Two shadows racing on the grass,/ Silent and so near,/ Until his shadow falls on mine./ And I am rid of fear.

The Ballad of Hector in Hades by Edwin Muir – from a recentish edition of Selected Poems edited by Mick Imlah.

Yes, this is where I stood that day,
Beside this sunny mound.
The walls of Troy are far away,
And outward comes no sound.

I wait. On all the empty plain
A burnished stillness lies,
Save for the chariot’s tinkling hum,
And a few distant cries.

His helmet glitters near. The world
Slowly turns around,
With some new sleight compels my feet
From the fighting ground.

I run. If I turn back again
The earth must turn with me,
The mountains planted on the plain,
The sky clamped to the sea.

The grasses puff a little dust
Where my footsteps fall.
I cast a shadow as I pass
The little wayside wall.

The strip of grass on either hand
Sparkles in the light;
I only see that little space
To the left and to the right,

And in that space our shadows run,
His shadow there and mine,
The little flowers, the tiny mounds,
The grasses frail and fine.

But narrower still and narrower!
My course is shrunk and small,
Yet vast as in a deadly dream,
And faint the Trojan wall.
The sun up in the towering sky
Turns like a spinning ball.

The sky with all its clustered eyes
Grows still with watching me,
The flowers, the mounds, the flaunting weeds
Wheel slowly round to see.

Two shadows racing on the grass,
Silent and so near,
Until his shadow falls on mine.
And I am rid of fear.

The race is ended. Far away
I hang and do not care,
While round bright Troy Achilles whirls
A corpse with streaming hair.

And – for a hint of where the atmosphere Muir exploits comes from – here’s a famous simile of Homer’s from the chase scene in Iliad 22 (199-201):

And as in a dream a man can not pursue one who flees before him—the one can not flee, nor the other pursue—so Achilles could not overtake Hector in his fleetness, nor Hector escape.

ὡς δ᾿ ἐν ὀνείρῳ οὐ δύναται φεύγοντα διώκειν·
200οὔτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ὁ τὸν δύναται ὑποφεύγειν οὔθ᾿ ὁ διώκειν·
ὣς ὁ τὸν οὐ δύνατο μάρψαι ποσίν, οὐδ᾿ ὃς ἀλύξαι.

Somehow Aristarchus wished to reject those lines.

Then they dined on beef and necks of horses

The structure of Numa’s replies in the other day’s conversation between Numa and Jupiter put in mind a section of the The Contest of Homer and Hesiod (Certamen Homeri et Hesiodi) and the new text+commentary by Paola Bassino I’ve had out for the last year without opening. Below are the relevant sections (starting line ~100 of the text) and here is the dissertation version of the text+commentary (the main change to the published version seems to be the addition of a translation). This one does demand Greek since the charm – light though it may be – is in playing with the syntax of hexameters – Hesiod producing a complete line and Homer manufacturing an enjambment that reopens composition and allows him to flip the subversive sense of the original.

As he replied well also on these occasions, Hesiod turned to ambiguous propositions and, uttering several lines, expected Homer to reply in a fitting manner to each. So the first is Hesiod’s, the following Homer’s, though occasionally Hesiod composed the question by using two lines:

Hes. Then they dined on beef and necks of horses
Hom. they cleansed, since they were sweaty, being sated with war.
Hes. And the Phyrgians, who of all men on ships are the best
Hom. at having a meal on the shore with pirates.
Hes. Shooting arrows at the tribes of all the giants with his hands
Hom. Heracles loosed from his shoulders a bent bow.
Hes. This man is the son of a good man and a coward
Hom. mother, since war is hard for all women.
Hes. And not for [conceiving] you did your father and revered mother make love
Hom. the body that they sowed by the action of golden Aphrodite.
Hes. As she had yielded to marriage, Artemis shooter of arrows
Hom. killed Callisto from her silver bow.
Hes. So they feasted all day, having nothing
Hom. of their own, but Agamemnon lord of men arranged it.
Hes. Having dined among the smoky ashes
Hes. they gathered up the white bones of the deceased, Zeus’
Hom. son, the proud and godly Sarpedon.
Hes. Sitting thus over the plan of the Simois
Hes. we make our way from the ships carrying upon our shoulders
Hom. hilted swords and long-socketed javelins.
Hes. Then the best young men with their hands from the sea
Hom. pleased and eager dragged off the swift ship.
Hes. Then they took away the Colchian girl and king Aietes
Hom. they fled, as they recognised him as inhospitable and unlawful.
Hes. After they had made libations and drunk up the sea’s swell
Hom. they made themselves ready to sail on well-benched ships.
Hes. For them all the son of Atreus prayed very much, that they might perish
Hom. never in the sea, and he uttered this verse:
Hes. Eat, o foreigners, and drink; may none of you
Hes. return home to your dear fatherland
Hom. harmed, but may you reach home unharmed.

