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Discussion - Homer, The Iliad > Iliad through Book 18

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments From the wrath of Achilles to the grief of Achilles. This is a man who does not shrink from showing his feelings. No John Wayne stoicism for him.

And not only Achilles’s grief, but his mother’s also.

And now come thick and fast the lessons for Greek youth to take from this epic.

Be careful what you wish for, your wish may come true. As to his prayer to Zeus to punish the Greeks for Agamemnon’s insult:
“The Olympian, mother, did answer that prayer,
but what is the use when my best friend is dead?”


Beware the unintended consequences of your wrong acts:
“I ought to die now. I lent my friend no aid
to prevent untimley death far from home
when he needed me to protect his life.
I should never see my fatherland again.”


O Greek youth, learn from Achilles
“A quarrel can lead a man to cause great harm
when rage smolders, rage that twists even the wise
till it comes to seem sweeter than sips of honey,
rage that billows like smoke and swells the chest.”


Another famous, indelible image of the Iliad is of Achilles, armorless but wreathed in divine mist and flame, standing by the ditch and shouting a brazen call that terrifies the Trojans. But there is perhaps also a natural phenomenon adding to his impressiveness. The day is coming to a close, the sun sets in the west, down over Mediterranean, and as he stands on the top of the ditch the setting sun behind him may be dazzling the eyes of the Trojans as they stare up to see whether this war cry is coming from. Haven’t you all at some point, driving home in the evening, turned and suddenly the setting sun blazed into your eyes, almost blinding you? So perhaps was Achilles silhouetted against the brilliant setting sun seeming to set his hair afire, blinding the Trojans and making them turn away in awe.

And now we remember that Zeus declared that Hector would have a day of glory. But Hera speeds the setting sun, the evening falls, and Hector’s day of glory, that started back in Book 11, is drawing to its close. Hector may dream of renewing the fight tomorrow and driving the Greeks away for good, but Zeus only gave him one day. And now it’s over.

We come to another of the famous incidents of the Iliad, the making of Achilles’s shield. But enough for this post. The shield deserves a series of posts of its own. Who's up to starting that?


message 2: by Juliette (new)

Juliette I loved the shield. At first I rolled my eyes and thought, "Here we go, more boring details". But there was something mesmerizing about the creation of the shield. When I was done, I HAD to see if there were any artists who tried to draw it or create it and was not disappointed. Part of me wished I hadn't because in my head the shield was almost a living (moving) representation of war. Once I saw the shields on the internet, the image in my head stopped moving.


message 3: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Is the shield sort of like Hephaestus's Iliad? The stories reflected in the shield are of justice and war, but also of peaceful times as well. The shield seems to be a portrait of Mycenaean life writ small. But it makes me wonder what purpose the ornamentation serves. Can a story be a kind of shield? Can a story forged by a god-- or a muse -- perhaps be a kind of protection?


message 4: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments I love the way things on the shield seem to come to life--sort of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" enlivened by Harry Potter's mirrors and newspapers. Or like some experiences with my iPad. Great special effects, Homer!


message 5: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments The shield is so multi-textured, so full of meaning.

But I must go in order.

"So the men fought on like a mass of whirling fire...
...Why, why? ...
Dear gods..."

This put me in mind of that revelatory scene in The Sixth Sense in which, bam! everything falls into place and there is understanding; and one is aghast at what one suddenly understands: "Oh God! No!" But as Achilles put it earlier, "Done is done."

1) Achilles, as early, I think, as Book 1, has been assured by his mother, Thetis, that Zeus will make sure Achilles gets the honor he deserves. Isn't there an old, purportedly Greek, saying, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth"? Achilles didn't.

2) Achilles, when the Embassy entreats him, offering him a king's bounty in gifts, he spurns them, "I need so such honor." Achilles has had assurances that Zeus will fulfill his prayer.

3) Achilles, in Book 17.
"Achilles never dreamed Patroclus would storm all Troy
without him, not even WITH him. No, time and again
his mother Thetis had told this was not to be"

Thetis had told him that Patroclus wouldn't be storming Troy with him. And Achilles never thought to ask, "why not?" My thinking is that it made a good deal of sense. Prior to Book 17 Patroclus was never in a fighting scene. Supposedly, his women were won by Achilles and given to him. More than once Patroclus has been described as a gentle man. Possibly, he is not a fighter. So...perhaps on those grounds, it made sense to Achilles that Patroclus wouldn't be there storming Troy beside him.

