Homeric Durability: Telling Time in the Iliad

  Garcia, Lorenzo F., Jr. 2013. Homeric Durability: Telling Time in the Iliad. Hellenic Studies Series 58. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_GarciaL.Homeric_Durability_Telling_Time_in_the_Iliad.2013.

Chapter 1. Decay, Disintegration, and Objectified Time: The Rhetoric of Time and Memory

The terms that frame the discussion of κλέος ἄφθιτον and the durability of the poetic tradition as conceived by the tradition itself are time and memory. Time has disintegrating effects—physical objects and social obligations both decay over time; what is cohesive, whole, and pristine wears down, falls apart, and fades away over time. Memory in a pure or ideal form, on the other hand, preserves its object against time; it maintains or even re-presents, holding in an unadulterated state what is not to remain cohesive, whole, and pristine for long, or bringing what is no longer so back to mind in all its vitality. The very project of epic commemoration is an attempt to preserve the memory of the hero and his deeds, to render them free of the effects of time and to recreate them again in the present with each performance of the story.

In this chapter, I argue that this play between time and memory within the oral epic tradition operates within the narrative of the Iliad itself. Achilles’ withdrawal from the war signals a crisis in the Achaean effort beginning in the second book of the Iliad: Zeus sends Agamemnon a deceptive dream indicating that now the Greeks may be victorious over the Trojans; and in a speech structured by a kind of rhetoric of time, Agamemnon likewise presents the Achaeans with a notion of a decisive present now that will break with a static past of so many years of fruitless war. The very plot of the Iliad as represented in the actions and speeches of its characters, therefore, indicates a sense of time as a disintegrating force. The Greeks’ will to fight has rotted away like their ships lying still on Trojan shores. Odysseus counters this representation of decaying time with a rhetoric of memory in which the distance between past and present is partially elided. He recalls the past so vividly that events that took place nine or more years previously now seem like they happened “yesterday or the day before.” In other words, his memory recalls the past into the present while still acknowledging its pastness. {45|46}

These mutually opposed views of time as decaying or proximal designate the parameters of epic commemoration. On one extreme, time destroys all; on the other, memory resuscitates the past, bringing it to view in a way that is never quite present, but only nearly so. The degree to which memory falls short helps us measure the durability of the Homeric epic tradition. In other words, Odysseus’ speech will fail to recoup the past in its completeness, just as all monuments—including epic itself—fail to preserve the memory of their hero permanently.

1. Agamemnon and temporal disintegration

At the opening of the second book of the Iliad, Zeus can’t sleep. He is too filled with care and concern over how he is to bring about the ruin of the Achaean army that he promised to Thetis in order that Achilles may be honored by the Greeks.

ἄλλοι μέν ῥα θεοί τε καὶ ἀνέρες ἱπποκορυσταί
ηὗδον παννύχιοι, Δία δ’ οὐκ ἔχε νήδυμος ὕπνος,
ἀλλ’ ὅ γε μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα, ὡς Ἀχιλῆα
τιμήσῃ, ὀλέσῃ δὲ πολὺς ἐπὶ νηυσὶν Ἀχαιῶν.
The rest of the gods and men, too, armed fighters from chariots,
were sleeping all through the night, but sweet sleep [1] was not holding Zeus;
he, on the contrary, was pondering in his heart how he would honor Achilles,
and how he would destroy a great number of men at the Achaeans’ ships.

Iliad II 1–4

In these opening verses of Iliad II, the poet subtly emphasizes the temporal complexity that encompasses the plot of the Iliad set in motion here. While all {46|47} others sleep, Zeus is awake. The formulaic ηὗδον παννύχιοι ‘they were sleeping all through the night’ (cf. X 2 = XXIV 678) [
2] indicates an extended period of time during which the backdrop of the comparison takes place: everyone goes to bed and remains asleep, except for Zeus. Zeus continues to be preoccupied; the two verbal phrases οὐκ ἔχε ‘(sleep) was not holding’ and μερμήριζε ‘(Zeus) was pondering’, both in the imperfect tense like ηὗδον ‘they were sleeping’, suggest that his wakeful thinking occupies the same extent of time: παννύχιος ‘all night long’. What Zeus is pondering is the future, namely how he is to honor Achilles and destroy the lives of many men beside the ships of the Achaeans. His purpose is at once double and singular, for by destroying Achaeans, Zeus will honor Achilles, according to the terrible logic of Achilles’ request at Iliad I 407–412, 505–510. In those passages Achilles requests that Zeus allow the Trojans to be victorious until the Achaeans realize the error they made in disrespecting him, their best fighter, by taking from him Briseïs, his prize of honor. Zeus’ plan for the future is to be set in motion by a decisive action in the present: now is the critical moment, for it both links and separates extended past from what is yet to come.

To this end Zeus puts the “plot” in motion by sending a ‘destructive dream’ (οὖλον ὄνειρον, II 6) to (mis)inform Agamemnon that the gods will now allow him to capture Troy:

νῦν γάρ κεν ἕλοις πόλιν εὐρυάγυιαν
Τρώων· οὐ γὰρ ἔτ’ ἀμφὶς Ὀλύμπια δώματ’ ἔχοντες {47|48}
ἀθάνατοι φράζονται (ἐπέγναμψεν γὰρ ἅπαντας
Ἥρη λισσομένη), Τρώεσσι δὲ κήδε’ ἐφῆπται
ἐκ Διός.
For now you could capture the wide-wayed city
of the Trojans, for no longer are they who have homes about Olympos,
the immortals, thinking about it (for she bent all of them to her purpose,
Hera did, through her supplication), and cares are in store for the Trojans
from Zeus.

Iliad II 29–33

These words are reported three times to emphasize their importance: first in Zeus’ command to the messenger Dream (II 12–15); again during Dream’s announcement to Agamemnon of Zeus’ promise (II 29–33); and finally during Agamemnon’s conference with the Achaean leaders (II 66–70). [
5] This emphatic development is marked by the temporal adverb νῦν ‘now’ which indicates a narrative disjunction: events at Troy—referred to, though not directly narrated within the scope of the Iliad itself [6] —are about to change. The “new” future {48|49} direction, indicated by the potential optative ἕλοις (‘for now you could capture’, νῦν γάρ κεν ἕλοις, II 9) [7] is set against a now ruptured static past marked by the adverbial ‘no longer’ (οὐ γὰρ ἔτ’, II 30). No longer do the gods debate the issue, for Hera has persuaded them all with her appeals. The adverbs νῦν ‘now’ and οὐκ ἔτι ‘no longer’ both emphasize the extent of time that has elapsed before this moment and indicate that Agamemnon’s forthcoming efforts will prove different.

