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Bert Tells What He Reads
Nederlandse versie

Crtd 14-06-05 Lastedit 16-02-14

 

"... no heaven to receive them ..."
"... the criminal roots of honour and glory ..."
"... poetry with boots on the ground ..."

about author

Ilias, Greek poem (rhythm but no ryme) attributed to Homer, known from about 800 BCE. It deals with the Trojan war (around 1200 BCE, Bronze Age). The poem spread orally. Later, after the Greeks had adopted the Phoenician alphabet it got written down. Thucydides, who may have been using literature now destroyed, gives some more background to the events.

Verse 1: The Briseis standoff

Homer, the poet, leads us to a beach. It is the encampment of a number, in the tens it seems, of rough and frightening gangs, each with quite a scary despotic leader. It looks like every gang arrived here with its own ships, several ships each, big rowing boats with 20 rowers or more. They have a sail too. A primitive rectangular sail. Big rocks at ropes serve as anchors. Everybody heavily armed. But no guns. Their weapons, spears and swords, and their helmets and shields are made of bronze and animal hides. The rest is wood. So, the gear is almost unbearably heavy. But they have the muscle. Where are we? We are told the heroes recently destroyed Thebes, a town near Athens in Greece. They looted it. Took all valuables and the underage girls.

Pest reigns in the beach camp. Calchas, a respected and able seer in the shady company tells everybody this is caused by the god Apollo’s rage about the kidnapping of Chrysis, one of these girls, a daughter of Thebe’s Apollo priest. Calchas suggests that she had better be returned, but he stops short of being totally clear about this because in the division of the booty Chrysis was given to Agamemnon, the commander in chief of the entire group of gangs, also called “king of peoples”. Greek peoples are meant. To make things worse, Agamemnon is very pleased with her. But that Theban priest understandably does not consider Agamemnon a good party for his daughter, nor any other of the heroes on the beach. Due to the pest, endangering the entire mission, Agamemnon agrees, reluctantly, to say the least, to reship Chrysis to Thebes.

Reluctantly to say the least. That he as the commander in chief has to give in and the rest could just keep its share of the booty is Agamemnon holds, unacceptable. He insists being compensated by another one of the girls taken. At first he does not care much whose, but after Achilles has the courage to defend the other girl-holding heroes he knows what he wants: the Theban girl Briseis, given to Achilles.

It strongly seems that Agamemnon feels that Achilles’ vocal resistance is a defiance of his leadership, and certainly that he suspects, as I do myself, that Achilles and Calchas are cooperating in secret, which opens the possibility that seer Calchas might even have liked to "see" that it was Agamemnon, no one else, who had to give in. Achilles proposes to give Agamemnon a firm compensation when dividing the booty of the next town on the target list: Troy, a town at what now is the Turkish side of the Aegean Sea, near the entrance to the Black Sea. He adds that he has nothing against the Trojans, and has come just out of loyalty to Agamemnon. Of course we wonder whence Achilles, obviously just a professional criminal like the rest, derives his loyalty, and why and for what purpose his help is needed. Neither does Agamemnon believe in that loyalty: if he wants he can go. He does not give Achilles another way out than kneel: hand in Briseis.

Achilles is about to draw his sword, but the goddess Pallas Athena manages to cool him down in a flash private appearance. Crying bitterly he allows Agamemnon’s shy looking heralds to take Briseis away.

The Briseis-incident has everything of a procedure aimed at disciplining a rebellious warlord, but no one says or thinks that it is time to have another “king of peoples”. Later we shall hear that Achilles judges himself not good in “deliberation”, that the highly respected father of the warrior Patroclus once said the same, and Odysseus will later tell it Achilles again, without meeting objections from the formidable young warrior.

So, we can not assume that is was out of leadership ambitions that Achilles took Agamemnon on, or to hold Agamemnon for stupid enough to see in Achilles a competitor. Yet, later we shall see Calchas, in a moment of crises, acting as Apollo, go all the way by heavily criticizing Agamemnon.

We shall see Homer portraying Agamemnon as an occasionally rather ridiculous figure, for instance when, later, forced to revoke his claim on Briseis he delivers a speech about gods that would have blinded him when he decided to claim the girl, and his indeed laughable registering at the last item of a day of games, javelin-throwing, where Achilles saves Agamemnon from losing his dignity by canceling that competition, giving Agamemnon the first prize, and Greece's top javelin thrower the second, a very good javelin.

But the bottom line remains that nowhere anybody makes anything like a suggestion to change the formal leadership.

For God's sake where are we? Somewhere from Thebes on the way to Troy? What a bunch of thugs. Toddler brains. Chimpanzees. Highly undesirable company. Not ready to be asked to join the EU.

Can you believe it: indeed the pest recedes. But it ravaged the camps. The dead spread an awful stench. Well, one advantage: no shortage of weapons anymore. What’s the plan?

I start to suspect they already crossed the Aegean sea Eastward and landed on a beach near Troy. Achilles vows to let his fellow Greeks pay for letting him loose the standoff with Agamemnon and he is not short of options. His mother, for example, Thetis, is a genuine goddess. He asks her to pay a visit to Zeus, the god in chief, to make a request. His plan is that he, Achilles, will not fight, and it would be nice if Zeus would help the enemy in a mild fashion just enough to thoroughly corner the Greeks. Not to beat them of course. Just scare the hell out of the Greeks by giving the Trojans a worrying advantage. That is all Thetis is begged to ask for.

Thetis does have leverage at the court of the super god Zeus. He had desired her madly, and only refrained from fertilizing her because authorities had predicted the child would be stronger than the father. But you know how it works: what you shy away from carves deeper in your memory than what you do.

But Thetis’ request is a bit tough for Zeus: he fears trouble with his wife, Hera, who is close with the Peloponnesian Greek cities Argos, Mycenae and Sparta where Agamemnon and his kin rule. Nevertheless he promises to do something!

Think of it: Zeus, the god of gods grants the request of his old flame the goddess Thetis to support the scheme of her son, Achilles, who is motivated by anger over being robbed of a female minor that he robbed himself in the first place. 

Verse II: Troy, a world war

In the night, Zeus sends a false dream to Agamemnon: tomorrow is the day, the Trojans can be beaten and their town taken. Agamemnon prepares a full mobilization. This customarily starts with spreading the rumour that we go home: a test. Then on the waves of the army’s protest, “no way!!”, we line up and destroy the enemy. It works: the top echelon turns the soldiers back from the boats, with help of Zeus’ pro-Greek wife Hera and daughter, war goddess Pallas Athena, both seemingly victim of the false-dream-trick as well.

Instead of participating in the excitement, Achilles stretches relaxed on his bed, and his men, the Myrmidons, eager to fight, gnash their teeth on his order to stay in camp, jealously looking at the dust beaten into the air above the fellow Greek camps.

Our dear esteemed poet lists the line up of the Greek and Trojan coalitions. At the Greek side, we find most of the cities of the Greek Peloponnesus, and of an area, roughly the same size, North of it. Homer discerns 29 parties, most of them themselves groups of cities and tribes. At the Trojan side we see all tribes from what is now Bulgaria (Thracians), the Anatolian coast (now West Turkish, but it would take the Turks another two millennia to arrive there), until well past the isle of Rhodes (itself fighting at the Greek side). Even the Phrygians, dwelling near where now is Ankara, came all the way, 800 km or so, to help the Trojans. Somebody seems to have timely and thoroughly rung the bell in the Trojan hinterland. [more about line up]

Can you believe it! And Achilles “only came to help Agamemnon”, he claimed in the Briseis incident. Only after line 161 of this verse the reader is granted a look under the veil and learns about what led to this clash involving the entire world known at the time: the Greeks are at odds with the Trojan Paris, who robbed the wife of Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon, and took her to Troy. This Helena is now his wife. Later it transpires he did so with his “comrades”, and took “treasures” as well. Menelaus seems to have been off. Doing some looting elsewhere himself? Opinions differ about whether or not Helena had reconciled herself with her fate. She herself, deeply uncertain whether in the future she will still be "married" to Paris or be restituted to Menelaus, wisely spreading each of the two words in the appropriate one of each of the two directions.

OK, I regained my nerves a bit and am now ready to take for granted that such robberies and kidnappings of female minors where normal. But how can this explain the start of what, at the time, would count as a world war? The entire area bordering the North East Mediterranean, until hundreds of kilometers deep inland, fighting, the women home alone, and such for nine years already, for we now learn these Greek ships are already that long rotting on this beach. Those robbed female minors must have left their scare behind them a long time ago and should be experienced mothers by now. Or were those Greek heroes all those nine years too occupied with Troy to think of extending their families? Elsewhere the poem is seriously confused and inconsistent as far as counting ships, men, days and years, so let me not count at all. Why anyway?

Agamemnon estimates the Greeks 10 times outnumbering the Trojans. The problem is their allies. How did Agamemnon succeed to rally all those Greeks behind him? How did the Trojans find their allies ready for such a massive build up? All for a woman? By the way, most of the Trojans are at odds with Paris, and there’s a lot of mumbling there that his “wife” Helena had better be returned. Helena later states that she does not, to say the least, feel welcome and accepted in Troy, except within her family, including her brother and her father in “law”, Hector and Priamus.

