Womanhood in the Iliad

THE Iliad offers us the oldest picture which we have of the life of man on the continent of Europe. This picture is also a most vivid and beautiful one. There is a constant temptation, therefore, to treat this poem as a starting-point and substantial basis for the history of our civilization. Any attempt of this kind, however, seems to me almost utterly vain and elusive. Before we undertake to recover, by sifting the materials at our command, the true picture of Homeric manners, customs, and beliefs, let us seriously imagine Macaulay’s New Zealander, three thousand years henve, employed in reconstructing England as it was under the Tudors, with no materials save the Faery Queen and Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. Or, to match the Theogony and Works and Days of Hesiod, let him be furnished with Pilgrim’s Progress and Snowbound. Instead of the fragments of the Greek lyric poets, we may generously permit Andrew Lang’s Blue Book of Poetry to drift down intact. We should still fail to recognize our kinsfolk in the picture he would draw.

Perhaps, however, my feeling can be better illustrated by a figure. A traveler, crossing the Alps by rail at night, may be awakened by a peal of thunder, and, pushing aside his curtains sees, perchance, across a wide intervale, a panorama of stately mountains, their outlines half shrouded in storm-clouds. The scene is illuminated for a single instant by the unearthly glare of the lightning. The next second he falls back into dreamless slumber. In the morning, indeed for life, that picture abides with him : whether in memory or in imagination he hardly knows, but certainly little associated, if at all, with the scenes, whatever they may be, that greet him in the familiar light of the sun.

The pilgrim is the Western Aryan. The vision of the night is the Homeric age. For the real dawn of our historical knowledge, the awakening of the race, as it were, to its own continuous life, lies not far behind the first historian, Herodotus, who lived in the fifth century before our era. Even to him, the men his grandsires knew — gentle Crœsus and ruthless Cyrus, Solon the wise and Polycrates the fortunate — stand with blurred outlines against a background of fable. How long before himself the poet Homer had lived Herodotus can only conjecture, and his conjecture is, four centuries, — just the gap that yawns to-day between us and Columbus. And think what impenetrable mystery would now enshroud the figure of the Genoese adventurer, had his age transmitted to us, through generations utterly destitute of historical records, nothing save a metrical romance !

But even Homer, or, let us say, the Homeric poets, avowedly described, not their own ignobler days, but a more heroic, far-distant foretime, whereof they

Hear but the rumor alone, and know nothing
as certain.

Brilliant as is the fabric of this vision, it is inextricably interwoven with the superhuman and the marvelous. Achilles is the child of a sea-nymph ; Hermes, messenger of the gods, chats familiarly with Priam. The hero’s horse is immortal and inspired to prophetic speech ; his arms are forged in the smithy of the Fire-god. And over all parts of the picture alike there lies the light that never was on sea or land, the glow of poetic imagination.

It is thus that we should receive and read the tale. It remains none the less true, — not to mere authentic dates and historical events, but in a higher sense, like the Dantesque Purgatorio, or Prospero’s enchanted isle, or Arthurian Camelot, true to the eternal laws of artistic creation, and to the cravings of baffled weary humanity, reaching forth eagerly after the higher truthfulness of perfect beauty.

We do not present here, then, the first chapter of an historical essay upon the development of woman. How far the social conditions of Homeric Troy represent the observation of the poet at any particular place and time can never be known. We desire merely to unroll a few of the quieter scenes in the lurid panorama of the Iliad. The translator is, for his own part, fully assured that we gaze, through the poet’s eyes, upon a glorified vision of men and women as they might have been. Even while our tears fall with theirs, we see in Hector and Andromache not the features of any loving pair that ever lived and died, but rather immortal types of an idealized humanity. We shall expect, therefore, to find in the women of Homer, as in his heroes, not highly individualized characters, hardly even specifically Greek figures, but rather natures simply human, swayed by the strongest and most universal passions and motives. Andromache is neither a Greek, nor a Trojan, nor a Cilician. She stands upon a pedestal, and we look up reverently to the inspired creation of a master artist.

On the Greek side, to be sure, the Iliad presents for the most part only the lawless social conditions of a permanent camp. Yet even here we are not left without reminders that women are indispensable to the happier side of life. The very absence of the Achaians from their own firesides, through so many darkening years, is an element of pathos, to which the poet has appealed in memorable passages.

“ Whoso tarries afar from his wife, in a many-oared vessel,
One month only, is chafed in spirit, so long as the gusty
Storms of the winter and furious water detain him from sailing.
But for ourselves is the ninth year passing,
as here we have lingered.”

Several times also, amid the wild turmoil of war, an effective simile suddenly transports us to scenes of peaceful life, and even of humble toil. Thus the equal poise of a well-contested fight is illustrated by the figure of a woman

Holding the scales, who raises the wool and the weights together,
Balancing them, to win scant wage for herself and her children.

Still more striking by its unexpected tenderness is the picture that is called up by Achilles, as he reproves his friend for shedding tears over the disasters of the Greeks : —

“ Why do you weep, O Patroclus ? Ev’n as a fond little maiden,
Running hesido her mother, and begging the mother to take her,
Plucking her still by the gown, and striving from haste to detain her,
Tearfully looks in her face, until she indeed is uplifted, —
Like unto her, O Patroclus, the swelling tears you are shedding ! ”

There are, moreover, some women in the Greek camp itself. The pathos of their fate is evidently felt by the poet. They are for the most part the sole survivors from the lesser towns of the Troad, which have been successively stormed and sacked by Achilles. They have lost, at a single blow, kindred, home, freedom, often honor as well. Of these unhappy creatures we have occasional vivid glimpses, and two of their number stand forth with distinctness, — are indeed essential to the epic plot.

Fair-cheeked Chryseis, a, less tragic figure than the rest, merely glides like a swift vision of maidenhood through the opening scenes of the tale. She is not left friendless nor forsaken, for her kindred were not with her when she fell into captivity. How it chanced that this girl, who dwelt with her father, Apollo’s priest, in holy Chrysè, was taken in Andromache’s town, Thebè, Hommer does not pause to explain. The poem opens with her father’s plea for her release, Agamemnon’s scornful refusal, the prayer of Chryses to the god he served, and Apollo’s response. The angry sun-god sends a pestilence upon the host, until Agamemnon’s stubborn heart yields, like Pharaoh’s. So Chryseis’ day of captivity is brief, and seemingly not bitter. Her release is the first and pleasantest result of the stormy council of Greek chieftains. Before the first rhapsody closes, the glancing-eyed maiden trips lightly upon Odysseus’ ship for the homeward voyage. It is apparently only a few hours later, when she is placed in her father’s arms, who

Welcomed his daughter beloved.

There is a powerful tribute to her beauty, — and a dark hint of the fate from which she was rescued, the fate of Cassandra not long afterward, — in the expression which Agamemnon had made of his reluctance to give her up : —

“ I am greatly desirous
In my household to keep her ; I prize her above Clytemneatra,
Who is my lawful wife ; nor is she inferior to her,
Either in stature or beauty, in cunning of mind or of body.”

