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Title: Ancient Classics for English Readers - Homer: The Iliad-The Odyssey
Author: Collins, W. Lucas (William Lucas)
Language: English
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                           ANCIENT CLASSICS


                            ENGLISH READERS

                             EDITED BY THE

                      REV. W. LUCAS COLLINS, M.A.


                        THE ILIAD--THE ODYSSEY

                    BY REV. W. LUCAS COLLINS, M.A.

                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON

The subjects in this Series may be had separately, in cloth, price 2s.
6d.; or two volumes bound in one, in leather back and marbled sides and
edges, arranged as follows:--












                               THE ILIAD

                                BY THE

                      REV. W. LUCAS COLLINS, M.A.

                               AUTHOR OF
                ‘ETONIANA,’ ‘THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS,’ ETC.

                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON


It is proposed to give, in these little volumes, some such introduction
to the great writers of Greece and Rome as may open to those who have
not received a classical education--or in whose case it has been
incomplete and fragmentary--a fair acquaintance with the contents of
their writings, and the leading features of their style.

The constant allusions in our own literature, and even in our daily
press, to the works of the ancient classical authors, and the
familiarity with the whole _dramatis personæ_ of ancient history and
fable which modern writers on all subjects assume on the part of their
readers, make such an acquaintance almost necessary for those who care
not only to read but to understand.

Even in the case of readers who have gone through the regular classical
course in their day, this acquaintance, if honest confession were made,
would be found very imperfect. It is said, of course, that “every
English gentleman reads Horace;” but this is one of those general
assertions which rest upon very loose ground. An ordinary observer of
the habits of the class might find himself somewhat at a loss for

In the case of ladies, and of the large body of general readers who have
received either no classical education, or a very imperfect one,
probably less is now known of Homer, Virgil, or Horace, than in the days
when Pope’s, Dryden’s, and Francis’s translations were first published,
and took their place for the time on every literary table.

There appears a strong probability that the study of Greek and Latin,
which has so long been our exclusive idea of a “liberal” education, will
hereafter be confined within a narrower circle. Yet some knowledge of
the ancient classics must continue to be the key to much of our best
English literature. If, as some educational reformers suggest, a
systematic course of English reading be substituted for Latin and Greek
in our “middle-class” schools, such a training will necessarily involve
the careful study of the masters of English thought and style, and more
especially of those earlier authors whose taste was formed very much
upon the old classical models, and whose writings are full of allusions
to their characters and imagery.

It may be said that we have translations of all the best and most
popular of the classical authors, and that many of these are admirable
in their execution. This is quite true. The Iliad, the Odyssey, the
Æneid, Horace, and some of the Greek Dramatists, have lately found
translators who, in point of taste and general accuracy, leave little to
be desired. But the results of their work will be best enjoyed and
valued by those whose acquaintance with the originals enables them to
appreciate not only the positive beauty of the English version, but its
relative merit as conveying the spirit and sense of the Greek or Latin
author. Even the best translation (especially of the classical poets)
may fail to have a continuous interest for the merely modern reader,
unless he has some previous familiarity with the argument of the work,
the personages introduced, and the characteristics of the age in which
the scene and action lie.

The aim of the present series will be to explain, sufficiently for
general readers, who these great writers were, and what they wrote; to
give, wherever possible, some connected outline of the story which they
tell, or the facts which they record, checked by the results of modern
investigations; to present some of their most striking passages in
approved English translations, and to illustrate them generally from
modern writers; to serve, in short, as a popular retrospect of the chief
literature of Greece and Rome. The attempt appeals, as will be seen, to
a circle outside that of classical scholarship; though possibly some who
have all legal claim to rank as scholars, but who now stand rather on
the “retired list” of that service, may in these pages meet some old
acquaintances whom they have almost forgotten. If, in any case, they
find our re-introduction unsatisfactory, none would advise them more
heartily than we do to renew the old personal intercourse for



INTRODUCTION,                                                          1


  “   II. THE DUEL OF PARIS AND MENELAUS,                             48

  “  III. THE BROKEN TRUCE,                                           63

  “   IV. THE FIRST DAY’S BATTLE,                                     69

  “    V. THE SECOND DAY’S BATTLE,                                    88

  “   VI. THE EMBASSY TO ACHILLES,                                    94

  “  VII. THE THIRD BATTLE,                                          104

  “ VIII. THE DEATH OF PATROCLUS,                                    113

  “   IX. THE RETURN OF ACHILLES,                                    121

  “    X. THE DEATH OF HECTOR,                                       128

  “   XI. CONCLUDING REMARKS,                                        139

It has been thought desirable in these pages to use the Latin names of
the Homeric deities, as more familiar to English ears. As, however, most
modern translators have followed Homer’s Greek nomenclature, it may be
convenient here to give both.

        Zeus          = Jupiter.
        Herè          = Juno.
        Arēs          = Mars.
        Poseidōn      = Neptune.
        Pallas Athenè = Minerva.
        Aphroditè     = Venus.
        Hephaistos    = Vulcan.
        Hermes        = Mercury.
        Artemis       = Diana.

The passages marked (D.) are from Lord Derby’s translation; (W.) from Mr
Worsley’s; and (P.) Pope’s.


It is quite unnecessary here to discuss the question, on which the
learned are very far from being agreed, whether Homer--the “Prince of
Poets”--had any real existence; whether he was really the author of the
two great poems which bear his name, or whether they are the collected
works of various hands, dovetailed into each other by some clever editor
of ancient times. Homer will still retain his personality for the
uncritical reader, however a sceptical criticism may question it. The
blind old bard, wandering from land to land, singing his lays of the old
heroic times to a throng of admiring listeners, must always continue to
be the familiar notion of the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Such
was the universal creed of the world of readers until a comparatively
recent date; and the speculations of modern scholars, in this as in
other cases, have been much more successful in shaking the popular
belief than in replacing it by any constructive theory of their own
which is nearly so credible. “Homer” is quite as likely to have been
really Homer, as a mere name under whose shadow the poems of various
unknown writers have been grouped.

There is extant a Life of the poet, said to have been composed by the
Greek historian Herodotus, quoted as such by early writers, and
possibly, after all, quite as trustworthy as the destructive conjectures
of those critics who would allow him no life at all. There we are told
that his birth, like that of so many heroes of antiquity, was
illegitimate; that he was the son of Critheis, who had been betrayed by
her guardian; that he was born near Smyrna, on the banks of the river
Meles, and was thence called “Melesigenes.” His mother is said
afterwards to have married a schoolmaster named Phemius, by whom the boy
was adopted, and in due course succeeded to his new father’s occupation.
But the future bard soon grew weary of such confinement. He set out to
see the world; visiting in turn Egypt, Italy, Spain, the islands of the
Mediterranean, and gathering material for at least one of his great
works, the adventures of the hero Odysseus (Ulysses), known to us as the
Odyssey. In the course of his travels he became blind, and thence was
called “Homeros”--“the blind man”--such at least is one of the
interpretations of his name.[1] In that state returning to his native
town of Smyrna, he, like his great English successor, Milton, composed
his two great poems. One of the few passages in which any personal
allusion to himself has been traced, or fancied, in Homer’s verse, is a
scene in the Odyssey, where the blind harper Demodocus is introduced as
singing his lays in the halls of King Alcinous:--

    “Whom the Muse loved, and gave him good and ill--
     Ill, that of light she did his eyes deprive;
     Good, that sweet minstrelsies divine at will
     She lent him, and a voice men’s ears to thrill.” (W.)

So, in the same poem, the only other bard who appears is also
blind--Phemius, who is compelled to exercise his art for the diversion
of the dissolute suitors of Penelope. The fact of blindness is in itself
by no means incompatible with the notion of Homer’s having constructed
and recited even two such long poems as the Iliad and the Odyssey. The
blind have very frequently remarkable memories, together with a ready
ear and passionate love for music.

For the rest of his life, Homer is said to have roamed from city to city
as a wandering minstrel, singing his lays through the towns of Asia
Minor, in the islands of the Archipelago, and even in the streets of
Athens itself, and drawing crowds of eager listeners wherever he went by
the wondrous charm of his song. This wandering life has been assumed to
imply that he was an outcast and poor. The uncertainty of his
birthplace, and the disputes to which it gave rise in after times, were
the subject of an epigram whose pungency passed for truth--

    “Seven rival towns contend for Homer dead,
     Through which the living Homer begged his bread.”

But the begging is not in the original lines at all, and a wandering
minstrel was no dishonoured guest, wherever he appeared, in days much
later than Homer’s. Somewhere on the coast of the Levant he died and
was buried, leaving behind him that name which retains its spell hardly
weakened by the lapse of some twenty-seven centuries, and the two great
poems which have been confessedly the main source of the epic poetry,
the heroic drama, and the early romance of Europe.

Other works are ascribed to Homer’s name besides the Iliad and the
Odyssey, but the authorship appears more doubtful. If we trust the
opinion of Aristotle, Homer was the father of comic narrative poetry as
well as of epic. The poem called ‘Margites,’ attributed to him,
contained the travels and adventures of a wealthy and pedantic coxcomb:
but slight fragments only of this have been preserved--enough to show
that the humour was somewhat more gross than one would expect from the
poet of the Odyssey, though redeemed, no doubt, by satire of a higher
kind, as in the surviving line which, in describing the hero’s
accomplishments, seems to anticipate the multifarious and somewhat
superficial knowledge of the present day--

    “Full many things he knew--and ill he knew them all.”

Admitting the personality of the poet himself, and his claim to the
authorship of both Iliad and Odyssey, it is not necessary to suppose
that either poem was framed originally as a whole, or recited as a whole
upon every occasion. No doubt the song grew as he sung. He would
probably add from time to time to the original lay. The reciter, whose
audience must depend entirely upon him for their text, has an almost
unlimited licence of interpolation and expansion. It may be fairly
granted also that future minstrels, who sung the great poet’s lays
after his death, would interweave with them here and there something of
their own, more or less successful in its imitation of the original.
Such explanation of the repetitions and incongruities which are to be
found in the Iliad seems at least as reasonable as the supposition that
its twenty-four books are the work of various hands, “stitched
together”--such is one explanation of the term “rhapsody”--in after
times, and having a common origin only in this, that all sung of the
“wondrous Tale of Troy.”

That tale was for generations the mainspring of Greek legend and song,
and the inspiration of Greek painters and sculptors. At this day, the
attempt to separate the fabulous from the real, to reduce the rich
colouring of romance into the severe outlines of history, is a task
which even in the ablest hands seems hopeless. The legends themselves
are various, and contradictory in their details. The leading characters
in the story--Priam, Helen, Agamemnon, Achilles, Ulysses, Paris, Hector
and Andromache--appear in as many different aspects and relations as the
fancy of each poet chose. In this respect they are like the heroes of
our own “Round Table” romances; like Arthur and Guinevere, Lancelot,
Tristram, and Percival--common impersonations on whom all kinds of
adventures are fastened, though the main characteristics of the portrait
are preserved throughout. What amount of bare historical truth may or
may not underlie the poetical colouring--whether there was or was not a
real Greek expedition and a real siege of Troy, less “heroic” and more
probable in its extent and details than the Iliad represents it--is no
question to be here discussed. So far as literary interest is
concerned, “the real Trojan war,” as Mr Grote well says, “is that which
is recounted by Homer.” It will be sufficient here to take the poet as
our main authority, and to fill up his picture from other legendary
sources; for though Homer’s version of the Great Trojan War is the
earliest account which has come down to us, he drew his material from
still earlier lays and legends, with which he assumes all his readers
(or hearers) to be tolerably familiar; and which, again, the later poets
and tragedians reproduced with many additions and variations of their

The preservation of poems of such great length (the Iliad alone contains
between fifteen and sixteen thousand lines) in days when writing, even
if invented, was in its infancy, has been the subject of much
speculation. That they were publicly recited at great national festivals
in all parts of Greece, is undoubted. Professional minstrels, or
“rhapsodists,” as they were called, chanted certain selected portions
which suited their own taste or that of their audience--often such as
contained the exploits of some national hero. They followed possibly in
this the example of the great bard himself; just as certain of our own
popular writers have lately taken to read, to an admiring public, some
favourite scenes and chapters from their own works. Lycurgus is said to
have brought the collected poems from Asia to Sparta; Solon, at Athens,
to have first obliged the minstrels to recite the several portions in
due order, so as to preserve the continuity of the narrative.
Pisistratus, the great Athenian ruler, has the reputation of having
first reduced the whole into a collected shape, and of having thus far
settled the “text” of Homer, employing in this work the most eminent
men of letters of his day. There is a legend of a Homeric ‘Septuagint:’
of seventy learned scribes employed in the great work, as in the Greek
version of the Hebrew Scriptures. From the time when the Iliad and
Odyssey were reduced to writing, their popularity rather increased than
waned. They were the storehouse of Greek history, genealogy, and
antiquity--the models and standards of literary taste. To be
unacquainted with these masterpieces, was to be wholly without culture
and education: and, thanks to their continual and public recital, this
want was perhaps less prevalent amongst the Greeks than amongst
ourselves. The young Alcibiades, when receiving the usual education of a
Greek gentleman, is said to have struck his tutor one day in a burst of
righteous indignation, for having made the confession--certainly
inexcusable in his vocation--that he did not possess a copy of the great
poet. Alexander the Great carried always with him the copy which had
been corrected by his master Aristotle, preserved in a jewelled casket
taken amongst the spoils of Darius. No pains were spared in the
caligraphy, or costliness in the mountings, of favourite manuscripts of
the Homeric poems. They continued to be regarded with almost a
superstitious reverence even during the middle ages of Christendom.
Men’s future destinies were discovered, by a sort of rude divination, in
verses selected at hap-hazard. Fantastic writers saw in the two poems
nothing more or less than allegorical versions of Hebrew history; and
grave physicians recommended as an infallible recipe for a _quartan_
ague, the placing every night a copy of the _fourth_ book of the Iliad
under the patient’s head. Modern critical speculations have gone quite
as far in another direction. In the eyes of some ingenious theorists,
this siege of Troy is but “a repetition of the daily siege of the East
by the solar powers that every evening are robbed of their brightest
treasures in the West;”[2] and the Homeric heroes and their exploits all
represent allegorically, in one form or another, the great conflict
between Light and Darkness. But such questions are beyond the scope of
these pages; we are content here to take the tale of Troy as the poet
tells it.

The supposed date of the story may be taken as some fifteen centuries
before the Christian era. The great City of Troy, or Ilium, lay on the
coast of Asia Minor--its reputed site still bearing the name of the
Troad, a broad well-watered champaign, with a height still recognised as
the citadel towering above it. “No royal seat of the ancient world,”
says a modern visitor to the spot, “could boast a grander situation than
the Trojan citadel.”[3] As to its actual locality and existence, there
is little ground for scepticism. The tradition of the name and place was
unbroken in the early historical ages of Greece. Xerxes, king of Persia,
in his expedition, is said to have visited the citadel, and to have
offered there a thousand oxen to the tutelary goddess; possibly, it has
been suggested, claiming to be the avenger of the Asiatic kings on their
European enemies.[4] Mindarus, the Lacedæmonian admiral, seventy years
later, sacrificed there also: and Alexander, when he crossed the
Hellespont, not only did the same, but took from the temple some of the
sacred arms which were hung there (said to be those of the heroes of
the great siege), offering up his own in exchange. The founder of the
city was Ilus, son of Tros, and from these mythical heroes it took its
two names. But its walls were built by the grandson, Laomedon. He
employed some remarkable workmen. In one of the most striking and
suggestive fables of the Greek mythology, certain of the gods are
represented as being condemned by Zeus (or Jupiter) to a period of
servitude upon earth. Poseidon (Neptune) and Apollo were under this
condemnation, and undertook, for certain rewards, to help Laomedon in
his fortifications. But when the work was finished, the ungrateful king
repudiated his bargain. As a punishment, a sea-monster is sent to ravage
his dominions, who can only be appeased by the sacrifice of a maiden of
noble blood. The lot falls upon the king’s own daughter, Hesione. It is
the original version of St George and the Dragon. Laomedon offers his
daughter, and certain horses of immortal breed (which he seems to count
even a more valuable prize), to the champion who will deliver her and
slay the monster. Hercules comes to the rescue; but a second time
Laomedon breaks his word. He substitutes mortal horses, and refuses his
daughter. Hercules attacks the city, kills Laomedon, and carries off the
princess Hesione, whom he gives to his comrade Telamon. From this union
are born two heroes, Ajax and his brother Teucer, whom we shall meet in
the second and great Siege of Troy, which forms the subject of Homer’s

This double perjury of Laomedon’s is one supposed cause of the wrath of
Heaven resting on the town and its people. Yet Apollo, forgetful, it
would seem, of his former unworthy treatment, and only remembering with
affection the walls which he had helped to build, is represented as
taking part with the Trojans in the great struggle, in which the deities
of Olympus are bitterly divided amongst themselves.

But Homer’s Tale of Troy says nothing of Laomedon and his broken faith.
His poem is built upon a later legend. This legend embraces in the whole
a period of thirty years, divided exactly, in a manner very convenient
for both poet and reader, into complete decades; ten years of
preparation for the siege, ten occupied in the siege itself (with which
alone the Iliad has to do), and ten consumed in the weary wanderings and
final return home of the surviving Greek heroes who had taken part in
the expedition.

The first decade begins with the carrying off from the court of
Menelaus, king of Sparta, of his wife Helen, by a young Asiatic prince
whom he has entertained in his travels. Helen is the reputed daughter of
Jupiter by Leda, and upon her Venus has bestowed the fatal endowment of
matchless and irresistible beauty. The young prince whom she unhappily
captivates is Paris or Alexander, son of Priam, king of Troy. Terrible
oracles had accompanied the birth of him who was to prove the curse of
his father’s people. His mother Hecuba dreamed that she gave birth to a
flaming brand. The child when born was exposed on Mount Ida, so as to
insure his death in infancy without incurring the guilt of blood. But,
as in similar legends, the precaution did but help to fulfil the
prophecy. In the solitudes of the mountain he grew up, a boy of wondrous
beauty, the nursling and the favourite of Venus. There he was called
upon to decide to whom the “Prize of Beauty”--the golden apple thrown
by Discord into the feast of the Immortals, with that insidious legend
inscribed on it--should be awarded. Three competing goddesses--Juno,
Venus, and Minerva, who at least, as the goddess of wisdom, ought to
have known better--appeared before the young shepherd in all the
simplicity of immortal costume, in order that he might decide which of
them was “the fairest.” Each tried to bribe him to adjudge the prize to
herself. The Queen of Heaven offered him power in the future; Minerva,
wisdom; Venus, the loveliest woman upon earth. Paris chose the last. It
was Helen; for Venus took it very little into her account that she had a
husband already. It involved also, according to the most picturesque of
the legends, a somewhat similar breach of troth on Paris’s part. In the
valleys of Ida he had already won the love of the nymph Œnone, but he
deserts her without scruple under the new temptation.[5] He has learnt
the secret of his royal birth, and is acknowledged by his father Priam.
In spite of the warnings of his sister Cassandra, who has a gift of
prophecy, and foresees evil from the expedition; in spite, too, of the
forsaken Œnone’s wild denunciations, he fits out ships and sets sail for
Greece. Admitted as a guest to the hospitable court of Menelaus at
Sparta, he charms both him and Helen by his many accomplishments. The
king, gallant and unsuspicious, and of somewhat easy temperament, as
appears from several passages of Homer, leaves him still an inmate of
his palace, while he himself makes a voyage to Crete. In the husband’s
absence, Paris succeeds--not without some degree of violence, according
to some of the legends--in carrying off the wife, loading his ships at
the same time (to give emphatic baseness to the exploit) with a rich
freight of gold and treasures, the spoils of his absent host. So Venus’s
promise is made good, and Priam weakly receives into his palace the
fatal beauty who is to prove the ruin of the Trojan fortunes.

The outrage rouses all Greece to arms. Menelaus appeals to his brother
Agamemnon, king of Argos and Mycenæ, who held some sort of suzerainty
over the whole of Greece. The brother-kings were the sons of Atreus, of
the great house of Pelops, who gave his name to the peninsula known as
the Peloponnesus, and now the Morea. It was a house eminent for wealth
and splendour and influence. According to an old proverb, valour and
wisdom were given by the gods to other names in larger measure, but
wealth and power belonged of divine right to the Atridæ. This power must
not be hastily pronounced fabulous. There yet remain traces of the mural
and sepulchral architecture of Agamemnon’s capital, Mycenæ, which are
strongly significant of a pre-historical civilisation--an “iron age” of
massive strength and no mean resources.[6] Agamemnon, in Homer’s poem,
carries a sceptre which had literally, not metaphorically, come down to
him as an heirloom from the king of the gods. Vulcan himself had
wrought it for Jupiter; Jupiter had given it to Hermes, Hermes to
Pelops, and so it had been handed on. It was in some sort the prototype
of those more than mortal weapons wielded by the heroes of medieval
romance, which were one secret of their invincible prowess, and which
had come from the hand of no human armourer; like the sword Durentaille,
which belonged to Charlemagne, and was by him given to his nephew
Roland; like Arthur’s Excalibur; or the marvellous blade Recuite, which
passed from the hands of Alexander the Great to Ptolemy, from Ptolemy to
Judas Maccabæus, and so, through many intermediate owners, to the
Emperor Vespasian. To the monarchs of the house of Pelops, then,
belonged in uncommon degree “the divinity that doth hedge a king;” and
Agamemnon is recognised, throughout the whole of the Homeric story, as
pre-eminently “King of Men.” But a terrible curse rested on the house--a
curse connected with a revolting legend, which, as not recognised by
Homer, needs no further notice here, but which was to find ample
fulfilment in the sequel of Agamemnon’s history.

The royal sons of Atreus take hasty counsel with such of the
neighbouring kings and chiefs as they can collect, how they may avenge
the wrong. One legend tells us that Tyndarus, the reputed father of
Helen, before he gave her in marriage to Menelaus, had pledged all her
suitors, among whom were the noblest names of Greece, to avenge any such
attempt against the honour of the husband he should choose for her,
whichever of them he might be: and that they now redeemed that pledge
when called upon by the king of Sparta. Nestor, king of Pylos, and a
chief named Palamedes, went through the coasts of Greece, denouncing
the perfidy of the foreign adventurer, and rousing the national feeling
of the Greeks, or, as Homer prefers to call them, the Achæans. The
chiefs did not all obey the summons willingly. Odysseus--better known to
us under the Latin form of his name as Ulysses--king of the rocky island
of Ithaca, feigned madness to escape from his engagement. But the shrewd
Palamedes detected the imposture. He went to the field where the king,
after the simple fashion of the times, was ploughing, carrying with him
from the house his infant child Telemachus, and laid him down in the
furrow which Ulysses was moodily driving, apparently insensible to all
other sights and sounds. The father turned the plough aside, and his
assumed madness was at once detected. In some cases, where there were
several sons of military age in the same family, lots were cast for the
unwelcome honour of serving against Troy. Some even sent bribes to
Agamemnon to induce him to set them free from their engagement.
Echepolus of Sicyon, loath to leave his vast possessions, sent to the
great king his celebrated mare Œthe, the fleetest of her kind, as his
personal ransom. The bribe was accepted, and Œthe went to Troy instead
of her luxurious master. The story has been adduced in proof of
Agamemnon’s greediness in thus preferring private gain to the public
interests: but no less a critic than Aristotle has sagaciously observed,
that a good horse was a far more valuable conscript than an unwilling
soldier. Some heroes, on the other hand, went resolutely to the war,
though the fates foretold that they should never return from it alive.
Euchenor of Corinth, though rich like Echepolus, could not be persuaded
to remain at home, even when his aged father, who was a seer himself,
forewarned him of his doom; he boldly dared his fate, and fell at the
close of the siege by the hand of Paris.

Under somewhat similar auguries the great hero of Homer’s tale left his
home for Troy. Achilles, said the legends, was the son of the
ocean-goddess Thetis by a mortal lover, Peleus son of Æacus. The gods
had honoured the marriage with their personal presence--

    “For in that elder time, when truth and worth
     Were still revered and cherished here on earth,
     The tenants of the skies would oft descend
     To heroes’ spotless homes, as friend to friend;
     There meet them face to face, and freely share
     In all that stirred the hearts of mortals there.”[7]

The Roman poet Catullus tells us in the same beautiful ode, how mortals
and immortals alike brought their wedding gifts: Chiron the centaur
(“that divine beast,” as Pindar calls him) comes from the mountains
laden with coronals of flowers for the banquet, and Peneus, the
Thessalian river-god, brings whole trees of beech and bay and cypress to
shade the guests. Even the three weird sisters, the inexorable Fates,
tune their voices for this once into a nuptial hymn, and while their
spindles “run and weave the threads of doom,” they chant the future
glories of the child that shall be born from this auspicious union.
Neptune presents the fortunate bridegroom with two horses of divine
breed--Xanthus and Balius--and Chiron gives him a wondrous ashen spear.
Both these gifts passed afterwards as heirlooms to Achilles, the
offspring of this marriage, and were carried by him to Troy.

Achilles is the very model of a hero, such as heroes would be accounted
in times when the softer and nobler qualities of true heroism were
unknown. Strong and beautiful in person, as a goddess-born should be;
haughty, and prompt to resent insult, but gallant and generous;
passionate alike in his love and in his hate; a stanch friend, and a
bitter enemy. He is the prototype of Sir Lancelot in many points--“the
goodliest person that ever came among press of knights--the truest
friend to his lover that ever bestrod horse--the sternest man to his
mortal foe that ever put spear in rest.” The epithet which Homer himself
gives him is precisely that which was given to the English king who was
held to be the flower of chivalry--“Lionheart.” Though in personal
strength and speed of foot he excels all the other heroes of the
expedition, yet he is not a mere fighter, like his comrade Ajax, but has
all the finer tastes and accomplishments of an age which, however fierce
and barbarous in many respects, shows yet a high degree of civilisation.
Music and song beguile for him the intervals of battle, and, whether
indignant, sarcastic, or pathetic, he is always an admirable speaker.
There is something of a melancholy interest about him, too, not
inappropriate to a hero of romance, which the poet never allows us to
forget. He has come to Troy with his doom upon him, and he knows it. His
goddess-mother has told him that there is a twofold destiny possible for
him: either to live in wealth and peace, and such happiness as they can
bring, a long life of inglorious ease in his native land of Phthia, or
to embrace in foreign warfare a brief career of victory, a warrior’s
death, and undying glory. He makes his choice as a hero should--

    “One crowded hour of glorious life
     Is worth an age without a name.”

One fable runs that his mother, Thetis, dipped him when an infant in the
river Styx, which made him invulnerable in every point except the heel,
by which she held him:[8] but there is no mention of this in the Iliad,
and he goes into battle, for all that appears, as liable to wounds and
death as any other mortal warrior, and with a presentiment that the last
awaits him before the capture of Troy is complete.

At length the ten years’ preparations were all completed. The harbour of
Aulis on the coast of Bœotia was the place fixed for the rendezvous.
From every quarter where the great race of the Achæans had
settled,--from the wooded valleys of Thessaly, from all the coasts of
the Peloponnesus, and the neighbouring islands, from Ithaca and
Cephallenia on the west to Crete and Rhodes on the east--the chiefs and
their following were gathered. A hundred ships--long half-decked
row-galleys, whose average complement was about eighty men--were manned
from Agamemnon’s own kingdom of Mycenæ, and he supplied also sixty more
to carry the contingent of the Arcadians, who, as an inland people, had
no fleet of their own. His brother Menelaus brought sixty; Nestor of
Pylos, ninety; Idomeneus of Crete, and Diomed of Argos, eighty each.
Ulysses and Ajax did but contribute each twelve galleys; but the leaders
were a host in themselves. In all there were twelve hundred vessels,
carrying above 100,000 men. With the exception of the chiefs and two or
three officials attached to each galley, such as the helmsman and the
steward, all on board were rowers when at sea, and fighting-men on land.
The expedition has been well termed a secular crusade. It was
undertaken, as modern politicians would say, “for an idea;” not for
conquest, but for a point of honour. It might be questioned, indeed, how
far the object was worth the cost. There was at least one of the
neighbouring kings who at the time took a very unromantic and
utilitarian view of the matter. Poltis, king of Thrace, was applied to
amongst the rest for his assistance. He inquired into the cause of the
expedition; and when he heard it, he suggested an arrangement which
might accommodate all differences without the necessity of an appeal to
arms. “It is hard,” he said, “for Menelaus to lose a wife: yet very
probably Paris wanted one. Now I have two wives, whom I can well spare;
I will send one to Menelaus, and the other to Paris; and so all parties
will be satisfied.” But we might have lost the Iliad if his counsel had
been taken.

The great host set sail; but the first time, says the legend, they
missed their way. They mistook a part of the coast called Teuthrania for
the plains of Troy; and then, re-embarking, were driven by a storm back
to the shores of Greece. A second time they made their rendezvous at
Aulis; but Agamemnon had incurred the anger of Diana, and the fleet lay
wind-bound for many weeks. It was then that deed of purest tragedy was
done, which, though it forms no part of Homer’s story, has been so often
the subject of song, of painting, and of sculpture, and has received so
many illustrations in modern literature, that it must find place here.
The king is informed by the oracle that the wrath of Heaven can only be
appeased by the sacrifice of his virgin daughter Iphianassa, or as she
is more commonly called, Iphigenia. Reluctantly, and only after a bitter
struggle with his feelings, urged by the importunate clamour of the
whole army, and in obedience to his conception of his duties as their
chief, the father consented. The story is immortalised by the anecdote
told of Timanthes, the painter of Sicyon, when competing with a rival in
a picture of the sacrifice. The point of admitted difficulty with both
the competitors was to portray the agony in the father’s features at the
moment when the sacrificing priest was about to strike the fatal blow.
The great artist represented the king as wrapping his face in the folds
of his mantle, and was at once pronounced the winner of the prize. Mr
Tennyson--never more successful than when he draws his inspiration from
the old classical sources--has made tasteful use of both legend and
anecdote in his ‘Dream of Fair Women.’ It is Iphigenia who speaks:--

    “I was cut off from hope in that sad place,
       Which yet to name my spirit loathes and fears:
     My father held his hand upon his face;
       I, blinded with my tears,

    “Still strove to speak: my voice was thick with sighs,
       As in a dream. Dimly I could descry
     The stern black-bearded kings with wolfish eyes,
       Waiting to see me die.

    “The tall masts quivered as they lay afloat,
       The temples and the people and the shore;
     One drew a sharp knife through my tender throat,
       Slowly,--and nothing more.”

There was, however, a less harrowing version of the legend. As in the
parallel case of Jephtha’s daughter, there were found interpreters who
could not bear that the sacrifice should be carried out. They said that
in mercy Diana substituted a fawn, and carried off the maiden to serve
her as a priestess in perpetual maidenhood at her shrine in the Tauric
Chersonese. It is this version of the tale which the Greek tragedian
Euripides has followed in his “Iphigenia in Aulis.” Racine, in his
tragedy, avails himself of a third version of the catastrophe. The
victim whom Calchas’ oracle demands must be a princess of the blood of
Helen. This Agamemnon’s daughter was--her mother Clytemnestra being
Helen’s sister. But at the last moment another Iphigenia is found,
offspring of a previous secret marriage of Helen with Theseus. The
French tragedian, following Euripides in representing the princess as
promised in marriage to Achilles, has given the necessary amount of
romance to the _denouement_ by introducing the hero as an impetuous
lover of the modern type, surrounding the altar with his faithful
Myrmidons, and vowing that Calchas himself shall be the first
victim--until the old soothsayer hits upon the expedient of a
satisfactory substitute.

The wrath of Diana is appeased, the favouring gales are granted, and
once more the Greek armament sets sail. They break their voyage at the
island of Tenedos; and from thence Menelaus, accompanied by Ulysses, who
is the diplomatist of the army, proceeds to Troy to make a final demand
for reparation. Even now, if the Trojans will give back Helen and the
treasures, the Greeks will be satisfied. But the terms were rejected,
though the reception of the embassy at Troy seems to mark a high state
of civilisation. So the expedition proceeds: but before they make good
their landing on the Trojan coast, the Fates demand another victim. The
oracle had said that the first who set foot on Trojan soil must fall.
There was a hesitation even among the bravest of the Greeks, and the
Trojans and their allies were lining the shore. Protesilaus of Phylacè,
with a gallant disregard of omens, leapt to land, and fell, first of his
countrymen, by a Dardanian spear--launched, as one legend has it, by the
noble hand of Hector. Homer has a pathetic touch in his mention of

    “Unfinished his proud palaces remain,
     And his sad consort beats her breast in vain.”

On this slight foundation the Roman poet, Ovid, has constructed one of
the sweetest of his imaginary ‘Epistles’--that of the wife Laodamia to
the husband of whom she complains as sending no message home, undreaming
that he had long since found a grave on the soil of Troy. A later legend
tells us that she wearied the gods with prayers and tears, by night and
day, to obtain permission to see her husband once again on earth. The
boon was granted: for the space of three hours the dead hero was allowed
to revisit his home, and Laodamia died in his embrace. There is a poetic
sequel to the tradition, preserved by Pliny,[9] and thus beautifully
rendered in the concluding lines of Wordsworth’s ‘Laodamia:’--

                          “Upon the side
    Of Hellespont (such faith was entertained)
    A knot of spiry trees for ages grew
    From out the tomb of him for whom she died;
    And ever, when such stature they had gained
    That Ilium’s walls were subject to their view,
    The trees’ tall summits withered at the sight--
    A constant interchange of growth and blight!”

The Trojans, too, had their allies, who came to their aid, when the
invasion was imminent, from the neighbouring tribes of Mysia, Caria,
Phrygia, and even the coast towns of Thrace. The most renowned of these
auxiliary chiefs were Sarpedon, who led the Lycian troops, and Æneas,
commander of the Dardanians. Both claimed an immortal descent: Æneas was
the son of Venus by a human lover, Anchises, and sprung from a branch of
the royal house of Troy: Sarpedon’s father was no less than Jupiter
himself. Next after Hector, the most warlike, but not the eldest of the
sons of Priam, these are the most illustrious names on the side of the
Trojans in Homer’s story. But the force of the invaders was too strong
to allow their adversaries to keep the open field. Soon they were driven
inside the walls of the city, while the Greeks ravaged all the
neighbouring coast almost unopposed, and maintained themselves at the
enemy’s cost. Then began the weary siege which wasted the hopes and
resources of both armies for ten long years. To the long night-watches
round the camp-fires of the Greeks we are indebted--so the legends
say--for at least one invention which has enlivened many a waste hour
since, and also, it perhaps may be said, has wasted some hours for its
more enthusiastic admirers. Palamedes, to cheer the nagging spirits of
his countrymen, invented for them, among other pastimes, the nobler
game of chess; and kings and castles, knights and pawns, still move in
illustration of the greater game which was then being played on the
plains of Troy. The inventor met with but an ungrateful return,
according to one gloomy legend--which, however, is not Homer’s. Ulysses
had never forgiven him the detection of the pretence of madness by which
he had sought himself to escape the service; nor could he bear so close
a rival in what he considered his own exclusive field of subtlety and
stratagem. He took the occasion of a fishing expedition to plunge the
unfortunate chief overboard.

So much of preface seems almost necessary to enable any reader to whom
the Greek mythology is not already familiar ground, to take up Homer’s
tale with some such previous acquaintance with the subject as the bard
himself would have given him credit for. The want of it has sometimes
made the study of the Iliad less interesting and less intelligent than
it should have been, even to those who have approached it with some
knowledge of the original language.

       *       *       *       *       *

The galleys of the Greeks, when they reached the Trojan coast, were all
drawn up on shore, as was their invariable custom at the end of a
voyage, and kept in an upright position by wooden shores. The crews,
with the exception of some two or three “ship-keepers” for each galley,
disembarked, and formed some kind of encampment near their respective
vessels. Achilles’ station was on one wing, and that of Ajax on the
other; these points of danger being assigned to the leaders of highest
repute for valour. The chiefs fought in war-chariots of very light
construction, on two wheels and open at the back. These were drawn by
two--or sometimes three--horses, and carried two persons, both standing;
the fighter, armed with sword and shield, and one or two long spears
which were usually hurled at the enemy--and his charioteer, usually a
friend of nearly equal rank. The fighters in most cases dismounted from
their chariots when they came to close quarters, their charioteers
attending on their movements. The combatants of lower degree fought on
foot. There is no mention of cavalry.




Adopting for himself a method which has since become a rule of art, more
or less acknowledged in the literature of fiction, the poet dashes off
at once into the full action of his story. He does not ask his readers
or hearers to accompany the great armament over sea from the shores of
Greece, or give them the history of the long and weary siege. He plunges
at one leap into the tenth year of the war. He assumes from the outset,
on the part of those to whom he speaks, a general knowledge of the main
plot of his poem, and of the characters represented: just as the modern
author of a novel or a poem on the Civil Wars of England would assume
some general acquaintance with the history of Charles I., the character
of Cromwell, and the breach between King and Commons. Nine whole years
are supposed to have already passed in desultory warfare; but for the
details of these campaigns the modern reader has to go to other sources,
with which also the original hearers are supposed to have been
acquainted. The Trojans and their allies are cooped up within the walls
of their city, while the Greek hero Achilles has spread the terror of
his name far and wide.

The poet’s exordium is of the very briefest. His invocation to the
goddess of song is in just three words:--

    “Sing, heavenly muse, the wrath of Peleus’ son.”

We have here the key-note of the poem brought before us in the very
first line--nay, in the very first word, according to the original, for
“wrath” stands first in the Greek, which it cannot very conveniently do
in the English. The two great heroes of the Greek chivalry, Agamemnon
and Achilles, always jealous of each other, come to an open quarrel in
full council of the princes of the League. Their quarrel is--like the
original cause of the war, like so many quarrels before and since--about
a woman, a beautiful captive. A fatal pestilence is raging in the camp.
The Sun-god, Apollo, is angry. To him and to his twin-sister Diana, the
Moon, all mysterious diseases were attributed--not without some
sufficient reasons, in a hot climate. Pestilence and disease were the
arrows of Apollo and Diana. Therefore the Greeks have no doubt as to the
author of the present calamity. It is “the god of the silver bow” who is
sending his swift shafts of death amongst them. The poet’s vision even
sees the dread Archer in bodily shape. It is a fine picture; the English
reader will lose little of its beauty in Lord Derby’s version:--

    “Along Olympus’ heights he passed, his heart
     Burning with wrath; behind his shoulders hung
     His bow and ample quiver; at his back
     Rattled the fateful arrows as he moved.
     Like the night-cloud he passed, and from afar
     He bent against the ships, and sped the bolt;
     And fierce and deadly twanged the silver bow.
     First on the mules and dogs, on man the last,
     Was poured the arrowy storm; and through the camp
     Constant and numerous blazed the funeral-fires.”

In their misery the Greeks appeal to their soothsayer Calchas, to divine
for them the cause of the god’s displeasure. The Mantis or soothsayer,
whose skill was in most cases supposed to be hereditary, accompanied a
Greek force on all its expeditions; and no prudent general would risk a
battle, or engage in any important enterprise, without first
ascertaining from this authority the will of the gods, as shadowed out
in certain appearances of the sacrifice, or some peculiarity in the
flight of birds, or some phenomena of the heavens. In this particular
expedition it would appear that Calchas had turned the last branch of
his art to good purpose; it must have been his knowledge of the stars
which had enabled him, as Homer tells us, to pilot the great fleet from
their own shores to Troy. He confesses that he can read the secret of
Apollo’s present wrath; but he hesitates to tell it, dreading, he says,
lest he should thereby anger the “great chief whom the whole host
obeys.” Achilles charges him to speak out boldly without fear or favour;
none shall harm him--not even if he should denounce Agamemnon himself as
the cause of this visitation, adds the hero, gladly seizing the
opportunity of hurling a defiance at his great rival. Thus supported,
the seer speaks out; Agamemnon is indeed the guilty cause. In a late
foray he had taken captive the maiden daughter of Chryses, a priest of
the Sun-god, and the father had come to the camp of the invaders as a
suppliant, pleading the sanctity of his office, and offering a fitting
ransom. The great king had refused to listen, had sent him away with
bitter words and threats; and the priest had prayed to his god to punish
the insult: hence the pestilence. Immediately the popular
voice--expressed loudly through Achilles--demands the maiden’s instant
restitution to her father. Agamemnon, though burning with indignation
alike against the seer and his champion, dares not refuse. His
prerogative, however generally admitted and respected by the confederate
army, is dependent in such extremities on the popular will. He promises
at once to send back the daughter of Chryses unharmed and without
ransom. But at the same time, after a stormy and bitter dispute with
Achilles, he announces his intention to insist on that chief resigning,
by way of exchange, a fair captive named Briseis, carried off in some
similar raid, who had been awarded to him as his share of the public
spoil. To this insolent demand the majority of the council of chiefs,
content with their victory on the main question, appear to raise no
objection. But Achilles--his impetuous nature roused to madness by the
studied insult--leaps up and half unsheathes his sword. Even then--such
is the Greek’s reverence for authority--he hesitates; and as he stands
with his hand upon the hilt, there sweeps down from Olympus[10] Pallas
Athene (Minerva), the goddess of wisdom, sent by Here (Juno) Queen of
Heaven to check this fatal strife between her favourite Greeks. The
celestial messenger is visible to Achilles alone. She calms the hero’s
wrath so far as to restrain him from any act of violence; but, as she
disappears, he turns on his enemy, and swears a mighty oath--the royal
oath of kings--by the golden-studded staff, or “sceptre,” which was
borne by king, priest, and judge as the emblem of their authority.
Pope’s rendering has all the fire of the original, and the additional
touches which he throws in are at least in a kindred spirit:--

    “By this I swear, when bleeding Greece again
     Shall call Achilles, she shall call in vain:
     When flushed with slaughter Hector comes to spread
     The purpled shore with mountains of the dead,
     Then shalt thou mourn th’ affront thy madness gave,
     Forced to deplore, when impotent to save;
     Then rage in bitterness of soul, to know
     This act has made the bravest Greek thy foe.”

He dashes his sceptre on the ground, and sits down in savage silence.
Agamemnon is ready enough to return the taunt, when there rises in the
assembly a venerable figure, whose grey hairs and tried sagacity in
council command at once the respect of all. It is Nestor, the
hoary-headed chieftain of the rocky Pylos in the Peloponnese--known in
his more vigorous days as “the horse-tamer,” and, in sooth, not a little
proud of his past exploits. Two generations of men he has already
outlived in his own dominions, and is now loved and respected by the
third. He has joined the great armament still sound in wind and limb;
but he is valued now not so much for his

    “Red hand in the foray,”

as for his

    “Sage counsel in cumber.”

He can clothe this counsel, too, in winning words. The stream of
eloquence that flowed from his lips, says the poet, was “sweeter than
honey.” He gently reproves both disputants for their unseemly strife--a
shame to the Greeks, a triumph to the enemy. His words ring like the
lament of David over the suicide of Saul--“Tell it not in Gath, publish
it not in the streets of Askelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines

    “Alas, deep sorrow on our land doth fall!
     Yet shall on Priam and his sons alight
     Hope, and a great joy on the Trojans all,
     Hearing ye waste in bitter feud your might,
     Ye twain, our best in counsel and in fight.” (W.)

He proceeds to tell them something of his own long experience, by way of
claim on their attention--with something also, as critics have noticed,
of an old man’s garrulity. But the reader, it should be remembered,
really wants to know something about him, even if the Greeks may have
been supposed to have heard his story before.

                          “In times past
    I lived with men--and they despised me not--
    Abler in counsel, greater than yourselves.
    Such men I never saw and ne’er shall see,
    As Pirithous and Dryas, wise and brave,
    And Theseus, Œgeus’ more than mortal son.
    The mightiest they among the sons of men,
    The mightiest they, and of the forest beasts
    Strove with the mightiest, and their rage subdued.
    With them I played my part; with them, not one
    Would dare to fight of mortals now on earth.
    Yet they my counsels heard, my voice obeyed;
    And hear ye also--for my words are wise.” (D.)

The angry chiefs do hear him so far, that after the interchange of a few
more passionate words they leave the council. Achilles stalks off
gloomily to his tent, accompanied by his faithful friend and henchman,
Patroclus (of whom we shall hear more), and followed by his retinue.
Agamemnon proceeds at once to carry out his resolution. He despatches a
galley with a trusty crew, under the command of the sage Ulysses, to the
island of Chrysa, to restore the old priest’s daughter to him in all
honour, with expiatory presents, and the offer of a hecatomb to the
Sun-god. They make the voyage quickly, and arrive safely at the island.
The rapid movement here of Homer’s verse has rarely been more happily
rendered than in the English hexameters of Mr Landon:--

    “Out were the anchors cast, and the ropes made fast to the steerage;
     Out did the sailors leap on the foaming beach of the ocean;
     Out was the hecatomb led for the skilful marksman Apollo;
     Out Chryseis arose from the ship that sped through the waters.”

So, by the good priest’s prayers, the god is propitiated, and the plague
in the Greek host is stayed.

Meanwhile another embassy, on a very different errand, has been
despatched by the King of Men to the tents where Achilles lies, hard by
his ships, with his fierce bands of Myrmidons encamped around him. Their
name has passed into a by-word, being commonly but incorrectly used to
designate an unscrupulous rabble of followers, to whom their leader’s
word is law. The notion must be derived not from Homer, but from Pope.
In his version of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, he makes
the former say to his antagonist--

    “Go, threat thine earth-born Myrmidons; but here
     ’Tis mine to threaten, prince, and thine to fear.”

But to suppose that the Myrmidons were subservient to any man’s threats,
is to give them a very different character from what we find in Homer.
Even the epithet “earth-born,” which is Pope’s, not Homer’s, and which
may easily be misunderstood, they would have prized as a high
compliment, implying that they were no new race, but the aboriginal
possessors of their native soil; just as the proud Athenians wore the
“golden grasshopper” in their hair, because that insect was fabled to
owe its birth to the spontaneous action of the earth. The followers of
Achilles were indeed “fierce as ravening wolves,” as the poet has
afterwards described them; but they were the very flower of the Greek
army, troops of whom any leader might be proud, and if they had a
wolfish thirst for blood, they were no worse and no better in this
respect than Achilles himself, or any captain in the host before Troy;
for an insatiable ferocity, when once the spirit of combativeness is
aroused, is the characteristic of all Homer’s heroes, as in those of the
medieval romances.