In sum: on the beach half of Greece, in and around Troy half of Turkey and Bulgaria, all, they claim, for one woman, Helena, serious desertion at the Greek side under the leadership of Achilles, caused by quarrels over some female minors robbed, all regional gods of significance involved. Now the Greeks in battle order due to a false dream sent by super god Zeus to commander in chief king of people Agamemnon, on the request of Achilles, mediated by his mother the goddess Thetis.

More and more, instead of “Helena” we read “Helena and her treasures”. To me this gives slightly more sense to the massiveness of the confrontation. But still far from enough. I suspect that the Trojan allies are panicking thinking of how Troy could get conquered by the Greek and become a Greek bridge head in Anatolia, controlling the narrow passage between the Aegean and Black Sea.

Verse III: Paris survives dishonourably

Troops line up. Yells are heard and the leaders do their pep talks. We’re marching up. Paris, scared like hell, retreats from the front line. His brother Hector scorns him loudly and thoroughly enough to prompt Paris to propose to have the entire issue decided by a personal duel between him and the previous, or if you will, other, or even real husband of Helena, Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon. The winner shall have Helena “and her treasures”. All parties agree!

A field is set out. The ground trembles when muscular desperadoes of all sides throw their weapons down, and wait.

A lot is cast. Paris shall be the first to throw his heavy bronze spear at the even heavier shield of Menelaus. Its head bends. It’s the turn of Menelaus. His spear goes through Paris’ shield and harness!, but Paris moved to the side just enough to have all vital organs spared. Menelaus hacks Paris harness in, I quote, “three, no, four pieces”. In utter rage, Menelaus pulls Paris to the Greek side at his helmet. But Aphrodite, goddess of sex, with whom Paris is in very good standing, causes his helmet’s chin strap to break. Menelaus, baffled, left with the helmet in his hand, Paris … evaporated! Wakes up in a room in Troy, washed neatly. Aphrodite hastens herself to inform Helena and tell her to go there.

The Greeks cry foul and demand Helena and her treasures. Well, it’s rather unclear, no small letters down on the agreement to decide the remarkable case. Nobody reckoned with both surviving the fight, let alone by coward divine intervention.

Even the very construction of the poem is now cracking dangerously. Just give it a thought: the goddess Hera, wife of the super god Zeus, is allied to the family of Agamemnon. She and the goddess Pallas Athena are two peas in a pod. Zeus hates having trouble with his wife, she can be very nasty. But unlike her, he has nothing against Troy. Moreover he promised his old flame the goddess Thetis to fine tune Troy’s fortune up to the level, not of beating the Greeks but of making the Greeks feel they can’t do without the presently deserting Achilles, providing him with the leverage to have a girl returned he robbed in Thebes, now in turn taken from him by Agamemnon.

The god Apollo, furthermore, pro-Troy, ceased throwing pest at the Greeks after they decided to return the robbed daughter of Thebe’s Apollo-priest, but stays firmly at the Trojan side.

Then we have Paris’ close friend and ally the goddess Aphrodite. She is born as follows: to dethrone his father Kronos and become the super god himself, Zeus had to cut off Kronos’ balls so that’s of course what he did as soon as he could. He threw them in the sea. This created a giant foam out of which Aphrodite was born, daughter of Kronos, strictly, sister of Zeus, but she is also called daughter of Zeus, so in those times you may be the father when you are the one throwing the balls, even if they are not your own (It should be said that, since there are many versions of Aphrodite’s birth story, I chose for best quality).

Helena, treated as a kind of booty, near par with her “treasures”, is, I am serious, an extramarital daughter of Zeus himself, married to Menelaus. Her sister is married to Agamemnon. Noble females, in Homer, always have a beautiful stature and are versatile in useful manual crafts such as knitting, weaving and embroidery. They are always sitting at home. When they get kidnapped they are sitting at home again, only in a different home.

Another son of Zeus is the Greek bandit leader Ajax, also called the big Ajax, for there’s also a small Ajax who can run damned fast, but is, as far as I know, not a relative.

Finally, Homer, the poet, is a Greek engaged, by means of this verse, in Greek war propaganda, so the Greeks should be the real heroes, they have to win, but it should be a hard victory, to make them true heroes. Homer's task is to steer his poem home from this improbable and complicated initial situation, in such a way as to satisfy his Greek public.

We of course, are curious up to the stage of nervousness how our dear esteemed poet will work his way out of this.

Verse IV: Zeus fools his gods

And we are not the only ones concerned. On the Olympus, the gods’ mountain, Zeus convenes a meeting, no doubt with his promise to Thetis hidden under the agenda. With some irony he mentions how the two staunch supporters of the Greeks, Hera and Pallas Athena had themselves fooled by, of all gods, Aphrodite, in the Paris vanishing trick, then casually tables the two alternatives: let them fight on or let the Trojans return Helena, everybody go home and Troy be saved. He feigns, I would say, to be in favour of the second, to the irritation of Hera and Pallas. “Did I for such an outcome” Hera shouts, “make all those efforts to have Troy destroyed?”.

Zeus feigns indignation: “what do you have against the Trojans? I always receive ample sacrifice from there. But OK do as you like, just do not complain if next time I myself want to destroy a town, not even when it is Argos!”. This possibility looks remote enough to Hera to agree. She has no clue she’s being manipulated: Zeus needs some more fighting to have the Greeks cornered enough to let them long for Achilles.

So, something should be done to restart the fighting. Pallas takes the job and inspires a guest archer at the Trojan side to shoot at Menelaus, causing spectacular but harmless bleeding.

Verse V: Aeneas survives dishonourably

The armies resume battle, dust blows up again, everywhere panting and moaning brave warriors ramble on the ground to die. The Greeks have a talented striker called Diomedes, from Argos. While in all wars the leaders put themselves on a safe place behind to control things, as we know from sources ranging  from military academic literature to the ethological analysis of rows between monkey colonies, on the dusty Trojan planes Homer’s Greek and Trojan leaders are in front and fight each other personally, admiringly assisted by their soldiers.

Diomedes, coached by Pallas, goes to Aeneas, who had not yet shown himself.

King Aeneas of Dardania, himself an international top warrior on the level of Hector and Achilles, is joining the defense of Troy without much zeal, because he is not on excellent terms with the Trojan leading house of Priamus, Hector and Paris, though they are relatives. Tros, the third king of the Dardanians is the greatgreatgrandfather of Aeneas and the greatgrandfather of the old king Priamus of Troy. Or something.

On the one hand the Greeks could help him to get rid of the Priamus lineage altogether so he could claim the kingship of Troy. On the other, his own Dardania once got attacked by the Greeks, so he does have a score to settle.

Moreover, it will be more difficult to defend Dardania against the Greeks without Troy, certainly when it falls and becomes Greek. Aeneas’ family ties are not exactly restricted to Troy: his mother is the goddess Aphrodite. Strictly, given Aphrodite’s foamy birth story, he could be called a grandson of Kronos, himself calling Zeus his uncle. But I heard noone talk of him like that.

Aeneas takes top archer Pindarus on his war chariot and advances to finish off Diomedes, who, however kills Pindarus before crushing Aeneas’ hip joint with a sizeable piece of rock. Aphrodite goes, again, for the rescue, but Diomedes takes her on and hits her. Screaming she flies to heaven, Apollo takes over and brings Aeneas to safety. We follow the ascent of Aphrodite. She is in pain but, being a goddess, is immortal. Gods, instead of blood, have so-called ichor, and this is the one-off historical event in which a god looses some. But it was only the wrist, the arteries of which are easy to block for a while by a strong strap, a visit to the ichor bank could well have been unnecessary.

The Greek aggression goes to Apollo’s nerves, prompting him to seek help for the Trojan side from Ares, god of war, to the secret satisfaction of Zeus, who still aims at the subtle calibrated boost of the Trojans promised to Thetis, while under these circumstances his wife Hera is highly unlikely to find out he is behind it.

Less than fourty lines down in the poem Aeneas, after a lightning hip operation by the goddesses Leto and Artemis in Apollo’s Trojan temple, is back on the battle field “alive, injury-free and filled with an immense courage”

Hera and Pallas are obviously displeased, especially by Apollo’s recruiting of Ares. Hera, disguised as a Greek leader, defies the Greeks: “now Achilles is not there you can’t even do it!”. Propaganda for Achilles! Unwittingly she is working for the Zeus-Thetis-Achilles conspiracy. Meanwhile Pallas climbs next to Diomedes on his horse chariot. Ares spots them and attacks, receiving Diomedes’ spear in his underbelly. Ares rises to heaven "as the swiftly rising cumulus cloud of a rapidly developing summer evening thunderstorm, ending in a dark black lightning sky". And the poet never saw the nuke detonation he so accurately depicts. Hera and Pallas take for heaven as well. That done, the battlefield sports no more gods.