[Actually, that would answer to why Patroclus asked to wear the armor of Achilles: yes, it would put fear in the hearts of the Trojans. But...maybe Patroclus didn't have any armor. Which would go a long ways towards explaining why, if Patroclus fit the armor of Achilles, that Achilles didn't then simply take the armor of Patroclus to avenge the death. Repeatedly, Achilles was told there was no armor that would fit him. MMM)

4) "She said the best of the Myrmidons--while I lived--
would fall at Trojan hands and leave the light of day."

And we usually see what we're accustomed to see. "She said the best." And Achilles, warrior that he is, would take "best" to mean "best warrior," and since Patroclus wasn't portrayed as ever fighting prior to Book 17, well, the "best warrior" wouldn't be Patroclus.

"the best of the Myrmidons". And again. We tend to see in simple terms. Patroclus wasn't a Myrmidon. He was a Lokrian. Once upon a time. Maybe Achilles still thought of Patroclus as a Lokrian and so never considered that it was going to be Patroclus there dead on the plains of Troy. However, technically, as Patroclus is there with the Myrmidon contingent...technically Patroclus might be classifed as a Myrmidon.

5) But...Patroclus hasn't yet returned, and he hasn't yet returned, and he hasn't yet returned. And Nestor draws near: "What painful news--would to god it had never happened!"


message 6: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments At 3 Thomas wrote: "Is the shield sort of like Hephaestus's Iliad? AND "Can a story be a kind of shield? Can a story forged by a god-- or a muse -- perhaps be a kind of protection?..."

Oh, Thomas, I love that!


message 7: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments I found great artistry in the manner in which Homer wrote those next two scenes: Achilles in grief; the daughters of Poseidon: Fagles 18. about 24-55.

It was....like a spray of delicate, white, Baby's Breath in a simple vase, in front of a massive block of rough-paned black granite.

No spoiler. (view spoiler)


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laurele wrote: "I love the way things on the shield seem to come to life--sort of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" enlivened by Harry Potter's mirrors and newspapers."

I especially like the Keats analogy. Also Longfellow's The Village Blacksmith --
"The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands."

I also like Thomas's comment on the shield as story.

I see the shield as encompassing the entire scope of human life. Here is a god laying out the human universe -- not unlike the Hebrew creation story?

It starts as a disc, which is how the early Greeks understood the earth to be. Around its outer edge is a circular band, reminiscent of the river Ocean which runs all around the outside of the disk of earth. He hammers out all the elements of the human world -- earth, sky, sea, sun, moon, and stars. (All the things which God Created in the first days!)

He then moves on to the events of human life. To the celebration of love and marriage, with dancing and music, the celebration of the continuation of the human race. There is the other great of another great human attribute, the ability to settle differences through the process of justice, two claimants putting their difference before the decision of the people (Greek juries were of 501 men) and the elders overseeing the process of justice.

Then in the other city is the act of war, the celebration of Achilles and his companions laying siege to a city, women and children on the walls. "Strife and Confusion joined the fight,
along with cruel Death" -- could there be any more accurate summary of the Iliad itself?

In another part of the shield he represents the farmers and herders who feed the people, with rich fields and reaping corn (grain, not American maize), and the King watching approvingly as a great harvest feast is prepared.

A vineyard, with grapes being made into the wine so beloved of Bacchus. Cattle lowing as they are being led out to pasture, with the cowhands and dogs fighting off a lion, protecting their cattle from the ravages of natural predators. A lovely valley with its sheep pens and huts.

And, finally, a great dancing floor where, the harvest in, the lads and maids dance and run toward each other as acrobats tumble in the center.

Love, peace, justice, war, husbandry, dance and music, all that makes us human is here, isn't it?


message 9: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Everyman wrote: "It starts as a disc, which is how the early Greeks understood the earth to be. Around its outer edge is a circular band, reminiscent of the river Ocean which runs all around the outside of the disk of earth. He hammers out all the elements of the human world -- earth, sky, sea, sun, moon, and stars. (All the things which God Created in the first days!)

..."


That's so cool. The shield encompassing life. Maybe showing that there were two different ways to resolve conflicts: "justice" as decided by the people ... but without continuing bloodshed, or, "reclaiming honor" through war.

Also, contrast Achilles' shield with that of Agamemnon.

