Homer and His Age, by Andrew Lang

Chapter 13

The “Doloneia”

“Iliad,” Book X.

Of all Books in the Iliad, Book X., called the Doloneia, is most generally scouted and rejected. The Book, in fact, could be omitted, and only a minutely analytic reader would perceive the lacuna. He would remark that in Iliad, IX. 65–84, certain military preparations are made which, if we suppress Book X., lead up to nothing, and that in Iliad, XIV. 9–11, we find Nestor with the shield of his son, Thrasymedes, while Thrasymedes has his father’s shield, a fact not explained, though the poet certainly meant something by it. The explanation in both cases is found in Book X., which may also be thought to explain why the Achaeans, so disconsolate in Book IX., and why Agamemnon, so demoralised, so gaily assume the offensive in Book XI. Some ancient critics, Scholiast T and Eustathius, attributed the Doloneia to Homer, but supposed it to have been a separate composition of his added to the Iliad by Pisistratus. This merely proves that they did not find any necessity for the existence of the Doloneia. Mr. Allen, who thinks that “it always held its present place,” says, “the Doloneia is persistently written down.” 324

To understand the problem of the Doloneia, we must make a summary of its contents. In Book IX. 65–84, at the end of the disastrous fighting of Book VIII, the Achaeans, by Nestor’s advice, station an advanced guard of “the young men” between the fosse and wall; 700 youths are posted there, under Meriones, the squire of Idomeneus, and Thrasymedes, the son of Nestor. All this is preparation for Book X., as Mr. Leaf remarks, 325 though in any case an advanced guard was needed. Their business is to remain awake, under arms, in case the Trojans, who are encamped on the plain, attempt a night attack. At their station the young men will be under arms till dawn; they light fires and cook their provisions; the Trojans also surround their own watchfires.

The Achaean chiefs then hold council, and Agamemnon sends the embassy to Achilles. The envoys bring back his bitter answer; and all men go to sleep in their huts, deeply discouraged, as even Odysseus avowed.

Here the Tenth Book begins, and it is manifest that the poet is thoroughly well acquainted with the Ninth Book. Without the arrangements made in the Ninth Book, and without the despairing situation of that Book, his lay is impossible. It will be seen that critics suppose him, alternately, to have “quite failed to realise the conditions of life of the heroes of whom he sang” (that is, if certain lines are genuine), and also to be a peculiarly learned archaeologist and a valuable authority on weapons. He is addicted to introducing fanciful “touches of heroic simplicity,” says Mr. Leaf, and is altogether a puzzling personage to the critics.

The Book opens with the picture of Agamemnon, sleepless from anxiety, while the other chiefs, save Menelaus, are sleeping. He “hears the music of the joyous Trojan pipes and flutes” and sees the reflected glow of their camp-fires, we must suppose, for he could not see the fires themselves through the new wall of his own camp, as critics very wisely remark. He tears out his hair before Zeus; no one else does so, in the Iliad, but no one else is Agamemnon, alone and in despair.

He rises to consult Nestor, throwing a lion’s skin over his chiton, and grasping a spear. Much noise is made about the furs, such as this lion’s pelt, which the heroes, in Book X., throw about their shoulders when suddenly aroused. That sportsmen like the heroes should keep the pelts of animals slain by them for use as coverlets, and should throw on one of the pelts when aroused in a hurry, is a marvellous thing to the critics. They know that fleeces were used for coverlets of beds (IX. 661), and pelts of wild animals, slain by Anchises, cover his bed in the Hymn to Aphrodite.

But the facts do not enlighten critics. Yet no facts could be more natural. A scientific critic, moreover, never reflects that the poet is dealing with an unexampled situation — heroes wakened and called into the cold air in a night of dread, but not called to battle. Thus Reichel says: “The poet knows so little about true heroic costume that he drapes the princes in skins of lions and panthers, like giants. . . . But about a corslet he never thinks.” 326

The simple explanation is that the poet has not hitherto had to tell us about men who are called up, not to fight, on a night that must have been chilly. In war they do not wear skins, though Paris, in archer’s equipment, wears a pard’s skin (III. 17). Naturally, the men throw over themselves their fur coverlets; but Nestor, a chilly veteran, prefers a chiton and a wide, double-folded, fleecy purple cloak. The cloak lay ready to his hand, for such cloaks were used as blankets (XXIV. 646; Odyssey, III. 349, 351; IV. 299; II. 189). We hear more of such bed-coverings in the Odyssey than in the merely because in the Odyssey we have more references to beds and to people in bed. That a sportsman may have (as many folk have now) a fur coverlet, and may throw it over him as a kind of dressing-gown or “bed-gown,” is a simple circumstance which bewilders the critical mind and perplexed Reichel.