If Chryseis’ youth was troubled with other sorrows, they probably did not arise from the presence of the Grecian host, who had well learned in her case the lesson of “wisdom through suffering.”

Briseis’ fate is more closely entangled with the darkest threads of the tragic drama. At her first appearance, indeed, she is a mere silhouette, as she passes reluctantly down the strand from Achilles’ cabin, led by the heralds to the galley of Agamemnon, who has ruthlessly claimed her to make good his loss. The leading away of Briseis is represented more than once upon Greek vases, and is also the subject of one of the largest and finest Pompeian wallpaintings. The event was evidently regarded as the decisive point in the quarrel between the leaders. It is this seizure of his favorite that stirs Achilles’ wrath so deeply that he holds aloof from the war. When Agamemnon, after the first series of disasters, sends the ineffectual embassy to Achilles, he not only offers many royal gifts, but also proposes to restore Briseis, and declares that he himself has shown her no discourtesy during her enforced stay under his roof. When she actually returns, after the reconciliation between the quarreling chiefs, it is to find the gentle Patroclus lying dead in the cabin which she had shared, we know not how long, with the illustrious pair of friends and her fellow-captives. In her instant lament over him, not only do we hear nearly all we shall ever learn of her own piteous story, but there also comes into view a peculiarly winning and amiable side of the dead hero’s character.

Then Briseis, as lovely as Aphrodite the golden,
When she beheld Patroclus, so mangled by keen-edged weapons,
Throwing her arms about him, lamented shrill, with her own hands
Tearing her shapely neck, her breast, and her glorious features.
Then the divinely beautiful woman bewailed and addressed him:
“ O thou dearest of men to my hapless spirit, Patroclus,
Living I left thee here when I from the cabin departed ;
Dead do I find thee now at my coming, O chief of the people !
So evermore upon me comes sorrow close upon sorrow.
Him upon whom my father and mother bestowed me, my husband,
Saw I mangled with keen-edged spears, in defense of his city.
Then, though Achilles the swift, when he ravaged the city of Mynes,
Slew my husband in battle, yet thou didst forbid me to sorrow,
Promising I should become the wife of the godlike Achilles :
He, thou saidst, would lead me with him on the vessels to Phthia ;
There in the midst of his folk would my marriage feast be appointed.
Therefore I mourn for thee dead, who living ever wast gentle.”
Weeping so did she speak, and in answer lamented the women,
Moaning as if for Patroclus, yet each her woes was bewailing.

I cannot refrain from calling attention to that closing phrase, with its quiet touch of sympathy.

A last glimpse of Briseis tells us only that she regained the position of Achilles’ favorite, held during her absence by a Lesbian captive, “ fair-cheeked Diomede.” It is in that magnificent final act of the drama, when the suppliant king in the cabin of his foe, utterly exhausted by vigils and fasting, is forced to give way to sleep. A couch is spread for Priam under the portico, and

Meantime Achilles also slept, in the wellbuilt cabin’s
Inner recess, and beside him was lying the lovely Briseis.

The first woman to appear prominently in the Iliad is, fitly enough, Helen herself, the source of all the woes of Troy. To the apple of discord, the strife of the three goddesses, the judgment of Paris, Homer makes no allusion, if we omit a single awkwardly interpolated pair of verses. These features of the story were doubtless invented by the author of the later Cyprian Epic. Though she is under the especial charge of Aphrodite, and is once called Zeus’ daughter, Helen seems to be, in the Iliad, merely a fair, selfish, fickle woman. The marvelous and superhuman elements in her origin and destiny are apparently later additions to the tale. The carrying off of Helen by the roving Paris is the first link in the chain of evil with which Homer is acquainted. Her own sin is perhaps confined to a later acquiescence in their union, and a fondness for Paris which has now largely passed away. She has already been twenty years in Ilios.

In the third book of the Iliad Helen is summoned from the palace of her lover by the tidings that he and Menelaus are to contend in single combat for the possession of herself and the treasures stolen with her. Perhaps her lack of deeper feeling is hinted at by the manner in which the messenger finds her employed.

A magnificent web she was weaving,
Twofold, purple in color, and thereon she had embroidered
Many a battle of knightly Trojans and mailèd Achaians,
Fought for the sake of herself, and under the hands of Ares.

For whom the single tear falls, as she leaves her loom, Homer does not tell: perhaps he did not know. Save for an occasional epithet, usually “ trailingrobed,” no attempt is made to indicate her beauty. Instead, the old men, looking down, from the tower over the gate, upon panic - stricken city, devastated fields, and beleaguering hosts, murmur at her approach : —

“Nowise marvelous is it that Trojans and mailèd Achaians,
Over a woman like this, through the long years suffer in sorrow :
Wondrous like to the deathless goddesses is she in beauty.”

But of course the sober second thought quickly follows,

“ Yet even so, though lovely she be, let her fare in the vessels ;
Let her not leave vexation behind her for us and our children.”

Priam greets Helen with the courtesy of a king, saying, among other things: —

“ Nowise guilty I hold you; the gods are responsible only,
Who have incited against me the fatal war of the Arrives.”

After a few words of self-abasement, she points out, at the aged monarch’s request, the Hellenic chieftains in the plain below. The loneliness of her life in Troy, cut off from her race and kin, is brought out, but with no undue emphasis, in the passage concerning her brothers; which incidentally confirms our belief that to the poet of the Iliad Helen and her brothers are mortal, and of merely human nature. It is more prudent to quote here the deservedly famous and oft-cited version of Dr. Hawtrey. (Whether this was his only experiment in Homeric translation I have not learned.) It is Helen who speaks : —

“ Clearly the rest I behold of the dark-eyed sons of Achaia;
Known to me well are the faces of all; their names I remember ;
Two, two only remain, whom I see not among the commanders,—
Kastor fleet in the car, Polydeukes brave with the cestus;
Own dear brethren of mine; one parent loved us as infants.
Are they not here in the host, from the shores of loved Lakedaimon,
Or, though they came with the rest in ships that bound through the waters,
Dare they not enter the fight or stand in the council of heroes,
All for fear of the shame and the taunts my crime has awakened ? ”
So said she. They long since in Earth’s soft arms were reposing,
There in their own dear land, their fatherland, Lakedaimon,

The combat ends with Paris’ discomfiture, and Aphrodite has to interfere and snatch him away in a cloud to save his forfeit life; but there is nothing to indicate that Helen is more concerned than any other spectator. Then Aphrodite appears to Helen in the guise of an old woman, and bids her return home to console her lover. Helen refuses with pettish rudeness, bidding Aphrodite go to him herself, “ to become his wife, or his handmaid.” Her chief concern is for her own disgrace.

“ The Trojan women behind me All will jeer, and I in spirit have sorrows unnumbered.”