Patrice wrote: "and what is a shield but something that protects life?"

Oh, I love that too!


message 10: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Everyman wrote: "Another famous, indelible image of the Iliad is of Achilles, armorless but wreathed in divine mist and flame, standing by the ditch and shouting a brazen call that terrifies the Trojans. But there is perhaps also a natural phenomenon adding to his impressiveness. The day is coming to a close, the sun sets in the west, down over Mediterranean, and as he stands on the top of the ditch the setting sun behind him may be dazzling the eyes of the Trojans as they stare up to see whether this war cry is coming from. Haven’t you all at some point, driving home in the evening, turned and suddenly the setting sun blazed into your eyes, almost blinding you? So perhaps was Achilles silhouetted against the brilliant setting sun seeming to set his hair afire, blinding the Trojans and making them turn away in awe.

..."


Great image.


message 11: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Everyman wrote: "the ability to settle differences through the process of justice, two claimants putting their difference before the decision of the people (Greek juries were of 501 men) and the elders overseeing the process of justice ..."

Such an important aspect of the Iliad. I had initially thought that this scene implied that "through the process of justice" something would be worked out and there wouldn't be more bloodshed.

But apparently (Westbrook) (or as I understand the reading) it would be legitimate for the avenging man to settle OR to demand revenge.

"With regard to the litigation scene in the City at Peace, Westbrook concludes: 'The reason why the killer and not the other party is said to be arguing before this court is that the burden of proof is upon him to establish the existence of mitigating circumstances, as we have seen from our discussion of the Near Eastern sources. The other party, the avenger, has the dual right to ransom or revenge. By refusing to take ransom, he asserts that the case is one of aggravated homicide and he therefore has a free choice between ransom and revenge, and chooses the latter.'"

and this was interesting reading:

http://books.google.com/books?id=--zP...


message 12: by Thomas (last edited Mar 06, 2012 10:26AM) (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments The litigation scene seems out of place, doesn't it? Mediation doesn't seem to be a possiblity in the Iliad. Disputes are settled though force, or by appeals to authorities -- kings or gods, who render their verdicts through force if necessary... here the disputants have decided to "let the people decide."

The shield moves, or at least the action it depicts is described as moving, which means that it must be moving through time. The first scene depicted is the creation -- earth, sky, sea -- then comes the founding of cities, then people. Weddings and feasts, murders and justice. Then it moves on to other scenes, but I think it's interesting that in this first scene there seems to be a progression through time, ending in a time that is possibly beyond the time of the Iliad.


message 13: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Earlier in the discussion there was much made of the "shame culture" of the Iliad and how it differs from "guilt cultures". For most of the Iliad it seems that avoiding shame is a primary motivation -- Agamemnon uses it time and again to spur his troops on to battle. But in Book 18 something really different occurs: Achilles feels guilt.

I ought to die now. I lent my friend no aid
to prevent untimley death far from home
when he needed me to protect his life.
I should never see my fatherland again.
I failed to save not only Patroclus,
but also countless Greeks that Hector killed
while I sat here, a useless weight on the earth,
I who am easily best of all the Greeks
in battle...
18.97

Achilles takes personal responsibility for the death of Patroclus even though he was in some sense prevented from fighting -- by his dedication to anger, his sense of justice, and his oath. He could absolve himself of guilt with these things, but he does not. This is something completely different from shame. This guilt is something he imposes on himself. I think in the context of the preceding 17 books this is an extraordinary development. Through his grief and sense of personal guilt I think Achilles rises above his own culture and becomes a new kind of man.


message 14: by Adelle (last edited Mar 06, 2012 07:18PM) (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Patrice wrote: "And he was a blond so the sun would have really reflected off of his hair! ..."

Lol, laughing, laughing, laughing!


message 15: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Thomas wrote: "Earlier in the discussion there was much made of the "shame culture" of the Iliad and how it differs from "guilt cultures". For most of the Iliad it seems that avoiding shame is a primary motivatio..."

Thomas, that is astounding.


message 16: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Adelle wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Another famous, indelible image of the Iliad is of Achilles, armorless but wreathed in divine mist and flame, standing by the ditch and shouting a brazen call that terrifies the Tr..."

Brings Captain Ahab to mind, for those who have read Moby Dick.


message 17: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laurele wrote: "Brings Captain Ahab to mind, for those who have read Moby Dick. "

Which, of course, is all of us, since it was a recent selection here. [g]


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Patrice wrote: "He has to beat down the anger that caused this tragedy. And he [Achilles] will pay with his life for his mistake. Guilt, guilt, guilt!"