Pallas’ aid to Diomedes is frustrating Zeus’ plan: with no gods on the battle field the Greeks can win without Achilles, as a Greek war propagandist like Homer clearly is required to claim.

We follow Ares going up to the realm of gods. Zeus teases him: “you look like your mother (Hera). I am sure she set you to it”. Does Zeus not know it was Apollo? Has he forgotten Hera backs the Greeks and Ares just got pricked from the Trojan side by Hera’s intimate friend Pallas? Of course not. Zeus is creating mist, but to what purpose this time? He is too smart for me here.

Verse VI: Paris’ rancour suppressed

On goes the battle. Heroes fall, their own heavy weaponry falling on top of them finishes them off. Hector’s brother Helenus, a seer, sees the Trojans are in trouble. In his estimate, Hector should come to town to make sacrifices to Pallas Athena and Zeus. Hector comes home, takes a shower, prepares his sacrifices and heads for Paris who apparently still sits at home since his evaporation rescue by Aphrodite. On his way Hector curses Paris, he wished he was dead.

There he is, Paris. Sitting with Helena engaged with her embroidery. Hector promptly scorns him, mentioning an “angriness” that would make Paris refuse to access the battlefield. But Paris denies having “any resentment against the Trojans” just to be immersed in his “sorrow”. Quite unclear all this, it strongly seems we are missing a crucial piece of the poem, but Paris obviously realizes the Trojans do not like to fight for their lives because he, Paris, insists on maintaining a wife robbed off a Greek king. “Yes”, Paris says, “My wife already said the same, let me go again. OK I am coming. Just a minute, I will dress for battle, or go, I’ll catch up”.

Politely Hector declines the tea offered, runs out of Paris’ palace to say goodbye to his wife and baby. “Will you please be careful?” his wife says, and he runs full speed out of the gate into the battlefield, meanwhile joined by Paris. “Yes, the Trojans are scorning you seriously” he tells Paris, “but first let us go down to business”.

Verse VII: The Hector-Ajax duel

A new offensive by the Trojans. Pallas can’t endure the sight and wants to jump to the aid of the Greeks, but Apollo holds her back. They agree to call it a day and let it end in another duel. Hector gets inspired to ask for the “best Greek”. The Greeks lapse in a silence. Then, Menelaus jumps forward, held back by his older brother Agamemnon, saying “Are you crazy, you do not stand a chance!”. Agamemnon defies his heroes: “Now what is this? Have we suddenly turned shy? Who has the guts?”. He himself jumps forward. Eight other heroes follow. Ajax (the big Ajax) draws the lot. Two heralds, a Greek and a Trojan one, line off the field. Here we go.

After quite some time … both are still alive. The heralds separate the fighters. It is getting too dark. Nevertheless, the Greek again claim victory, and, with no tongue in cheek, Homer judges them right. But that is obviously not conceded. 

We all retire for the night. On the battlefield the number of dead Greeks roughly equals that of the Trojans. We are on a third of the entire poem and we dealt with one single day.

Evening deliberations. At the Greek side Nestor argues that a wall has to be built around the ships, and that a truce should be negotiated for tomorrow morning in order to collect and burn the dead. We learn that it is customary among the Greek desperadoes that the mothers get the bones of their sons shipped home. At the Trojan side the main theme is again that this miserable Helen should be returned, but Paris blocks it. He could agree with the return of Sparta’s treasures, and is even ready to add to it, but he does not make Helena available. The best father Priamus can propose is to propose Paris’ proposal to the Greeks. But the Greeks now even refuse a peace if Helena is added to the package!

But the truce gets agreed, and the Greeks use it to make, in no time, a wall around the ships with a deep trench in front, dry, but full of sharpened poles. The construction moves a wall made by the sea god Poseidon to second place in the time’s record books, and Poseidon complains to his brother Zeus that such a thing should be prohibited for humans. Zeus has a consolation in stock for Poseidon. The wall is close to the sea, so after this war Poseidon, sea god as he is, will only have to create a moderate tsunami to destroy it.

If we are to believe the poet, the entire operation of wall construction and the burning of the dead would have been finished in one single morning, to be precise: between the first light in the sky and dawn. But let us stick to our decision to leave time and numbers for what they are.

Verse VIII: Zeus boosts the Trojan alliance

For at dawn Zeus growls the entire godhood trembling in all corners of the Olympus, house arrest! He personally calibrates the day’s balance of Greek and Trojans: the advantage shall be for the Trojans. His immortal horses gallop him to mount Ida from where the view on the battlefield is good. Other gods beware to leave the Olympus and in gloom try to scan the far horizon.

After the first skirmishes the Greeks are on the run already, except Nestor: one of his chariot horses fell to spears. Dead as a doornail. Diomedes shouts to Odysseus to rescue the aged sitting duck together but the Ithacan had fled already. So he goes alone, pulls Nestor next to him on his chariot while his people cut the dead horse loose and take the chariot pulled by the remaining ones.

Nestor is not exactly a bad horse driver, so Diomedes proposes to have a go at Hector together. He kills Hector’s driver, then Zeus throws a lighting at his horses. Nestor, for reasons of fear, age or wisdom, the poet remains decidedly unclear about this, slackens, or rather “lets slip” (φύγου) the reigns. “Son of Tudeus, join me, Zeus does not allow you to win”, he says. My modest contribution would here be to plead for adherence to your reigns in principle, even if you want to flee.

Diomedes: "Yes but what will people think of me if Hector starts telling them I fled for him?" We are not told whether Nestor already got his reigns back when he starts doing his smart talking: “Diomedes, all those people seeing you flee know someone who died because those other times you didn’t”.

Then we learn he retrieved the reigns and turns the carriage, Diomedes not yet ripe to flee. Three times he looks back and three times Zeus hits his back side with lightning. No boots on the ground, just airstrikes can be effective.

With Zeus alert and active to limit the Greeks, they get a thorough beating. Agamemnon, crying, begs Zeus to at least let him survive and escape with his ships.

But Zeus does not intend to make it that bad. His flame Thetis’ son Achilles would not gain from a defeat. All Achilles needs is deep Greek trouble and to then be begged to rejoin the battle, in the position to impose conditions to it. Zeus sends an eagle to his altar at the Greek ships, to encourage them a little. Archer Teucer distinguishes himself and Agamemnon, confidence regained, already promises him various items of the booty to be expected after victory and the destruction of Troy … but Teucer goes to the ground after having his clavicle broken by a hit of a big rock thrown by Hector, and the Trojans call the shots again.

Hera and Pallas can’t sit and wait any longer, jump up from the Olympus but Zeus makes them back down and resign, again, in their house arrest, biting their divine nails. Then Zeus, back on the Olympus mountain, puts his cards on the table: A. A Trojan superiority should bring Patroclus, nephew and intimate friend of Achilles, at present on strike with Achilles and the Myrmidons, in the battle. B. Patroclus should be killed by Hector. C. That will bring Achilles into action. “because such is determined by heaven” Zeus claims to his fellow gods (at least Poseidon, Hera and Pallas are present) as if he is not himself the boss of that heaven.

Bad luck for the Trojans: night sets in, no chance to finish the job. They light thousands of fires to keep monitoring the Greeks and prevent them from escaping to the sea.

This is tough. Both sides have their deliberations.

Verse IX: The Agamemnon offer

In the Greek camp, Agamemnon says he’s had it. Completely. He wants to go home. Diomedes protests and is ready to destroy Troy with his own people alone. But Nestor raises the tricky subject: Achilles. “That guy can fight. You should not have taken that girl from him, Agamemnon, because you caused him dishonour”.

So we are not dealing with pain of a lost love, but with dishonour. Quite a difference. And Agamemnon … gets the point: “Yes Nestor, that was not one of my smartest moves”. Agamemnon pledges to Achilles a host of desirable hardware, eight women, Briseis among them, “untouched”, if he can lay down his rancour. A delegation is sent to the ships of the Myrmidons. But no, Achilles is not interested in the proposal. Agamemnon can keep Briseis. So indeed we are dealing with a rancour caused by dishonour, not love.

Achilles tells the delegation that tomorrow he will sail off, and recommends them to start thinking how to do the same without being taken hostage by the Trojans. They part. Achilles jumps in his bed with his impressive load of testosterone and his latest girl: Diomede.

Verse X: Rather useless night spying

Who would seriously have considered the possibility that Achilles would decline that formidable offer? I had not. I can’t imagine Agamemnon or any of the other leaders, Nestor included, would. After all, if there would be even more for Achilles to wish, why not demand it? Is this a grown-up? My admiration is for Zeus: his plan, already announced on the Olympus, to have Patroclus fielded tomorrow had been unnecessary had he not somehow foreseen this stunning decline.

Whatever Agamemnon thinks about it, sleep he can’t. From the entrance of his tent he stares at the hundreds of Trojan fires right around the Greek boat camp defense wall. Finally he puts on his lion skin, takes his spear and heads for Nestor. Other heroes, none of them sleeping, see him going and join. Nestor ventures that the exact plans of the Trojans should be found out. Diomedes volunteers, and asks Odysseus to join. They take their arms, jump over the wall and creep over the battlefield, between the rotting bodies of the slain, avoiding the light of the Trojan fires.