The purpose of the king’s embassy to Achilles is, of course, in
pursuance of his threat, to demand the surrender of the fair Briseis.
Such a message to such a man is no very safe or agreeable errand. But
Agamemnon chooses his envoys well. He sends two heralds--Eurybates and
Talthybius. The herald’s office, in early Greek warfare, had an especial
sanctity. Those who held it were not mere officials whose name protected
them, but men of noble and even of royal birth, who might have been
captains of thousands themselves, if they had not chosen, as it were,
the civilian’s place in warfare. Such diplomacy as there was room for
in those ages was transacted by them. They were under the special
protection of Zeus, as the god of oaths and treaties. There was no fear
that the noble chief of the Myrmidons, even in his most furious mood,
would treat such envoys rudely. But in fact his reception of them is one
of the most remarkable scenes in the poem, both from its high-toned
courtesy and from its strong contrast with the hero’s previous bearing
towards Agamemnon. Achilles receives the heralds of the king much as a
well-bred gentleman of fifty years ago would have received the “friend”
who carried a hostile message from one with whom he had a deadly quarrel
a few hours before. The demand which they brought from Agamemnon was
pointed with the additional threat that, if he refused to give up the
damsel, the king would come himself and carry her off by the strong
hand,--a threat almost brutal, because quite unwarranted; since Achilles
had declared in the council that if the Greeks, who had awarded her as
his battle-prize, chose to acquiesce in the injustice of demanding her
back from him, _he_ should make no resistance. But it does not seem that
the heralds delivered themselves of the additional insult which they
were charged to convey. They had no need. As they stand at the entrance
of his tent, “troubled and awe-stricken,” loath to begin their unwelcome
tale, Achilles sets them at their ease at once in a few calm and
dignified words. He recognises in them “the messengers of Zeus”--and if
now by accident of Agamemnon, the offence is his, not theirs. He at once
bids Patroclus lead forth the damsel, and gives her into their custody,
to deal with according to their orders. He repeats his oath, however,
though in calmer terms; and calls them to witness before heaven that
Agamemnon, in his day of need, shall look in vain for the saving arm of
the man he has insulted.

It is something in favour of a tender side to the hero’s character, that
the “fair-cheeked” Briseis, spoil of war though she was, parts from him
very reluctantly. Achilles, for his share, fairly weeps: but not the
most romantic reader of the story dares nurse the idea that it is for
his Briseis. They who bring with them, to the pages of classical
fiction, a taste which has been built up by modern song and romance,
must be warned at once that there is no love-story in either Iliad or
Odyssey. Indeed, one remarkable point of difference between the
imaginative writers of antiquity and those of our own days, lies in the
absence of that which is the motive and the key-note of five-sixths of
our modern tales in prose and verse. Love between unmarried persons, in
the sense in which we commonly use the word, seems very much the product
of modern civilisation. There is indeed a passion which we name by the
same English word--the mere animal passion, which Homer, to do him
justice, deals with but as a matter of fact, and never paints in
attractive colours. There is again a love of another kind--the love of
the husband for his wife and of the wife for her husband--which the old
poet also well understood, and which furnishes him with scenes of the
highest pathos and beauty. But as to the sentiment which forms the
common staple of modern romance and drama, Homer certainly did not know
what it meant, nor Achilles or Briseis either. As for the latter, if she
shed tears, it was no doubt because she had found in Achilles a kind
and generous lord and master, who had made her captive lot (which might
chance to come to the turn of any lady or princess in those warlike
times) as tolerable as such a life could be; and because Agamemnon--if
she had heard his character from Achilles--did not promise a very
favourable change in that respect.

Achilles weeps--but not for Briseis. He is touched in a point where he
is far more sensitive--his honour. He has been robbed of the guerdon of
valour, bestowed on him in full conclave of the chiefs of the army. He
has been robbed of it by Agamemnon--the man for whose especial sake, to
avenge whose family wrongs, he has come on this long expedition from his
home. This was his indignant protest in their dispute at the council--

    “Well dost thou know that ’twas no feud of mine
     With Troy’s brave sons, that brought me here in arms;
     They never did me wrong; they never drove
     My cattle, or my horses; never sought
     In Phthia’s fertile life-sustaining fields
     To waste the crops; for wide between us lay
     The shadowy mountains and the roaring sea.
     With thee, O void of shame! with thee we sailed,
     For Menelaüs and for thee, ingrate,
     Glory and fame on Trojan crests to win.” (D.)

And now this is his reward! And the whole Greek army, too, have made
themselves partakers in the wrong, inasmuch as they have tamely looked
on, and allowed the haughty king thus to override honour, gratitude, and
justice. His indignation is intense. He wanders away, and sits alone on
the sea-beach, “gazing vacantly on the illimitable ocean.” Soon there
comes a change upon his spirit; and now, with a childlike
petulance--these Homeric heroes, with all their fierce ways, are still
so very childlike, and therefore so human and so interesting--he cries
to his mother. True, that mother is, as we remember, a goddess--Thetis,
daughter of the great Jupiter, and of potent influence in the waters
beneath the earth. To her he bemoans himself. That his days were to be
few, he knew when he came here to Troy; but she had promised him undying
renown. It has failed him: his “one crowded hour of glorious life” is
darkened in dishonour. He cries, and his goddess-mother hears him--

    “Beside her aged father where she sat,
     In the deep ocean-caves.”

It is the original of our own Milton’s beautiful invocation in
Comus--the rough simple outline on which he has painted with a grace and
fulness which make it all his own--

    “Sabrina fair!
       Listen, where thou art sitting
     Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,
       In twisted braids of lilies knitting
     The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair;
       Listen for dear honour’s sake,
       Goddess of the silver lake,
                 Listen, and save!”

Thetis hears, and rises on the sea--“like as it were a mist”--(the
“White Lady of Avenel”) caresses him soothingly with her hand, as though
the stalwart warrior were still a child indeed, and asks him the simple
question which all mothers, goddesses or not, would put into much the
same words--“My son, why weepest thou?” He tells his tale of wrong; and
she proceeds to give him, in the first place, advice certainly not wiser
than that of some earthly mothers. She does not advise him to make up
his quarrel with Agamemnon, but to nurse his wrath, and withdraw
himself wholly from the siege. She, meanwhile, will intercede with
Jupiter, and beseech him to grant the Trojans victory for a while, that
so the Greeks may learn to feel the loss of the hero whom they have

There is an obstacle, however, in the way of the immediate performance
of her promise--a ludicrous obstacle, to our modern taste, though the
poet does not so intend it. The King of the Gods has gone out to
dinner--or rather to a continuous festival of twelve days, to which he
has been invited by “the blameless Ethiopians;”[11] a race with whom the
Immortals of Olympus have some mysterious connection, which has been
held to imply an Eastern origin for the Greek religion and race. With
the dawn of the twelfth morning, however, Thetis presents herself in the
“brazen-floored” halls of Jupiter, and we are introduced to the Olympian
court and household. A strange picture it is--such a travesty of a
divine life as makes us wonder what the poet himself really conceived of
the gods of his adoption. The life of mortal heroes in the world below
is grandeur and nobleness itself compared with that of the Olympian
heaven. Its pleasures indeed are much the same--those of sensual
gratification; the feast, the wine-cup, music and song, are what gods
and goddesses delight in as much as those whom the poet pathetically
calls “the creatures of a day.” But all their passions are incomparably
meaner. The wrath of Achilles is dignified--Juno’s anger against Troy
is mere vicious spite. The subtle craft of Ulysses is at least exercised
for the benefit of his countrymen and their cause; but the shifty
counsels of Jupiter are the mere expedients of a cunning despot who,
between queen and ministers and favourites, finds it difficult, in spite
of his despotism, to have his own way. The quarrel between Agamemnon and
Achilles is tragedy: the domestic wrangles of the Thunderer and his
queen are in the very spirit of low comedy, and not even the burlesques
of Life in Olympus, which some years ago were popular on our English
stage, went far beyond the recognised legends of mythology. In fact, the
comic element, what little there is of it in the Iliad, is supplied
(with the single exception of the incident of Thersites) by the powers
whom the poet recognises as divinities. The idea of rival wills and
influences existing in the supernatural world led the poet necessarily
to represent his gods as quarrelling; and quarrels in a primitive age
are perhaps hardly compatible with dignity. But the conception of gods
in human shape has always a tendency to monstrosities and caricature.
How close, too, the supernatural and the grotesque seem to lie together
may be seen even in the existing sculptures and carvings of ancient
Christendom, and still more remarkably in the old Miracle-Plays, which
mix buffoonery with the most sacred subjects in a manner which it is
hard to reconcile with any real feeling of reverence.

Thetis throws herself at the feet of her father Jupiter, and begs of
him, as a personal favour, the temporary humiliation of Agamemnon and
his Greeks. For a while the Thunderer is silent, and hesitates; Thetis
perseveringly clings to his knees. At last he confides to her his dread
lest a compliance with her petition should involve him in domestic

    “Sad work thou mak’st, in bidding me oppose
     My will to Juno’s, when her bitter words
     Assail me, for full oft amid the gods
     She taunts me that I aid the Trojan cause.
     But thou return--_that Juno see thee not_--
     And leave to me the furtherance of thy suit.” (D.)

He pledges his promise to her, and ratifies it with the mighty nod that
shakes Olympus--a solemn confirmation which made his word irrevocable.

    “Waved on th’ immortal head th’ ambrosial locks,
     And all Olympus trembled at his nod.”

Critics have somewhat over-praised the grandeur of the image; but it is
said that the great sculptor Phidias referred to it as having furnished
him with the idea of his noble statue of Olympian Jove. Satisfied with
her success, Thetis plunges down from high Olympus into the sea, and the
Thunderer proceeds to take his place in full council of the gods, as
calm as if nothing had happened. But there are watchful eyes about him
which he has not escaped. Juno has been a witness of the interview, and
has a shrewd suspicion of its object. A connubial dialogue ensues,
which, though the poet has thought fit to transfer the scene of it to
Olympus, is of an exceedingly earthly, and what we should now call
“realistic,” type. Homer’s recognised translators have not condescended
to give it the homely tone of the original. Pope is grandiloquent, and
Lord Derby calmly dignified; but Homer intends to be neither. Mr
Gladstone’s translation comes nearest the spirit of the Greek. The
brief encounter between the king and queen of the Immortals is cut short
by the former in rather summary fashion. “Thou hast been promising
honour to Achilles, I trow,” says Juno.

    “Zeus that rolls the clouds of heaven her addressing answered then;
     ‘Moonstruck! thou art ever _trowing_; never I escape thy ken.
     After all, it boots thee nothing; leaves thee of my heart the less:
     So thou hast the worser bargain. What if I the fact confess?
     It was done because I willed it. Hold thy peace--my word obey,
     Lest, if I come near, and on thee these unconquered hands I lay,
     All the gods that hold Olympus nought avail thee here to-day.’”[12]

He bids her, in very plain Greek, sit down and hold her tongue; and
gives her clearly to understand--with a threat of violence which is an
unusual addition to his many failings as a husband--that it is his fixed
intention, on this occasion, to be lord and master, not only of Olympus,
but of his wife. Juno is silenced, and the whole assembly of the gods is
startled by the Thunderer’s violence. Vulcan, the fire-god--the lame
brawny hunchback, always more or less the jester and the butt of the
court of Olympus, but with more brains in his head than most of his
straight-limbed compeers--Vulcan comes to the general relief. He soothes
his royal mother by the argument, that it were ill indeed to break the
peace of heaven for the sake of two or three wretched mortals: and he
reminds her--we must suppose in an aside--that they both knew by bitter
experience that when the father of gods and men _did_ choose to put
forth his might, it went hard with all who resisted.

    “When to thy succour once before I came,
     He seized me by the foot, and hurled me down
     From heaven’s high threshold; all the day I fell,
     And with the setting sun on Lemnos’ isle
     Lighted, scarce half-alive; there was I found,
     And by the Sintian people kindly nursed.” (D.)

He gives the mother-goddess further comfort--in “a double cup,” which he
proceeds also to hand round the whole of the august circle. They quaff
their nectar with unusual zest, as they break into peals of laughter (it
must be confessed, rather ungratefully) at the hobbling gait and awkward
attentions of their new cup-bearer:--

    “Thus they till sunset passed the festive hours;
     Nor lacked the banquet aught to please the sense,
     Nor sound of tuneful lyre by Phœbus touched,
     Nor Muses’ voice, who in alternate strains
     Responsive sung; but when the sun had set
     Each to his home departed, where for each
     The crippled Vulcan, matchless architect,
     With wondrous skill a noble house had reared.”

And so, at the end of the first book of the poem, the curtain falls on
the Olympian happy family.

But Jupiter has but a wakeful night. He is planning how he may best
carry out his promise to Thetis. He sends a lying spirit in a dream to
Agamemnon at midnight. The vision stands at the head of the king’s
couch, taking the shape of old Nestor. In this character it encourages
him to muster all his forces to storm the city of Troy on the morrow.
Now, at last, the false phantom assures him, its walls are doomed to
fall; the strife in heaven is ended; Juno’s counsels have prevailed, and
the fate of Troy is sealed irrevocably.

Joyfully the King of Men arises from his sleep, and summons at daybreak
a council of the chiefs. Already, says the poet, he storms and sacks the
royal city in imagination, little foreseeing the long and bloody
struggle that lies yet between him and his prey. In the council he
invents a stratagem of his own, which complicates the story considerably
without improving it. He suspects the temper of his army; and before he
makes up his mind to lead them to the assault, he seeks to ascertain
whether or no the long ten years’ siege has worn out their patience and
broken their spirit. He will try the dangerous experiment of proposing
to them to break up the siege and embark at once for home. He himself
will make the proposal to the whole army; the other leaders, for their
part, are to oppose such a base retreat, and urge their followers to
make yet another effort for the national honour of Greece.

The clans, at the summons of their several chiefs, muster in their
thousands from tents and ships; and Agamemnon, seated on his throne of
state, the immortal sceptre in his hand, harangues them in accordance
with his preconcerted stratagem. He paints in lively colours the
weariness of the nine years’ siege, his own disappointed hopes, the
painful yearning of their long-deserted wives and children for the
return of their husbands and fathers; and ends by proposing an immediate
re-embarkation for home. He plays his part only too successfully. The
immense host heaves and sways with excitement at his words--“like the
long waves of the Icarian Sea, like the deep tall corn-crop as the
summer wind sweeps over it”--and with tumultuous shouts of exultation
they rush down to their galleys and begin at once to launch them; so
little regard have the multitude for glory, so strong is their yearning
for home. It is possible that the poet is no unconscious satirist, and
that he willingly allowed his hearers to draw, if they pleased, the
inference which he hints in more than one passage, that war is the sport
of princes, for which the masses pay the cost.

But Juno’s ever-watchful eyes have marked the movement. Again Minerva is
her messenger, and shoots down from Olympus to stop this disgraceful
flight. She addresses herself to the ear of the sage Ulysses, who knows
her voice at once. Wisdom speaks to the wise,--if any reader prefers the
moral allegory to the simple fiction. Ulysses is standing fixed in
disgust and despair at the cowardice of his countrymen. The goddess bids
him use all his eloquence to check their flight. Without a word he
flings off his cloak,[13] and meeting Agamemnon, receives the immortal
sceptre from his hand, and armed with this staff of authority rushes
down to the galleys. Any king or chieftain whom he encounters he hastily
reminds of the secret understanding which had been the result of the
previous council, and urges them, at least, to set a braver example. To
the plebeian crowd he uses argument of another kind. He applies the
royal sceptre to them in one of its primitive uses, as a rod of
correction, and bids them wait for orders from their superiors. Easily
swayed to either course, the crowd are awed into quiet by his energetic
remonstrances. One popular orator alone lifts his well-known voice
loudly in defiance. It is a certain Thersites, of whom the poet gives a
sketch, brief enough, but with so many marks of individuality, that we
may be justified in looking at him as a character drawn from life.

    “The ugliest man was he who came to Troy,
     With squinting eyes and one distorted foot,
     His shoulders round, and buried in his breast
     His narrow head with scanty growth of hair.”

His talent lies in speaking evil of dignities--a talent which, no doubt,
he had found popular enough in some circles of camp society, though all
the respectable Greeks, we are assured, are shocked at him. He launches
out now with bitter virulence--in which there is nevertheless (as in
most oratory of the kind) a certain amount of truth--against Agamemnon.
He denounces his greed, his selfishness, his disregard of the sufferings
of his troops, his late treatment of Achilles; they must all be cowards,
he says, to obey such a leader--

    “Women of Greece! I will not call ye men!”

Why not sail home at once, and leave him, if he can, to take Troy with
his own single hand?

The mutineer speaks in an evil hour for himself, this time; for Ulysses
hears him. That energetic chief answers him in terms as strong as his
own, and warns him that if he should catch him again railing in like
fashion--“taking the name of kings in his abusive mouth”--he will strip
his garments from him, and flog him naked back to the ships. And, as an
earnest of his promise, he lays the mighty sceptre heavily on his back
and shoulders. Such prompt and vigorous chastisement meets the popular
humour at once; and as the hunchback writhes and howls under the blows,
the fickle feelings of the Greeks break forth in peals of laughter. “Of
the many good things Ulysses has done, this last,” they swear, “is the
best of all.”

Then, prompted still by the goddess of Wisdom, Ulysses harangues the
reassembled troops. He reminds them of their plighted oath of service to
Agamemnon, of the encouraging oracles of heaven, of the disgrace of
returning home from an unaccomplished errand. With the art of a true
orator, he sympathises with their late feelings--it _is_ bitter for them
all, indeed, to waste so many years on a foreign shore, far from home,
and wife, and children; but bitterest of all would it be

    “Long to remain, and bootless to return.”

The venerable Nestor speaks to the same effect; and Agamemnon himself
closes the debate with a call to immediate battle. It is a right royal
speech, far more worthy of a true “king of men” than his former
philippics--moderate in his allusion to Achilles, spirited in his appeal
to his warriors.

       “Come but new friendship, and our feud destroy,
        Then from the evil that is fixed and sealed
        Not one day’s respite shall be left to Troy--
        But now to dinner, ere we take the field;
        Let each his spear whet, and prepare his shield,
        Feed well the horses, and each chariot test,
        That we may fight it out till one side yield,
        Fight in sound harness, and not think of rest,
    Till the black night decide it as to Zeus seems best.

       “Then shall the horses in their foam be wet,
        While forward in the glittering car they strain;
        Then shall the straps of the broad buckler sweat
        Round many a breast there battling in the plain;
        Then shall the arm droop, hurling spears with pain:
        And whomsoever I behold at lair
        Here by the ships, and for the fight not fain,
        Small for that skulker is the hope, I swear,
    But that the dogs he fatten and the fowls of air.” (W.)

He remembers, too, like a wise general, that a battle may be lost by
fighting on an empty stomach. So the oxen and the fatlings are slain,
the choice pieces of the thighs and the fat are offered in sacrifice to
the gods, and then the whole army feasts their fill. Agamemnon holds a
select banquet of six of the chief leaders--King Idomeneus of Crete,
Nestor, Ajax the Greater and the Less, and Ulysses, “wise in council as
Zeus.” One guest comes uninvited--his brother Menelaus. He is no
dinner-loving intruder; he comes, as the poet simply tells us, “because
he knew in his heart how many were his brother’s cares and
anxieties,”--he might be of some use or support to him. Throughout the
whole of the poem, the mutual affection borne by these two brothers is
very remarkable, and unlike any type of the same relationship which
exists in fiction. It is never put forward or specially dwelt upon, but
comes out simply and naturally in every particular of their intercourse.

A king and priest, like Abraham at Bethel, Agamemnon stands by his
burnt-offering, and lifts his prayer for victory to Jupiter, “most
glorious and most great, who dwells in the clouds and thick darkness.”
But no favourable omen comes from heaven. The god, whether or no he
accepts the offering, gives no sign. Nevertheless--we may suppose with a
certain wilfulness which is part of his character--Agamemnon proceeds to
set the battle in array; and the second book of the Iliad closes with
the long muster-roll of the Greek clans under their respective kings or
chiefs on the one side, and of the Trojans and their allies on the
other, which in our introduction has already been partly
anticipated.[14] The long list of chiefs, with their genealogies and
birthplaces, and the strength of their several contingents, was
evidently composed with a view to recitation: and whatever may be its
value as an authentic record, we can understand the interest with which
a Greek audience would listen to a muster-roll which was to them what
the Roll of Battle Abbey was to the descendants of the Normans in
England. If here and there, upon occasion, the wandering minstrel
inserted in the text the name and lineage of some provincial hero on his
own responsibility, the popular applause would assuredly be none the



The battle is set in array, “army against army.” But there is a
difference in the bearing of the opposed forces which is very
significant, and is probably a note of real character, not a mere stroke
of the poet’s art. The Trojan host, after the fashion of Asiatic
warfare, modern as well as ancient, move forward to the combat with loud
shouts and clashing of weapons. The poet compares their confused clamour
to the noise of a flock of cranes on their annual migration. The Greeks,
on the other hand, march in silence, with closed ranks, uttering no
sound, but “breathing determination.” So, when afterwards they actually
close for action, not a sound is heard in their ranks but the voice of
the leaders giving the word of command. “You would not think,” says the
poet, “that all that mighty host had tongues;” while, in the mixed
battalions of the enemy, whose allies are men of many lands and
languages, there arises a noisy discordant clamour--“like as of bleating
ewes that hear the cries of their lambs.”

But while the hostile forces yet await the signal for the battle, Paris
springs forth alone from the Trojan ranks. “Godlike” he is in his
beauty, and with the leve of personal adornment which befits his
character, he wears a spotted leopard’s hide upon his shoulders.
Tennyson’s portrait of him, though in a different scene, is thoroughly

                  “White-breasted like a star,
    Fronting the dawn he moved; a leopard’s skin
    Drooped from his shoulder, but his sunny hair
    Clustered about his temples like a god’s.”

Advancing with long strides in the space between the armies, he
challenges the leaders of the Greeks, one and all, to meet him singly in
mortal combat. Menelaus hears the boast. “Like a hungry lion springing
on his prey,” he leaps full-armed from his chariot, exulting in the
thought that now at last his personal vengeance shall be gratified. But
conscience makes a coward of Paris. He starts back--“as a man that sees
a serpent in his path”--the godlike visage grows pale, the knees
tremble, and the Trojan champion draws back under the shelter of his
friends from the gallant hero whom he has so bitterly wronged. The Roman
historian Livy--a poet in prose--had surely this passage in his mind
when he described Sextus Tarquinius, the dishonourer of Lucretia,
quailing, as no Roman of his blood and rank would otherwise have
quailed, when young Valerius dashes out from the Roman lines to engage
him. The moral teaching of the heathen poet on such points is far higher
than that of the medieval romancers with whom he has so many points in
common. Sir Tristram of Lyonnois has no such scruples of conscience in
meeting King Mark. Lancelot, indeed, will not fight with Arthur; but the
very nobility of character with which the unknown author of that
striking impersonation has endowed him is in itself the highest of all
wrongs against morality, in that it steals the reader’s sympathies for
the wrong-doer instead of for the injured husband. Shakespeare, as is
his wont, strikes the higher key. It is the consciousness of guilt which
makes Macbeth half quail before Macduff--

    “Of all men else have I avoided thee:
     But get thee back--my soul is too much charged
     With blood of thine already.
     ...I will not fight with thee.”

Paris withdraws into the Trojan ranks, and there encounters Hector. As
has been already said, the poet assumes at the outset, on the part of
his audience, at least such knowledge of his _dramatis personæ_ as to
make a formal introduction unnecessary. Hector is the noblest of all the
sons of Priam, the shield and bulwark of his countrymen throughout the
long years of the war. Achilles is the hero of the Iliad, and to him
Homer assigns the palm of strength and valour; but, as is not seldom the
case in fiction, the author has painted the rival hero so well that our
sympathies are at least as frequently found on his side. We almost share
Juno’s feelings against the Trojans when they are represented by Paris;
but when Hector comes into the field, our hearts half go over to the
enemy. His character will be touched upon more fully hereafter: for the
present, it must discover itself in the course of the story. He throws
himself in the way of Paris in his cowardly retreat; and in spite of the
fraternal feeling which is so remarkably strong amongst Homer’s
heroes,--in Hector and his brothers almost as much as in Agamemnon and
Menelaus,--shame and disgust at his present poltroonery now mingle
themselves with a righteous hatred of the selfish lust which has
plunged his country into a bloody war--

       “Was it for this, or with such heart as now,
        O’er the wide billows with a chosen band
        Thou sailedst, and with violated vow
        Didst bring thy fair wife from the Apian strand,
        Torn from the house of men of warlike hand,
        And a great sorrow for thy father’s head,
        Troy town, and all the people of the land,
        By thine inhospitable offence hast bred,
    Thus for the enemy’s sport, thine own confusion dread?

       “Lo, now thou cowerest, and wilt not abide
        Fierce Menelaus--thou hadst known, I ween,
        Soon of what man thou hast the blooming bride!
        Poor had the profit of thy harp then been,
        Vain Aphrodite’s gifts, thy hair, thy mien,
        He mangling in the dust thy fallen brow.
        But there is no wrong to the Trojans keen,
        And they are lambs in Spirit; or else hadst thou
    Worn, for thine evil works, a cloke of stone ere now.” W.

Paris has the grace to admit the justice of his brother’s rebuke.
Hector, he confesses, is far the better soldier; only he pleads, with a
self-complacency which he never loses, that grace of person, and a
smooth tongue, and a taste for music, are nothing less than the gifts of
the gods--that, in fact, it is not his fault that he is so irresistible.
He ends, however, with an offer which is far more to Hector’s mind. Let
open lists be pitched in sight of both armies, and he will engage
Menelaus in single combat; Helen and her wealth shall be the prize of

It is a proposal at which Hector’s heart rejoices. He checks at once the
advancing line of the Trojans, and steps out himself to the front. The
Greeks bend their bows at him, but Agamemnon understands his motions,
and bids them hold their hands. It is a fair challenge which the Trojan
prince comes to make on behalf of Paris. Menelaus accepts it, in a few
plain and gallant words--he is no orator:--

    “Hear now my answer; in this quarrel I
     May claim the chiefest share; and now I hope
     Trojans and Greeks may see the final close
     Of all the labours ye so long have borne,
     T’ avenge my wrong at Paris’ hand sustained.
     And of us two whiche’er is doomed to death,
     So let him die! the rest depart in peace.” (D.)

A truce is agreed upon, to abide the result of this appeal of battle. A
messenger from Olympus--Iris, goddess of the Rainbow--comes to warn
Helen of the impending duel. And this introduces one of the most
beautiful passages in the whole Iliad, to modern taste. Its sentiment
and pathos are perfectly level and quiet; but as a natural and life-like
yet highly-wrought portrait of a scene in what we may call the social
drama, it stands almost without equal or parallel in classical

Helen--the fatal cause of the war, the object of such violent passions
and such bitter taunts--is sitting pensively in the palace of her royal
father-in-law, writing her own miserable story. She is writing it--not
in a three-volumed novel, as a lady who had a private history, more or
less creditable, would write it now, but--in a golden tapestry, in which
more laborious form it was in those days not unfrequent to write
sensational biographies. Iris urges her to be present at the show. The
whole reads like the tale of some medieval tournament, except that Helen
herself is the prize of victory as well as the Queen of Beauty. Attended
by her maidens, she goes down to the place where the aged Priam, like
the kings of the Old Testament history, “sits in the gate” surrounded
by the elders of his city. It is the “Scæan,” or “left-hand” gate, which
opens towards the camp of the enemy, and commands a view of their lines.
We have had no word as yet of the marvellous beauty of Helen. There is
no attempt to describe it throughout the whole of the poem. But here, in
a few masterly touches, introduced in the simplest and most natural
manner, Homer does more than describe it, when he tells us its effects.
The old men break off their talk as the beautiful stranger draws near.
They had seen her often enough before; the fatal face and form must have
been well known in the streets and palaces of Troy, however retired a
life Helen might well have thought it becoming in her unhappy position
to lead. But the fair vision comes upon their eyes with a new and
ever-increasing enchantment. They say each to the other as they look
upon her, “It is no blame to Greeks or Trojans to fight for such a
woman--she is worth all the ten years of war; still, let her embark and
go home, lest we and our children suffer more for her.” Even the
earliest critics, when the finer shades of criticism were little
understood, were forcibly struck with the art of the poet in selecting
his witnesses for the defence. The Roman Quintilian had said nearly all
that modern taste has since confirmed. He bids the reader mark who gives
this testimony to Helen’s charms. Not the infatuated Paris, who has set
his own honour and his country’s welfare at nought for the sake of an
unlawful passion; not some young Trojan, who might naturally be ready to
vow “the world well lost” for such a woman; nor yet any of the vulgar
crowd, easily impressed, and always extravagant in its praise or blame;
but these grave and reverend seniors, men of cold passions and calm
judgment, fathers whose sons were fighting and falling for this woman’s
sake, and even Priam himself, whose very crown and kingdom she had
brought in deadly peril. He receives her, as she draws near, with gentle
courtesy. Plainly, in his estimation, her unhappy position does not
involve necessarily shame or disgrace. This opens one of the difficult
questions of the moral doctrine of the Iliad, which can only be
understood by bearing in mind the supernatural machinery of the poem. To
the modern reader, the character of Helen, and the light in which she is
regarded alike by Greeks and Trojans, present an anomaly in morals which
is highly unsatisfactory. It is not as if Homer, like the worst writers
of the Italian school, set marriage vows at nought, and made a jest of
unchastity. Far otherwise; the heathen bard on such points took an
infinitely higher tone than many so-called Christian poets. The
difficulty lies in the fact that throughout the poem, while the crime is
reprobated, the criminal meets with forbearance, and even sympathy. Our
first natural impulse with regard to Helen is to look upon her much in
the light in which she herself, in one of her bitter confessions, says
she is looked upon by the mass of the Trojans:--

    “Throughout wide Troy I see no friendly eye,
     And Trojans shudder as I pass them by.”

But this feeling, we must remember, arose much more from her being the
cause of all the miseries of the siege, than from her having left her
Greek husband. Priam and Hector--who have certainly not a lower
morality, and a higher nobility and unselfishness, than the mass of
their countrymen--show no such feeling against her; on the contrary,
they treat her with scrupulous delicacy and consideration. So also the
leaders of the Greek forces betray no consciousness that they are
fighting, after all, for a worthless woman; rather, she is a prize to be
reclaimed, and Menelaus himself is ready from the first to receive her
back again. How is this? Some have understood the poet to represent her
abduction from her home to have been forcible--that she was carried off
by Paris entirely against her will; but even allowing this (which is not
consistent with many passages in the poem), it would not excuse or
palliate her voluntary acceptance of such a degraded position throughout
the subsequent story. The real explanation is given in a few words by
Priam in the scene before us.

                “Not thee I blame,
    But to the gods I owe this woful war.”

In Homer’s sight, as in Priam’s, she is the victim of Venus. She is “the
victim of passion,” only in a more literal and personal sense than we
use the expression. Love, lawful or unlawful, was a divine--that is, a
supernatural--force, to the mind of the poet. The spells of Venus are
irresistible: that fatal gift of beauty is the right by which the
goddess takes possession of her, and leads her captive at her evil will.
Helen herself feels her own degradation far more deeply, in fact, than
any one else seems to feel it; no one uses any expressions about her
half so bitter as those which she applies to herself; “shameless,”
“bringer of sorrow,” “whose name shall be a by-word and a reproach,” are
the terms she uses--

    “Oh that the day my mother gave me birth,
     Some storm had on the mountains cast me forth!”

We must judge Homer’s characters with reference to the light of his
religious creed--if creed it were--or at least with reference to the
supernatural element employed in the Iliad. We shall be safe, then, in
seeing Helen through Homer’s eyes. We separate her unconsciously, as he
does, from her fault. Look upon that as the poet does, as she does
herself, as Priam and Hector and Menelaus do, as her fate, her
misfortune, the weird that she has been doomed to dree,--and then, what
a graceful womanly character remains! Gentle and daughterlike to the
aged Priam, humble and tearful in the presence of her noble and generous
brother-in-law Hector, as disdainful as she dares to be to her ignoble
lord and lover,--tender, respectful, regretful, towards the gallant
husband she has deserted.

So she comes in all her grace and beauty, and takes her seat by the old
King’s side upon the watch-tower, looking out upon the camp of the
Greeks. He bids her tell him the names of such of the kings and chiefs
as she can recognise. One there is who seems indeed a “king of men,” by
the grace of nature. There are taller warriors in the host; but none of
such majestic mien and right royal bearing. It is, indeed, Agamemnon the
son of Atreus, as Helen informs him,--

    “Wide-reigning, mighty monarch, ruler good,
     And valiant warrior; in my husband’s name,
     Lost as I am, I called him brother once.”

Another chief attracts Priam’s attention, as he strides along in front
of the lines. Less in stature than Agamemnon, he is broader in the chest
and shoulders. Helen knows him well. It is Ulysses, son of Laertes,
“the man of many wiles;” nursed among the rugged cliffs of his island
kingdom of Ithaca, but already a traveller well versed in the ways of
men, the stratagems of war, and the counsels of princes. He is
recognised, too, now that Helen names him, by some of the Trojan elders;
for he, it must be remembered (and Homer assumes that we know it), had
accompanied Menelaus in the embassy to demand Helen’s restitution. Old
Antenor, now sitting by Priam’s side, well remembers the remarkable
stranger, whom he had lodged and entertained as a public guest. The
picture he draws of him is one of the most graphic and individual of all
Homer’s characters.

    “For hither when on thine account to treat,
     Brave Menelaus and Ulysses came,
     I lodged them in my house, and loved them both,
     And studied well the form and mind of each.
     As they with Trojans mixed in social guise,
     When both were standing, o’er his comrade high
     With broad-set shoulders Menelaus stood:
     Seated, Ulysses was the nobler form:
     Then, in the great assembly, when to all
     Their public speech and argument they framed,
     In fluent language Menelaus spoke,
     In words though few, yet clear; though young in years,
     No wordy babbler, wasteful of his speech:
     But when the skilled Ulysses rose to speak,
     With downcast visage would he stand, his eyes
     Bent on the ground; the staff he bore, nor back
     He waved, nor forward, but like one untaught,
     He held it motionless; who only saw,
     Would say that he was mad, or void of sense:
     But when his chest its deep-toned voice sent forth,
     With words that fell like flakes of wintry snow,
     No mortal with Ulysses could compare;
     Then, little recked we of his outward show.” (D.)

A third hero catches the eye of the Trojan king, as well he may--a
leader like Saul, “taller by the head and shoulders than the rest
of the people”--and he asks Helen to name him also. This is Ajax of
Crete, son of Telamon, a giant chieftain, “the bulwark of the Greeks,”
represented here in the Iliad as easy-tempered and somewhat heavy, as
it is the wont of giants to be, degraded by medieval and modern poets
into a mere bulk without brains. “Mars’ idiot,” Shakespeare calls him,
“who has not so much wit as would stop the eye of Helen’s needle.”
Shirley, in his ‘Ajax and Ulysses,’ carries out the same popular

    “And now I look on Ajax Telamon,
     I may compare him to some spacious building;
     His body holds vast rooms of entertainment,
     And lower parts maintain the offices;
     Only the garret, his exalted head,
     Useless for wise receipt, is filled with lumber.”

By the side of Ajax Helen also marks King Idomeneus of Crete, a frequent
guest in the palace of Menelaus in happier times; for the court of
Sparta, as will be seen hereafter in the Odyssey, was in these heroic
days a centre of civilisation and refinement. Two chiefs Helen’s anxious
eyes vainly try to discern amongst the crowd of her countrymen,--

    “My own two brethren, and my mother’s sons,
     Castor and Pollux; Castor, horseman bold,
     Pollux, unmatched in pugilistic skill;
     In Lacedæmon have they stayed behind?
     Or can it be, in ocean-going ships
     That they have come indeed, but shame to join
     The fight of warriors, fearful of the shame
     And deep disgrace that on my name attend?” (D.)

Helen’s self-reproachful surmises have not reached the truth. The “Great
Twin Brethren,” who had once already (so the ancient legend said)
rescued their beautiful sister in her girlhood from the hands of
Theseus, who had been amongst the mighty hunters of the Calydonian boar,
and had formed part of the adventurous crew of the Argo, had finished
their mortal warfare years before in a raid in Messenia; but to reappear
as demigods in Greek and Roman legend,--the spirit horsemen who rallied
the Roman line in the great fight with the Latins at the Lake Regillus,
the “shining stars” who lighted the sailors on the stormy Adriatic, and
gave their names to the ship in which St Paul was cast away.

    “Back comes the chief in triumph,
       Who, in the hour of fight,
     Hath seen the Great Twin Brethren
       In harness on his right.
     Safe comes the ship to harbour,
       Through billows and through gales,
     If once the Great Twin Brethren
       Sit shining on the sails.”[15]

This picturesque dialogue between Priam and his fascinating guest is
interrupted far too soon for the reader’s complete enjoyment--somewhat
too abruptly, indeed, for its perfection. One would like to have heard
Helen’s estimate of the other leaders of the Greeks; of Diomed, of the
lesser Ajax, of Nestor, of Mnestheus the Athenian; and it is hardly
possible not to fancy that the scene has been left by the poet
incomplete, or that some portion has been lost past recovery. The
tragedian Æschylus, who was full of the true Homeric spirit, carried out
the idea to what seems its natural completion in a remarkable scene of
‘The Seven Chiefs against Thebes,’ to which we may hope to introduce
our readers more fully hereafter. Euripides, in his ‘Phœnissæ,’ adopts
the very same machinery; and Tasso has also imitated the scene in his
‘Jerusalem Delivered,’[16] where he brings Erminia on the walls,
pointing out to King Aladine the persons of the most renowned of the
besieging knights.

The interruption is as little satisfactory to Priam as to the reader. A
herald summons the king of Troy to a conference in the mid-space between
the city walls and the enemy’s leaguer, in order to ratify the
armistice, while Paris and Menelaus decide their quarrel in single
combat. The old man mounts his chariot, “shuddering,” as foreboding the
defeat and death of his son. Agamemnon and Ulysses on the one side,
Priam and Antenor on the other, duly slay the sacrificial lambs, and
make joint appeal to Jupiter, the Avenger of oaths, pouring the red wine
upon the earth with solemn imprecation, that so may flow forth the
heart’s blood of him who on either part shall break the truce. And the
god listens as before, but does not accept the appeal. Priam withdraws,
for he cannot bear to be a spectator of his son’s peril. Hector and
Ulysses, precisely in the fashion of the marshals in the tournaments of
chivalry, measure out the lists; the rest of the Greeks lie down on the
ground beside their horses and chariots, while the lots are cast which
shall first throw the spear. The chance falls to Paris. He throws, and
strikes full and fair in the centre of Menelaus’ round shield. But the
seasoned bull’s hide turns the point, and it does not penetrate. Next
comes the turn of Menelaus. Paris has ventured no appeal to heaven; but
the Greek king lifts his voice in prayer to Jupiter for vengeance on
the traitor who has so abused his hospitality, before he poises his long
lance carefully and hurls it at his enemy. Right through shield,
breastplate, and linen vest goes the good Greek weapon; but Paris leans
back to avoid it, and it only grazes him. Menelaus rushes forward, sword
in hand, and smites a downright blow on Paris’ crest. But the Trojan
helmet proves of better quality than the shield, and the Greek blade
flies in shivers. Maddened by his double failure, he rushes on his
enemy, and seizing him by the horse-hair crest, drags him off by main
strength towards the ranks of the Greeks. But in this extremity the
goddess of love comes to the rescue of her favourite. At her touch the
tough bullhide strap of Paris’ head-piece, which was all but choking
him, breaks, and leaves the empty helmet in the hands of Menelaus. He
hurls it amongst his comrades in disappointment and disgust, and rushes
once more in pursuit of Paris. But Venus has wrapt him in a mist, and
carried him off; and while the son of Atreus rushes like a baffled lion
up and down the lists in quest of him, while even the Trojans are aiding
in the search, and no man among them would have hidden him--for “they
all hated him like black death”--he is safely laid by the goddess in
Helen’s chamber. The scene in which she receives him is, like all the
rest of her story, a beautiful contradiction. Her first greeting is
bitter enough. Either her heart has been indeed with Menelaus in the
fight--or at least she would have had her present husband come back from
the field, dead or alive, in some more honourable fashion--

    “Back from the battle? Would thou there hadst died
     Beneath a warrior’s arm whom once I called
     My husband! Vainly didst thou boast erewhile
     Thine arm, thy dauntless courage, and thy spear,
     The warlike Menelaus should subdue!
     Go now again, and challenge to the fight
     The warlike Menelaus.--Be thou ware!
     I warn thee, pause, ere madly thou presume
     With fair-haired Menelaus to contend!” (D.)

Brave words! but still, as of old, the fatal spells of Venus are upon
her, and Paris’ misadventure in the lists is all too soon condoned.



The Greeks claim the victory--reasonably, since the Trojan champion has
fled the lists; but again the intrigues of the court of Olympus
interfere to interrupt the course of mortal justice. The gods of Homer
are not the gods of Epicurus’ creed, who, as our English poet sings,
“lie beside their nectar, careless of mankind.” They are anything but
careless, so far as the affairs of mortals are concerned; but their
interference is regulated by the most selfish motives. Men are the
puppets whom they make to dance for their gratification--the counters
with which they play their Olympian game, and try to defeat and
checkmate each other. Even the respect which they pay to the mortal who
is regular in the matter of offering sacrifices is entirely selfish--it
seems to be merely the sensual appetite for fat roasts and rich savours.
They are commonly influenced by jealousy, pique, revenge, or
favouritism; and where they do punish the wrongdoer, it is far more
often from a sense of _lèse-majesté_--a slight offered to some cause
which is under their special protection--than from any moral indignation
at wrong itself. When the scene opens in the fourth book of the poem,
it seems to pass at once from serious melodrama to broad comedy; and but
that these dwellers in Olympus really rule the fortunes of the tale, it
would be scarcely possible not to believe that the poet so intended it.

We are introduced again, then, to Olympus; and, as before, to a quarrel
among the Immortals. It is Jove this time who is the aggressor. He has
seen the result of the combat, and taunts Juno with the double patronage
extended to the Greeks by herself and Minerva--which, after all, has
failed--while Venus, more active and energetic, has rescued her
favourite. However, he awards the victory to Menelaus; and suggests, as
a solution to all disputes and difficulties, that now Helen should be
given up, the Greeks go home, and so the fate of Troy be averted. At the
thought of her enemy thus escaping, the queen of the gods cannot contain
her rage. Jupiter gives way. He loves Troy much, but domestic peace and
quietness more. He warns his queen, however, that if he now consents to
give up Troy to her insatiable revenge, she shall not stand in his way
hereafter, in case some community of mortals who may be her especial
favourites shall incur his royal displeasure. And Juno, with that utter
indifference to human suffering, or human justice, which characterises
the deities of Olympus, makes answer in these words:--

    “Three cities there are dearest to my heart;
     Argos, and Sparta, and the ample streets
     Of rich Mycenæ; work on them thy will--
     Destroy them, if thine anger they incur--
     I will not interpose nor hinder thee.”

In furtherance of this strange compact, Minerva is once more sent down
to the plains of Troy. Her mission now is to incite the Trojans to break
the truce by some overt act, and thus not only renew the war, but put
themselves plainly in the wrong. Clothing herself in the human shape of
the son of old Antenor, she mingles in the Trojan ranks, and addresses
herself to the cunning bowman Pandarus. His character in the Iliad has
nothing in common with the “Sir Pandarus of Troy,” whose name, as the
base uncle of Cressida, has passed into an unwholesome by-word, and whom
Lydgate, Chaucer, and, lastly, Shakespeare, borrowed from the medieval
romancers. Here he is but an archer of known skill, somewhat given to
display, with his bow of polished ibex-horns tipped with gold, and vain
of his reputation, whom the goddess easily tempts to end the long war at
once by a timely shot, and win immortal renown by taking off Menelaus.
With a brief prayer and a vow of a hecatomb to Apollo, the god of the
bow--who is supposed to be as ready as the rest of the immortals to abet
an act of treachery on such conditions--Pandarus ensconces himself
behind the shields of his comrades, and choosing out his arrow with the
same care which we read of in the great exploits of more modern bowmen,
he discharges it point-blank at the unsuspecting Menelaus. The shaft
flies true enough, but Minerva is at hand to avert the actual peril from
the Greek hero: she turns the arrow aside--

    “As when a mother from her infant’s cheek,
     Wrapt in sweet slumbers, brushes off a fly.”

It is a pretty simile; but the result is not so entirely harmless. The
arrow strikes in the belt, and so meets the double resistance of belt
and corslet. It draws blood, nevertheless, in a stream; and both
Menelaus and Agamemnon at first fear that the wound is mortal;--

    “Great Agamemnon shuddered as he saw
     The crimson blood-drops issuing from the wound,
     Shuddered the warlike Menelaus’ self;
     But when the sinew and the arrow-head
     He saw projecting, back his spirit came.
     Then, deeply groaning, Agamemnon spoke,
     As Menelaus by the hand he held,
     And with him groaned his comrades; ‘Brother dear,
     Fatal to thee hath been the oath I swore,
     When thou stoodst forth alone for Greece to fight;
     Wounded by Trojans, who their plighted troth
     Have trodden under foot.’” (D.)

Two points are remarkable in this passage: first, the tenderness which
Agamemnon shows towards his younger brother, even to the point of
self-reproach at having allowed him to fight Paris at all, though in a
quarrel which was so thoroughly his own. His expressions of grief and
remorse at the thought of going home to Greece without him (which run to
considerable length), though somewhat tinged with selfishness, inasmuch
as he feels his own honour at stake, are much more like the feeling of a
parent than of an elder brother. Again, the picture of Menelaus
“shuddering” at his own wound--so sensitive to the dread of death that
he apparently all but faints, until he is reassured by finding that the
barb of the arrow has not really penetrated--is utterly inconsistent
with our English notions of a hero. We have to bear in mind, here and
elsewhere, that these Greek heroes, of whatever race we are to suppose
them to be, are of an entirely different temperament to us cold and
self-restrained northerns. They are highly sensitive to bodily pain,
very much given to groans and tears, and very much afraid of death for
themselves, however indifferent to human life in the case of others.
Death, to these sensuous Greeks, was an object of dread and aversion,
chiefly because it implied to their minds something like annihilation.
However vivid in some passages of their poets is the description of
those happy Elysian fields where the souls of heroes dwelt, the popular
belief gave to the disembodied spirit but a shadowy and colourless

The wound is soon stanched by the aid of the skilful leech Machaon, son
of Æsculapius (and therefore grandson of Apollo “the Healer”), but who
is a warrior and chieftain as well as the rest, though he has placed his
skill at the service of Agamemnon. The King of Men himself, as soon as
his brother’s hurt is tended, rushes along the lines, rousing chiefs and
clansmen to avenge the treachery of the enemy. Idomeneus of Crete, Ajax
the Greater and the Less, Mnestheus of Athens, Ulysses, Diomed--to all
in turn he makes his passionate appeal; to some, in language which they
are inclined to resent, as implying that they were disinclined for the
combat. Diomed and Sthenelus he even reminds of the brave deeds of their
fathers Tydeus and Capaneus in the great siege of Thebes, and stings
them with the taunt, that the sons will never win the like renown.
Diomed hears in silence; but the son of Capaneus inherits, with all the
bravery, something of the insolence of the chief who swore that “with or
without the gods” he would burn Thebes: he answers the great king in
words which have yet a certain nobility in their self-assertion--

   “Atrides, lie not, when thou know’st the truth;
    We hold ourselves far better than our sires;
    We took the strength of seven-gated Thebes,
    Though with a smaller host we stormed her towers,
    Strong in heaven’s omens and the help of Jove;
    For them--their own presumption was their fall.”

All the leaders of the Greeks eagerly marshal their forces at the King’s
call. Nestor’s experienced counsel orders the line of battle--so well,
that subsequent commanders were fain to take a lesson from it.