Inspired by the dream, Agamemnon decides to ‘test the Achaeans with words’ (πρῶτα δ’ ἐγὼν ἔπεσιν πειρήσομαι, II 73) in order to provoke them into redoubling their efforts. He lectures the men that their mission has failed, both to his disgrace and theirs, since so great an Achaean host failed to take a city defended by so many fewer men. [8] His speech, we note, is marked by the same kind of temporal pattern we saw above as Zeus pondered the future and set the plot of the Iliad into action, for Agamemnon also speaks of a temporal shift from durative past situation to a decisive new action for the future.

ὦ φίλοι, ἥρωες Δαναοί, θεράποντες Ἄρηος,
Ζεύς με μέγα Κρονίδης ἄτῃ ἐνέδησε βαρείῃ,
σχέτλιος, ὃς πρὶν μέν μοι ὑπέσχετο καὶ κατένευσεν
Ἴλιον ἐκπέρσαντ’ εὐτείχεον ἀπονέεσθαι,
νῦν δὲ κακὴν ἀπάτην βουλεύσατο, καί με κελεύει
δυσκλέα Ἄργος ἱκέσθαι, ἐπεὶ πολὺν ὤλεσα λαόν.
οὕτω που Διὶ μέλλει ὑπερμενέϊ φίλον εἶναι,
ὃς δὴ πολλάων πολίων κατέλυσε κάρηνα
ἠδ’ ἔτι καὶ λύσει· τοῦ γὰρ κράτος ἐστὶ μέγιστον.
αἰσχρὸν γὰρ τόδε γ’ ἐστὶ καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι,
μὰψ οὕτω τοιόνδε τοσόνδέ τε λαὸν Ἀχαιῶν
ἄπρηκτον πόλεμον πολεμίζειν ἠδὲ μάχεσθαι
ἀνδράσι παυροτέροισι, τέλος δ’ οὔ πώ τι πέφανται. {49|50}
O my friends, Danaän heroes, servants of Ares,
Zeus the great son of Kronos bound me with heavy self-deception,
wretched god that he is, who before promised to me and consented with his nod
that I might sack Ilion with its good walls and sail away back home.
But now he has plotted evil deception, and orders me
to return to Argos in dishonor, since I lost a great number of people.
Thus, I suppose, it will be a dear thing to Zeus who is overly powerful,
who indeed has broken down the crowns of many cities
and will even break more later on, for his power is the greatest.
This is a shameful thing even for the men of the future to learn about,
that in vain so great and so large a host of Achaeans
waged a war not yet brought to completion and fought
against far fewer men, but an end has not yet appeared at all.

Iliad II 110–122

Agamemnon’s test provides a richly textured study of temporal relations connecting the durative past (up to now) to the future (after now) through a present decisive moment. For up to now, Agamemnon claims that he was “bound with heavy self-deception” (II 111); the implication is one of stasis without change. The war the Achaeans have been waging has not yet been brought to completion (ἄ-πρηκτον, II 121, from *ἀ-πραγ-το-, the negative compound adjective in *-το- of the verb πράσσω ‘to do, accomplish’), [
9] and its end has not yet been made manifest (τέλος δ’ οὔ πώ τι πέφανται, II 122). The temporal implications of the alpha-privative prefix ἀ- and the adverb οὔ πω ‘not yet’ both contribute to the image of a static past, yet one oriented toward the future: up to now the army has not yet been able to accomplish its goals, but the possibility of it doing so remained. A new event, however, changes that temporal orientation as Agamemnon states ‘but now’ (νῦν δὲ, II 114) and shifts into the present tense: ‘Zeus commands me to return home to Argos in dishonor’ (με κελεύει | δυσκλέα Ἄργος ἱκέσθαι, II 114–115). The present moment, determined by Zeus’ command, produces a break from the static past; the Greeks will no longer continue their fruitless efforts to take the city, but will turn their attentions toward home: in Agamemnon’s rhetoric, the future possibility of successful war has closed and the “not yet” has become a “no longer.” Indeed, when the Achaeans hear Agamemnon’s speech they rush (ἐσσεύοντο, II 150) to their ships with a shout of joy and begin preparations for the flight home. This ‘rushing’ {50|51} marks a shift in the temporality of the episode; they no longer sit inactive at the shore, but now spring into action. The dynamic present threatens to bring an end to the static past as men and ships are about to return to motion and life.

Agamemnon claims that the return home is to be one of ‘dishonor’ (δυσκλέα, II 115) because such a premature return home can only mark the expedition to Troy as a failure. Though Agamemnon could lead men to war, he could not achieve the victory he sought. The years spent waging war in vain (μάψ, II 20) against Troy are experienced as unfulfilled opportunity; time appears as a not yet when Agamemnon claims he is fighting a ‘war not yet brought to completion’ (ἄπρηκτον πόλεμον, II 121) for which ‘an end has not yet appeared’ (τέλος δ’ οὔ πώ τι πέφανται, II 122). A few lines later in his speech, he speaks in the same terms: ‘but for us, the task for the sake of which we came here remains not yet fulfilled’ (ἄμμι δὲ ἔργον | αὔτως ἀκράαντον, οὗ εἵνεκα δεῦρ’ ἱκόμεσθα, II 137–138); the Achaeans’ purpose, that for which they came to accomplish (οὗ εἵνεκα δεῦρ’ ἱκόμεσθα), is left without completion (ἀκράαντον). Hence, a return home now without capturing the city can only signal a change in temporality from a not yet to a no longer:

ἀλλ’ ἄγεθ’, ὡς ἂν ἐγὼ εἴπω, πειθώμεθα πάντες·
φεύγωμεν σὺν νηυσὶ φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
οὐ γὰρ ἔτι Τροίην αἱρήσομεν εὐρυάγυιαν.
But come, let us all be won over to what I say:
let us flee with our ships to the dear land of our fathers,
for no longer will we capture Troy of the wide ways.