καλῶς δὲ καὶ ἐν τούτοις ἀπαντήσαντος ἐπὶ τὰς ἀμφιβόλους
γνώμας ὥρμησεν ὁ Ἡσίοδος, καὶ πλείονας στίχους λέγων
ἠξίου καθ’ ἕνα ἕκαστον συμφώνως ἀποκρίνασθαι τὸν Ὅμηρον.
ἔστιν οὖν ὁ μὲν πρῶτος Ἡσιόδου, ὁ δὲ ἑξῆς Ὁμήρου, ἐνίοτε δὲ
καὶ διὰ δύο στίχων τὴν ἐπερώτησιν ποιουμένου τοῦ Ἡσιόδου·

Hes. δεῖπνον ἔπειθ’ εἵλοντο βοῶν κρέα καὐχένας ἵππων
Hom. ἔκλυον ἱδρώοντας, ἐπεὶ πολέμοιο κορέσθην.
Hes. καὶ Φρύγες, οἳ πάντων ἀνδρῶν ἐπὶ νηυσὶν ἄριστοι
Hom. ἀνδράσι ληιστῆρσιν ἐπ’ ἀκτῆς δόρπον ἑλέσθαι.
Hes. χερσὶ βαλὼν ἰοῖσιν ὅλων κατὰ φῦλα γιγάντων
Hom. Ἡρακλῆς ἀπέλυσεν ἀπ’ ὤμων καμπύλα τόξα.
Hes. οὗτος ἀνὴρ ἀνδρός τ’ ἀγαθοῦ καὶ ἀνάλκιδός ἐστι
Hom. μητρός, ἐπεὶ πόλεμος χαλεπὸς πάσῃσι γυναιξίν.
Hes. οὔτ’ ἂρ σοί γε πατὴρ ἐμίγη καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
Hom. †σῶμα τό γ’ ἐσπείραντο† διὰ χρυσῆν Ἀφροδίτην.
Hes. αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δμήθη γάμῳ Ἄρτεμις ἰοχέαιρα
Hom. Καλλιστὼ κατέπεφνεν ἀπ’ ἀργυρέοιο βιοῖ<ο>.
Hes. ὣς οἳ μὲν δαίνυντο πανήμεροι, οὐδὲν ἔχοντες
Hom. οἴκοθεν, ἀλλὰ παρεῖχεν ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων.
Hes. δεῖπνον δειπνήσαντες ἐνὶ σποδῷ αἰθαλοέσσῃ
Hes. σύλλεγον ὀστέα λευκὰ Διὸς κατατεθνειῶτος
Hom. παιδὸς ὑπερθύμου Σαρπηδόνος ἀντιθέοιο.
Hes. ἡμεῖς δ’ ἂμ πεδίον Σιμοέντιον ἥμενοι οὕτως
Hes. ἴομεν ἐκ νηῶν ὁδὸν ἀμφ’ ὤμοισιν ἔχοντες
Hom. φάσγανα κωπήεντα καὶ αἰγανέας δολιχαύλους.
Hes. δὴ τότ’ ἀριστῆες κοῦροι χείρεσσι θαλάσσης
Hom. ἄσμενοι ἐσσυμένως τε ἀπείρυσαν ὠκύαλον ναῦν.
Hes. κολχίδ’ ἔπειτ’ ἤγοντο καὶ Αἰήτην βασιλῆα
Hom. φεῦγον, ἐπεὶ γίγνωσκον ἀνέστιον ἠδ’ ἀθέμιστον.
Hes. αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ σπεῖσάν τε καὶ ἔκπιον οἶδμα θαλάσσης
Hom. ποντοπορεῖν ἤμελλον ἐυσέλμων ἐπὶ νηῶν.
Hes. τοῖσιν δ’ Ἀτρείδης μεγάλ’ εὔχετο πᾶσιν ὀλέσθαι
Hom. μηδέ ποτ’ ἐν πόντῳ, καὶ φωνήσας ἔπος ηὔδα·
Hes. ἐσθίετ’ ὦ ξεῖνοι, καὶ πίνετε· μηδέ τις ὑμῶν
Hes. οἴκαδε νοστήσειε φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν
Hom. πημανθείς, ἀλλ’ αὖτις ἀπήμονες οἴκαδ’ ἵκοισθε.