Yet to a second and sterner summons she renders prompt obedience. Perhaps the goddess only stands for the lawless love in Helen’s own breast. At least there is often a temptation to have recourse to such allegorical interpretations when a divinity appears only to a single person, and merely for a moment. So in the council scene already mentioned, Pallas darts from heaven to bid Achilles refrain from physical violence against Agamemnon. She is revealed only to the son of Peleus, and seems little more than his own wiser self.

Upon reaching the chamber of Paris, Helen taunts him with his overthrow, but she is unable to resist his wheedling words, and is presently only too ready to accept his caresses. There is no moment when the doom of Troy seems so imminent, and so deserved, as at the close of the third book, when we see, as it were, at the same glance, the guilty lovers in their momentary security, and Menelaus, raging like a baffled lion up and down the place of combat, hoping yet to discover and slay his vanquished enemy. The poet adds grimly that not one of the Trojans would have screened their prince, but would gladly have pointed him out to the injured husband, “for he was hated like black death by them all.”

We are now about to approach the chief series of home and domestic scenes in the poem, the episode for the sake of which any paper like the present is largely written. There is the less objection to detaching Hector’s visit to Troy from its present connection in the poem, because it can hardly have been composed for the place it now occupies. It is not like Hector to leave a desperate and losing fight that he may take a message to the city, — which any page could have carried as well as he, — and to linger there for an hour at least, forgetful of his duties as commander in the field. And the pathos of the immortal parting scene is materially lessened as we discover that Hector, for two succeeding nights, came back in safety to Andromache’s arms; encamped on the third and fourth nights in the plain, and perished only on the fifth day !

The episode of his visit to Ilios fills the greater part of the sixth book. Diomedes has more than filled Achilles’ place during the first day’s fighting, putting men and gods to rout. In the midst of the flight and panic of the Trojans, Helenus, their chief priest and seer, bids his brother Hector, first rallying and ordering tlie terrified host, go straightway to the city. He is to command Heeabè, the queen, to assemble the aged women of Troy and go in procession to Pallas Athene’s temple with a propitiatory offering. Little actually occurs during his absence. The poet fills the gap by recording the famous dialogue between Diomedes and Glaucos, with their exchange of armor on the battlefield.

It would be impertinent to interrupt the unbroken flow of the famous rhapsody with any comment or discussion. We must venture, however, to call the reader’s attention to the skillful use that is made of golden silence in this part of the poem; to Hector as he receives with unuttered scorn Paris’ voluble excuses ; to Andromache, who is already departed, a tear in her eye and a smile on her lip, toward her desolate home, ere Hector’s last words are uttered; but, above all, to the eloquent muteness of Heeabè, lady of many sorrows, turning away obediently to do the bidding of her valorous and dutiful son, who has just prayed with all his heart for the speedy death of the guilty, selfish, best-belovèd younger brother !


(Iliad VI. 237-502.)