   “In the front rank, with chariot and with horse,
    He placed the mounted warriors; in the rear,
    Num’rous and brave, a cloud of infantry,
    Compactly massed, to stem the tide of war.
    Between the two he placed th’ inferior troops,
    That e’en against their will they needs must fight.
    The horsemen first he charged, and bade them keep
    Their horses well in hand, nor wildly rush
    Amid the tumult: ‘See,’ he said, ‘that none,
    In skill or valour over-confident,
    Advance before his comrades, nor alone
    Retire; for so your lines were easier forced;
    But ranging each beside a hostile car,
    Thrust with your spears; for such the better way;
    By men so disciplined, in elder days,
    Were lofty walls and fencèd towers destroyed.’” (D.)



As before, while the Greek line advances in perfect silence, the Trojans
make their onset with loud shouts and a clamour of discordant war-cries
in many tongues. Mars animates the Trojans, Minerva the Greeks; while
Fear and Panic hover over the two armies, and Strife--whom the poet
describes in words which are the very echo of Solomon’s proverb--“The
beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water”--

   “With humble crest at first, anon her head,
    While yet she treads the earth, affronts the skies.”

The two armies close in battle, only embittered by the broken truce. The
description is a good specimen of the poet’s powers, and Lord Derby’s
translation is sufficiently close:--

   “Then rose the mingled shouts and groans of men
    Slaying and slain; the earth ran red with blood.
    As when descending from the mountain’s brow
    Two wintry torrents from their copious source
    Pour downwards to the narrow pass, where meet
    Their mingled waters in some deep ravine,
    Their weight of flood, on the far mountain’s side
    The shepherd hears the roar; so loud arose
    The shouts and yells of those commingling hosts.”[17]

Then begins one of those remarkable descriptions of a series of single
combats between warriors of note on either side, in which Homer delights
and excels. It must be confessed that they are somewhat wearisome to a
modern reader; although, as has been well observed, the details of
attack and defence, wounds and death, are varied in a fashion which
shows that the artist was thoroughly master of his work; and it is even
said that in the physical results assigned to each particular wound he
has shown no mean knowledge of anatomy. Still, the continuous catalogue
of ghastly wounds and dying agonies is uncongenial with our more refined
sympathies. But it was quite in harmony with the tastes of ruder days.
We find the same apparent repetition of single combats in the medieval
romances--notably in Mallory’s King Arthur; and they were probably not
the least popular portions of the tale. Even a stronger parallel case
might be found in the description of a prize-fight in the columns of
sporting newspapers, not so many years ago, when each particular blow
and its results, up to “Round 102,” were graphically described in
language quite as figurative, if not so poetic, as Homer’s; and found,
we must suppose, a sufficient circle of readers to whom it was not only
intelligible but highly interesting. The poet who recites--as we must
suppose Homer to have done--must above everything else excite and
interest his audience: his lay must be rich in incident; and to an
audience who were all more or less warlike, no incidents could be so
exciting as the details of battle. There is much savageness in Homer’s
combats; but savageness is to the taste of men whose only means of
excitement is through their grosser senses, and a love of the horrible
in fact or fiction is by no means extinct even in our own day.

Young Antilochus, the son of Nestor’s old age, draws the first blood in
the battle. He kills Echepolus.

    “Beneath his horsehair-plumèd helmet’s peak
    The sharp spear struck; deep in his forehead fixed,
    It pierced the bone: then darkness veiled his eyes,
    And, like a tower, amid the press he fell.”

Over his dead body the combat grows furious--the Greeks endeavouring to
drag him off to strip his armour, the Trojans to prevent it. The armour
of a vanquished enemy was, in these combats, something like what an
enemy’s scalp is to the Indian “brave;” to carry it off in triumph, and
hang it up in their own tents as a trophy, was the great ambition of the
slayer and his friends. Ajax, too, slays his man--spearing him right
through from breast to shoulder: and the tall Trojan falls like a

    “Which with his biting axe the wheelwright fells.”

Ulysses, roused by the death of a friend who is killed in trying to
carry off this last body, rushes to the front, and poising his spear,
looks round to choose his victim. The foremost of his enemies recoil;
but he drives his weapon right through the temples of Demophoon, a
natural son of Priam, as he sits high in his chariot. The Trojans waver;
even Hector gives ground; the Greeks cheer, and some carry off the
bodies, while the rest press forward. It is going hard with Troy, when
Apollo, who sits watching the battle from the citadel, calls loudly to
their troops to remember that “there is no Achilles in the field
to-day.” So the fight is renewed, Minerva cheering on the Greeks, as
Apollo does the Trojans.

Diomed, the gallant son of Tydeus, now becomes the hero of the day. His
exploits occupy, indeed, so large a portion of the next book of the
poem, that it was known as “The Deeds of Diomed,” and would form,
according to one theory, a separate romance or lay of itself, exactly as
some portions of the Arthurian romance have for their exclusive hero
some one renowned Knight of the Round Table, as Tristram or Lancelot.
Diomed fights under supernatural colours. Minerva herself not only
inspires him with indomitable courage, but sheds over his whole person a
halo of celestial radiance before which the bravest Trojan might well

    “Forth from his helm and shield a fiery light
    There flashed, like autumn’s star, that brightest shines
    When newly risen from his ocean bath.”

Once more the prince of archers, Pandarus the Lycian, comes to the
rescue of the discomfited Trojans. He bends his bow against Diomed, who
is now fighting on foot, and the arrow flies true to its mark. He sees
it strike deep into the shoulder, and the red blood streams out visibly
over the breastplate. Elated by his success, he turns round and shouts
his triumphant rallying-cry to the Trojans--“The bravest of the Greeks
is wounded to the death!” But his exultation is premature. Diomed gets
him back to his chariot, and calls on his faithful friend and charioteer
Sthenelus to draw the arrow from the wound. The blood wells out fast,
as the barb is withdrawn; but the hero puts up a brief prayer to his
guardian goddess for strength yet to avenge him of his adversary, whose
exulting boast he has just heard. Minerva hears. By some rapid celestial
pharmacy she heals the wound at once, and gives him fresh strength and
vigour, adding these words of encouragement and warning:--

    “Go fearless onward, Diomed, to meet
    The Trojan hosts; for I within thy breast
    Thy father’s dauntless courage have infused,
    Such as of old in Tydeus’ bosom dwelt,
    Bold horseman, buckler-clad; and from thine eyes
    The film that dimmed them I have purged away,[18]
    That thou mayest well ’twixt gods and men discern.
    If then some god make trial of thy force,
    With other of the Immortals fight thou not;
    But should Jove’s daughter Venus dare the fray,
    Thou need’st not shun at her to cast thy spear.” (D.)

With redoubled vigour and fury the hero returns to the battle; and again
the Trojans’ names, to each of which the poet contrives to give some
touch of individual character, swell the list of his victims. Æneas
marks his terrible career, and goes to seek for Pandarus. He points out
to him the movements of the Greek champion, and bids him try upon his
person the far-famed skill that had so nearly turned the fate of war in
the case of Menelaus. Pandarus tells him of his late unsuccessful
attempt, and declares his full belief that some glamour of more than
mortal power has made Diomed invulnerable to human weapons. He bitterly
regrets, as he tells Æneas, that he did not follow the counsels of his
father Lycaon, and bring with him to the campaign, like other chiefs of
his rank, some of those noble steeds of whom eleven pair stand always in
his father’s stalls, “champing the white barley and the spelt.” He had
feared, in truth, that they might lack provender in the straits of the

    “Woe worth the day, when from the glittering wall,
    Hector to serve, I took my shafts and bow,
    And to fair Ilion, from my father’s hall,
    Captain of men, did with my Lycians go!
    If ever I return, if ever I know
    My country, my dear wife, my home again,
    Let me fall headless to an enemy’s blow,
    Save the red blaze of fire these arms contain!” (W.)

Æneas bids him mount with him into his chariot, and together they will
encounter this redoubtable Greek. Pandarus takes the spear and shield,
while Æneas guides the horses. Diomed is still fighting on foot, when
Sthenelus, who attends him with the chariot, sees the two hostile chiefs
bearing down upon him. He begs his comrade to remount, and avoid the
encounter with two such adversaries. Diomed indignantly refuses. He will
slay both, with the help of Heaven; and he charges Sthenelus, if such
should be the happy result, to leave his own horses and chariot,
securing the reins carefully to the chariot-front, and make prize of the
far-famed steeds of Æneas--they are descended from the immortal breed
bestowed of old by Jupiter upon King Tros. So, on foot still, he awaits
their onset. Pandarus stands high in the chariot with poised weapon,
and hails his enemy as he comes within hurling distance:--

    “Prince, thou art met! though late in vain assailed,
    The spear may enter where the arrow failed.”

It does enter, and piercing through the tough ox-hide of the shield,
stands fixed in the breastplate. Again, with premature triumph, he
shouts exultingly to Diomed that at last he has got his death-wound. But
the Greek quietly tells him that he has missed--which assuredly he
himself is not going to do. He hurls his spear in turn with fatal aim:
and the poet tells us with ghastly detail how it entered beneath the
eyeball, and passed down through the “white teeth” and tongue--

    “Till the bright point looked out beneath the chin”--

and Pandarus the Lycian closes his career, free at least from the
baseness which medieval romances have attached to his name.

Æneas, in obedience to the laws of heroic chivalry, at once leaps down
from the chariot to defend against all comers the body of his fallen

    “And like a lion fearless in his strength
    Around the corpse he stalked this way and that,
    His spear and buckler round about him held,
    To all who dared approach him threat’ning death.”

Diomed in this case avails himself of a mode of attack not uncommon with
Homer’s heroes. He seizes a huge stone--which not two men of this
degenerate age (says Homer, with a poet’s cynicism for the present)
could have lifted--and hurls it at the Trojan prince. It strikes him on
the hip, crushes the joint, and brings him to his knees. But that his
goddess-mother Venus comes to his rescue, the world had heard the last
of Æneas, and Virgil must have sought another hero for his great poem.

    “About her much-loved son her arms she throws--
    Her arms, whose whiteness match the falling snows;
    Screened from the foe behind her shining veil,
    The swords wave harmless and the javelins fail.” (P.)

Sthenelus, for his part, remembers the orders of his friend and chief,
and drives off at once to the Greek camp with the much-coveted horses of
Æneas. Diomed rushes in pursuit of Venus--whom he knows, by his new gift
of clear vision--as she carries off her son through the ranks of the
Trojans. She, at least, of all the divinities of Olympus, had no
business, thought the Greek, in the _mêlée_ of battle. Besides, he had
received from Minerva special permission to attack her. Most
ungallantly, to our notions, he does so. The scene is such a curious
one, that it is well to give Lord Derby’s version of it:--

    “Her, searching through the crowd, at length he found,
    And springing forward, with his pointed spear
    A wound inflicted on her tender hand.
    Piercing th’ ambrosial veil, the Graces’ work,
    The sharp spear grazed her palm below the wrist.
    Forth from the wound th’ immortal current flowed,
    Pure ichor, life-stream of the blessed Gods;
    They eat no bread, they drink no ruddy wine,
    And bloodless thence and deathless they become.
    The goddess shrieked aloud, and dropped her son;
    But in his arms Apollo bore him off
    In a thick cloud enveloped, lest some Greek
    Might pierce his breast, and rob him of his life.
    Loud shouted brave Tydides, as she fled:
    ‘Daughter of Jove, from battle-fields retire;
    Enough for thee weak women to delude;
    If war thou seek’st, the lesson thou shalt learn
    Shall cause thee shudder but to hear it named.’
    Thus he; but ill at ease, and sorely pained,
    The Goddess fled: her, Iris, swift as wind,
    Caught up, and from the tumult bore away,
    Weeping with pain, her fair skin soiled with blood.”

It is the original of the grand passage in the ‘Paradise Lost,’ in which
the English poet has adopted almost literally the Homeric idea of
suffering inflicted on an immortal essence, while carefully avoiding the
ludicrous element in the scene. In the battle of the Angels, Michael
cleaves Satan down the right side:--

    “The griding sword with discontinuous wound
    Passed through him; but th’ ethereal substance closed,
    Not long divisible; and from the gash
    A stream of nectar’ous humour issuing flowed,
    Sanguine, such as celestial spirits may bleed.”
            --Par. Lost, vi. 329.

In sore plight the goddess mounts to Olympus, and there, throwing
herself into the arms of her mother Dione, bewails the wrong she has
suffered at the hands of a presumptuous mortal. Dione comforts her as
best she may, reminding her how in times past other of the Olympian
deities have had to endure woes from men: Mars, when the giants Otus and
Ephialtes bound him for thirteen months in brazen fetters; Juno herself,
the queen of Heaven, and Pluto, the king of the Shades, had been wounded
by the daring Hercules. She foretells, however, an untimely death for
the presumptuous hero who has raised his hand against a goddess:--

                        “Fool and blind!
    Unknowing he how short his term of life,
    Who fights against the gods! for him no child
    Upon his knees shall lisp a father’s name,
    Safe from the war and battle-field returned.
    Brave as he is, let Diomed beware
    He meet not with a mightier than himself:
    Then fair Ægiale, Adrastus’ child,
    The noble wife of valiant Diomed,
    Shall long, with lamentations loud, disturb
    The slumbers of her house, and vainly mourn
    Her youthful lord, the bravest of the Greeks.” (D.)

But Dione is no prophet. Diomed returned home (if the later legends are
to be believed) to find that his wife Ægiale had been anything but
inconsolable during his absence.

Venus’ wound is healed, and her tears are soon dried. But Minerva--whose
province in the celestial government seems to be not only wisdom but
satire--cannot resist a jest upon the unfortunate plight of the Queen of
Love. She points her out to Jupiter, and suggests as a probable
explanation of the wound, that she has been trying to lead astray some
other fair Greek, like Helen,--

    “And as her hand the gentle dame caressed,
     A golden clasp has scratched her slender arm.”

Jupiter smiles, and calling his pouting daughter-goddess to his side,
recommends her in future to leave to Mars and Minerva the dangers of the
battle-field, and confine her own prowess to campaigns in which she is
likely to be more victorious.

Diomed is still rushing in pursuit of Æneas. He knows that Apollo is
shielding him; but not even this knowledge checks the impetuous Greek.

    “Thrice was his onset made, with murd’rous aim,
     And thrice Apollo struck his glittering shield;
     But when with godlike force he sought to make
     His fourth attempt, the Far-destroyer spake
     In terms of awful menace; ‘Be advised,
     Tydides, and retire; nor as a god
     Thyself esteem, since not alike the race
     Of gods immortal and of earth-born men.’” (D.)

Diomed accepts the warning, and Æneas is carried off to the temple of
Apollo in the citadel, where Latona and Diana tend and heal him. Apollo
meanwhile replaces him in the battle by a phantom likeness, round which
Greeks and Trojans continue the fight. Then he calls his brother deity
the War-god to the rescue of the hard-prest Trojans, and entreats him to
scare from the field this irreverent and outrageous champion, who, he
verily believes, would lift his spear against Olympian Jove himself. In
the likeness of a Thracian chief, Mars calls Hector to the rescue; and
the Trojan prince leaps from his chariot, and, crying his battle-cry,
turns the tide of war. Æneas is restored, sound and well, to his place
in the _mêlée_--somewhat indeed to the astonishment of his friends, who
had seen him lying so long grievously wounded; but, as the poet pithily
remarks, little time had they to ask him questions. The two Ajaxes,
Ulysses, Menelaus, and Agamemnon himself, “king of men,” come to the
forefront of the Greek battle: and the young Antilochus, son of the
venerable Nestor, notably wins his spurs. But the Trojans have
supernatural aid: and Diomed, of the purged vision, cries to his friends
to beware, for that he sees the War-god in their front brandishing his
huge spear. The Greek line warily gives ground before this immortal
adversary. The Queen of Heaven can no longer endure to be a mere
spectatress of the peril of her favourites. She obtains permission from
Jupiter to send Minerva against Mars: and the two goddesses, seated in
Juno’s chariot of state, glide down from Olympus--

    “Midway between the earth and starry heaven”--

and alight upon the plain of Troy. There Juno, taking human shape,
taunts the Greek troops with cowardice--

    “In form of Stentor of the brazen voice,
    Whose shout was as the shout of fifty men”--

and whose name has made a familiar place for itself in our English

    “Shame on ye, Greeks, base cowards! brave alone
    In outward semblance: while Achilles yet
    Went forth to battle, from the Dardan gates
    The Trojans never ventured to advance.”

Minerva seeks out Diomed, whom she finds leaning on his chariot, resting
awhile from the fight, and bathing the wound made by the arrow of
Pandarus. She taunts him with his inferiority to his great father
Tydeus, who was, she reminds him, “small in stature, but every inch a
soldier.” Diomed excuses himself by reference to her own charge to
him--to fight with none of the immortals save Venus only. But now the
goddess withdraws the prohibition, and herself--putting on the “helmet
of darkness,” to hide herself from Mars--takes her place beside him in
the chariot, instead of Sthenelus, his henchman and charioteer: and the
chariot-axle groans beneath the more than mortal load. They drive in
full career against the War-god: in vain he hurls his spear against
Diomed, for the hand of the goddess turns it safely aside. The mortal
champion is more successful: his spear strikes Mars in the flank,
piercing the flesh, and drawing from him, as from Venus, the heavenly
“ichor.” And the wounded god cries out with a shout like that of ten
thousand men, so that both hosts listen to the sound with awe and
trembling. He too, like Venus, flies to Olympus, and there makes piteous
complaint of the impious deeds which, at the instigation of Minerva,
this headstrong mortal is permitted to do. His father Jupiter rates him
soundly, as the outlaw of the Olympian family, inheriting his mother
Juno’s headstrong temper. However, he bids Pæon, the physician of the
immortals, heal the wound, and Hebe prepares him a bath. Juno and
Minerva have done their work, having driven Mars from the field, and
they too quit the plains of Troy, and leave the mortal heroes to

While Diomed still pursues his career of slaughter, Menelaus gives token
of that easy and pliant disposition which half explains his behaviour to
Helen. He has at his mercy a Trojan who has been thrown from his
chariot, and begs his life. The fair-haired king is about to spare
him,--as none in the whole story of the fight is spared,--when his
brother Agamemnon comes up, and after chiding him for such
soft-heartedness, pins the wretched suppliant to the ground with his
ashen spear.

So the fight goes on through the sixth book; which is, however, chiefly
remarkable for two of the most striking episodes in the poem. The first
is the meeting of Diomed with the young Lycian captain, Glaucus.
Encountering him in the field, and struck by his bold bearing, he asks
his name and race. Glaucus replies with that pathetic simile which,
found under many forms in many poets, has its earliest embodiment in the
verse of the Hebrew Psalmist and the Greek bard. “The days of man are
but as grass.”

        “Brave son of Tydeus, wherefore set thy mind
        My race to know? the generations are
        As of the leaves, so also of mankind.
        As the leaves fall, now withering in the wind,
        And others are put forth, and spring descends,
        Such on the earth the race of men we find;
        Each in his order a set time attends;
    One generation rises and another ends.” (W.)

The young chieftain goes on, nevertheless, to announce his birth and
lineage. He is the grandson of the noble Bellerophon--the rider of the
wondrous horse Pegasus and the slayer of the monster Chimæra--all of
whose exploits he narrates at length, with some disregard to
probabilities, in the full roar of the battle round him. It turns out
that he and Diomed are bound together by a tie which all of Greek blood
scrupulously respected--the rights of hospitality exercised towards each
other by some of their ancestors. Such obligations descended from father
to son, and served from time to time to mitigate the fierce and
vindictive spirit of an age when every man’s hand was in some sort
against another. The grandfather of Diomed had been Bellerophon’s guest
and friend. So the Greek places his spear in the ground, and vows that
he will not raise his arm against Glaucus. There are enough besides of
the Trojan allies for him to slay, and Glaucus may find Greeks enough on
whom to flesh his valour; but for themselves, the old hereditary bond
shall hold good, and in token of amity they will change armour. A good
exchange, indeed, for Diomed; for whereas his own is but of the ordinary
brass or bronze, the young Lycian’s panoply is richly inlaid with
gold--“a hundred oxen’s worth for the worth of nine.” The Greek words
have passed into a proverb.

The Trojans are still hard prest, and by the advice of his brother
Helenus, who has the gift of soothsaying, and is as it were the domestic
priest of the royal household, Hector hastens to the city, and directs
his mother Hecuba to go with her matrons in solemn procession to the
temple of Pallas, and beseech the goddess to withdraw the terrible
Diomed from the field. In the palace, to his indignation, he finds
Paris dallying with Helen, and polishing his armour instead of joining
the fight. Hector upbraids him sharply: and Helen, in a speech full of
self-abasement, laments the unworthiness of her paramour. Hector speaks
no word of reproach to her, though he gently declines her invitation to
rest himself also a while from the battle. Paris promises to follow him
at once to the field; and Hector moves on to his own wife’s apartments,
to see her and his child once more before he goes back to the combat
which he has a half-foreboding will end fatally for himself, whatever be
the fortunes of Troy.

And now we are introduced to the second female character in the poem,
standing in the strongest possible contrast with that of Helen, but of
no less admirable conception. It is remarkable how entirely Homer
succeeds in interesting us in his women, without having recourse to what
might seem to us the very natural expedient of dwelling on their
personal charms; especially when it is taken into account that, in his
simple narrative, he has not the resources of the modern novelist, who
can make even the plainest heroine attractive by painting her mental
perfections, or setting before us the charms of her conversation. It has
been said that he rather assumes than describes the beauty of Helen: in
the case of Andromache, it has been remarked that he never once applies
to her any epithet implying personal attractions, though all his
translators, Lord Derby included, have been tempted to do so. It is as
the wife and mother that Andromache charms us. We readily assume that
she is comely, graceful--all that a woman should be; but it is simple
grace of domestic character which forms the attraction of the Trojan

Hector does not find her, as he expects, in the palace. She had heard
how the fortunes of the day seemed turning against the Trojans; and she
had hurried, “like one distraught,” to the tower of the citadel, to see
with her own eyes how the fight was going. He meets her at the Scæan
gates, with the nurse and the child, “whom Hector called Scamandrius,
from the river, but the citizens Astyanax”--“defender of the city.” The
father looks silently on his boy, and smiles; Andromache in tears clings
to her husband, and makes a pathetic appeal to him not to be too
prodigal of a life which is so dear to his wife and child. Her fate has
been already that of many women of her day. Her father and seven tall
brethren have been slain by the fierce Achilles, when ravaging the
country round Troy he destroyed their native city of Cilician Thebes:
her mother too is dead, and she is left alone. She adds the touching
loving confession, which Pope’s version has made popular enough even to
unclassical ears--

    “But while my Hector still survives, I see
    My father, mother, brethren, all in thee.”

Hector soothes her, but it is with a mournful foreboding of evil to
come. He values too much his own honour and fair fame to shrink from the

                      “I should blush
    To face the men and long-robed dames of Troy,
    If like a coward I could shun the fight;
    Nor could my soul the lessons of my youth
    So far forget, whose boast it still has been
    In the fore-front of battle to be found,
    Charged with my father’s glory and mine own.
    Yet in my inmost soul too well I know
    The day must come when this our sacred Troy,
    And Priam’s race, and Priam’s royal self,
    Shall in one common ruin be o’erthrown.” (D.)

But that which wrings his heart most of all is the vision before his
eyes of his beloved wife dragged into slavery. Pope’s version of the
rest of the passage is so good of its kind, and has so naturalised the
scene to our English conceptions, that no closer version will ever
supersede it.

    “Thus having spoke, th’ illustrious chief of Troy
    Stretched his fond arms to clasp the lovely boy;
    The babe clung crying to his nurse’s breast,
    Scared at the dazzling helm and nodding crest.
    With secret pleasure each fond parent smiled,
    And Hector hasted to relieve his child,
    The glitt’ring terrors from his brows unbound,
    And placed the beaming helmet on the ground.
    Then kissed the child, and lifting high in air,
    Thus to the Gods preferred a father’s prayer:
    ‘O thou! whose glory fills th’ ethereal throne,
    And all ye deathless powers! protect my son!
    Grant him, like me, to purchase just renown,
    To guard the Trojans, to defend the crown,
    Against his country’s foes the war to wage,
    And rise the Hector of the future age!
    So when triumphant from successful toils,
    Of heroes slain he bears the reeking spoils,
    Whole hosts may hail him with deserved acclaim,
    And say--This chief transcends his father’s fame:
    While pleased amidst the general shouts of Troy,
    His mother’s conscious heart o’erflows with joy.’
    He spoke, and fondly gazing on her charms,
    Restored the pleasing burthen to her arms;
    Soft on her fragrant breast the babe she laid,
    Hushed to repose, and with a smile surveyed.
    The troubled pleasure soon chastised by fear,
    She mingled with the smile a tender tear.
    The softened chief with kind compassion viewed,
    And dried the falling drops, and thus pursued.”

The “charms,” be it said, are entirely Pope’s idea, and do not harmonise
with the simplicity of the true Homeric picture. The husband was not
thinking of his wife’s beauty. He “caresses her with his hand,” and
tries to cheer her with the thought that no hero dies until his work is

    “For, till my day of destiny is come,
    No man may take my life; and when it comes,
    Nor brave nor coward can escape that day.
    But go thou home, and ply thy household cares,
    The loom and distaff, and appoint thy maids
    Their several tasks; and leave to men of Troy,
    And chief of all to me, the toils of war.” (D.)

The tender yet half-contemptuous tone in which the iron soldier
relegates the woman to her own inferior cares, is true to the spirit of
every age in which war is the main business of man’s life. Something in
the same tone is the charming scene between Hotspur and his lady in
Shakspeare’s ‘Henry IV.’

    “_Hotspur._ Away, you trifler!--Love? I love thee not,--
      I care not for thee, Kate; this is no world
      To play with mammets and to tilt with lips:
      We must have bloody noses and crack’t crowns,
      And pass them current too.--God’s me, my horse!--
      What say’st thou, Kate? What wouldst thou have with me?

    _Lady Percy._ Do you not love me? Do you not indeed?
      Well,--do not, then; for since you love me not,
      I will not love myself.--Do you not love me?
      Nay, tell me if you speak in jest, or no.

    _Hotspur._ Come, wilt thou see me ride?
      And when I am o’ horseback, I will swear
      I love thee infinitely. But hark you, Kate:
      I must not have you henceforth question me
      Whither I go, nor reason whereabout;
      Whither I must, I must; and, to conclude,
      This evening must I leave you, gentle Kate.
      I know you wise; but yet, no further wise
      Than Harry Percy’s wife: constant you are--
      But yet a woman: and for secrecy,
      No lady closer: for I well believe
      Thou wilt not utter that thou dost not know.”

Hector and his wife part; he to the fight, accompanied now by Paris,
girt for the battle in glittering armour, the show knight of the
Trojans: Andromache back to the palace, casting many a lingering glance
behind at the gallant husband she is fated never again to see alive. The
Roman ladies of the last days of the Republic were not much given to
sentiment; but we do not wonder that Brutus’s wife, Portia, knowing well
the Homeric story, was moved to tears in looking at a picture of this
parting scene.



By the advice of his brother Helenus, who knows the counsels of heaven,
Hector now challenges the Greek host to match some one of their
chieftains against him in single combat. There is an unwillingness even
amongst the bravest to accept the defiance--so terrible is the name of
Hector. Menelaus--always gallant and generous--is indignant at their
cowardice, and offers himself as the champion. He feels he is no match
for Hector; but, as he says with modest confidence, the issues in such
case lie in the hands of heaven. But Agamemnon, ever affectionately
careful of his brother, will not suffer such unequal risk: some more
stalwart warrior shall be found to maintain the honour of the Achæans.
Old Nestor rises, and loudly regrets that he has no longer the eye and
sinews of his youth--but the men of Greece, he sees with shame, are not
now what they were in his day. Stung by the taunt, nine chiefs spring to
their feet at once, and offer themselves for the combat. Conspicuous
amongst them are Diomed, the giant Ajax, and King Agamemnon himself; and
when the choice of a champion is referred to lot, the hopes and wishes
of the whole army are audibly expressed, that on one of these three the
lot may fall. It falls on Ajax; and amidst the congratulations and
prayers of his comrades, the tall chieftain dons his armour, and strides
forth to meet his adversary. The combat is maintained with vigour on
both sides, till dusk comes on; the heralds interpose, and they separate
with mutual courtesies and exchange of presents.

Both armies agree to a truce, that they may collect and burn their dead
who strew the plain thickly after the long day’s battle. The Trojans,
dispirited by their loss, and conscious that, owing to the breach of the
first truce by the treacherous act of Pandarus, they are fighting under
the curse of perjury, hold a council of war, in which Antenor (the
Nestor of Troy) proposes to restore Helen and her wealth, and so put an
end at last to this weary siege. But Paris refuses--he will give back
the treasure, but not Helen; and the proposal thus made is spurned by
the Greeks as an insult. They busy themselves in building a
fortification--ditch, and wall, and palisade--to protect their fleet
from any sudden incursion of the Trojans. When this great work is
completed, they devote the next night to one of those heavy feasts and
deep carousals, to which men of the heroic mould have always had the
repute of being addicted in the intervals of hard fighting. Most
opportunely, a fleet of merchant-ships comes in from Lemnos, laden with
wine; in part a present sent by Euneus, son of the renowned voyager
Jason, to the two royal brothers; in part a trading speculation, which
meets with immediate success among the thirsty host. The thunder of
Olympus rolls all through the night, for the Thunderer is angry at the
prolongation of the war: but the Greeks content their consciences with
pouring copious libations to appease his wrath, and after their
prolonged revelry sink into careless slumber.

At daybreak Jupiter holds a council in Olympus, and harangues the
assembled deities at some length--with a special request that he may not
be interrupted. He forbids, on pain of his royal displeasure, any
further interference on the part of the Olympians on either side in the
contest; and then, mounting his chariot, descends in person to Mount Ida
to survey the field of battle, once more crowded with fierce combatants.
He hesitates, apparently, which side he shall aid--for he has no
intention of observing for himself the neutrality which he has so
strictly enjoined upon others. So he weighs in a balance the fates of
Greek and Trojan: the former draws down the scale, while the destiny of
Troy mounts to heaven. The metaphor is reversed, according to our modern
notions; it is the losing side which should be found wanting when
weighed in the balance. And so Milton has it in the passage which is
undoubtedly founded on these lines of Homer. “The Omnipotent,” says

    “Hung forth in heaven His golden scales, yet seen
    Betwixt Astræa and the Scorpion sign,
    Wherein all things created first He weighed,
    The pendulous round earth with balanced air
    In counterpoise; now ponders all events,
    Battles and realms; in these He put two weights,
    The sequel each of parting and of fight:
    The latter quick up flew and kicked the beam.”

And Gabriel bids Satan look up, and mark the warning:--

                      “‘For proof look up,
    And read thy lot in yon celestial sign,
    Where thou art weighed, and shown how light, how weak,
    If thou resist!’ The Fiend looked up, and knew
    His mounted scale aloft; nor more, but fled
    Murmuring, and with him fled the shades of night.”
            --Par. Lost, end of B. iv.

In accordance with this decision the Thunderer sends his lightnings down
upon the host of the Greeks, and throws them into terror and confusion.
Nestor, still in the thickest of the fray, has one of his chariot-horses
killed by a shaft from the bow of Paris; and while he is thus all but
helpless, Diomed sees the terrible Hector bearing down on the old chief
in full career. He bids Nestor mount with him, and together they
encounter the Trojan prince, against whom Diomed hurls his spear: he
misses Hector, but kills his charioteer. As Diomed presses on, a
thunderbolt from Jupiter ploughs the ground right in front of his
startled horses. Nestor sees in this omen the wrath of heaven; and at
his entreaty Diomed reluctantly allows him to turn the horses, and
retires, pursued by the loud taunts of Hector, who bids the Greek
“wench” go hide herself. Thrice he half turns to meet his jesting enemy,
and thrice the roll of the angry thunder warns him not to dare the wrath
of the god. Hector in triumph shouts to his comrades to drive the Greeks
back to their new trenches, and burn their fleet. He calls to his horses
by name (he drove a bright bay and a chestnut, and called them Whitefoot
and Firefly), and bids them do him good suit and service now, if ever,
in return for all the care they have had from Andromache, who has fed
them day by day with her own hands, even before she would offer the
wine-cup to their thirsty master. The Greeks are driven back into their
trenches, where they are rallied by the royal brothers Agamemnon and
Menelaus in person. They have too on their side a bowman as good as
Pandarus or Paris, who now does them gallant service. It is Teucer, the
younger brother of the huge Ajax. The description of his manner of fight
would suit almost exactly the light archer and his pavoise-bearer of the
medieval battle:--

    “Ajax the shield extended: Teucer then
    Peered from behind, and with a shaft forth stept,
    And slew one singled from the enemy’s men:
    Then, as a child creeps to his mother, crept
    To Ajax, who the shield before him swept.” (W.)

Eight times he draws his bow, and every arrow reaches its mark in a
Trojan. Twice he shoots at Hector, but each time the shaft is turned
aside, and finds some less renowned victim. Of these the last is
Hector’s charioteer--the second who in this day’s battle has paid the
forfeit of that perilous honour. Hector leaps down to avenge his death,
and Teucer, felled to the ground by a huge fragment of rock, is carried
off the field with a broken shoulder, still covered by the shield of
Ajax. The Greeks remain penned within their stockade, and nothing but
the approach of night saves their fleet from destruction. The victorious
Trojans bivouac on the field, their watch-fires lighting up the night;
for Hector’s only fear now is lest his enemies should embark and set
sail under cover of the darkness, and so escape the fate which he is
confident awaits them on the morrow. Mr Tennyson has chosen for
translation the fine passage describing the scene, which closes the
Eighth Book:--

    “As when in heaven the stars about the moon
    Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,
    And every height comes out, and jutting peak,
    And valley, and the immeasurable heavens
    Break open to their highest, and all the stars
    Shine, and the shepherd gladdens in his heart:
    So many a fire between the ships and stream
    Of Xanthus blazed before the towers of Troy,
    A thousand on the plain; and close by each
    Sat fifty in the blaze of burning fire;
    And, champing golden grain, the horses stood
    Hard by their chariots, waiting for the dawn.”



The opening of the Ninth Book shows us the Greeks utterly disheartened
inside their intrenchments. The threat of the dishonoured Achilles is
fast being accomplished: they cannot stand before Hector. Agamemnon
calls a hasty council, and proposes--in sad earnest, this time--that all
should re-embark and sail home to Greece. The proposal is received in
silence by all except Diomed. He boldly taunts the king with cowardice:
the other Greeks may go home if they will, but he and his good comrade
Sthenelus will stay and fight it out, even if they fight alone. Then
Nestor takes the privilege of his age to remind Agamemnon that his
insult to Achilles is the real cause of their present distress. Let an
embassy be sent to him where he lies beside his ships, in moody
idleness, to offer him apology and compensation for the wrong. The king
consents; and Ajax, Ulysses, and Phœnix are chosen to accompany the
royal heralds on this mission of reconciliation. Ajax--the chief who in
all warlike points stands second only to Achilles himself in the
estimation of the army--is a delegate to whom even the great captain of
the Myrmidons must surely listen with respect. Phœnix has been a sort of
foster-father to Achilles from his boyhood, intrusted with the care of
him by his father Peleus, and has now accompanied him to the war by the
old man’s special request, to aid him with advice and counsel. If any
one in the camp has any influence over the headstrong prince, it will be
the man who, as he says, has dandled him in his arms in his helpless
infancy. And no diplomatic enterprise could be complete without the
addition of Ulysses, the man of many devices and of persuasive tongue.
The chiefs set forth, and take their way along the shore to the camp of
the Myrmidons. They find Achilles sitting in his tent, solacing his
perturbed spirit with playing on the lyre, to the music of which he
sings the deeds of heroes done in the days of old--the exact prototype
of those knightly troubadours of later times, who combined the
accomplishments of the minstrel with the prowess of the soldier. His
faithful henchman Patroclus sits and listens to the song. With graceful
and lofty courtesy the chief of the Myrmidons rises from his seat, and
lays his lyre aside, and welcomes his visitors. He will hear no message
until they have shared his hospitality. He brings them in, and sets them
down on couches spread with purple tapestry. Then, with the grand
patriarchal simplicity of the days of Abraham, when no office done for a
guest was held to be servile, he bids Patroclus fill a larger bowl, and
mix the wine strong, and make good preparation of the flesh of sheep,
and goats, and well-fed swine. The great hero himself divides the
carcases, while his charioteer Automedon holds them. The joints are
cooked above the heaped embers on ample spits under the superintendence
of Patroclus; and when all is ready, they fall to with that wholesome
appetite which has been the characteristic of most heroes in classical
and medieval times, Achilles carving for his guests, while Patroclus
deals out the bread. Professor Wilson’s remarks on the scene are

“In nothing was the constitution of the heroes more enviable than its
native power--of eating at all times, and without a moment’s warning.
Never does a meal to any distinguished individual come amiss. Their
stomachs were as heroic as their hearts, their bowels magnanimous. It
cannot have been forgotten by the reader, who hangs with a watering
mouth over the description of this entertainment, that about two hours
before these three heroes, Ulysses, Ajax, and old Phœnix, had made an
almost enormous supper in the pavilion of Agamemnon. But their walk

    ‘Along the margin of the sounding deep’

had reawakened their slumbering appetite.”

In this respect, too, the heroes of the Carlovingian and Arthurian
romances equal those of Homer--probably, indeed, taking their colour
from his originals. Nay, a good capacity for food and drink seems in
itself to have been considered an heroic quality. When Sir Gareth of
Orkney sits him down at table, coming as a stranger to King Arthur’s
court, his performance as a trencher-man excites as much admiration as
his soldier-like thews and sinews. The company declare of him
enthusiastically that “they never saw so goodly a man, nor so well of
his eating.” And in the same spirit Sir Kay, Arthur’s foster-brother, is
said, in the Welsh legend, to “have drunk like four, and fought like a
hundred.” The animal virtues are closely linked together; we still
prognosticate favourably of a horse’s powers of endurance if we see
that he is, like Sir Gareth, a good feeder. And perhaps it is some
lingering reminiscence of the old heroic ages that leads us still to
mark our appreciation of modern heroes by bestowing on them a public

When the meal is over, Ulysses rises, and in accordance with immemorial
custom--as old, it appears, as these half-mythical ages--pledges the
health of their illustrious host. In a speech which does full justice to
the oratorical powers which the poet assigns him, he lays before
Achilles the proposal of Agamemnon. He sets forth the straits to which
the Greeks are reduced, pent within their fortifications by the terrible
Hector, and acknowledges, in the fullest manner, that in the great name
of Achilles lies their only hope of rescue. He dwells upon the remorse
which Achilles himself will surely feel, when too late, if he suffers
the hopes of Greece to be ruined by the indulgence of his own haughty
spirit--the temper against which, as he reminds him, his aged father
warned him when first he set out for Troy:--

    “My son, the boon of strength, if so they will,
    Juno or Pallas have the power to give;
    But thou thyself thy haughty spirit must curb,
    For better far is gentle courtesy.”

He lays before him the propositions of Agamemnon. Briseis shall be
restored to him, in all honour, pure as when she left him; so the great
point in the quarrel is fully conceded. Moreover, the king will give him
the choice of his three daughters in marriage, if it ever be their happy
fate to see again the shores of Argos, and will add such dowry

    “As never man before to daughter gave.”

And he will send, for the present, peace-offerings of royal
magnificence; ten talents of pure gold, seven fair Lesbian slaves, “well
skilled in household cares,” twelve horses of surpassing fleetness--the
prizes they have already won would be in themselves a fortune--and seven
prosperous towns on the sea-coast of Argos. He adds, in well-conceived
climax to his speech, an appeal to higher motives. If Achilles will not
relax his wrath against Agamemnon, at least let him have some compassion
on the unoffending Greeks; let him bethink himself of the national
honour--of his own great name; shall Hector be allowed to boast, as he
does now, that no Greek dares meet him in the field?

But neither the eloquence of Ulysses, nor the garrulous pleading of his
old foster-father Phœnix, who indulges himself and his company with
stories of Achilles’ boyhood, and of the exploits of his own younger
days, can bend the iron determination of the hero. He will have none of
Agamemnon’s gifts, and none of Agamemnon’s daughters--no, not were the
princess as fair as Venus. Greece has store of fair maidens for him to
choose from if he will. Nay, had either woman or wealth been his
delight, he had scarce come to Troy. He had counted the cost when he set
out for the war:--

    “Successful forays may good store provide;
    And tripods may be gained, and noble steeds:
    But when the breath of man hath passed his lips,
    Nor strength, nor foray can the loss repair.
    I by my goddess mother have been warned,
    The silver-footed Thetis, that o’er me
    A double chance of destiny impends:
    If here remaining, round the walls of Troy
    I wage the war, I ne’er shall see my home,
    But then undying glory shall be mine:
    If I return, and see my native land,
    My glory all is gone; but length of life
    Shall then be mine, and death be long deferred.” (D.)

Besides, he adds with biting sarcasm, Agamemnon can have no need now of
his poor services. He has built a wall, he hears,--with ditch and
palisade to boot: though he doubts whether, after all, it will keep out
Hector. To be sure, when _he_ was in the field, no wall was needed.

Nor is he a whit more moved by the few blunt and soldier-like remarks
with which Ajax closes the conference. They may as well return, says
that chief to Ulysses; words are lost upon one so obstinate as Achilles,
who will neither listen to reason, nor cares for the love of his old
companions in arms. Ajax has no patience, either, with the romantic side
of the quarrel--

    “And for a single girl! we offer seven.”

Reproach and argument are alike in vain. The hero listens patiently and
courteously; but nothing shall move him from his resolution, unless
Hector, the godlike, shall carry fire and sword even to the ships and
tents of the Myrmidons; a venture which, he thinks, the Trojan prince,
with all his hardihood, will pause before he makes.

With downcast hearts the envoys return to Agamemnon; the aged Phœnix
alone remaining behind, at Achilles’ special request, to accompany him
when he shall set sail for home. Great consternation falls on the
assembled chiefs when they learn the failure of their overtures; only
Diomed, chivalrous as ever, laments that they should have stooped to ask
grace at such a churlish hand. Let Achilles go or stay as he will: for
themselves--let every man refresh himself with food and wine--“for
therein do lie both strength and courage”--and then betake themselves to
their no less needful rest: ready, so soon as “the rosy-fingered dawn”
appears, to set the battle fearlessly in array, in front of their ships
and tents, against this redoubtable Hector.


    “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

There is no rest for the King of Men, who has the fate of a national
armament on his soul. He looks forth upon the plain, where the thousand
watchfires of the enemy are blazing out into the night, and hears the
confused hum of their thick-lying battalions, and the sounds of the wild
Eastern music with which they are enlivening their revels, and
celebrating their victory by anticipation. He rises from his troubled
couch, determined to hold a night-council with Nestor and other chiefs
of mark. He is donning his armour, when he is visited by his brother
Menelaus--for he too has no rest, thinking of the dire straits into
which in his sole cause the armies of Greece are driven. The royal
brothers go in different directions through the camp, and quietly rouse
all the most illustrious captains. Nestor is the guiding spirit in the
council, as before. He advises a reconnoissance of the enemy’s lines
under cover of the darkness. The office of a spy, be it remembered, was
reckoned in these old times, as in the days of the Hebrew commonwealth,
a service of honour as well as of danger; and the kings and chiefs of
the Greeks no more thought it beneath their dignity than Gideon did in
the case of the Midianites. The man who could discover for them the
counsels of Hector would win for himself not only a solid reward, but an
immortal name--

    “High as heaven in all men’s mouths
    Should be his praise, and ample his reward;
    For every captain of a ship should give
    A coal-black ewe, and at her foot a lamb,
    A prize beyond compare: and high should be
    His place at banquets and at solemn feasts.”

Diomed straightway volunteers for the adventure, and out of the many
chiefs who offer themselves as his comrade, he chooses Ulysses. So--not
without due prayer to Heaven--valour and subtlety go forth together on
their perilous errand.

Meanwhile the same idea has occurred to Hector; he too would learn the
counsels of his enemies. One Dolon--a young warrior who has a fine taste
for horses, but is otherwise of somewhat feminine type (Homer tells us
he was the only brother of five sisters), and whose main qualification
is fleetness of foot--is tempted to undertake the enterprise on a
somewhat singular condition--that he shall have as his prize the more
than mortal horses of Achilles, when, as he doubts not will be soon the
case, the spoils of the conquered Greeks shall come to be divided. And
Hector, with equal confidence, swears “by his sceptre” that they shall
be his and none other’s. Wrapped in a cloak of wolfskin, and wearing a
cap of marten’s fur instead of a helmet, he too steals out into the
night. He does not escape the keen vision of Ulysses. The Greek spies
crouch behind some dead bodies, and allow him to pass them, when they
rise and cut off his retreat to the Trojan camp. At first he thinks they
are Trojans, sent after him by Hector;

     “But when they came a spear-cast off, or less,
      He knew them for his foes, and slipt away
      With lithe knees flying: and they behind him press.
      As when with jaggèd teeth two dogs of prey
      Hang steadily behind, to seize and slay,
      Down the green woods, a wild fawn or a hare,
      That shrieking flies them; on his track so lay
      Odysseus and the son of Tydeus there,
    Winding him out from Troy, and never swerved a hair.” (W.)

Their aim is to take him alive. Diomed at last gets within an easy

     “Then, hurling, he so ruled his aim, the spear
      Whizzed by the neck, then sank into the ground.
      He, trembling in his teeth, and white with fear,
      Stood: from his mouth there came a chattering sound.
      They panting, as he wept, his arms enwound.
      ‘Take me alive, and sell me home,’ cried he;
      ‘Brass, iron, and fine gold are with me found.
      Glad will my father render countless fee,
    If living by the ships they bear him news of me.’” (W.)

Ulysses parleys with the unhappy youth, and drags from his terrified
lips not only the secret of his errand, but the disposition of the
Trojan forces,--most convenient information for their own movements.
Especially, he tells them where they might find an easy prey, such as
his own soul would love. Rhesus, king of the Thracian allies, has his
camp apart--

          “No steeds that e’er I saw,
    For size and beauty, can with his compare;
    Whiter than snow, and swifter than the wind.”

The unwilling treachery does not save his wretched life. Ulysses
sarcastically admires his choice of a reward--

   “High soared thy hopes indeed, that thought to win
    The horses of Achilles; hard are they
    For mortal man to harness or control,
    Save for Achilles’ self, the goddess-born.”

Then--with the cruel indifference to human life which marks every one of
Homer’s heroes--he severs his head from his body.