If the poet knew so little as Reichel supposed his omission of corslets is explained. Living in an age of corslets (seventh century), he, being a literary man, knew nothing about corslets, or, as he is also an acute archaeologist, he knew too much; he knew that they were not worn in the Mycenaean prime, so he did not introduce them. The science of this remarkable ignoramus, in this view, accounts for his being aware that pelts of animals were in vogue as coverlets, just as fur dressing-gowns were worn in the sixteenth century, and he introduces them precisely as he leaves corslets out, because he knows that pelts of fur were in use, and that, in the Mycenaean prime, corslets were not worn.

In speaking to Nestor, Agamemnon awakens sympathy: “Me, of all the Achaeans, Zeus has set in toil and labour ceaselessly.” They are almost the very words of Charlemagne in the Chanson de Roland: “Deus, Dist li Reis, si peneuse est ma vie.“ The author of the Doloneia consistently conforms to the character of Agamemnon as drawn in the rest of the Iliad. He is over-anxious; he is demoralising in his fits of gloom, but all the burden of the host hangs on him — sipeneuse est ma via.

To turn to higher things. Menelaus, too, was awake, anxious about the Argives, who risked their lives in his cause alone. He got up, put on a pard’s skin and a bronze helmet (here the poet forgets, what he ought to have known, that no bronze helmets have been found in the Mycenaean graves). Menelaus takes a spear, and goes to look for Agamemnon, whom he finds arming himself beside his ship. He discovers that Agamemnon means to get Nestor to go and speak to the advanced guard, as his son is their commander, and they will obey Nestor. Agamemnon’s pride has fallen very low! He tells Menelaus to waken the other chief with all possible formal courtesy, for, brutally rude when in high heart, at present Agamemnon cowers to everybody. He himself finds Nestor in bed, his shield, two spears, and helmet beside him, also his glittering zoster. His corslet is not named; perhaps the poet knew that the zoster, or broad metallic belt, had been evolved, but that the corslet had not been invented; or perhaps he “knows so little about the costume of the heroes” that he is unaware of the existence of corslets. Nestor asks Agamemnon what he wants; and Agamemnon says that his is a toilsome life, that he cannot sleep, that his knees tremble, and that he wants Nestor to come and visit the outposts.

There is really nothing absurd in this. Napoleon often visited his outposts in the night before Waterloo, and Cromwell rode along his lines all through the night before Dunbar, biting his lips till the blood dropped on his linen bands. In all three cases hostile armies were arrayed within striking distance of each other, and the generals were careworn.

Nestor admits that it is an anxious night, and rather blames Menelaus for not rousing the other chiefs; but Agamemnon explains and defends his brother. Nestor then puts on the comfortable cloak already described, and picks up a spear, leaving his shield in his quarters.

As for Odysseus, he merely throws a shield over his shoulders. The company of Diomede are sleeping with their heads on their shields. Thence Reichel (see “The Shield”) infers that the late poet of Book X. gave them small Ionian round bucklers; but it has been shown that no such inference is legitimate. Their spears were erect by their sides, fixed in the ground by the sauroter, or butt-spike, used by the men of the late “warrior vase” found at Mycenae. To arrange the spears thus, we have seen, was a point of drill that, in Aristotle’s time, survived among the Illyrians. 327 The practice is also alluded to in Iliad, III 135. During a truce “the tall spears are planted by their sides.” The poet, whether ignorant or learned, knew that point of war, later obsolete in Greece, but still extant in Illyria.