Hector is awake as well and also looks for someone to send out as a spy. But the unhappiness of his choice can not escape anyone in the poet’s audience: he takes a man of decisively unheroic appearance called Dolon, offering to spy after being promised Achilles’ horses and war chariot after the war is won. Hector overestimates the man’s abilities, shamefully so, since every classical warrior knows greed never pays and you only stand a chance for prizes of honour if your quest is glory.

Dolon does not even know Achilles is the only one who can manage his divine horses. Homer goes at safe length to make clear to everyone in his audience that this is a shameful, stupid appointment of Hector, and a windfall for Diomedes and Odysseus: they grab Dolon who does not delay telling all he knows about position, arms and plans of the Trojan coalition. He knows where to find some awesome horses of a recently arrived Thracian king, as well as his precious horse chariot.

Dolon’s head harvested, it gets cut off. His armoury and other valuables are hidden under some corpses to take home on return. The recently arrived Thracians are asleep. The entire king's bodyguard is dead before waking up. Our brave duo ties the desirable horses at the precious chariot and after retrieving dead Dolon’s assets drives home to receive the cheers of their fellow heroes.

Verse XI: Patroclus: Nestor’s chance

Dawn. De goddess Fight steps on the beach between the ships, the omen of war in her hands. She ejects her terrible, shrill war cry, and at once no Greek thinks of fleeing anymore. Troops line up opposed to each other, in front of the Greek wall, and there we go again.

For a while the armies stand tight to each other, killing each other’s front rows but somewhere near Agamemnon the Greeks break through. Agamemnon is the first to pass and kills Bienor. Then from the Trojan side Oileus, the horse chariot warrior, jumps on the ground to take up Agamemnon. But Agamemnon throws his spear right through Oileus helmet and skull, "filling the helmet with a porridge consisting of brain blubber and bone splinters. That is how he stopped his fury”.

A sizeable line-up of renowned warriors dies under Agamemnon’s arms, under whom the father of a certain Con. Con manages to hit Agamemnon, in a despicable way, coming from the side, unexpected. Agamemnon’s underarm looks bad. After killing Con and some others, he returns to the ships. This, Zeus had told Hector already, was the sign for Hector to come into action.

Hector slaughters a sizeable amount of Greeks until Diomedes thrusts his spear on Hector’s helmet. The point bends but Hector goes down on the impact, and for some nine seconds or so his eyes go black. He manages to rise and wobble away from the heat of the fight. Diomedes advances, killing Trojans left and right, to retrieve his spear. But an arrow shot by Paris digs in the ground right before Diomedes ... right through his foot. Diomedes stuck to the ground like a message on a notice board until Odysseus pulls him off the arrow, then orders his horseman: home!

More Greek heroes get wounded, even Odysseus, who, after killing his wounder and a respectable number of others, reports for treatment at the ships.

The edges of the eyes of Achilles, sitting at his tent, see a chariot pass carrying a moaning warrior to his ship. He asks his intimate friend Patroclus to pay a visit to Nestor, whom he also saw galloping past in bad state, to inquire who that was.

Nestor understands this is the golden chance to draw Achilles back to the lesson and says: “Sit down Patroclus”. But Patroclus declines: “No thank you, I see it was Machaon, I‘ll return now, you know Achilles, he is capable to scorn me even when I do nothing wrong”. Nestor delays, applying a kind of filibuster technique, he simply does not stop talking, making it too impolite for Patroclus to go.

After bringing back to mind all histories of common endeavours of his family and the one of Patroclus, Nestor mentions what Menoetius, brother of Achilles and father of Patroclus, told Patroclus: “My child, in birth Achilles is more noble than you, but you are the oldest, though he is by far the strongest. Yet, you have to keep providing him with words of wisdom and steer him, and he will obey you to his advantage”.

After 150 lines of the poem Patroclus still has not found a moment to interrupt. Nestor simply continues his iron stream of words: “But when Achilles, obeys some oracle or his mother Thetis somehow warned him for Zeus, let him at least send you with the Myrmidons to the relief of the Danaans”.

Thus Nestor ends his speech and Patroclus runs back home. Underway he meets the wounded hero Eurypylus.

“How are things Eurypylus?”

“We have no chance. Our defense is shattered. Bring me to my hut and bandage me, of our two doctors Machaon is badly wounded and the other is outside defending the wall”.

Patroclus decides to risk a delay, take Eurypylus on his back, put him down in his tent and clean and bandage his wounds.

Verse XII: The wall breaks

Break the walls, put the ships on fire, to know the Trojans are ready for it nobody needs any spy whatsoever. But how to cross that deep trench littered with sharpened poles standing upright in the ground? We walk! Hector likes the idea and orders accordingly, but King Asius begs to differ and storms one of the gates. But, gravely cursing, he has to retire in a rain of arrows and stones. The rest of the Trojan side raises the pressure on the walls. A snake, escaping from a flying eagle’s claws, fall right in front of the Trojans. Polydamus shouts this means they should stop, but Hector threatens him with death if he does not shut his fucking mouth.

The Lycians under Sarpedon and Glaucus now want to show themselves and storm the wall. Sarpedon against Glaucus: “Well my friend, if we were immortal gods and sure to come out of this alive I would not fight in front, neither would I spur you to battle where men acquire honour; but now, since we shall die anyway, unfathomably sad and no man escapes it, come on let’s go for it, whether we acquire honour for others or ourselves.”

But no, Zeus bypasses the honour-hungry Lycians and it is Hector whom he gives the power with a heavy edgy rock to simply throw in a gate of the Greek wall.

Trojans stream in.

Verse XIII: The Greeks lost

Zeus sees things go his way for the time being. Other gods beware to interfere, so he can go off and turn to some issues of other tribes elsewhere, he thinks, but he misjudges his brother Poseidon, who apparently forgot his rancour against the Greeks about their recent impertinent record wall, well, that may be since it's off the list now anyway, broken as it is by the Trojans. So Poseidon comes to the aid of the Greek “out of powerful anger with Zeus”. In stealth, wisely, disguised as Calchas the seer and friend of Achilles, he is boosting the courage of the Greek with - again! - a pro-Achilles rhetoric, criticizing Agamemnon, blaming him to be the cause of Achilles' rancour. "But now let us fight, even in these circumstances we should be undaunted ..." etc.

Fighting, fighting, fighting. A kills B, C attempts to retrieve B's body, but A kills him too, D, E and F manage to retrieve the bodies of B and C, and throw their spears on A, whom they miss, but hit G instead, you know, the grandson of ... etc. A brother in law of Aeneas goes down, obliging Aeneas to drop the symbolic character of his presence on the battlefield to retrieve his corpse, harness and weaponry. In this local escalation even Menelaus approaches, hitting Trojan top archer Helenus, who was about to launch an arrow, right through the hand holding the bow, then through the bow itself, can you believe it!

Elsewhere Trojan commander in chief Hector fights bravely but looses oversight, as a result of which the Trojan troops are inefficiently positioned. Polydamus tries to bring this to Hector's consciousness and suggests to hold a council of war. A brave move, since at the decline of Polydamus' previous suggestion Hector almost killed him. Hector agrees but we hear nothing more of it.

Whatever got decided there, the Trojan side, now inside the Greek wall and close by the ships, defended by the Greeks, keep supremacy. For the Greeks, the situation is hopeless.

Verse XIV: Rebellious divine plot postpones Greek demise

Nestor sits at his hut next to his ships with the wounded doctor Machaon, having a glass of wine, and hears the plumping, bumping, buzzing, soughing, cracking, screaming, yelling, moaning and groaning and says: "Just ask yourself where this is heading, Machaon, ever louder is the cry of the lustful youth. Whatever it may be, please stay comfortably at your wine, and wait for the preparation of your warm bath, in the meantime I will have a look".

And Nestor saw is was worrying. He manages to find Agamemnon, still wounded and unfit for battle, and Odysseus, in similar state. Agamemnon proposes to launch the ships. Odysseus, "with an angry look from under his eyebrows", points out that such would fatally undermine the warriors' morale. Diomedes, also wounded and disabled, proposes to go and fire the Greeks, which they do.

Over to the gods on the Olympus. Hera sees, to her satisfaction, Poseidon, operating in stealth. Zeus sits near her on the mountain. Seeing him fills her with hate. She considers a trick: if she now could seduce him to sex she might get him asleep, which might allow the divine supporters of the Greeks to do a bit more, certainly now Poseidon is already in action. Hera jumps before the mirror and thoroughly works her features up. Then she runs to Aphrodite asking - and getting, through Aphrodite is pro Troy! - a good portion of "love and lust" (if I correctly understood, this came somewhere from in between Aphrodite's breasts). Finally she pays a visit to the god Sleep, the brother of the god Death, to make him help her to get Zeus asleep after sex. But Sleep fears. He tells Hera that he serves Zeus only on his own request. Hera however knows the little goddess whom Sleep has a crush on and promises he'll get her. This wins Sleep over. Hera approaches Zeus.