Iliad II 139–141

The very definition of failure is to pass from a not yet to a no longer: an opportunity has passed, and one was not able to seize it. The combination of adverbial ‘no longer’ (οὐκ ἔτι) and future verb (αἱρήσομεν) indicates a future not to come; no longer will X be the case, but rather Y will happen. Agamemnon speaks of a different, unintended future projected from a present in which the Achaeans quit fighting. The consequences of such an action in the present—going home in dishonor after having failed to conquer a city defended by many fewer men—are twofold: it will be a dear thing to Zeus (Διὶ μέλλει ὑπερμενέϊ φίλον εἶναι, II 116) and a shameful thing even for men of the future to learn about (αἰσχρὸν γὰρ τόδε γ’ ἐστὶ καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι, II 119). The future constructions of verb (μέλλει … εἶναι) and participle (ἐσσομένοισι) help reveal the thrust of Agamemnon’s temporal rhetoric: he is signaling to his men that if they go home now with the task unfinished, they will return home in shame (αἰσχρὸν {51|52} γὰρ τόδε, II 119) and dishonor (δυσκλέα, II 115), and their failure will only be dear to a wicked god (σχέτλιος, II 112). [

Explicit in Agamemnon’s speech is a sharp contrast between Zeus and the Achaeans posed in temporal terms. Whereas Agamemnon has not been able to achieve victory at Troy and his not yet is about to become a no longer, he envisions Zeus as experiencing a different sort of temporality altogether defined by sheer continuity. Zeus has destroyed cities in the past (πολλάων πολίων κατέλυσε κάρηνα, II 117) and will continue to do so in the future (ἠδ’ ἔτι καὶ λύσει, II 118), specifically because he is the strongest (τοῦ γὰρ κράτος ἐστὶ μέγιστον, II 118). Agamemnon pictures a temporally continuous Zeus: his enduring status as “the strongest” insures that what took place in his past will continue into his future. But such temporal continuity is out of reach for humans, as Agamemnon seems to see it; indeed, from Agamemnon’s perspective Zeus’ continuing victories are due to an overabundance: his might is not only the greatest (τοῦ γὰρ κράτος ἐστὶ μέγιστον, II 118), but is even excessive (Διὶ μέλλει ὑπερμενέϊ φίλον εἶναι, ‘it will be a dear thing to Zeus who is overly powerful’, II 116). From Agamemnon’s perspective, we humans are not like the gods; our future is not entailed in our enduring present status, but must be continually renegotiated one decisive moment at a time.

The concluding lines of Agamemnon’s speech continue his rhetoric of separating past and future through a decisive present. He makes explicit mention of the nine years that have passed while the Achaeans have been waiting on the shores of Troy. The effects of time’s passage over the past many years are palpable. The Greeks have been engaged in an inconclusive war now for a long time, far from their wives and children back home. The effects of time are objectively measured through the physical decay of the ships’ timbers and rigging cables, and in turn through the moral degeneration of the men themselves.

ἐννέα δὴ βεβάασι Διὸς μεγάλου ἐνιαυτοί,
καὶ δὴ δοῦρα σέσηπε νεῶν, καὶ σπάρτα λέλυνται,
αἳ δέ που ἡμέτεραί τ’ ἄλοχοι καὶ νήπια τέκνα
εἵατ’ ἐνὶ μεγάροις ποτιδέγμεναι· ἄμμι δὲ ἔργον {52|53}
αὔτως ἀκράαντον, οὗ εἵνεκα δεῦρ’ ἱκόμεσθα.
ἀλλ’ ἄγεθ’, ὡς ἂν ἐγὼ εἴπω, πειθώμεθα πάντες·
φεύγωμεν σὺν νηυσὶ φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
οὐ γὰρ ἔτι Τροίην αἱρήσομεν εὐρυάγυιαν.
Now nine full years of great Zeus have gone by,
and indeed the wood of our ships has rotted, and the ropes have been destroyed;
and I suppose both our wives and helpless children
sit within our halls, waiting for us. But for us the task
for the sake of which we came here is unaccomplished as ever.
But come, let us all be won over to what I say:
let us flee with our ships to the dear land of our fathers,
for no longer will we capture Troy of the wide ways.

Iliad II 134–141

The Greek verb σήπω ‘to cause to rot’ (here in the perfect σέσηπε with an intransitive sense ‘[the wood] has rotted’) [
11] is used three times in Homer, twice to describe the physical decay of corpses over an extended period of time, and once, here, to describe the decay of another organic material—the wood composing the Achaeans’ ships. [12] It is the most restricted of the three verbs in Homeric epic which define the semantic field of ‘decay’: σήπω, πύθω, and φθί(ν)ω/φθινύθω, each providing specific shades of meaning ranging from rot, decay, wither, waste away, to the colorless perish. Here, it denotes the specific biological process of organic decay effected through time. Note that the verb σήπω ‘to cause to rot’ is coordinated with λύω ‘to loosen, destroy’: time weakens the integrity of material structures. An ancient Homeric scholiast commented on the line, explaining that the decay of the wood and rope is a result of time: σέσηπε· διασέσηπται ἐκ τοῦ χρόνου, ‘It has rotted: it has completely rotted under the influence of time’ (Scholia D at Iliad II 135, van Thiel). [13] The Homeric scholia find verse II 135 to be an appropriate and realistic detail, noting that Theopompus of Chios (FGrHist 115 F 351) cited this line with its explicit mention of decay as the real cause behind the various shipwrecks during the Greeks’ voyages home after Troy was finally sacked (Scholia bT at Iliad II 135, Erbse). Modern scholars have also approved of the detail, such as Kirk who writes, “Nothing is said elsewhere {53|54} about the poor condition of the ships; it is a well-observed detail which might be distracting in other contexts but is a forceful illustration here of the lapse of time with nothing accomplished” (Kirk 1985:131, emphasis added).

Agamemnon’s speech does not achieve his apparent desired effect of rousing the men to action in a renewed war effort. Instead, at the close of Agamemnon’s speech, the men return to action in a different way altogether as they rush joyously to their ships to undertake their shameful return home.

