Authors of Greece
T. W. Lumb

Part 1 out of 4

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By the Reverend T. W. LUMB, M.A.

With an Introduction by



Greek literature is more modern in its tone than Latin or Medieval or
Elizabethan. It is the expression of a society living in an environment
singularly like our own, mainly democratic, filled with a spirit of
free inquiry, troubled by obstinate feuds and still more obstinate
problems. Militarism, nationalism, socialism and communism were well
known, the preachers of some of these doctrines being loud, ignorant
and popular. The defence of a maritime empire against a military
oligarchy was twice attempted by the most quick-witted people in history,
who failed to save themselves on both occasions. Antecedently then we
might expect to find some lessons of value in the record of a people
whose experiences were like our own.

Further, human thought as expressed in literature is not an
unconnected series of phases; it is one and indivisible. Neglect of
either ancient or modern culture cannot but be a maiming of that great
body of knowledge to which every human being has free access. No man
can be anything but ridiculous who claims to judge European literature
while he knows nothing of the foundations on which it is built.
Neither is it true to say that the ancient world was different from
ours. Human nature at any rate was the same then as it is now, and
human character ought to be the primary object of study. The strange
belief that we have somehow changed for the better has been strong
enough to survive the most devilish war in history, but few hold it
who are familiar with the classics.

Yet in spite of its obvious value Greek literature has been damned and
banned in our enlightened age by some whose sole qualification for the
office of critic often turns out to be a mental darkness about it so
deep that, like that of Egypt, it can be felt. Only those who know
Greek literature have any right to talk about its powers of survival.
The following pages try to show that it is not dead yet, for it has a
distinct message to deliver. The skill with which these neglected
liberators of the human mind united depth of thought with perfection
of form entitles them at least to be heard with patience.













I count it an honour to have been asked to write a short introduction
to this book. My only claim to do so is a profound belief in the
doctrine which it advocates, that Greek literature can never die and
that it has a clear and obvious message for us to-day. Those who sat,
as I did, on the recent Committee appointed by Mr. Lloyd George when
Prime Minister to report on the position of the classics in this
country, saw good reason to hope that the prejudice against Greek to
which the author alludes in his preface was passing away: it is a
strange piece of irony that it should ever have been encouraged in the
name of Science which owes to the Greeks so incalculable a debt. We
found that, though there are many parts of the country in which it is
almost impossible for a boy, however great his literary promise, to be
taught Greek, there is a growing readiness to recognise this state of
affairs as a scandal, and wherever Greek was taught, whether to girls
or boys, we found a growing recognition of its supreme literary value.
There were some at least of us who saw with pleasure that where only
one classical language can be studied there is an increasing readiness
to regard Greek as a possible alternative to Latin.

On this last point, no doubt, classical scholars will continue to
differ, but as to the supreme excellence of the Greek contribution to
literature there can be no difference of opinion. Those to whom the
names of this volume recall some of the happiest hours they have spent
in literary study will be grateful to Mr. Lumb for helping others to
share the pleasures which they have so richly enjoyed; he writes with
an enthusiasm which is infectious, and those to whom his book comes as
a first introduction to the great writers of Greece will be moved to
try to learn more of men whose works after so many centuries inspire
so genuine an affection and teach lessons so modern. They need have no
fear that they will be disappointed, for Mr. Lumb's zeal is based on
knowledge. I hope that this book will be the means of leading many to
appreciate what has been done for the world by the most amazing of all
its cities, and some at least to determine that they will investigate
its treasures for themselves. They will find like the Queen of Sheba
that, though much has been told them, the half remains untold.