Nestor aroused Diomede, whose night apparel was the pelt of a lion; he took his spear, and they came to the outposts, where the men were awake, and kept a keen watch on all movements among the Trojans. Nestor praised them, and the princes, taking Nestor’s son, Thrasymedes, and Meriones with them, went out into the open in view of the Trojan camp, sat down, and held a consultation.

Nestor asked if any one would volunteer to go as a spy among the Trojans and pick up intelligence. His reward will be “a black ewe with her lamb at her foot,” from their chiefs —“nothing like her for value”— and he will be remembered in songs at feasts, or will be admitted to feasts and wine parties of the chiefs. 328 The proposal is very odd; what do the princes want with black ewes, while at feasts they always have honoured places? Can Nestor be thinking of sending out any brave swift-footed young member of the outpost party, to whom the reward would be appropriate?

After silence, Diomede volunteers to go, with a comrade, though this kind of work is very seldom undertaken in any army of any age by a chief, and by his remark about admission to wine parties it is clear that Nestor was not thinking of a princely spy. Many others volunteer, but Agamemnon bids Diomede choose his own companion, with a very broad hint not to take Menelaus. His death, Agamemnon knows, would mean the disgraceful return of the host to Greece; besides he is, throughout the Iliad, deeply attached to his brother.

The poet of Book X., however late, knows the Iliad well, for he keeps up the uniform treatment of the character of the Over–Lord. As he knows the Iliad well, how can he be ignorant of the conditions of life of the heroes? How can he dream of “introducing a note of heroic simplicity” (Mr. Leaf’s phrase), when he must be as well aware as we are of the way in which the heroes lived? We cannot explain the black ewes, if meant as a princely reward, but we do not know everything about Homeric life.

Diomede chooses Odysseus, “whom Pallas Athene loveth”; she was also the patroness of Diomede himself, in Books V., VI.

As they are unarmed — all of the chiefs hastily aroused were unarmed, save for a spear there or a sword here — Thrasymedes gives to Diomede his two-edged sword, his shield, and “a helm of bull’s hide, without horns or crest, that is called a skull-cap (knap-skull), and keeps the heads of strong young men.” All the advanced guard were young men, as we saw in Book IX. 77. Obviously, Thrasymedes must then send back to camp, though we are not told it, for another shield, sword, and helmet, as he is to lie all night under arms. We shall hear of the shield later.

Meriones, who is an archer (XIII. 650), lends to Odysseus his bow and quiver and a sword. He also gives him “a helm made of leather; and with many a thong it was stiffly wrought within, while without the white teeth of a boar of flashing tusks were arrayed, thick set on either side well and cunningly . . . .” Here Reichel perceives that the ignorant poet is describing a piece of ancient headgear represented in Mycenaean art, while the boars’ teeth were found by Schliemann, to the number of sixty, in Grave IV. at Mycenae. Each of them had “the reverse side cut perfectly flat, and with the borings to attach them to some other object.” They were “in a veritable funereal armoury.” The manner of setting the tusks on the cap is shown on an ivory head of a warrior from Mycenae. 329

Reichel recognises that the poet’s description in Book X. is excellent, “ebenso klar als eingehend.” He publishes another ivory head from Spata, with the same helmet set with boars’ tusks. 330 Mr. Leaf decides that this description by the poet, wholly ignorant of heroic costume, as Reichel thinks him, must be “another instance of the archaic and archaeologising tendency so notable in Book X.” 331

At the same time, according to Reichel and Mr. Leaf, the poet of Book X. introduces the small round Ionian buckler, thus showing his utter ignorance of the great Mycenaean shield. The ignorance was most unusual and quite inexcusable, for any one who reads the rest of the Iliad (which the poet of Book X. knew well) is aware that the Homeric shields were huge, often covering body and legs. This fact the poet of Book X. did not know, in Reichel’s opinion. 332

How are we to understand this poet? He is such an erudite archaeologist that, in the seventh century, he knows and carefully describes a helmet of the Mycenaean prime. Did he excavate it? and had the leather interior lasted with the felt cap through seven centuries? Or did he see a sample in an old temple of the Mycenaean prime, or in a museum of his own period? Or had he heard of it in a lost Mycenaean poem? Yet, careful as he was, so pedantic that he must have puzzled his seventh-century audience, who never saw such caps, the poet knew nothing of the shields and costumes of the heroes, though he might have found out all that is known about them in the then existing Iliadic lays with which he was perfectly familiar — see his portrait of Agamemnon. He was well aware that corslets were, in Homeric poetry, anachronisms, for he gave Nestor none; yet he fully believed, in his ignorance, that small Ionian bucklers loveth; (which need the aid of corslets badly) were the only wear among the heroes!