τοὶ δ’ ἀλαλητῷ
νῆας ἔπ’ ἐσσεύοντο, ποδῶν δ’ ὑπένερθε κονίη
ἵστατ’ ἀειρομένη. τοὶ δ’ ἀλλήλοισι κέλευον
ἅπτεσθαι νηῶν ἠδ’ ἑλκέμεν εἰς ἅλα δῖαν,
οὐρούς τ’ ἐξεκάθαιρον· ἀϋτὴ δ’ οὐρανὸν ἷκεν
οἴκαδε ἱεμένων· ὑπὸ δ’ ᾕρεον ἕρματα νηῶν.
And these men with a shout
rushed to the ships, and the dust from beneath their feet
stood in a raised cloud; and these men were calling to one another
to grab hold of the ships and to drag them to the brilliant salt sea,
and they cleaned out the launching channels; and a shout reached heaven
of the men hastening home; and they grabbed the props from beneath the ships.

Iliad II 149–154

The men begin to drag their ships to the sea, but before they can do so, they need to clean out (ἐξεκάθαιρον, from ἐξ ‘out’ + καθαίρω ‘clean, purify’) the launching channels (οὐρούς). [
14] The channels, dug into the seashore, have apparently long since been filled with sand or vegetation that needs to be removed so the ships can be dragged back into the sea. The detail indicates the passage of time, a point well noted by the ancient scholiast who observed that ‘there was a great deal of wood around them [i.e. the channels] because of the extent of time’ (τῷ δὲ χρόνῳ πολλή τις ὕλη περὶ αὐτοὺς ἦν, Scholia bT at Iliad II 153b, Erbse).

The fundamental message of the image of rotting ships is one of loss of cohesion through waiting. The Achaeans and their ships have waited long on the shore; their wives and children have likewise remained waiting for their return, as Agamemnon notes: ‘They sit within our halls, waiting for us’ (εἵατ’ ἐνὶ μεγάροις ποτιδέγμεναι, II 137). Like the organic matter of the ships, the men’s resolve has deteriorated; they choose to return prematurely over staying and completing their task, the opposite of the heroic model established by the epic’s vision of Achilles. In other words, the tension here between decaying ships on the one hand and a disintegrating army on the other functions as a thematic analogue for Achilles’ own mutually exclusive options: to lose his νόστος ‘return home’ but gain κλέος ‘fame’ through death in battle, or to gain νόστος ‘return home’ but lose κλέος ‘fame’ (IX 410–416). That is, within the Iliad ‘fame’ and ‘a return home’ are incompatible. The Achaeans here choose to return home with bad reputation (duskleos) over renown (kleos). As they fly to their ships after Agamemnon’s speech, ‘a shout reached the sky’ (ἀϋτὴ δ᾿ οὐρανὸν ἷκεν), not because the men have been roused to battle, but because they were hastening home (οἴκαδε ἱεμένων, II 153–154). [16] The formulaic οὐρανὸν ἷκεν ‘it reaches heaven’ in line final position (cf. Iliad II 458, XII 338, Homeric Hymn to Apollo 442) in the context of men rushing home in dishonor is in ironic relation with Odyssey ix 20 where Odysseus speaks of his ‘fame’ as so great that it reaches heaven itself: {55|56}

εἴμ’ Ὀδυσεὺς Λαερτιάδης, ὃς πᾶσι δόλοισιν
ἀνθρώποισι μέλω, καί μευ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει.
I am Odysseus, son of Laertes, who for all my tricks
am an object of concern to men, and my fame reaches heaven.

Odyssey ix 19–20

The Achaeans’ resolve and emotional state register the long years they have waited on the shore; they, too, record time through their attitude toward Agamemnon and their mission to take Troy. Their desire to return the ships to the water and to sail home must be read as an attempt to recoup temporality, but a failed one at best. They hope to exchange the possibility of winning κλέος ‘fame’ for a long life at home—the reversal of Achilles’ ultimate choice. But in fleeing the decay of waiting on Trojan shores, their move threatens to decay their very existence in the poetic tradition.

2. Odysseus and mnemonic reintegration

It is Odysseus who saves the day by stopping the men from boarding their ships and reintegrating them into a single army, specifically by reminding them of their obligations to stay and fight, for they “promised” to fight until Troy was sacked. {57|58}

Ἀτρείδη, νῦν δή σε, ἄναξ, ἐθέλουσιν Ἀχαιοί
πᾶσιν ἐλέγχιστον θέμεναι μερόπεσσι βροτοῖσιν,
οὐδέ τοι ἐκτελέουσιν ὑπόσχεσιν ἥν περ ὑπέσταν
ἐνθάδ’ ἔτι στείχοντες ἀπ’ Ἄργεος ἱπποβότοιο,
Ἴλιον ἐκπέρσαντ’ εὐτείχεον ἀπονέεσθαι.
ὥς τε γὰρ ἢ παῖδες νεαροὶ χῆραί τε γυναῖκες
ἀλλήλοισιν ὀδύρονται οἶκόνδε νέεσθαι.
Son of Atreus, now indeed, O king, the Achaeans are willing
to make you the most contemptible among all mortal men,
and they will not bring to completion the promise, the very one they undertook
while still making their way to this place from Argos, land of horse-pastures,
namely to return home after they sacked Ilion, the well-walled city.
For always either like young children or widowed women
they cry out and complain to one another about returning home.

Iliad II 284–290

Odysseus reminds the men of the promise (ὑπόσχεσιν, II 285) they made (ἥν περ ὑπέσταν, II 285): the ὑπο- prefix in both noun (ὑπόσχεσις ‘a promise, undertaking’) and verb (ὑφίστημι ‘to promise, place oneself under engagement’) marks the obligation each one has placed himself under, as if the promise itself were a yoke and the promiser a beast of burden duty-bound to see the project through to the end. But the Achaeans are no longer faithful to their word and no longer willing to see the project through to its end (οὐδέ τοι ἐκτελέουσιν, II 286). Instead, Odysseus accuses the Achaeans of acting like women and children, classes of people whose speech is not dependable. [
19] The Achaeans are neglecting their duty towards Agamemnon and the world of men, since they are thinking only of themselves and their return home. Their failure to carry through on their promise essentially alienates them from society; they are no longer part of a corps dedicated to keeping promises and making war, but have {58|59} marginalized themselves as women and children—ineffective speakers and actors. [20]

Odysseus does acknowledge the Achaeans’ eagerness to be done with their task—nine years is a long time to be separated from one’s home and family, after all. But, he argues, to return home prematurely is a shameful thing.

