Ares, the moneychanger of bodies

From Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (432-444). The first translation is Alan Sommerstein’s from the new Loeb Aeschylus, the second is Eduard Fraenkel’s from his full edition of the play (the Greek is Sommerstein’s). I’m always partial to Fraenkel since I’ve spent a lot of time with his commentary but his choice to render in prose usually costs him popularity. At bottom are some flavor bits of his commentary for this section – since his edition is long out of print and now unfairly priced.

There is much, at any rate, that strikes deep into the soul:
one knows the men one sent off,
but instead of human beings
urns and ashes arrive back
at each man’s home.
Ares, the moneychanger of bodies,
holding his scales in the battle of spears,
sends back from Ilium to their dear ones
heavy dust that has been through the fire,
to be sadly wept over,
filling easily-stowed urns
with ash given in exchange for men.


There is much, at any rate, that touches the very heart: those whom they sent they know, but instead of the men urns and ashes come back to each one’s home.

The gold-changer Ares, changer of bodies, and holder of his scales in the battle of the spear, sends from Ilion to the kinsmen what has felt the fire, heavy gold-dust bitterly bewailed, freighting the easily-stowed urns with ashes in exchange for men.


πολλὰ γοῦν θιγγάνει πρὸς ἧπαρ·
οὓς μὲν γάρ <τις> ἔπεμψεν
οἶδεν, ἀντὶ δὲ φωτῶν
τεύχη καὶ σποδὸς εἰς ἑκάσ-
του δόμους ἀφικνεῖται.
ὁ χρυσαμοιβὸς δ᾿ Ἄρης σωμάτων
καὶ ταλαντοῦχος ἐν μάχᾳ δορὸς
πυρωθὲν ἐξ Ἰλίου
φίλοισι πέμπει βαρὺ
ψῆγμα δυσδάκρυτον, ἀν-
τήνορος σποδοῦ γεμί-
ζων λέβητας εὐθέτους.

435 τεύχη [ instead of the men urns and ashes come back] : it is tempting to take this as meaning the armour, especially as this Homeric use of the word occurs not only in Sophocles and Euripides, but in Aeschylus, too …

437ff. … It is characteristic of Aeschylus that in order to heighten the effect of terrible happenings he does not borrow his imagery from the realm of the unreal and the fantastic, as many romantic poets do, but from the familiar processes of everyday life or the peaceful incidents in nature: while he depicts with minute exactness little details innocent enough in themselves (e.g. in this passage ταλαντοῦχος, ψῆγμα, γεμίζων λέβητας), he gives them at the same time a metaphorical relation to terrible powers, and it is just this contrast that intensifies the horror.

441 βαρὺ ψῆγμα : nothing, I am afraid, can be done to help those fanatics of logic who would remove or at least suspect this magnificent oxymoron …

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