Criticism has, as we often observe, no right to throw the first stone at the inconsistencies of Homer. As we cannot possibly believe that one poet knew so much which his contemporaries did not know (and how, in the seventh century, could he know it?), and that he also knew so little, knew nothing in fact, we take our own view. The poet of Book X. sings of a fresh topic, a confused night of dread; of young men wearing the headgear which, he says, young men do wear; of pelts of fur such as suddenly wakened men, roused, but not roused for battle, would be likely to throw over their bodies against the chill air. He describes things of his own day; things with which he is familiar. He is said to “take quite a peculiar delight in the minute description of dress and weapons.” 333 We do not observe that he does describe weapons or shields minutely; but Homer always loves to describe weapons and costume — scores of examples prove it — and here he happens to be describing such costume as he nowhere else has occasion to mention. By an accident of archaeological discovery, we find that there were such caps set with boars’ tusks as he introduces. They had survived, for young men on night duty, into the poet’s age. We really cannot believe that a poet of the seventh century had made excavations in Mycenaean graves. If he did and put the results into his lay, his audience — not wearing boars’ tusks — would have asked, “What nonsense is the man talking?”

Erhardt, remarking on the furs which the heroes throw over their shoulders when aroused, says that this kind of wrap is very late. It was Peisander who, in the second half of the seventh century, clothed Herakles in a lion’s skin. Peisander brought this costume into poetry, and the author of the Doloneia knew no better than to follow Peisander. 334 The poet of the Doloneia was thus much better acquainted with Peisander than with the Homeric lays, which could have taught him that a hero would never wear a fur coverlet when aroused — not to fight — from slumber. Yet he knew about leathern caps set with boars’ tusks. He must have been an erudite excavator, but, in literature, a reader only of recent minor poetry.

Having procured arms, without corslets (with corslets, according to Carl Robert)— whether, if they had none, because the poet knew that corslets were anachronisms, or because spies usually go as lightly burdened as possible — Odysseus and Diomede approach the Trojan camp. The hour is the darkest hour before dawn. They hear, but do not see, a heron sent by Athene as an omen, and pray to the goddess, with promise of sacrifice.

In the Trojan camp Hector has called a council, and asked for a volunteer spy to seek intelligence among the Achaeans. He offers no black ewes as a reward, but the best horses of the enemy. This allures Dolon, son of a rich Trojan, “an only son among five sisters,” a poltroon, a weak lad, ugly, but swift of foot, and an enthusiastic lover of horses. He asks for the steeds of Achilles, which Hector swears to give him; and to be lightly clad he takes merely spear and bow and a cap of ferret skin, with the pelt of a wolf for covering. Odysseus sees him approach; he and Diomede lie down among the dead till Dolon passes, then they chase him towards the Achaean camp and catch him. He offers ransom, which before these last days of the war was often accepted. Odysseus replies evasively, and asks for information. Dolon, thinking that the bitterness of death is past, explains that only the Trojans have watch-fires; the allies, more careless, have none. At the extreme flank of the host sleep the newly arrived Thracians, under their king, Rhesus, who has golden armour, and “the fairest horses that ever I beheld” (the ruling passion for horses is strong in Dolon), “and the greatest, whiter than snow, and for speed like the winds.”

