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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: September 2009

Chapter 2 - Anger and pity in Homer's Iliad

Summary

“The rage (Μñνιν) – sing it, goddess, that of Peleus' son Achilles: accursed (οὐλομένην) rage, which laid countless woes upon the Achaeans” (1.1–2): this is how the poet addresses his Muse at the opening of his Iliad. What precisely does he have in mind? On its own, the opening line could be taken simply to be asking in general for some poem about an anger – any anger – of Achilles. But the highly pejorative epithet οὐλομένην (“accursed”), which begins the second line with a conspicuous and therefore presumably significant enjambment, and above all the relative clause that goes on to fill out that line and specifies just which anger the poet means make every appearance of promising his listeners a poem not just in general about some anger of Achilles, but specifically about that celebrated anger of his, which was directed against Agamemnon and which cost so many Greek warriors their lives.

But it is well known that, if we measure the Iliad as we have it against this opening announcement of its theme, the Muse seems to have given her poet rather more than he asked for, and this in two regards.

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