Following the directions given by Dolon, the two Greeks make their way
first to the quarters of the Thracian contingent. Swiftly and silently
Diomed despatches the king and twelve of his warriors, as they sleep,
while Ulysses drives off the snow-white horses. With these trophies they
return safe to the Greek camp, where they are cordially welcomed, though
it must be admitted they have gained but little insight into the designs
of Hector.[19]



With the morrow’s dawn begins the third and great battle, at the Greek
lines, which occupies from the eleventh to the eighteenth book of the
poem. Agamemnon is the hero of the earlier part of the day, and Hector
is warned by Jupiter not to hazard his own person in the battle, unless
the Greek king is wounded; which at last he is, by the spear of a son of
Antenor. Ulysses and Diomed supply his place; until Paris, fighting in
somewhat coward fashion, crouching behind the monumental stone of the
national hero Ilus, pins Diomed through the right heel to the ground
with an arrow. Ulysses stands manfully at bay almost alone amidst a host
of enemies, holding his ground, though he too is wounded, till Ajax
comes to his aid. Still the Greeks have the worst of it. The skilful
leech Machaon, amongst others, is wounded by an arrow from the bow of
Paris: till even Achilles, watching the fight from the lofty prow of his
ship, sees his day of triumph and vengeance close at hand. He sends
Patroclus to the field--nominally to inquire who has just been carried
off wounded, but with the further object, we may suppose, of learning
the state of the case more thoroughly. Nestor, to whose tent Patroclus
comes, begs him to use his influence now with his angry chief, and
persuade him, if not to come to the rescue in person, at least to send
his stout Myrmidons to the aid of his countrymen, under Patroclus’ own

Again the Greeks are driven within their intrenchments, and Hector and
the Trojan chariot-fighters pressing on them, attempt in their fierce
excitement even to make their horses leap the ditch and palisade. Foiled
in this, they dismount, and, forming in five detachments under the
several command of Hector, Helenus, Paris, Æneas, and Asius son of
Hyrtacus, they attack the stockade at five points at once. Asius alone
refuses to quit his chariot; and choosing the quarter where a gate is
still left open to receive the Greek fugitives, he drives full at the
narrow entrance. But in that gateway on either hand stand two stalwart
warders, Leonteus and Polypates. The latter is the son of the mighty
hero Pirithous, friend and comrade of Hercules, and both are of the
renowned race of the Lapithæ. Gallantly the two champions keep the
dangerous post against all comers, while their friends from the top of
the rampart shower huge stones upon their assailants. Even Hector at his
point of attack can make no impression: and as his followers vainly
strive to pass the ditch, an omen from heaven strikes them with
apprehension as to the final issue. An eagle, carrying off a huge
serpent through the air, is bitten by the reptile, and drops it,
writhing and bleeding, in the midst of the combatants. Polydamas points
it out to Hector, and reads in it a warning that their victory will be
at best a dearly-bought one. Hector rebukes him for his weakness in
putting faith in portents. The noble words in which the poet sums up
Hector’s creed in such matters have passed into a proverb with patriots
of every age and nation--

    “The best of omens is our country’s cause.”

Sarpedon the Lycian, who claims none less than Jupiter for his father,
has taken chief command of the Trojan auxiliaries, and, gallantly
seconded by his countryman Glaucus, sweeps “like a black storm” on the
tower where Mnestheus, the Athenian, commands, and is like to have
carried it, when Glaucus falls wounded by an arrow from Teucer. The
slaughter is terrible on both sides, and the ditch and palisade are red
with blood. “The balance of the fight hangs even;” until at last the
Trojan prince lifts a huge fragment of rock, and heaves it at the wooden
gates which bar the entrance at his point of attack.

   “This way and that the severed portals flew
    Before the crashing missile; dark as night
    His low’ring brow, great Hector sprang within;
    Bright flashed the brazen armour on his breast,
    As through the gates, two javelins in his hand,
    He sprang; the gods except, no power might meet
    That onset; blazed his eyes with lurid fire.
    Then to the Trojans, turning to the throng,
    He called aloud to scale the lofty wall;
    They heard, and straight obeyed; some scaled the wall;
    Some through the strong-built gates continuous poured;
    While in confusion irretrievable
    Fled to their ships the panic-stricken Greeks.” (D.)

Neptune has been watching the fight from the wooded heights of
Samothrace, and sees the imminent peril of his friends. “In four mighty
strides”--the woods and mountains trembling beneath his feet--he reaches
the bay of Œge, in Achaia, where far in the depths lie his shining
palaces of gold. There the sea-god mounts his chariot, yoking

   “Beneath his car the brazen-footed steeds,
    Of swiftest flight, with manes of flowing gold.
    All clad in gold, the golden lash he grasped
    Of curious work, and, mounting on his car,
    Skimmed o’er the waves; from all the depths below
    Gambolled around the monsters of the deep,
    Acknowledging their king; the joyous sea
    Parted her waves; swift flew the bounding steeds;
    Nor was the brazen axle wet with spray,
    When to the ships of Greece their lord they bore.” (D.)

He takes the form of the soothsayer Calchas, and in his person rallies
the discomfited Greeks, and summons the greater and the lesser Ajax to
the rescue. Both feel a sudden accession of new vigour and courage; Ajax
Oileus detects the divinity of their visitor, as the seeming Calchas
turns to depart. The two chiefs quickly gather round them a phalanx of
their comrades.

   “Spear close by spear, and shield by shield o’erlaid,
    Buckler to buckler pressed, and helm to helm,
    And man to man; the horse-hair plumes above,
    That nodded on the warriors’ glittering crests,
    Each other touched, so closely massed they stood.
    Backward by many a stalwart hand were drawn
    The spears, in act to hurl; their eyes and minds
    Turned to the front, and eager for the fray.” (D.)

Hector’s career is stayed. Ajax the Lesser brings into play his band of
Locrian bowmen, of little use in the open field, but good when they are
under cover.

                “Theirs were not the hearts
    To brook th’ endurance of the standing fight;
    Nor had they brass-bound helms with horse-hair plume,
    Nor ample shields they bore, nor ashen spear,
    But came to Troy in bows and twisted slings
    Of woollen cloth confiding.”

The galling storm of their arrows throws confusion into the Trojan
ranks. Helenas and Deiphobus, Hector’s brothers, have already been led
off wounded: Asius son of Hyrtacus has found his trust in chariot and
horses vain, and lies dead within the Greek lines. But Hector still
presses on, and Paris shows that he can play the soldier on occasion as
successfully as the gallant. The Greeks, too, miss their leaders.
Agamemnon, Ulysses, Diomed, are all disabled for the time. The two
Ajaxes and Idomeneus of Crete do all that man can do. But the stockade
has been forced, and the fight is now round the ships,--the last hope of
bare safety for the Greek forces. If Hector burns them, as he boasts he
will, all means of retreat, all the long-cherished prospect of seeing
their homes again, are lost to them. In a hasty conference with his
wounded companions beside his galley, Agamemnon, suffering and
dispirited, once more counsels retreat before it be too late. If they
can but hold out till nightfall, then, under cover of the darkness, he
proposes to take the sea. Those vessels which lie close to the shore may
be launched at once without discovery from the enemy, and kept out at
anchor: the rest can follow when the Trojans have, as usual, withdrawn
from immediate attack, as soon as the shades of evening make the
distinction hazardous between friend and foe. Ulysses and Diomed
overrule the proposal; and the wounded leaders return to the scene of
combat, unable to take an active part, but inspiriting their men from
safe posts of observation.

The interlude of comedy is furnished again by the denizens of Olympus.
Juno has watched with delight the successful efforts of Neptune to rally
the Greeks against Hector and the hateful Trojans; but she is in an
agony of apprehension lest Jupiter, who has his attention just now
occupied in Thrace, should interfere at this critical moment, and still
grant the victory to Hector. She determines to put in force all her
powers of blandishment, and to coax the Thunderer to spend in her
company those precious hours which are laden with the fate of her
Greeks. She is not content with her ordinary powers of fascination: she
applies to the goddess of love for the loan of her magic girdle,--

   “Her broidered cestus, wrought with every charm
    To win the heart; there Love, there young Desire,
    There fond Discourse, and there Persuasion dwelt,
    Which oft enthrals the mind of wisest men.”

It certainly enthrals the mind of the sovereign of Olympus; who, in all
cases where female attractions were concerned, was even as the most
foolish of mortals. Transfigured by the cestus of Venus, his queen
appears to him in a halo of celestial charms which are irresistible. In
her company he speedily forgets the wretched squabbles of the creatures
upon earth. Juno has bribed the god of sleep also to become her
accomplice; and the dread king is soon locked in profound repose.

Then Neptune seizes his opportunity, and heads the Greeks in person.
Agamemnon, disregarding his recent wound, is seen once more in the front
of the battle. Ajax meets Hector hand to hand, receives his spear full
in his breast just where his cross-belts meet, and so escapes unwounded.
As the Trojan prince draws back to recover himself, the giant Greek
upheaves a huge stone that has shored up one of the galleys, and hurls
it with main strength against his breast. “Like an oak of the forest
struck by lightning” Hector falls prone in the dust. With shouts of
exultation, Ajax and his comrades rush to crown their victory by
stripping his armour; but the great chiefs of the enemy,--Æneas,
Polydamas, the Lycian captains Sarpedon and Glaucus--gather round and
lock their shields in front of the fallen hero, while others bear him
aside out of the battle, still in a death-like swoon, to where his
chariot stands. Dismayed at the fall of their great leader, the Trojans
give ground; the trench is recrossed, and the Greeks breathe again.

Jupiter awakes from sleep just in time to see the mischief that has been
done; the Trojans in flight, the Greeks with Neptune at their head
pursuing; Hector lying senseless by the side of his chariot, still
breathing heavily, and vomiting blood from his bruised chest, and
surrounded by his anxious comrades. He turns wrathfully upon Juno--it is
her work, he knows. He reminds her of former penalties which she had
brought upon herself by deceiving him.

   “Hast thou forgotten how in former times
    I hung thee from on high, and to thy feet
    Attached two ponderous anvils, and thy hands
    With golden fetters bound which none might break?
    There didst thou hang amid the clouds of heaven:
    Through all Olympus’ breadth the gods were wroth;
    Yet dared not one approach to set thee free.” (D.)

He does not proceed, however, to exercise any such barbarous conjugal
discipline on this occasion, and is readily appeased by his queen’s
assurance that the interference of Neptune was entirely on his own
proper motion. He condescends even to explain why he desires to give a
temporary triumph to the Trojans: it is that, in accordance with his
sworn promise to Thetis, he may avenge the insult offered to her son
Achilles, by teaching the Greeks their utter helplessness without him.

The Goddess of the Rainbow is sent to warn Neptune, on pain of the
Thunderer’s displeasure, to quit the fight. The sea-king demurs. “Was
not a fair partition made, in the primeval days, between the three
brother-gods, of the realms of Air, and Sea, and Darkness? and is not
Earth common ground to all? Why is not Jupiter content with his own
lawful domains, and by what right does he assume to dictate to a
brother--and a brother-king?” Iris, however, calms him; he is perfectly
right in theory, she admits; but in practice he will find his elder
brother too strong for him. So the sea-god, in sulky acquiescence,
leaves the scene of battle, and plunges down into the depths of his own
dominion. Phœbus Apollo, on the other hand, receives Jupiter’s
permission to aid the Trojans. He sweeps down from Olympus to the spot
where Hector lies, now slowly reviving. The hero recognises his
celestial visitor, and feels at once his strength restored, and his
ardour for the battle reawakened. To the consternation of the Greeks, he
reappears in the field, fierce and vigorous as before. But he no longer
comes alone; in his front moves Phœbus Apollo,--

   “His shoulders veiled in cloud; his arm sustained
    The awful Ægis, dread to look on, hung
    With shaggy tassels round and dazzling bright,
    Which Vulcan, skilful workman, gave to Jove,
    To scatter terror ’mid the souls of men.” (D.)

When the sun-god flashes this in the faces of the Greeks, heart and
spirit fail them. Stalking in the van of the Trojans, he leads them up
once more against the embankment, and, planting his mighty foot upon
it, levels a wide space for the passage of the chariots,--

   “Easy, as when a child upon the beach,
    In wanton play, with hands and feet o’erthrows
    The mound of sand which late in sport he raised.”

The habits and pursuits of grown-up men change with the passing
generation; but the children of Homer’s day might play with our own, and
understand each other’s ways perfectly.

Chariots and footmen press through the breach pell-mell, and again the
battle rages round the Greek galleys. Standing on their high decks, the
Greeks maintain the struggle gallantly with the long boarding-pikes, as
we should call them, kept on board for use in such emergencies. Ajax’
galley is attacked by Hector in person; but the Greek chief stands
desperately at bay, wielding a huge pike thirty-three feet long, and his
brother Teucer plies his arrows with fatal effect upon the crowded
assailants: until Jupiter, alarmed lest Hector should be struck, snaps
his bowstring in sunder. Hector calls loudly for fire to burn the
vessels, and one warrior after another, torch in hand, makes the attempt
at the cost of his life, until twelve lie biting the sand, slain by the
huge weapon of Ajax.



Patroclus, sitting in the tent of the wounded Eurypylus, sees the
imminent peril of his countrymen. He cannot bear the sight, and taking
hasty leave of his friend, hurries back to the quarters of Achilles, and
stands before him in an agony of silent tears. At first the hero affects
to chide his follower for such girlish sorrow--what cares he for the
Greeks? It is plain, however, that he does care; and when Patroclus, in
very outspoken terms, upbraids him for his obduracy, and asks that, even
if the dark doom that hangs over him makes his chief unwilling to take
the field in person, he will at least send him with the Myrmidons to the
rescue, Achilles at once consents. Patroclus shall go, clad in his
armour, that so perchance the Trojans may be deceived, and think that
they see the well-known crest of Achilles himself once more leading the
fight. Only he warns him not to advance too far; to be content with
rescuing the galleys, and not attempt to press his victory home to the
walls of Troy; in that case he will find the gods of the enemy turn
their wrath against him. In spite of his assumed indifference, Achilles
is intently watching the combatants in the distance, and sees the
flames rising in the air from the galley of Ajax. He can no longer
restrain his feelings, but hurries his comrade forth. Patroclus puts on
the harness of his chief, and takes his sword and shield: only the
mighty spear he forbears to touch;--

   “None save Achilles’ self that spear could poise,
    The far-famed Pelian ash, which to his sire,
    On Pelion’s summit felled, to be the bane
    Of mightiest chiefs, the centaur Chiron gave.”

He mounts the hero’s chariot, driven by the noble Automedon, and drawn
by the three horses, Xanthus, Balius, and Pedasus--or as we should call
them, Chestnut, Dapple, and Swift-foot. The battalions of the Myrmidons
eagerly gather round their leaders,--even old Phœnix taking command of
one detachment. Achilles himself gives them a few fiery words of
exhortation. “They have long chafed at their enforced idleness, and
clamoured for the battle; lo! there lies the opportunity they have
longed for.” Then, standing in the midst, he pours from his most costly
goblet the solemn libation to Jove, and prays of him for Patroclus
victory and a safe return. The poet tells us, with that licence of
prognostication which has been considerably abused by some modern
writers of fiction, that half the prayer was heard, and half denied.

“Like a pack of ravening wolves, hungering for their prey,” the
Myrmidons launch themselves against the enemy. The Trojans recognise, as
they believe, in the armed charioteer who heads them, the terrible
Achilles, and consternation spreads through their ranks. Even Hector,
though still fighting gallantly, is borne back over the stockade, and
the ditch is filled with broken chariots and struggling horses. Back
towards the Trojan lines rolls the tide of battle. Sarpedon, the great
Lycian chief, own son to Jupiter, falls by the spear of Patroclus. The
ruler of Olympus has hesitated for a while whether he shall interpose to
save him; but his fated term of life is come, and there is a mysterious
Destiny in this Homeric mythology, against which even Jupiter seems
powerless. All that he can do for his offspring is to insure for his
body the rites of burial; and by his order the twin brothers, Sleep and
Death, carry off the corpse to his native shore of Lycia.

But Patroclus has forgotten the parting caution of Achilles. Flushed
with his triumph, he follows up the pursuit even to the walls of Troy.
But there Apollo keeps guard. Thrice the Greek champion in defiance
smites upon the battlements, and thrice the god shakes the terrible Ægis
in his face. A fourth time the Greek lifts his spear, when an awful
voice warns him that neither for him, nor yet for his mightier master
Achilles, is it written in the fates to take Troy. Awe-struck, he draws
back from the wall, but only to continue his career of slaughter among
the Trojans. Apollo meets him in the field, strips from him his helmet
and his armour, and shivers his spear in his hand. The Trojan Euphorbus,
seeing him at this disadvantage, stabs him from behind, and Hector,
following him as he retreats, drives his spear through his body. As the
Trojan prince stands over his victim, exulting after the fashion of all
Homeric heroes in what seems to our taste a barbarous and boastful
spirit, Patroclus with his dying breath foretells that his slayer shall
speedily meet his own fate by the avenging hand of Achilles. Hector
spurns the prophecy, and rushes after the charioteer Automedon, whom
the immortal horses carry off safe from his pursuit. Then donning the
armour of Achilles, so lately worn by Patroclus, he leads on the Trojans
to seize the dead body, which Menelaus is gallantly defending. After a
long and desperate contest, the Greeks, locking their shields together
in close phalanx, succeed in carrying it off, the two Ajaxes keeping the
assailants at bay. Jupiter, in pity to the dead hero, casts a veil of
darkness round him. But this embarrasses the movements of friends as
well as enemies, and gives rise to a characteristic outburst on the part
of Ajax, often quoted. He can fight best when he sees his way. “Give us
but light, O Jove, and in the light, if thou seest fit, destroy us!”

We have now reached the crisis of the story. The wrath of Achilles
against Agamemnon wanes and pales before the far more bitter wrath which
now fills his whole soul against Hector, as the slayer of his comrade.
Young Antilochus, son of Nestor, brings the mournful tidings to his
tent, where he sits already foreboding the result, as he sees the Greeks
crowding back to their galleys from the field in front of Troy. His
grief is frantic--he tears his hair, and heaps dust upon his head, after
a fashion which strongly suggests the Eastern character of the tale. His
goddess-mother, Thetis “of the silver feet,” hears him,

   “Beside her aged father where she sat,
    In the deep ocean-caves,”

and comes with all her train of sea-nymphs to console him, as when
before he sat weeping with indignation at the insult of Agamemnon. In
vain she strives to comfort him with the thought that his insulted
honour has been fully satisfied--that the Greeks have bitterly rued
their former treatment of him. He feels only the loss of Patroclus, and
curses the hour in which he was born. All that he longs for now is
vengeance upon Hector. Thetis sorrowfully reminds him that it is written
in the book of fate that when Hector falls, his own last hour is near at
hand. Be it so, is his reply--death comes in turn to all men, and he
will meet it as he may. But he cannot go forth to battle without armour;
and the goddess promises that by the morrow’s dawn, Vulcan, the immortal
craftsman, shall furnish him with harness of proof.

The Greeks have fought their way to their vessels, step by step, with
the dead body of Patroclus. But Hector with his Trojans has pressed them
close all the way, and even when at the Greek lines seizes the corpse by
the feet. Iris flies to Achilles with a message from Juno--will he see
his dead friend given as a prey to the dogs and vultures?--He is without
armour, true; but there is no need for him to adventure himself among
the combatants; let him only show himself, let the Trojans but hear his
voice, and it is enough. He does so; standing aloft upon the rampart,
while Pallas throws her ægis over him, and surrounds his head with a
halo of flashing light, he lifts his mighty voice and thrice shouts
aloud. Panic seizes the whole host of Troy, and while they give ground
in dismay, the dead Patroclus is borne off to the tent of Achilles.

Night falls on the plain, and separates the combatants. The Trojans,
before their evening meal, hold an anxious council, in which Polydamas,
as great in debate as Hector is in the field, advises that they should
now retire within their walls. Achilles, it is evident, will head the
Greeks in the morning, and who shall stand before him? But the wise
counsel of Polydamas meets the same fate as that of Ahithophel; Heaven
will not suffer men to listen to it. Minerva perverts the understandings
of the Trojans, and they prefer the rasher exhortations of Hector, who
urges them at all hazards to keep the field.

Thetis, meanwhile, has sought out Vulcan, and bespoken his skill in the
forging of new armour for her son. The lame god will work for her, she
knows; for in the day when his cruel mother Juno, in wrath at his
marvellous ugliness, cast him down from Olympus, she with her
sister-goddess Eurynome had nursed him in their bosom till he grew
strong. She finds him now hard at work at his forges, in the brazen
halls which he has made for himself in heaven. He is completing at this
moment some marvellous machinery--twenty tripods mounted on wheels of
gold (the earliest hint of velocipedes), which are to move of
themselves, and carry him to and fro to the assembly of the gods.
Another marvel, too, is to be seen in the Fire-king’s establishment,
which has long been the desideratum of modern households, but which
modern mechanical science has as yet failed to invent--automaton
servants, worked by machinery.

   “In form as living maids, but wrought in gold,
    Instinct with consciousness, with voice endued,
    And strength, and skill from heavenly teachers drawn;
    These waited duteous at the monarch’s side.”

Willingly, at the request of the sea-goddess, Vulcan plies his immortal
art. Helmet with crest of gold, breastplate “brighter than the flash of
fire,” and the pliant greaves that mould themselves to the limb, are
soon completed. But the marvel of marvels is the shield. On this the
god bestows all his skill, and the, poet his most graphic description.
It is covered with figures of the most elaborate design, wrought in
brass, and tin, and gold, and silver. In its centre are the sun, the
moon, and all the host of heaven: round the rim flows the mighty
ocean-river, which in Homeric as in Eastern mythology encompasses the
earth; and on its embossed surface, crowded with figures, is embodied an
epitome of human life, such as life was in the days of Homer. The tale
is told in twelve compartments, containing each a scene of peace or war.
Three groups represent a city in time of peace: a wedding procession
with music and dancing, a dispute in the market-place, and a reference
to the judgment of the elders gathered in council. Three represent a
city in time of war: a siege, an ambuscade, and a battle. Then follow
three scenes of outdoor country life: ploughing, the harvest, and the
vintage. The lord of the harvest stands looking on at his reapers, like
Boaz. In the vintage scene, the art of the immortal workman is minutely
described. The vines are wrought in gold, the props are of silver, the
grape-bunches are of a purple black, and there is a trench round of some
dark-hued metal, crowned by a palisade of bright tin. Three pastoral
groups complete the circle. First, a herd of oxen with herdsmen and
their dogs, attacked by lions; secondly, flocks feeding in a deep
valley, with the folds and shepherds’ huts in the distance; and lastly,
a festival dance of men and maidens in holiday attire, with the “divine
bard,” without whom no festival is complete, singing his lays to his
harp in the midst, and two gymnasts performing their feats for the
amusement of the crowd of lookers-on. If any reader should have imagined
that Homer’s song of (it may be) three thousand years ago was rude and
inartistic, he has but to read, in the version of any of our best
translators, this description of the Shield of Achilles, to be convinced
that the poet understood his work to the full as well as the immortal
craftsman whom he represents as having wrought it. We need not trouble
ourselves with the difficulty of that French critic, who doubted whether
so many subjects could really be represented on any shield of manageable
size--like Goldsmith’s rustics who marvelled, in the case of the village

    “That one small head could carry all he knew.”

It is only necessary to point to the clever design of Flaxman for its
realisation, and its actual embodiment (with the moderate diameter of
three feet) in the shield cast by Pitts.



With a fierce delight Achilles gazes on the work of the Olympian
armourer, before the dazzling brightness of which even the Myrmidons
veil their faces. He sets forth at once for the tents of Agamemnon; and,
taking his way along the shore, calls the leaders to battle as he passes
each man’s galley. The news of his coming spreads fast and far, and
every man, from the highest to the lowest, even those who never quitted
the ship on any other occasion--

   “The steersmen who the vessels’ rudders hold,
    The very stewards who served the daily bread”--

flock to the central rendezvous to welcome back the champion of the
Achæans. He is as impulsive and outspoken in his reconciliation as in
his wrath. There is no need of mediation now between himself and
Agamemnon. He accosts the king with a noble simplicity:

   “Great son of Atreus, what hath been the gain
    To thee or me, since heart-consuming strife
    Hath fiercely raged between us, for a girl--
    Who would to heaven had died by Dian’s shafts
    That day when from Lyrnessus’ captured town
    I bore her off, so had not many a Greek
    Bitten the bloody dust, by hostile hands
    Subdued, while I in anger stood aloof.
    Great was the gain to Troy; but Greece, methinks,
    Will long retain the memory of our feud.
    Yet pass we that; and though our hearts be sore,
    Still let us school our angry spirits down.
    My wrath I here abjure.” (D.)

Agamemnon, for his part, magnanimously admits his error; laying the
chief blame, however, upon Jupiter and Fate, who blinded the eyes of his
understanding. The peace-offerings are produced and accepted, though
Achilles only chafes at anything which can delay his vengeance. Ulysses
strongly urges the necessity of a substantial meal for the whole army;

   “For none throughout the day till set of sun,
    Fasting from food, may bear the toils of war;
    His spirit may be eager for the fray,
    Yet are his limbs by slow degrees weighed down.”

Achilles schools himself into patience while the rest act upon this
prosaic but prudent counsel; but for himself, he will neither eat nor
drink, nor wash his blood-stained hands, till he has avenged the death
of his comrade. So he sits apart in his grief, while the rest are at the
banquet: Minerva, by Jupiter’s command, infusing into his body ambrosia
and nectar, to sustain his strength. Another true mourner is Briseis.
The first sight which meets the captive princess on her return to the
Myrmidon camp is the bloody corpse of Patroclus. She throws herself upon
it in an agony of tears. He, in the early days of her captivity, had
spoken kind and cheering words, and had been a friend in time of
trouble. So, too, Menelaus briefly says of him--“He knew how to be kind
to all men.” This glimpse which the poet gives us of the gentler
features of the dead warrior’s character is touching enough, when we
remember the utter disregard of an enemy’s or a captive’s feelings shown
not only by Homer’s heroes, but by those of the older Jewish Scriptures.

When all is ready for the battle, Achilles dons the armour of Vulcan,
and draws from its case the Centaur’s gift,--the ashen spear of Mount
Pelion, which even Patroclus, it will be remembered, had not ventured to
take in hand. Thus armed, he mounts his chariot, drawn by the two
immortal steeds, Xanthus and Balius--for their mortal yoke-fellow had
been slain in the battle in which Patroclus fell. As he mounts, in the
bitter spirit which leads him to blame the whole world for the death of
his friend, he cannot forbear a taunt to his horses--he trusts they will
not leave him on the field, as they left Patroclus. Then the chestnut,
inspired by Juno, for once finds a human voice, and exculpates himself
and his comrade. It was no fault of theirs; it was the doom of
Patroclus, and Achilles’ own doom draws nigh. This day they will bring
him back in safety; but the end is at hand.

Unlike Hector, Achilles knows and foresees his doom clearly; but, like
Hector, he will meet it unflinchingly. Pope’s version of his reply is
deservedly admired. Xanthus has uttered his warning;

   “Then ceased for ever, by the Furies tied,
    His fateful voice. Th’ intrepid chief replied
    With unabated rage--‘So let it be!
    Portents and prodigies are lost on me;
    I know my fate; to die, to see no more
    My much-loved parents and my native shore;
    Enough--when Heaven ordains, I sink in night;
    Now perish Troy!’ he said, and rushed to fight.”

In the renewed battle which ensues, the gods, by express permission of
their sovereign, take part. Juno, Neptune, Minerva, Mercury, and Vulcan
assist the Greeks: Mars, Venus, Apollo, Latona, and Diana join the
Trojans. Their interference seems, at least to our modern taste, to
assist in no way the action of the poem, and merely tends to weaken for
the time the human interest. We must be content to assume that upon a
Greek audience the impression was different. The only effect which these
immortal allies produce upon the fortunes of the day is a negative one;
Apollo incites Æneas to encounter Achilles, and when he is in imminent
danger, Neptune conveys him away in a mist. Apollo performs the same
office for Hector, who also engages the same terrible adversary, in the
hope of avenging upon him the death of his young brother Polydorus.
Disappointed in both his greater antagonists, Achilles vents his wrath
in indiscriminate slaughter. Driving through the disordered host of the
Trojans, his chariot wheels and axle steeped in blood, he cuts the mass
of fugitives in two, and drives part of them into the shallows of the
river Scamander. Leaping down from his chariot, he wades into the river,
and there continues his career of slaughter, sword in hand. Twelve
Trojan youths he takes alive and hands them over to his followers;
sparing them for the present only to slay them hereafter as victims at
the funeral-pile to appease the shade of Patroclus. Another suppliant
for his mercy has a singular history. The young Lycaon, one of the many
sons of Priam, had been taken prisoner by him in one of his raids upon
Trojan territory, and sold as a slave in Lemnos. He had been ransomed
there and sent home to Troy, only twelve days before he fell into his
enemy’s hands again here in the bed of the Scamander. Achilles
recognises him, and cruelly taunts him with his reappearance: the dead
Trojans whom he has slain will surely next come to life again, if the
captives thus cross the seas to swell the ranks of his enemies. In vain
Lycaon pleads for his life, that he is not the son of the same mother as
Hector--that his brother Polydorus has just been slain, which may well
content the Greek’s vengeance. There is a gloomy irony in the words with
which Achilles rejects his prayer. Before Patroclus fell, he had spared
many a Trojan; but henceforth, all appeal to his mercy is vain--most of
all from a son of Priam. But, in fact, the wish to escape one’s fate he
holds to be utterly unreasonable;

   “Thou too, my friend, must die--why vainly wail?
    Dead is Patroclus too, thy better far--
    Me too thou seest, how stalwart, tall, and fair,
    Of noble sire and goddess-mother born,
    Yet must I yield to death and stubborn fate,
    Whene’er, at morn or noon or eve, the spear
    Or arrow from the bow may reach my life.” (D.)

At last the great river-god--whom the gods call Xanthus, but men
Scamander--rises in his might, indignant at seeing his stream choked
with corpses, and stained with blood. He hurls the whole force of his
waves against Achilles, and the hero is fain to save himself by grasping
an elm that overhangs the bank, and so swinging himself to land. But
here Scamander pursues him, and, issuing from his banks, rolls in a
deluge over the plain. Even the soul of Achilles is terror-stricken at
this new aspect of death. Is he to die thus, like some vile churl--

    “Borne down in crossing by a wintry brook?”

Neptune and Minerva appear to encourage him, and give him strength to
battle with the flood: and when Scamander summons his brother-river
Simois to his aid, Vulcan sends flames that scorch all the river-banks,
consuming the trees and shrubs that clothe them, and threatening to dry
up the very streams themselves. The river yields, and retires to his
banks, leaving Achilles free to pursue his victories. He drives the
Trojans inside their walls, and but that Apollo guards the gates, would
have entered the city in hot pursuit. Hector alone remains without--his
doom is upon him.

The gods, meanwhile, have entered the field of battle on their own
account, and contributed, as before, a ludicrous element to the action
of the poem. Minerva fells Mars the war-god to the ground with a huge
mass of rock, an ancient landmark, which she hurls against him; and he
lies covering “above seven hundred feet,” till Venus comes to his aid to
lead him from the field, when the terrible goddess strikes her to the
earth beside him. Juno shows the strength of those “white arms” which
the poet always assigns to her, by a terrible buffet which she bestows,
for no particular reason apparently, upon Diana, who drops her bow and
loses her arrows, and flies weeping to her father Jupiter. He, for his
part, has been watching the quarrels of his court and family with a
dignified amusement;--

   “Jove as his sport the dreadful scene descries,
    And views contending gods with careless eyes.” (P.)

Those philosophers who see a moral allegory in the whole of the Homeric
story, have supplied us with a key to the conduct and feelings of
Jupiter during this curious combat. “Jupiter, as the lord of nature, is
well pleased with the war of the gods--that is, of earth, sea, air,
&c.--because the harmony of all beings arises from that discord. Thus
heat and cold, moist and dry, are in a continual war, yet upon this
depends the fertility of the earth and the beauty of the creation. So
that Jupiter, who, according to the Greeks, is the soul of all, may well
be said to smile at this contention.”[20] Those readers who may not be
satisfied with this solution must be content to take the burlesque as it



Hector remains alone outside the Scæan gate, awaiting his great enemy.
In vain his aged father and mother from the walls entreat him to take
shelter within, like the rest of his countrymen. He will not meet the
just reproach of Polydamas, whose prudent counsel he rejected. The
deaths of his friends who have fallen in this terrible battle, which he
had insisted upon their risking, hang heavy on his soul. He, at least,
will do what he may for Troy. Yet he has no confidence in the result of
the encounter. If he were only sure that Achilles would listen, he would
even now offer to restore Helen, and so end this disastrous war. But he
feels it is too late; vengeance alone will now content Achilles.

   “Not this the time, nor he the man with whom
    By forest oak or rock, like youth and maid,
    To hold light talk as youth and maid might hold.
    Better to dare the fight, and know at once
    For whom the vict’ry is decreed by Heaven.”

Achilles draws near. The courage which has never failed Hector before,
wholly deserts him now; he turns and flies, “like a dove from the
falcon.” Judged by any theory of modern heroism, his conduct is simply
indefensible. Critics tell us that the poet, in order to enhance the
glory of his chief hero, makes even the champion of Troy fear to face
him. But it is no compliment, in our modern eyes, to a victorious
warrior, to have it explained that his crowning victory was won over a
coward. Yet perhaps there was something of this feeling maintained even
by Englishmen in days not so very long gone by, when it was the popular
fashion to represent Frenchmen generally, and the great French general
in particular, as always running away from the English bayonets.
However, to Homer’s public it was evidently not incongruous or
derogatory to the heroic type of character, that sudden panic should
seize even the bravest in the presence of superior force. Hector, as has
been said, turns and flies for his life.

Thrice round the walls of the city, his friends looking on in horror at
the terrible race, he flies, with Achilles in pursuit. In each course he
tries to reach the gates, that his comrades may either open to him, or
at least cover him by launching their missiles from the walls against
his enemy. But still Achilles turns him back towards the plain, signing
to the Greeks to hurl no spear, nor to interfere in any way with his
single vengeance. The gods look down from Olympus with divided interest.
Jupiter longs to save him; but Minerva sternly reminds him of the dread
destiny--the Eternal Law--which even the Ruler of Olympus is bound to
reverence. Once more he lifts in heaven the golden scales, and finds
that Hector’s fate weighs down the balance. Then, at last, his guardian
Apollo leaves him. Minerva, on her part, comes to the aid of her
favourite Achilles with a stratagem, as little worthy of his renown (to
our view) as the sudden panic of Hector. She appears by the side of the
Trojan hero in the likeness of his brother Deiphobus, and bids him stand
and fight; they two, together, must surely be a match for Achilles.
Hector turns and challenges his adversary. One compact he tries to make,
in a few hurried words, before they encounter; let each promise, since
one must fall, to restore the dead body of his enemy in all honour to
his kindred. Achilles makes no reply but this:--

   “Talk not to me of compacts; as ’tween men
    And lions no firm concord can exist,
    Nor wolves and lambs in harmony unite,
    But ceaseless enmity between them dwells:
    So not in friendly terms, nor compact firm,
    Can thou and I unite, till one of us
    Glut with his blood the mail-clad warrior Mars.
    Mind thee of all thy fence; behoves thee now
    To prove a spearman skilled, and warrior brave.
    For thee escape is none; now, by my spear,
    Hath Pallas doomed thy death: my comrade’s blood,
    Which thou hast shed, shall all be now avenged.” (D.)

The spear launched with these words misses its mark: that of Hector
strikes full in the centre of his enemy’s shield, but it glances
harmlessly off from the fire-god’s workmanship. He looks round for
Deiphobus to hand him another; but the false Deiphobus has vanished,
and, too late, Hector detects the cruel deceit of the goddess. He will
die at least as a hero should. He draws his sword, and rushes on
Achilles. The wary Greek eyes him carefully as he comes on, and spies
the joint in his harness where the breastplate meets the throat. Through
that fatal spot he drives his spear, and the Trojan falls to the ground
mortally wounded, but yet preserving the power of speech. As his
conqueror stands over him cruelly vaunting, and vowing to give his body
to the dogs and to the vultures, he makes a last appeal to his mercy.
“By the heads of his parents” he beseeches him to spare this last
indignity; the ransom which his father Priam will offer shall be ample
for one poor corpse. But the wrath of Achilles has become for the
present mere savage madness. Neither prayer nor ransom shall avail in
this matter. Hector’s last words are prophetic:--

          “I know thee well, nor did I hope
    To change thy purpose; iron is thy soul.
    But see that on thy head I bring not down
    The wrath of heaven, when by the Scæan gate
    The hand of Paris, with Apollo’s aid,
    Brave warrior as thou art, shall strike thee down.” (D.)

The only glimpse of nobility which Achilles shows throughout the whole
scene is in his stoical answer:--

   “Die thou! my fate I then shall meet, whene’er
    Jove and th’ immortal gods shall so decree.”

What follows is mere brutality. The Greeks crowd round, and drive their
weapons into the senseless body.

   “And one to other looked, and said, ‘Good faith,
    Hector is easier far to handle now,
    Than when erewhile he wrapped our ships in fire.’”

Does it need here to do more than recall the too well remembered
sequel--how the savage victor pierced the heels of his dead enemy, and
so fastened the body to his chariot, and dragged him off to his ships,
in full sight of his agonised parents? how

   “A cloud of dust the trailing body raised;
    Loose hung his glossy hair; and in the dust
    Was laid that noble head, so graceful once.”

Or how the miserable Priam, grovelling on the floor of his palace,
besought his weeping friends to suffer him to rush out of the gates, and
implore the mercy of the merciless Achilles? Less horrible, if not less
piteous, is the picture of Andromache:--

                        “To her no messenger
    Had brought the tidings, that without the walls
    Remained her husband; in her house withdrawn,
    A web she wove, all purple, double woof,
    With varied flowers in rich embroidery,
    And to her neat-haired maids she gave command
    To place the largest caldrons on the fires,
    That with warm baths, returning from the fight,
    Hector might be refreshed; unconscious she,
    That by Achilles’ hand, with Pallas’ aid,
    Far from the bath, was godlike Hector slain.
    The sounds of wailing reached her from the tower.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Then from the house she rushed, like one distract,
    With beating heart; and with her went her maids.
    But when the tower she reached, where stood the crowd,
    And mounted on the wall, and looked around,
    And saw the body trailing in the dust,
    Which the fleet steeds were dragging to the ships,
    A sudden darkness overspread her eyes;
    Backward she fell, and gasped her spirit away.
    Far off were flung th’ adornments of her head,
    The net, the fillet, and the woven bands;
    The nuptial veil by golden Venus given,
    That day when Hector of the glancing helm
    Led from Eëtion’s house his wealthy bride.
    The sisters of her husband round her pressed,
    And held, as in the deadly swoon she lay.” (D.)

The body is dragged off to the ships, and flung in the dust in front of
the bier on which Patroclus lies. And now, at last, when he has been
fully avenged, the due honours shall be paid to his beloved remains,
while the dogs and vultures feast on those of Hector. Thrice in slow
procession, with a mournful chant, the Myrmidons lead their horses
round the bier. While Achilles sleeps the deep sleep of exhaustion after
the long day’s battle, the shade of his dead friend appears to him, and
chides him for leaving him so long unburied, a wandering ghost in the
gloom below.

   “Sleep’st thou, Achilles, mindless of thy friend,
    Neglecting not the living, but the dead?
    Hasten my fun’ral rites, that I may pass
    Through Hades’ gloomy gates; ere those be done,
    The spirits and spectres of departed men
    Drive me far from them, nor allow to cross
    Th’ abhorred river; but forlorn and sad
    I wander through the widespread realms of night.
    And give me now thy hand, whereon to weep;
    For never more, when laid upon the pyre,
    Shall I return from Hades; never more,
    Apart from all our comrades, shall we two,
    As friends, sweet counsel take; for me, stern Death,
    The common lot of man, has ope’d his mouth;
    Thou too, Achilles, rival of the gods,
    Art destined here beneath the walls of Troy
    To meet thy doom; yet one thing must I add,
    And make, if thou wilt grant it, one request:
    Let not my bones be laid apart from thine,
    Achilles, but together, as our youth
    Was spent together in thy father’s house.” (D.)

As eager now to do honour to Achilles as he was before to insult him,
Agamemnon has despatched a strong force at early dawn to cut down wood
for a huge funeral pile. The burial rites are grandly savage. In long
procession and in full panoply the Myrmidons bear the dead hero to the
pile, and the corpse is covered with the long locks of hair which every
warrior in turn, Achilles first, cuts off as an offering to the gods
below. Four chariot-horses, and two dogs “that had fed at their master’s
board,” are slain upon the pile, to follow him, in case he should have
need of them, into the dark and unknown country: and last, the twelve
Trojan captives, according to his barbarous vow, are slaughtered by
Achilles in person, and laid upon the pile. The winds of heaven are
solemnly invoked to fan the flames, which roar and blaze all night; and
all night Achilles pours copious libations of wine from a golden goblet.
With wine also the embers are quenched in the morning, and the bones of
Patroclus are carefully collected and placed in a golden urn, to await
the day, which Achilles foresees close at hand, when they shall be
buried under one mound with his own.

There follow the funeral games. First, the chariot-race, in which Diomed
carries off an easy victory with the Trojan horses which he captured
from Æneas. An easy victory, because the goddess Minerva not only breaks
the pole of Eumelus, his most formidable rival, but hands Diomed back
his whip when he drops it: interpreted by our realistic critics to mean,
that prudence bids him take a second whip as a reserve. The old
“horse-tamer,” Nestor, gives his son Antilochus such cunning directions,
that he comes in second, though his horses are confessedly the slowest
of the whole field. Next comes the battle with the cœstus--that
barbarous form of boxing-glove, which, far from deadening the force of
the blow delivered, made it more damaging and dangerous, inasmuch as the
padding consisted of thongs of raw ox-hide well hardened. The combat in
this case is very unequal, since the giant Epeius speedily fells his
younger and lighter antagonist, who is carried almost senseless from the
lists. The wrestlers are better matched; the skill and subtlety of
Ulysses are a counterpoise to the huge bulk and somewhat inactive
strength of Ajax, who lifts his opponent off his feet with ease, but is
brought to the ground himself by a dexterous kick upon the ancle-joint.
Another fall, in which neither has the advantage, leads to the dividing
of the prize--though how it was to be divided practically is not so
clear, since the first prize was a tripod valued at twelve oxen, and the
second a female captive, reckoned to be worth four.[21] The foot-race is
won by Ulysses, Minerva interfering for the second time to secure the
victory for her favourite, by tripping up the lesser Ajax (son of
Oileus), who was leading. The Greek poet does but refer what we should
call an unlucky accident to the agency of heaven. A single combat on
foot, with shield and spear, succeeds, the prize for which is the rich
armour of which Patroclus had spoiled Sarpedon. He who first draws blood
is to be the winner. Diomed and Ajax Telamon step into the lists, and
the combat between the two great champions grows so fierce and hot, that
the spectators insist on their being separated, and again the honours
are adjudged to be equal; although Diomed, who was clearly getting the
advantage, receives the chief portion of the divided prize. In the
quoit-throwing Ajax is beaten easily; and critics have remarked that in
no single contest does the poet allow him, though a favourite with the
army, to be successful. Those who insist upon the allegorical view of
the poem, tell us that the lesson is, that brute force is of little
avail without counsel. The archers’ prizes are next contended for, and
we have the original of the story which has been borrowed, with some
modifications, by many imitators from Virgil’s time downwards, and
figures in the history of the English ‘Clym of the Clough,’ and Tell of
Switzerland. Teucer, reputed the most skilful bowman in the whole host,
only shoots near enough to cut the cord which ties the dove to the mast,
while Meriones follows the bird with his aim as she soars far into the
air, and brings her down, pierced through and through, with his arrow.
But Meriones had vowed an offering to Apollo “of the silver bow,” which
Teucer, in the pride of his heart, had neglected. The games are closed
with hurling the spear, when the king Agamemnon himself, desirous to pay
all honour to his great rival’s grief, steps into the arena as a
competitor. With no less grace and dignity Achilles accepts the
compliment, but forbids the contest. “O son of Atreus, we know thou dost
far surpass us all”--and he hands the prize for his acceptance.

The anger against Agamemnon is past: but not so the savage wrath against
Hector. Combined with his passionate grief for Patroclus, it amounts to
madness. Morning after morning he rises from the restless couch where he
has lain thinking of his friend, and lashing the dead corpse afresh to
his chariot, drags it furiously thrice round the mound that covers
Patroclus’ ashes. Twelve days has the body now lain unburied; but Venus
and Apollo preserve it from decay. Venus sheds over it ambrosial roseate
unguents, and Apollo covers it with a dark cool cloud. In less
mythological language, the loathliness of death may not mar its beauty,
nor the sunbeams breed in it corruption. Even the Olympians are seized
with horror and pity. In spite of the remonstrances of his still
implacable queen, Jupiter instructs Thetis to visit her son. and soften
his cruel obduracy. At the same time he sends Iris to Priam, and
persuades him to implore Achilles in person to restore the body of his
son. Accompanied by a single herald, and bearing a rich ransom, the aged
king passes the Greek lines by night (for Mercury himself becomes his
guide, disguised in the form of a Greek straggler, and casts a deep
sleep upon the sentinels). He reaches the tent of Achilles, who has just
ended his evening meal, throws himself at his feet, and kisses “the
dreadful murderous hands by which so many of his sons have fallen,” in
an agony of supplication. He adjures the conqueror, by the thought of
his own aged father Peleus--now looking and longing for his return--to
have some pity on a bereaved old man, whose son can never return to him
alive; and at least to give him back the body.

   “And for thy father’s sake look pitying down
    On me, more needing pity: since I bear
    Such grief as never man on earth hath borne,
    Who stoop to kiss the hand that slew my son.”

With the impulsive suddenness which is a part of his character, Achilles
gives way at once--prepared, indeed, to yield, by his mother’s
remonstrances. He gives orders to have the body clothed in costly
raiment, and washed and anointed by the handmaidens; nay, even lifts his
dead enemy with his own hands, and lays him on a couch. Yet he will not
let Priam as yet look upon the corpse, lest at the sight of his grief
his own passion should break out afresh. The father spends the night in
the tent of his son’s slayer, and there he closes his eyes in sleep for
the first time since the day of Hector’s death. In the morning he
returns to Troy with his mournful burden, and the funeral rites of
Hector close the poem. The boon which Achilles has granted he makes
complete by the spontaneous offer of twelve days’ truce, that so Troy
may bury her dead hero with his rightful honours. The wailings of Priam
and Hecuba, though naturally expressed, are but commonplace compared
with the last tribute of the remorseful Helen:--

   “Hector, of all my brethren dearest thou!
    True, godlike Paris claims me as his wife,
    Who bore me hither--would I then had died!
    But twenty years have passed since here I came,
    And left my native land; yet ne’er from thee
    I heard one scornful, one degrading word;
    And when from others I have borne reproach,
    Thy brothers, sister, or thy brothers’ wives,
    Or mother (for thy sire was ever kind
    Even as a father), thou hast checked them still
    With tender feeling and with gentle words.
    For thee I weep, and for myself no less,
    For through the breadth of Troy none love me now,
    None kindly look on me, but all abhor.” (D.)