Having learned all that he needs to know, Diomede ruthlessly slays Dolon. Odysseus thanks Athene, and hides the poor spoils of the dead, marking the place. They then creep into the dark camp of the sleeping Thracians, and as Diomede slays them Odysseus drags each body aside, to leave a clear path for the horses, that they may not plunge and tremble when they are led forth, “for they were not yet used to dead men.” No line in Homer shows more intimate knowledge and realisation of horses and of war. Odysseus drives the horses of Rhesus out of the camp with the bow of Meriones; he has forgotten to take the whip from the chariot. Diomede, having slain King Rhesus asleep, thinks whether he shall lift out the chariot (war chariots were very light) or drag it by the pole; but Athene warns him to be going. He “springs upon the steeds,” and they make for their camp. It is not clearly indicated whether they ride or drive (X., 5 I 3, 527–528, 541); but, suppose that they ride, are we to conclude that the fact proves “lateness”? The heroes always drive in Homer, but it is inconceivable that they could not ride in cases of necessity, as here, if Diomede has thought it wiser not to bring out the chariot and harness the horses. Riding is mentioned in Iliad, XV. 679, in a simile; again, in a simile, Odyssey, V. 37 I. It is not the custom for heroes to ride; the chariot is used in war and in travelling, but, when there are horses and no chariot, men could not be so imbecile as not to mount the horses, nor could the poet be so pedantic as not to make them do so.

The shields would cause no difficulty; they would be slung sideways, like the shields of knights in the early Middle Ages. The pair, picking up Dolon’s spoils as they pass, hurry back to the chiefs, where Nestor welcomes them. The others laugh and are encouraged (to encourage them and his audience is the aim of the poet); while the pair go to Diomede’s quarters, wash off the blood and sweat from their limbs in the sea, and then “enter the polished baths,” common in the Odyssey, unnamed in the Iliad. But on no other occasion in the Iliad are we admitted to view this part of heroic toilette. Nowhere else, in fact, do we accompany a hero to his quarters and his tub after the day’s work is over. Achilles, however, refuses to wash, after fighting, in his grief for Patroclus, though plenty of water was being heated for the purpose, and it is to be presumed that a bath was ready for the water (Iliad, XXIII. 40). See, too, for Hector’s bath, XXII. 444.

The two heroes then refresh themselves; breakfast, in fact, and drink, as is natural. By this time the dawn must have been in the sky, and in Book XI. men are stirring with the dawn. Such is the story of Book X. The reader may decide as to whether it is “Very late; barely Homeric,” or a late and deliberate piece of burlesque, 335 or whether it is very Homeric, though the whole set of situations — a night of terror, an anxious chief, a nocturnal adventure — are unexampled in the poem.

The poet’s audience of warriors must have been familiar with such situations, and must have appreciated the humorous, ruthless treatment of Dolon, the spoiled only brother of five sisters. Mr. Monro admitted that Dolon is Shakespearian, but added, “too Shakespearian for Homer.” One may as well say that Agincourt, in Henry V., is “too Homeric for Shakespeare.”

Mr. Monro argued that “the Tenth Book comes in awkwardly after the Ninth.” Nitzsche thinks just the reverse. The patriotic warrior audience would delight in the Doloneia after the anguish of Book IX.; would laugh with Odysseus at the close of his adventure, and rejoice with the other Achaeans (X. 505).

“The introductory part of the Book is cumbrous,” says Mr. Monro. To us it is, if we wish to get straight to the adventure, just as the customary delays in Book XIX., before Achilles is allowed to fight, are tedious to us. But the poet’s audience did not necessarily share our tastes, and might take pleasure (as I do) in the curious details of the opening of Book X. The poet was thinking of his audience, not of modern professors.

“We hear no more of Rhesus and his Thracians.” Of Rhesus there was no more to hear, and his people probably went home, like Glenbuckie’s Stewarts after the mysterious death of their chief in Amprior’s house of Leny before Prestonpans (1745). Glenbuckie was mysteriously pistolled in the night. “The style and tone is unlike that of the Iliad . . . It is rather akin to comedy of a rough farcical kind.” But it was time for “comic relief.” If the story of Dolon be comic, it is comic with the practical humour of the sagas. In an isolated nocturnal adventure and massacre we cannot expect the style of an heroic battle under the sunlight. Is the poet not to be allowed to be various, and is the scene of the Porter in Macbeth, “in style and tone,” like the rest of the drama? (Macbeth, Act ii. sc. 3). Here, of course, Shakespeare indulges infinitely more in “comedy of a rough practical kind” than does the author of the Doloneia.