Everything works out and while Hera lies with a snoring Zeus in her arms, Sleep, as he seems to have been instructed, runs to Poseidon to give the all clear. Poseidon drops all masks, inspiring the front rows of the Greeks: "Are we ready to allow victory to Hector, just because he claims he'll win in the absence of Achilles? No we are not!". Even while Zeus is tricked by Hera and asleep, his pro Achilles lobby continues! And Poseidon has no clue that he is working for Zeus instead of against him.

Poseidon proposes to swap arms in such a way that the strongest fighters in front would have the best ones. In normal circumstances such a proposal would not stand a chance. Weapons were private property, the pride of every man. Standing behind in battle is one thing, but showing your second rate status by wearing second rate arms is unbearable to  weaklings and other rich guys' sons with good arms. They normally would never cede them. But now it might increase your small chance to survive and see your mother ... Poseidon did sense the extreme exceptionality of the situation.

The struggle shakes the ships such that its supporting stones roll away and the ships fall aside on one board. Ajax lifts one of the stones and throws it with unimaginable power at Hector, who receives it on the shoulder wearing-tie of his shield, near his neck. He spins round looking like a dancer performing a pirouette, then thunders on the ground with his heavy armour, throwing a dust cloud in the air. He is not dead. Worried friends draw him behind the battling lines.

Poseidon turns the tide.

Verse XV: The divine plot suppressed

The god Sleep did a good job to earn Hera's bribe, but finally Zeus wakes up. He notices the situation at Troy and threatens Hera with the lash. This must have been foreseen by Hera, so she really must have been keen to help the Greeks. In vain she tries to cover her retreat by maintaining it was all Poseidon alone, and she is ready to back every order whatsoever Zeus is pleased to give Poseidon. Zeus smiles, the poet says. He can not be held to take serious what she now in her fear tells him. He acts as if he somehow believes her but also suggests the contrary. But now they are, as he put it ironically "one of heart", Hera can send messenger goddess Iris to Poseidon, tell him he should leave the battlefield, and then to Apollo to address Hector, not only with advice but with real military support. Boots on the ground.

Zeus repeats to Hera the cards he already put on the table in the meeting of gods: a Trojan military supremacy should field Patroclus, Patroclus should be killed by Hector, this will field Achilles. Zeus adds three more cards: Achilles will stick Hector on his spear, then the battle will move from the ships to the walls of Troy and the Greek, coached by Pallas Athena, will be allowed to conquer Troy.

Hera hurries to the Olympus to spread the news. Zeus now seems to have everybody there against him, but then Hera does not (why?) show the last three cards Zeus revealed. She does inform the company that a Greek crony of war-god Ares got zapped by the Trojans. Ares, mind you, himself - yesterday! - pricked away from the Trojan side by a combined Diomedes-Pallas operation, endorsed by Zeus, now wants to go down to take revenge on the Trojans at the Greek side. As if this is not crazy enough pro-Greek Pallas stops him. Hera urges Iris now to go to Poseidon, or else there will be real trouble (she probably thinks of the lashes Zeus promised her).

Apollo, loyal fan of Troy, must have been delighted with Zeus' order, mediated by Hera with gnashing teeth.

Poseidon, informed by Iris of Zeus' order to withdraw, barks angrily against her about his older brother. Iris tactfully convinces him to obedience "for the moment", but he threatens with a war of gods, in which he reckons Hera, Pallas, Hermes and Hephaestus on his side. It looks like this group is more concerned to have Troy destroyed than with who does it. Poseidon witnessed Zeus putting his first three cards on the table, but it strongly seems Hera, whom Zeus showed the second three in private, is holding back the information.

Hector needs refurbishment after his pirouette, being hit by Ajax' big rock. Apollo takes care of it in such a way that Hector starts raging 'round as if injections had totally filled him with prohibited substances. Then, acting like a mega shovel, Apollo drops the Greek wall in the trench it came from. This is just not fair anymore. The Greeks are driven back to their ships. Patroclus runs away from his wounded friend Eurypylus, to Achilles, to ask him if this is not going too far. The Greek top archer Teucer spans his bow and ... it breaks. This can only be the work of Zeus. He throws away the "bewitched" bow and grabs a spear. Now the moment has come for Hector to set the Greek ships on fire. Nestor  fires the Greeks; "Hold on for your people far from here!".

The Greeks have mounted their ships, lying on the beach, and the Trojans come running, in great numbers, with all kinds of burning material. This is going wrong.

Verse XVI: Patroclus killed in action

But no ships on fire yet. Patroclus arrives at Achilles in tears over the fate of the Greeks, but Achilles does not pity them. Then Patroclus decides to follow Nestor's suggestion and asks permission to field the Myrmidons under his leadership. And whether he could borrow the harness and weaponry of Achilles, his divine horses and war chariot included. Achilles speeches amply about his rancour, which had never been meant to be permanent, but only to last until the war cries would have reached his own ships. His speech is long. In the meantime Hector's war cries begin to be heard and some neighbouring ships go on fire. Then, he finally allows Patroclus to join the Greeks, but Patroclus can't go yet, for he first gets a lengthy, complicated and restricted mandate, widely overburdening his memory capacity, as we shall see.

Patroclus' tactics, Achilles lectures, should not be aimed at conquering Troy but at A. keeping possible a Greek withdrawal to the sea, and at B. the return of Briseis to Achilles, accompanied by C. precious gifts. Specifically, Patroclus should chase the Trojans from the ships, but then he should return and leave the battlefield as it is, since the honour to conquer Troy is his, Achilles'. Achilles prays to Zeus, Pallas and Apollo that all Greeks and Trojans will kill each other after which he, Patroclus and the Myrmidons will conquer Troy and have it for their own!

And did you already wonder why, if Achilles can call the shots the way he does now, for God's sake he allowed that silly girl Briseis to be taken from him?

The briefing of the mandate was too long to allow Patroclus to help Ajax maintain his position on the ships. Ajax' bronze helmet jingles continuously due to the stones and arrows hitting it, and sweat runs in streams off his body. Hector hacks the point of Ajax' spear off, he has to withdraw from the board edge to which fire is put immediately.

Suddenly Achilles seems to be in a hurry. He throws his harness at Patroclus and personally mobilizes the Myrmidons and organizes them for battle. They had kept obedience to Achilles but had not hidden their anger and frustration about his strategy. Achilles reminds them about it: "What did you shout at me? You brute! Your mother must have had gall in her tits! Merciless son of Peleus, why don't we just go home? What are we doing here? That was what you were shouting! But this is the moment! We start ..." etc.

And there they go. Achilles retires in his hut to pray and sacrifice to Zeus.

Patroclus advances with his Myrmidons to the besieged burning ships, changing the battlefield into a blubbery floor, a soup of Trojan blood and bone. The Trojan heroes turn their horses to town. Hector manages to let his horse pull his chariot back over the remains of the Greek wall but the straps of many a Trojan chariot snap to set its warrior put in full armour, jumped on by the Myrmidons. Patroclus in breach of his mandate, follows them, creating a long trail of capsized war chariots and grounded wounded heroes immobilized by their own heavy armour.

What Patroclus starts doing from here, contrary to Achilles' orders, is in full accordance with the plan Zeus announced to Hera, and Zeus does all this to grant Achilles' request send by Achilles' mother Thetis.  Would Achilles have made his request to Zeus had he known Zeus would honour it this way?

Sarpedon, king of Lycians, son of Zeus, surfaces again at the Trojan side. Seeing Patroclus, he jumps off his chariot. So does Patroclus. Zeus has a difficult moment. No not Sarpedon, he says to Hera. But Hera has her answer ready: we all have children at both sides, and this is what you wanted! Zeus concedes. It costs one of Achilles' horses but Sarpedon gets finished off, triggering, as usual, the prestigious fight for the armour and the corpse. From the Trojan side  Polydamus, Agenor, Aeneas and Hector advance to chase Patroclus, who gets support from the two Ajaxes and some battalion commanders.

Even though his soldiers throw themselves on Sarpedon to protect his body, it quickly gets unrecognizable by blood, dust and projectiles "from his head till the soles of his feet". The Greeks manage to chase the Trojans away from the corpse. Patroclus gives the dirty harness with a carrier to take it to the ships. Zeus asks Apollo to deliver the body immediately home in Lycia for a decent burial.

In "granting" Achilles' request Zeus now departs even further from Achilles wishes: Patroclus, already in breach of Achilles' mandate, is stimulated on by Zeus. That results in a mass of dead Trojans while he advances to the walls of Troy. Patroclus jumps on the walls, three times even. Apollo, appalled, beats him off personally, shouting that Patroclus is not the one destined to conquer Troy, nor is Achilles. That last addition is not specified in Zeus' plans: Zeus decided the Greek should conquer Troy, which does not necessarily mean: Achilles.

