Iliad

We’re currently exploring the Trojan War in both my intro-level and upper-level courses. This event is largely known through Homer’s Iliad, an epic poem of more than 15000 lines, composed in the eighth century BC, some five hundred years after the events it purports to describe: the siege and eventual destruction of the Anatolian city of Troy by a combined force “Achaeans” (Bronze-Age Greeks), who had come to retrieve Helen, the abducted wife of Menelaus of Sparta. The Iliad does not tell the whole story of the war, although it alludes to prior (and subsequent) events. The action takes place over a two-week period in the ninth year of the siege, and is primarily concerned with a dispute between Agamemnon, the incompetent king of the Greek coalition, and Achilles, his best warrior. In brief: Achilles goes on strike, the Trojans almost defeat the Greeks, Achilles’ friend Patroclus joins the fighting but is killed by the Trojan hero Hector, and Achilles returns and kills Hector. As a work of literature, the Iliad raises a number of questions, including: Must kings always be obeyed, or is it sometimes proper to defy them? Is it better to live a short and glorious life, or a long and unremarkable one? (The choice given to Achilles, whose death is foretold several times.) Is war glorious, or is it in fact disastrous? Etc. There are no clear-cut answers to these questions. Even its nostalgia is ambiguous. If you see it as Homer’s portrayal of the good old days, when gods walked among men and men could fight for glory, what sort of glory is it when grown men have public temper tantrums because their feelings are hurt? It might make a person feel glad to be living in an age of the polis and the hoplite phalanx.

Of course, the Iliad is not the only literary treatment of the Trojan War. It was but one part the now-lost Epic Cycle, which included the Cypria, the Aethiopis, and the Little Iliad. It formed a fit subject for Athenian drama, like Aeschylus’s Agamemnon or Euripides’s Trojan Women. Virgil added some details in the Aeneid, and both Chaucer and Shakespeare dealt with the story of the star-crossed Trojan lovers Troilus and Cressida. Every author added details or changed others, such that to write the whole thing down would fill volumes. I like to tell my students that the Trojan War was to the Greeks as the expanded universe is to Star Wars fans, wherein every minor character from the movies gets an elaborate backstory, with many more characters, planets, and subplots added for good measure.

To return to the Iliad, I was happy to have had the opportunity to read it freshman year in college. The version we read was by Richmond Lattimore, of whom we were all very proud because he was a Dartmouth alum. I still have my copy, along with a number of other translations I have acquired over the years. For no real reason, I reprint the opening lines below from all of them, plus two others (Butler and Murray) that I found online. Which do you like best?

Alexander Pope, 1715
Achilles’ Wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber’d, heav’nly Goddess, sing!
That Wrath which hurl’d to Pluto’s gloomy reign
The Souls of mighty Chiefs untimely slain;
Whose limbs unbury’d on the naked shore
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore:
Since Great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the sov’reign doom, and such the will of Jove!

Samuel Butler, 1898 (available at MIT)
Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.

A.T. Murray, 1924 (for the Loeb Classical Library, available at Tufts)
The wrath sing, goddess, of Peleus’ son, Achilles, that destructive wrath which brought countless woes upon the Achaeans, and sent forth to Hades many valiant souls of heroes, and made them themselves spoil for dogs and every bird; thus the plan of Zeus came to fulfillment, from the time when first they parted in strife Atreus’ son, king of men, and brilliant Achilles.

W.H.D. Rouse, 1938
An angry man – there is my story: the bitter rancour of Achillês, prince of the house of Peleus, which brought a thousand troubles upon the Achaian host. Many a strong soul it sent down to Hadês, and left the heroes themselves a prey to gods and carrion birds, while the will of God moved on to fulfillment.

E.V. Rieu, 1950 (for Penguin Classics, italics in original)
The Wrath of Achilles is my theme, that fatal wrath which, in fulfillment of the will of Zeus, brought the Achaeans so much suffering and sent the gallant souls of many noblemen to Hades, leaving their bodies as carrion for the dogs and passing birds. Let us begin, goddess of song, with the angry parting that took place between Agamemnon King of Men and the great Achilles son of Peleus. 

Richmond Lattimore, 1951
Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
Hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
Of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreaus’s son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.

Ennis Rees, 1963
Sing, O Goddess, the ruinous wrath of Achilles,
Son of Peleus, the terrible curse that brought
Unnumbered woes upon the Achaeans and hurled
To Hades so many heroic souls, Leaving
Their bodies the prey of dogs and carrion birds
The will of Zeus was done from the moment they quarreled,
Agamemnon, son of Atreus, and godlike Achilles.