The humour and the cruelty do not exceed what is exhibited in many of the gabes, or insulting boasts of heroes over dead foes in other parts of the Iliad; such as the taunting comparison of a warrior falling from his chariot to a diver after oysters, or as “one of the Argives hath caught the spear in his flesh, and leaning thereon for a staff, methinks that he will go down within the house of Hades” (XIV. 455–457). The Iliad, like the sagas, is rich in this extremely practical humour.

Mr. Leaf says that the Book “must have been composed before the Iliad had reached its present form, for it cannot have been meant to follow on Book IX. It is rather another case of a parallel rival to that Book, coupled with it only in the final literary redaction,” which Mr. Leaf dates in the middle of the sixth century. “The Book must have been composed before the Iliad had reached its present form,” 336 It is not easy to understand this decision; for, as Mr. Leaf had previously written, about Book IX. 60–68, “the posting of the watch is at least not necessary to the story, and it has a suspicious air of being merely a preparation for the next Book, which is much later, and which turns entirely upon a visit to the sentinels.” 337

Now a military audience would not have pardoned the poet of Book IX. if, in the circumstances of defeat, with a confident enemy encamped within striking distance, he had not made the Achaeans throw forth their outposts. The thing was inevitable and is not suspicious; but the poet purposely makes the advanced guard consist of young men under Nestor’s son and Meriones. He needs them for Book X. Therefore the poet of Book IX. is the poet of Book X. preparing his effect in advance; or the poet of Book X. is a man who cleverly takes advantage of Book IX., or he composed his poem of “a night of terror and adventure,” “in the air,” and the editor of 540 B.C., having heard it recited and copied it out, went back to Book IX. and inserted the advanced guard, under Thrasymedes and Meriones, to lead up to Book X.

On Mr. Leafs present theory, 338 Book X., we presume, was meant, not to follow Book IX., but to follow the end of Book VII, being an alternative to Book VIII. (composed, he says, to lead up to Book IX.) and Book IX. But Book VII. closes with the Achaean refusal of the compromise offered by Paris — the restoration of the property but not of the wife of Menelaus. The Trojans and Achaeans feast all night; the Trojans feast in the city. There is therefore no place here for Book X. after Book VII, and the Achaeans cannot roam about all night, as they are feasting; nor can Agamemnon be in the state of anxiety exhibited by him in Book X.

Book X. could not exist without Book IX., and must have been “meant to follow on it.” Mr. Leaf sees that, in his preface to Book IX., 339 “The placing of sentinels” (in Book IX. 80, 84) “is needed as an introduction to Book X. but has nothing to do with this Book” (IX.). But, we have said, it was inevitable, given the new situation in Book IX. (an Achaean repulse, and the enemy camped in front), that an advanced guard must be placed, even if there proved to be no need of their services. We presume that Mr. Leaf’s literary editor, finding that Book X. existed and that the advanced guard was a necessity of its action, went back to Book IX. and introduced an advanced guard of young men, with its captains, Thrasymedes and Meriones. Even after this the editor had much to do, if Book IX. originally exhibited Agamemnon as not in terror and despair, as it now does.

We need not throw the burden of all this work on the editor. As Mr. Leaf elsewhere writes, in a different mind, the Tenth Book “is obviously adapted to its present place in the Iliad, for it assumes a moment when Achilles is absent from the field, and when the Greeks are in deep dejection from a recent defeat. These conditions are exactly fulfilled by the situation at the end of Book IX.” 340

This is certainly the case. The Tenth Book could not exist without the Ninth; yet Mr. Leaf’s new opinion is that it “cannot have been meant to follow on Book IX.” 341 He was better inspired when he held the precisely opposite opinion.

Dr. Adolf Kiene 342 accepts Book XI. as originally composed to fill its present place in the Iliad. He points out the despondency of the chiefs after receiving the reply of Achilles, and supposes that even Diomede (IX. 708) only urges Agamemnon to “array before the ships thy folk and horsemen,” for defensive battle. But, encouraged by the success of the night adventure, Agamemnon next day assumes the offensive. To consider thus is perhaps to consider too curiously. But it is clear that the Achaeans have been much encouraged by the events of Book X., especially Agamemnon, whose character, as Kiene observes, is very subtly and consistently treated, and “lies near the poet’s heart.” This is the point which we keep urging. Agamemnon’s care for Menelaus is strictly preserved in Book X.