Say, why are beauties prais’d and honour’d most, the wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast?

From Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, Canto 5. I think this is my favorite of of Pope’s bathetic appropriations from ancient epic – if only for how core a scene the original has become for interpreting the social politics of epic or epic-informed culture.

Then grave Clarissa graceful wav’d her fan;
Silence ensu’d, and thus the nymph began.

       “Say, why are beauties prais’d and honour’d most,
The wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast?
Why deck’d with all that land and sea afford,
Why angels call’d, and angel-like ador’d?
Why round our coaches crowd the white-glov’d beaux,
Why bows the side-box from its inmost rows?
How vain are all these glories, all our pains,
Unless good sense preserve what beauty gains:
That men may say, when we the front-box grace:
‘Behold the first in virtue, as in face!’
Oh! if to dance all night, and dress all day,
Charm’d the smallpox, or chas’d old age away;
Who would not scorn what housewife’s cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly thing of use?
To patch, nay ogle, might become a saint,
Nor could it sure be such a sin to paint.
But since, alas! frail beauty must decay,
Curl’d or uncurl’d, since locks will turn to grey,
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a man, must die a maid;
What then remains but well our pow’r to use,
And keep good humour still whate’er we lose?
And trust me, dear! good humour can prevail,
When airs, and flights, and screams, and scolding fail.
Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;
Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.”

Here is Pope’s own rendering of the relevant scene in the Iliad – bk 12 310-328 between Sarpedon (speaking) and Glaucus. This one, from his full translation, is a slight revision from an earlier selection of episodes. My edition – the Twickenham v.2 – points out that the parody is closer to a translation by John Denham, though I haven’t found a readily available digital copy to check.

Then casting on his friend an ardent look,
Fired with the thirst of glory, thus he spoke:
“Why boast we, Glaucus! our extended reign,
Where Xanthus’ streams enrich the Lycian plain,
Our numerous herds that range the fruitful field,
And hills where vines their purple harvest yield,
Our foaming bowls with purer nectar crown’d,
Our feasts enhanced with music’s sprightly sound?
Why on those shores are we with joy survey’d,
Admired as heroes, and as gods obey’d,
Unless great acts superior merit prove,
And vindicate the bounteous powers above?
’Tis ours, the dignity they give to grace;
The first in valour, as the first in place;
That when with wondering eyes our martial bands
Behold our deeds transcending our commands,
Such, they may cry, deserve the sovereign state,
Whom those that envy dare not imitate!
Could all our care elude the gloomy grave,
Which claims no less the fearful and the brave,
For lust of fame I should not vainly dare
In fighting fields, nor urge thy soul to war.
But since, alas! ignoble age must come,
Disease, and death’s inexorable doom,
The life, which others pay, let us bestow,
And give to fame what we to nature owe;
Brave though we fall, and honour’d if we live,
Or let us glory gain, or glory give!”

and the Greek because it is always prettiest.