Robert Fitzgerald, 1974
Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus’ anger, doomed and ruinous,
That caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men – carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
Begin it when the two men first contending
broke with one another –

the Lord Marshal
Agamémnon, Atreus’ son, and Prince Akhilleus.

Robert Fagles, 1990 (for Penguin Classics)
Rage – Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

Stanley Lombardo, 1997
RAGE:

Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades’ dark,
And left their bodies to rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus’ will was done.
Begin with the clash between Agamemnon –
The Greek warlord – and godlike Achilles.

UPDATE: I discover that Robert Graves also translated the Iliad in 1959! (Reinhardt’s edition of The Anger of Achilles was also illustrated by Ronald Searle of Molesworth fame.) Here is his proem:

Sing, MOUNTAIN GODDESS, sing through me
That anger which most ruinously
Inflamed Achilles, Peleus’ son
And which, before the tale was done
Had glutted Hell with champions – bold,
Stern spirits by the thousandfold;
Ravens and dogs their corpses ate
For thus did ZEUS, who watched their fate,
See his resolve, first taken when
Proud Agamemnon, king of men,
An insult on Achilles cast,
Achieve accomplishment at last.

Also, Check out Ian Johnston‘s list of (and links to) English translations of the Iliad, including his own, which begins:

Sing, Goddess, sing of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus—
that murderous anger which condemned Achaeans
to countless agonies and threw many warrior souls
deep into Hades, leaving their dead bodies
carrion food for dogs and birds—
all in fulfilment of the will of Zeus.

Start at the point where Agamemnon, son of Atreus,
that king of men, quarrelled with noble Achilles.

I think a major issue here is what the first word should be. In Greek it’s μῆνιν, the accusative of wrath/anger/rage, which is indeed the theme of the poem, although it doesn’t sound quite right in English to begin a sentence with its object. The second word, ἄειδε, is the imperative of sing, and the third, θέα, is the subject of the sentence: the goddess (presumably Calliope, the muse of epic poetry), whom Homer invokes to help him tell his tale. Personally I don’t think that much damage is done by beginning a translation with “Sing,” but maybe that’s only because I was introduced to Lattimore at an impressionable age.

(A classic compare-and-contrast exercise is that between the opening line of the Iliad, in which Homer asks for supernatural aid in singing of gods and heroes in the distant past, and the opening line of the Histories of Herodotus, which is simply “I, Herodotus of Halicarnassus, am here setting forth my history” – a history of the recent past, written in prose – a human tale by a named human author, and a fitting monument to the classical age of Greece and the rationality it valued.)

Star-Spangled Banner

A sensation this past weekend was the refusal of Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco Forty-Niners, to stand for the national anthem, on the principle that he was

not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Some people were outraged, others supportive, in reaction to this. The 49ers themselves said that “we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem,” while the NFL claimed that “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.” I confess that I personally don’t care for this sort of activism – you’re a football player, paid millions of dollars to throw a football, and if you must bestow your pearls of wisdom upon us, save it for after the game, when you’re out of uniform – although I’ve often thought that we can save ourselves trouble by not courting it in the first place. Why do we sing the national anthem before sporting events? It’s not as though any national teams are playing or anything.

Having said that, I was curious to read an article claiming that “Colin Kaepernick Is Righter Than You Know: The National Anthem Is a Celebration of Slavery” on The Intercept:

Almost no one seems to be aware that even if the U.S. were a perfect country today, it would be bizarre to expect African-American players to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Why? Because it literally celebrates the murder of African-Americans.

Few people know this because we only ever sing the first verse. But read the end of the third verse and you’ll see why “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not just a musical atrocity, it’s an intellectual and moral one, too:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” Americans hazily remember, was written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. But we don’t ever talk about how the War of 1812 was a war of aggression that began with an attempt by the U.S. to grab Canada from the British Empire.

However, we’d wildly overestimated the strength of the U.S. military. By the time of the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814, the British had counterattacked and overrun Washington, D.C., setting fire to the White House.

And one of the key tactics behind the British military’s success was its active recruitment of American slaves. As a detailed 2014 article in Harper’s explains, the orders given to the Royal Navy’s Admiral Sir George Cockburn read:

Let the landings you make be more for the protection of the desertion of the Black Population than with a view to any other advantage. … The great point to be attained is the cordial Support of the Black population. With them properly armed & backed with 20,000 British Troops, Mr. Madison will be hurled from his throne.

Whole families found their way to the ships of the British, who accepted everyone and pledged no one would be given back to their “owners.” Adult men were trained to create a regiment called the Colonial Marines, who participated in many of the most important battles, including the August 1814 raid on Washington.