Nitzsche (I 897) writes, “Between Book IX. and Book XI there is a gap; that gap the Doloneia fills: it must have been composed to be part of the Iliad.” But he thinks that the Doloneia has taken the place of an earlier lay which filled the gap. 343 That the Book is never referred to later in the Iliad, even if it be true, is no great argument against its authenticity. For when later references are made to Book IX., they are dismissed as clever late interpolations. If the horses of Rhesus took part, as they do not, in the sports at the funeral of Patroclus, the passage would be called a clever interpolation: in fact, Diomede had better horses, divine horses to run. However, it is certainly remarkable that the interpolation was not made by one of the interpolators of critical theory.

Meanwhile there is, we think, a reference to Book X. in Book XIV. 344

In Iliad, XIV. 9–11, we read that Nestor, in his quarters with the wounded Machaon, on the day following the night of Dolon’s death, hears the cry of battle and goes out to see what is happening. “He took the well-wrought shield of his son, horse-taming Thrasymedes, which was lying in the hut, all glistening with bronze, but the son had the shield of his father.”

Why had Thrasymedes the shield of his father? At about 3 A.M. before dawn the shield of Nestor was lying beside him in his own bedroom (Book X. 76), and at the same moment his son Thrasymedes was on outpost duty, and had his own shield with him (Book IX. 81).

When, then, did father and son exchange shields, and why? Mr. Leaf says, “It is useless to inquire why father and son had thus changed shields, as the scholiasts of course do.”

The scholiasts merely babble. Homer, of course, meant something by this exchange of shields, which occurred late in the night of Book IX. or very early in the following day, that of Books XI-XVI.

Let us follow again the sequence of events. On the night before the day when Nestor had Thrasymedes’ shield and Thrasymedes had Nestor’s, Thrasymedes was sent out, with shield and all, in command of one of the seven companies of an advanced guard, posted between fosse and wall, in case of a camisade by the Trojans, who were encamped on the plain (IX. 81). With him in command were Meriones and five other young men less notable. They had supplies with them and whatever was needed: they cooked supper in bivouac.

In the Doloneia the wakeful princes, after inspecting the advanced guard, go forward within view of the Trojan ranks and consult. With them they take Nestor’s son, Thrasymedes, and Meriones (X. 196). The two young men, being on active service, are armed; the princes are not. Diomede, having been suddenly roused out of sleep, with no intention to fight, merely threw on his dressing-gown, a lion’s skin. Nestor wore a thick, double, purple dressing-gown. Odysseus had cast his shield about his shoulders. It was decided that Odysseus and Diomede should enter the Trojan camp and “prove a jeopardy.” Diomede had no weapon but his spear; so Thrasymedes, who is armed as we saw, lends him his bull’s-hide cap, “that keeps the heads of stalwart youths,” his sword (for that of Diomede “was left at the ships”), and his shield.

Diomede and Odysseus successfully achieve their adventure and return to the chiefs, where they talk with Nestor; and then they go to Diomede’s hut and drink. The outposts remain, of course, at their stations.

Meanwhile, Thrasymedes, having lent his shield to Diomede, has none of his own. Naturally, as he was to pass the night under arms, he would send to his father’s quarters for the old man’s shield, a sword, and a helmet. He would remain at his post (his men had provisions) till the general reveillez at dawn, and would then breakfast at his post and go into the fray. Nestor, therefore, missing his shield, would send round to Diomede’s quarters for the shield of Thrasymedes, which had been lent overnight to Diomede, would take it into the fight, and would bring it back to his own hut when he carried the wounded Machaon thither out of the battle. When he arms to go out and seek for information, he picks up the shield of Thrasymedes.

Nothing can be more obvious; the poet, being a man of imagination, not a professor, sees it all, and casually mentions that the son had the father’s and the father had the son’s shield. His audience, men of the sword, see the case as clearly as the poet does: only we moderns and the scholiasts, almost as modern as ourselves, are puzzled.