Greek literature opens with a problem of the first magnitude. Two
splendid Epics have been preserved which are ascribed to "Homer", yet
few would agree that Homer wrote them both. Many authorities have
denied altogether that such a person ever existed; it seems certain
that he could not have been the author of both the _Iliad_ and the
_Odyssey_, for the latter describes a far more advanced state of
society; it is still an undecided question whether the _Iliad_ was
written in Europe or in Asia, but the probability is that the
_Odyssey_ is of European origin; the date of the poems it is very
difficult to gauge, though the best authorities place it somewhere in
the eighth century B.C. Fortunately these difficulties do not
interfere with our enjoyment of the two poems; if there were two
Homers, we may be grateful to Nature for bestowing her favours so
liberally upon us; if Homer never existed at all, but is a mere
nickname for a class of singer, the literary fraud that has been
perpetrated is no more serious than that which has assigned
Apocalyptic visions of different ages to Daniel. Perhaps the Homeric
poems are the growth of many generations, like the English parish
churches; they resemble them as being examples of the exquisite
effects which may be produced when the loving care and the reverence
of a whole people blend together in different ages pieces of artistic
work whose authors have been content to remain unnamed.

It is of some importance to remember that the Iliad is not the story
of the whole Trojan war, but only of a very small episode which was
worked out in four days. The real theme is the Wrath of Achilles. In
the tenth year of the siege the Greeks had captured a town called
Chryse. Among the captives were two maidens, one Chryseis, the
daughter of Chryses, a priest of Apollo, the other Briseis; the former
had fallen to the lot of Agamemnon, the King of the Greek host, the
latter to Achilles his bravest follower. Chryses, father of Chryseis,
went to Agamemnon to ransom his daughter, but was treated with
contumely; accordingly he prayed to the god to avenge him and was
answered, for Apollo sent a pestilence upon the Greeks which raged for
nine days, destroying man and beast. On the tenth day the chieftains
held a counsel to discover the cause of the malady. At it Chalcas the
seer before revealing the truth obtained the promise of Achilles'
protection; when Agamemnon learned that he was to ransom his captive,
his anger burst out against the seer and he demanded another prize in
return. Achilles upbraided his greed, begging him to wait till Troy
was taken, when he would be rewarded fourfold. Agamemnon in reply
threatened to take Achilles' captive Briseis, at the same time
describing his follower's character. "Thou art the most hateful to me
of all Kings sprung of Zeus, for thou lovest alway strife and wars and
battles. Mighty though thou art, thy might is the gift of some god.
Briseis I will take, that thou mayest know how far stronger I am than
thou, and that another may shrink from deeming himself my equal,
rivalling me to my face." At this insult Achilles half drew his sword
to slay the King, but was checked by Pallas Athena, who bade him
confine his resentment to taunts, for the time would come when
Agamemnon would offer him splendid gifts to atone for the wrong.
Obeying the goddess Achilles reviled his foe, swearing a solemn oath
that he would not help the Greeks when Hector swept them away. In vain
did Nestor, the wise old counsellor who had seen two generations of
heroes, try to make up the quarrel, beseeching Agamemnon not to
outrage his best warrior and Achilles not to contend with his leader.
The meeting broke up; Achilles departed to his huts, whence the
heralds in obedience to Agamemnon speedily carried away Briseis.

Going down to the sea-shore Achilles called upon Thetis his mother to
whom he told the story of his ill-treatment. In deep pity for his fate
(for he was born to a life of a short span), she promised that she
would appeal to Zeus to help him to his revenge; she had saved Zeus
from destruction by summoning the hundred-armed Briareus to check a
revolt among the gods against Zeus' authority. For the moment the king
of the gods was absent in Aethiopia; when he returned to Olympus on
the twelfth day she would win him over. Ascending to heaven, she
obtained the promise of Zeus' assistance, not without raising the
suspicions of Zeus' jealous consort Hera; a quarrel between them was
averted by their son Hephaestus, whose ungainly performance of the
duties of cupbearer to the Immortals made them forget all resentments
in laughter unquenchable.

True to his promise Zeus sent a dream to Agamemnon to assure him that
he would at last take Troy. The latter determined to summon an
Assembly of the host. In it the changeable temper of the Greeks is
vividly pictured. First Agamemnon told how he had the promise of
immediate triumph; when the army eagerly called for battle, he spoke
yet again describing their long years of toil and advising them to
break up the siege and fly home, for Troy was not to be taken. This
speech was welcomed with even greater enthusiasm than the other, the
warriors rushing down to the shore to launch away. Aghast at the
coming failure of the enterprise Athena stirred up Odysseus to check
the mad impulse. Taking from Agamemnon his royal sceptre as the sign
of authority, he pleaded with chieftains and their warriors, telling
them that it was not for them to know the counsel in the hearts of

"We are not all Kings to bear rule here. 'Tis not good to have many
Lords; let there be one Lord, one King, to whom the crooked-counselling
son of Cronos hath given the rule."

