with glory and joy. Him all the Gods Fearing from that bold enterprise abstained. Now, therefore, of these things reminding Jove, Embrace his knees; entreat him that he give The host of Troy his succor, and shut fast The routed Grecians, prisoners in the fleet, That all may find much solace in their King, And that the mighty sovereign o'er them all, Their Agamemnon, may himself be taught His rashness, who hath thus dishonor'd foul The life itself, and bulwark of his cause.
To him, with streaming eyes, Thetis replied. Born as thou wast to sorrow, ah, my son! Why have I rear'd thee! Would that without tears, Or cause for tears (transient as is thy life, A little span) thy days might pass at Troy! But short and sorrowful the fates ordain Thy life, peculiar trouble must be thine, Whom, therefore, oh that I had never borne! But seeking the Olympian hill snow-crown'd, I will myself plead for thee in the ear Of Jove, the Thunderer. Meantime at thy fleet Abiding, let thy wrath against the Greeks Still burn, and altogether cease from war. For to the banks of the Oceanus, Where Æthiopia holds a feast to Jove, He journey'd yesterday, with whom the Gods Went also, and the twelfth day brings them home. Then will I to his brazen-floor'd abode, That I may clasp his knees, and much misdeem Of my endeavor, or my prayer shall speed.
So saying, she went; but him she left enraged For fair Brisëis' sake, forced from his arms By stress of power. Meantime Ulysses came To Chrysa with the Hecatomb in charge. Arrived within the haven deep, their sails Furling, they stowed them in the bark below. Then by its tackle lowering swift the mast Into its crutch, they briskly push'd to land, Heaved anchors out, and moor'd the vessel fast. Forth came the mariners, and trod the beach; Forth came the victims of Apollo next, And, last, Chrysëis. Her Ulysses led Toward the altar, gave her to the arms Of her own father, and him thus address'd.
O Chryses! Agamemnon, King of men, Hath sent thy daughter home, with whom we bring A Hecatomb on all our host's behalf To Phœbus, hoping to appease the God By whose dread shafts the Argives now expire.
So saying, he gave her to him, who with joy Received his daughter. Then, before the shrine Magnificent in order due they ranged The noble Hecatomb. Each laved his hands And took the salted meal, and Chryses made His fervent prayer with hands upraised on high.
God of the silver bow, who with thy power Encirclest Chrysa, and who reign'st supreme In Tenedos, and Cilla the divine! Thou prov'dst propitious to my first request, Hast honor'd me, and punish'd sore the Greeks; Hear yet thy servant's prayer; take from their host At once the loathsome pestilence away!
So Chryses prayed, whom Phœbus heard well-pleased; Then prayed the Grecians also, and with meal Sprinkling the victims, their retracted necks First pierced, then flay'd them; the disjointed thighs They, next, invested with the double caul, Which with crude slices thin they overspread. The priest burned incense, and libation poured Large on the hissing brands, while, him beside, Busy with spit and prong, stood many a youth Trained to the task. The thighs with fire consumed, They gave to each his portion of the maw, Then slashed the remnant, pierced it with the spits, And managing with culinary skill The roast, withdrew it from the spits again. Their whole task thus accomplish'd, and the board Set forth, they feasted, and were all sufficed. When neither hunger more nor thirst remained Unsatisfied, boys crown'd the beakers high With wine delicious, and from right to left Distributing the cups, served every guest. Thenceforth the youths of the Achaian race To song propitiatory gave the day, Pæans to Phœbus, Archer of the skies, Chaunting melodious. Pleased, Apollo heard. But, when, the sun descending, darkness fell, They on the beach beside their hawsers slept; And, when the day-spring's daughter rosy-palm'd Aurora look'd abroad, then back they steer'd To the vast camp. Fair wind, and blowing fresh, Apollo sent them; quick they rear'd the mast, Then spread the unsullied canvas to the gale, And the wind filled it. Roared the sable flood Around the bark, that ever as she went Dash'd wide the brine, and scudded swift away. Thus reaching soon the spacious camp of Greece, Their galley they updrew sheer o'er the sands From the rude surge remote, then propp'd her sides With scantlings long, and sought their several tents.
But Peleus' noble son, the speed-renown'd Achilles, he, his well-built bark beside, Consumed his hours, nor would in council more, Where wise men win distinction, or in fight Appear, to sorrow and heart-withering wo Abandon'd; though for battle, ardent, still He panted, and the shout-resounding field. But when the twelfth fair morrow streak'd the East, Then all the everlasting Gods to Heaven Resorted, with the Thunderer at their head, And Thetis, not unmindful of her son, Prom the salt flood emerged, seeking betimes Olympus and the boundless fields of heaven. High, on the topmost eminence sublime Of the deep-fork'd Olympian she perceived The Thunderer seated, from the Gods apart. She sat before him, clasp'd with her left hand His knees, her right beneath his chin she placed, And thus the King, Saturnian Jove, implored.
Father of all, by all that I have done Or said that ever pleased thee, grant my suit. Exalt my son, by destiny short-lived Beyond the lot of others. Him with shame The King of men hath overwhelm'd, by force Usurping his just meed; thou, therefore, Jove, Supreme in wisdom, honor him, and give Success to Troy, till all Achaia's sons Shall yield him honor more than he hath lost!
She spake, to whom the Thunderer nought replied, But silent sat long time. She, as her hand Had grown there, still importunate, his knees Clasp'd as at first, and thus her suit renew'd.
Or grant my prayer, and ratify the grant, Or send me hence (for thou hast none to fear) Plainly refused; that I may know and feel By how much I am least of all in heaven.
To whom the cloud-assembler at the last Spake, deep-distress'd. Hard task and full of strife Thou hast enjoined me; Juno will not spare For gibe and taunt injurious, whose complaint Sounds daily in the ears of all the Gods, That I assist the Trojans; but depart, Lest she observe thee; my concern shall be How best I may perform thy full desire. And to assure thee more, I give the sign Indubitable, which all fear expels At once from heavenly minds. Nought, so confirmed, May, after, be reversed or render'd vain.
He ceased, and under his dark brows the nod Vouchsafed of confirmation. All around The Sovereign's everlasting head his curls Ambrosial shook, and the huge mountain reeled.
Their conference closed, they parted. She, at once, From bright Olympus plunged into the flood Profound, and Jove to his own courts withdrew. Together all the Gods, at his approach, Uprose; none sat expectant till he came, But all advanced to meet the Eternal Sire. So on his throne he sat. Nor Juno him Not understood; she, watchful, had observed, In consultation close with Jove engaged Thetis, bright-footed daughter of the deep, And keen the son of Saturn thus reproved.
Shrewd as thou art, who now hath had thine ear? Thy joy is ever such, from me apart To plan and plot clandestine, and thy thoughts,