When now Hector arrived at the Scæean gate and the beech-tree,
Round him quickly were gathered the daughters and wives of the Trojans,
Asking for news of their friends, — of child and brother and husband,
Hector commanded them unto the gods to make their petition,
All of them, each in her turn ; but grief was appointed for many.
Presently he was arrived at the beautiful palace of Priam.
It was adorned with porches of polished columns. Within it
Chambers, fifty in number, of shining marble were builded;
Close at the side of each other they stood ; and there did the princes
Dwell with their lawful wives. On the innermost side of the courtyard.
Opposite, stood the abode of the married daughters of Priam,
Twelve roofed chambers of shining marble, and close to each other.
There had the daughters of Priam their home, with the men they had wedded.
There his bountiful mother came forth to receive him, and with her
Led she Laodice, who was the fairest in face of her daughters.
Closely she clung to his hand, and thus in words she addressed him :
“ Child, why is it you come, deserting the furious combat ?
Hard pressed surely are ye by the hateful sons of the Argives
Struggling about our town; and your own spirit has brought you
Hither, to lift your hands unto Zeus from the heights of the city.
Yet pray wait till I bring you the wine that is sweeter than honey;
So you may pour a libation to Zeus and the other immortals
First, and then ’t were well for you yourself if you quaffed it.
Mightily wine increases the strength of a man exhausted,
Even as you are exhausted by strife in defense of your dear ones.”
Then unto her made answer the great bright-helmeted Hector:
“ Proffer me not the delightsome wine, O reverend mother,
Lest, you enfeeble my limbs, and my force and my strength be forgotten.
Yet uneleansed are my hands. I fear me to pour in libation
Gleaming wine unto Zeus. To the cloudwrapt monarch of heaven
I, who with gore am beflecked, may dare not to make my petition.
But do you go yourself to the fane of Athene the Spoiler;
Gather the aged dames, and carry your offerings with you.
Ay, and a robe in your hall that is lying, the fairest and largest,
Dearest of all to your heart, you must also bear to the temple.
Lay this over the knees of the fair-tressed goddess Athene.
Promise her, too, you will slay twelve oxen for her in the temple,
Sleek, that know not the goad, if she will have pity upon you,
Saving the Trojans’ wives, their helpless children, and city.
If she afar from sacred Troy will hold Diomedes,
That undaunted spearman, the savage, the rouser of terror.
So do you go your ways to the fane of Athene the Spoiler;
I myself am going to seek and to call Alexandros,
If he perchance be willing to heed me. Yet were it better
Earth should yawn for him ! Truly the lord of Olympus has made him
Source of woe unto Troy, and to Priam the brave and his children.
Gladly indeed unto Hades’ gate would I see him descending.
Then would I say that my heart had a joyless sorrow forgotten.”
So did he speak; but the mother returned to her home, and commanded
Straightway her maids, who assembled the aged dames of the city.
Hecabè down to her odorous treasure-chamber descended;
There wore the garments richly embroidered, the labor of women,
Wrought by Sidonian women, whom Alexander the godlike
Brought from Sidon with him, as the widewayed water he traversed,
Homeward sailing to Troy with Helena daughter of princes.
One robe Hecabè lifted, and brought as a gift to Athene:
This was the one of them all most fairly embroidered and largest ;
Brightly it shone as a star, and under the rest, it was lying.
Forth she fared, and the ancient dames in multitude followed.
When they were come to Athene’s fane on the heights of the city,
She of the beautiful cheeks, Theano the daughter of Kisseus,—
She who was wife to the knightly Antenor,— Opened the portal,
Since she had been of the Trojans appointed Athene’s priestess.
They, with a prayerful wail, all raised their hands to Athene,
While bright-faced Theano uplifted the robe and bestowed it
Over the knees of the fair-tressed goddess Athene; and loudly
Unto the daughter of Zeus supreme she made her petition.
“ Royal Athene, the saver of towns, O goddess divinest,
Break, I pray, Diomedes" lance, and grant that the hero
Prone in the dust shall lie, at the Scæan gate of the city.
So that to thee straightway twelve kine we will slay in thy temple,
Sleek, that know not the goad, if thou wilt have pity upon us,
Saving the Trojans’ wives, their helpless children, and city.”
Thus she prayed: but Athene tossed her head in refusal.
While to the daughter of Zeus most high they made their petition,
Hector had come meantime to the beautiful palace of Paris;
This Alexander himself had built, with the craftiest workmen, —
Best of the builders were they in the fertile land of the Troad.—
Near unto Priam’s and Hector’s home, on the heights of the city.
Hector, beloved of Zeus, passed into the palace, and with him
Carried his spear, full six yards long; and brightly before him
Glittered the point of bronze, and the golden circlet upon it.
Paris he found in his chamber, preparing his beautiful armor.
Shield and breastplate, and testing his bended bow and his arrows.
Argive Helen was sitting among her women attendants.
Glorious works of the loom her maidens wrought at her bidding.
Hector reproached his brother in words of scorn as he saw him:
“ Sirrah, it is not well to cherish your anger within you.
Perishing now are the people about our city and rampart,
Waging the strife; but for your sake only the battle and war-cry
Rages around our town; and you would be wroth with another,
If you should find him skulking afar from the hateful encounter.
Up, then, ere our homes with devouring flames shall be kindled!
Then, in reply to his brother, thus spake Alexander the godlike:
“ Hector, indeed you reproach me, with justice, no more than I merit.
Therefore to you will I speak, and do you give attention and hearken,
Not out of rage at the Trojans so much, nor yet in resentment
Here in my chamber I sate, but I wished to give way to my sorrow.
Yet even now my wife, with gentle entreaty consoling,
Bade me go forth to the fray, and I, too, think it is better.
Victory comes unto this one in turn, and again to another.
Tarry a moment, I pray, till I don mine armor for battle;
Or, do you go, and I will pursue, and, I think, overtake you.”
So did he speak; and to him bright-helmeted Hector replied not.
Helen, however, with gentlest accents spoke and addressed him,
“ Brother of mine, — of a wretch, of a worker of evil, a horror!
Would that the selfsame day whereon my mother had borne me,
I had been seized and swept by the furious breath of the storm-wind
Into the mountains, or else to the sea with its thundering billows.
There had I met my doom, ere yet these deeds were accomplished!
Or, as the gods had appointed for me this destiny wretched,
Truly I wish I had been with a man more valorous wedded,
Who would have heeded the scorn of the folk and their bitter resentment.
Never a steadfast spirit in this man abides, nor will it
Ever hereafter be found; and methinks his reward will be ready! —
Nay, but I pray you to enter, and here on a chair to be seated,
Brother, for on your heart most heavily laid is the burden
Wrought by my own base deeds and the sinful madness of Paris.
Evil the destiny surely that Zeus for us twain has appointed,
Doomed to be subjects of song among men of a far generation.”
Then unto her made answer the great bright-helmeted Hector:
“ Helena, bid me not sit,— nor will you, tho’ gracious, persuade me.
Eagerly yearns my spirit to fight in defense of the Trojans,
While among them there is longing already for me in my absence.
This one I pray you to rouse, and let him make haste for himself, too,
So he may yet overtake me before I depart from the city,
Since I am now on my way to my home, in the hope I may find there
Both my wife and my infant son, and the rest of my household:
For if again I may come returning in safety I know not,
Or if already the gods by the hands of Achanins shall slay me.”
He, so speaking, departed, — the great bright-helmeted Hector.
Presently into his own well-builded palace he entered.
Yet his wife, white-armed Andromache, was not within it.
She with her infant child and her fair-robed maid had departed.
Now on the tower at the gate she stood, and bewailed and lamented.
Hector, when he had found not the blameless lady within doors,
Came and stood at the threshold, and thus did he speak to his servants :
“Tell me, I pray you, O serving-maidens, the truth with exactness.
Whither is lovely Andromache out of her palace departed ?
Is she then gone to the home of my brothers’ wives, or my sisters’,
Or did she fare to the shrine of the goddess Athene, where others,
Fair-tressed Trojan dames, are appeasing the terrible goddess ? ”
Then made answer to him their faithful housekeeper, saying:
“ Hector, since you have bidden us tell you the truth with exactness,
Not to your sisters’ home, nor your brothers’ wives’ she departed,
Nor did she go to the shrine of the goddess Athene, where others,
Fair-tressed Trojan dames, are appeasing the terrible goddess.
But to the tower of Ilios sped she, since it was told her
Hard were the Trojans prest, and great was the might of the Argives.
Therefore she in her eager haste has rushed to the rampart
Like one crazed ; and the nurse, with the boy in her arms, went also.”
So did the servant reply, and Hector rushed from the palace,
Back by the well-built ways, and the path he so lately had traversed.
So through the city he passed, and came to the Scæan gateway,
Where he intended forth to the plain and the battle to sally.
There did his bounteous wife, Andromache, running to meet him
Come, — Andromache, child of Eëtion, fearless in spirit.
He, Eëtion, dwelt at the foot of deep-wooded Plakos,
King of Cilician folk in Thebè under the mountain,
She was his daughter, and wife unto brazenhelmeted Hector.
So she came and met him, and with her followed the servant,
Clasping the innocent boy to her bosom, — yet but an infant,
Hector’s well-loved child, — and brightly he shone as a star shines.
Hector Scamandrios called him, the others Astyanax named him,
—Prince of the city, — for Hector alone was Ilios’ bulwark.
Smiling the father stood, as he looked at his son, and in silence.
Close to his side, with a tear in her eye, Andromache, pressing,
Clung to her husband’s hand, and thus she spoke and addressed him :
“ Ah me, surely your prowess will slay you! Nor will you have pity,
Not for your helpless child, nor yet for myself the ill-fated.
Soon I of you shall be robbed. Erelong the Achaians will slay you,
All of them rushing upon you ! And truly, for me it were better,
When I of you am bereft, to go down to the grave. Nor hereafter
May consolation be mine, when once your doom is accomplished,
Only laments ! No father have I, nor reverend mother.
Well do you know how godlike Achilles murdered my father,
When he had sacked our city, that well-built town of Cilieians,
Thebè with lofty gates; and Eëtion also he murdered,
Though he despoiled him not, since that he dreaded in spirit.
There did the victor burn his body, in beautiful armor.
He, too, heaped up a mound ; and the elms are growing about it,
Set by the Oreads, sprung from Zeus, who is lord of the ægis.
Seven my brethren were, who together abode in the palace.
All on a single day passed down to the dwelling of Hades,
Each of them slain by the sword of the fleetfooted, godlike Achilles, —
They, and the white-fleeced sheep, and the herds of slow-paced oxen.
Lastly, my mother, who ruled as queen under deep-wooded Plakos:
Though he had led her hither along with the rest of his booty,
Yet he released her again, and accepted a bountiful ransom.
Then, in the hall of her father, the huntress Artemis slew her.
Hector, so you are to me both father and reverend mother;
You are my brother as well, and you are my glorious husband.
Pray have pity upon me, and tarry you here on the rampart,
Lest you may leave as an orphan your boy, and your wife as a widow.
Order your people to stand by the fig-tree, since upon that side
Easier gained is the wall, and exposed to assault is the city.
(Certainly thrice already the bravest have come to attempt it:
Ajax the less and the greater, renowned Idomeneus with them,
Tydeus’ valorous son, and both of the children of Atreus.
Whether because some man well skilled in augury bade them,
Or it may chance that their own hearts urged and impelled them to do it.”)
Then unto her made answer the great bright-helmeted Hector:
“Surely for all these things, my wife, am I troubled, but greatly
Shamed were I before Trojans and longrobed Trojan matrons,
If like a coward I lingered afar from the war and the battle.
Nor has my heart so bade me, because I have learned to be always
Valiant and ready to fight in the foremost line of our people.
Striving to win high fame, for myself and for Priam my father.
This, too, well do I know,—in my heart and my soul it abideth :
Surely a day shall come when the sacred city shall perish,
Priam himself, and the folk of Priam the valorous spearman.
Yet far less do I grieve for the Trojans’ sorrows hereafter,
Even the woes of Hecabè’s self, and of Priam the monarch,
Or for the fate of my brethren, though many will perish undaunted,
Falling prone in the dust by the hands of the merciless foemen, —
Less do I grieve for all this than for you, when a warrior Achaian
Leads you lamenting away, for the day of your freedom is ended.
Then as another’s slave at the loom you will labor in Argos,
Or from the spring Hypereia draw water, or else from Messeis,
Oft in reluctance, because compulsion is heavy upon you.
Then, as von weep, perchance’t will be said by one who shall see you,
‘ You is Hector’s wife, who still among knightly Trojans
Bravest proved in the fray, when Troy was with battle encircled.’
So some day they will speak, and again will the pain be repeated,
Since of so faithful a husband bereft you suffer in bondage.
Verily dead may I be, and the earth heaped heavy upon me,
Ere I may hear thy cry, or behold thee dragged by the foemen.”
Speaking thus, for his son reached out the illustrious Hector;
Yet he backward recoiled on the breast of the faithful attendant,
Crying aloud in his fright at the sight of his father belovèd.
’T was by the brazen mail and the horsehair plume he was frightened.
Seeing it nodding so fiercely adown from the crest of his helmet.
Then out laughed the affectionate father and reverend mother.
Presently now the illustrious Hector lifted his helmet
Off from his head ; on the ground he laid it, resplendently gleaming.
When he had tossed in his arms his wellloved son, and caressed him,
Then unto Zeus and the other immortals he made his petition:
“ Zeus, and ye other immortals, I pray you that even as I am
So this boy may become preëminent over the Trojans,
Mighty and fearless as I, and in Ilios rule by his prowess !
May it hereafter be said, ‘ He is better by far than his father ! ’
When he returns from the fray with the blood-stained armor of heroes,
When he has smitten the foe, and gladdened the heart of his mother.”
So did he speak ; and into the arms of his wife, the belovèd,
Laid he the boy, and she in her fragrant bosom received him,
Laughing with tears in her eyes. Her husband was moved as he saw her :
“ Dear one, be not for me so exceedingly troubled in spirit.
No one against Fate’s will shall send me untimely to Hades.
None among mortal men his destiny ever evadeth, —
Neither the coward nor hero, when once his doom is appointed.
Pray you, go to your home, and there give heed to your duties,
Tasks of the loom and the spindle, and lay your commands on the servants,
So they may work your will. Let men take thought for the combat,
All — I most of them all — whoso are in Ilios native.”
So having spoken, illustrious Hector took up the helmet,
Horsehair-crested. The faithful wife had homeward departed,
Turning ever about, and fast were her tears down dropping.
Presently now to her palace she came, that so fairly was builded,
Home of Hector, destroyer of heroes : many a servant
Found she within, and among them all she aroused lamentation.
They in his home over Hector lamented, while yet he was living,
Since they believed he would come no more from the battle returning,
Nor would escape from the hands and might of the valiant Achaians.