Odysseus’ speech focuses on three terms, each repeated within the passage: waiting (μένων, II 292; μιμνόντεσσι, II 296), feeling impatient (ἀσχαλάᾳ, II 293; ἀσχαλάαν, II 297), and returning home (νέεσθαι, II 291, 298; cf. II 290). These are the terms which frame the Achaeans’ state of mind: after so long a time (δηρόν, II 298)—a period of no less than nine years (εἴνατός … ἐνιαυτὸς, II 295)—the men are impatient and eager to return home. This impatience is the force that threatens to tear the Greek army asunder against the cohesive social bond of oaths to fight to the end—it is the psychological measure of the extent of empty time felt only as a separation from what one wants: waiting here (ἐνθάδε μιμνόντεσσι, II 296), waiting far away from one’s wife (μένων ἀπὸ ἧς ἀλόχοιο, II 292). Such a reaction, Odysseus notes, is perfectly natural—this is the experience of temporality as duration: as Martin Wyllie, a researcher in phenomenology and psychiatry notes, “inactivity makes one aware of the ‘passage of time’ and this can manifest itself as ‘boredom.’ When bored, one begins to sense the stagnation of one’s personal lived time against the dynamic background of intersubjective time” (Wyllie 2005a:178). The Achaeans have come to feel the drag of time through their own inactivity: time has grown stagnant, and they feel impatient (ἀσχαλάᾳ, II 293; ἀσχαλάαν, II 297), wanting to go forward, to get on with their lives, but unable to do so. [
22] Odysseus cannot blame the Achaeans for feeling impatient and disheartened beside their curved ships (τὼ οὐ νεμεσίζομ’ Ἀχαιοὺς | ἀσχαλάαν παρὰ νηυσὶ κορωνίσιν, II 296–297) that sit ever ready to carry them home again.

Odysseus counters the disintegrating effect of time by once again reminding the Achaeans of their social responsibilities: to return home now without having carried through the war to its completion would be αἰσχρόν ‘an ugly, shameful thing’. In his work on Greek ethical concepts, Arthur Adkins has demonstrated that within the context of Greek society where one was expected to produce “results” for the benefit of one’s friends and relations, the adjective αἰσχρός ‘ugly, shameful’ indicates that one has failed or fallen short of accomplishing what was deemed necessary for society. [23] In our passage, then, Odysseus initially {60|61} responds by trying to shame the Greeks into fulfilling their promise in terms similar to Agamemnon’s rhetorical use of duskleos ‘bad reputation’ above: to fail to see the war through to its end will be only αἰσχρόν, an ugly and shameful thing. However, Odysseus’ rhetoric counters Agamemnon’s earlier speech, for Odysseus employs a different rhetorical strategy of representing time. First, he notes that it is the very extent of time that has made the soldiers so impatient which will bring them shame should they return home now without having accomplished their goals: shame lies in the conjunction of waiting so long (δηρόν τε μένειν) and returning home empty-handed (κενεόν τε νέεσθαι, II 298). Had the Achaeans decided to quit after only a single year of unsuccessful fighting, it would not be so shameful; but as it is, the greater extent of time and their greater ineffective effort work in concert to produce a still greater shame. The very extent of the nine years, Odysseus suggests, should not weaken the men’s resolve to carry out their promises; if anything, the long time should bind them all the more to the task at hand. This argument is an implicit rejection of Agamemnon’s temporal rhetoric of a decisive present that breaks with a static past. Instead of introducing change through a decisive present, Odysseus suggests that the extent of the past itself is the strongest reason to continue waiting; change now, with nothing accomplished, would only be failure. In other words, Odysseus is rejecting the transformation of a “not yet” into a “no longer”: the city not yet taken is not one that cannot be taken. By rejecting Agamemnon’s “no longer” Odysseus opens up again a possible future for the Achaeans, one in which their efforts may be rewarded.

Yet, Odysseus does not win the men over merely by appealing to their sense of social responsibility made even more important through the length of time they have been waging war. Instead, he employs a second rhetorical strategy to overcome the disintegrating effect of the passage of time and reintegrate the men. Once again, like Agamemnon’s testing speech, Odysseus’ rhetoric makes use of temporal relations; however, unlike Agamemnon’s speech, Odysseus does not follow a narrative of static past giving way to projected future through dramatic present. Instead, he employs a rhetoric in which the immediacy of lively memory trumps the pastness of the past. Specifically, Odysseus reminds the Achaeans of the prophetic sign (Odysseus calls it a μέγα σῆμα ‘great sign’ at Iliad II 308) they received at Aulis before they sailed to Troy. On that occasion some ten years before, a snake devoured a mother-bird and her eight chicks before being turned to stone by Zeus (II 308–320). The seer Calchas interpreted the sight to mean that the Greeks would fight nine inconclusive years in Troy, but {61|62} would take the city in the tenth (II 322–329). Odysseus calls upon the Achaeans to wait a little longer to see whether Calchas’ prophecy will come true, and then seeks to charm them with the absolute immediacy of the prophetic event:

Odysseus, the hero who most embodies patience, asks the men to wait just a little longer: τλῆτε ‘be patient, endure’, μείνατ’ ἐπὶ χρόνον ‘stay a little while yet’ (II 299). His use of χρόνος ‘time’ (II 299) makes explicit the temporal element in his speech. He recalls to their attention an event long past (ten years previous at Aulis), yet full of such importance that the elapsed time seems like ‘yesterday or the day before’ (χθιζά τε καὶ πρωΐζ’, II 303). Through lively memory, the past almost becomes present once again as implied by the visual terms Odysseus uses τόδε ἴδμενI have seen/know this thing here’ (II 301) and ἐστὲ δὲ πάντες | μάρτυροι ‘you all are witnesses’ (II 301–302). [
25] Consider further the deictic {62|63} force of the demonstrative τόδε ‘this thing here’ (II 301) which implies the immediacy and proximity of the memory itself. [26]

Odysseus essentially recasts Agamemnon’s description of the preceding nine years: his version offers the immediacy of memory as an antidote for the long period of elapsed time. Wolfgang Kullmann speaks of Odysseus as bridging “distance in time” in such a way that he recreates the future for the Achaeans:

Odysseus thus, fully cognizant of objective time (nine years), brings the past so close to the present that for him and his hearers it is like something that happened yesterday or the day before. From this proximity of favorable omens in the past he creates confidence for the future. (Kullmann 2001:393; emphases added)