Γλαῦκε τί ἢ δὴ νῶϊ τετιμήμεσθα μάλιστα
ἕδρῃ τε κρέασίν τε ἰδὲ πλείοις δεπάεσσιν
ἐν Λυκίῃ, πάντες δὲ θεοὺς ὣς εἰσορόωσι,
καὶ τέμενος νεμόμεσθα μέγα Ξάνθοιο παρ᾽ ὄχθας
καλὸν φυταλιῆς καὶ ἀρούρης πυροφόροιο;
τὼ νῦν χρὴ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισιν ἐόντας
ἑστάμεν ἠδὲ μάχης καυστείρης ἀντιβολῆσαι,
ὄφρά τις ὧδ᾽ εἴπῃ Λυκίων πύκα θωρηκτάων:
οὐ μὰν ἀκλεέες Λυκίην κάτα κοιρανέουσιν
ἡμέτεροι βασιλῆες, ἔδουσί τε πίονα μῆλα
οἶνόν τ᾽ ἔξαιτον μελιηδέα: ἀλλ᾽ ἄρα καὶ ἲς
ἐσθλή, ἐπεὶ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισι μάχονται.
ὦ πέπον εἰ μὲν γὰρ πόλεμον περὶ τόνδε φυγόντε
αἰεὶ δὴ μέλλοιμεν ἀγήρω τ᾽ ἀθανάτω τε
ἔσσεσθ᾽, οὔτέ κεν αὐτὸς ἐνὶ πρώτοισι μαχοίμην
οὔτέ κε σὲ στέλλοιμι μάχην ἐς κυδιάνειραν:
νῦν δ᾽ ἔμπης γὰρ κῆρες ἐφεστᾶσιν θανάτοιο
μυρίαι, ἃς οὐκ ἔστι φυγεῖν βροτὸν οὐδ᾽ ὑπαλύξαι,
ἴομεν ἠέ τῳ εὖχος ὀρέξομεν ἠέ τις ἡμῖν.

Plus a bonus parallel from Milton’s Paradise Lost 2.450

Wherefore do I assume
These royalties and not refuse to reign,
Refusing to accept as great a share
Of hazard as of honour, due alike to him
Who reigns, and so much to him due
Of hazard more, as he above the rest
High honour’d sits.

An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star

Edmund in 1.2 of King Lear:

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune,–often the surfeit
of our own behavior,–we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star!

My personal locus classicus for such observations is Zeus in Odyssey 1.30ish, on the troubles Aegisthus has brought upon himself – even though there he wobbles a bit in conceding a different manner of predestination.

Look you now, how ready mortals are to blame the gods. It is from us, they say, that evils come, but they even of themselves, through their own blind folly, have sorrows beyond that which is ordained.

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται:
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ᾽ ἔμμεναι, οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε᾽ ἔχουσιν,

As in a dream, when languid sleep seals eyes in our night-time rest

From Aeneid 12.908-918, as Turnus is hunted down by Aeneas. Virgil here borrows and improves on a Homeric image from Achilles’ pursuit of Hector:

ac velut in somnis, oculos ubi languida pressit
nocte quies, nequiquam avidos extendere cursus
velle videmur et in mediis conatibus aegri
succidimus; non lingua valet, non corpore notae
sufficiunt vires nec vox aut verba sequuntur:
sic Turno, quacumque viam virtute petivit,
successum dea dira negat. tum pectore sensus
vertuntur varii; Rutulos aspectat et urbem
cunctaturque metu letumque instare tremescit,
nec quo se eripiat, nec qua vi tendat in hostem,
nec currus usquam videt aurigamve sororem.

As in a dream, when languid sleep seals eyes in our night-time
Rest, we’re aware, in ourselves, of desperately wanting to reach out
Into some purpose or course; but strength, in the midst of our efforts,
Fails us. We feebly slump. Our tongues will not function, our usual
Bodily powers don’t support us. No sound, no words find expression.
Such was Turnus’s plight. Whatever attempt at heroic
Action he made, the grim goddess frustrated. Conflicting emotions
Whirl through his heart as he stares at Rutulians, stares at the city,
Hesitates, frightened, and shakes at the sight of the menacing javelin,
Sees no place to pull back to, no force to deploy on his foeman,
No sign at all of his chariot or of its driver, his sister.

Iliad 22.199-201 in the Loeb text and translation. The translation obscures what is a common Homeric composition technique but may be a more conscious element here to imitate the fuzzy quality of dreams – there are no names, only pronouns :

ὡς δ᾿ ἐν ὀνείρῳ οὐ δύναται φεύγοντα διώκειν·
οὔτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ὁ τὸν δύναται ὑποφεύγειν οὔθ᾿ ὁ διώκειν·
ὣς ὁ τὸν οὐ δύνατο μάρψαι ποσίν, οὐδ᾿ ὃς ἀλύξαι.