Thus did Odysseus stop the flight, bringing to reason all save
Thersites, "whose heart was full of much unseemly wit, who talked
rashly and unruly, striving with Kings, saying what he deemed would
make the Achaeans smile".

He continued his chatter, bidding the Greeks persist in their homeward
flight. Knowing that argument with such an one was vain, Odysseus laid
his sceptre across his back with such heartiness that a fiery weal
started up beneath the stroke. The host praised the act, the best of
the many good deeds that Odysseus had done before Troy.

When the Assembly was stilled, Odysseus and Nestor and Agamemnon told
the plan of action; the dream bade them arm for a mighty conflict, for
the end could not be far off, the ten years' siege that had been
prophesied being all but completed. The names of the various
chieftains and the numbers of their ships are found in the famous
catalogue, a document which the Greeks treasured as evidence of united
action against a common foe. With equal eagerness the Trojans poured
from their town commanded by Hector; their host too has received from
Homer the glory of an everlasting memory in a detailed catalogue.

Literary skill of a high order has brought upon the scene as quickly
as possible the chief figures of the poem. When the armies were about
to meet, Paris, seeing Menelaus whom he had wronged, shrank from the
combat. On being upbraided by Hector who called him "a joy to his foes
and a disgrace to himself", Paris was stung to an act of courage.
Hector's heart was as unwearied as an axe, his spirit knew not fear;
yet beauty too was a gift of the gods, not to be cast away. Let him be
set to fight Menelaus in single combat for Helen and her wealth; let
an oath be made between the two armies to abide by the result of the
fight, that both peoples might end the war and live in peace.
Overjoyed, Hector called to the Greeks telling them of Paris' offer,
which Menelaus accepted. The armies sat down to witness the fight,
while Hector sent to Troy to fetch Priam to ratify the treaty.

In Troy the elders were seated on the wall to watch the conflict,
Priam among them. Warned by Iris, Helen came forth to witness the
single combat. As she moved among them the elders bore their testimony
to her beauty; its nature is suggested but not described, for the poet
felt he was unable to paint her as she was.

"Little wonder," they exclaimed, "that the Trojans and Achaeans
should suffer woe for many a year for such a woman. She is marvellous
like the goddesses to behold; yet albeit she is so fair let her depart
in the ships, leaving us and our little ones no trouble to come."

Seeing her, Priam bade her sit by him and tell the names of the Greek
leaders as they passed before his eyes. Agamemnon she knew by his
royal bearing, Odysseus who moved along the ranks like a ram she
marked out as the master of craft and deep counsel. Hearing her words,
Antenor bore his witness to their truth, for once Odysseus had come
with Menelaus to Troy on an embassy.

"When they stood up Menelaus was taller, when they sat down Odysseus
was more stately. But when they spake, Menelaus' words were fluent,
clear but few; Odysseus when he spoke, fixed his eyes on the ground,
turning his sceptre neither backwards nor forward, standing still
like a man devoid of wit; one would have deemed him a churl and a very
fool; yet when he sent forth his mighty voice from his breast in words
as many as the snowflakes, no other man could compare with him."

Helen pointed out Ajax and Idomeneus and others, yet could not see her
two brothers, Castor and Pollux; either they had not come from her
home in Sparta, or they had refused to fight, fearing the shame and
reproach of her name. "So she spake, yet the life-giving earth covered
them there, even in Sparta, their native land."