Odysseus seeks to undo the disintegration of the Achaeans’ emotional resolve, deteriorated by the long years of waiting, by eliding that very temporal expanse. He reduces the nine-years to a day or two in the context of the vividness of memory (εὖ γὰρ δὴ τόδε ἴδμεν ἐνὶ φρεσίν, II 301), and thereby reconstitutes the men’s resolve. My interpretation here is in agreement with the work of Egbert Bakker (1993, 1997, 1999) who has argued how the “performance” of a past event in epic functions to bring that memory to the present. In this case, Odysseus literally re-presents the past—the prophetic sign observed so many years before at Aulis—through his narrative description; he recreates the event for his audience and essentially makes the past present once again. In his study of Odysseus’ speech, Bakker notes in particular how the use of the particle ἄρα (cf. II 310) in his recollection of the portent “marks Odysseus’s speech as the description of what he sees and of his involvement therewith. But as a narrator … his narrative is directed at recreating a shared experience from the past as a shared reality in the here and now of the present” (Bakker 1993:18). Odysseus’ mnemonics bridge the distance between past and present, spatializing time and drawing it near.

Nevertheless, Odysseus’ χθιζά τε καὶ πρωΐζ’ ‘yesterday or the day before’ (II 303) does not fully elide the distance between past event and present moment. Whereas Odysseus recalls the great sign and makes it vivid for his audience, it remains in the past. The past never quite becomes a here and now. That is to say, Odysseus’ vivid narrative recalls the past while at the same time acknowledging {63|64} its very pastness. The distance separating Odysseus’ vivid past from his fully present moment points to memory’s inability to fully re-present the past in perfect temporal proximity. For the epic tradition, the claim to preserve Achilles’ κλέος ἄφθιτον would seem to be predicated upon the possibility of perfect recall; perfect durability—were it possible—would mean freeing the subject from decaying time altogether. Memory, as an act of care (as discussed in the Introduction above), aims to preserve the cohesive against disintegrating decay. Nevertheless, a re-presentation which is not fully present, one which produced a vividness not of “here and now” but of “yesterday or the day before,” leaves a gap—however small—into which time can creep and work its ruin. {64|}


[ back ] 1. See Leumann 1950:44–45 and Reece 2009 (passim) for discussion and bibliography on ἔχε νήδυμος ὕπνος as a variant interpretation of *ἔχεν ἥδυμος ὕπνος (cf. Iliad II 2, XIV 242, Odyssey iv 793, xii 311). This reinterpretation of *ἔχεν ἥδυμος occurred as aural features of the language, such as the disappearance of the digamma (*ἔχε [f]ήδυμος ὕπνος), led to innovations, such as the use of a “moveable nu” suffix to prevent hiatus (*ἔχεν ἥδυμος ὕπνος); over time, the nu came to be understood differently, in this case as an -privative prefix of ἥδυμος (*ἔχε ṇ-ήδυμος ὕπνος = ἔχε νήδυμος ὕπνος). These new words formed through “junctural metanalysis,” in Reece’s terminology, could themselves then became productive, such that we find νήδυμος deployed in situations where there is no issue of hiatus, as at Iliad Χ 187 (τῶν νήδυμος ὕπνος) and XIV 354 (Ἀχαιῶν νήδυμος ὕπνος).

[ back ] 2. At Iliad II 2, X 2, and XXIV 678 ηὗδον παννύχιοι occurs in the same metrical (line-initial) position. The formula is highly flexible for, though it describes the same situation in each instance—everyone is sleeping except for one character—the wakeful character is different on each occasion: Zeus, Agamemnon, and Hermes (who rouses Priam and drives him home from Achilles’ tent while the Greeks are still asleep).

[ back ] 3. Here my formulation differs slightly from Wolfgang Kullmann’s assessment in his penetrating essay “Past and Future in the Iliad” where he concludes: “Thus the present event is not experienced in the present and as a fact: it becomes a confirmation of something that has already announced itself in the past, and a sign of the future” (2001:407).

[ back ] 4. Iliad I 5 posits the Διὸς βουλή as the name for the epic’s plot: Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείτο βουλή ‘the plan of Zeus was accomplished’. For further discussion, see Bassett 1922, Redfield 1979, Murnaghan 1997, and Clay 1999 with further bibliography.

[ back ] 5. The triple repetition of the command within such a short space has drawn much criticism, dating back at least as far as Zenodotus, who is said to have ‘condensed’ (συντέτμηκεν) Iliad II 60–71 to a two-verse summary: ἠνώγει σε πατὴρ ὑψίζυγος, αἰθέρι ναίων, | Τρωσὶ μαχήσασθαι προτὶ Ἴλιον. ὣς ὁ μὲν εἰπών | ᾤχετ’ ἀποπτάμενος. ‘Father Zeus, who sits on high and dwells in the ether, commands you | to make war with the Trojans at the gates of Ilion. Thus speaking | [Dream] flew off and departed’ (Scholia A at Iliad II 60–71, Erbse). In his edition of the Iliad, Leaf felt that “the third repetition of the message is really too much” and approved of Zenodotus’ more concise version (1900–1902:53). Kirk offers useful analysis, noting both that the repetition is appropriate to the “oral style” and more importantly, that the repetition of these verses is particularly appropriate, “since they are part of an emphatic development in the action” (1985:121–122).