A little later after some more butchery by Patroclus and his Myrmidons, Apollo puts himself behind Patroclus, deals him an inhuman blow, tears off his helmet and ... unties his back shield! The Trojan Euphorbus has a go and pricks deeply in Patroclus unprotected back, and Hector, eager to be on the record for slaying Patroclus, is quick to do the same before Patroclus stops moving. While dying Patroclus taunts Hector: "Hector, that will be a vain boast, everybody saw Apollo and Euphorbus killed me. Achilles is going to get you!"

Automenon, Patroclus' driver, decides he should turn and head home. Patroclus' body stays behind among the Trojans, in the armour, already partly untied by Apollo, of Achilles.

Verse XVII: The struggle for the corpse

There we go again in the ritual scrum over the corpse. First the harness. That is the supreme target of the killing party, a nice trophy for home in the doorway. And this is Achilles' harness! It indeed gets quickly detached from the body and handed back to the rear of the Trojan side. But in case of a top warrior like Patroclus the enemy is ready to go for high risks to get hold of the corpse, feed the trunk to the dogs and pin the head on a wall pole. It was deemed discouraging to an attacker to see the head of one of his bosses on a pole he would have to pass. On the Greek side Menelaus takes the lead, but Ajax (the big one) quickly is at the spot, and it's getting crowded there. Things get rough indeed. At both sides warriors go down, their armoury tinkling, and have to be retrieved themselves. The corpses, stripped of their harnesses, of the lesser warriors simply serve as bloody and soggy war floor.

Hector had to retire for a short moment, and since such things in the circumstances involve at least a partly untying of the harness anyway, he decides to change to Achilles' armour. Zeus beholds it with contempt, but leaves him: it fits in his plan: he will be allowed to butcher quite a number of Greeks in it, but "in exchange", as the poet puts it, he will never see his wife again to show her this impressive gear. Achilles' armoury fits Hector badly. In an aesthetic fit, Zeus even applies some telekinetic tailoring to get it all right. But he does not allow Hector to retrieve the corpse of Patroclus.

The demise of Patroclus forces Zeus to fire the Greeks a bit, which on the Trojan side prompts Apollo to field reluctant Aeneas, who still would rather wait a bit until Priamus' family gets slaughtered and he can become king of Troy. Apollo tells Aeneas that Zeus wants the Trojan side to win. He should know better. But Homer's attention is elsewhere: "Like someone who gives his people the hide of a big bull to stretch it, soaked in grease, by pulling at it from all sides, in a circle, so as to have the grease permeate it and let it stretch as much as possible, in such a way everybody pulled at the corpse of Patroclus".

Many lines later in the poem the Trojans acquire superiority and Patroclus' corpse starts to assume the shape of a trampoline.

Achilles, still with his feet up at his ships, still is blissfully ignorant. Someone gets sent.

Verse XVIII: Achilles gets the news

Not even remotely the howling together of all wolves of the Peloponnesus can compare to Achilles' reaction to the news. His mother Thetis, in the sea, surfaces at once: "What is wrong my boy?".

"They killed Patroclus and stole my armour". Due to the convulsive crying the pronunciation is substandard but as a mother and goddess she gets the point at once. Achilles wants to die unless he can pin Hector at his spear.

"But my child, with my foresight as a goddess I can tell you that is possible, but then not much later you will kick the bloody bucket yourself"

"Who cares" - I quote - "let me now have glory and make all Greek and Trojan ladies with big tits wipe the tears off their cheeks with both hands in endless moaning, don't try to talk me out of it", end of quote. Hard indeed to underestimate the lad's brains.

Well then, let it be so, Thetis opines, Achilles will die anyway since such is destined by heaven, everybody knows, and this - even  this goddess opines - is not the worst of ways.

But not without decent armour. She hurries to the god Hephaestus, doing volcanoes and fire generally, obviously an expert welder and smith.

Meanwhile, messenger goddess Iris informs Achilles that Patroclus' corpse is about to be taken by the Trojans. He suggests him to come into action.

"But I'm waiting for my new harness"

Iris opines that something should be done right now: "Come on, run to the trench and give them a good scare"

Achilles walks to the trench, unarmed, and from behind the Greek lines he produces a terrible cry. Three times. The Trojans run away from the corpse they so desire, scared to death, not in the least because during each of the cries Pallas made a beam of fire leave Achilles' head.

Without trouble the Greeks can carry Patroclus back to the ships of the Myrmidons.

Night falls. But the Greeks do not sleep. In vehement lamentation they sit by  the corpse. Achilles vows not to bury his friend until he has the armour and the head of Hector, and kill and take 12 prominent sons of Troy, to make his point.

Personally I do not see why Achilles identifies Hector as his main target. I mean, first of all, this is war aimed at power and robbery, killing is everybody's job. Second, Patroclus did not get killed by Hector but by Euphorbus if not by the god Apollo who made it laughably easy for Euphorbus by giving Patroclus an indecent blow, then taking his helmet, then even untying his harness. Hector even more laughably, plunged his spear in Patroclus only after Euphorbus wounded him deadly already. So why does Achilles choose to take on Hector? If there is a real culprit, it's Apollo.

"Now it's going your way Hera," Zeus teases his wife, "you got Achilles on the loose!". But the stupid bitch does not even understand the joke and uses Patroclus' death only as an additional argument to destroy Troy.

Meanwhile, Thetis sits near Hephaestus who is forging new armour for Achilles. First class an understatement of course. As soon as Hephaestus is finished and hands it over, Thetis hurries with it to the Greek ships.

Verse XIX: Achilles joins the fight

In the early morning Thetis surfaces from the deep sea near the ships. Achilles still eats nor sleeps, and cries bitter tears, embracing Patroclus' corpse.

"Now my boy, let him loose, he's dead. Here's you new armour".

That looks good. It brings Achilles back in fighting mood, but he speaks the memorable words: "But mother, I mightily fear flies will come on the body when I go out to fight, and they will lay their eggs so that the entire business will start to terribly rot and stink".

He'd clearly seen that before.

But Thetis tells him not to worry, she will conserve the body and even bring it back in the shape it had before on the battlefield it got subjected to Homeric stretching.

Morning meeting of the warriors. Busier than ever: even the helmsmen and foragers have come, Achilles will join!

We all sit and wait a while for Agamemnon, still wounded, entering with his right arm in a sling.

Achilles curses the day he chose Briseis from the booty of Thebes, had she only been killed by Artemis at that moment, that would have saved him quite some woe. He dropped his rancour and is ready to fight.

Agamemnon rises. His claiming of Briseis was not good, he proclaims. "But, dear Greeks, I was blinded by Zeus, Fate and Erinys."

Now Agamemnon even feels the need to embark on a Homeric metaphor: like Zeus once got blinded by hos daughter Ate, enabling Hera - despite the military predicament Agamemnon goes in all details -  to have him swear a wrong oath, in such a way he, Agamemnon was blinded, to be honest by Ate herself, but fortunately that was gone and the entire earlier proposal of gifts and girls, Briseis included, untouched, still held.

Again, Achilles shows little interest. It's all right, but lets not waste more time on it, we have a fight about. Come on men! Here we go!

This prompts Odysseus to rise: "First we need a good breakfast, and let Agamemnon put his gifts in the middle to cheer you up, and let him swear he did not touch Briseis. Have good food with Agamemnon, so this whole episode will be over with. And you, Agamemnon, learn from this to restrain yourself, because Achilles is not the only one whom you treated like this!".

"Yes, let's sacrifice and eat", Agamemnon says, "and Odysseus, take your pick of the prominent youth, and let them bring my gifts for Achilles."

"Who can think of food now", Achilles complains, "let's go and crush those Trojans!"

"Achilles", Odysseus says, "you are the most powerful warrior but I am better in deliberation, I am older and I know more. Do as I say."

And that's what happens. The gifts and the girls arrive, Agamemnon sacrifices a bear to Zeus and swears he never touched Briseis, who is led back to the ships of Achilles' Myrmidons where she sheds tears on Patroclus' body: "Patroclus my dear, I left you here alive, now I find you dead. That's how things always go with me. My Theban husband fell by a spear defending our city, like my three brothers. But when Achilles had killed my husband it was you who did not even allow me to cry and promised me to make me Achilles' bride, that Achilles would take me home and celebrate our wedding among the Myrmidons, for which I shed tears over you in your death and do not know how to stop it, because always you were nice to me".

Read this well, O, secondary schoolgirls, she was your age during the fall of Thebes and Achilles was not much older!

Meanwhile the warriors at the breakfast tables keep shedding tears as well, but the oldest and wisest of the heroes put themselves next to Achilles to make sure he is eating. In vain. Inconsolable. From what he mutters, albeit in sound hexameters, it seems that his sadness spreads in all directions: house, fatherland, wife, he now even opines to have a child somewhere, which is in flagrant denial of the well founded theories of scores of schools of living scholars of our enlightened age.

Zeus notes Achilles' lack of appetite and sends Pallas to prevent a mid-battle hunger-nock. Some kind of transcendental feeding with nectar and ambrosia.