The character of Hector has been very differently estimated. Modern
writers upon Homer generally assume that the ancient bard had, as it
were, a mental picture of all his great heroes before him, of their
inner as well as of their outer man, and worked from this in the various
acts and speeches which he has assigned to each. Probably nothing could
be further from the truth. If the poet could be questioned as to his
immortal work, and required to give a detailed character of each of his
chief personages, such as his modern admirers present us with, he would
most likely confess that such character as his heroes possess was built
up by degrees, as occasion called for them to act and speak, and that
his own portraits (where they were not derived from the current
traditions) rested but little upon any preconceived ideal. It is very
difficult to estimate character at all in a work of fiction in which the
principles of conduct are in many respects so different from those of
our own age. How far even the ablest critics have succeeded in the
attempt in the case of Hector may be judged from this; that whereas
Colonel Mure speaks of “a turn for vainglorious boasting” as his
characteristic defect,[22] Mr Froude remarks that “while Achilles is all
pride, Hector is all modesty.”[23] Both criticisms are from writers of
competent taste and judgment; but both cannot possibly be true. There
can be no doubt that Hector makes a considerable number of vaunting
speeches in the course of the poem--vaunts which he does not always
carry out; but in this respect he differs rather in degree than in
principle from most of the other warriors, Greek as well as Trojan; and
if the boasts of Achilles are always made good, while Hector’s often
come to nothing, that follows almost necessarily from the fact that
Achilles is the hero of the tale. A boastful tongue and a merciless
spirit are attributes of the heroic character in Homer: his heroes bear
a singular resemblance in these two points to the “braves” of the
American Indians; while they are utterly unlike them in their
sensitiveness to physical pain, their undisguised horror of death, and
their proneness to give loud expression to both feelings. Without
attempting to sketch a full-length portrait, which probably Homer
himself would not recognise, it may be said that Hector interests us
chiefly because he is far more human than Achilles, in his weakness as
well as in his strength; his honest love for his wife and child, his
pitying condonation of Helen, his half-contemptuous kindness to his weak
brother Paris, his hearty and unselfish devotion to his country.
Achilles is the “hero,” indeed, in the classical sense--_i.e._, he is
the demi-god, superior to many of the mortal weaknesses which are
palpable enough in the character of his antagonist: as little
susceptible to Hector’s alternations of confidence and panic, as to his
tender anxieties about his wife and child. The contrast between the two
is very remarkable; as strong, though of quite a different kind, as that
between the two chief female characters in the poem--Helen, charming
even in her frailty, attracting us and compelling our admiration in
spite of our moral judgment; Andromache, the blameless wife and mother,
whose charm is the beauty of true womanhood, and whose portrait, as
drawn by the poet, bears strong witness by its sweetness and purity to
the essential soundness of the domestic relations in the age which he

The poem, as we have seen, ends somewhat abruptly. We learn nothing from
it of the fate of Troy, except so far as we have been taught throughout
the tale that the fortunes of the city and people depended wholly upon
Hector. “Achilles’ wrath” was the theme of the song, and now that this
has been appeased, we wait for no further catastrophe. Yet, if Achilles
has been the hero, it is remarkable that the poet’s parting sympathies
appear to rest, as those of the reader almost certainly will, with
Hector. It would seem that Homer himself felt something of what he makes
Jupiter express with regard to the Trojans--“They interest me, though
they must needs perish.” The Trojan hero must fall, or the glory of the
Greek could not be consummated; but the last words of the poem, as they
record his funeral honours, so they express the poet’s regretful

    “Such honours paid they to the good knight Hector.”

Virgil, in his Æneid, naturally exalts the glory of Hector, because it
was his purpose to trace the origin of the Romans from Troy; but we
need not wonder that in later days, when the Homeric legends were worked
up into tales of Christian chivalry, Hector, and not Achilles, became
the model of a Christian knight. When the great Italian poet drew his
character of Orlando, as a type of chivalry, he had the Trojan hero in
his mind.

One of the earliest and most curious travesties of the Iliad--for it is
hardly more, though made in all good faith, according to the taste of
the times--was the work of an English troubadour, Benedict de St Maur,
of the time of Henry II. It was reproduced, as a prose romance, in
Latin, by Guido de Colonna, a Sicilian; but is better known--so far as
it can be said to be known at all--as the ‘History of the Warres of the
Greeks and Trojans,’ by John Lydgate, monk of Bury St Edmunds, first
printed in 1513. The writer professedly takes Colonna as his original.
The heroes of the Iliad reappear as the knights of modern chivalry; they
fight on horseback, observe all the rules of medieval courtesy, and
“fewtre their speres” at each other exactly in the style of the
Companions of the Round Table. Agamemnon is very like Arthur, and
Achilles Sir Lancelot, under other names. But Hector is here also
plainly the favourite hero. Thersites figures as a dwarf, with all the
malice and mischief peculiar, and in some degree permitted, to those
imaginary types of humanity. The closing lines of Lydgate’s third book
will give some idea of the strange transformation which Homer’s story
undergoes in the hands of our medieval poet, and is a curious instance
of the way in which the zealous churchman “improves” his pagan subject.
He is describing the funeral rites of Hector:--

   “And when Priam in full thrifty wyse
    Performed hath as ye have heard devyse,
    Ordained eke, as Guido[24] can you tell,
    A certain nombre of priestes for to dwell
    In the temple in their devotions,
    Continually with devout orisons
    For the soule of Hector for to pray.

           *       *       *       *       *

    To which priestes the kyng gave mansyons,
    There to abide, and possessyons,
    The which he hath to them mortysed
    Perpetually, as ye have heard devysed,
    And while they kneel, pray, and wake,
    I caste fully me an end to make
    Finally of this my thirde booke
    On my rude manner as I undertooke.”

The way in which the Homeric characters are modernised in Chaucer and
Dryden, and even in Shakspeare’s ‘Troilus and Cressida,’ is a deviation
from their originals hardly more excusable, though less absurd, than
this of Lydgate’s. They copied, in fact, not from the original at all,
but from the medieval corruptions of it. Racine’s tragedies are in a
higher vein, and his Iphigenia, though not Homer’s story, does more
justice to some of Homer’s characters: but after all, as has been well
observed, “they are dressed in the Parisian fashions, with speech and
action accordingly.”[25]

The Iliad, as has been already remarked, closes more abruptly than its
modern title would seem to justify, for the Tale of Troy is left half
untold. Imitators of the great bard followed him, and though their works
are lost to us, the legends upon which they worked have been reproduced
by later writers. The poems once known as the ‘Little Iliad’ and the
‘Sacking of Troy’ have left little more than their names, and some few
fragments which, do not raise much regret for the loss of the
remainder; but the leading events of which they treated are preserved in
the works of the Greek dramatists and of Virgil. It may not be out of
place here to sketch briefly the sequel to Homer’s story.

Troy fell in that tenth year of the siege, though new and remarkable
allies came to the aid of Priam. From the far north of Thrace came a
band of Amazons--women-warriors who, in spite of their weaker sex,
proved more than a match in battle for the men of Greece. Their queen
Penthesilea was said to be the daughter of the War-god; and under her
leading, once more the Trojans tried their fortune in the open field,
not unsuccessfully, until she too fell by the spear of Achilles.
Proceeding to possess himself of her helmet, as the conqueror’s spoil,
he was struck with her remarkable beauty, and stood entranced for some
moments in sorrow and admiration. It is the scene from which Tasso
borrows his story of Clorinda, and which Spenser had in his mind when he
makes Sir Artegal, after having unhelmed the fair Britomart in combat,
let fall his sword at the sight of her “angel-face”--

   “His powerless hand, benumbed with secret fear,
    From his revengefull purpose shronke abacke,
    And cruel sword out of his fingers slacke
    Fell down to ground, as if the steel had sence
    And felt some ruth, or sence his hand did lacke,
    Or both of them did think obedience
    To doe to so divine a Beautie’s excellence.”
            --B. IV. c. vi. st. 21.

Thersites--who had by this time forgotten the chastisement inflicted on
him by Ulysses for his scurrilous tongue--ventured a jest upon Achilles’
sensibility, and was struck dead by a blow from the hero’s unarmed
hand. Next came upon the scene the tall Ethiopian Memnon, son of the
Dawn, a warrior of more than mortal beauty, sent either from Egypt or
from the king of Assyria (for the legends vary), with a contingent of
fierce negro warriors, who carried slaughter into the Greek ranks, until
Memnon too fell by the hand of the same irresistible antagonist. These
were only brief respites for the doomed city. But it was not to fall by
the hand of Achilles. Before its day of destruction came, the Greek hero
had met with the fate which he himself foresaw--which had been
prophesied for him alike by his mother the sea-goddess, by the wondrous
utterance of his horse Xanthus, and by the dying words of Hector. An
arrow from Paris found the single vulnerable spot in his right heel, and
stretched him where he had slain his Trojan enemy--before the Scæan
gate. But his death, according to the legends, was no more like that of
common mortals than his life had been. He does not go down into those
gloomy regions where the ghosts of his friend Patroclus and his enemy
Hector wander. It was not death, but a translation. The Greeks had
prepared for him a magnificent funeral pile, but the body of the hero
suddenly disappeared. His mother Thetis conveyed it away to the island
of Leukè in the Euxine Sea, to enjoy in that seclusion a new and
perpetual life. So early is the legend which the romance of Christendom
adopted for so many of its favourites--notably for the English Arthur,
borne by the three mysterious queens to

    “The island valley of Avilion,”

where, it was long said and believed, he lay either in a charmed sleep
or a passionless immortality. One legend ran that the Greek hero, in his
happy island, was favoured with the society of Helen, whose matchless
beauty he had much desired to see.

His wondrous shield and armour--the masterpieces of Vulcan--were left by
Thetis as a prize for “the bravest of the Greeks,” and became almost as
fatal a source of discord as the golden apple which had been labelled
for “the fairest.” Ulysses and Ajax were the most distinguished
claimants, and when, as before, counsel was preferred to strength, Ajax
went mad with vexation, and fell upon his own sword. Ulysses handed on
the coveted armour to its rightful inheritor, the young Neoptolemus, son
of Achilles, who, in accordance with an oracle, had been sent for to
take Troy. Still the city held out, secure so long as the sacred image
of Minerva, the “Palladium,” a gift from Jupiter himself, remained in
the citadel: until Ulysses broke the spell by entering within the walls
in disguise, and carrying it off. One quick eye discovered the venturous
Greek, through his rags and self-inflicted wounds: Helen recognised him;
but she was weary of her guilty life, and became an excusable traitress
in favour of her lawful husband. It was again the fertile brain of
Ulysses which conceived the stratagem of the wooden horse; and when the
curiosity of the Trojans (against all ordinary probabilities, it must be
confessed) dragged it inside the walls, the armed warriors whom it
contained issued forth in the night, and opened the gates to their

The details of the sack of the city are neither more nor less horrible
than similar scenes which are unhappily too historical. Priam is slain
at the altar of his house; his family either share his fate, or are
carried into captivity. Of the contradictory legends as to the fate of
“Hector’s Andromache”--as in Virgil’s great poem she pathetically calls
herself--the reader will gladly choose, with that poet, the least
painful version, which leaves her settled at Buthrotus in Epirus, in a
peaceful retirement full of gentle regrets, as the wife of Hector’s
brother Helenus.

Of Helen and Menelaus we shall hear more in Homer’s tale of the
Wanderings of Ulysses. He says nothing of the scene which the later
dramatists give us, by no means inconsistent with his own portrait of
the pair, when at the taking of the city the outraged husband rushes
upon the adulteress with uplifted sword, and drops his weapon at the
sight of her well-remembered and matchless beauty. For the miserable
sequel of Agamemnon’s story we may refer also to the Odyssey. Few of the
Greek heroes returned home in peace. They had insulted the gods of Troy,
and they were cursed with toilsome wanderings and long banishment like
Ulysses, or met with a worse fate still. Diomed did not indeed leave his
wife Ægiale a heart-broken widow, as Dione in her anger had predicted,
but found on his return that she had consoled herself with another lover
in his absence, and narrowly escaped assassination by her hand. Teucer
was refused a home by his father, because he did not bring his brother
Ajax back with him to the old man. The lesser Ajax was wrecked and
drowned on his homeward voyage. Fate spared Nestor, old as he was, to
return to his stronghold at Pylos; but his son Antilochus had fallen in
the flower of his age on the plains of Troy. The names of many of the
wanderers were preserved in the colonies which they founded along the
coasts of Greece and Italy, and the heroes of the great Siege of Troy
spread its fame over all the then known world.

                           END OF THE ILIAD.


                  *       *       *       *       *


                              THE ODYSSEY

                                BY THE

                      REV. W. LUCAS COLLINS, M.A.

                               AUTHOR OF
                ‘ETONIANA,’ ‘THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS,’ ETC.

                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS

                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON



INTRODUCTION,                                                          1

CHAP.    I. PENELOPE AND HER SUITORS,                                  9

  “     II. TELEMACHUS GOES IN QUEST OF HIS FATHER,                   26

  “    III. ULYSSES WITH CALYPSO AND THE PHÆACIANS,                   43

  “     IV. ULYSSES TELLS HIS STORY TO ALCINOUS,                      65

  “      V. THE TALE CONTINUED--THE VISIT TO THE SHADES,              78

  “     VI. ULYSSES’ RETURN TO ITHACA,                                89

  “     VII. THE RETURN OF TELEMACHUS FROM SPARTA,                    95

  “   VIII. ULYSSES REVISITS HIS PALACE,                             100

  “     IX. THE DAY OF RETRIBUTION,                                  109

  “      X. THE RECOGNITION BY PENELOPE,                             116

  “     XI. CONCLUDING REMARKS,                                      125

It has been thought desirable in these pages to use the Latin names of
the Homeric deities and heroes, as more familiar to English ears. As,
however, most modern translators have followed Homer’s Greek
nomenclature, it may be convenient here to give both.

        Zeus           =  Jupiter.
        Herè           =  Juno.
        Arēs           =  Mars.
        Poseidōn       =  Neptune.
        Pallas Athenè  =  Minerva.
        Aphroditè      =  Venus.
        Hephaistos     =  Vulcan.
        Hermes         =  Mercury.
        Artemis        =  Diana.

      *       *       *       *       *

        Odysseus       =  Ulysses.
        Aias           =  Ajax.

The passages quoted, unless otherwise specified, are from the admirable
translation of Mr Worsley.


The poem of the Odyssey is treated in these pages as the work of a
single author, and that author the same as the composer of the Iliad. It
would be manifestly out of place, in a volume which does not profess to
be written for critical scholars, to discuss a question on which they
are so far from being agreed. But it may be satisfactory to assure the
reader who has neither leisure nor inclination to enter into the
controversy, that in accepting, as we do, the Odyssey as from the same
“Homer” to whom we owe the Tale of Troy, he may fortify himself by the
authority of many accomplished scholars who have carefully examined the
question. Though none of the incidents related in the Iliad are
distinctly referred to in the Odyssey--a point strongly urged by those
who would assign the poems to different authors--and therefore the one
cannot fairly be regarded as a sequel to the other, yet there is no
important discrepancy, either in the facts previously assumed, or in the
treatment of such characters as appear upon the scene in both.

The character of the two poems is, indeed, essentially different. The
Iliad is a tale of the camp and the battle-field: the Odyssey combines
the romance of travel with that of domestic life. The key-note of the
Iliad is glory: that of the Odyssey is rest. This was amongst the
reasons which led one of the earliest of Homer’s critics to the
conclusion that the Odyssey was the work of his old age. In both poems
the interest lies in the situations and the descriptions, rather than in
what we moderns call the “plot.” This latter is not a main consideration
with the poet, and he has no hesitation in disclosing his catastrophe
beforehand. The interest, so far as this point is concerned, is also
weakened for the modern reader by the intervention throughout of
supernatural agents, who, at the most critical turns of the story, throw
their irresistible weight into the scale. Yet, in spite of this, the
interest of the Odyssey is intensely human. Greek mythology and Oriental
romance are large ingredients in the poem, but its men and women are
drawn by a master’s hand from the actual life; and, since in the two
thousand years between our own and Homer’s day nothing has changed so
little as human nature, therefore very much of it is still a story of

The poem before us is the tale of the wanderings and adventures of
Odysseus--or Ulysses, as the softer tongue of the Latins preferred to
call him--on his way home from the siege of Troy to his island-kingdom
of Ithaca. The name Odysseus has been variously interpreted. Homer
himself, who should be the best authority, tells us that it was given to
him by his grandfather Autolycus to signify “the child of hate.” Others
have interpreted it to mean “suffering;” and some ingenious scholars see
in it only the ancient form of a familiar sobriquet by which the hero
was known, “the little one,” or “the dwarf,”--a conjecture which derives
some support from the fact that the Tyrrhenians knew him under that
designation. It may be remembered that in the Iliad he is described as
bearing no comparison in stature with the stalwart forms of Agamemnon
and Menelaus; and it is implied in the description that there was some
want of proportion in his figure, since he appeared nobler than Menelaus
when both sat down. But in the Odyssey itself there appears no reference
to any natural defect of any kind. His character in this poem
corresponds perfectly with that which is disclosed in the Iliad. There,
he is the leading spirit of the Greeks when in council. Scarcely second
to Achilles or Diomed in personal prowess, his advice and opinion are
listened to with as much respect as those of the veteran Nestor. In the
Iliad, too, he is, as he is called in the present poem, “the man of many
devices.” His accomplishments cover a larger field than those of any
other hero. Achilles only can beat him in speed of foot; he is as good
an archer as Ajax Oileus or Teucer; he throws Ajax the Great in the
wrestling-match, in spite of his superior strength, by a happy use of
science, and divides with him the prize of victory. To him, as the
worthiest successor of Achilles--on the testimony of the Trojan
prisoners, who declared that he had wrought them most harm of any--the
armour of that great hero was awarded at his death. He is not tragic
enough to fill the first place in the Iliad, but we are quite prepared
to find him the hero of a story of travel and adventure like the
Odyssey, in which the grand figure of Achilles would be entirely out of

The Odyssey has been pronounced, by a high classical authority, to be
emphatically a lady’s book. “The Iliad,” says the great Bentley, “Homer
made for men, and the Odyssey for the other sex.” This opinion somewhat
contradicts the criticism of an older and greater master--Aristotle--who
defines the Odyssey as being “ethic and complex,” while the Iliad is
“pathetic and simple.” Yet it was perhaps some such notion of the
fitness of things which made Fénélon’s adaptation of Homer’s story, ‘The
Adventures of Telemachus in search of Ulysses,’ so popular a French
text-book in ladies’ schools a century ago. It is certain, also, that
the allusions in our modern literature, and the subjects of modern
pictures, are drawn from the Odyssey even more frequently than from the
Iliad, although the former has never been so generally read in our
schools and colleges. Circe and the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, have
pointed more morals than any incidents in the Siege of Troy. Turner’s
pictures of Nausicaa and her Maidens, the Gardens of Alcinous, the
Cyclops addressed by Ulysses, the Song of the Sirens--all amongst our
national heirlooms of art--assume a fair acquaintance with the later
Homeric fable on the part of the public for whom they were painted. The
secret of this greater popularity may lie in the fact, that while the
adventures in the Odyssey have more of the romantic and the imaginative,
the heroes are less heroic--have more of the common human type about
them--than those of the Iliad. The colossal figure of Achilles in his
wrath does not affect us so nearly as the wandering voyager with his
strange adventures, his hairbreadth escapes, and his not over-scrupulous

To our English sympathies the Odyssey appeals strongly for another
reason--it is a tale of voyage and discovery. “It is,” as Dean Alford
says, “of all poems a poem of the sea.” In the Iliad the poet never
missed an opportunity of letting us know that--whoever he was and
wherever he was born--he knew the sea well, and had a seaman’s tastes.
But there his tale confined him chiefly to the plain before Troy, and
such opportunities presented themselves but rarely. In the Odyssey we
roam from sea to sea throughout the narrative, and the restless hero
seems never so much at home as when he is on shipboard. It is not
without reason that the most ancient works of art which bear the figure
of Ulysses represent him not as a warrior but as a sailor.

The Tale of Troy, as has been already said, embraces in its whole range
three decades of years. It is with the last ten that the Odyssey has to
do; and as in the Iliad, though the siege itself had consumed ten years,
it is with the last year only that the poet deals; so in this second
great poem also, the main action occupies no more than the last six
weeks of the third and concluding decade.

Between the Iliad and the Odyssey there is an interval of events, not
related in either poem, but which a Greek audience of the poet’s own day
would readily supply for themselves out of a store of current legend
quite familiar to their minds, and embodied in more than one ancient
poem now lost to us.[26] Troy, after the long siege, had fallen at last;
but not to Achilles. For him the dying prophecy of Hector had been soon
fulfilled, and an arrow from the bow of Paris had stretched him in
death, like his noble enemy, “before the Scæan gates.” It was his son
Neoptolemus, “the red-haired,” to whom the oracles pointed as the
destined captor of the city. Ulysses went back to Greece to fetch him,
and even handed over to the young hero, on his arrival, the armour of
his father--his own much-valued prize. In that armour Neoptolemus led
the Greeks to the storm and sack of the city by night, while the Trojans
were either asleep or holding deep carousal.

It has been conjectured by some that, under the name of Ulysses, the
poet has but described, with more or less of that licence to which he
had a double claim as poet and as traveller, his own wanderings and
adventures by land and sea. It has been argued, in a treatise of some
ingenuity,[27] that the poet, whoever he was, was himself a native of
the island in which he places the home of his hero. There is certainly
one passage which reads very much like the circumstantial and loving
description which a poet would give of his sea-girt birthplace, with
every nook of which he would have been familiar from his childhood. It
occurs in the scene where Ulysses is at last landed on the coast of
Ithaca, which he is slow to recognise until his divine guide points out
to him the different localities within sight:--

      “This is the port of sea-king Phorcys old,
      And this the olive at the haven’s brow.
      Yonder the deep dark lovely cave behold,
      Shrine of the Naïad-nymphs! These shades enfold
      The stone-roofed bower, wherein thou oft hast stood,
      While to the Nymphs thy frequent vows uprolled,
      Steam of choice hecatombs and offerings good.
    Neritus hill stands there, high-crowned with waving wood.”[28]

As conjecture only all such theories must remain; but it may at least be
safely believed that the author had himself visited some of the strange
lands which he describes, with whatever amount of fabulous ornament he
may have enriched his tale, and it has a certain interest for the reader
to entertain the possibility of a personal narrative thus underlying the




The surviving heroes of the great expedition against Troy, after long
wanderings, have at length reached their homes, with one
exception--Ulysses has not been heard of in his island-kingdom of
Ithaca. Ten years have nearly passed since the fall of Troy, and still
his wife Penelope, and his aged father Laertes, and his young son
Telemachus, now growing up to manhood, keep weary watch for the hero’s
return. There is, moreover, a twofold trouble in the house. It is not
only anxiety for an absent husband, but the perplexity caused by a crowd
of importunate suitors for her hand, which vexes the soul of Penelope
from day to day. The young nobles of Ithaca and its dependent islands
have for many years flocked to the palace to seek the hand of her whom
they consider as virtually a widowed queen. It is to no purpose that
she professes her own firm belief that Ulysses still survives: she has
no kind of proof of his existence, and the suitors demand of her
that--in accordance with what would appear the custom of the
country--she shall make choice of some one among them to take the lost
hero’s place, and enjoy all the rights of sovereignty. How far the
lovers were attracted by the wealth and position of the lady, and how
far by the force of her personal charms, is a point somewhat hard to
decide. The Roman poet Horace imputes to them the less romantic motive.
They were, he says, of that class of prudent wooers--

    “Who prized good living more than ladies’ love;”

and he even hints that Penelope’s knowledge of their real sentiments
helped to account for her obduracy. But Horace, we must remember, was a
satirist by trade. A mere prosaic reader might be tempted to raise the
question whether the personal charms of Penelope, irresistible as they
might have been when Ulysses first left her for the war, must not have
been somewhat impaired during the twenty years of his absence; and
whether it was possible for a widow of that date (especially with a
grown-up son continually present as a memento) to inspire such very
ardent admiration. These arithmetical critics have always been the pests
of poetry. One very painstaking antiquarian--Jacob Bryant--in the course
of his studies on the Iliad, made the discovery, by a comparison of
mythological dates, that Helen herself must have been nearly a hundred
years old at the taking of Troy. But the question of age has been
unanimously voted impertinent by all her modern admirers: she still
shines in our fancy with

    “The starlike beauty of immortal eyes”

which the Laureate saw in his ‘Dream of Fair Women.’ The heroic legends
take no count of years. Woman is there beautiful by divine right of sex,
unless in those few special instances in which, for the purposes of the
story, particular persons are necessarily represented as old and
decrepit. Nor is there any ground for supposing that the suitors of
Penelope, like the courtiers of Queen Elizabeth, persisted in
attributing to her fictitious charms. She is evidently not less
beautiful in the poet’s eyes than in theirs. As beauty has been happily
said to be, after all, “the lover’s gift,” so also the bestowal of it
upon whom he will must be allowed to be the privilege of the poet. The
island-queen herself says, indeed, that her beauty had fled when Ulysses
left her, and could only be restored by his return; but this disclaimer
from the lips of a loving and mourning wife only makes her more
charming, and she is not the only woman, ancient or modern, who has
borrowed an additional fascination from her tears.

The suitors of Penelope, strange to say, are living at free quarters in
the palace of the absent Ulysses. Telemachus is too young, apparently,
to assert his rights as master of the house on his own or his mother’s
behalf. If the picture be true to the life--and there is no good reason
to suppose it otherwise--we must assume an age of rude licence even in
the midst of considerable civilisation, when, unless a king or chief
could hold his own by the strong hand, there was small chance of his
rights being respected. A partial explanation may also lie in the fact
that the wealth of the king was regarded as in some sort public
property, and that to keep open house for all whose rank entitled them
to sit at his table was probably a popular branch of the royal
prerogative. Telemachus is an only son, and he and his mother have
apparently no near kinsmen to avenge any wrong or insult that may be
offered. There is, besides, somewhat of weakness and tameness in his
character, more than befits the son of such a father. He is a
home-nurtured youth, of a gentle and kindly nature, a dutiful and
affectionate son; but his temperament is far too easy for the rude and
troublous times in which his lot is cast, and the roystering crew who
profess at least to be the wooers of Penelope have not been slow to find
it out. Some kindly critics (“Christopher North” among the number) have
refused to see any of these shortcomings in the young prince’s
character; but his father Ulysses saw them plainly. For thus it is he
speaks, at a later period of the tale, under his disguise of a

   “Had I but youth as I have heart, or were
    The blameless brave Ulysses, or his son,
    Then let a stranger strike me headless there,
    If against any I leave revenge undone!”

But this is anticipating somewhat too much. We must return to the
opening of the poem.

The fate of Ulysses, so far as any knowledge of it has reached his wife
and son, lies yet in mystery. Only the gods know--and perhaps it were as
well for Penelope not to know--in what unworthy thraldom he is held. He
has incurred the anger of the great Sea-god, and therefore he is still
forbidden to reach his home. He has lain captive now for seven long
years in Ogygia, the enchanted realm of Calypso--

        “Girded of ocean in an island-keep,
    An island clothed with trees, the navel of the deep.

      “There dwells the child of Atlas, who can sound
      All seas, and eke doth hold the pillars tall
      Which keep the skies asunder from the ground.
      There him, still sorrowing, she doth aye enthral,
      Weaving serene enticements to forestal
      The memory of his island-realm.”

But the goddess of wisdom, who was his protecting genius throughout the
perils of the great siege, and by whose aid, as we have seen in the
Iliad, he has distanced so many formidable competitors in the race for
glory, has not forgotten her favourite. The opening scene of the Odyssey
shows us the gods in council on Olympus. Neptune alone is absent; he is
gone to feast, like Jupiter in the Iliad, with those mysterious people,
the far-off Æthiopians--

   “Extreme of men, who diverse ways retire,
    Some to the setting, some the rising sun.”

Minerva takes the opportunity of his absence to remind the Father of the
gods of the hard fate of Ulysses, so unworthy of a hero who has deserved
so well both of gods and men. It is agreed to send Mercury, the
messenger of the Immortals, to the island where Calypso holds Ulysses
captive in her toils, to announce to him that the day of his return
draws near. Minerva herself, meanwhile, will go to Ithaca, and put
strength into the heart of his son Telemachus, that he may rid his house
of this hateful brood of revellers, and set forth to make search for his
father. The passage in which the poet describes her visit is a fine one,
and it has been finely rendered by Mr Worsley:--

     “So ending, underneath her feet she bound
      Her faery sandals of ambrosial gold,
      Which o’er the waters and the solid ground
      Swifter than wind have borne her from of old;
      Then on the iron-pointed spear laid hold,
      Heavy and tall, wherewith she smites the brood
      Of heroes till her anger waxes cold;
      Then from Olympus swept in eager mood,
    And with the island-people in the court she stood

     “Fast by the threshold of the outer gate
      Of brave Odysseus: in her hand she bore
      The iron-pointed spear, heavy and great,
      And, waiting as a guest-friend at the door,
      Of Mentes, Taphian chief, the likeness wore;
      There found the suitors, who beguiled with play
      The hours, and sat the palace-gates before
      On hides of oxen which themselves did slay--
    Haughty of mien they sat, and girt with proud array.”

As the young prince sits thus, an unwilling host in his father’s hall,
meditating, says the poet, whether or no some day that father may return
suddenly and take vengeance on these invaders of his rights, against
whom he himself seems powerless, he lifts his eyes and sees a stranger
standing at the gate. With simple and high-bred courtesy--the courtesy
of the old Bible patriarchs, and even now practised by the Orientals,
though the march of modern civilisation has left little remnant of it in
our western isles--he hastes to bid the stranger welcome, on the simple
ground that he is a stranger, and will hear no word of his errand until
the rights of hospitality have been paid. Eager as he is to hear
possible news of his father, he restrains his anxiety to question his
guest. Not until the handmaidens have brought water in the silver ewers,
and the herald, and the carver, and the dame of the pantry (it is a
right royal establishment, if somewhat rude) have each done their office
to supply the stranger’s wants, does Telemachus ask him a single
question. But when the suitors have ended their feast, they call for
music and song. They compel Phemius, the household bard, to make mirth
for them. Then, while he plies his voice and lyre for their
entertainment, the son of Ulysses whispers aside with his visitor. Who
is he, and whence does he come? Is he a friend of his father’s? For many
a guest, and none unwelcome, had come to those halls, as the son well
knows, in _his_ day. Above all, does he bring news of _him_? Then the
disguised goddess tells her story, with a circumstantial minuteness of
invention which befits wisdom when she condescends to falsehood:--

                  “Know, my name is hight
      Mentes, the son of brave Anchialus,
      And sea-famed Taphos is my regal right;
      And with my comrades am I come to-night
      Hither, in sailing o’er the wine-dark sea
      To men far off, who stranger tongues indite.
      For copper am I bound to Temesè,
    And in my bark I bring sword-steel along with me.

     “Moored is my ship beyond the city walls,
      Under the wooded cape, within the bay.
      We twain do boast, each in the other’s halls,
      Our fathers’ friendship from an ancient day.
      Hero Laertes ask, and he will say.”

But of Ulysses’ present fate the guest declares he knows nothing; only
he has a presentiment that he is detained somewhere in an unwilling
captivity, but that, “though he be bound with chains of iron,” he will
surely find his way home again. But in any case, as his father’s friend,
the supposed Mentes bids Telemachus take heart and courage, and act
manfully for himself. Let him give this train of riotous suitors fair
warning to quit the palace, and waste his substance no more; let his
mother Penelope go back to her own father’s house (if she desires to wed
again), and make her choice and hold her wedding-banquet there; and for
his own part, let him at once set sail and make inquiry for his father
round the coasts of Greece. It may be that Nestor of Pylos, or Menelaus
of Sparta--the last returned of the chiefs of the expedition--can give
him some tidings. If he can only hear that Ulysses is yet alive, then he
may well endure to wait his return with patience; if assured of his
death, it will befit him to take due vengeance on these his enemies. The
divine visitor even hints a reproach of Telemachus’ present

   “No more, with thews like these, to weakness cling.
    Hast thou not heard divine Orestes’ fame,
    Who slew the secret slayer of the king
    His father, and achieved a noble name?
    Thou also, friend, to thine own strength lay claim--
    Comely thou art and tall--that men may speak
    Thy prowess, and their children speak the same.”

The young prince duteously accepts the counsel, as from his father’s
friend, and prays his guest to tarry a while. But Minerva, her mission
accomplished, suddenly changes her shape, spreads wings, and vanishes.
Then Telemachus recognises the goddess, and feels a new life and
spirit born within him. If we choose to admit an allegorical
interpretation--more than commonly tempting, as must be confessed, in
this particular case--it is the advent of Wisdom and Discretion to the
conscious heart of the youth, hitherto too little awakened to its

Telemachus returns to his place among the revellers a new man. They are
still listening to the minstrel, Phemius, who chants a lay of the return
of the Greek chiefs from Troy, and the sufferings inflicted on them
during their homeward voyage by the vengeance of the gods. The sound
reaches Penelope where she sits apart with her wise maidens, like the
mother of Sisera, in her “upper chamber”--the “bower” of the ladies of
mediæval chivalry. She comes down the stair, and stands on the threshold
of the banqueting-hall, attracted by the song. But the subject is too
painful. She calls the bard to her, and begs him, for her sake, to
choose some other theme. We must not be too angry with Telemachus
because, in the first flush of his newly-awakened sense of the
responsibilities of his position, he uses language, in addressing his
mother, which to our ears has a sound of harshness and reproach. He bids
her not presume to set limits to the inspiration of the bard--the
noblest theme is ever the best. He reminds her that woman’s kingdom is
the loom and the distaff, and that the rule over men in his father’s
house now belongs to him. Viewed with reference to the tone of the age
as regarded the duties of women,--compared with the parting charge of
Hector in the Iliad to the wife he loved so tenderly, and even with a
higher example in Scripture,--there is nothing startling or repulsive in
such language from a son to his mother. To the young prince in his new
mood, while the counsels of Minerva were yet ringing in his ears, the
absence and the sufferings of his father might well seem the only theme
on which he could endure to hear the minstrel descant; it was of this,
he feels, that he needed to be continually reminded. And if hitherto he
has allowed this riotous company to assume that, in the absence of
Ulysses, the government of his house has rested in the weak hands of a
woman, it shall be so no longer. He will take his father’s place.

The mother sees the change in her son’s temper with some surprise--we
may suppose, with somewhat mingled feelings of approval and
mortification. The boy has grown into a man on the sudden. The poet
gives us but a single word as any clue to the effect upon Penelope of
this evidently unaccustomed outburst of self-assertion on the part of
Telemachus. “Astonished,” he says, she withdraws at once to her upper
chamber, and there weeps her sorrows to sleep. Telemachus himself
addresses the assembled company in a tone which is evidently as new to
their ears as to those of his mother. He bids them, with a haughty
courtesy, feast their fill to-night; to-morrow he will summon (as is the
custom of the Homeric princes) a council of the heads of the people, and
there he will give them all public warning to quit his father’s house,
and feast--if they needs must feast--in each other’s houses, at their
own cost. If they refuse, and still make this riot of an absent man’s
wealth, he appeals from men to “the gods who live for ever” for a sure
and speedy vengeance.

The careless revellers mark the change in the young man as instantly as
Penelope. For a few moments they bite their lips in silence--“wondering
that he spake so bold.” The first to answer him is Antinous, the most
prominent ringleader of the confraternity of suitors. His character is
very like that of the worst stamp of the “Cavalier” of the days of our
own Charles II. Brave, bold, and insolent, there is yet a reckless
gaiety and a ready wit about him which would have made him at once a
favourite in that unprincipled court. He adds to these characteristics a
quality of which he might, unhappily, have also found a high example
there--that of ingratitude. He is bound by strong ties of obligation to
the house of Ulysses; his father had come in former days to seek an
asylum with the Chief of Ithaca from the vengeance of the Thesprotians,
and had been kindly entertained by him until his death. The son now
answers Telemachus with a taunting compliment upon the new character in
which he has just come out. “He means to claim for himself the
sovereignty of the island, as his father’s heir, no doubt; but the gods
forbid that Ithaca should ever come under the rule of so fierce a
despot!” Telemachus makes answer that he will at all events rule his
father’s house. Upon this, Eurynomus, another leading spirit among the
rivals--a smoother-tongued and more cautious individual--soothes the
angry youth with what seems a plausible recognition of his rights, in
order that he may get an answer to a question on which he feels an
interest not unmixed, as we may easily understand, with some secret
apprehension. “Who was this traveller from over sea? and--did he happen
to bring any news of Ulysses?” But Telemachus has learnt subtlety as
well as wisdom from the disguised goddess. He gives the name assumed by
his visitor, Mentes, an old friend of the house. But as to his father’s
return, the oracles of the gods and the reports of men all agree in
pronouncing it to have now become hopeless. So the revel is renewed till
nightfall; and while the feasters go off to their own quarters somewhere
near at hand, Telemachus retires to his chamber (separate, apparently,
from the main building), where his old nurse Eurycleia tends him with a
careful affection, as though he were still a child, folding and hanging
up the vest of fine linen which he takes off when he lies down to sleep,
and drawing the bolt of the chamber door through its silver ring when
she leaves him.

The council of notables is summoned for the morrow. No such meeting has
been held since the departure of Ulysses for Troy. As Telemachus passes
to take his place there, all men remark a new majesty in his looks.

      “So when the concourse to the full was grown,
      He lifted in his hand the steely spear,
      And to the council moved, but not alone,
      For as he walked his swift dogs followed near.
      Also Minerva did with grace endear
      His form, that all the people gazed intent
      And wondered, while he passed without a peer.
      Straight to his father’s seat his course he bent,
    And the old men gave way in reverence as he went.”

He makes his passionate protest before them all against the insufferable
waste of his household by this crew of revellers, and against their own
supineness in offering him no aid to dislodge them. Antinous rises to
answer him, beginning, as before, with an ironical compliment--“the
young orator’s language is as sublime as his spirit.” But the fault, he
begs to assure him, lies not with the suitors, but with the queen
herself. She has been playing fast and loose with her lovers, deluding
them, for these three years past, with vain hopes and false promises.
She had, indeed, been practising a kind of pious fraud upon them. She
had set up a mighty loom, in which she wrought diligently to complete,
as she professed, a winding-sheet of delicate texture for her husband’s
father, the aged Laertes, against the day of his death. Not until this
sad task was finished, she entreated of them, let her be asked to choose
a new bridegroom. To so much forbearance they had all assented; but lo!
they had lately discovered that what she wrought by day she carefully
unwound by night, so that the task promised to be an endless one. Some
of the handmaidens (who had found their own lovers, too, amongst their
royal mistress’s many suitors) had betrayed her secret. Antinous is
gallant enough to add to this recital of Penelope’s craft warm praises
of the queen herself, even giving her full credit for the bright woman’s
wit which had so long baffled them all.

                            “Matchless skill
    To weave the splendid web; sagacious thought,
    And shrewdness such as never fame ascribed
    To any beauteous Greek of ancient days,
    Tyro, Mycene, or Alcmene, loved
    Of Jove himself, all whom th’ accomplished queen
    Transcends in knowledge--ignorant alone
    That, wooed long time, she should at last be won.”--(Cowper.)

But they will now be put off no longer--she must make her choice, or
they will never leave the house so long as she remains there unespoused.
Telemachus indignantly refuses to send his mother home to her father;
and repeats his passionate appeal to the gods for vengeance against the
wrongs which he is himself helpless to deal with. At once an omen from
heaven seems to betoken that the appeal is heard and accepted. Two
eagles are seen flying over the heads of the crowd assembled in the
marketplace, where they suddenly wheel round, and tear each other
furiously with beak and talons. The soothsayer is at hand to interpret;
the aged Halitherses, who reminds them all how he had foretold, when
Ulysses first left his own shores for Troy, the twenty years that would
elapse before his return. Now, he sees by this portent, the happy day
is near at hand; nay, in his zeal for his master’s house he goes so far
as to urge the assembled people to take upon themselves at once the
punishment of these traitors. One of the suitors mocks at the old man’s
auguries, and threatens him for his interference. The prophet is
silenced; and Telemachus, finding no support from the assembly, asks but
for a ship and crew to be furnished him, that he may set forth in search
of his father. One indignant voice, among the apathetic crowd, is raised
in the young prince’s defence: it is that of Mentor, to whom Ulysses had
intrusted the guardianship of his rights in his absence. His name has
passed into a synonym for all prudent guardians and moral counsellors,
chiefly in consequence of Fénélon’s didactic tale of ‘Télémaque,’
already mentioned, in which the adventures of the son of Ulysses were
“improved,” with elaborate morals, for the benefit of youth; and in
which Mentor, as the young prince’s travelling tutor, played a
conspicuous part. He vents his indignation here in a very striking
protest against popular ingratitude:--

   “Hear me, ye Ithacans;--be never king
    From this time forth benevolent, humane,
    Or righteous; but let every sceptred hand
    Rule merciless, and deal in wrong alone;
    Since none of all his people, whom he swayed
    With such paternal gentleness and love,
    Remembers the divine Ulysses more.”--(Cowper.)

He, too, meets with jeers and mockery from the insolent nobles, and
Telemachus quits the assembly to wander in melancholy mood along the
sea-shore--the usual resort, it will be remarked, of the Homeric
heroes, when they seek to calm the tumult of grief or anger. Such appeal
to the soothing influence of what Homer calls the “illimitable” ocean is
not less true to nature than it is characteristic of the poetical and
imaginative temperament. Bathing his hands in the sea waves--for prayer,
to the Greek as to the Hebrew mind, demanded a preparatory
purification--Telemachus lifts his cry to his guardian goddess, Minerva.
At once she stands before him there in the likeness of Mentor. She
speaks to him words of encouragement and counsel. Evil men may mock at
him now; but if he be determined to prove himself the true son of such a
father, he shall not lack honour in the end. She will provide him ship
and crew for his voyage. Thus encouraged by the divine Wisdom which
speaks in the person of Mentor, he returns to the banquet-hall, to avoid
suspicion. Yet, when Antinous greets him there with a mocking show of
friendship, he wrenches his hand roughly from his grasp, and quits the
company. Taking into his counsels his nurse Eurycleia--who is the palace
housekeeper also--he bids her make ready good store of provisions for
his voyage: twelve capacious vessels filled with the ripest wine, twenty
measures of fine meal, and grain besides, carefully sewn up in wallets.
In the dusk of this very evening, unknown to his mother, he will embark;
for the goddess (still in Mentor’s likeness) has chartered for him a
galley with twenty stout rowers, which is to lie ready launched for him
in the harbour at nightfall. Eurycleia vainly remonstrates with her
nursling on his dangerous purpose--

      “‘Ah! bide with thine own people here at ease.
      There is no call to suffer useless pain,
      Wandering always on the barren seas.’
      But he: ‘Good nurse, prithee take heart again,
      These things are not without a god nor vain.
      Swear only that my mother shall not know
      Till twelve days pass, or she herself be fain
      To ask thee, or some other the tidings show,
    Lest her salt tears despoil much loveliness with woe.’”

Telemachus’s resolve is fixed. As soon as the shadows of evening fall,
Minerva sends a strange drowsiness on the assembled revellers in the
hall of Ulysses, so that the wine-cups drop from their hands, and they
stagger off early to their couches. Then, in the person of Mentor, she
summons Telemachus to where the galley lies waiting for him, guides him
on board, and takes her place beside him in the stern.

                                    “Loud and clear
      Sang the bluff Zephyr o’er the wine-dark mere
      Behind them. By Athene’s hest he blew.
      Telemachus his comrades on did cheer
      To set the tackling. With good hearts the crew
    Heard him, and all things ranged in goodly order true.

      “The olive mast, planted with care, they bind
      With ropes, the white sails stretch on twisted hide,
      And brace the mainsail to the bellying wind.
      Loudly the keel rushed through the seething tide.
      Soon as the good ship’s gear was all applied,
      They ranged forth bowls crowned with dark wine, and poured
      To gods who everlastingly abide,
      Most to the stern-eyed child of heaven’s great lord.
    All night the ship clave onward till the Dawn upsoared.”



Hitherto, and throughout the first four books of the poem, Telemachus,
and not Ulysses, is the hero of the tale. The voyagers soon reach the
rocky shores of Pylos,[29] the stronghold of the old “horse-tamer,”
Nestor. He has survived the long campaign in which so many of his
younger comrades fell, and is now sitting, surrounded by his sons, at a
great public banquet held in honour of the Sea-god. Telemachus, with a
natural modesty not unbecoming his youth, is at first reluctant to
accost and question a chieftain so full of years and renown, and his
attendant guardian has to reassure him by the promise that “heaven will
put words into his mouth.” There is no need of question yet, however,
either on the side of hosts or guests. Pisistratus, the youngest son of
Nestor, upon whom the duties of “guest-master” naturally fall, welcomes
the travellers with the invariable courtesy accorded by the laws of
Homeric society to all strangers as their right, bids them take a seat
at the banquet, and proffers the wine-cup--to the supposed Mentor
first, as the elder. He only requests of them, before they drink, to
join their hosts in their public supplication to Neptune; for he will
not do them the injustice to suppose prayer can be unknown or
distasteful to them, be they who they may--“All men have need of
prayer.” When the prayer has been duly made by both for a blessing on
their hosts and for their own safe return, and when they have eaten and
drunk to their hearts’ content, then, and not till then, Nestor inquires
their errand. The form in which the old chief put his question is as
strongly characteristic of a primitive civilisation as the open
hospitality which has preceded it. He asks the voyagers, in so many
words, whether they are pirates?--not for a moment implying that such an
occupation would be to their discredit. The freebooters of the sea in
the Homeric times were dangerous enough, but not disreputable. It was an
iron age, when every man’s hand was more or less against his neighbour,
and the guest of to-day might be an enemy to-morrow. Nestor’s downright
question may help a modern reader to understand the waste of Ulysses’
substance in his absence by the lawless spirits of Ithaca. It was only
so long as “the strong man armed kept his palace” in person that his
goods were in peace. Telemachus, in reply, declares his name and errand,
and implores the old chieftain, in remembrance of the days when he and
Ulysses fought side by side at Troy, to give him, if he can, some
tidings of his father.

     “Answered him Nestor, the Gerenian knight:
      ‘Friend, thou remind’st me of exceeding pain,
      Which we, the Achaians of unconquered might,
      There, and in ships along the clouded main,
      Led by Achilleus to the spoil, did drain,
      With those our fightings round the fortress high
      Of Priam king. There all our best were slain--
      There the brave Aias and Achilleus lie;
    Patroclus there, whose wisdom matched the gods on high.

     “‘There too Antilochus my son doth sleep,
      Who in his strength was all so void of blame--
      Swift runner, and staunch warrior.’”

Nestor shows the same love of story-telling which marks his character in
the Iliad. Modern critics who are inclined to accuse the old chief of
garrulity should remember that, in an age in which there were no daily
newspapers with their “special correspondents,” a good memory and a
fluent tongue were very desirable qualifications of old age. The old
campaigner in his retirement was the historian of his own times. Unless
he told his story often and at length amongst the men of a younger
generation when they met at the banquet, all memory of the gallant deeds
of old would be lost, and even the professional bard would have lacked
the data on which to build his lay. Many a Nestor must have been
ready--in season and out of season--to

    “Shoulder his crutch, and show how fields were won,”

before any Homer could have sung of the Trojan war. Even now, we are
ready to listen readily to the veteran’s reminiscences of a past
generation, whether in war or peace, who has a retentive memory and a
pleasant style--only he now commonly tells his story in print.