Then on the night of September 13, 1814, the British bombarded Fort McHenry. Key, seeing the fort’s flag the next morning, was inspired to write the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

So when Key penned “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” he was taking great satisfaction in the death of slaves who’d freed themselves. His perspective may have been affected by the fact he owned several slaves himself.

More at the link. Although it’s somewhat silly to bring up the third verse, when nobody knows it, he’s right about the War of 1812: it was, in one respect, a war to preserve slavery (as was the Revolutionary War: contrary to Mel Gibson, it was the British who offered freedom to slaves in return for their services, not the colonists).

Of course, the Americans did have a point otherwise, and it is great that the ideals of the revolution, which were really quite radical for the eighteenth century, were eventually applied successfully to the question of slavery.

Panel at the Funk

I was pleased to attend an interdisciplinary panel last night in the Funk Heritage Center entitled “The Etowah River: History, Ecology, Literature.” Organized by Donna Little, professor of English at Reinhardt, it also served as a kick-off event for Reinhardt’s new low-residency Master of Fine Arts program, currently organized around the theme of “Story and Place in the New South.”

The Etowah River begins near Dahlonega, Georgia, flows southwards and then eastwards, passes through Canton (the seat of Cherokee County and seven miles south of Reinhardt), and then joins the Oostanaula at Rome. The resulting river is named the Coosa; this becomes the Alabama River near Montgomery, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile.

donna

Donna Little speaks at the Funk Heritage Center, 4/20/16.

Dr. Little opened the night’s proceedings by showing a map of the area. Nowadays we are used to thinking in terms of I-75 and I-575, the north-south freeways leading to Atlanta, but the Etowah and the Oostanaula run east-west, and that’s the direction that Indians would have been familiar with: thus the Mississippian Etowah Mounds in Cartersville, and New Echota, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, which was not in the middle of nowhere in north Georgia, but on the Oostanaula, which was a major thoroughfare.

Speaking of the Cherokee (who, it must be said, were only resident in north Georgia from the 1780s or thereabouts), Dr. Little publicly unveiled a discovery of hers: that during the expulsion of the Cherokee Indians during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, a group of Cherokee actually encamped on what was to become Reinhardt’s campus. Lloyd Marlin’s History of Cherokee County (1932) quotes the now-lost journal of Nathaniel Reinhardt (the father brother of Augustus Reinhardt, who was the co-founder of RU on his family’s land). It reads:

In 1835, Father [i.e. Nathaniel’s father Lewis Reinhardt] bought a tract of land on the old Pinelog Road [i.e. today’s GA-140] some two miles from his mill-place, improved it and in the latter part of 1835 he moved on it.

1838… In the spring many U.S. soldiers were passing through the country for the purpose of collecting and removing the Cherokee Indians to the West. They frequently lodged at night at Father’s Saw old Foekiller, a neighbor Indian, just after he had been arrested by the soldiers, who were carrying him to Fort Buffington. They treated him rather cruelly, which excited my sympathies very much in his favor. The old Indian desired to see father, who solicited better treatment in his behalf. He left all his keys with Father. After the Indians had been collected by the soldiers and started on their final march off, they came near our house the first night and camped, I caught the measles from a soldier who lodged with us that night, and had them severely. One of the neighbors came and stayed the night at Father’s from fear of injury by the Indians.

[Emphasis added. Fort Buffington was thirteen miles from Waleska and the distance is certainly walkable in a day.]

The need for a Trail of Tears monument on Reinhardt’s campus (not just an exhibit at the Funk) is very great.

wheeler

Ken Wheeler.

Reinhardt History Professor Kenneth Wheeler followed with a talk on the human relationships along the Etowah River, particularly the gold rush of the 1820s and the antebellum iron industry, both of which were ecologically disastrous. He also mentioned how Reinhardt co-founder John Sharp had promoted a steamboat service between Canton and Rome, and how William Nickerson attempted to dredge the Etowah for gold – although the attempt proved uneconomical, and Nickerson later opened a sawmill. Presumably all these characters will appear in Dr. Wheeler’s upcoming book.

RayMinik

Keith Ray and Diane Minick.

Keith Ray, adjunct professor of biology at Reinhardt (a Reinhardt graduate and Ph.D. candidate at Auburn), mentioned how the Etowah valley is one of about five or six places in the world which, for the past 100 million years or so, has neither been under water, nor under glaciers. This remarkable stability has produced a vast abundance of plant and animal species. (I had no idea this area was so ecologically diverse.) Environmentalists Joe Cook of the Coosa River Basin Initiative and Diane Minick of the Upper Etowah River Alliance spoke of the importance of maintaining this diversity.

stacey

Laurence Stacey.

Laurence Stacey, adjunct professor of English at Reinhardt, ended the evening by reading some haiku.