And as in a dream a man can not pursue one who flees before him—the one can not flee, nor the other pursue—so Achilles could not overtake Hector in his fleetness, nor Hector escape

Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron

Spiralling associative chains, beginning with the Sybil to Aeneas (6.135):

Quod si tantus amor menti, si tanta cupido est,
bis Stygios innare lacus, bis nigra videre
Tartara, et insano iuvat indulgere labori,
accipe, quae peragenda prius.

In Ahl’s Oxford Classics:

Yet, if there’s love so strong in your mind, so mighty a passion
Twice to float over the Stygian lakes, twice gaze upon deep black
Tartarus, if it’s your pleasure to wanton in labours of madness,
Grasp what you must do first.

And moving to Gerard de Nerval’s El Desdichado:

Je suis le ténébreux,- le Veuf, – l’inconsolé,
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie:
Ma seule étoile est morte, et mon luth constellé
Porte le soleil noir de la Mélancolie.

Dans la nuit du Tombeau, Toi qui m’as consolé,
Rends-moi le Pausilippe et la mer d’Italie,
La fleur qui plaisait tant à mon coeur désolé,
Et la treille où le Pampre à la rose s’allie.

Suis-je Amour ou Phoebus ?…. Lusignan ou Biron ?
Mon front est rouge encor du baiser de la Reine ;
J’ai rêvé dans la grotte où nage la Sirène…

Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron :
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d’Orphée
Les soupirs de la Sainte et les cris de la Fée.

And in the Penguin Selected Writings translation by Richard Sieburth:

I am the man of gloom – the widower – the unconsoled, the prince of Aquitaine, his tower in ruins: My sole star is dead – and my constellated lute bears the Black Sun of Melancholia.

In the night of the tomb, you who consoled me, give me back Posilipo and the Italian sea, the flower that so pleased my desolate heart, and the arbour where the vine and the rose are entwined.

Am I Amor or Phoebus? … Lusignan or Biron? My brow still burns from the kiss of the queen; I have dreamed in the grotto where the siren swims …

And I have twice victorious crossed the Acheron: Modulating on Orpheus’ lyre now the sighs of the saint, now the fairy’s cry.

And back to the beginning, a Homeric hapax from Odyssey 12.21, Circe to Odysseus:

σχέτλιοι, οἳ ζώοντες ὑπήλθετε δῶμ᾽ Ἀίδαο,
δισθανέες, ὅτε τ᾽ ἄλλοι ἅπαξ θνῄσκουσ᾽ ἄνθρωποι.

Unwearying, you who alive go down to the house of Hades,
twice-dying, when other men die once.

Closing with an unrelated echo from Dante, Inferno 24 4. Which commentaries tell me is also a hapax suggested by Jude’s (12) ‘arbores…. bis mortuae’ (trees twice dead).

e l’ombre, che parean cose rimorte,
per le fosse de li occhi ammirazione
traean di me, di mio vivere accorte.

And the Longfellow translation:

And shadows, that appeared things doubly dead,
From out the sepulchres of their eyes betrayed
Wonder at me, aware that I was living.



But to leave ourselves as we now are, this I do not advise

From the conclusion of Plato’s Laches (201B)

Socrates: ….Now if in the debates that we have just held I had been found to know what our two friends did not know, it would be right to make a point of inviting me to take up this work: but as it is, we have all got into the same difficulty, so why should one of us be preferred to another? In my own opinion, none of us should; and this being so, perhaps you will allow me to give you a piece of advice. I tell you, gentlemen—and this is confidential—that we ought all alike to seek out the best teacher we can find, first for ourselves—for we need one—and then for our boys, sparing neither expense nor anything else we can do: but to leave ourselves as we now are, this I do not advise. And if anyone makes fun of us for seeing fit to go to school at our time of life, I think we should appeal to Homer, who said that “shame is no good mate for a needy man.”