These three women, Hecabè, Helen, and Andromache, appear again in the closing scenes of the drama. Hecabè in particular is seen quite frequently in the later books; and yet, she does not appeal to us, as the type of motherhood in bereavement, by any means so powerfully as might be expected. In fact, the dignity even of her queenly position is sadly lessened in our eyes, perhaps in the eyes of the ancient Greeks, by her apparently contented acquiescence in the conditions of a polygamous household. Sometimes she seems little better than the head of an Oriental harem. For example, in the last book, Priam, endeavoring to move Achilles’ heart to pity, speaks as follows, with no touch of shame, feeling only the pathos of his own loss: —

Fifty numbered my sons when to Llios came the cehaians:
Nineteen borne of a single mother to me, and the others
Children of women that dwelt in my royal abode; but already
Now are the knees of the most by Ares the furious broken.

Such a half-brother, Gorgythion, falls at Hector’s side in one of the earlier combats of the poem, and his mother, Castianeira, is there spoken of as “ wedded,” by Priam, “ from Thrace, and like the goddesses in beauty.”

Yet worse remains : when Hector tarries alone outside the town to face the enraged Achilles, Priam and Hecabè lean from the wall together, bidding him have pity on their gray hairs and come within the gates ; and Priam says : —

Nay, even now two sons, Pol yd urns and also Lycaon,
I am unable to see as the host throngs into the city.
These Laothoe hore unto me, — most noble of women.
If they still are alive in the Argive encampment, surely
They shall be ransomed with gold and with bronze, for within is abundance.
Large was the dower illustrious Altes gave with his daughter.
If they already are dead and abide in the dwelling of Hades,
Bitter the sorrow will be to my heart and the mother who bore them.

It is hard to believe that the poet who created Andromache is unconscious how much he is weakening Hecabè’s hold upon our sympathies. There is, nevertheless, real pathos in her words, which presently follow, though they are but a brief pendant to a much longer appeal of Priam.

Tearing open her robe and revealing her breast with the one hand,
bo she a tear let fall, and in wingèed words she addrest him:
” Hector, my child, this bosom revere, and have pity upon me !
If with my breast I evei’ have made thee forgetful of sorrows,
Now be mindful thereof, dear child, and, avoiding the foeman,
Enter within our walls ; stand not thus forward to meet him.
Merciless is he, and if he shall slay thee, never, my darling,
I and thy bounteous wife on thy bed shall lay thee, lamenting :
Yon by the Argive vessels the swift-footed dogs will devour thee.”

When her worst forebodings have been realized, and Achilles drags Hector’s lifeless body behind his chariot as he drives exultantly shoreward, the pitiful group “ in the chamber over the gate ” is again brought distinctly into view, as it were to complete the picture.

And the mother
Tore her hair, and flung far from her the beautiful head-dress,
When she beheld her son, and loud and shrill she lamented.
Pitiful, too, was the father’s wail, and about him the people,
Everywhere in the city, to moaning and weeping betook them.