With a terrible cry Achilles calls his immortal horses Zanthus and Balius: "And beware to let me lie on the battlefield when I die like you did with Patroclus. Bring me back here you two!". This goes a bit too far in the eyes of the horse Xanthus: "Of course we bring you back, but sooner or later you will get rubbed out, and don't blame us when that happens. And also remember that in Patroclus' case we had Apollo against us. We would like to see how you would be doing when a god assists the guy you are fighting as we did with Patroclus. You'll surely not move much longer".

"D'you think I don't know", Achilles answers, crabbedly, "I don't give a damn. Hop!!".

Verse XX: Achilles massacres the Trojans

Zeus does a general briefing on the Olympus: all limits to divine participation in the Trojan war are repealed. Without such a repeal Achilles would "knock the the Trojans further off than is Destiny", which of cause is Zeus' noble task to prevent. The Greeks are joined by Hera, Pallas, Poseidon, Hermes and Hephaestus, the Trojans by Apollo, Ares, Leto, Artemis, Aphrodite and Xanthus (not related namesake of one of Achilles' horses, a Trojan river god). Though this is five against six, the Greek divine section opts for god-to-god marking, judging it unproblematic to leave Aphrodite free (mind the deep meaning).

The Greek god-to-god marking is as follows: Apollo is for Poseidon (very tough but doable), Ares for Pallas, Artemis for Hera (both easy), Leto for Hermes (trifle), river Xanthus for Hephaestus (Hephaestus at least ranks way higher).

Achilles heads for Hector but Apollo fields Aeneas. Hera is intimidated but Poseidon keeps cool and confident and as the obvious captain of the divine section of his side he decides they will sit and watch, to not stimulate Apollo to overdo it, and only interfere when he does so anyway. The Trojan wall turns out a comfortable bench with a good view. And lo, the enemy's gods sit down as well, on the Callicolone hill.

Aeneas confronts Achilles who shouts: "D'you think that's the way to Trojan kingship?" So that he knows, maybe mentally less glaringly retarded than the poet presented him thus far. After exchange of some more eloquent jeers and the menacing call over of their entire respective lineages from the dawn of mankind, as the tradition required at the time, Aeneas looks on his way to loose. Greek side-Poseidon, of all gods, saves him (we are left in total limbo about Poseidon's apparent enemy-side loyalties). Aeneas' mother Aphrodite, left free in the Greek god-to-god marking, is nowhere to be seen. A mysterious little chunk of the poem, were I pope I sure would declare it apocryphal.

Apollo advises Hector to stay away from Achilles. Achilles continues "loosening the knees" - this is Homer's standard technical language - of scores of Trojan top warriors. When it's the turn of his brother Polydorus,  Hector can't control himself, advances and throws his spear on Achilles. Pallas simply blows it back to his own feet. Apollo lets Hector vanish to save him. Achilles continues his mass extermination the Trojan noble elite. Could not have been faster had they been presented to him on a conveyor belt.

Verse XXI: Trojan gods and men fly

The surviving Trojans flee into river Xanthus (the god fighting at Trojan side), foaming and plashing, many even with their horses, chariots and all. Achilles pursues them wading through the water, hacking with his sword.

"Look what your doing man", the river shouts, "I'm full of corpses, they will block my exit, can't you chase them out before cutting their heads off?"

Like most of us surely would, Achilles considers this a reasonable request and concedes, but river Xanthus, at the Trojan side, remains damned angry, gets more and more excited, until, foaming and roaring, and red of Trojan blood, swells and overflows.

This decently kicks the shit out of Achilles. He flees but Xanthus is faster. Achilles deems his end about and curses his mother's false predictions: which hero wants to die like an ordinary swineherd?

His mother Thetis does not appear but Poseidon and Pallas do, though they limit themselves to verbal encouragement: "Don't worry my boy, you'll get out of this, and we advise you not to stop the bad war before you locked the Trojans in their city. But when you killed Hector, you have to return to the ships. We bring you fame, you bet!".

Pallas gives Achilles some additional speed. On the Trojan side, river Xanthus calls for the aid of his brother, river Simos, but Xanthus' designated coverer in the Greek side god-to-god marking scheme, Hephaestus, uses his fire to bring both rivers to the boil, after which they give up. High on the Olympus, Zeus laughs his head off.

Ares makes a jump to get on top of Pallas but she is quicker and throws a rock in his neck. His body thunders down and covers 0.7031 hectares of ground. Aphrodite wants to lead him off (being a god he obviously can't die). Now Pallas has both hands available, but one punch on Aphrodite's breast suffices.

Poseidon cries to Apollo: "Now shouldn't we also fight? But I am your uncle, I cannot start." Apollo wisely ignores him, to the irritation of his sister Artemis, Hera's opponent. Hera puts Artemis' wrists together, takes them in het left hand, with the right one she snatches Artemis' bow and arrows, and, smiling, gives her a thorough beating with the rear ends. Hermes has a problem: his opponent is Leto, mother of Apollo whose father is Zeus. "I do not start against a woman of Zeus" he says "You're licensed to maintain henceforth you've easily beaten me".

Little Artemis runs to her father Zeus who tenderly consoles her: "O, who did that?" he asks. Artemis fulminates on Hera. Zeus has his day, he sure has.

Meanwhile the Trojans flee back to town and run through the gates, opened by Priamus.  That is something habitually refused as long as leaders think the tide can be turned with some more bravery, and Priamus also is a bit on the late side, hence Apollo feels the need for a trick to delay the Greek storm. He inspires Trojan Agenor to wound the shin-bone of Achilles, superficially. Agenor almost gets killed. Apollo has to make him disappear in a fog, then, judging the resulting delay insufficient, acts, in the shape of Agenor by fleeing over the Trojan plane to the river in incredible speed. Achilles thinks it's the real Agenor and goes in pursuit. After losing his target out of sight, he looks back and sees all Trojans, Agenor included, entered town.

Verse XXII: Achilles kills Hector

All Trojans? No! Hector stayed outside, with his back to town.

"Quickly enter my boy!", Priamus shouts.

But Hector stays put.

There is Achilles.

That scares Hector more than he had anticipated. Too late to reach the gate: Achilles will be there first. So he starts to run along the Trojan wall, Apollo accompanies him. Achilles in the pursuit of those two. Thus they run three laps around Troy, if you count the washing place as the passage.

"What do we do?", Zeus asks the family of gods. Pallas excited at once: "We agreed!"

Zeus laughs, he was only joking. At the third passage running pace setter Apollo goes off track, Pallas starts off. In the shape of Hector's brother Dephobus she proposes Hector to confront Achilles. Hector agrees, stops and turns. Hector and Achilles start to deal blows under due Hollywoodish maintenance of exchange of eloquent threats and insults. Achilles' spear is avoided by Hector's quick move. Pallas retrieves it and hands it back to it rightful owner.

Hector throws and directs his spear well but it simply deviates, which is an odd thing indeed for a heavy bronze spear to do. Nobody to return it. He looks for a spare from Dephobus but it was not Dephobus. Dephobus was in town all the time. The Pallas-trick gets clear to him and he decides all he can do is: die gloriously.

There is Achilles again, with his spear, scanning for chinks in what is his own harness, worn by Hector. Between the cask and the breast plate he might just reach the neck. He throws and ...

 Yes!

This would have ended the still ongoing exchange of movie script - of the type still current nowadays - between the heroes, but, the poet is careful to specify, Achilles' spear did not pierce Hector's trachea, so Hector can still breathe and talk. Hector should now, Achilles tells him, count on being eaten by the dogs at the Greek ships. Hector asks whether this is negotiable. Achilles: "Don't make me even more angry or I'll eat you, and raw!"

"Well" is Hector's reply, "then realize that there before the gate you will die yourself by the hands of Paris with Apollo's help".

"Not your business! Die!"

And that's what Hector does.

In vehement lamentation, according to its strict rules at the time, the Trojans watch from behind their walls how Hector's corpse gets towed at its feet, behind Achilles' war chariot, pulled by Achilles' immortal horses, off to the Greek ships.

The poet's public is now given ample opportunity to share the sorrow of the loved ones in moving detail. Hector's wife, still uninformed, is, as always, sitting in the middle of the large palace, weaving some gorgeous tapestry. She ordered the girls to heat water for Hector's well deserved home-coming bath, but then hears screaming in town, rises and walks to the walls, where she can just see, far off, the corpse of her husband, feet front, behind Achilles' chariot, elongating itself towards the enemy fleet. The poet is not shy adding the customary details, including the fainting, family and friends running towards her.

If this were theatre, I would now furiously have stood up to reclaim my ticket fee. This is an unbearable let-down. I'd rather have died myself by Achilles' spear than have witnessed this. Think of it: where Hector elsewhere is consistently depicted as tolerably brave though not too smart, he now transpires to be of the caliber requiring all gods to abandon him in order to get slaughtered. Moreover, Pallas must give him false courage and the imaginary presence of his brother, she must give Achilles a second chance by returning his spear after a failed throw, and she has to deviate Hector's spear to save Achilles. But very limit is Achilles finding a chink in his own armour, worn, after taking it from Patroclus, by Hector, and, mind you!, refitted to Hector's body by Zeus himself.