[ back ] 6. Homer’s references to events of the Trojan War that fall outside of the narrative scope of the Iliad were controversial even in antiquity. Readers have long argued that certain features of the text, such as the Catalogue of Ships, the Teikhoskopia, and the duel between Menelaus and Paris, refer more properly to the beginning of the conflict than its tenth year. For instance, Aristotle criticized the chronological verisimilitude of the Teikhoskopia as ‘illogical’ (ἄλογον), because he found it unlikely that after ten years of war Helen would not yet know the whereabouts of her brothers (Aristotle fr. 147, Rose; cf. Iliad ΙΙΙ 236–244). Likewise, Heraclides Ponticus called the episode and Helen’s ignorance of Castor’s and Pollux’s deaths ‘unbelievable’ (ἀπίθανον εἶναι δοκεῖ ἐννέα ἐτῶν διελθόντων τοῖς Ἕλλησιν ἐν Ἰλίῳ μηδένα τῶν βαρβάρων ἀπαγγεῖλαι τῇ Ἑλένῃ περὶ τῶν ἀδελφῶν, ‘It seems to be unbelievable that nine years have passed for the Greeks in Ilion without anyone of the foreigners announcing to Helen about her brothers’, fr. 172, Wehrli). More generally, Aristotle describes how Homer introduces material from beyond the scope of the Iliad to break up the narrative into episodes: ‘And now taking up one part, [Homer] makes use of many episodes [of other parts of the war], such as the catalogue of ships and other episodes with which he breaks up his poem’ (νῦν δ’ ἕν μέρος ἀπολαβὼν ἐπεισοδίοις κέχρηται αὐτῶν πολλοῖς οἷον νεῶν καταλόγῳ καὶ ἄλλοις ἐπεισοδίοις [δὶς] διαλαμβάνει τὴν ποίησιν, Poetics XXIII 1459a35–37, Kassel). Modern scholars have likewise been troubled over temporal verisimilitude of the events narrated in the Iliad. For instance, van Leeuwen 1911 argued that the entire war could have taken place in a few months, and the “original” version of the Iliad told the story of this short war—however, later interpolations falsified the original into a ten-year war (discussion at Scott 1913, Foster 1914). For other scholars, Homer makes “allusions” to the entire war, thereby introducing anachronistic moments into his narrative of the tenth-year of fighting: see, for instance, Whitman 1958:39–45, Reckford 1964:7–9, Kakridis 1971:32, Bergren 1980:19–20, Schein 1984:19–25, Edwards 1987:188–197, Taplin 1992:83–109, 257–284, Dué 2002:39–40, and Dowden 2004:201–202.

[ back ] 7. Goodwin 1893:77–78 (§232–234).

[ back ] 8. Indeed, Agamemnon calculates that the Achaean army outnumbers the Trojan men at a ratio of greater than ten to one (Iliad II 123–128), a fact that cannot but bring shame to the Achaeans, as Rabel 1997 points out: “Thinking that he will conclude the war by taking Troy on the very day that begins in Book 2 (Iliad II 37), Agamemnon tries to shame the Argives into renewing their commitment to the war” (61).

[ back ] 9. On interpreting verbal adjectives in *-το- of compound verbs (here a negative compound of ἀ-πράσσω), see my discussion in the Introduction above with examples and bibliography.

[ back ] 10. Agamemnon’s leadership has long been the source of debate, especially since his rhetoric produces a different effect than he anticipated. Whitman 1982 perceptively observed, “The troops do not know what [Agamemnon] is up to—and neither do most of the commentators” (73). Similarly, Heiden 1991 states, “the precise motives of this plan remain somewhat obscure despite much scholarly discussion” (4). A sample of the interpretations of Agamemnon’s speech Whitman and Heiden have in mind includes: Leaf 1900–1902:46–47 (at Iliad II 73), Sheppard 1922:26, Dodds 1968:16 (who speaks of a “conflation of variants, as in the Diapeira”), Beye 1966:123 and 1993:117–118, Willcock 1976:18 (at Iliad II 73–74), and Kirk 1985:122–123 (at Iliad II 73–75). For a survey of literature on this scene, see Knox and Russo 1989.

[ back ] 11. Liddell, Scott, and Jones 1996:1594, s.v. σήπω II.

[ back ] 12. See Iliad XIX 27: κατὰ δὲ χρόα πάντα σαπήῃ; Iliad XXIV 414: χρὼς σήπεται. See my Appendix below for a study of the semantic field of ‘decay’ in early Greek poetry.

[ back ] 13. For van Thiel’s edition of the Homeric D Scholia, see van Thiel 2000b. For a thorough discussion of the sources of the D Scholia, see van Thiel 2000a.

[ back ] 14. The noun οὐρός ‘launching channel’ in this verse (οὐρούς, Iliad II 153) is a Homeric hapax legomenon, but is cognate with the verb ὀρύσσω ‘to dig, dig up’ (compare Chantraine 1968–1980 and Frisk 1973–1979, s.v. οὐρός). Scholia D ad loc. (van Thiel) defines οὐροί as ‘dug-out trenches by means of which ships are dragged down to the sea’ (ταφροειδῆ ὀρύγματα δι᾿ ὧν αἱ νῆες καθέλκονται εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν). See further Ebeling 1963:II.113, s.v. οὐρός.

[ back ] 15. On this point, see Cook 2003 on the pain of separation from family as driving the Achaeans to abandon the war.

[ back ] 16. Shouting is regularly used as an indication of a warrior’s eagerness for battle: compare Iliad XI 10–14 where the goddess Eris shouts (ἤϋσε, XI 10) and when the Achaeans hear it, “for them war became sweeter than to return in their hollow ships to the dear land of their fathers” (XI 13–14).

[ back ] 17. See Dougherty 2001:19–37, 189–192 for a comparison between the composition of Achaean ships and the composition of Homeric poetry, both of which are described as stitched together. See further my discussion on the temporal significance of joints enabling an object to remain standing upright (ἔμπεδος) in chapter 2 below.