But here again the father is unmistakably the chief figure. He can hardly be restrained in his frenzy from rushing forth at the gates to share his son’s doom. He fully realizes now that Hecter was most dear to him among all his children. Though so many of his sons have fallen at Achilles’ hands, he mourns for Hector more than for all the rest. He wishes he might at any rate have held him dying in his arms : —

“So we at least had sated ourselves with weeping’ and wailing,
I myself, and the evil-fated mother who bore him.”
So did he make his moan, and the townsmen groaning responded.
Then the Trojan women lamented, and HecaM led them :
“ Wretched am I, my child ! Why am I alive in my sorrow ?
Low thou liest in death, who by night and by day in our city
Ever my pride hast been, and to all our people a blessing,
Both to the men and the women of Troy. By all thou wert greeted
Like to a god: and indeed thou wert their honor and glory
During thy life ! Yet now thy death and doom are accomplished.”

It illustrates excellently the wise moderation and simplicity of the greatest artists, that Andromache is not present as a witness of Hector’s unworthy flight and death. At this point we have again a glimpse of her home-life, which is clearly intended to recall that memorable earlier scene in which she appeared.

But Andromache knew not
Yet of her Hector’s fate. No messenger came with the tidings,
Saying her husband had tarried outside of the gate of the city.
She was weaving a web, in the inmost room of her palace,
Twofold, purple, and many a flower she broidered upon it.
Unto the serving-maids in her hall she had given commandment
Over the fire to set a mighty tripod, that Hector
Might have water, to bathe, when homeward he came from the battle.
Hapless one ! for she knew not that he, far, far from the bathing,
Under Achilles’ hands by keen-eyed Pallas was vanquished.
Then from the tower she heard the shrieks and the voice of lamenting.
Trembling seized on her body, the shuttle was dropt from her fingers.
Straightway unto her fair-tressed servingmaids she commanded:
“ Come ye twain with me to behold what deeds are accomplished.
That was the voice of my husband’s reverend mother. Within me
Up to the lips my heart doth leap, and my knees are enfeebled ;
Surely calamity now draws nigh to the children of Priam.
Would that the tidings never might come to my earn ! But I fear me
Terribly, lest bold Hector alone by the godlike Achilles
Be cut off from the city, and unto the plain may be driven.
So ere now hath he ended the perilous pride that possessed him,
Since he never would stay in the midst of the ranks of his people.
Far to the vanward he hastened, in hardihood yielding to no man.”
Such were her words, and out of the hall as if frantic she darted.
Wildly her heart was throbbing; and with her followed the maidens.
When to the battlements she was come, and the throng of the people,
There on the rampart taking her stand she gazed, and beheld him
Dragged in front of the town, and the swifthooved steeds of Achilles
Merciless drew him along to the hollowed ships of the Argives.
Over her eyes like a veil descended the darkness of Hades.
Backward she fell in a swoon, and her soul fled out of her body.
Far from her head she cast the shining adornment upon it,
— Frontlet, and net for the hair, and headband skillfully plaited,
Even her veil, — ‘t was a gift from Aphrodite the golden,
On that day whereon bright-helmeted Hector had led her
Out of Eëtion’s hall, having furnished numberless bride-gifts.
Round her gathered the sisters of Hector, and wives of his brothers.
They in their midst upheld her, who nigh unto death was distracted.
When she again drew breath, and her soul had returned to her body,
Heavily sobbing she cried, in the midst of the women of Troia,
“ Hector! ill-fated am I! to the self-same doom we were nurtured,
Both of us: you in Troy, in the royal palace of Priam,
I in Tbebè, under the deep-wooded mountain of Plakos.
There in Eëtion’s hall, who reared me when I was little!
Wretched were father and child ! I would I had ne’er been begotten!
— Now unto Hades’ abode in the depths of the earth thou departest.
I am behind thee left, in my bitter bereavement, a widow
Here in our halls : and our boy is yet but an infant and helpless,
Child of ill-starred parents, of me and of thee : and in nowise
Thou, when dead, and he, shall be to each other a comfort.

After some hesitation, a passage of about twenty lines has been omitted at this point from Andromache’s lament. It is a somewhat famous picture of an orphan’s lot. He is described as thrust aside by his father’s friends while they sit at the feast, as beaten, starved, and thirsty. Surely this could not be the lot of Hector’s son while Troy stood unconquered. When Astyanax is directly mentioned, it is as one who had fed “ only on marrow and fat flesh of sheep : ” a strange diet for an infant in the nurse’s arms ! Ancient and modern students are generally agreed that the verses cannot be Homeric. The following lines form the close of the twenty-second book, the central event of which is Hector’s death : —

“ Now by the curving Achaian vessels afar from thy parents,
When thou the hounds hast sated, the writhing worms shall devour thee.
Naked thou art, and yet in our palace the garments are ready,
Delicate beautiful garments, the handiwork of the women.
All these I will destroy in devouring flame : though in nowise
This will be helpful to thee, nor shalt thou within them be lying,
Yet among Trojan women and men it will bring to thee honor.”
— Thus she lamenting spoke, and wailing responded the women.

Only the two closing books of the great epic remain to be mentioned. The twenty-third is chiefly occupied with the games celebrated in Patroclus’ honor. These scenes, naturally, afford little material suited to our present purpose. There is, however, a sinister reminder of the abundance of captive women, doubtless largely of gentle birth, held as prisoners in the camp. For the contest in wrestling, the first prize is a great tripod, intended for use over the fire, and estimated by the Greeks as of twelve oxen’s worth. The “ consolation ” prize for the loser is a woman. Though “ skilled in many tasks,” she is valued only at four oxen. The victor in the chariot-race is to win both a woman and a tripod.

The limitations of space warn us to pass rapidly over the last book of the Iliad, the more as it has been already quite fully discussed in an earlier paper.1 When Priam is commanded by Iris, — who comes at the bidding of Zeus, — to set forth toward the Grecian camp and beg back Hector’s body from Achilles, he consults Hecabè before following his own strong impulse to obey. She thinks the aged king mad to venture thither, and bids him submit to Fate, which from birth has doomed Hector to feed the Grecian hounds with his flesh. She adds a savage wish that she herself might fasten upon and devour the vitals of Achilles. (Perhaps the passage was the starting point of that strange later legend, that Hecabe was actually transformed into a dog.) When her warnings fail to check the determination of Priam, she gives him no aid in selecting the treasures which may move the victor’s heart. Just as his chariot is made ready for the perilous journey, she appears in the courtyard, in her hand a golden cup filled with wine. This she bids Priam pour in libation, and also urges him to pray for a favorable omen, which is straightway accorded, in the form of an eagle.