I mean: the poet spoils the entire fight with a soporific overdose of divine interventions. Why have Zeus refit that harness? Without that, you can depict Hector, in his pride of the loot of Achilles' armour, as wanting to show off wearing it but having failed to notice that cask and breast plate did not sufficiently overlap with his length of neck. Why would that boring bitch Pallas not keep her impatient back side on that Trojan wall until the end? Then Hector's perfectly thrown spear could be told to fix itself immovably in Achilles' new shield, made by Hephaestus, Achilles spots the chink, aims and hits. Everybody would have mourned the odd, if not toddlerish decision of Hector not to stick to his own harness, and would have gone home satisfied.

Awful this.

Verse XXIII: End of Patroclus' funeral ceremony

With Hector's corpse and his Myrmidons, Achilles arrives at the Greek camp. There the lamentations continue, for the killing of Hector was only part of Patroclus' ongoing burial ceremony.

And that ceremony is far from finished. A half oak forest gets chopped for a fire heap of thirty by thirty meters. Patroclus gets on top covered with sheep and goat fat. Against him vessels with honey and oil, and four horses. Achilles slits the throats of two of Patroclus' dogs and puts them next. He did, as he told he would, kidnap twelve boys of the Trojan elite and, while the poet seems slightly dismayed himself, "pricks them at the bronze". Put next to the dogs.

Meanwhile Hector's corpse is prey for the other dogs, but gets protected against rot and damage by Aphrodite and Apollo.

The oak refuses to burn. Achilles prays some winds to come promising good sacrifice. They eagerly agree to the deal, quickly appear and the whole heap stays well on fire the entire night.

After a burial we cry hard, for that helps us to retrieve the forces to resume life which is what the last day of a burial ceremony is for. First, Patroclus' bones are collected. That is not difficult, the poet explains, because "these lie in the middle of the ashes, while the rest lies at the edges, horses and people mixed". Apart from a slight affectation of the poet when mentioning the spearing of the 12 sons of Troy he does not further dwell on the remarkable difference that Paris is killed by the gods and "the rest" by the Greeks for the purposes of the funeral.

But then Achilles collects the prizes from the ships: pots, tripods, horses, mules, strong oxen, and pretty girls. Games! Achilles is the organiser so does not participate himself.

  1. The horse chariot race. For the horse chariot racers Achilles pledges as first prize: a girl "good in the noble handcrafts" (by which he means weaving, embroidery and knitting) and a superb tripod. But prize two to five are fit to boost competition as well.
    Quite some heroes, horse chariot warriors themselves, estimate their chances as insufficient to register.
    Diomedes, sufficiently recovered from his foot wound, wins, using the horses he took from Aeneas. Little Antilochos, a son of Nestor, manages, under shrewd coaching from his father, to cut Menelaus' way to finish just before Menelaus, even though Menelaus' horses were slightly better. Menelaus furious. But Nestor anticipated even this, so Antilochos knows what to do: he hands his second prize to Menelaus, replacing the latter's fury with pride over the upcoming Greek youth and little Antilochos gets his prize returned.

  2. Boxing. Epeius registers and shouts: "Who dares? Nobody can beat me, for I am so involved in boxing that as a soldier I have become second rate!". His opponent gets carried to bed, spitting blood.

  3. Wrestling. First prize: a tripod, second: a girl. This is getting serious. Big Ajax and Odysseus register. After a while they get pulled off each other. No winner.

  4. Running. Little Ajax and Antilochus, and ... Odysseus again. Not exactly the youngest! But he wins, because little Ajax, whose p.r. is way better, slips in left-over slaughter garbage and finishes with his nose and mouth full of cow shit. Odysseus has a reputation of using smart tricks and this one even escaped the poet.

  5. Shadow fight fully armed. Among the Greeks not without danger, since to win you had to reach the skin of the opponent. Big Ajax taken on by Diomedes. The public hardly dares to watch it. The fight is stopped quickly, but Achilles declares Diomedes the winner.

  6. Shot-put. The "ball" is a not very regular piece of primitive iron (iron melting technique was not yet very advanced, we're still in what now is called the "Bronze Age")

  7. Bow shooting.

  8. Javelin throwing. Everybody with the same spear, to avoid ambiguity. Achilles makes a splendid one available. Here, finally, Agamemnon, who does not want to stay behind, registers, slightly uncertain, it seems. Arm still in that sling? Which arm? We get no information. Meriones, the Greek top javelin thrower, hesitates to register. Achilles cancels the number. Achilles gives Agamemnon the prize, Meriones the spear.

Verse XXIV: Achilles and Priamus:

This should have made all Greeks return from mourning to business,  find nails to make that ridiculous wooden horse, go sit inside it to wait for the Trojans to pull it in, and conquer Troy, as much later we learned in Homerus Odyssee. But Achilles still neither eats nor sleeps and does little but wailing loudly. Sometimes there is a moment of silence. Then it starts again. In dramatic peaks, he comes out of his hut, ties Hector's corpse once again behind his chariot and drives some rounds around Patroclus' grave. The elders nor Odysseus interfere. Apparently they have no clue what to do about it.

Though Apollo and Aphrodite have prepared Hector's corpse to resist, in the group of gods who sit and watch the scene, Apollo can't swallow it any longer: "just driving round that grave with that corpse, what does the man think he gets out of it?".

Immediately Hera gets set to start the wrangling, as we are no longer surprised to see her doing, but Zeus sends for Achilles mother, sea goddess Thetis. "Could you talk to him, Thetis?" he says cheerfully, "and if you think it helps tell him I am damned angry".

Achilles gets the message.

Hector's father Priamus is informed he can go to Achilles, endowed with gifts. But he should not take more than one old herald. Ignoring the objections of his wife Hecabe, Priamus sets off. The god Hermes leads him past the Greek wall and even opens the door of Achilles' hut, a task that normally requires three Myrmidons, unless Achilles does it himself.

Despite Thetis' recent message, Achilles, sitting with two Myrmidon comrades stops crying in surprise.

Priamus embraces Achilles' knees. That is how one was supposed to do in the circumstances, and exactly so, ethologists have shown, it is still done in similar situations among most primates. Priamus grabs Achilles' hands, kisses them and starts: "Achilles, think of your father, who has a hard time staying in power without his strong son and longs for you. When he hears that you are still alive he is happy, but I had fifty sons, nineteen of whom from one wife. In the war only one was left, the one who now makes his rounds around Patroclus' grave behind your horse chariot. Can I have him returned, I took an awful lot of beautiful things with me for you, please think of your own father."

And Achilles thinks of his father and cries again. Priamus joins the crying. They infect each other with grief for some time, but after a while they calm down and Achilles tells Priamus his fate: he will die here. And he says to have heard that Priamus did have his heydays as well, but why don't you sit down. 

"No, do not put me on a chair as long as Hector lies outside like that, give him back, show him to me, and take my gifts"

This goes down wrongly in Achilles: "Now what do you think, Priamus, of course I have been ordered by the gods to do all that, moreover, do you think I don't know that a god led you in here? How else could you pass the watches at the wall and open my door, and would you otherwise have had the guts? Stop quickly or I sin against Zeus and put you outside as a corpse!"

Yes, that's Achilles. Priamus, needless to say, pales. But then Achilles jumps out with his two friends, unties Hector's corpse from the chariot, and has it washed and oiled. He makes sure Priamus does not see it for he fears Priamus would start crying about Hector and he, Achilles, would loose his self control and kill the old king.

Working at Hector's corpse, Achilles excuses himself to Patroclus for taking Hector away.

Priamus had come with a mule chariot full of gifts. These are brought in, but two of the most beautiful pieces of cloth are used to wrap Hector. Then Achilles reenters and tells Priamus his son is loaded on the mule chariot: "At dawn you will see him. But let us have some food now".

Food? Achilles had not had any since he heard of Patroclus' death. He was, all the time, artificially fed by Pallas' nectar and ambrosia!

Achilles slaughters a sheep and puts it on the fire. Comrade in war Automedon puts bread on the table in baskets. Priamus too could scarcely have had his normal appetite the past days. When the sheep is finished they sit back. Priamus admires the muscular shape and beauty of Achilles. Achilles is impressed by the stature of the old Priamus and listens to him. After a while Priamus confides to get very sleepy. Achilles' people prepare a bed for him and his herald.

Then, Achilles jokes: "it's good Agamemnon is unaware of this, we might have had some trouble". He asks how long the funeral in Troy will last. He will hold back the Greeks until the end.

"Eleven days."

"That's OK."

Priamus puts himself asleep, but is woken up by Hermes: "You come, man, if you go tomorrow and the Greeks see you, you are sent for three times the amount of gifts you brought now."

Deep in the night Priamus, Hermes, and the old herald drive off the Greek encampment. Unseen.

And Achilles ... sleeps.

 

______________________

More: Thucydides about the Trojan War

 

 

 

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