[ back ] 18. Leaf 1900–1902:I.58, quoting Varro: “Varro, perhaps rightly, took the word [sc. σπάρτα] to mean thongs used to bind the timbers together: Liburni plerasque naves loris suebant : Graeci magis cannabo et stupa, caeterisque sativis rebus, a quibus σπάρτα appellabant [‘The Liburnians used to sew together the greater number of their ships by means of leather thongs: the Greeks more often used hemp and flax, and other cultivated materials, from which they were called σπάρτα’, (my translation-LG)] (Varro apud Aulus Gellius Attic Nights 17.3). This suits the context better than to take σπάρτα = cables, a less vital matter.” Varro’s point is that the σπάρτα are ropes made from cultivated plants, whether hemp or flax or broom; he hints at an etymological connection between σπάρτα ‘ropes’ and σπαρτά ‘plants cultivated from seed’. More important for our purpose, however, is the fact that he speaks of these σπάρτα as being used to sew together a ships’ timbers (naves … suebant). On this point, compare Pliny Natural History 24.65: dubito an haec [sc. genista] sit quam Graeci auctores sparton appellavere … et numquid hanc designaverit Homerus, cum dixit navium sparta dissoluta. nondum enim fuisse Hispanum Africanumve spartum in usu certum est et, cum fierent sutiles naves, lino tamen, non sparto umquam sutas, ‘I have my doubts whether this plant [sc. broom] is what the Greek writers have called sparton, … I also doubt whether Homer has alluded to this plant, when he said that the sparta of the ships disintegrated. For it is certain that in those times the spartum of Spain or Africa was not yet in use, and that when vessels were sewn together, they were stitched with flax, never with spartum .’ Here, too, what is important is the note that ships are constructed through sewing together their constituent parts. See further Aeschylus Suppliants 134–135 and its metaphorical description of a ship as ‘a linen-stitched house of wood that keeps out the salt sea’ (λινορραφής τε | δόμος ἅλα στέγων δορός). An ancient scholia at Aeschylus’ Suppliants (134–135, Smith) explains: ‘linen-sewn house of wood—i.e. a ship. They used to drill ships and sew them together with cords of sparta . And the phrase in Homer ‘fixing ships’ indicates the sewing them together’ (λινορραφὰς δόμος δορός· ἡ ναῦς, παρόσον τρυπῶντες τὰς ναῦς σπάρτοις αὐτὰς συνέρραπτον. καὶ τὸ παρ᾿ Ὁμήρῳ νῆας ἀκειόμενον τὸ συρράπτοντα δηλοῖ). Dougherty 2001:19–37, 189–192 draws similarities between the composition of ships and the composition of poetry in early Greek poetry. Her argument relies on the comparison between the “sewing together” of component parts in compositions. I find Dougherty’s comparison of great interest, and—though she does not carry the analogy so far—the questions her analogy raises: namely, what “shipwreck”—so common a theme, especially in the Odyssey and the Nostoi tradition at large—might mean for the early Greek concept of poetry. In other words, can we think of a poem that becomes unstitched over time, or one that is no longer “sea-worthy” or can no longer effectively carry its cargo? Can a poem or perhaps an entire poetic tradition be conceived of as becoming disarticulated over time?

[ back ] 19. In her penetrating study of the term νήπιος in Greek epic diction, Edmunds 1990 cites this passage (Iliad II 289–290) and notes that “children are grouped with women to form a class of those who are ineffectual. To compare a warrior to a woman is an insult. … men are called ‘like women and children’ because they are behaving in an unwarriorlike fashion” (4). Scott 1974 notes several passages (Iliad II 289, 337–341, XI 389, 560–561, XIII 470, Odyssey iv 32, xxi 282) in which warriors are likened to children, and argues that “in each case a character is doing something which is odd, inept, or unbefitting the person” (74).

[ back ] 20. On the connection between those who cannot speak or communicate ineffectively and the social outcast, Edmunds 1990 notes: “The typically νήπιος figure lives in a fragmented and dangerous world, in danger of becoming an orphan and consequently a social outcast, or failing to observe the laws of hospitality; he or she is outside the web of human interconnections. Furthermore, the νήπιος person is unable to put together inferences from the past or signs that reveal the future and is thus trapped in the ephemera” (98).

[ back ] 21. The interpretation of this line is difficult. Leaf 1900–1902:I.70, following K. Lehrs De Aristarchi studiis Homericis (Leipzig, 1865) 74, took the line to mean “truly here is toil to make a man return disheartened,” and argued that the ἦ μὴν καί “introduces an excuse” why the men are no longer willing to fight. This reading seems to fit with the sense of the following verses (II 292–297). However, as Kirk 1985:147 points out, Leaf’s interpretation creates problems with II 297–298 where Odysseus argues why the men should not return home. It seems better, therefore, to translate Iliad II 291 as I have here, and understand ἦ μὴν καὶ πόνος as indicating that although it is difficult work (πόνος) to stay and fight, it is equally difficult to return home empty-handed (κενεόν, II 298) after waiting so long (δηρόν τε μένειν, II 298).

[ back ] 22. See Fuchs 2005b:196 on the experience of temporal “acceleration” as a cause of impatience: “While implicit temporality is characterized by synchronization with others, explicit temporality arises in states of desynchronization (acceleration or retardation): It is mainly by discrepancies or separations from others to whom our lived time is primarily related that we experience the irreversibility and the rule of time. … Acceleration of one’s time in relation to the environment may be experienced as impatience, pressure, or dysphoric agitation.” On implicit and explicit temporality, see my discussion in the Introduction above.

[ back ] 23. Adkins views αἰσχρός as an indication of failure within a context of a culture that values “results”: see Adkins 1960, 1971, 1972, 1982 (esp. p313). See further Long 1970, esp. 124n9, arguing that “intention,” though denied by Adkins, must be considered a constitutive element in shame, especially in Odysseus’ speech here at Iliad II 284–332 where he exhorts the Achaeans not to give up and go home. On the conception of ancient Greece as a “shame culture,” see Dodds 1951 and Williams 1993. For a different perspective, see Hooker 1987 who argues that aidōs originally indicated “respect” instead of “shame.”

[ back ] 24. I punctuate this text after Allen (1931) instead of following West (1998–2000), who seems to want to read χθιζά τε καὶ πρωΐζ᾿ with φέρουσαι: ‘whomever the spirits of death have not come to carry away yesterday or the day before’. In support of my reading, see Leaf 1900–1902:I.71 (comment at Iliad II 303): “the principle verb is ἔφανη (308) … In this case, the phrase is used to make light of the long duration of the war, ‘it is as it were but yesterday, when,’ etc.”

[ back ] 25. The perfect οἶδα ‘I know’ (ἴδμεν = first person plural perfect active indicative, with poetic use of the plural) and aorist εἶδον ‘I saw’ are both from the same root verb unattested in the present tense in Greek (*εἴδω: compare Latin video). The perfect οἶδα retains a sense of visual basis, as knowledge itself is based on vision. Compare Iliad II 484–486 where the poet notes the Muses’ knowledge based on their omnipresence and vision (πάρεστέ τε, ἴστέ τε πάντα ‘you are present and know all things’) as opposed to human knowledge, which is based entirely on hearing second-hand report (ἡμεῖς δὲ κλέος οἶον ἀκούομεν, οὐδε τε ἴδμεν ‘but we hear only report, and do not know’).

[ back ] 26. On deixis in Homeric poetry as signaling “immediacy,” see Bakker 1999 and 2005 (especially chapter 5), with bibliography.