It may also be argued, though we lay no stress on it, that in Book XI. 312, when Agamemnon has been wounded, we find Odysseus and Diomede alone together, without their contingents, because they have not separated since they breakfasted together, after returning from the adventure of Book X., and thus they have come rather late to the field. They find the Achaeans demoralised by the wounding of Agamemnon, and they make a stand. “What ails us,” asks Odysseus, “that we forget our impetuous valour?” The passage appears to take up the companionship of Odysseus and Diomede, who were left breakfasting together at the end of Book X. and are not mentioned till we meet them again in this scene of Book XI., as if they had just come on the field.

As to the linguistic tests of lateness “there are exceptionally numerous traces of later formation,” says Mr. Monro; while Fick, tout contraire, writes, “clumsy Ionisms are not common, and, as a rule, occur in these parts which on older grounds show themselves to be late interpolations.” “The cases of agreement” (between Fick and Mr. Monro), “are few, and the passages thus condemned are not more numerous in the Doloneia than in any average book.” 345 The six examples of “a post-Homeric use of the article” do not seem so very post-Homeric to an ordinary intelligence — parallels occur in Book I. — and “Perfects in [Greek: ka] from derivative verbs” do not destroy the impression of antiquity and unity which is left by the treatment of character; by the celebrated cap with boars’ tusks, which no human being could archaeologically reconstruct in the seventh century; and by the Homeric vigour in such touches as the horses unused to dead men. As the Iliad certainly passed through centuries in which its language could not but be affected by linguistic changes, as it could not escape from remaniements, consciously or unconsciously introduced by reciters and copyists, the linguistic objections are not strongly felt by us. An unphilological reader of Homer notes that Duntzer thinks the Doloneia “older than the oldest portion of the Odyssey,” while Gemoll thinks that the author of the Doloneia. was familiar with the Odyssey. 346

Meanwhile, one thing seems plain to us: when the author of Book IX. posted the guards under Thrasymedes, he was deliberately leading up to Book X.; while the casual remark in Book XIV. about the exchange of shields between father and son, Nestor and Thrasymedes, glances back at Book X. and possibly refers to some lost and more explicit statement.

It is not always remembered that, if things could drop into the interpolations, things could also drop out of the Iliad, causing lacunae, during the dark backward of its early existence.

If the Doloneia be “barely Homeric,” as Father Browne holds, this opinion was not shared by the listeners or readers of the sixth century. The vase painters often illustrate the Doloneia; but it does not follow that “the story was fresh” because it was “popular,” as Mr. Leaf suggests, and “was treated as public property in a different way” (namely, in a comic way) “from the consecrated early legends” (Iliad, II 424, 425). The sixth century vase painters illustrated many passages in Homer, not the Doloneia alone. The “comic way” was the ruthless humour of two strong warriors capturing one weak coward. Much later, wild caricature was applied in vase painting to the most romantic scenes in the Odyssey, which were “consecrated” enough.

324 Classical Review, May 1906, p. 194

325 Companion, p. 174.

326 Reichel, p.70.

327 Poetics, XXV.

328 Leaf, Note on X. 215.

329 Tsountas and Manatt, 196–197.

330 Reichel, pp. 102–104

331 Iliad, vol. ii. p. 629.

332 Leaf, Iliad, vol. i. p. 575

333 Leaf, Iliad, vol. i. p. 423.

334 Die Enstehung der Homerischen Gedichte, pp. 163–164.

335 Henry, Classical Review. March 1906.

336 Iliad, vol. i. p. 424.

337 Companion, p.174.

338 Iliad, vol. i. p.424.

339 Iliad, vol. i. p. 371.

340 Companion, p. 190.

341 Iliad, vol. i. p. 424.

342 Die Epen des Homer, Zweiter Theil, pp. 90–94. Hanover, 1884.

343 Die Echtheit der Doloneia, p. 32. Programme des K. K. Staats Gymnasium zu Marburg, 1877.

344 This was pointed out to me by Mr. Shewan, to whose great knowledge of Homer I am here much indebted.

345 Jevons, Journal of Hellenic Studies, vii. p. 302.

346 Duntzer, Homer. Abhanglungen, p. 324. Gemoll, Hermes, xv. 557 ff.


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