ΣΩ. Καὶ γὰρ ἂν δεινὸν εἴη, ὦ Λυσίμαχε, τοῦτό γε, μὴ ἐθέλειν τῳ συμπροθυμεῖσθαι ὡς βελτίστῳ γενέσθαι. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐν τοῖς διαλόγοις τοῖς ἄρτι ἐγὼ μὲν ἐφάνην εἰδώς, τώδε δὲ μὴ εἰδότε, δίκαιον ἂν ἦν ἐμὲ μάλιστα ἐπὶ τοῦτο τὸ ἔργον παρακαλεῖν· νῦν δ᾿, ὁμοίως γὰρ πάντες ἐν ἀπορίᾳ ἐγενόμεθα· τί οὖν ἄν τις ἡμῶν τινὰ προαιροῖτο; ἐμοὶ μὲν οὖν δὴ αὐτῷ δοκεῖ οὐδένα· ἀλλ᾿ ἐπειδὴ ταῦτα οὕτως ἔχει, σκέψασθε ἄν τι δόξω συμβουλεύειν ὑμῖν. ἐγὼ γάρ φημι χρῆναι, ὦ ἄνδρες—οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἔκφορος λόγος—κοινῇ πάντας ἡμᾶς ζητεῖν μάλιστα μὲν ἡμῖν αὐτοῖς διδάσκαλον ὡς ἄριστον—δεόμεθα γάρ—ἔπειτα καὶ τοῖς μειρακίοις, μήτε χρημάτων φειδομένους μήτε ἄλλου μηδενός· ἐᾷν δὲ ἡμᾶς αὐτοὺς ἔχειν, ὡς νῦν ἔχομεν, οὐ συμβουλεύω. εἰ δέ τις ἡμῶν καταγελάσεται, ὅτι τηλικοίδε ὄντες εἰς διδασκάλων Βἀξιοῦμεν φοιτᾷν, τὸν Ὅμηρον δοκεῖ μοι χρῆναι προβάλλεσθαι, ὃς ἔφη οὐκ ἀγαθὴν εἶναι αἰδῶ κεχρημένῳ ἀνδρὶ παρεῖναι.

The Homer quote is from Odyssey 17.347 as Telemachus and Odysseus-as-beggar have arrived in Odysseus’ home:

Then Telemachus called the swineherd to him, and, taking a whole loaf from the beautiful basket, and all the meat his hands could hold in his grasp, spoke to him, saying:

“Take, and give this to the stranger, and bid him go about himself and beg of the suitors one and all. Shame is no good thing in a man that is in need.”


Τηλέμαχος δ᾿ ἐπὶ οἷ καλέσας προσέειπε συβώτην,
ἄρτον τ᾿ οὖλον ἑλὼν περικαλλέος ἐκ κανέοιο
καὶ κρέας, ὥς οἱ χεῖρες ἐχάνδανον ἀμφιβαλόντι·

“δὸς τῷ ξείνῳ ταῦτα φέρων αὐτόν τε κέλευε
αἰτίζειν μάλα πάντας ἐποιχόμενον μνηστῆρας·
αἰδὼς δ᾿ οὐκ ἀγαθὴ κεχρημένῳ ἀνδρὶ παρεῖναι.”

 

 

A Turtle, a Horse, and a Courtesan Walk into a Bar

And all in the same way

Homeric Hymn to Hermes lines 25-28:

Ἑρμῆς τοι πρώτιστα χέλυν τεκτήνατ᾽ ἀοιδόν:
ἥ ῥά οἱ ἀντεβόλησεν ἐπ᾽ αὐλείῃσι θύρῃσι
βοσκομένη προπάροιθε δόμων ἐριθηλέα ποίην,
σαῦλα ποσὶν βαίνουσα:

For it was Hermes who first made the tortoise a singer. The creature fell in his way at the courtyard gate, where it was feeding on the rich grass before the dwelling, waddling along. (Hugh Evelyn-White translation)

Hermes it was who first crafted the singing tortoise. He encountered it at the yard entrance as it grazed on the lush grass in front of the dwelling, sidling along on its legs. (M.L. West translation)

Semonides 18 :

Etymologicum Genuinum

διασαυλούμενος: putting on airs and having an affected manner . . . from σαῦλος which means effeminate and haughty. Cf. Semonides in iambics:

with mincing gait and arched neck like a horse’s


διασαυλούμενος· ἁβρυνόμενος καὶ διαθρυπτόμενος . . . παρὰ τὸν σαῦλον τὸν τρυφερὸν καὶ γαῦρον. Σιμωνίδης ἐν ἰάμβοις·