Nestor proceeds to tell his guests how the gods, after Troy was taken,
had stirred up strife between the brother-kings Agamemnon and Menelaus;
and how, in consequence, the fleet had divided, Menelaus with one
division sailing straight for home, while the rest had waited with
Agamemnon in the hope of appeasing the wrath of heaven. Ulysses, who had
at first set sail with Menelaus, had turned back and rejoined his
leader. Of his subsequent fate Nestor knows nothing; but he bids the
young man take courage. He has heard of the troubles that beset him at
home; but if Minerva vouchsafes to the son the love and favour which (as
was known to all the Greeks) she bore to his father, all will go well
with him yet. Neither Nestor nor Telemachus are aware (though the reader
is) that the Wisdom which had made Ulysses a great name was even now
guiding the steps of his son. One thing yet the youth longs to hear from
the lips of his father’s ancient friend--the terrible story of
Agamemnon’s death by the hands of his wife and her paramour, and the
vengeance taken by his son Orestes. It is a tale which he has heard as
yet but darkly, but has dwelt upon in his heart ever since the goddess,
at her visit under the shape of Mentes, made such significant reference
to the story. Nestor tells it now at length--the bloody legend which,
variously shaped, became the theme of the poet and the dramatist from
generation to generation of Greek literature. In Homer’s version we miss
some of the horrors which later writers wove into the tale; and it is
not unlikely that, in the simpler form in which it is here given, we
have the main facts of an actual domestic tragedy. During Agamemnon’s
long absence in the Trojan war, his queen Clytemnestra, sister of
Helen, had been seduced from her marriage faith by her husband’s cousin
Ægisthus. In vain had the household bard, faithful to the trust
committed to him by his lord in his absence, counselled and warned his
lady against the peril; and Ægisthus at last, hopeless of his object so
long as she had these honest eyes upon her, had caused him to be carried
to a desert island to perish with hunger. So she fell, and Ægisthus
ruled palace and kingdom. At last Agamemnon returned from the weary
siege, and, landing on the shore of his kingdom, knelt down and kissed
the soil in a transport of joyful tears. It is probably with no
conscious imitation, but merely from the correspondence of the poet’s
mind, that Shakespeare attributes the very same expression of feeling to
his Richard II.:--

                        “I weep for joy
    To stand upon my kingdom once again.
    Dear earth, I do salute thee with my hand,
    Though rebels wound thee with their horses’ hoofs:
    As a long-parted mother with her child
    Plays fondly with her tears, and smiles in meeting,
    So weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth,
    And do thee favour with my royal hands.”

Agamemnon meets with as tragical a reception from the usurper of his
rights as did Richard Plantagenet:--

     “Many the warm tears from his eyelids shed,
      When through the mist of his long-hoped delight
      He saw the lovely land before him spread.
      Him from high watch-tower marked the watchman wight
      Set by Ægisthus to watch day and night,
      Two talents of pure gold his promised hire.
      Twelve months he watched, lest the Avenger light
      Unheeded, and remember his old fire;
    Then to his lord made haste to show the tidings dire.

     “Forthwith Ægisthus, shaping a dark snare,
      Score of his bravest chose, and ambush set,
      And bade rich banquets close at hand prepare.
      Then he with horses and with chariots met
      The king, and welcomed him with fair words, yet
      With fraud at heart, and to the feast him led;
      There, like a stalled ox, smote him while he fed.”

For seven years the adulterer and usurper reigned in security at Mycenæ.
But meanwhile the boy Orestes, stolen away from the guilty court by his
elder sister, was growing up to manhood, the destined avenger of blood,
at Athens. In the seventh year he came back in disguise to his father’s
house, slew Ægisthus, and recovered his inheritance. There was a darker
shadow still thrown over Agamemnon’s death by later poets, which finds
no place in Homer. The tragic interest in the dramas of Æschylus and
Sophocles, which are founded on this story, lies in their representing
Clytemnestra herself as the murderess of her husband, and Orestes, as
his father’s avenger, not hesitating to become the executioner of his
mother as well as of her paramour.

Nestor has finished his story, and the travellers offer to return to
their vessel and continue their quest; but the old chieftain will not
hear of it. That night, at least, they must remain as his guests--on the
morrow he will send them on to the court of Menelaus at Sparta, where
they may chance to learn the latest tidings of Ulysses. Telemachus’s
guardian bids him accept the invitation, then suddenly spreads wings,
and takes to flight in the likeness of a sea-eagle; and both Nestor and
Telemachus recognise at last that, in the shape of Mentor, the goddess
of wisdom has been so long his guide. A sacrifice is forthwith offered
in her honour--a heifer, with horns overlaid with gold; a public banquet
is held as before, and then, according to promise, Telemachus is sped on
his journey. A pair of swift and strong-limbed horses--the old chief
knew what a good horse was, and charged his sons specially to take the
best in his stalls--are harnessed for the journey, and good provision of
corn and wine, “such as was fit for princes,” stored in the chariot.
Pisistratus himself mounts beside his new friend as driver. Their first
day’s stage is Pheræ, where they are hospitably entertained by Nestor’s
friend, Diocles; and, after driving all the following day, they reach
the palace gates of Menelaus, in Sparta, when the sun has set upon the
yellow harvest fields, “and all the ways are dim.”

At Sparta, too, as at Pylos, the city is holding high festival on the
evening of their arrival. A double marriage is being celebrated in the
halls of Menelaus. Hermione, his sole child by Helen, is leaving her
parents to become the bride of Neoptolemus (otherwise known as Pyrrhus,
the “red-haired”), son of the great Achilles; and at the same time the
young Megapenthes, Menelaus’s son by a slave wife, is to be married in
his father’s house. There is music and dancing in the halls when the
travellers arrive; but Menelaus, like Nestor, will ask no questions of
the strangers until the bath, and food, and wine in plenty, have
refreshed them, and their horses have good barley-meal and rye set
before them in the mangers. The magnificence of Menelaus’s palace, as
described by the poet, is a very remarkable feature in the tale. It
reads far more like a scene from the ‘Arabian Nights’ than a lay of
early Greece. The lofty roofs fling back a flashing light as the
travellers enter, “like as the splendour of the sun or moon.” Gold,
silver, bronze, ivory, and electrum, combine their brilliancy in the
decorations. The guests wash in lavers of silver, and the water is
poured from golden ewers. Telemachus is struck with wonder at the sight,
and can compare it to nothing earthly.

   “Such and so glorious to celestial eyne
    Haply may gleam the Olympian halls divine!”

The palaces of Sparta, as seen in Homer’s vision, contrast remarkably
with the estimate formed of them by the Greek historian of a later age.
Thucydides speaks of the city as having no public buildings of any
magnificence, such as would impress a stranger with an idea of its real
power, but wearing rather the appearance of a collection of villages. It
is difficult to conceive that the actual Sparta of a much earlier age
could have contained anything at all corresponding to this Homeric ideal
of splendour; and the question arises, whether we have here an
indistinct record of an earlier and extinct civilisation, or whether the
poet drew an imaginary description from his own recollections of the
gorgeous barbaric splendour of some city in the further East, which he
had visited in his travels. If this be nothing more than a poet’s
exaggerated and idealised view of an actual state of higher
civilisation, which once really existed in the old Greek kingdoms, and
disappeared under the Dorian Heraclids, it is a singular record of a
backward step in a nation’s history; and the Homeric poems become
especially valuable as preserving the memorials of a state of society
which would otherwise have passed altogether into oblivion. There is
less difficulty in believing the possible existence of an
ante-historical civilisation which afterwards became extinct, if we
remember the splendours of Solomon’s court, as to which the widespread
traditions of the East only corroborate the records of Scripture, and
all which passed away almost entirely with its founder. It is remarkable
that in the ancient Welsh poem, ‘Y Gododin,’ by Aneurin Owen, of which
the supposed date is A.D. 570, there are very similar properties and
scenery: knights in “armour of gold” and “purple plumes,” mounted on
“thick-maned chargers,” with “golden spurs,” who must--if ever they rode
the Cambrian mountains--have been a very different race from the wild
Welsh who held Edward Longshanks at bay. Are we to look upon this as
merely the common language of all poets? and, if so, how comes it to be
common to all? Were the Welsh who fought in the half-mythical battle of
Cattraeth as far superior, in the scale of civilisation, to their
successors who fell at Conway, as the Spartans under Menelaus (if
Homer’s picture of them is to be trusted) were to the Spartans under
Leonidas? or was there some remote original, Oriental or other, whence
this ornate military imagery passed into the poetry of such very
different nations?

So, too, when Helen--now restored to her place in Menelaus’s
household--comes forth to greet the strangers, her whole surroundings
are rather those of an Eastern sultana than of any princess of Spartan

   “Forth from her fragrant chamber Helen passed
    Like gold-bowed Dian: and Adraste came
    The bearer of her throne’s majestic frame;
    Her carpet’s fine-wrought fleece Alcippe bore,
    Phylo her basket bright with silver ore,
    Gift of the wife of Polybus, who swayed
    When Thebes, the Egyptian Thebes, scant wealth displayed.
    His wife Alcandra, from her treasured store,
    A golden spindle to fair Helen bore,
    And a bright silver basket, on whose round
    A rim of burnished gold was closely bound.”--(Sotheby.)

These elaborate preparations for her “work”--which is some delicate
fabric of wool tinged with the costly purple dye--have little in common
with the household loom of Penelope. Here, as in the Iliad, refinement
and elegance of taste are the distinctive characteristics of Helen; and
they help to explain, though they in no way excuse, the fascination
exercised over her by Paris, the accomplished musician and brilliant
converser, rich in all the graces which Venus, for her own evil
purposes, had bestowed on her favourite. Helen is still, as in the
Iliad, emphatically “the lady;” the lady of rank and fashion, as things
were in that day, with all the fashionable faults, and all the
fashionable good qualities: selfish, and luxurious, gracious and
fascinating. Her transgressions, and the seemingly lenient view which
the poet takes of them, have been discussed sufficiently in the Iliad.
They are all now condoned. She has recovered from her miserable
infatuation; and if we are inclined to despise Menelaus for his easy
temper as a husband, we must remember the mediæval legends of Arthur and
Guinevere, to whom Helen bears, in many points of character, a strong
resemblance. The readiness which Arthur shows to have accepted at any
time the repentance of his queen is almost repulsive to modern feeling,
but was evidently not so to the taste of the age in which those legends
were popular; nor is it at all clear that such forgiveness is less
consonant with the purest code of morality than the stern implacability
towards such offences which the laws of modern society would enjoin.
Menelaus has forgiven Helen, even as Arthur--though not Mr Tennyson’s
Arthur--would have forgiven Guinevere. But she has not forgiven herself,
and this is a strong redeeming point in her character; “shameless” is
still the uncompromising epithet which she applies to herself, as in the
Iliad, even in the presence of her husband and his guests.

They, too, have been wanderers since the fall of Troy, like the lost
Ulysses. The king tells his own story before he interrogates his

      “Hardly I came at last, in the eighth year,
      Home with my ships from my long wanderings.
      Far as to Cyprus in my woe severe,
      Phœnice, Egypt, did the waves me bear.
      Sidon and Ethiopia I have seen,
      Even to Erembus roamed, and Libya, where
      The lambs are full-horned from their birth, I ween,
    And in the rolling year the fruitful flocks thrice yean.”

He has grown rich in his travels, and would be happy, but for the
thought of his brother Agamemnon’s miserable end. Another grief, too,
lies very close to his heart--the uncertainty which still shrouds the
fate of his good comrade Ulysses.

      “His was the fate to suffer grievous woe,
      And mine to mourn without forgetfulness,
      While onward and still on the seasons flow,
      And he yet absent, and I comfortless.
      Whether he live or die we cannot guess.
      Him haply old Laertes doth lament,
      And sage Penelope, in sore distress,
      And to Telemachus the hours are spent
    In sadness, whom he left new-born when first he went.”

The son is touched at the reminiscence, and drops a quiet tear, while
for a moment he covers his eyes with his robe. It is at this juncture
that Helen enters the hall. Her quick thought seizes the truth at once;
as she had detected the father through his disguise of rags when he came
as a spy into Troy, so now she recognises the son at once by his strong
personal resemblance. Then Menelaus, too, sees the likeness, and
connects it with the youth’s late emotion. Young Pisistratus at once
tells him who his friend is, and on what errand they are travelling
together. Warm is the greeting which the King of Sparta bestows on the
son of his old friend. There shall be no more lamentation for this
night; all painful subjects shall be at least postponed until the
morrow. But still, as the feast goes on, the talk is of Ulysses. Helen
has learnt, too, in her wanderings, some of the secrets of Egyptian
pharmacy. She has mixed in the wine a potent Eastern drug, which raises
the soul above all care and sorrow--

      “Which so cures heartache and the inward stings,
      That men forget all sorrow wherein they pine.
      He who hath tasted of the draught divine
      Weeps not that day, although his mother die
      Or father, or cut off before his eyen
      Brother or child beloved fall miserably,
    Hewn by the pitiless sword, he sitting silent by.”

The “Nepenthes” of Helen has obtained a wide poetical celebrity. Some
allegorical interpreters of the poem would have us understand that it is
the charms of conversation which have this miraculous power to make men
forget their grief. Without at all questioning their efficacy, it may be
safely assumed that the poet had in his mind something more material.
The drug has been supposed to be opium; but the effects ascribed to the
Arabian “haschich”--a preparation of hemp--correspond very closely with
those said to be produced by Helen’s potion. Sir Henry Halford thought
it might more probably be the “hyoscyamus,” which he says is still used
at Constantinople and in the Morea under the name of “_Nebensch_.”[30]

Not till the next morning does Telemachus discuss with Menelaus the
object of his journey. What little the Spartan king can tell him of the
fate of his father is so far reassuring, that there is good hope he is
yet alive. But he is--or was--detained in an enchanted island. There the
goddess Calypso holds him an unwilling captive, and forces her love upon
him. He longs sore for his home in Ithaca; but the spells of the
enchantress are too strong. So much has Menelaus learnt, during his own
wanderings, while wind-bound at Pharos in Egypt, from Proteus, “the old
man of the sea”--

    “Who knows all secret things in ocean pent.”

The knowledge had to be forced from him by stratagem. Proteus was in the
habit of coming up out of the sea at mid-day to sleep under the shadow
of the rocks, with his flock of seals about him. Instructed by his
daughter Eidothea--who had taken pity on the wanderers--Menelaus and
some of his comrades had disguised themselves in seal-skins[31] (though
much disturbed, as he confesses, by the “very ancient and fish-like
smell”), and had seized the ancient sea-god as he lay asleep on the
shore. Proteus, like the genie in the Arabian tale, changed himself
rapidly into all manner of terrible forms; but Menelaus held him fast
until he was obliged to resume his own, when, confessing himself
vanquished by the mortal, the god proceeded in recompense to answer his
questions as to his own fate, and that of his companion chiefs, the
wanderers on their way home from Troy. The transformations of Proteus
have much exercised the ingenuity of the allegorists. The pliancy of
such principles of interpretation becomes amusingly evident, when one
authority explains to us that here are symbolised the wiles of
sophistry--another, that it is the inscrutability of truth, ever
escaping from the seeker’s grasp; while others, again, see in Proteus
the versatility of nature, the various ideals of philosophers, or the
changes of the atmosphere. From such source had the king learnt the
terrible end of his brother Agamemnon, and the ignoble captivity of
Ulysses; but for himself, the favourite of heaven, a special exemption
has been decreed from the common lot of mortality. It is thus that
Proteus reads the fates for the husband of Helen:--

   “Thee to Elysian fields, earth’s farthest end,
    Where Rhadamanthus dwells, the gods shall send;
    Where mortals easiest pass the careless hour;
    No lingering winters there, nor snow, nor shower,
    But ocean ever, to refresh mankind,
    Breathes the shrill spirit of the western wind.”

The grand lines of Homer are thus grandly rendered by Abraham Moore.
Homer repeats the description of the Elysian fields, the abode of the
blest, in a subsequent passage of the poem, which has been translated
almost word for word--yet as only a poet could translate it--by the
Roman Lucretius. Mr Tennyson has the same great original before him when
he makes his King Arthur see, in his dying thought,

        “The island-valley of Avilion,
    Where falls not hail nor rain nor any snow,
    Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
    Deep-meadowed, happy, fair with orchard lawns,
    And bowery hollows crowned with summer sea.”

The calm sweet music of these lines has charmed many a reader who never
knew that the strain had held all Greece enchanted two thousand years
ago. It has been scarcely possible to add anything to the quiet beauty
of the original Greek, but the English poet has at least shown exquisite
skill in the setting of the jewel. But Homer has always been held as
common property by later poets. Milton’s classical taste had previously
adopted some of the imagery; the “Spirit” in the ‘Masque of Comus’
speaks of the happy climes which are his proper abode:--

   “There eternal summer dwells,
    And west winds, with musky wing,
    About the cedarn alleys fling
    Nard and cassia’s balmy smells.”

Gladly would Menelaus have kept the son of his old comrade with him
longer as a guest, but Telemachus is impatient to rejoin his galley,
which waits for him at Pylos. His host reluctantly dismisses him, not
without parting gifts; but the gift which the king would have had him
take--a chariot and yoke of three swift horses--the island-prince will
not accept. Ithaca has no room for horse-coursing, and he loves his
rocky home all the better.

   “With me no steeds to Ithaca shall sail.
    Such leave I here--thy grace, thy rightful vaunt,
    Lord of a level land, where never fail
    Lotus, and rye, and wheat, and galingale:
    No room hath Ithaca to course, no mead--
    Goat-haunted, dearer than horse-feeding vale.”

There is much consternation in the palace of Ulysses when the absence of
Telemachus is at last discovered. Antinous and his fellow-revellers are
struck with astonishment at the bold step he has suddenly taken, and
with alarm at the possible result. Antinous will man a vessel at once,
and waylay him in the straits on his return. The revelation of this plot
to Penelope by Medon, the herald, one of the few faithful retainers of
Ulysses’ house, makes her for the first time aware of her son’s
departure; for old Eurycleia has kept her darling’s secret safe even
from his mother. In an agony of grief she sits down amidst her
sympathising maidens, and bewails herself as “twice bereaved,” of son
and husband. She lifts her prayer to Minerva, and the goddess hears.
When Penelope has wept herself to sleep, there stands at the head of her
couch what seems the form of her sister Iphthimè, and assures her of her
son’s safety: he has a guardian about his path “such as many a hero
would pray to have.” Even in her dream, Penelope is half conscious of
the dignity of her visitor; and, true wife that she is, she prays the
vision to tell her something of her absent husband. But such revelation,
the figure tells her, is no part of its mission, and so vanishes into
thin air. The sleeper awakes--it is a dream indeed; but it has left a
lightness and elasticity of spirit which the queen accepts as an augury
of good to come.



The fifth book of the poem opens with a second council of the gods. It
has been remarked with some truth that the gods of the Odyssey are, on
the whole, more dignified than those of the Iliad. They are divided in
this poem, as well as in the other, in their loves and hates towards
mortals, but their dissensions are neither so passionate nor so
grotesque. Minerva complains bitterly to the Ruler of Olympus of the
injustice with which her favourite Ulysses is treated, by being kept so
long an exile from his home. She, too, repeats the indignant protest
which the poet had before put into the mouth of Mentor, which has found
vent in all times and ages, from Job and the Psalmist downwards, when in
the bitterness of a wounded spirit men rebel against what seems the
inequality of the justice of heaven; that “there is one event to the
righteous and the wicked;” nay, that the wicked have even the best of
it. “Let never king henceforth do justly and love mercy; but let him
rule with iron hand and work all iniquity; for lo! what is Ulysses’
reward?” Jupiter is moved by the appeal. He at once despatches Mercury
to the island of Calypso, to announce to her that Ulysses must be
released from her toils; such is his sovereign will, and it must be
obeyed. The description of the island-grotto in which Calypso dwells is
one of the most beautiful in Homer, and it is a passage upon which our
English translators have delighted to employ their very best powers.
Perhaps Leigh Hunt’s version is the most simply beautiful, and as
faithful as any. Mercury has sped on his errand;--

   “And now arriving at the isle, he springs
    Oblique, and landing with subsided wings,
    Walks to the cavern ’mid the tall green rocks,
    Where dwelt the goddess with the lovely locks.
    He paused; and there came on him, as he stood,
    A smell of cedar and of citron wood,
    That threw a perfume all about the isle;
    And she within sat spinning all the while,
    And sang a low sweet song that made him hark and smile.
    A sylvan nook it was, grown round with trees,
    Poplars, and elms, and odorous cypresses,
    In which all birds of ample wing, the owl
    And hawk, had nests, and broad-tongued waterfowl.
    The cave in front was spread with a green vine,
    Whose dark round bunches almost burst with wine;
    And from four springs, running a sprightly race,
    Four fountains clear and crisp refreshed the place;
    While all about a meadowy ground was seen,
    Of violets mingling with the parsley green.”

Calypso recognises the messenger, for the immortals, says the poet, know
each other always. Mercury tells his errand--a bitter one for the nymph
to hear, for she has set her heart upon her mortal lover. Very hard and
envious, she says, is the Olympian tyrant, to grudge her this harmless
fancy. [She must have thought in her heart, though the poet does not
put it into words for her, that Jupiter should surely have some
sympathy for weaknesses of which he set so remarkable an example.] But
she will obey, as needs she must. Ulysses shall go; only he must build
himself a boat, for there is none in her island. She goes herself to
announce to him his coming deliverance. She finds him sitting pensively,
as is his wont, on the sea-beach, looking and longing in the direction
of Ithaca.

   “Companion of the rocks, the livelong light,
    He dreaming on the shore, but not at rest,
    With groans and tears and lingering undelight
    Gazed on the pulses of the ocean’s breast.”

His heart is in his native island; but, sooth to say, he makes the best
of his present captivity. He endures, if he does not heartily
reciprocate, the love of his fair jailer. The correspondence in many
points of these Homeric lays with the legends of mediæval Christendom,
especially with those of Arthur and his Round Table, has been already
noticed. It has been said also that, on the whole, the moral tone of
Homer is far purer. But there is one bright creation of mediæval fiction
which finds no counterpart in the song of the Greek bard. It was only
Christianity--one might almost say it was only mediæval
Christianity--which could conceive the pure ideal of the stainless
knight who has kept his maiden innocence,--who only can sit in the
“siege perilous” and win the holy Grail, “because his heart is pure.”
Among all the heroes of Iliad or Odyssey there is no Sir Galahad.

Calypso obeys the behest of Jove reluctantly, but without murmuring.
Goddess-like or woman-like, however, she cannot fail to be mortified at
the want of any reluctance on her lover’s part to leave her. There is
something touching in her expostulation:--

      “Child of Laertes, wouldst thou fain depart
      Hence to thine own dear fatherland? Farewell!
      Yet, couldst thou read the sorrow and the smart,
      With me in immortality to dwell
      Thou wouldst rejoice, and love my mansion well.
      Deeply and long thou yearnest for thy wife;
      Yet her in beauty I perchance excel.
      Beseems not one who hath but mortal life
    With forms of deathless mould to challenge a vain strife.”

Ulysses’ reply is honest and manful:--

      “All this I know and do myself avow.
      Well may Penelope in form and brow
      And stature seem inferior far to thee,
      For she is mortal, and immortal thou.
      Yet even thus ’tis very dear to me
    My long-desired return and ancient home to see.

      “But if some god amid the wine-dark flood
      With doom pursue me, and my vessel mar,
      Then will I bear it as a brave man should.
      Not the first time I suffer. Wave and war
      Deep in my life have graven many a scar.”

It cannot but be observed, however, that while Penelope’s whole thoughts
and interests are concentrated upon her absent husband, the longing of
Ulysses is rather after his fatherland than his wife. She is only one of
the many component parts of the home-scene which is ever before the
wanderer’s eyes; and not always the most important part, for his aged
father and mother and his young son seem to be at least equal objects
of anxiety. It may be urged that in this parting scene with Calypso he
is purposely reticent in the matter of his affection for Penelope, not
caring to draw down upon himself the proverbial wrath of “a woman
scorned;” and that for a similar reason he suppresses his feelings, and
quite ignores the existence of his wife, at the court of Alcinous, when
that king offers him his daughter in marriage. But there is, to say the
least, some lack of enthusiasm on the husband’s part throughout. Of the
single-hearted devotion of woman to man we have striking instances both
in Penelope and in the Andromache of the Iliad; but the devotion of man
to woman had yet long to wait for its development in the age of

He builds himself a boat on the island, by Calypso’s instructions, and
when all is ready, she stores it plentifully with food and wine, and
gives him directions for his voyage. He launches and sets sail; but the
angry god of the sea (irate especially against Ulysses for having
blinded his son, the giant Polyphemus, as we shall learn hereafter)
stirs winds and waves against him, wrecks his bark, and leaves him
clinging for life to a broken spar. One of the sea-nymphs, Ino, takes
pity on him, and gives him a charmed scarf--so long as he wears it his
life is safe. For two nights and days he is tossed helplessly on the
ocean; on the third, with sore wounds and bruises, he makes good his
landing on the rock-bound coast of a strange island. Utterly exhausted,
he scrapes together a bed of leaves, and creeping into it, sinks into a
profound sleep.

He awakes to find himself in a kind of faeryland. The island on which
he has been cast is Scheria,[32] inhabited by the Phæacians, whose king
and people are very far indeed from being of the ordinary type of mortal
men. Whether the poet, in his description of these Phæacian islanders,
was exercising his imagination only, or indulging his talent for satire,
is a controverted question with Homeric critics. Those who would assign
this poem of the Odyssey to a different author from the writer or
writers of the Iliad, and to a much later date than that commonly given
to Homer, have thought that in the good-humoured boastfulness of the
Phæacian character, their love of pleasure and novelty, and their
attachment to the sea, some Ionian poet was showing up, under fictitious
names, the weaknesses of his own countrymen. Others take the Phæacians
to be only another name for the Phœnicians, the sailors of all seas, who
had probably in their character somewhat of the egotism and exaggeration
which have been commonly reputed faults of men who have travelled far
and seen much. Whatever may be the true interpretation of the story, or
whether there be any interpretation at all, this curious episode in the
adventures of Ulysses is unquestionably rather comic than serious. The
names are all significant, somewhat after the fashion of those assumed
by the Red men. The king (Alcinous) is “Strong-mind,” son of “The Swift
Seaman,” and he has a brother called “Crusher of Men.” The nautical
names of his courtiers--“Prow-man” and “Stern-man,” and the rest--are as
palpably conventional as our own Tom Bowline and Captain Crosstree. The
hero’s introduction to his new hosts presents, nevertheless, one of the
most beautiful scenes in the poem. The patriarchal simplicity of the
tale cannot fail to remind the reader, as Homer so often does, of the
narratives of the earlier Scriptures.

The princess Nausicaa, daughter of the king of the Phæacians, has had a
dream. The dream--which comes as naturally to princesses, no doubt, as
to other young people--is of marriage; and in this case it could be no
possible reproach to the dreamer, since the goddess of wisdom is
represented as having herself suggested it. Nor is the dream of any
bridegroom in particular, but simply of what seems to us the very
prosaic fact that a wedding outfit, which must soon come to be thought
of, required household stores of good linen; and that the family stock
in the palace, from long disuse, stood much in need of washing. Nausicaa
awakes in the morning, and begs of her father to lend her a chariot and
a yoke of mules, that she and her maidens may go down to the shore,
where the river joins the sea, to perform this domestic duty. The
pastoral simplicity of the whole scene is charming. It has all the
freshness of those earlier ages when the business of life was so
leisurely and jovially conducted, that much of it wore the features of a
holiday. The princess and her maidens plunge the linen in the stream,
and stamp it clean with their pretty bare feet (a process which will
remind an English reader of Arlette and Robert of Normandy, and which
may be seen in operation still at many a burn-side in Scotland), and
then go themselves to bathe. An outdoor banquet forms part of the day’s
enjoyment; for the good queen, Nausicaa’s mother, has stored the wain
with delicate viands and a goat-skin of sweet wine. When this is over,
the girls begin to play at ball. Ulysses, be it remembered, is all this
while lying fast asleep under his heap of leaves, and, as it happens,
close by the spot where this merry party are disporting themselves. By
chance Nausicaa, too eager in her game, throws the ball out into the
sea; whereupon the whole chorus of handmaidens raise a cry of dismay,
which at once awakens the sleeper. He is puzzled, when he comes to
himself, to make out where he is; and still more confounded, when he
peers out from his hiding-place, to find himself in the close
neighbourhood of this bevy of joyous damsels, especially when he
bethinks himself of the very primitive style of his present costume; for
the scarf which the sea-nymph gave him us a talisman he had cast into
the sea upon his landing, as she had especially charged him. But Ulysses
is far too old a traveller to allow an over-punctilious modesty to stand
in his way when he is in danger of starving. He has no idea of missing
this opportunity of supplying his wants merely because he has lost his
wardrobe. He extemporises some very slight covering out of an
olive-bough, and, in this strange attire, makes his sudden appearance
before the party. Nausicaa’s maidens all scream and take to flight--very
excusably; but the king’s daughter, with a true nobility, stands firm.
She sees only a shipwrecked man, and “to the pure all things are pure.”
Ulysses is a courtier as well as a traveller, and knows much of “cities
and men;” and it is not the flattery of a suppliant, but the quick
discernment of a man of the world, which makes him at once assign her
true rank to the fair stranger who stands before him. He remains at a
respectful distance, while, in the language of Eastern compliment, he
compares her to the young palm-tree for grace and beauty, and invokes
the blessing of the gods upon her marriage-hour, if she will take pity
on his miserable case. Nausicaa recalls her fugitive attendants, and
rebukes them for their folly, reminding them that “the stranger and the
poor are the messengers of the gods.” The shipwrecked hero is supplied
at once with food and drink and raiment; and when he reappears, after
having bathed and clothed himself, it is with a mien and stature more
majestic than his wont, with the “hyacinthine locks” of immortal youth
flowing round his stately shoulders--such grace does his guardian
goddess bestow upon him, that he may find favour in the sight of the
Phæacian princess. She looks upon him now with simple and undisguised
admiration, confessing aside to her handmaidens that, when her time for
marriage _does_ come, she should wish for just such a husband as this
godlike stranger. There is nothing unmaidenly in such language from the
lips of Nausicaa. To remain unmarried was a reproach in her day,
whatever it may be in ours, and a reproach not likely to fall upon a
king’s daughter; so, looking upon the marriage state as inevitable, and
at her age very near at hand, she thinks and speaks of it unreservedly
to her companions. Our modern conventional silence on such topics arises
in great degree from the fact that a perpetual maidenhood is the
inevitable lot of far too many in our over-civilised society, and, being
inevitable, is no reproach. It does not consort, therefore, with
maidenly dignity to express any interest about marriage, for which an
opportunity may never be offered.

But Nausicaa is at least as careful to observe the proprieties,
according to her own view of them, as any modern young lady. She will
promise the shipwrecked stranger a welcome at her father’s court; but he
must by no means ride home in the wain with her, or even be seen
entering the city in her company. So Ulysses runs by the side of her
mules, and waits in a sacred grove near the city gates, until the
princess and her party have re-entered the palace. When they have
disappeared, he issues forth, and meets a girl carrying a pitcher. It is
once more his guardian goddess in disguise. She veils him in a mist, so
that he passes the streets unquestioned by the natives (who have no love
for strangers), and stands at last in the presence of King Alcinous.

The king of the Phæacians, as well as his queen, boast to be descended
from Neptune. His subjects therefore, are, as has been said,
emphatically a seagoing people. Ulysses has already seen with
admiration, as he passed,

   “The smooth wide havens, and the glorious fleet,
     Wherewith those mariners the great deep tire.”

Their galleys, moreover, are unlike any barks that ever walked the seas
except in a poet’s imagination. King Alcinous himself describes them:--

     “For unto us no pilots appertain,
      Rudder nor helm which other barks obey.
      These, ruled by reason, their own course essay
      Sharing men’s mind. Cities and climes they know,
      And through the deep sea-gorges cleaving way,
      Wrapt in an ambient vapour, to and fro
    Sail in a fearless scorn of scathe or overthrow.”

The wondrous art of navigation might well seem nothing less than
miraculous in an age when all the forces of nature were personified as
gods. So, when the great ship Argo carried out her crew of ancient
heroes on what was the first voyage of discovery, the fable ran that in
her prow was set a beam cut from the oak of Dodona, which had the gift
of speech, and gave the voyagers oracles in their distress. Our English
Spenser must have had these Phæacian ships in mind when he describes the
“gondelay” which bears the enchantress Phædria:--

     “Eftsoone her shallow ship away did slide,
      More swift than swallow sheres the liquid sky,
      Withouten oar or pilot it to guide,
      Or winged canvass with the wind to fly;
      Only she turned a pin, and by-and-by
      It cut a way upon the yielding wave,
      (Ne cared she her course for to apply)
      For it was taught the way which she would have,
    And both from rocks and flats itself could wisely save.”

As the men of Phæacia excel all others in seamanship, so also do the
women in the feminine accomplishments of weaving and embroidery. But
they are not, as they freely confess, a nation of warriors: they love
the feast and the dance and the song, and care little for what other men
call glory. The palace of Alcinous and its environs are all in
accordance with this luxurious type of character. All round the palace
lie gardens and orchards, which rejoice in an enchanted climate, under
whose influence their luscious products ripen in an unfailing

     “There in full prime the orchard-trees grow tall,
      Sweet fig, pomegranate, apple fruited fair,
      Pear and the healthful olive. Each and all
      Both summer droughts and chills of winter spare;
      All the year round they flourish. Some the air
      Of Zephyr warms to life, some doth mature.
      Apple grows old on apple, pear on pear,
      Fig follows fig, vintage doth vintage lure;
    Thus the rich revolution doth for aye endure.”

When the traveller enters within the palace itself, he finds himself
surrounded with equal wonders.

     “For, like the sun’s fire or the moon’s, a light
      Far streaming through the high-roofed house did pass
      From the long basement to the topmost height.
      There on each side ran walls of flaming brass,
      Zoned on the summit with a blue bright mass
      Of cornice; and the doors were framed of gold;
      Where, underneath, the brazen floor doth glass
      Silver pilasters, which with grace uphold
    Lintel of silver framed; the ring was burnished gold.

     “And dogs on each side of the doors there stand,
      Silver and gold, the which in ancient day
      Hephæstus wrought with cunning brain and hand,
      And set for sentinels to hold the way.
      Death cannot tame them, nor the years decay.
      And from the shining threshold thrones were set,
      Skirting the walls in lustrous long array,
      On to the far room, where the women met,
    With many a rich robe strewn and woven coverlet.

     “There the Phæacian chieftains eat and drink,
      While golden youths on pedestals upbear
      Each in his outstretched hand a lighted link,
      Which nightly on the royal feast doth flare.
      And in the house are fifty handmaids fair;
      Some in the mill the yellow corn grind small;
      Some ply the looms, and shuttles twirl, which there
      Flash like the quivering leaves of aspen tall;
    And from the close-spun weft the trickling oil will fall.”

King Alcinous sits on his golden throne, “quaffing his wine like a god.”
His queen, Arete, sits beside him, weaving yarn of the royal purple.
Warned by his kind friend the princess, Ulysses passes by the king’s
seat, and falls at the feet of the queen. In the court of
Phæacia--whether the story be disguised fact or pure fiction, whether
the poet was satiric or serious--the ruling influence lies with the
women. The mist in which Minerva had enveloped his person melts away;
and while all gaze in astonishment at his sudden appearance, he claims
hospitality as a shipwrecked wanderer, and then, after the fashion of
suppliants, seats himself on the hearth-stone. The hospitality of
Alcinous is prompt and magnificent. He bids one of his sons rise up and
cede the place of honour to the stranger. If he be mortal man, the boon
he asks shall be granted; but it may be that he is one of the immortals,
who, as he gravely assures his guest, often condescend to come down and
share the banquets of the Phæacians, and make themselves known to them
face to face. Ulysses assures his royal host, in a passage which is in
itself sufficient to mark the subdued comedy of the episode, that far
from having any claim to divinity, he is very mortal indeed, and wholly
taken up at present with one of the most inglorious of mortal

     “Nothing more shameless is than Appetite,
      Who still, whatever anguish load our breast,
      Makes us remember, in our own despite,
      Both food and drink. Thus I, thrice wretched wight,
      Carry of inward grief surpassing store,
      Yet she constrains me with superior might,
      Wipes clean away the memory-written score,
    And takes whate’er I give, and taking, craveth more.”[33]

There is every appliance to satisfy appetite, however, in the luxurious
halls of Alcinous. While Ulysses is seated at table, Queen Arete,
careful housewife as she is with all her royalty, marks with some
curiosity that the raiment which their strange guest wears must have
come from her own household stores--so well does she know the work of
herself and her handmaidens. This leads to a confession on Ulysses’ part
of his previous interview with Nausicaa, whom he praises, as he had good
right to do, as wise beyond her years. So charmed is the king with his
guest’s taste and discernment, that he at once declares that nothing
would please him better than to retain him at his court in the
character of a son-in-law. Ulysses (whose fate it is throughout his
wanderings to make himself only too interesting to the fair sex
generally) is by this time too much accustomed to such proposals to show
any embarrassment. With his usual diplomacy he puts the question
aside--bowing his acknowledgments only, it may be, though Homer does not
tell us even so much as this. The one point to which he addresses
himself is the king’s promise to send him safe home, which he accepts
with thankfulness. Before they retire for the night, the queen herself
does not disdain to give special orders for their guest’s accommodation.
She bids her maidens prepare

      “A couch beneath the echoing corridor,
      And thereon spread the crimson carpets fair,
      Then the wide coverlets of richness rare,
      And to arrange the blankets warm and white,
      Wherein who sleepeth straight forgets his care.
      They then, each holding in her hand a light,
    From the great hall pass forth, and spread the robes aright.”

The combination of magnificence with simplicity is of a wholly Oriental
character. The appliances of the court might be those of a modern
Eastern potentate; yet the queen is a thrifty housekeeper, the
princess-royal superintends the family wash, and the five sons of the
royal family, when their sister comes home, themselves come forward and
unyoke her mules from the wain which has brought home the linen.

The next day is devoted to feasting and games in honour of the stranger.
Amongst the company sits the blind minstrel Demodocus, in whose person
it has been thought that the poet describes himself--

      “Whom the Muse loved, and gave him good and ill;
      Ill, that of light she did his eyes deprive,
      Good, that sweet minstrelsies divine at will
      She lent him, and a voice men’s ears to thrill.
      For him Pontonous silver-studded chair
      Set with the feasters, leaning it with skill
      Against the column, and with tender care
    Made the blind fingers feel the harp suspended there.”

Such honour has the bard in all lands. The king’s son does not disdain
to guide “the blind fingers;” and when the song is over, the herald
leads him carefully to his place at the banquet, where his portion is of
the choicest--“the chine of the white-tusked boar.” The subject of his
lay is the tale which charms all hearers--Phæacian, Greek, or Roman,
ancient or modern, then as now--the tale of Troy. Touched with the
remembrances which the song awakens, Ulysses wraps his face in his
mantle to hide his rising tears. The king marks his guest’s emotion: too
courteous to allude to it, he contents himself with rising at once from
the banquet-table, and giving order for the sports to begin. Foot-race,
wrestling, quoit-throwing, and boxing, all have their turn; and in all
the king’s’ sons take their part, not unsuccessfully. It is suggested at
last that the stranger, who stands silently looking on, should exhibit
some feat of strength or skill. Ulysses declines--he has no heart just
now for pastimes. Then one of the young Phæacians, Euryalus, who has
just won the wrestling-match, gives vent to an ungracious taunt. Their
guest, he says, is plainly no hero, nor versed in the noble science of
athletics; he must be some skipper of a merchantman, “whose talk is all
of cargoes.” He brings down upon himself a grand rebuke from Ulysses:--

      “Man, thou hast not said well; a fool thou art.
      Not all fair gifts to all doth God divide,
      Eloquence, beauty, and a noble heart.
      One seems in mien poor, but his feebler part
      God crowns with language, that men learn to love
      The form, so feelingly the sweet words dart
      Within them. First in councils he doth prove,
    And, ’mid the crowd observant, like a god doth move.

      “Another, though in mould of form and face
      Like the immortal gods he seems to be,
      Hath no wise word to crown the outward grace
      So is thine aspect fair exceedingly,
      Wherein no blemish even a god might see;
      Yet is thine understanding wholly vain.”

Then the hero who has thrown the mighty Ajax in the wrestling-ring, who
is swifter of foot than any Greek except Achilles, and who has been
awarded that matchless hero’s arms as the prize of valour against all
competitors,--rises in his wrath, and gives his gay entertainers a taste
of his quality. Not deigning even to throw off his mantle, he seizes a
huge stone quoit, and hurls it, after a single swing, far beyond the
point reached by any of the late competitors. The astonished islanders
crouch to the ground as it sings through the air above their heads. Once
roused, Ulysses launches out into the self-assertion which has been
remarked as being common to all the heroes of Homeric story. He
challenges the whole circle of bystanders to engage with him in
whatsoever contest they will--

    “All feats I know that are beneath the sun.”

He will not, indeed, compare himself with some of the heroes of old,
such as were Hercules and Eurytus;

   “But of all else I swear that I stand first,
    Such men as now upon the earth eat bread.”

None of the Phæacians will accept the challenge. The king commends the
spirit in which the stranger has repelled the insult of Euryalus, and
with the gay good-humour which marks the Phæacian character, confesses
that in feats of strength his nation can claim no real excellence, but
only in speed of foot and in seamanship; or, above all, in the dance--in
this no men can surpass them. His guest shall see and judge. Nine grave
elders, by the king’s command (and here the satire is evident, even if
we have lost the application) stand forth as masters of the ceremonies,
and clear the lists for dancing. A band of selected youths perform an
elaborate ballet, while the minstrel Demodocus sings to his harp a
sportive lay, not over-delicate, of the stolen loves of Mars and Venus,
and their capture in the cunning net of Vulcan. If it must be granted
that this song forms a strong exception to the purity of Homer’s muse,
it has also been fairly pleaded for him, that it is introduced as
characteristic of an unwarlike nation and an effeminate society. But
even in his lightest mood the poet has no sort of sympathy with a
wife’s unfaithfulness. He takes his gods and goddesses as he found them
in the popular creed; bad enough, and far worse than the mortal men and
women of his own poetical creation. But his own morals are far higher
than those of Olympus. Even in this questionable ballad of the Phæacian
minstrel the point of the jest is in strong contrast to some of the
comedies of a more modern school. It is on the detected culprits, not on
the injured husband, that the ridicule of gods and men is mercilessly
showered. When the ballet is concluded, two of the king’s sons, at their
father’s bidding, perform a sort of minuet, in which ball-play is
introduced. Ulysses expresses his admiration of the whole performance in
words which sound like solemn irony:--

   “O king, pre-eminent in word and deed,
    Of late thy lips the threatening vaunt did make
    That these thy dancers all the world exceed--
    Now have I seen fulfilment of thy rede;
    Yea, wonder holds me while I gaze thereon.”

So all passes off with pleasant compliments between hosts and guest. The
king and his twelve peers present Ulysses with costly gifts, and
Euryalus, in pledge of regret for his late unseemly speech, offers his
own silver-hilted sword with its ivory scabbard.

From the games they pass again to the banquet; and one more glimpse is
given us of the gentle Nausicaa, perfectly in keeping with the maiden
guilelessness of her character. Ulysses--still radiant with the more
than human beauty which the goddess has bestowed upon him--moves to his
place in the hall.

      “He from the bath, cleansed from the dust of toil,
      Passed to the drinkers; and Nausicaa there
      Stood, moulded by the gods exceeding fair.
      She on the roof-tree pillar leaning, heard
      Odysseus; turning, she beheld him near.
      Deep in her breast admiring wonder stirred,
    And in a low sweet voice she spake this winged word.

      “‘Hail, stranger-guest! when fatherland and wife
      Thou shalt revisit, then remember me,
      Since to me first thou owest the price of life.’
      And to the royal virgin answered he:
      ‘Child of a generous sire, if willed it be
      By Thunderer Zeus, who all dominion hath,
      That I my home and dear return yet see,
      There at thy shrine will I devote my breath,
    There worship thee, dear maid, my saviour from dark death.’”

It is not easy to discover, with any certainty, what the Greek poet
meant us to understand as to the feelings of Nausicaa towards Ulysses.
It has been said that Love, in the complex modern acceptation of the
term, is unknown to the Greek poets. Nor is there, in this passage, any
approach to the expression of such a feeling on the part of the
princess. Yet, had the scene found place in the work of a modern poet,
we should have understood at once that, without any kind of reproach to
the perfect maidenly delicacy of Nausicaa, it was meant to show us the
dawn of a tender sentiment--nothing more--towards the stranger-guest
whom the gods had endowed with such majestic graces of person, who stood
so high above all rivals in feats of strength and skill, whose
misfortunes surrounded him with a double interest, and, above all, in
whom she felt a kind of personal property as his deliverer.

The Greek historian Plutarch chivalrously defends the young princess
from the charge of forwardness, which ungallant critics brought against
her as early as his day. It was no marvel, he says, that she knew and
valued a hero when she saw him, and preferred him to the carpet-knights
of her own country, who were good only at the dance and the banquet. But
with her it was, after all, a sentiment, and no more; but which might
have ripened into love, under other circumstances, had the hero of her
maiden fancy been as free to choose as she was.

So vanishes from the page one of the sweetest creations of Greek
fiction--the more charming to us, as coming nearest, perhaps, of all to
the modern type of feeling. The farewell to Nausicaa is briefly said;
and Ulysses, sitting by King Alcinous at the banquet, pays a high
compliment to the blind minstrel, and gives him a new theme for song.
Since he knows so well the story of the great Siege, let him now take
his lyre, and sing to them of the wondrous Horse. Demodocus obeys. He
sings how the Greeks, hopeless of taking Troy by force of arms, had
recourse at last to stratagem: how they constructed a huge framework in
the shape of a horse, ostensibly an offering to the gods, and then set
fire to their sea-camp, and sailed away--for home, to all
appearance--leaving an armed company hidden in the womb of the wooden
monster; how the Trojans, after much doubt, dragged it inside their
walls, and how, in the night-time, the Greeks issued from their strange
ambush, and spread fire and sword through the devoted city. And all
along Ulysses is the hero of the lay. He is the leader of the venturous
band who thus carried their lives in their hands into the midst of their
enemies: he it is who, “like unto Mars,” storms the house of Deiphobus,
who had taken Helen to wife after the death of his brother Paris, and
restores the Spartan princess to her rightful lord. Tears of emotion
again fill the listener’s eyes; and again the courteous king bids the
minstrel cease, when he sees that some chord of mournful remembrance is
struck in the heart of his guest. But he now implores him, as he has
good right to do, to tell them who he really is. Why does the Tale of
Troy so move him? The answer, replies the stranger, will be a long tale,
and sad to tell; but his very name, he proudly says, is a history--“I am
Ulysses, son of Laertes!”



The narrative, which Ulysses proceeds to relate to his host, takes back
his story to the departure of the Greek fleet from Troy. First, on his
homeward course, he and his comrades had landed on the coast of Thrace,
and laid waste the town of the Ciconians. Instead of putting to sea
again with their plunder, the crews stayed to feast on the captured
beeves and the red wine. “Wrapt in the morning mist,” large bodies of
the natives surprised them at this disadvantage, and they had to
re-embark with considerable loss. This was the beginning of their
troubles. They were rounding the southern point of Greece, when a storm
bore them out far to sea, and not until sunset on the tenth day did they
reach an unknown shore--the land of the Lotus-eaters--

      “Who, on the green earth couched beside the main,
    Seemed ever with sweet food their lips to entertain.”