Well, though, it wasn't the anger that is making him pay with his life, is it? If he fights at Troy he will die young, that's fated, and if he hadn't gotten wrathful and withdrawn from the fighting, he would presumably have continued in the battle and, as fated, would have died on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

So really, his death has nothing to do with guilt, does it? Or am I reading this wrong?


message 19: by Adelle (last edited Mar 07, 2012 09:47AM) (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Just thoughts.

At 14, Thomas wrote: ".Achilles takes personal responsibility for the death of Patroclus even though he was in some sense prevented from fighting -- by his dedication to anger, his sense of justice, and his oath. He could absolve himself of guilt with these things, but he does not.

Agamemnon blames the gods, but Achilles really doesn't, does he? Achilles, half human as he is, wishes things had been different.

{Frodo: "I wish none of this had happened." Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." LOTR}

If only Thetis hadn't been forced to marry Peleus. (I wish I had never been born.) If only strife would die. And, I think, he's almost saying, If only he were as good at wars of words as he was with battle weapons. But Achilles is the man who manages to say, "Enough. Let bygones be begones. Done is done."

Mmm...Achilles, finds a way to overcome his thumos, "to beat it down." He checks his anger ... in that he doesn't kill Agamemnon. He contains the anger towards Agamemnon that even now "is a mounting fury inside."

He recognizes that his actions might result in negative outcomes. Something Hector refuses to do. (“No more, Polydamas!”) Achilles fully acknowledges that he will die if he goes after Hector.(Thetis: "For hard on the heels of Hector's death your death / must come at once--" Achilles: "Then let me die at once...[as then Hector is dead at once]").




Through his grief and sense of personal guilt I think Achilles rises above his own culture and becomes a new kind of man.
.."


Yes. I think yes. Achilles is not controlled by ... Achilles is not controlled by, not limited by, Fate. Achilles has the power to choose his own fate.

Ah! How about this: Towards the close of this Book, "And [the Smith] forged the Ocean River's mighty power girdling / round the outmost rim of the welded indestructible shield" (Fagles 18.708).

Fate is the rim that surrounds the scenes of life. The life portrayed there on the shield is static. Always hemmed in by fate. At the heart of the shield is the scene concerning “two men [who] struggled / over the blood-price for a kinsman just murdered.”

Achilles declares he will demand “the blood-price for Patroclus.”
Achilles considers Patroclus, “loved as my own life,” as even closer than a kinsman.
Achilles states that Patroclus has been murdered. “…now I’ll go and meet that murderer head-on…”

Achilles truly is that man on the shield. “Two bars of solid gold shone on the ground … / a prize for the judge who’d speak the straightest verdict.” Achilles hasn’t simply rejected the prize, the gifts, of Agamemnon. Achilles is rejecting the judge [who will determine the outcome]. Again, Achilles has the power to CHOOSE his own fate. “For my own death, I’ll meet if freely” (Fagles 18.135).

Like Thomas said, “Through his grief and sense of personal guilt I think Achilles rises above his own culture and becomes a new kind of man.” Achilles is not limited by the closed circle of Fate.

(Apologies, Thomas, if in using your words I have misrepresented your thoughts.)


message 20: by Eric (new)

Eric Walter | 4 comments I know that I am far behind in this discussion, however, did anyone else feel that the mixing bowls of Zeus that Achilles describes to Priam in Book 24 echo the "dance at the center of the shield?

As Everyman has argued Achilles' shield seems to emblem the human experience. However this emblem does not progress (like what we see in Hebraic or later Christian texts; like Dante) but rather (in a rather Greek and ancient fashion) is the endless cycle of peace and war.

There are several lines which seem to imply his cyclical nature. The two that seem the most obvious are:

"There among them a young boy plucked his lyre, so clear it could break the heart with longing, and what he sand was a dirge for the dying year, lovely."

"And the crippled Smith brought all his art to bear on a dancing circle,"


message 21: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Eric wrote: "I know that I am far behind in this discussion, however, did anyone else feel that the mixing bowls of Zeus that Achilles describes to Priam in Book 24 echo the "dance at the center of the shield?
..."


Can you give us a line number for the mixing bowls in Book 24? I don't see them among the gifts Priam brings to Achilles...


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