It is Cassandra, Hector’s sister, who first descries the father returning next morning with the body of his son. All the folk of Troy, women and men, meet the bier without the gates. After the arrival at the hero’s home, he is lamented by the three noble dames, Andromache, Hecabè and Helen. The wife dwells chiefly on her son’s loss of a father, and forebodes the violent death which actually befell Astyanax in the sack of Troy. The mother is assured that Hector, her own dearest son, was dear to the gods as well, and seems to think his present lot less bitter than the slavery into which his captive brethren have been sold beyond the sea : —

Fresh and dewy before me now in thy hall thou art lying-,
Like unto one who is slain by the shining archer Apollo,

that is, one who has met a sudden and painless death. Helen, whose appearance here, though perhaps surprising, is certainly very effective, pays a more direct tribute than the others to the dead prince. She has lost the one steadfast friend she had among this alien folk. Priam indeed has always treated her with gentle courtesy, — as we have observed for ourselves in the first scene upon the wall, — but Hector, himself ever courteous, had also restrained the unkind tongues of his kin. (There is a passing hint that the queen mother had not spared the feelings of this unwelcome and unwedded daughter-in-law.) And then, after brief mention of Hector’s obsequies, the curtain finally falls.

In regard to this trio, Andromache, Hecabè, Helen, as well as the less prominent women of the Iliad, it should be kept in mind that they are not intended to become, even for the time being, the chief object of interest. Each of them might indeed be so treated, — and in fact every one of the three was so treated, — in an Attic tragedy. But here they are, so to speak, not sculptured in the round, and refuse to be viewed as complete character - studies. Though drawn in firm and strong outlines, by a master’s hand, they bear to the great temple of epic song merely the relation of figures in the frieze, or of the group upon a metope. One object of such a special study as the present paper is, to induce the reader to observe these same figures more carefully in their proper connection and environment, as component parts of the whole poem.

The Greeks reserved their highest admiration for devoted friendship between men. Hence the love of Achilles and Patroclus held the loftiest place in the appreciation of the classic people. The wedded happiness of Hector and Andromache appeals, it may be, more powerfully to us than to Homer’s first hearers, certainly far more strongly than it did to Athenians of the fifth or fourth century B. C. Doubtless it was partly this feeling that led to the inclusion of Hector, not Achilles, among the three pagan knights, who with three Jewish heroes and three Christian champions, were held up for admiration in mediæval times as ideals of chivalry. Andromache is not, however, dwarfed or overshadowed even by her heroic and patriotic lord.

Of Helen this is not the place to speak at length. She can hardly be treated at all without the inclusion of the scene where she reappears, in the Odyssey, radiant, fascinating, and happy, despite all these years of shame, the well-loved wife of a contented Menelaus ! Indeed, her figure is so frequently seen in later literature, of ancient and modern times, that it would not be easy to stop short of Goethe’s Helena.2

We have already indicated our feeling, that the epic treatment has weakened, doubtless intentionally weakened, our natural sympathy with the sorrows of Hecabè. The poet probably always remembers that he is himself a Greek. Certainly he always keeps it before us, that not only Paris, but Troy, is utterly in the wrong. And it is above all else the weak devotion and submission of the royal parents to Paris’ lawless desire, that draws down ruin upon all Ilios as well as upon himself. It may be that the polygamous life of the palace is to be thought of as aiding in blinding their eyes to the inexpiable nature of the wrong done to Menelaus,

These impressions are set down with somewhat more confidence, because we find, present in the poem, a purer, more beautiful, and, upon the whole, a more pathetic figure of motherhood in sorrow, than that of Hecabè. It is a character which at first thought may seem to lie beyond the limits of our announced subject. I mean the mother of Achilles.

Homer’s divinities in general do not appear to me to be taken quite seriously even by their creator. Though we may not feel all the grim earnestness of Plato as we watch their actions, we can hardly fail to agree with him, that they are surprisingly bad models of behavior to set before the youthful mind. The childish temper of the goddesses, in particular, culminates in the astonishing scene of the twenty-first book, where nearly all the divinities take part, in almost ludicrous fashion, with Greeks or Trojans in the fray. Hera, irritated by a bold word from Artemis’ lips, seizes both the maiden’s wrists in her left hand, and with the right

Smiling Beat her over the ears, while this way and that she was turning.

The weapon used in this chastisement is the huntress’ own bow and quiver, and the arrows fall meanwhile far and wide in the dust. Presently, when released, the archer-maid flies for comfort to her august father, who, smiling, holds her upon his knee while she bitterly complains of his ill-tempered spouse, — mother Leto meantime carefully gathering up the scattered arrows. Of this remarkable family we are content to see little more, as the epic gathers yet greater dignity and force through the closing books.

But Thetis is hardly of their kin, in no sense of their kind; and though she is a divinity, dwelling with the rest of her race in the depths of the sea, it is in a wholly human relation and character that she so often meets us in the Iliad.

As to the unique and undying charm of the silvery-footed Nereid, we appeal fearlessly to every schoolboy. (That is, to Macaulay’s schoolboy, whom we may fitly set here to face the New Zealander invoked in our prologue.) Any one who has read the tale, no matter how painfully scanned through the darkened window of a Greek text, cannot have forgotten the thrill of pleasure, the full assurance that we were indeed in the land of Enchantment, that came over us at the point where Achilles’ tearful appeal upon the lonely strand is instantly answered :

And his reverend mother did hear him Where in the depths of the sea by her ancient sire she was sitting.


Like a mist from the brine she uprises,

yet the goddess is at once lost in the mother as she takes her place beside her mortal son. And under her caressing hand the strong-souled warrior is again but a weeping boy at that mother’s knee. He gladly obeys her bidding to repeat to her all the story of his wrongs, though well aware that she is already as familiar with it as himself. In his appeal for her intercession, we catch a glimpse of that marvelous childhood in the royal halls of Thessaly, and yet beyond we hear also the murmur of strange discord in the divine world, which could hardly have come, save through her lips, even to the ears of the inspired bard. For Achilles recalls to his mother how in childhood he had heard her tell that she alone had once saved the tottering throne of Zeus, when brother, wife, and favorite daughter conspired against him and would have compassed his downfall. Yet even this reminder of her wondrous power is offered only as a reason why she may well intercede at Zeus’ knees for justice to her child. The tears of mother and son are for a moment commingled, and she bitterly bewails the day when she bore him to brief life and a grievous doom. And it was in truth utterly against her own will, doubtless through actual guile and force combined, that this free daughter of the billowy sea had submitted to a mortal husband. (We must abandon all such graceful fancies as that of Catullus, that the youthful Peleus and the Nereid, ageless and deathless forever, were smitten with sudden love and longing for each other when first the Argo startled the sea nymphs in waters never disturbed before by mortal wayfarers.) Yet once wedded, and a mother, she tarried with seeming content in the abode of the human father of her Achilles. It may be well to assure a modern reader that she is no mere elemental spirit, like the Undines of our northern world of myth, who acquire a soul and hope of immortality from this union with man. The divinities of the Greeks are like mankind; in fact, early poets assure us that they were sprung from the same source. But the differences are wholly in the favor of the divine natures, who lack nothing which man has to bestow.

It was doubtless only the bond of maternal love that detained Thetis in Peleus’ home, for now that Achilles is in the Troad, she also has returned to Nereus’ submarine palace in this quarter of the Ægean, to be ever close at hand in her son’s time of need.

