Posts Tagged With: Homer

Troy: Fall of a City pt. II ‘Conditions’

If Episode One of Troy: Fall of a City was ordinary then Episode Two was – no, not quite extraordinary, but certainly a lot more enjoyable.

To be fair, enjoyable is probably not the best word to use. Actually, it definitely isn’t. ‘Conditions’ was better because of the tension that arrived with the decision of the Greeks to demand Helen’s return to Menelaus.

That tension was based on one particularly awful scene.

The pan-Hellenic army is stranded on the shore. The priest performs sacrifices to gain the gods’ favour and the wind that will take them to Troy only to be informed by Artemis that their request will only be granted if Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia. The tension that came with this news was palpable. The writer, David Farr, and actors – particularly Johnny Harris as Agamemnon – have to be congratulated for their work in bringing it alive


It’s hard to top a scene involving human sacrifice but Conditions did well with the Trojan reaction to Helen’s arrival. Anger and confusion; vacillation and determination – especially from Priam – this made him look rather wishy-washy but I actually quite liked that approach to his character; it made him more real. This, of course, fits in with the ‘ordinary’ approach to the series – a quiet resolve from Paris and not just regret but desire to make things right from Helen.

Unfortunately for her, she can’t. When the Greeks met Priam they no not only wanted Helen back but, as reparation for the insult given to Menelaus, control of the Dardanelles as well. It started with a woman and will end with politics and economics. How very ancient and modern.

Speaking of which, it did occur to me while watching the episode that this representation of the Trojan War had more than a touch of the First World War about it. Helen, like Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was not the reason for the war, just the excuse. Bigger issues involving politics were at play. Odysseus ordering the Greeks to dig trenches (in preparation for a long siege) also brought the Great War to mind.

Two scenes really stuck out for me in this episode. One was Iphigenia’s death and the other the first clash between the Greeks and Trojans; specifically, the moment when Athena, Aphrodite and, I think Hera as well, walk among the soldiers selecting their favourite soldiers. The dialogue was, perhaps, a little cheesy but I liked this integration of the gods into the story.


Achilles Watch
The man finally appeared! He didn’t say much, but looked mean and determined. He killed someone at the end but only by throwing a spear through their head. Impressive, but Achilles fights up close not at a distance. We have yet to see his rage. Or, for that matter, Patroclus.

Credit Where It’s Due
Aphrodite (Lex King) Walks Among the Trojan Soldiers: Digital Spy

  • This Episode of Troy: Fall of a City is available on the BBC website at iPlayer here for two months after the time of this blog post
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He fervently prayed

Iliad Diary
Day 3

Book I Lines 33-44

In the last post we saw how Agamemnon incurred Apollo’s wrath by refusing to return Chryseis to her father, a priest of the god.

Agamemnon angrily ordered Chryses out of his presence and so today, we meet the latter wandering helplessly ‘along the shore / of the loud-roaring sea’ (L.34-5).

I have just started reading The Mighty Dead by Adam Nicholson, which is sub-titled Why Homer Matters. In it, he notes Homer’s reference to the pontos atrygetos, the unharvestable sea.

The second I saw that phrase I knew exactly what Homer meant: death; the sea is a place of death. In an agrarian culture, something that was unharvestable could be absolutely nothing else.

With this in mind, Homer’s positioning of Chryses next to the sea as he silently – perhaps numbly – contemplates the enslavement of his daughter becomes overwhelmingly sad*. She is now effectively dead to him.

But Chryses isn’t finished, yet. After reaching a self distance from Agamemnon, or – I imagine – the Achaeans as a whole – he stops and prays to Apollo that he might ‘take vengeance upon the Danaans for my tears’ (l.44).

Chryses’ prayer to Apollo has a formulaic feel to it. He starts by praising the ‘all-glorious ruler’ before addressing him by a couple of his titles— this stopped me in my tracks, for one of them was ‘Mouse-god’. Mouse god?! Where does this title come from? Is it one of Apollo’s oldest, dating to a time when he had not yet risen to his full dignity? At first sight it seems a name that is more suited to a Disney film than The Iliad.

Having praised Apollo and addressed him in a fitting manner, Chryses invites the god to consider his loyal service. Thus, if I have ever pleased you – please destroy the Achaeans**. It is a brutal prayer but we are visitors to a brutal world.

The Alexander Connection
Alexander prayed often, but never – as far as I can recall – in the way that Chryses does here. He didn’t really need to.

In the next post, we’ll see how Apollo attacked the Achaeans for nine days with his deadly arrows. ‘[T]his plague is killing our men’ (l.62). Alexander was on the road for thirteen years and I can’t think of one outbreak of disease within his camp that threatened it in the way that Apollo’s is about to threaten the Achaeans.

Perhaps Alexander was lucky – it wouldn’t be the first time – but it does seem rather remarkable that it never, ever became an issue for him.

* Later on in the poem we will see Achilles take a similar journey after the all too real death of his beloved friend, Patroclus
**Danaans is term synonymous with Achaeans. Later on, we’ll also find Homer referring to the Achaeans as Argives

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A Deadly Plague

Iliad Diary
Day 2

In my first post you may have noticed that I included an asterisk at the end of the fourth paragraph… and then forgot to add the footnote!