To determine the geography of the place is as difficult as to ascertain
the natural history of the lotus, though critics have been very
confident in doing both.[34] The effect of the seductive food on the
companions of Ulysses is thus described:--

      “And whoso tasted of their flowery meat
      Cared not with tidings to return, but clave
      Fast to that tribe, for ever fain to eat,
    Reckless of home-return, the tender Lotus sweet.”

Those who ate of it had to be dragged back by main force to their
galleys, and bound fast with thongs, so loath were they to leave that
shore of peaceful rest and forgetfulness. In the words of our own poet,
who has founded one of the most imaginative of his poems on this
incident of Ulysses’ voyage, so briefly told by Homer--

   “Most weary seemed the sea, weary the oar,
    Weary the wandering fields of barren foam.
    Then some one said--‘We will return no more:’
    And all at once they sang--‘Our island-home
    Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam.’”[35]

It has been thought that here we have possibly the bread-fruit tree of
the South Sea Islands, with some hint of the effect produced by their
soft and enervating climate, and that the voyage of Ulysses anticipated
in some degree the discoveries of Anson and Cook. It is curious that, in
Cook’s case, the seductions of those islands gave him the same trouble
as they did Ulysses; for several of his crew thought, like the Greek
sailors, that they had found an earthly paradise for which they
determined to forget home and country, and had to be brought back to
their ship by force. But the lotus-land of the poet is an ideal shore,
to which some of us moderns may have travelled as well as Ulysses. Its
deepest recesses will have been reached by the Buddhist who attains his
coveted state of perfect beatitude, the “Nirvâna,” in which a man has
found out that all having and being, and more especially doing, are a
mistake. It is the _dolce far niente_ of the Italian; the region free
from all cares and responsibilities--“beyond the domain of
conscience”--which Charles Lamb, half in jest and half in earnest,
sighed for.

Bearing away from the shore of the Lotus-eaters, Ulysses and his crew
next reached the island where the Cyclops dwell--a gigantic tribe of
rude shepherds, monsters in form, having but one eye planted in the
centre of their foreheads, who know neither laws, nor arts, nor
commerce. Adventure and discovery have always a charm for Ulysses; and
it was with no other motive, as he pretty plainly confesses, that he
landed with his own ship’s crew to explore these unknown regions. The
present adventure had a horrible conclusion for some of his companions.
Alone, in a vast cave near the shore, dwelt the giant Polyphemus, a son
of Neptune the sea-god, and folded his flocks in its deep recesses. They
did not find the monster within: but the pails of brimming milk, and
huge piles of cheese, stood ranged in order round the walls of the
cavern. Nothing would satisfy Ulysses but to await the owner’s return.
At evening he came, driving his flocks before him; and, as was his wont,
began to busy himself in his dairy operations. By the red glow of the
firelight he soon discovered the intruders, as they crouched in a
corner. In vain they made appeal to his hospitality, reminding him that
strangers were under the special care of Jupiter. What care the Cyclops
race for the gods? So he seized two of the unhappy Greeks, dashed them
on the ground--“like puppies”--devoured them, blood, bones, and all,
after the manner of giants, and washed down his horrible supper with
huge bowls of milk. Two more furnished him with breakfast in the
morning. But the craft of Ulysses was more than a match for the savage.
He had carried with him on his dangerous expedition (having a kind of
presentiment that it would prove useful) a skin of wine of rare quality
and potency, and of this he gave Polyphemus to drink after his last
cannibal meal. Charmed with the delicious draught, the giant begged to
know his benefactor’s name. The answer of Ulysses is the oldest specimen
on record of the art of punning.

      “‘Hear then; my name is Noman. From of old
      My father, mother, these my comrades bold,
      Give me this title.’ So I spake, and he
      Answered at once with mind of ruthless mould:
      ‘This shall fit largess unto Noman be--
    Last, after all thy peers, I promise to eat thee.”

Then, overcome by the potent drink, the savage lay down to sleep.
Ulysses had prepared the thin end of a huge club of olive-wood, and
this, pointed and well hardened in the fire, he and his comrades thrust
into his single eye-ball, boring it deep in, “as the shipwright doth an
auger.” Roaring with pain, and now fairly sobered, Polyphemus awoke, and
shouted for help to his brother-Cyclops who dwelt in the neighbouring
valleys. They came; but to all their questions as to what was the
matter, or who had injured him, he only answered “_Noman!_”--and his
friends turned away in disgust. After groping vainly round the cave in
search of his tormentors, Polyphemus rolled the huge stone from the
mouth of his den, and let his sheep go out, feeling among them for his
captives, who would probably try thus to escape. But again the wit of
the Ithacan chief proved too subtle for his enemy. The great sheep had
been cunningly linked together three abreast, and every middle sheep
carried a Greek tied under his belly; Ulysses, after tying the last of
his companions, clinging fast to the wool of a huge ram, the king of the
flock. So did they all escape to rejoin their anxious comrades. But when
all had embarked, and rowed to a safe distance, then Ulysses stood high
upon his deck, and shouted a taunting defiance to his enemy. The answer
of Polyphemus was a huge rock hurled with all his might towards the
voice, which fell just short of the vessel. Again Ulysses shouted, and
bade him tell those who should hereafter ask him who did the deed, that
it was even Ulysses the Ithacan. The Cyclops groaned with rage and
grief--an ancient oracle had forewarned him of the name; but will the
great Ulysses please to return, that he may entertain such a hero
handsomely? He would have shown himself more simple than his enemy if he
had. Then the blind monster lifted his cry to his great father the
Sea-god, and implored his vengeance on his destroyer.

The one-eyed giant of Homer’s story became a very popular comic
character in classical fiction. The only specimen of the old Greek
satyric drama, as it was called--a peculiar kind of comedy, in which
satyrs were largely introduced--is a play by Euripides, ‘The Cyclops,’
in which the principal incident is the blinding of Polyphemus by
Ulysses. The monster rushes out of his cave, with his eye-socket burnt
and bleeding, and stretches his arms across the entrance to intercept
the escape of Ulysses, who creeps out between his legs. He roars out
with pain, and is taunted by the “Chorus,”--a party of satyrs whom he
has made his slaves, and who now rejoice in their deliverance.

“_Chorus._ Why make this bawling, Cyclops?

_Cyclops._                                 I am lost!

_Ch._ Thou’rt dirty, anyhow.

_Cyc._                       Yea, and wretched too!

_Ch._ What! hast got drunk, and fallen into the fire?

_Cyc._ Noman hath slain me!

_Ch._                       Then thou’rt wronged by no man.

_Cyc._ Noman hath blinded me!

_Ch._                          Then thou’rt not blind.

_Cyc._ Would ye were so!--

_Ch._                      Why, how could _no man_ blind thee?

_Cyc._ Ye mock me.--Where is Noman?

_Ch._                               Nowhere, Cyclops.

_Cyc._ O friends, if ye would know the truth, yon wretch
       Hath been my ruin--gave me drink, and drowned me!

_Ch._ Ay--wine is strong, we know, and hard to deal with.

The poet Theocritus, in one of his Idylls, gives us Polyphemus, before
his blindness, in love with the beautiful nymph Galatæa, who, having
another lover with two eyes in the young shepherd Acis, does not
encourage the addresses of the Cyclops. This is part of his

   “I know, sweet maiden, why thou art so coy;
    Shaggy and huge, a single eyebrow spans
    From ear to ear my forehead, whence one eye
    Gleams, and an o’er-broad nostril o’er my lip.
    Yet I--this monster--feed a thousand sheep,
    That yield me sweetest draughts at milking-tide.

           *       *       *       *       *

    But thou mislik’st my hair?--Well, oaken logs
    Are here, and embers yet a-glow with fire;
    Burn, if thou wilt, my heart out, and my eye--
    My lonely eye, wherein is my delight.”
            --Theocritus, Idyll xi. (Calverley’s transl.)

This love-story of the Cyclops is better known, perhaps, to English
readers, through Handel’s Pastoral, ‘Acis and Galatæa.’

The imprecation of Polyphemus was heard, and Ulysses was long to suffer
the penalty of his bold deed. Yet, but for the weakness of his comrades,
he might perhaps have escaped it. For, as they sailed on over unknown
seas, they won the friendship of the King of the Winds. He feasted them
a whole month on his brass-bound island; and he, too, like all the world
of gods and men, asked eagerly for the last news of the heroes of Troy.
So charmed was Æolus with his guest, that on his departure he presented
Ulysses with an ox-hide tied with a silver cord, in which all the winds
were safely confined, save only Zephyr, who was left loose to waft the
voyagers safely home. So for nine days and nights they ran straight for
Ithaca, Ulysses himself at the helm, for he would trust it to no other
hand. And now they had come in sight of the rocks of their beloved
island--so near that they could see the smoke go up from the herdsmen’s
camp-fires; when, overcome with long watching, the chief fell asleep
upon the deck. Then the greed and curiosity of his companions tempted
them to examine the ox-hide bag. It must be some rich treasure, surely,
thus carefully tied up and stowed away. They opened it; out rushed the
imprisoned blasts, and drove them back in miserable plight to the island
of Æolus,--much to that monarch’s astonishment. In vain did Ulysses tell
his unlucky story, and beg further help from the ruler of the storms;
Æolus would have nothing more to do with such an ill-starred wretch,
upon whom there rested so manifestly the curse of heaven, but drove him
and his companions out to sea again with ignominy.

A second time the voyagers fell into the hands of cannibals. They moored
their ships in the harbour of the Læstrygonians,--in the description of
which there has been lately traced a strong likeness to the bay of

                      “A rock-surrounded bay,
    Whence fronting headlands at the mouth outrun,
    Leaving a little narrow entrance-way,
    Wherethrough they drive the vessels one by one.”

These Læstrygonians were a giant race, like the Cyclops, and of an
equally barbarous character. One of the exploring party, whom Ulysses
sent to reconnoitre, they seized and devoured on the spot, and then
hurled rocks down on the ships as they lay moored in the land-locked
harbour, and speared the unfortunate crews, “like fish,” as they swam
from the wrecks. Ulysses only had moored outside, and escaped with his
single ship by cutting his cable.

Pursuing his sad voyage, he had reached the island of Ææa, where dwelt
the enchantress Circe “of the bright hair,” daughter of the Sun. Here he
divided his small remaining force into two bands, one of which, under
his lieutenant, Eurylochus, explored the interior of the island, while
Ulysses and the rest kept guard by their ship. Hidden deep in the woods,
they came upon the palace of Circe.

      “Wolves of the mountain all around the way,
      And lions, softened by the spells divine,
      As each her philters had partaken, lay.
      These cluster round the men’s advancing line
      Fawning like dogs, who, when their lord doth dine,
      Wait till he issues from the banquet-hall,
      And for the choice gifts which his hands assign
      Fawn, for he ne’er forgets them--so these all
    Fawn on our friends, whom much the unwonted sights appal.

      “Soon at her vestibule they pause, and hear
      A voice of singing from a lovely place,
      Where Circe weaves her great web year by year,
      So shining, slender, and instinct with grace
      As weave the daughters of immortal race.”

The abode of Circe presents quite a different picture from the grotto of
Calypso.[36] There, all the beauties were those of nature in her
untouched luxuriance; here we have all the splendour of an Oriental
interior, enriched with elaborate art--wide halls of polished marble,
silver-studded couches, and vessels of gold.

Throwing wide the shining doors, the enchantress gaily bade them enter;
and all, save only the more prudent Eurylochus, accepted the invitation.
They drank of her drugged cup; then she struck them with her wand, and
lo! they became swine in form, yet retaining their human senses.
Eurylochus, after long watching in vain for the reappearance of his
comrades, returned alone with his strange tale to his chief, who at once
set forth to the rescue. On his way through the forest, he was suddenly
accosted by a fair youth, bearing a wand of gold--none other than the
god Mercury--who gave him a root of wondrous virtue--

    “Black, with a milk-white flower, in heavenly tongue
     Called Moly.”[37]

Armed with this, he can defy all Circe’s enchantments. She mixed for him
the same draught, struck him with her wand, and bid him “go herd with
his companions;” but potion and spell had lost their power. Circe had
found her master, and knew it could be no other than “the many-wiled
Ulysses,” of whose visit she had been forewarned. Not even the magic
virtues of the herb Moly, however, enable him to resist her proffered
love; and Ulysses, by his own confession, forgot Penelope in the halls
of Circe, as afterwards in the island of Calypso. It may be offered as
his apology, that it was absolutely necessary for him to make himself
agreeable to his hostess, in order to obtain from her (as he does at
once) the deliverance of his companions from her toils; but this does
not explain his sending for the rest of his crew from the ship, and
spending a whole year in her society. The ingenious critics who insist
on shaping a moral allegory out of the story of the Odyssey confess to
having found a stumbling-block in this point of the narrative. It sounds
very plausible to say that in Circe is personified sensual pleasure;
that those who partake of her cup, and are turned into swine, are those
who brutalise themselves by such indulgences; that the herb Moly--black
at the root, but white and beautiful in the blossom--symbolises
“instruction” or “temperance,” by which the temptations of sense are to
be resisted. But Ulysses’ victory over the enchantress, and his
subsequent relations to her, fall in but awkwardly with any moral of any
kind. To say that Ulysses knows how to indulge his appetites with
moderation, and therefore escapes the penalties of excess--that he is
the master of Pleasure, while his companions become its slaves--is to
make the parable teach a very questionable form of morality indeed,
since it represents self-indulgence as praiseworthy, if we can only
manage to escape the consequences.

But it was not until Ulysses had been reminded by his companions that he
was forgetting his fatherland, that he besought his fair entertainer to
let him go. Reluctantly she consented, bound by her oath--warning him,
as they parted, that toil and peril lay before him, and that if he would
learn his future fate, he must visit the Regions of the Dead, and there
consult the shade of the great prophet Tiresias.

Ulysses goes on to describe to the king of the Phæacians his voyage on
from the island of Ææa, under the favouring gales which Circe sends

     “All the day long the silvery foam we clave,
      Wind in the well-stretched canvas following free,
      Till the sun stooped beneath the western wave,
      And darkness veiled the spaces of the sea.
      Then to the limitary land came we
      Of the sea-river, streaming deep, where dwell,
      Shrouded in mist and gloom continually,
      That people, from sweet light secluded well,
    The dark Cimmerian tribe, who skirt the realms of hell.”

Who these Cimmerians were is not easily discoverable. Their name was
held by the Greeks a synonym for all that was dark and barbarous in the
mists of antiquity. It appears, nevertheless, in the earlier historians
as the appellation of a real people; some rash ethnologists, tempted
chiefly by the similarity of name, have tried to identify them with the
Cymry--the early settlers of Wales. The Welsh are notoriously proud of
their ancient origin, but it is doubtful how far they would accept the
poet’s description of their ancestral darkness, or the neighbourhood to
which he here assigns them.



The eleventh book of the poem, in which Ulysses goes down to the Shades
to consult the Dead, has been considered by some good authorities as a
later interpolation into the tale. The solemn grandeur of the whole
episode is remarked as out of character with the light and easy
narrative into which it has been woven. Be this as it may, the passage
has a strong interest in itself. It is the solitary glimpse which we
have of the poet’s creed as to the state of disembodied spirits. It is
at least not in contradiction to the views which are disclosed--scantily
enough--by the author of the Iliad, though here we find them
considerably more developed. It is a gloomy picture at the best; and we
almost cease to wonder at the shrinking from death which is so often
displayed by the Homeric heroes, when we find their future state
represented as something almost worse, to an active mind, than

    “Never the Sun that giveth light to men
     Looks down upon them with his golden eye,
     Or when he climbs the starry arch, or when
     Slope toward the earth he wheels adown the sky;
     But sad night weighs upon them wearily.”

They reached the spot, says Ulysses, described to him at parting by
Circe, where the dark rivers Acheron and Cocytus mix at the entrance
into Hades. The incantations which she had carefully enjoined were duly
made; a black ram and ewe were offered to the powers of darkness, and
their blood poured into the trench which he had dug--“a cubit every

     “Forthwith from Erebus a phantom crowd
      Loomed forth, the shadowy people of the dead,--
      Old men, with load of earthly anguish bowed,
      Brides in their bloom cut off, and youths unwed,
      Virgins whose tender eyelids then first shed
      True sorrow, men with gory arms renowned,
      Pierced by the sharp sword on the death-plain red.
      All these flock darkling with a hideous sound,
    Lured by the scent of blood, the open trench around.”

But he had been charged by Circe not to allow the ghastly crew to slake
their thirst, until he had evoked the shade of Tiresias, the blind
prophet of Thebes, who retained his art and his honours even in these
regions of the dead. So he kept them off with his sword,--not suffering
even the phantom of his dead mother Anticleia, who came among the rest,
to taste, until the great prophet appeared, leaning on his golden staff.

                          “To the bloody brink
    He stooped, and with his shadowy lips made shrink
    The sacrificial pool that darkling lay
    Beneath him.”

From the lips of Tiresias Ulysses has learnt the future which awaits
him. On the coast of Sicily he should find pasturing the herds and
flocks of the Sun: if he and his comrades left them uninjured, they
should soon see again their native Ithaca; if they laid sacrilegious
hands on them, he alone should escape, and reach home after long

The shade of his mother has been sitting meanwhile in gloomy silence,
eyeing the coveted blood. Not until she had drank of it might she open
her lips to speak, or have power to recognise her son. To his eager
inquiries as to her own fate and that of his father Laertes she made
answer that she herself had died of grief, and that the old man was
wearing out a joyless life in bitter anxiety.

    “Therewith she ended, and a deep unrest
     Urged me to clasp the spirit of the dead,
     And fold a phantom to my yearning breast.
     Thrice I essayed, with eager hands out-spread
     Thrice like a shadow or a dream she fled,
     And my hands closed on unsubstantial air.”

As they talked together, there swept forth out of the gloom a crowd of
female shapes--the mothers of the mighty men of old. There came Tyro,
beloved by the sea-god Neptune, from whom sprang Neleus, father of
Nestor: next followed Antiope, who bore to Jupiter Amphion and Zethus,
who built the seven-gated Thebes; Iphimedeia, mother of the giants Otus
and Ephialtes, who strove to take heaven itself by storm; Alcmena, Leda,
Ariadne, and a crowd of the heroines of Greek romance, who had found the
loves of the gods more or less disastrous in their earthly lot, and who
were reaping, in the gloomy immortality which the poet assigns them,
such consolation as they might from knowing themselves the mothers of

Here Ulysses would have ended his tale, and for a while a charmed
silence falls upon his Phæacian audience. But the king would hear more.
Did he see, in the realms of the dead, no one of those renowned
champions who had fought with him at Troy?

Yes--if his host cares to listen, Ulysses can tell him a sad tale of
some of his old comrades. He saw the great Agamemnon there, and heard
from his lips the treachery of the adulterous Clytemnestra. Antilochus
and Patroclus, too, he had recognised, and Ajax; but the latter,
retaining in the world below the animosities of earthly life, had stood
far aloof, and sullenly refused to speak a word in answer to his
successful rival. The only one who reveals anything of the secrets of
his prison-house is Achilles. He asks of his adventurous visitor what
has prompted him to risk this intrusion into the gloomy dwelling, where
the dead live indeed, but without thought or purpose, mere shadows of
what they were. And when Ulysses attempts to comfort him with the
thought of the deathless glory which surrounds his name, the
hopelessness of his answer sets forth, in the darkest colours, that
gloomy view of human destiny which breaks out from time to time in the
creed of the poet, and which belongs to the character of his favourite
hero. Whether the Odyssey did or did not come from the same hand as the
Iliad, at least Achilles is the same in both. In the former poem we
find him indulging in all the mournful irony of the Hebrew Preacher, in
his perplexed thought before he was led to “the conclusion of the whole
matter”--complaining, like him, that “one event happeneth to all,” and
that “the wise man dieth as the fool;” that he, the bravest and most
beautiful of living heroes, would have to meet the same lot as his
victim Lycaon; so here, in the Odyssey, he adopts the text that “a
living dog is better than a dead lion:”--

   “Rather would I, in the sun’s warmth divine,
    Serve some poor churl who drags his days in grief,
    Than the whole lordship of the dead were mine.”

Such was the immortality to which Paganism condemned even its best and

One touching inquiry both Agamemnon and Achilles put to their visitor
from the upper world. How fare their sons? Where is Orestes?--asks the
great king. Did Neoptolemus, in the later days of the war, prove himself
worthy of his father?--inquires Achilles. When he has been assured of
this, the shade of the mighty hero, well satisfied,

    “Passed striding through the fields of asphodel.”

There is no distinct principle of reward or punishment discernible in
the regions of the dead, as seen by Ulysses. Indeed, anything like
happiness in this shadowy future seems incompatible with the feelings
put into the mouth of Achilles. Orion, the mighty hunter, appears to
enjoy something like the Red Indian’s paradise--pursuing, in those
shadowy fields, the phantoms of the wild creatures which he slew on
earth; but, with this exception, there is no hint of pleasurable
interest or occupation for the mighty dead. Punishments there are for
notorious offenders against the majesty of the gods:--

     “There also Tantalus in anguish stood,
      Plunged in the stream of a translucent lake;
      And to his chin welled ever the cold flood.
      But when he rushed, in fierce desire to break
      His torment, not one drop could he partake.
      For as the old man stooping seems to meet
      That water with his fiery lips, and slake
      The frenzy of wild thirst, around his feet,
    Leaving the dark earth dry, the shuddering waves retreat.

     “Also the thick-leaved arches overhead
      Fruit of all savour in profusion flung,
      And in his clasp rich clusters seemed to shed.
      There citrons waved, with shining fruitage hung,
      Pears and pomegranates, olive ever young,
      And the sweet-mellowing fig: but whensoe’er
      The old man, fain to cool his burning tongue,
      Clutched with his fingers at the branches fair,
    Came a strong wind and whirled them skyward through the air.”

     “And I saw Sisyphus in travail strong
      Shove with both hands a mighty sphere of stone:
      With feet and sinewy wrists he, labouring long,
      Just pushed the vast globe up, with many a groan;
      But when he thought the huge mass to have thrown
      Clean o’er the summit, the enormous weight
      Back to the nether plain rolled tumbling down.
      He, straining, the great toil resumed, while sweat
    Bathed each laborious limb, and his brow smoked with heat.”

Both these are examples of punishment inflicted in the Shades below, not
for an evil life, but for personal offences against the sovereign of the
gods. Tantalus had been admitted as a guest to the banquet of the
immortals, and had stolen their nectar and ambrosia to give to his
fellow-men. Sisyphus had been, it is true, a notorious robber on earth,
but the penalty assigned him was for the higher crime of betraying an
amour of Jupiter’s which had come to his knowledge. The stone of
Sisyphus has been commonly taken as an illustration of labour spent in
vain; but a modern English poet has found in it a beautiful illustration
of the indestructibility of hope. In one of Lord Lytton’s ‘Tales of
Miletus,’ when Orpheus visits the Shades in search of his lost wife--

   “He heard, tho’ in the midst of Erebus,
    Song sweet as his Muse-mother made his own;
    It broke forth from a solitary ghost,
            Who, up a vaporous hill,

    “Heaved a huge stone that came rebounding back,
    And still the ghost upheaved it and still sang.
    In the brief pause from toil while towards the height
            Reluctant rolled the stone,

    “The Thracian asked in wonder, ‘Who art thou,
    Voiced like Heaven’s lark amidst the night of Hell?’
    ‘My name on earth was Sisyphus,’ replied
            The phantom. ‘In the Shades

    “I keep mine earthly wit; I have duped the Three.[38]
    They gave me work for torture; work is joy.
    Slaves work in chains, and to the clank they sing.’
            Said Orpheus, ‘Slaves still hope!’

    “‘And could I strain to heave up the huge stone
    Did I not hope that it would reach the height?
    There penance ends, and dawn Elysian fields.’
            ‘But if it never reach?’

    “The Thracian sighed, as looming through the mist
    The stone came whirling back. ‘Fool,’ said the ghost,
    ‘Then mine, at worst, is everlasting hope.’
            Again uprose the stone.”

Ulysses confesses that he did not see all he might have seen; for, when
the pale ghosts in their ten thousands crowded round him with wild
cries, the hero lost courage, fled back to his ship, and bade his
comrades loose their cables, and put out at once to sea.

They passed the island where the twin sisters, the Sirens, lay couched
in flowers, luring all passing mariners to their destruction by the
fascination of their song. Forewarned by Circe, the chief had stopped
the ears of all his crew with melted wax, and had made them bind him to
the mast, giving them strict charge on no account to release him,
however he might entreat or threaten--for he himself, true to his
passion for adventure, would fain listen to these dangerous
enchantresses. So, as they drifted close along the shore, the Sirens
lifted their voices and sang as follows--every word of Mr Worsley’s
translation is Homer’s, except the single phrase in brackets:--

      “Hither, Odysseus, great Achaian name,
      Turn thy swift keel, and listen to our lay;
      Since never pilgrim to these regions came
      In black ship [on the azure waves astray],
      But heard our sweet voice ere he sailed away,
      And in his joy passed on, with ampler mind.
      We know what labours were in ancient day
      Wrought in wide Troia, as the gods assigned;
    We know from land to land all toils of all mankind.”

But the deaf crew rowed on, and not until the sound of the strain had
died away in the distance did they unbind their captain, in spite of his
angry protests. They pass the strait that divides Sicily from
Italy, where on either hand lurked the monsters Scylla and
Charybdis--impersonations, it may be, of rocks and whirlpools--but which
they escaped, with the loss of six out of the crew, by help of Circe’s
warnings and directions. But that our own Spenser’s ‘Faery Queen’ is
perhaps even less known to the majority of English readers than the
Odyssey of Homer (by grace of popular translations), it might be
needless to remind them how the whole of Sir Guyon’s voyage on the “Idle
Lake” is nothing more or less than a reproduction of this portion of
Ulysses’ adventures.[39] The five mermaidens, who entrap unwary
travellers with their melody, address the knight as he floats by in a
strain which is the echo of the Sirens’--

     “O thou fayre son of gentle Fäery,
      That art in mightie arms most magnifyde
      Above all knights that ever batteill tryde,
      O turn thy rudder hitherwarde awhile:
      Here may thy storme-bett vessell safely ryde:
      This is the port of rest from troublous toyle,
    The worldes sweet Inn from pain and wearisome turmoyle.”

The enchantress Acrasia, with her transformed lovers--the “seeming
beasts who are men in deed”--is but a copy from Circe; while the “Gulf
of Greediness” yawning on one side of the Lake--

    “That deep engorgeth all this worldës prey”--

and on the other side the “Rock of Vile Reproach,” whose fatal magnetic
power draws in all who try to shun the whirlpool opposite, are the
Scylla and Charybdis of Homer.

At length the voyagers reached the shore where the oxen of the Sun were
pastured. In vain did Ulysses, remembering the prophecy of Tiresias, bid
them steer on and leave the land unvisited. Eurylochus, his lieutenant,
broke out at last into something like mutiny. He had some show of
reason, when he complained of his chief, almost in the words of Sir
Dinadan to Sir Tristram in the ‘Morte d’Arthur,’ that he was tired of
such mad company, and would no longer follow a man to whose iron frame
the toils and dangers which wore out ordinary mortals were a mere
disport. Seeing that the rest backed Eurylochus in his proposal to land
and rest, Ulysses was fain to give way, after exacting a vow that at
least none of them should lay sacrilegious hands upon the sacred herds,
since they had store of corn and wine, the parting gifts of Circe, on
board their vessel. But stress of weather detained them in the anchorage
a whole month, until corn and wine were exhausted, and they had to snare
birds and catch fish--a kind of food which a Greek seaman especially
despised--to keep them from starving. Then at last, while their chief
had withdrawn to a quiet spot, and fallen asleep wearied with long
prayer, Eurylochus persuaded the rest to break their vow, and slay the
choicest of the oxen. Terrible prodigies followed the unhallowed meal;
the skins of the slain animals moved and crawled after their slayers,
and the meat, while roasting on the spits, uttered fearful cries and
groans. One of the old allegorical interpreters has drawn from this
incident a moral which, however fanciful, is not without a certain
beauty and appositeness of illustration--the sins of the wicked, he
says, dog their steps, and cry aloud against them. When next they put to
sea, Jupiter raised winds and waves to punish them; for the Sun had
threatened that, if such insult went unavenged, he would light the
heavens no more, but go down and shine in Hades. Their ship was riven by
a thunderbolt, and Ulysses alone, sole survivor of all his crew, after
once more narrowly escaping the whirlpool of Charybdis, after floating
nine days upon the broken mast, was cast ashore on the island of
Calypso, and there detained until his release by the intercession of
Minerva, as has been told, which had ended in this second shipwreck on
the coast of his present entertainers.



The hero, at his departure, is loaded with rich presents of honour from
his Phæacian hosts. The twelve princes of the kingdom each contribute
their offering--gold and changes of raiment; the king adds a gold
drinking-cup of his own, and Queen Arete a mantle and tunic. The careful
queen also supplies him with a magnificent chest, in which she packs his
treasures with her own royal hands; and Ulysses secures the whole with a
“seaman’s knot,” whose complications will defy the uninitiated--a secret
which he has learnt from Circe, and which he seems to have handed down
to modern sailors. Thus equipped, he is sent on board one of the magic
galleys, to be conveyed home to his native Ithaca. They embark in the
evening, and early the next morning the crew--apparently in order to
give the adventure the half-ludicrous turn which seems inseparable from
the Phæacians--land their passenger, still sound asleep, and leave him
on shore under an olive-tree, with his store of presents heaped beside
him. When he awakes, he fails to recognise his native island, for
Minerva has spread a mist over it. The goddess herself presently
accosts him, in the form of a shepherd, and listens patiently to a story
which the hero invents, with his usual readiness, to account for his
presence on the island. Then she discovers herself, with a somewhat
ironical compliment on the inveterate craftiness which has led him to
attempt to impose on the wisest of the immortals. She tells him news of
his wife and of his son, and promises him her help against the accursed
suitors. She lays her golden wand upon him, and lo! the majestic
presence which had touched the maiden fancy of Nausicaa, and won him
favour in the eyes of the Phæacian court (to say nothing of Circe and
Calypso) has at once given place to the decrepitude of age. The ruddy
cheeks grow wrinkled, the bright eyes are dimmed, the flowing locks
turned grey, and Ulysses is, to all appearance, an aged beggar, clad in
squalid rags. Thus disguised, so that none shall recognise him till his
hour comes, he seeks shelter, by direction of the goddess, with his own
swineherd Eumæus.

Eumæus is one of the most characteristic personages in the poem, and has
given the most trouble to the poet’s various critics. He occupies a sort
of forester’s lodge in the woods, where the vast herds of swine
belonging to the absent king are fed by day, and carefully lodged at
night. Though he is but a keeper of swine, Homer applies to him
continually the epithets “godlike,” and “chief of men,” which he
commonly uses only of territorial lords such as Ulysses and Menelaus. He
not only has subordinates in his employ, but an attendant slave, whom he
has purchased with his own money; and he so far exercises an
independent right of property in the animals which are under his care as
to kill and dress them--two at a time, such is the lavish hospitality of
the age--to feast the stranger-guest who has now come to him. It may be
straining a point to see in him, as one of the most genial of Homeric
critics does, “a genuine country gentleman of the age of Homer;” but his
position, so far as it is possible to compare it with anything at all in
modern social life, appears something like that of the agricultural
steward of a large landed proprietor, with whom his relations, though
strictly subordinate, are of a highly confidential and friendly
character. The charge of the swine would be a much more important office
in an age when, as is plain from many passages both in the Iliad and the
Odyssey, the flesh of those animals held a place of honour at the
banquets of chiefs and kings: and as we find that even the sons of a
royal household did not think the keeping of sheep beneath their
dignity, so the care of other animals would by no means imply a menial
position. Eumæus, indeed, turns out to be himself of princely
birth--stolen in his childhood by a treacherous nurse from the island
where his father was king, sold by Phœnician merchants to Laertes in
Ithaca, and brought up in his household almost as a son, and regarding
the lost Ulysses “as an elder brother.” Very loyal is he to the house of
his benefactors; prefacing his meal by a prayer that his lord may yet
return in safety, and grieving specially that the lady Penelope, in her
present troubles, has seldom the opportunity to see or speak with him in
the kindly intercourse of old. The cordial and simple relations between
master and servant--even though the servant was commonly nothing more or
less than a purchased slave--are a striking feature, very pleasant to
dwell upon, in these Homeric poems. They remind us, as Homer does so
often, of similar pictures in the sacred narrative of the gentler
affections which redeemed so often the curse of slavery--of the little
captive Israelite maiden whose concern for her Syrian master led to his
cure, and of the faithful steward, “born in the house” of Abraham, whom
the childless patriarch once thought to make his heir.

Eumæus entertains the stranger right hospitably--warning him, at the
same time, not to pretend, as others have often done in the hope of
reward, to bring tidings of the lost Ulysses. His guest’s own story he
will be glad to hear. The hero is always ready at narrative, whether the
tale is to be fact or fiction. At present he chooses fiction; he gives
his listener an imaginary history of his past life, as a Cretan chief
who had seen much good service in many lands, especially under King
Idomeneus at Troy, but who had met with a succession of disasters since.
Of course he had seen and known Ulysses; had heard of him since the fall
of Troy; and he offers his host a wager that he will yet return. Eumæus
will hear nothing of such flattering hopes; by this time his men are
coming in from the field, and when the swine are safely housed, supper
and bedtime follow. But the night is bitter cold, and Ulysses has
nothing but his beggar’s rags. He indirectly begs a covering from his
host by an ingenious story, very characteristic of the style of the
lighter episodes of the Odyssey. He relates an adventure of his own
while lying in ambush, one winter night, under the walls of Troy. Dr
Maginn’s translation of this passage, in the old English ballad style,
though somewhat free, preserves fairly the spirit and humour of the

    “Oh! were I as young and as fresh and as strong
     As when under Troy, brother soldiers among,
     In ambush as captains were chosen to lie
     Odysseus and King Menelaus and I!

    “They called me as third, and I came at the word,
     And reached the high walls that the citadel gird;
     When under the town we in armour lay down
     By a brake in the marshes with weeds overgrown.
     The night came on sharp, bleak the north wind did blow,
     And frostily cold fell a thick shower of snow.

    “Soon with icicles hoar every shield was frozen o’er;
     But they who their cloaks and their body-clothes wore
     The night lightly passed, secure from the blast,
     Asleep with their shields o’er their broad shoulders cast;
     But I, like a fool, had my cloak left behind,
     Not expecting to shake in so piercing a wind.

    “My buckler and zone--nothing more--had I on;
     But when the third part of the night-watch was gone,
     And the stars left the sky, with my elbow then I
     Touched Odysseus, and spoke to him, lying close by--
     Noble son of Laertes, Odysseus the wise,
     I fear that alive I shall never arise.

    “‘In this night so severe but one doublet I wear--
     Deceived by a god--and my cloak is not here,
     And no way I see from destruction to flee.’
     But soon to relieve me a project had he.
     In combat or council still prompt was his head,
     And into my ear thus low whisp’ring he said:--

    “‘Let none of the band this your need understand;
     Keep silent.’ Then, resting his head on his hand,--
     ‘Friends and comrades of mine,’ he exclaimed, ‘as a sign,
     While I slept has come o’er me a dream all divine.
     It has warned me how far from the vessels we lie,
     And that some one should go for fresh force to apply;

    “‘And his footsteps should lead, disclosing our need,
     To King Agamemnon, our chieftain, with speed.’
     Thoas rose as he spoke, flung off his red cloak,
     And running, his way with the message he took;
     While, wrapt in his garment, I pleasantly lay
     Till the rise of the golden-throned queen of the day.

    “‘If I now were as young, and as fresh, and as strong,
     Perhaps here in the stables you swine-herds among
     Some a mantle would lend, as the act of a friend,
     Or from the respect that on worth should attend;
     But small is the honour, I find, that is paid
     To one who, like me, is so meanly arrayed.’”
             --(Maginn’s ‘Homeric Ballads.’)

The self-laudation which the hero, speaking in another person, takes the
opportunity to introduce, is in perfect keeping with his character

The hint so broadly given is quite successful, and Eumæus provides his
guest with some warm coverings and a place near the fire; but he himself
will not sleep so far from his charge. Wrapped in a mighty wind-proof
cloak, he takes up his quarters for the night under the shelter of a
rock, hard by the lair of his swine.



The story returns to Telemachus, whom we left at Sparta. His stay at
that court has been prolonged a whole month, for which the excuse, we
must suppose, is to be found in the hospitalities of Menelaus and the
fascinations of Helen. No wonder that his guardian goddess admonishes
him in a dream that, under his present circumstances, such delays are
dangerous. Penelope has a hard time of it in his absence, even her
father pressing her to marry some one of her suitors. Nay, Minerva more
than hints--though we beg our readers not to accept such an insinuation
against Penelope, even on the authority of a goddess--that Eurymachus,
one of the richest of the rivals, is beginning to find favour in her
eyes. Telemachus is roused once more to action: awakening his young
friend Pisistratus, he proposes that they should set out on their return
at once--before the day breaks. The son of the old “Horse-tamer”
sensibly reminds him that driving in the dark is very undesirable, and
it is agreed to wait for the morning. Menelaus, with genuine courtesy,
refrains from any attempt to detain his guests longer than seems
agreeable to themselves. A portion of his speech, as rendered by Pope,
has passed into a popular maxim as to the true limits of hospitality,
and has been quoted, no doubt, by many, with very little idea that they
were indebted to Homer for the precept--

   “True friendship’s laws are by this rule exprest--
    Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest.”

Another maxim of the hospitable Spartan has long been adopted by
Englishmen--that all wise men, who have a long day’s journey before
them, should lay in a substantial breakfast. This the travellers do, and
then prepare to mount their chariot; Telemachus bearing with him, as the
parting gift of his royal host, a bowl of silver wondrously chased, “the
work of Vulcan”--too fair to come from any mortal hand--which Menelaus
had himself received from the King of Sidon; while Helen adds an
embroidered robe “that glistened like a star,” one of many which she has
woven with her own hands, which she begs him to keep to adorn his bride
on her marriage-day. Even as they part, lo! there is an omen in the
sky--an eagle bearing off a white goose in her talons. Who shall expound
it? Menelaus, who is appealed to, is no soothsayer. Helen alone can
unlock the riddle:--

   “Just as this eagle came from far away,
    Reared in the bleak rock, nursling of the hill,
    And in the stormy ravin of his wild will
    Seized on the white goose, delicately bred,--
    So brave Ulysses, after countless ill,
    Comes from afar off, dealing vengeance dread.”

Telemachus blesses her for the happy interpretation, and promises that,
should the word come true, he will worship the fair prophetess in Ithaca
as nothing less than a divinity. Whether or no he made good his vow the
poet does not tell us. Worse mortals have been canonised both in ancient
and modern calendars. And whether Helen was honoured thus in Ithaca or
not, she certainly was at Sparta, where we are told that she displayed
her new powers as a divinity once at least in a very appropriate
manner--transforming a child of remarkable ugliness, at the prayer of
its nurse, into a no less remarkable beauty.

The young men make their first evening halt at Pheræ, as before, and
reach Nestor’s court at Pylos next day. Telemachus insists on driving
straight to the bay where his patient crew still await him with the
galley--for he knows old Nestor will try to detain him, out of kindness,
if he once set foot again in the palace--and instantly on his arrival
they hoist sail for home. They round the peninsula in the night, and
with the morning’s dawn they sight the spiry peaks of Ithaca. The crew
moor the vessel in a sheltered bay, while Telemachus--to escape the
ambuscade which he knows to have been laid for him--makes straight for
the swineherd’s lodge, instead of entering the town. As he draws near
the threshold, the watch-dogs know his step, and run out to greet him;
Eumæus himself, in his delight at the meeting, drops from his hands the
bowl of wine which he was carefully mixing as a morning draught for his
disguised guest, and falls on his young lord’s neck, kissing him, and
weeping tears of joy.

      “Thou, O Telemachus, my life, my light,
      Returnest; yet my soul did often say
      That never, never more should I have sight
      Of thy sweet face, since thou didst sail away.
      Enter, dear child, and let my heart allay
      Its yearnings; newly art thou come from far:
      Thou comest all too seldom--fain to stay
      In the thronged city, where the suitors are,
    Silently looking on while foes thy substance mar.”

Ulysses preserves his disguise, and rises from his seat to offer it to
the young chief. But Telemachus, like all Homer’s heroes, is
emphatically a gentleman; and he will not take an old man’s place,
though that man be but a poor wayfarer clad in rags. When he has broken
his fast at his retainer’s table, he would know from him who the
stranger is. Eumæus repeats the fictitious history which he has heard
from Ulysses, and Telemachus promises the shipwrecked wanderer relief
and protection. He sends Eumæus to announce his own safe return to
Penelope; and when the father and son are left alone, suddenly Minerva
appears--visible only to Ulysses and to the dogs, who cower and whine at
the supernatural presence--and bids him discover himself to his son. The
beggar’s rags fall off, a royal robe takes their place, and he resumes
all the majesty of presence which he had worn before. But Telemachus
does not recognise the father whom he has never known; the sudden
transformation rather suggests to him some heavenly visitant. He was but
an infant when Ulysses went to Troy; and even when his father assures
him of his identity, he will not believe. There is a quiet sadness, but
no reproach, in the hero’s reply:--

   “Other Odysseus cometh none save me.
    Behold me as I am! By earth and sea
    Scourged with affliction, in the twentieth year,
    Safe to mine own land at the last I flee.”

It is long before either, in their first emotion, can find words to tell
their story. Ulysses takes his son fully into his counsels, and charges
him to keep the news of his return as yet a secret even from his mother,
until they two shall discover who among the household can be trusted to
aid them in the extermination of the intruders and their powerful
retinue. He knows that his day of vengeance is come at last, and nothing
less than this will satisfy him. Telemachus has some timorous
misgivings, according to his nature--What are they two against so many?
But Ulysses knows that the gods are on his side--Minerva and the Father
of the gods himself; or shall we say with the allegorists, in this case,
the Counsels of Heaven and the Justice of Heaven? There is a grand irony
in the question which he puts to his son--“Thinkest thou these allies
will suffice, or shall we seek for other helpers?”



Great is the consternation amongst the riotous crew in the palace, when
they find that Telemachus has escaped their toils, and has returned; and
great the joy of Penelope when she hears this good news from Eumæus,
which yet she hardly believes, until it is confirmed by a visit from her
son in person. The suitors receive him with feigned courtesy, though
some among them have already determined on his assassination. The
swineherd follows to the palace, bringing with him, by command of
Telemachus, the seeming beggar--for Ulysses has undergone a second
transformation, and is once more an aged man in mean apparel. As a poor
wanderer, dependent on public charity, he is sure to find that ready
admittance into the royal precincts which is so necessary for carrying
out his plans of vengeance, without raising the suspicions of the
present occupants. On the way they are met by Melanthius the goatherd,
whose character stands in marked contrast to that of Eumæus. He is
utterly faithless to his absent master’s interests, and has become the
ready instrument of his enemies. With mocking insolence he jeers at
Eumæus and his humble acquaintance, and even goes so far as to spurn the
latter with his foot. Ulysses fully justifies his character for patience
and endurance; though for a moment he does debate in his heart the
alternative, whether he should break the skull of the scoffer with his
club, or lift him from his feet and dash his brains out on the ground.
As he draws near the gates of his own palace he espies another old
retainer, of a different type, belonging to a race noted in all lands
and ages for its fidelity. There lies on the dunghill, dying of old age,
disease, and neglect, his dog Argus--the companion of many a long chase
in happier days. The dog has all Eumæus’s loyalty, and more than his
discernment. His instinct at once detects his old master, even through
the disguise lent by the goddess of wisdom. Before he sees him, he knows
his voice and step, and raises his ears--

   “And when he marked Odysseus in the way,
    And could no longer to his lord come near,
    Fawned with his tail, and drooped in feeble play
    His ears. Odysseus turning wiped a tear.”

Eustathius (who made none the worse archbishop because he was a thorough
lover of Homer) has remarked, somewhat pertinently, that the fate of his
dog draws from the imperturbable Ulysses the tears which he never sheds
for any thought of Penelope. But such lesser pathetic incidents have
often, in actual life, a stronger emotional effect than is produced by
the deeper affections.[40] But he masters his emotion, for this is no
time to betray himself, and follows Eumæus through the entrance-doors.
It is poor Argus’s last effort, and the old hound turns and dies--

    “Just having seen Odysseus in the twentieth year.”

The story is told by the Greek poet with somewhat more prolixity of
detail than suits our modern notions of the pathetic, but the pathos of
the incident itself is of the simplest and purest kind.

In beggar’s guise Ulysses enters his own hall, and makes his rounds of
the party who sit there at table, soliciting some contribution of broken
meat to his wallet. None is so hard of heart as to refuse, except
Antinous. In vain does Ulysses compliment him on his princely beauty,
and remind him of the uncertainty of fortune, as evidenced by his own
present case:--

      “Once to me also sorrow came not near,
      And I had riches and a noble name,
    And to the wandering poor still gave, whoever came.”

      “Legions of slaves and many thousand things
      I held, which God doth on the great bestow--
      All that the ownership of large wealth brings.
      But Zeus the Thunderer, for he willed it so,
      Emptied my power, and sent a wave of woe.”

Antinous haughtily bids him stand off, and when Ulysses expresses his
wonder that in so fair a body should dwell so mean a spirit, hurls a
stool at him. The blow does not shake the strong frame of Ulysses, who
moves to the doorway, lays down his wallet, and lifts his voice in
solemn imprecation to the Powers on high who protect the stranger and
the poor:--

      “Hear me, ye suitors of the queen divine!
      Men grieve not for the wounds they take in fight,
      Defending their own wealth, white sheep or kine;
      But me (bear witness!) doth Antinous smite
      Only because I suffer hunger’s bite,
      Fount to mankind of evils evermore.
      Now may Antinous, ere his nuptial night,
      If there be gods and furies of the poor,
    Die unavenged, unwept, upon the palace-floor.”

Even some amongst the young man’s companions are horrified by this
reckless violation of the recognised laws of charity and hospitality.
One of them speaks out in strong rebuke:--

      “Not to thine honour hast thou now let fall,
      Antinous, on the wandering poor this blow.
      Haply a god from heaven is in our hall,
      And thou art ripe for ruin: I bid thee know,
      Gods in the garb of strangers to and fro
      Wander the cities, and men’s ways discern;
      Yea, through the wide earth in all shapes they go,
      Changed, yet the same, and with their own eyes learn
    How live the sacred laws--who hold them, and who spurn.”

This is one of those noble passages in which the creed of the poet soars
far above his mythology. The god who is the avenger of broken oaths, and
the protector of the poor and the stranger, though he bears the name of
Zeus or Jupiter, is a power of very different type from the Ruler of
Olympus, who indulges his sensual passions in base amours with
mortals,--who in the Iliad is perpetually engaged in domestic wrangles
with his queen, and even in the Odyssey wreaks a weak vengeance on
Ulysses merely to gratify the spite of Neptune.

      “Meanwhile Telemachus sat far apart,
      Feeding on fire; and deeper and more drear
      Grew the sharp pang, that he saw stricken there
      His own dear father, and the flower of kings.
      Yet from his eyelids he let fall no tear,
      But, filled in soul with dark imaginings,
    Silently waved his head, and brooded evil things.”