At the earliest possible moment, Thetis does betake herself to snowy Olympus, and obtains from Zeus the promise of just vengeance upon Agamemnon. Here the temptation lies especially near, to interpret her as the mere embodied type of mother - love itself, traversing sea, earth, and heaven in her devotion, and interceding at the very throne of grace for suffering, wronged humanity. But such a fancy is no doubt foreign to the intention of the poet, for whom she is as real a person as any actor in the tale.

Wherever she reappears, it is because the same chord of maternal affection is struck. Everywhere we see the silvery flash of her tireless feet, the tender grace of divine motherhood, the sad prescience of mourning soon to be. The most learned critic of antiquity erased three lines from his edition of the poem, because they laid upon her lips a sentiment unworthy of the mother.

Her most important later appearance is when she comes to console Achilles for Patroclus’ death, and thence departs to Hephaistos’ abode on Olympus, in quest of fresh armor to replace that stripped by Hector from Patroclus slain. It is with a heavy heart that she thus proceeds to equip her hero for his last and greatest exploit, for she has just reminded Achilles: —

Shortlived truly, my child, thou ’It be, from the words thou hast uttered,
Since at once after Hector for thee too death is appointed.

The culminating scene of Thetis’ life as a mother does not come within the limits of our subject, for Achilles is yet alive when the poem closes. This very fact, however, may serve to emphasize what has been said elsewhere, that the pathetic characters of the Iliad exist not for their own sake, but purely to serve the requirements of the epic plot. From a special study like the present essay it is peculiarly desirable to return to a thoughtful perusal of the poem as a whole. And the phrase is chosen advisedly. There is no more imperative duty for the teacher of literature, than to encourage the study of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and indeed of all other great poems, as wholes : as the masterpieces of ideal artists, appealing, like a Madonna Sistina or a heaven-piercing Gothic spire, to the noblest of human faculties, the imagination.

Neither the arguments nor the masterly English translations of the two older friends to whom I am most indebted for encouragement and sympathy, Mr. Charles Eliot Norton and Mr. George Herbert Palmer, have convinced me that prose is the proper form into which to translate a poem, particularly a sustained effort like an epic. One point seems to me not sufficiently emphasized in any discussion I have noted, namely, the importance of the line as a natural unit of measure for the thought. Any verse becomes unbearably artificial and wearisome to poet and hearer which is not of an approximately fit length for the ordinary, the average sentence or clause of the language in question.

Aristotle remarks that the iambic trimeter, the twelve-syllable verse of Greek tragedy, is the metrical form nearest to the language of prose, and intimates that this is the cause of its great success and vogue in Greek drama. The English speech, having lost its inflectional endings, usually needs only ten syllables, at most. Hence the persistent life of our “ blank verse,” and of rhymed combinations of the same unit. The “ heroic couplet,” however, passed out of use to a great extent in England with the coming of a less artificial poetic school, because its instantly recurring rhyme compels the expenditure of twenty syllables upon the expression of a single thought. This requires either padding of a feeble kind, —chiefly adjectives, — or else the composition of a second line carrying an idea purely tributary to that uttered in the preceding verse. An amusing instance of the former weakness was pointed out long ago, in the opening lines of Pope’s Iliad, where two syllables can be excised from almost any line, with no appreciable loss to the thought. For example,

“ Achilles’ wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumbered, heavenly goddess, sing! ”

Of course a spring of unnumbered woes is direful; of course a goddess is heavenly. So, to the tune of Scott,

Achilles’ wrath, to Greece the spring
Of woes unnumbered, goddess, sing !

The other fault, a very serious one in a translator, I have myself already remarked upon as illustrated at the other end of Pope’s famous original poem on the Trojan war.

“Such honors Ilium to her hero paid;
And peaceful slept the mighty Hector’s shade.”

The first line may pass as a rather free version of

So they made ready a grave for Hector the
tamer of horses.

The last verse is not Homeric, nor Greek at all; nor can any one tell why the “shade” should “peaceful sleep” because the body is laid in the ground.

Dante’s Commedia is composed in lines of about eleven syllables. The loss of music and grace in a transfer to English is a most discouraging one. I never yet knew any one who learned to love or admire the poem first through Longfellow’s version. But the ideas, — Mr. Norton says we can bring over little more in any case, — are there. More than this, Longfellow offers us the poet’s thoughts in orderly succession. We confess that with all the superior faithfulness and taste of Mr. Norton’s own version, despite his Dantesque accuracy in choosing the one fit word, we are often bewildered, often wearied, by the weighty thoughts falling thick and fast without the recurrent pause between. We miss the division into lines, because it was a fit and natural division.3

And now, to apply all this to the case in hand. It has been already conceded that the Homeric hexameter is too long for an ordinary English sentence. That is alone enough to condemn it for use in a sustained original poem. Evangeline is not loved for its metre. Clough’s Bothie is rugged reading. Kingsley’s Andromeda is better metrically, but is a mere classical experiment in artificial form. These are not encouraging examples, and will hardly he largely followed.

In the problem of translating Homer, however, the question is both simpler and more difficult. The thoughts are furnished us, the amount a line shall express is fixed. The fatal defect of all versions in blank verse is that this unit of measure, the line, cannot be retained, and so the form of the thought is broken up. Ten English syllables cannot be made to hold the thought of the average Homeric verse. All translators make from a fifth to a half more lines. I tried laboriously to make such line-for-line versions for the essay on the Closing Scenes of the Iliad, and succeeded for just twenty - one successive verses. In many passages it would be absurd to attempt it.

Now, granting all the metrical and musical diversity between the two languages, it will doubtless still be conceded, that an English dactylic line, when successful, is, at least, a closer echo of the Homeric verse than anything else in our rhythmical armory. It was indeed a somewhat long line even for early Greek needs. Hence the frequent repetitions, the fixed epithets, etc., which are saved from the stigma of “padding’ only by their unfailing grace and fitness. But here, — if anywhere, — the final solution of the translator’s Homeric question is to be found. The resonant Latin element of our vocabulary must be freely drawn upon. The earlier freedom of forming fresh compounds might be cautiously revived. The naive repetitions and epithets of Homer should be fearlessly retained. Perhaps successive generations of humanistic scholars will have to use and improve upon the results of their predecessors, as Mr. Palmer both practices and advises. Perchance a great master of poetic forms will suddenly arise to show us how simple a thing it is to translate Homer, by simply doing it.

William Cranston Lawton.

  1. Closing Scenes of the Iliad, Atlantic Monthly, October, 1889.
  2. As for Andrew Lang’s ill-starred collaboration in an audacious continuation of the Homeric story, in the form of a sensational prose romance, he himself realized the impiety of the attempt before it was fairly completed. We can only say Amen to his confession, — and accept his latest volume, in defence of Homer, as a manful palinode.
  3. If any lover of Dante will undertake to recall his favorite passages, he will almost invariably find himself quotingentire lines : “ Quegli & Omero, poeta sovrano,” “ Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’ entrate,” “ Quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante,” and endeavoring to render them in English iambic verse.