When the news came to Priam of the combat arranged between Paris and
Menelaus, the old King shuddered for his son, yet he went out to
confirm the compact. Feeling he could not look upon the fight, he
returned to the city. Meanwhile Hector had cast lots to decide which
of the two should first hurl his spear. Paris failed to wound his
enemy, but Menelaus' dart pierced Paris' armour; he followed it up
with a blow of his sword which shivered to pieces in his hand. He then
caught Paris' helmet and dragged him off towards the Greek army; but
Aphrodite saved her favourite, for she loosed the chin-strap and bore
Paris back to Helen in Troy. Menelaus in vain looked for him among the
Trojans who were fain to see an end of him, "and would not have hidden
him if they had seen him". Agamemnon then declared his brother the
victor and demanded the fulfilment of the treaty.

Such an end to the siege did not content Hera, whose anger against the
Trojans was such that she could have "devoured raw Priam and his
sons". With Zeus' consent she sent down Pallas Athena to confound the
treaty. Descending like some brilliant and baleful star the goddess
assumed the shape of Laodocus and sought out the archer Pandarus. Him
she tempted to shoot privily at Menelaus to gain the favour of Paris.
While his companions held their shields in front of him the archer
launched a shaft at his victim, but Athena turned it aside so that it
merely grazed his body, drawing blood. Seeing his brother wounded
Agamemnon ran to him, to prophesy the certain doom of the treaty

"Not in vain did we shed the blood of compact and offer the pledges
of a treaty. Though Zeus hath not fulfilled it now, yet he will at
last and they will pay dear with their lives, they, their wives and
children. Well I know in my heart that the day will come when sacred
Troy will perish and Priam and his folk; Zeus himself throned on high
dwelling in the clear sky will shake against them all his dark aegis
in anger for this deceit."

While the leeches drew out the arrow from the wound, Agamemnon went
round the host with words of encouragement or chiding to stir them up
to the righteous conflict. They rushed on to battle to be met by the
Trojans whose host

"knew not one voice or one speech; their language was mixed, for they
were men called from many lands."

In the fight Diomedes, though at first wounded by Pandarus, speedily
returned refreshed and strengthened by Athena. His great deeds drew
upon him Pandarus and Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite and the future
founder of Rome's greatness. Diomedes quickly slew Pandarus and when
Aeneas bestrode his friend's body, hurled at him a mighty stone which
laid him low. Afraid of her son Aphrodite cast her arms about him and
shrouded him in her robe. Knowing that she was but a weak goddess
Diomedes attacked her, wounding her in the hand. Dropping her son, she
fled to Ares who was watching the battle and besought him to lend her
his chariot, wherein she fled back to Olympus. There her mother Dione
comforted her with the story of the woes which other gods had suffered
from mortals.

"But this man hath been set upon thee by Athena. Foolish one, he
knoweth not in his heart that no man liveth long who fighteth with
the gods; no children lisp 'father' at his knees when he returneth
from war and dread conflict. Therefore, albeit he is so mighty, let
him take heed lest a better than thou meet him, for one day his
prudent wife shall wail in her sleep awaking all her house, bereft
of her lord, the best man of the Achaeans."

But Athena in irony deemed that Aphrodite had been scratched by some
Greek woman whom she caressed to tempt her to forsake her husband and
follow one of the Trojans she loved.

Aeneas when dropped by his mother had been picked up by Apollo; when
Diomedes attacked the god, he was warned that battle with an immortal
was not like man's warfare. Stirred by Apollo, Ares himself came to
the aid of the Trojans, inspiring Sarpedon the Lycian to hearten his
comrades, who were shortly gladdened by the return of Aeneas whom
Apollo had healed. At the sight of Ares and Apollo fighting for Troy
Hera and Athena came down to battle for the Greeks; they found
Diomedes on the skirts of the host, cooling the wound Pandarus had
inflicted. Entering his chariot by his side, Athena fired him to meet
Ares and drive him wounded back to Olympus, where he found but little
compassion from Zeus. The two goddesses then left the mortals to fight
it out.

At this moment Helenus, the prophetic brother of Hector, bade him go
to Troy to try to appease the anger of Athena by an offering, in the
hope that Diomedes' progress might be stayed. In his absence Diomedes
met in the battle Glaucus, a Lycian prince.

"Who art thou?" he asked. "I have never seen thee before in battle,
yet now thou hast gone far beyond all others in hardihood, for thou
hast awaited my onset, and they are hapless whose sons meet my
strength. If thou art a god, I will not fight with thee; but if thou
art one of those who eat the fruit of the earth, come near, that
thou mayest the quicker get thee to the gates of death."