Additional insults await the hero in his own hall. There comes from the
town a sturdy beggar, known as Irus--“the messenger”--by a kind of
parody on the name of the rainbow goddess, Iris, who performs the same
office for the immortals. Jealous of a rival mendicant, such as Ulysses
appears, he threatens to drive him from the hall. Ulysses quietly warns
him to keep his hands off--there is room enough for both. The young
nobles shout with delight at a quarrel which promises such good sport,
and at once form a ring for the combatants, and undertake to see fair
play. When the disguised king strips off his squalid rags for the
boxing-match, and discovers the brawny chest and shoulders for which he
was remarkable, Irus trembles at the thought of encountering him. But it
is too late: with a single blow Ulysses breaks his jaw, and drags him
out into the courtyard. The revellers now hail the conqueror with loud
applause, and award him the prize of victory--a goat-paunch filled with
mince-meat and blood, the prototype, apparently, both of the Scotch
haggis and the English black-pudding. Amphinomus--who has already shown
something of a nobler nature than the rest--adds a few words of generous
sympathy: he sees in the wandering mendicant one who has known better
days, and pledges him in a cup of wine, with a hope that brighter
fortunes are yet in store. Ulysses is touched with pity for the fate
which the young man’s evil companions are inevitably drawing on him. He
had heard, he tells him, of his father, Nisus--had known him, doubtless,
in fact--a wise and good man; such ought the son to be. He adds a voice
of ominous warning, tinged with that saddened view of man at his best
estate which continually breaks forth, even amidst the lighter passages
of the poet.

   “Earth than a man no poorer feebler thing
    Rears, of all creatures that here breathe or move;
    Who, while the gods lend health, and his knees string,
    Boasts that no sorrow he is born to prove.
    But when the gods assail him from above,
    Then doth he bear it with a bitter mind,
    Dies without help, or liveth against love.”

Penelope now descends from her chamber for a moment into the hall, to
have speech with her son. The goddess Minerva has shed on her such
radiant grace and beauty, that her appearance draws forth passionate
admiration from Eurymachus. She does but taunt him in reply: most
suitors, she says, at least bring presents in their hand; these of hers
do but rob, where others give freely. They are all stung sufficiently
by her words to produce at once from their stores some costly
offerings--embroidered robes, chains and brooches and necklaces of gold
and electrum. The queen, after the practical fashion of the age, is not
too disdainful to carry them off to her chamber; while Ulysses--as
indeed seems more in accordance with his character--secretly rejoices to
see his wife thus “spoiling the Egyptians.” Some commentators have
apologised for this seeming meanness on the part of Penelope by the
explanation, that she does it to inspire them with false hopes of her
choosing one of them now at last for her husband, and so lulling them
into a false security in order to insure their easier destruction. But
it is best to take the moral tone of these early poems honestly, as we
find it, and not attempt to force it into too close agreement with our

After some further acts of insult, still borne with a wrathful endurance
by Ulysses, the company quit the hall, as usual, for the night. Then
Penelope descends again from her chamber, and sitting by the hearth,
bids a chair be set also for the wandering stranger: she will hear his
tale. He represents himself to her as the brother of King Idomeneus of
Crete, and as having once in his brother’s absence entertained the great
Ulysses in his halls. To Penelope’s eager questions, by which she seeks
to test his veracity, he answers by describing not so much the person of
her husband as his distinctive dress. The queen recognises, in this
description, the curiously-embroidered mantle which she had worked for
him, and the golden clasp, “linked with twin stars,” which she had
fastened with her own hands when he parted from her to go to Troy. She
breaks into floods of tears at the recollection; while the disguised
Ulysses sets his eyes hard, “as though they were of horn or steel,” and
checks his rising tears. He comforts her with the assurance that he
brings recent news of her hero--of his shipwreck and visit to the
Phæacians; that he is even now on his way to Ithaca, last heard of in
the neighbouring island of Dulichium, within easy reach of home; nay,
this very year, he would be content to pledge himself, Ulysses shall
stand once more in his own halls. Incredulous, yet thankful for the
comfort, the queen orders the wanderer to be taken to the bath, and
entertained as an honoured guest. But he refuses all attendance save
that of the aged Eurycleia. She marks with wonder his likeness to her
absent master; but such resemblance, he assures her, has been noticed
frequently by others. As she bathes his feet, her eyes fall on a
well-remembered scar, left by a wound received from a boar’s tusk in his
youth while hunting on Mount Parnassus with his grandsire
Autolycus.[41] The old nurse doubts no longer. She lets the foot fall
heavily, and upsets the bath.

   “Surely thou art Ulysses--yes, thou art--
    My darling child, and I not knew my king
    Till I had handled thee in every part!”

He puts his hand upon her throat, and forcibly checks her outcry; his
purpose is not to be known openly as yet, for he feels there are few,
even of his own household, whom he can trust. He charges her--even on
pain of death, much as he loves her--to keep his secret; then, refusing
all softer accommodation, he lies down in the vestibule on a couch of
bullhide, not sleeping, but nursing his wrath in a fever of



The morrow is a festival of Apollo. It is kept by the riotous crew in
the halls of Ulysses with more than their usual revelry. The disguised
hero himself, feeding at a small table apart by command of Telemachus,
is still subject to their insults. But portents are not wanting of their
impending doom. In the midst of the feast Minerva casts them into fits
of ghastly laughter; the meat which they are eating drips with gore; and
the seer Theoclymenus--a refugee under the protection of Telemachus--who
has been of late their unwilling companion, sees each man’s head
enveloped in a misty darkness, and the whole court and vestibule
thronged with ghostly shapes. He cries out in affright, and tells them
what sight he sees; but they only answer him with mockery, and threaten
to drive him forth as one who has lost his wits. After warning them of
the fate which he foresees awaiting them, he quits the company. They
turn upon Telemachus, and taunt him with his sorry choice of guests:
first yon lazy disreputable vagabond, and now this prating would-be
soothsayer. The young man makes no reply, but watches his father
anxiously; and Ulysses still bides his time.

The queen meanwhile has bethought her of a new device, to put off yet
awhile the evil day in which she must at length make her choice amongst
her importunate lovers. She unlocks an inner chamber where the treasures
of the house are stored, and draws from its case Ulysses’ bow, the gift
of his dead friend Iphitus, which he had not taken with him to Troy.
Before she carries it down, she lays it fondly on her knees, and weeps
as she thinks of its absent master. One cunning feat she remembers which
her hero was wont to perform--to drive an arrow straight through the
hollow rings of twelve axe-heads set up in a line. Whichsoever of her
suitors can bend the strong bow, and send a shaft right through the
whole row of twelve, like the lost Ulysses, that man she will follow,
however reluctantly, as her future lord. She has more than a lingering
hope, we may be sure, that one and all will fail in a trial so
manifestly difficult. They would refuse the ordeal, but for Antinous.
Confident in his own powers, he hopes to succeed--he knows the rest will
fail. They, out of shame, accept the test. Telemachus himself fixes the
weapons firmly in the earth in a true and even line, a task in itself of
no small difficulty, but which he performs with such skill as to win the
admiration of the whole party. He claims the right to make trial first
himself, in the hope to prove himself his father’s true son. Thrice he
draws the bow-string, but not yet to its right extent. As he is making a
fourth attempt, sanguine of success, he meets a look from his father
which checks his hand. Ulysses foresees that should his son succeed
where the others fail, and so claim what they are really seeking, the
royal power of Ithaca, the whole band might suddenly unite against him,
and so frustrate his present scheme of vengeance. Reluctantly, at his
father’s sign, the youth lays down the bow, and professes to lament the
weakness of his degenerate hand. One after another the rival princes in
turn strive to bend it, but in vain; even Antinous and Eurymachus,
notably the best among them, fail to move the string, though the bow is
warmed by the fire and rubbed well with melted fat to make it more
pliable. Antinous finds plausible excuse for the failure--they have
profaned the festival of Apollo by this contest; it shall be renewed
under better auspices on the morrow. Then the seeming beggar (who
meanwhile has made himself known as their true lord to Eumæus and
another faithful retainer, the herdsman Philœtius) makes request that he
may try his hand upon this wondrous bow. Loud and coarse is the abuse
which Antinous and his fellows shower upon him for his audacity; but
Telemachus exerts the authority in his mother’s house which his
uninvited guests seem never quite to make up their minds to dispute when
it is firmly claimed, and the weapon is given into the hands of its true
owner. He handles it gently and lovingly, turning it over and over to
see whether it has in any way suffered by time or decay, and brings
notes from the tight-strained bow-string, “shrill and sweet as the voice
of the swallow.” At last he fits an arrow to the notch, and, not
deigning even to rise from his seat to make the effort, draws it to its
full stretch, and sends the shaft right through the whole line of
axe-heads. It is the immediate prelude to the bloody tragedy which

                        “‘Behold, the mark is hit,
      Hit without labour! the old strength cleaves fast
      Upon me, and my bones are stourly knit--
    Not as the suitors mock me in their scornful wit.

      “‘Now is it time their evening meal to set
      Before the Achaians, ere the sun go down.
      And other entertainment shall come yet,
      Dance and the song, which are the banquet’s crown.’
      He spake, and with his eyebrows curved the frown.
      Seizing his sword and spear Telemachus came,
      Son of Odysseus, chief of high renown,
      And, helmeted with brass like fiery flame,
    Stood by his father’s throne and waited the dire aim.

      “Stript of his rags then leapt the godlike king
      On the great threshold, in his hand the bow
      And quiver, filled with arrows of mortal sting.
      These with a rattle he rained down below,
      Loose at his feet, and spake among them so:
      ‘See, at the last our matchless bout is o’er!
      Now for another mark, that I may know
      If I can hit what none hath hit before,
    And if Apollo hear me in the prayer I pour!’”

The philosopher Plato, who did not spare the poet occasionally, in his
criticisms, speaks of this passage as worthy of all admiration. We have
here the primitive type, since worked out into countless shapes, of the
“situations” and “discoveries” which abound in modern romance and drama.

Ulysses aims the first arrow at Antinous. It pierces him in the throat
as he is raising a goblet to his lips, and he falls backward in the
agonies of death, spilling the untasted wine upon the floor; thus giving
occasion (so says Greek tradition) to that which has now become a common
English proverb--“There’s many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip.”[42]
His comrades stand aghast for a moment, not certain whether the shot be
deliberate or merely accidental. Ulysses sets them at rest on that point
by declaring himself and his purpose. They look round the hall for the
arms which usually hang upon the walls, but these have been secretly
removed during the previous night by Ulysses and his son. Eurymachus,
who has more plausible rhetoric at his command than the others, now
endeavours to make terms. Antinous, he confesses, has well deserved his
fate--he had plotted against the life of Telemachus; but for himself and
the rest, now that the king has come to his own again, they will submit
themselves, and pay such fine as shall amply satisfy him for the
despoiling of his goods. Ulysses scornfully rejects all such compromise.
Then, at Eurymachus’ call, the boldest of the party draw their knives
and make a rush upon him. But a second arrow from the terrible bow
strikes Eurymachus through the breast before he reaches him; Amphinomus
falls by the spear of Telemachus as soon as he gets within range; and
while the father, backed by his two retainers, holds the rest at
bay--rather, we must suppose, by the terror of his presence than the
actual use of his bow--the son rushes off to find arms for the little
party. Ulysses plies his arrows till they are exhausted, and then the
four together continue the unequal combat with the spears now brought
by Telemachus. The details of the work of retribution, like some of the
long slaughter-lists in the Iliad, sufficiently interesting to an
audience for whom war was the great game of human life, are scarcely so
to modern and more fastidious readers. The hero, like all heroes of
romance, performs deeds which in a mere prosaic view would appear
impossibilities. Suffice it to say, that with the Goddess of Wisdom as
an ally (who appears once more under the form of Mentor), the combat
ends in the slaughter of the whole band of intruders, even though they
are partially supplied with arms by the treacherous goatherd, who brings
them from the armoury which Telemachus has carelessly left open. A graze
upon the wrist of Telemachus, and a slight flesh-wound where the spear
of one of the enemy “wrote on the shoulder” of the good swineherd
Eumæus, are the only hurts received by their party in the combat. The
vengeance of the hero is implacable; otherwise it were not heroic, in
the Homeric sense. Not content with the utter extermination of the men
who have usurped his palace, harassed his wife, and insulted his son, he
hangs up also their guilty paramours among the women-servants, who have
joined them in defiling his household gods; first, however, making them
swill and scour clean the blood-stained hall which has been the scene of
the slaughter. The traitorous goatherd Melanthius is by the same stern
orders miserably lopped of ears, and nose, and limbs, before death
releases him. We find the same pitiless cruelty towards his enemies in
the hero of the Odyssey as in the hero of the Iliad. Yet the poet would
teach us that the vengeance of Ulysses is but the instrument of the
divine justice. Like Moses or Joshua, he is but the passionless executor
of the wrath of heaven; while, still to continue the parallel, the
merciless character of the retribution takes its colour from the
ferocity of the age. When the aged Eurycleia, who as yet alone of the
women of the household knows the secret of his return, comes down and
sees the floor strewn with the bloody corpses, she is about to raise a
shout of triumph. But the king checks her:--

   “Nurse, with a mute heart this my vengeance hail!
    Not holy is it o’er the slain to boast.
    These Heaven and their own crimes have brought to bale;
    Since of all strangers, from earth’s every coast,
    No man was honoured of this godless host,
    Nor good nor evil, whosoe’er they knew--
    And with their souls they pay the fatal cost.”



Penelope, far off in her chamber, has not heard the tumult, for the
doors between the men’s and women’s apartments had been carefully locked
by Eumæus, by his lord’s order. Even when the nurse rushes up to her
with the tidings that Ulysses himself has returned, and made this
terrible lustration of his household, she yet remains incredulous. The
riotous crew may have met their deserved fate, but the hand that has
slain them must be that of some deity, not of Ulysses. Yet she will go
down and look upon the corpses. There, leaning “by a pillar” in the
royal place--like King Joash at his coronation, or King Josiah when he
sware to the covenant--she beholds Ulysses. But he is still in his
beggar’s weed, and after twenty years of absence she is slow to
recognise him. Both Eurycleia and Telemachus break into anger at her
incredulity. The king himself is outwardly as little moved as ever. He
will give tokens of his identity hereafter. For the present there are
precautions to be taken. The slaughter of so many nobles of Ithaca will
scarce be taken lightly when it is heard in the island; it must not be
known abroad until he can try the temper of his subjects, and gather a
loyal host around him. All traces of the bloody scene which has just
been enacted must be carefully concealed; the house must ring with harp,
and song, and dance, that all who hear may think the queen has made her
choice at last, and is holding her wedding-feast to-day--as, in truth,
in a better sense she shall. Ulysses himself goes to the bath to wash
away the stains of slaughter. Thence he comes forth endued once more by
his guardian goddess with the “hyacinthine” locks and the grand presence
which he had worn in the court of Phæacia. He appeals now to his wife’s
memory, for she yet gives no sure sign of recognition:--

   “Lady, the gods that in Olympus dwell
    Have, beyond mortal women, given to thee
    Heart as of flint, which none can soften well.
    Lives not a wife who could endure, save thee,
    Her lord to slight, who, roaming earth and sea,
    Comes to his own land in the twentieth year.
    Haste, Eurycleia, and go spread for me
    Some couch, that I may sleep--but not with her.”

Penelope does recognise the form and features--it is indeed, to all
outward appearance, the Ulysses from whom she parted in tears twenty
years ago. But such appearances are deceitful; gods have been known, ere
now, to put on the form of men to gain the love of mortals. She will put
him to one certain test she wots of. “Give him his own bed,” she says to
the nurse; “go, bring it forth from what was our bridal chamber.” But
the couch of which she speaks is, as she and he both well know,
immovable. Its peculiar structure, as detailed in Homer’s verse, is by
no means easy to unravel. But it is formed in some cunning fashion out
of the stem of an olive-tree, rooted and growing, round which the hero
himself had built a bridal chamber. Move it?--“There lives no mortal,”
exclaims Ulysses, “who could stir it from its place.” Then, at last, all
Penelope’s long doubts are solved in happy certainty:--

     “Then from her eyelids the quick tears did start,
      And she ran to him from her place, and threw
      Her arms about his neck, and a warm dew
      Of kisses poured upon him, and thus spake:
      ‘Frown not, Odysseus; thou art wise and true!
      But God gave sorrow, and hath grudged to make
    Our path to old age sweet, nor willed us to partake

     “‘Youth’s joys together. Yet forgive me this,
      Nor hate me that when first I saw thy brow
      I fell not on thy neck, and gave no kiss,
      Nor wept in thy dear arms as I weep now.
      For in my breast a bitter fear did bow
      My soul, and I lived shuddering day by day,
      Lest a strange man come hither, and avow
      False things, and steal my spirit, and bewray
    My love; such guile men scheme, to lead the pure astray.

           *       *       *       *       *

     “‘But now, since clearly thou unfoldest this,
      The secret of our couch, which none hath read,
      Save only thee and me and Actoris,
      Whom my sire gave me, when I first was wed,
      To guard the chamber of our bridal bed--
       Now I believe against my own belief.’
      She ending a desire of weeping bred
      Within him, and in tears the noble chief
    Clasped his true wife, exulting in their glorious grief.

     “Sweet as to swimmers the dry land appears,
      Whose bark Poseidon in the angry sea
      Strikes with a tempest, and in pieces tears,
      And a few swimmers from the white deep flee,
      Crested with salt foam, and with tremulous knee
      Spring to the shore exulting; even so
      Sweet was her husband to Penelope,
      Nor from his neck could she at all let go
    Her white arms, nor forbid her thickening tears to flow.”

When they retire to rest, each has a long tale to tell. The personal
adventures of Ulysses alone (however careful he might have been to
abridge them in some particulars for his present auditor) would have
made up many an Arabian Night’s entertainment. There would surely have
been little time left for Penelope’s story, but that Minerva’s agency
lengthens the ordinary night--

   “Nor from the rolling river of Ocean’s stream
    Suffered the golden-thronèd Dawn to beam,
    Or yoke the horses that bear light to men.”

Here, according to our modern notions of completeness, the Odyssey
should surely end. Accordingly some critics have surmised that the
twenty-fourth and last book is not Homer’s, but a later addition. But we
may very well suppose that the primitive taste for narrative in the
poet’s day was more simple and childlike; that an ancient Greek audience
would inquire, as our own children would, into all the details of the
sequel, and not be satisfied even with the comprehensive assertion that
“they lived happy ever afterwards.” We have therefore, in the text as it
has come down to us, a kind of supplement to the tale, which, as is the
case with the later scenes in some of Shakespeare’s tragedies, rather
weakens the force of the real catastrophe. An episode at the beginning
of this last book shows us again the regions of the dead, to which the
god Mercury is conducting the spirits of the dead suitors--pale ghosts
who follow him, gibbering and cowering with fear, into that “sunless
land.” The main purpose of the poet seems to be the opportunity once
more of introducing the shades of the great heroes, Achilles and
Agamemnon; the latter contrasting his own miserable and dishonoured end
with that of Achilles, blest above all mortals, dying in battle with all
the flower of Ilium and Greece around him, and leaving a name which is a
sound of glory over the whole earth. So also does he contrast, to
Penelope’s honour, her fidelity with the treachery of his own queen
Clytemnestra; giving voice to a prophecy which has been fulfilled almost
beyond even a poet’s aspirations:--

   “O to her first one love how true was she!
    Nought shall make dim the flower of her sweet fame
    For ever, but the gods unceasingly
    Shall to the earth’s inhabitants her name,
    Wide on the wings of song, with endless praise proclaim.”

Ulysses himself has yet to visit and make himself known to his aged
father Laertes, who is still alive, but living in sad retirement on his
island-farm, solacing himself as well as he may with pruning and tending
his orchard-grounds. The recognition scene, in which the scar left by
the boar’s tusk is once more the touchstone, will seem tedious, as
savouring too much of repetition, to most readers of our day. But there
is one point which has a special and simple beauty of its own. When
Laertes seems yet incredulous as to his son’s identity, Ulysses reminds
him how, when he was yet a child, following his father about the
orchards, and begging with a child’s pertinacity, he had given him “for
his very own” a certain number of apple, fig, and pear trees and
vines--all which he can still remember and enumerate. The token is
irresistible, and the old man all but faints for joy.

An attempt at rebellion on the part of some of his Ithacan subjects, who
are enraged at his slaughter of their nobles, and which is headed by the
father of the dead Antinous, fails to revive the fading interest of the
tale. The ringleader falls by a spear cast by the trembling hand of
Laertes, and the malcontents submit, after a brief contest, to their
lawful chief.

A hint of future travel for the hero leaves his history in some degree
still incomplete. A penance had been imposed upon him by the seer
Tiresias, by which alone he could appease Neptune for the cruel injury
inflicted on his son, the giant Polyphemus. He must seek out some people
who had never seen the sea, and never eaten salt, and there offer
sacrifice to the god. Then, and only then, he might hope to reign for
the rest of his life in peace amongst his islanders. Of the fulfilment
of this pilgrimage the poet tells us nothing. Other legends represent
Ulysses as meeting his death at last from the hand of his own son
Telegonus (born of his amour with Circe), who had landed in the island
of Ithaca on a piratical enterprise. We may remark the coincidence--or
the imitation--in the later legend of the British Arthur, who is slain
in battle by his illegitimate son Mordred. The veil which even tradition
leaves hanging over the great wanderer’s fate is no inappropriate
conclusion to his story. A life of inaction, even in his old age, seems
hardly suited to the poetical conception of this hero of unrest. In the
fragmentary legends of the Middle Ages there is almost material for a
second Odyssey. There, the Greek voyager becomes the pioneer of Atlantic
discoverers--sailing still on into the unknown West in search of the
Earthly Paradise, founding new cities as he goes, and at last meeting
his death in Atlantic waters. The Italian poets--Tasso, Pulci, and
especially Dante--adopted the tradition. In the ‘Inferno’ of the latter,
the spirit of Ulysses thus discloses the last scenes of his career:--

   “Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence
    Of my old father, nor return of love,
    That should have crowned Penelope with joy,
    Could overcome in me the zeal I had
    To explore the world, and search the ways of life,
    Man’s evil and his virtue. Forth I sailed
    Into the deep illimitable main,
    With but one bark, and the small faithful band
    That yet cleaved to me. As Iberia far,
    Far as Marocco, either shore I saw,
    And the Sardinian and each isle beside
    Which round that ocean bathes. Tardy with age
    Were I and my companions, when we came
    To the strait pass, where Hercules ordained
    The boundaries not to be o’erstepped by man.[43]
    The walls of Seville to my right I left,
    On the other hand already Ceuta past.
    ‘O brothers!’ I began, ‘who to the west
    Through perils without number now have reached;
    To this the short remaining watch, that yet
    Our senses have to wake, refuse not proof
    Of the unpeopled world, following the track
    Of Phœbus. Call to mind from whence ye sprang:
    Ye were not formed to live the life of brutes,
    But virtue to pursue and knowledge high.’
    With these few words I sharpened for the voyage
    The mind of my associates, that I then
    Could scarcely have withheld them. To the dawn
    Our poop we turned, and for the witless flight
    Made our oars wings,[44] still gaining on the left.
    Each star of the other pole night now beheld,
    And ours so low, that from the ocean floor
    It rose not. Five times re-illumed, as oft
    Vanished the light from underneath the moon,
    Since the deep way we entered, when from far
    Appeared a mountain dim, loftiest methought
    Of all I e’er beheld. Joy seized us straight;
    But soon to mourning changed. From the new land
    A whirlwind sprung, and at her foremost side
    Did strike the vessel. Thrice it whirled her round
    With all the waves; the fourth time lifted up
    The poop, and sank the prow: so fate decreed:
    And over us the booming billow closed.”
            --Inferno, xxvi. (Cary’s transl.)

Thus also Mr Tennyson--drawing from Dante not less happily than he so
often does from Homer--makes his Ulysses resign the idle sceptre into
the hands of the home-keeping Telemachus, and tempt the seas once more
in quest of new adventures:--

    “There lies the port: the vessel puffs her sail:
     There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
     Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,
     That ever with a frolic welcome took
     The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
     Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old:
     Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
     Death closes all, but something ere the end,
     Some work of noble note, may yet be done.

            *       *       *       *       *

     ’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
     Push off, and sitting well in order smite
     The sounding furrows: for my purpose holds
     To sail beyond the sunset and the baths
     Of all the western stars, until I die.
     It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
     It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
     And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.”



The resemblance which these Homeric poems bear, in many remarkable
features, to the romances of mediæval chivalry, has been long ago
remarked, and has already been incidentally noticed in these pages. The
peculiar caste of kings and chiefs--or kings and knights, as they are
called in the Arthurian and Carlovingian tales--before whom the
unfortunate “churls” tremble and fly like sheep, is a feature common to
both. “Then were they afraid when they saw a knight”--is the pregnant
sentence which, in Mallory’s ‘King Arthur,’ reveals a whole volume of
social history; for the knight, in the particular instance, was but
riding quietly along, and there ought to have been no reason why the
“churls” should dread the sight of a professed redresser of grievances.
But even so Ulysses condescends to use no argument to this class but the
active use of his staff; and Achilles dreads above all things dying “the
death of a churl” drowned in a brook. It is only the noble, the priest,
and the divine bard who emerge into the light of romance. The lives and
feelings of the mere toilers for bread are held unworthy of the
minstrel’s celebration. Just as in the early romances of Christendom we
do not get much lower in the social scale than the knight and the lady,
the bishop and the wizard, so in these Homeric lays--even in the more
domestic Odyssey, unless we make Eumæus the exception--the tale still
clings to the atmosphere of courts and palaces, and ignores almost
entirely, unless for the purpose of drawing out a simile or
illustration, the life-drama of the great mass of human kind. In both
these cycles of fiction we find represented a state of things--whether
we call it the “heroic age” or the “age of chivalry”--which could hardly
have existed in actual life; and in both the phase of civilisation, and
the magnificence of the properties and the scenery, seem far beyond what
the narrators could have themselves seen and known.

The character of the hero must not be judged by modern canons of
morality. With all the honest purpose and steadfast heart which we
willingly concede to him, we cannot but feel there is a shiftiness in
his proceedings from first to last which scarcely savours of true
heroism. We need not call him, as Thersites does in Shakespeare, “that
dog-fox Ulysses,” nor even go quite so far as to look upon him as what a
modern translator terms him, “the Scapin of epic poetry;” but we see in
him the embodiment of prudence, versatility, and expediency, rather than
of the nobler and less selfish virtues. Ulysses, both in the Iliad and
in the Odyssey, is the diplomatist of his age; and it is neither his
fault nor Homer’s that the diplomacy of that date was less refined, and
less skilful in veiling its coarser features. Even in much later times,
dissimulation has been held an indispensable quality in rulers;[45] and
an English philosopher tells us plainly that “the intriguing spirit, the
overreaching manner, and the over-refinement of art and policy, are
naturally incident to the experienced and thorough politician.”[46] At
the same time, it must be remembered that Ulysses employs deceit only
where it was recognised and allowed by the moral code of the
age--against his enemies; he is never for a moment otherwise than true
to his friends. Nay, while the kings and leaders in the Iliad are too
fairly open to the reproach of holding cheap the lives and the interests
of the meaner multitude who followed them, Ulysses is, throughout his
long wanderings, the sole protecting providence, so far as their
wilfulness will allow him, of his followers as well as of himself.

The tale of his wanderings has been a rich mine of wealth for poets and
romancers, painters and sculptors, from the dim date of the age which we
call Homer’s down to our own. In this wonderful poem, be its authorship
what it may, lie the germs of thousands of the volumes which fill our
modern libraries. Not that all their authors are either wilful
plagiarists or even conscious imitators; but because the Greek poet,
first of all whose thoughts have been preserved to us in writing,
touched, in their deepest as well as their lightest tones, those chords
of human action and passion which find an echo in all hearts and in all

First, that is to say, of all whose utterances we regard as merely
human. There are, indeed, other recorded utterances to which the song of
Homer, unlike as it is, has yet wonderful points of resemblance. For the
student of Scripture, the prince of heathen poets possesses a special
interest. It is quite unnecessary to insist upon the actual connection
which some enthusiastic champions of sacred literature have either
traced or fancied between the lays of the Greek bard and the inspired
records of the chosen people. Whether the Hebrew chronicles, in any
form, could have reached the eye or ear of the poet in his many
wanderings is, to say the least, extremely doubtful. But Homer bears an
independent witness to the truth and accuracy of the sacred narrative,
so far as its imagery and diction are to be taken into account, which is
very remarkable and valuable. Allowing for the difference in the local
scenery, the reader of the Iliad may well fancy at times that he is
following the night-march of Abraham, the conquests of Joshua, or the
wars of the Kings; while in the Odyssey the same domestic interiors, the
same primitive family life, the same simple patriarchal relations
between the king or chief of the tribe and his people, remind us in
every page of the fresh and living pictures of the book of Genesis.
Fresh and living the portraits still are, in both cases, after the lapse
of so many centuries, because in both the writers drew faithfully from
what was before their eyes, without any straining after effect--without
any betrayal of that self-consciousness which spoils many an author’s
best work, by forcing his own individuality upon the reader instead of
that of the scenes and persons whom he represents. To trace the many
points of resemblance between these two great poems and the sacred
records as fully as they might be traced would require a volume in
itself. It may be enough in these pages shortly to point out some few of
the many instances in which Homer will be found one of the most
interesting, because assuredly one of the most unconscious, commentators
on the Bible.

The Homeric kings, like those of Israel and Judah, lead the battle in
their chariots: Priam sits “in the gate,” like David or Solomon:
Ulysses, when he would assert his royalty, stands by a pillar, as stood
Joash and Josiah. Their riches consist chiefly in “sheep and oxen,
men-servants and maid-servants.” When Ulysses, in the Iliad, finds
Diomed sleeping outside his tent,--“and his comrades lay sleeping around
him, and under their heads they had their shields, and their spears were
fixed in the ground by the butt-end”[47]--we have the picture, almost
word for word, of Saul’s night-bivouac when he was surprised by David:
“And behold, Saul lay sleeping within the trench, and his spear stuck in
the ground at his bolster, and the people lay round about him.” Ulysses
and Diomed think it not beneath their dignity, as kings or chiefs, to
act what we should consider the part of a spy, like Gideon in the camp
of the Midianites. Lycurgus the Thracian slays with an ox-goad, like
Shamgar in the Book of Judges. The very cruelties of warfare are the
same--the insults too frequently offered to the dead body of an enemy,
“the children dashed against the stones”--the miserable sight which
Priam foresees in the fall of his city, as Isaiah in the prophetic
burden of Babylon.[48]

The outward tokens of grief are wholly Eastern. Achilles, in the Iliad,
when he hears of the death of his friend Patroclus--Laertes, in the
Odyssey, when he believes his son’s return hopeless--throw dust upon
their heads, like Joshua and the elders of Israel when they hear of the
disaster at Ai. King Priam tears his hair and beard in his vain appeal
to Hector at the Scæan gates, as Ezra does, when he hears of the
trespasses of the Jewish princes.[49] Penelope sits “on the threshold”
to weep, just as Moses “heard the people weeping, every man in the door
of his tent.” “Call for the mourning women,” says the prophet
Jeremiah,[50] “that they may come; and let them make haste, and take up
a wailing for us.” So when the Trojan king bears off his dead son at
last to his own palace, the professional mourners are immediately sent
for--“the bards, to begin the lament.”[51] As Moses carries forth the
bones of Joseph into Canaan, and David gathers carefully those of Saul
and Jonathan from the men of Jabesh-Gilead, so Nestor charges the
Greeks, when they have almost determined to quit Troy in despair, to
carry the bones of their slain comrades home to their native land.
Sarpedon’s body is borne to his native Lycia, there to be honoured “with
a mound and with a column”--as Jacob set up a pillar for his dead
Rachel on the road by Bethlehem. The Philistines, after the battle of
Gilboa, bestow the armour of Saul in the house of their goddess
Ashtaroth: the sword of Goliath is laid up as a trophy with the priest
Ahimelech, “wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod;”[52] even so does
Hector vow to hang up the armour of Menelaus in the temple of Apollo in

The more peaceful images have the same remarkable likeness. The fountain
in the island of Ithaca, faced with stone, the work of the forefathers
of the nation, Ithacus and Neritus, recalls that “well of the
oath”--Beer-sheba--which Abraham dug, or that by which the woman of
Samaria sat, known as “the well of our father Jacob.” The stone which
the goddess Minerva upheaves to hurl against Mars, which “men of old had
set to be a boundary of the land”--the two white stones,[53] of unknown
date and history even in the poet’s own day, of which he doubts whether
they be sepulchral or boundary, which Achilles made the turning-point
for the chariot-race,--these cannot fail to remind us of the stones
Bohan and Ebenezer, and of the warning in the Proverbs--“Remove not the
ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set up.” The women grinding at
the mill, the oxen treading out the corn, the measure by cubit, the
changes of raiment, the reverence due to the stranger and to the
poor,--the dowry given by the bridegroom, as by way of purchase, not
received with the bride,--all these are as familiar to us in the books
of Moses as in the poems of Homer. The very figures of speech are the
same. The passionate apostrophe of Moses and Isaiah--“Hear, O heavens,
and give ear, O earth”--is used by Juno in the Iliad, and by Calypso in
the Odyssey.[54] “Day” is commonly employed as an equivalent for fate or
judgment; “the half of one’s kingdom” is held to be a right royal gift;
“the gates of hell” are the culmination of evil. Telemachus swears “by
the woes of his father,” as Jacob does “by the fear of his father
Isaac;” and the curse pronounced on Phœnix by his father--“that never
grandchild of his begetting might sit upon his knees”[55]--recalls the
sacred text in which we are told that “the children of Machir, the son
of Manasseh, were brought up on Joseph’s knees.”

Many and various have been the theories of interpretation which have
been employed, by more or less ingenious writers, to develop what they
have considered the inner meaning of the poet’s tale. Such speculations
began at a very early date in literary history. They were current among
Greek philosophers in the days of Socrates, but he himself would not
admit them. It is impossible, and would be wearisome even if it were
possible, to discuss them all. But one especially must be mentioned, not
wholly modern, but which has won much favour of late in the world of
scholars,--that in both poems we have certain truths of physical and
astronomical science represented under an allegorical form, imported
into Greek fable from Eastern sources. This theory is, to say the least,
so interesting and ingenious, that without presuming here to discuss
its truth, it claims a brief mention. It may be fairest to put it in the
words of one of its most enthusiastic advocates. So far as it applies to
the Odyssey, it stands thus:--

“The Sun [Ulysses] leaves his bride the Twilight [Penelope] in the sky,
where he sinks beneath the sea, to journey in silence and darkness to
the scene of the great fight with the powers of Darkness [the Siege of
Troy]. The ten weary years of the war are the weary hours of the
night.... The victory is won: but the Sun still longs to see again the
beautiful bride from whom he parted yester-eve. Dangers may await him,
but they cannot arrest his steps: things lovely may lavish their beauty
upon him, but they cannot make him forget her.... But he cannot reach
his home until another series of ten long years have come to an end--the
Sun cannot see the Twilight until another day is done.”[56]

So, in the Iliad, as has been already noticed, Paris and the Trojans
represent the powers of Darkness, “who steal away the beautiful Twilight
[Helen] from the western sky;” while Achilles is the Sun, who puts to
rout these forces of the Night.[57]

In contrast, though not necessarily in contradiction, to this physical
allegory, stands the moral interpretation, a favourite one with some of
the mediæval students of Homer, which sees in the Odyssey nothing less
than the pilgrimage of human life--beset with dangers and seductions on
every side, yet blessed with divine guidance, and reaching its goal at
last, through suffering and not without loss. Every point in the
wanderings of the hero has been thus made to teach its parable, more or
less successfully. The different adventures have each had their special
application: Circe represents the especially sensual appetites; the
Lotus-eating is indolence; the Sirens the temptations of the ear; the
forbidden oxen of the Sun the “flesh-pots of Egypt”--the sin of
gluttony. It is at least well worthy of remark how, throughout the whole
narrative, the false rest is brought into contrast with the true. Not in
the placid indolence of the Lotus-eaters, not in the luxurious halls of
Circe or in the grotto of Calypso, nor even in the joyous society of the
Phæacians, but only in the far-off home, the seat of the higher and
better affections, is the pilgrim’s real resting-place. The key-note of
this didactic interpretation, which has an undoubted beauty and pathos
of its own, making the old Greek poet, like the Mosaic law, a
schoolmaster to Christian doctrine, has been well touched by a modern

   “O beautiful and strange epitome
    Of this our life, while through the tale we trace
    Homeless Ulysses on the land and sea!
    From childhood to old age it is the face
    Of heaven-lost, yearning man: from place to place
    Whether he wander forth abroad, or knows
    No change but of home-nature and of grace,
    Still is he as one seeking for repose--
    A man of many thoughts, a man of many woes.”[58]

Some of the early religious commentators pushed such interpretations to
extravagance; they dealt with Homer as the extreme patristic school of
theology dealt with the Old Testament: they so busied themselves in
seeking for mystical interpretations in every verse, that they held the
plain and literal meaning of the text as of almost secondary importance.
It was said of one French scholar--D’Aurat--a man of some learning, that
he spent his life in trying to find all the Bible in Homer. Such men saw
Paradise disguised in the gardens of Alcinous; the temptation of the
chaste Bellerophon was but a pagan version of the story of Joseph; the
fall of Troy evidently prefigured, to their fancy, the destruction of
Jerusalem. Some went even further, and turned this tempting weapon of
allegory against their religious opponents: thus Doctor Jacobus Hugo saw
the Lutheran heretics prefigured in the Lotus-eaters of the Odyssey, and
thought that the reckless Antinous was a type of Martin Luther himself.
Those who are content to take Homer as he is, the poet of all ages,
without seeking to set him up either as a prophet or as a moral
philosopher, may take comfort from, the brief criticism of Lord Bacon
upon all over-curious interpretation--“I do rather think the fable was
first, and the exposition devised after.” The most ingenious theories as
to the hidden meaning of the song are at best but the mists which the
Homerists have thrown round their deity--

    “The moony vapour rolling round the king.”

He moves among them all, a dim mysterious figure, but hardly less than



       *       *       *       *       *





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Saturday Review.--It contains a prodigious array of geographical facts,
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G. BICKERTON, Esq., Edinburgh Institution.--I have been led to form a
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       *       *       *       *       *








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       *       *       *       *       *

Now complete, in 20 vols., fcap. 8vo, 2s. 6d. each,

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8.--XENOPHON. By SIR ALEXANDER GRANT, Bart., Principal of
      the University of Edinburgh.



        and the Rev. W. J. BRODRIBB, M.A.












[1] Said to be an Ionian term--“One who follows a guide.” There are
several other interpretations of the name, not necessary to be given

[2] Max Müller; Cox’s Tales of Ancient Greece.

[3] Curtius’s Hist. of Greece, i. 80.

[4] Grote, Hist. of Greece, i. 271.

[5] It can hardly be necessary to do more than remind the reader how
exquisitely this story is told in Tennyson’s “Œnone.”

[6] “Standing before the castle portal of Mycenæ, even he who knows
nothing of Homer must imagine to himself a king like the Homeric
Agamemnon, a warlike lord with army and fleet, who maintained relations
with Asia, and her wealth of gold and arts.”--Curtius’s Hist. of
Greece, i. 145.

[7] Catullus’s Nuptials of Peleus and Thetis (transl. by Theodore

[8] The legend bears a remarkable resemblance to that of the hero
Siegfried, in the German ‘Nibelungen Lied.’ By bathing in the blood
of the slain dragon he acquires the same property of invulnerability,
with the exception of one spot on his back which had been kept dry by a
fallen leaf. And he meets his death, like Achilles, by a wound in that
spot, dealt treacherously.

[9] Nat. Hist., xvi. 44.

[10] The mythology of Homer supposes the gods to dwell in an aërial
city on Mount Olympus (in the north-east of Thessaly), whose summit
was always veiled in cloud, and from which there was imagined to be an
opening into the heavens.

[11] Why specially “blameless?” has been sometimes asked. The author of
the ‘Mill on the Floss’ suggests that it was because they lived so far
off that they had no neighbours to criticise them.

[12] Translations, 1863.

[13] It may be satisfactory to a matter-of-fact reader to know that
Eurybates, his attendant, takes care of it. The old Greek bard is much
more particular on such points than modern novelists, who make even
their heroines take sudden journeys without (apparently) having any
chance of carrying with them so much as a _sac-de-nuit_.

[14] Page 17.

[15] Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome.

[16] Book iii. st. 12.

[17] There is a parallel, probably quite unconscious and therefore a
higher testimony to the truth of Homer’s simile, in Kinglake’s vivid
description of the charge of Scarlett’s brigade on the Russian cavalry
at Balaclava: “As heard on the edge of the Chersonese, a mile and a
half towards the west, the collected roar which arose from this thicket
of intermixed combatants had the unity of sound which belongs to the
moan of a distant sea.”--Kinglake’s Crimea, iv. 174.

[18] The idea is borrowed by Milton in a well-known passage;--

                              “To nobler sights
    Michael from Adam’s eyes the film removed
    Which that false fruit, which promised clearer sight,
    Had bred; then purged with euphrasy and rue
    The visual nerve, for he had much to see.”
            --Par. Lost, xi. 411.

[19] There is pretty good authority for considering the whole of this
night expedition, which forms a separate book (the tenth) in the
division of the poem, as an interpolation. It is a separate lay of an
exploit performed by Ulysses and Diomed, and certainly does not in any
way affect the action of the poem.

[20] Eustathius, as quoted by Pope.

[21] Madame Dacier’s remarks on this valuation, and Pope’s note upon
them, are amusing:--

“I cannot in civility neglect a remark made upon this passage by
Madame Dacier, who highly resents the affront put upon her sex by the
ancients, who set (it seems) thrice the value upon a tripod as upon a
beautiful female slave. Nay, she is afraid, the value of women is not
raised even in our days; for she says there are curious persons now
living who had rather have a true antique kettle than the finest woman
alive. I confess I entirely agree with the lady, and must impute such
opinions of the fair sex to want of taste in both ancients and moderns.
The reader may remember that these tripods were of no use, but made
entirely for show; and consequently the most satirical critick could
only say, the woman and tripod ought to have borne an equal value.”

[22] Liter. of Anc. Greece, i. 349.

[23] Short Studies on Great Subjects, ii. 175.

[24] Guido de Colonna.

[25] Gladstone.

[26] See Iliad, p. 143.

[27] Ulysses Homer; or, a Discovery of the True Author of the Iliad and
Odyssey. By Constantine Koliades.

[28] B. xiii. 345 (st. 45, Worsley).

[29] Probably the modern Coryphasium.

[30] See Hayman’s Odyssey, I. 118, note.

[31] The Esquimaux adopt the very same stratagem in order to get near
the seals. “Sir Edward Beecher, in a dissertation on Esquimaux habits
read before the British Association, told a story, that he was once
levelling his rifle at a supposed seal, when a shipmate’s well-known
voice from within the hide arrested his aim with the words, ‘Don’t
shoot--it’s Husky, sir!’”--Hayman’s Odyssey, app. xliii.

[32] Possibly Corfu, if the geography is to be at all identified.

[33] This humorous impersonation of one of the lowest, but certainly
the strongest, influences of our common nature, has been made use of
by later writers. The Roman poets Virgil and Persius take up Homer’s
idea; and Rabelais, closely following the latter, introduces his
readers to a certain powerful personage whom he found surrounded by
worshippers--“one Master Gaster, the greatest Master of Arts in the
world.” [“Gaster” is Homer’s Greek word, which Mr Worsley renders by
“appetite,” but which is more literally Englished by the old Scriptural
word “belly.”]

[34] The Greek historian Herodotus places a tribe of lotus-eaters,
“who live by eating nothing but the fruit of the lotus,” on the coast
of Africa somewhere near Tripoli. Pliny and other ancient writers on
natural history speak of this fruit as in shape like an olive, with a
flavour like that of figs or dates, not only pleasant to eat fresh, but
which, when dry, was made into a kind of meal. The English travellers
Shaw and Park found (in the close neighbourhood of Herodotus’
lotus-eaters) what they thought to be the true lotus--a shrub bearing
“small farinaceous berries, of a yellow colour and delicious taste.”
Park says--“An army may very well have been fed with the bread I have
tasted made of the meal of the fruit, as is said by Pliny to have
been done in Libya.” There is also a water-plant in Egypt mentioned
by Herodotus under the name of lotus--probably the _Nymphæa lotus_ of

[35] Tennyson, “The Lotus-Eaters.”

[36] So sensible was Fénélon of this contrast that, in his romance
already mentioned, when he describes Calypso’s cave, he thinks it
necessary, like a true Frenchman of the days of the great Louis, almost
to apologise for the rude simplicity of nature, as hardly befitting so
enchanting a personage. There were no statues, he says, no pictures, no
painted ceilings, but the roof was set with shells and pebbles, and the
want of tapestry was supplied by the tendrils of a vine.

[37] So the Spirit, in Milton’s “Comus,” gives to the brother of the
Lady a sure antidote to the spell of the enchanter (himself represented
as a son of Circe):--

    “Among the rest a small unsightly root,
     But of divine effect, he culled me out;
     The leaf was darkish, and had prickles on’t,
     But in another country, as he said,
     Bore a bright golden flower, but not in this soil:
     Unknown, and like esteemed, and the dull swain
     Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon;
     And yet more med’cinal is it than that Moly
     That Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave.”

[38] The judges of the Dead--Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Æacus.

[39] ‘Faery Queen,’ Book ii. c. 12.

[40] When Adam Bede speaks roughly to his mother, and then tenderly to
his dog Gyp, the author thus moralises on his inconsistency: “We are
apt to be kinder to the brutes that love us than to the women that love
us. Is it because the brutes are _dumb_?”

[41] From this maternal ancestor Ulysses might have inherited a large
share of the subtlety which distinguished him. Autolycus was the
reputed son of Hermes (Mercury)--the god of thieves--and did not in
that point disgrace his blood. He was said to have the power of so
transforming all stolen property, that the owner could not possibly
recognise it. Shakespeare borrows the name, and some of the qualities,
for one of his characters in the ‘Winter’s Tale’--“Autolycus, a rogue,”
as he stands in the list of _dramatis personæ_, who professes himself
“not naturally honest, but sometimes so by chance.”

[42] Πολλὰ μεταξὺ πέλει κύλικος καὶ χείλεος ἄκρου

[43] The Straits of Gibraltar.

[44] The metaphor is Homer’s, Odyss. xi. 124.

[45] “Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare.”

[46] Shaftesbury’s Characteristics.

[47] Il. x. 150.

[48] Isa. xiii. 16.

[49] Ezra ix. 3.

[50] Jer. ix. 17.

[51] Il. xxiv. 720.

[52] 1 Sam. xxi. 9.

[53] Il. xxiii. 329.

[54] Il. xv. 36. Od. v. 184.

[55] Il. ix. 455.

[56] Cox’s ‘Tales of the Gods and Heroes,’ p. lvii.

[57] Iliad, p. 8. (Paris is said to be the Sanscrit Pani--“the
deceiver;” Helen is Saramà--“the Dawn;” and Achilles is the solar hero

[58] Williams’s ‘Christian Scholar.’

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