καὶ σαῦλα βαίνων ἵππος ὣς †κορωνίτης. (David Campbell translation)

Anacreon 168:

Διονύσου σαῦλαι Βασσαρίδες

The hip-swaying Bassarids of Dionysus (David Campbell translation)

νιφάδες δ᾽ ὡς πῖπτον ἔραζε

Iliad 12.130ish

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ τεῖχος ἐπεσσυμένους ἐνόησαν
Τρῶας, ἀτὰρ Δαναῶν γένετο ἰαχή τε φόβος τε,
ἐκ δὲ τὼ ἀΐξαντε πυλάων πρόσθε μαχέσθην
ἀγροτέροισι σύεσσιν ἐοικότε, τώ τ᾽ ἐν ὄρεσσιν
ἀνδρῶν ἠδὲ κυνῶν δέχαται κολοσυρτὸν ἰόντα,
δοχμώ τ᾽ ἀΐσσοντε περὶ σφίσιν ἄγνυτον ὕλην
πρυμνὴν ἐκτάμνοντες, ὑπαὶ δέ τε κόμπος ὀδόντων
γίγνεται εἰς ὅ κέ τίς τε βαλὼν ἐκ θυμὸν ἕληται:
ὣς τῶν κόμπει χαλκὸς ἐπὶ στήθεσσι φαεινὸς
ἄντην βαλλομένων: μάλα γὰρ κρατερῶς ἐμάχοντο
λαοῖσιν καθύπερθε πεποιθότες ἠδὲ βίηφιν.
οἳ δ᾽ ἄρα χερμαδίοισιν ἐϋδμήτων ἀπὸ πύργων
βάλλον ἀμυνόμενοι σφῶν τ᾽ αὐτῶν καὶ κλισιάων
νηῶν τ᾽ ὠκυπόρων: νιφάδες δ᾽ ὡς πῖπτον ἔραζε,
ἅς τ᾽ ἄνεμος ζαὴς νέφεα σκιόεντα δονήσας
ταρφειὰς κατέχευεν ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ:
ὣς τῶν ἐκ χειρῶν βέλεα ῥέον ἠμὲν Ἀχαιῶν
ἠδὲ καὶ ἐκ Τρώων:

On Homer and the epic hypertext

From Pietro Pucci’s The Iliad: The Poem of Zeus (pg 182) – in his discussion of the scene where Hera seduces Zeus to distract his attention from the battlefield and her plan to help the Achaeans.  This seemed the most soberly presented summary I’ve found of his approach to the epics generally – stretching back to his earlier Song of the Sirens and Odysseus Polytropos where he, by virtue of reading the Iliad and Odyssey against each other, feels himself on firmer ground for making what sometimes end up – for me – too strong assertions of linkage, reference, reworking, and subversion.  Here, forced to a conceptual rather than specific justification, his practice appears less extreme.

The Iliadic text recalls for its contemporary audience a traditional episode from the Heracles saga: they may know and recall it, or find it new, in the wake of analogous stories in the large mythical-epic panorama which they control.  The text gave the Narratees the privilege of measuring the differences in narrative details and tone between the passage and the Iliadic exploitation of it.  For instance, in Hypnos’ version of Hera’s first request, it is not indicated whether she made love with Zeus before Hypnos’ intervention.  A textual game was proposed to the Narratees, in which they enjoyed the emotional repetition of the scenes and savored the critical use that the Iliad made of its borrowings.  If they found the episode new, they enjoyed the invention of the story that enriched their mythical-epic panorama.  We have lost the ability to confirm this possibility and cannot be sure whether our perception that the text re-channels a story from another epic poem is certain, and, if it is true, how that story is elaborated by our text.

It remains appealing to question what the critical purpose or effect is that the text aims at by re-channelling certain old stories about Zeus, some of them being unedifying, even if entertaining.

The best option seems to me that the narrative quotes, integrates, or simply echoes traditional stories with the intent of granting them new edifying perspectives or of making fun of the traditional versions.