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Messenger scenes in Iliad xxiii and xxiv (xxiii 192–211, xxiv 77–188)1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 October 2013

Lucinda Coventry
Affiliation:
Somerville College, Oxford
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Extract

At Iliad xxiii 192—211, Iris carries Achilles' prayer to the banqueting winds, in a passage whose humour offers relief after the funeral of Patroclus. At the same time, both in its immediate context and in its relation to Iris' two missions in Book xxiv, the scene contributes to Homer's presentation of the relation between gods and men.

The passage describes divine aid testifying to that concern of the gods for men which is to be so important in Book xxiv; and it immediately follows the account of another manifestation of divine concern, one which looks forward more directly to the next book—the description, at 184—91, of the protection of Hector's body by Aphrodite and Apollo. The fact that Homer anticipated here the description at xxiv 18—21 of Apollo's protection of the body points to the importance of the concern thus emphasised. In its position preceding the episode of the winds—rather than, for instance, following Achilles' earlier threats of maltreatment at xxiii 21–5—the description seems designed also to underline the fact that the parallel between Hector and Patroclus, most obvious in their deaths, is maintained here: both are the objects of divine aid, which in both cases takes the same form, the warding off of a threat to the hero's corpse, whether it is that of maltreatment by Achilles or the lesser threat of the pyre's failure to burn.

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Copyright © The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies 1987

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References

2 Kakridis, J. Th., Homeric researches (Lund 1949) 7583Google Scholar argues that the scene could not have originated in its present context; no aspect of Patroclus' funeral makes intelligible the need to persuade the winds to give their help. Rather, he suggests, the scene is explicable only as being derived, with the account of the funeral as a whole, from the description in the Aeihiopis of Achilles' burial; there, the need for Iris' visit to Boreas and Zephyrus would arise out of their reluctance to assist in the burning of the killer of their half-brother Memnon. (Cf. Schein, S. L.The mortal hero [Berkeley 1984] 166 n. 44.Google Scholar)

The theory that the description of Patroclus' funeral is based on a pre-existing account—whether or not that in the Aethiopis—of that of Achilles (Kakridis 75–95) is attractive in suggesting a further clement in Homer's presentation of the inevitable sequence in which Achilles' death follows Patroclus'. It is, then, possible that the episode of the winds did not originate in the context of Patroclus' funeral. However, this need not mean that the poet mechanically reproduced the scene, rather than choosing to retain it because he could so treat it as to give it significance in its new context—turning to advantage even the apparent lack of necessity, in this context, for the introduction of Iris (see below). The passage is intelligible in its own right, not simply as being inherited from an earlier narrative. (Cf Kullmann, W., Das Wirken der Götter in der llias [Berlin 1956] 22 n. 2.Google Scholar)

3 Compare, for example, xxiv 19–20, φῶτ̕ ἐλεαίρων καί τεθνηότα περ, combining with an account of divine pity a sense of the distance between gods and men created by human mortality.

I disagree with Kakridis' (n. 2) denial that the scene is humorous in intention; the detail of the invitations to Iris from all the winds—dismissed by Kakridis as ‘general kindness to a woman who has come from a long distance and consequently must sit down’—seems to distinguish this scene from those which he cites in support of his belief that the winds are simply showing Iris the respect due to a goddess greater than themselves. (For a similar scene, this time with an explicit comment on its humorous aspect, compare Pl. Charm. 155b9–c4.)

4 Cf. Σ bT on 206, where Iris is first said to be inventing the sacrifices, (πρός άπαλλαγὴν τῶν ἐνοχλούντων ψεύδεται), but an alternative comment is offered—χάριεν ἐν παρἑργῳ δεδήλωκεν ὃτι ἀπαλλάγησαν οι θεοι τοῦ πολἑμου και ῶσττερ ἐκ τῆς φροντίδος κατέστησαν; also Eustathius 1296.24–28. Contrast xi 645–654, Patroclus' reason for his refusal—expressed, like Iris', with the words ούχ ἐδος—of Nestor's invitation to be seated.

5 Cf. Macleod (n. 1) 28–32.

6 For an argument to the effect that the story of Antilochus' death would have been familiar to the audience of the Iliad, see Willcock, M. M., ‘Antilochus in the Iliad’, Mélanges Edouard Delebecque (Aix-en-Provence 1983) 477–85Google Scholar and The funeral games of PatroclusBICS xx (1973) 111Google Scholar. The theme of fathers and sons has been brought to our attention already in this book, in the simile at 222–5, making it seem more likely that the exchange between Nestor and Antilochus is designed to continue it.

7 ΣΑ on 174 comments on the formula used truly there by Iris and disingenuously by the dream at ii 27; cf. Macleod (n. 1) 33. Iris' use of the phrase ἅφθιτα μἠδεα είδώς at 88, and Thetis' words at 92, enhance the sense that the scene is an essential part of the working of the plan of Zeus.

8 Cf. ΣьΤ on xxiii 199, οὐκ ἐποίησε δὲ έκείνους ἀκούοντας, έπειδή τοῦτο κατά δόξαν ἧν, (an explanation in terms of Homer's avoidance of the obvious, or simply a comment on the unexpected nature of the introduction of Iris?) Eustathius too felt that the intervention called for explanation; see his suggestions at 1296.1–10. For the idea that a god can hear prayers from a distance, so that Iris need not have intervened, see especially xvi 514–16.

9 Cf. Griffin, J., Homer on life and death (Oxford 1980) 190–1Google Scholar.

10 Against this must admittedly be set xviii 35–69, Odyssey xxiv 4759Google Scholar. where the Nereids mourn with Thetis. It may still, however, be significant that of these scenes of mourning, it is in that which is close to a contrasting scene of human grief that Thetis is represented as alone in weeping.

11 Cf. Moulton, C., Similes in the Homeric poems, Hypomnemata xlix (Göttingen 1977) 106Google Scholar: ‘The vehicle fits no one more than the Priam of xxiv, in whose grief for a married son there will be, paradoxically, a ground for a new understanding and humane respect on the part of the sorrowing hero.’

12 It may, in view of this, be an argument in favour of the authenticity of xxiv 6–9 that these lines introduce early in the book the notion of endurance which is prominent in it. Endurance is a quality of heroes, typically required of them in circumstances such as Achilles is said in these lines to recall; but the requirement is seen in xxiv to extend beyond such circumstances to life as a whole. The notion of heroic fortitude is thus introduced in the context of an extremity of mourning which it is the part of such fortitude to control. (Compare the new form of κῡδος given to Achilles—xxiv 110, Macleod [n. 1] 27. 99.)

13 See especially xxiv 194–99. Thetis, at 128–37, does not tell Achilles that Zeus will send Priam to him, nor does Achilles (139) seem to know who it is that will come. This allows greater emphasis to fall on Priam's own wishes as his reason for coming himself, both for the reader and especially for Achilles, who responds to Priam's suffering before mentioning his divine escort.

14 I owe valuable comments on this note to the Editor and two unnamed readers; I am also grateful to Dr. R. B. Rutherford for help and encouragement.

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