What I said, was ‘With that said, let’s jump into the poem. Book I Lines 1-7. I have chosen these because they comprise Homer’s introduction to his work*.’

And what I meant to add at the end of the post was ‘* I know that Homer, whom some say did not exist at all, is not the creator of The Iliad but the person who is believed to have written the poem, previously transmitted orally, down. I could have paid lip service to this by writing ‘the poet’ or indeed ‘the poets’ but as Homer is the conventionally accepted author of the written Iliad, I will stick with him.’

Alright, with that done, I would like to thank S. Abel-Smith and Silasaila for their comments after the first post. Both pointed out that the goddess to which Homer is referring in line 1 is the Muse. Which one? Perhaps Calliope, the muse of epic poetry.


Book 1 Lines 8-32
To the poem. And it is Apollo, a priest named Chryses and Agamemnon who take centre stage for these 24 lines.

In the first line of The Iliad, Homer asks the Muse to sing through him of the ‘rage of Achilles’ but it is Agamemnon and Apollo who are the first two to people get angry*.

The reason for Apollo’s anger is Agamemnon, and the fact that he has taken Chryses’ daughter, Chryseis, captive. We are not immediately told Chryseis’ age, but though Chryses refers to her as his ‘dear child’, I assume that she is a woman as Agamemnon has taken her to be his concubine. As he tells Chryses,

‘She will grow old in Argos… working the loom and coming to bed when I call her.’

If only Agamemnon knew that he would not enjoy too many visits to his bed when he did finally get home…

… but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Why is Apollo offended by Agamemnon’s actions? Well, as you might suspect, Chryses is not any old Tom, Dick or Achilles. He is one of Apollo’s priests, and Apollo looks after his own.

Thus, when Agamemnon refuses Chryses’ plea to release his daughter, Apollo, in his anger unleashes ‘a deadly plague to the [Achaean] camp’ (L.10).

Agamemnon has acted most unwisely. Chryses even came ‘with a splendid ransom’ (L.12), and was supported in his plea by the Achaean rank and file. But not only did Agamemnon refuse to hand Chryseis over, he threatened to kill Chryses should the priest ever return again. This is a level of disrespect that no Greek god could ever ignore and down come Apollo’s arrows.

Apollo’s response to Agamemnon’s hubris epitomises for me the relationship between the Greeks and their gods: You worship me, and I’ll look out for you.

If Agamemnon is hubristic, Chryses is plain pitiful. We aren’t told this, but I assume that the latter is a Trojan. If so, despite this, when making his plea to Agamemnon, the priest says,

may the gods allow you to plunder Priam’s great city,
then grant you a safe homecoming. But hear my plea.

Priam’s great city – Troy – will have been his life; his wealth, sacrifices, honour – all would have come from there. Now, he is forced to betray it.

Well, yes, he has, but only for love of his daughter. Chryses may be pitiful, therefore, but also noble and brave.

The Alexander Connection
Three aspects of this chapter put me in mind of aspects of Alexander’s life:

  1. Agamemnon’s preparedness to disrespect a priest
  2. Agamemnon’s intention to use Chryseis as a concubine
  3. The ‘disloyalty’ of the Achaean rank and file towards the will of the king

Unlike Agamemnon, Alexander was generally very respectful of religions. We often see him sacrificing to the gods. With that said, his attitude wasn’t of perfect submission to their will, as we see when he ignored the bad omens and crossed the Jaxartes river to fight the Scythians (Arrian IV.4). He was also capable of fighting foreign priests – as he did when he took on the Brahmins (Ar. VI.8, 17). In the last few days on Twitter I have also been reading about how Alexander put the Zoroastrians to the sword. I mention that advisedly as Alexander’s anti-Zoroastianism comes to us from (Zoroastrian) texts relating to Alexander  written a long time after the event – though they may bear witness to an authentic oral tradition.

Agamemnon’s enslavement of Chryseis puts Alexander’s treatment of women in mind. Plutarch (Life of Alexander 21), for example, tells us of the effort Alexander went to in order to take care of the Persian Royal Family. Alexander himself kept no concubine**. To the best of my knowledge, he ignored Darius’ harem after winning the Persian empire and may very well have married Roxane as much for for love as the political benefit that their union would bring (see Arrian IV.19-20).

Finally, the ease with which the Achaean soldiers turned against Agamemnon stands in very stark contrast with the fierce loyalty of the Macedonian army to Alexander. Of course, they revolted twice; once at the Hyphasis river and then at Opis. At the Hyphasis they were simply and very deeply worn out. At Opis they thought Alexander had lost faith in them. They revolted, therefore, for two profound reasons, not over whether Alexander should keep or send a woman away.

* Perhaps I should say ‘the first man and god’
** Bagoas the eunuch is as close as Alexander ever came to keeping a concubine, and I think Alexander loved him (see Athenaeus Deipnosophists XIII.80 here), even if not on the same level as Roxane or Hephaestion

Texts Used
I am reading Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Iliad in e-book form (Phoenix 2013). The Arrian quotations come from my copy of the Penguin Classics (1971) edition

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