In answer, Glaucus said:

"Why askest thou my lineage? As is the life of leaves, so is that of
men. The leaves are scattered some of them to the earth by the wind,
others the wood putteth forth when it is in bloom, and they come on
in the season of spring. Even so of men one generation groweth,
another ceaseth."

He then told how he was a family friend of Diomedes and made with him
a compact that if they met in battle they should avoid each the other;
this they sealed by the exchange of armour, wherein the Greek had the
better, getting gold weapons for bronze, the worth of a hundred oxen
for the value of nine.

Coming to Troy Hector bade his mother offer Athena the finest robe she
had; yet all in vain, for the goddess rejected it. Passing to the
house of Paris, he found him polishing his armour, Helen at his side.
Again rebuking him, he had from him a promise that he would be ready
to re-enter the fight when Hector had been to his own house to see his
wife Andromache. Hector's heart foreboded that it was the last time he
would speak with her. She had with her their little son Astyanax.
Weeping she besought him to spare himself for her sake.

"For me there will be no other comfort if thou meetest thy doom, but
sorrow. Father and mother have I none, for Achilles hath slain them
and my seven brothers. Hector, thou art my father and my lady mother
and my brother and thou art my wedded husband. Nay, come, pity me and
abide on the wall, lest thou make thy son an orphan and thy wife a

He answered, his heart heavy with a sense of coming death:

"The day will come when Troy shall fall, yet I grieve not for father
or mother or brethren so much as for thee, when some Achaean leads
thee captive, robbing thee of thy day of freedom. Thou shalt weave at
the loom in Argos or perchance fetch water, for heavy necessity shall
be laid upon thee. Then shall many a one say when he sees thee shedding
tears: 'Lo, this is the wife of Hector who was the best warrior of the
Trojans when they fought for their town.' Thus will they speak and thou
shalt have new sorrow for lack of such a man to drive away the day of

He stretched out his arms to his little son who was affrighted at the
sight of the helmet as it nodded its plumes dreadfully from its tall
top. Hector and Andromache laughed when they saw the child's terror;
then Hector took off his helmet and prayed that the boy might grow to
a royal manhood and gladden his mother's heart. Smiling through her
tears, Andromache took the child from Hector, while he comforted her
with brave words.

"Lady, grieve not overmuch, I beseech thee, for no man shall thrust me
to death beyond my fate. Methinks none can avoid his destiny, be he
brave or a coward, when once he hath been born. Nay, go to the house,
ply thy tasks and bid the maids be busy, but war is the business of
the men who are born in Troy and mine most of all."

Thus she parted from him, looking back many a time, shedding plenteous
tears. So did they mourn for Hector even before his doom, for they
said he would never escape his foes and come back in safety.

Finding Paris waiting for him, Hector passed out to the battlefield.
Aided by Glaucus he wrought great havoc, so much that Athena and
Apollo stirred him to challenge the bravest of the Greeks. The victor
was to take the spoils of the vanquished but to return the body for
burial. At first the Greeks were silent when they heard his challenge,
ashamed to decline it and afraid to take it up. At last eight of their
bravest cast lots, the choice falling upon Ajax. A great combat ended
in the somewhat doubtful victory of Ajax, the two parting in
friendship after an exchange of presents. The result of the fighting
had discouraged both sides; the Greeks accordingly decided to throw up
a mound in front of their ships, protected by a deep trench. This
tacit confession of weakness in the absence of Achilles leads up to
the heavy defeat which was to follow. On the other side the Trojans
held a council to deliver up Helen. When Paris refused to surrender
her but offered to restore her treasures, a deputation was sent to
inform the Greeks of his decision. The latter refused to accept either
Helen or the treasure, feeling that the end was not far off. That
night Zeus sent mighty thunderings to terrify the besiegers.

So far the main plot of the _Iliad_ has been undeveloped; now that the
chief characters on both sides have played a part in the war, the poem
begins to show how the wrath of Achilles works itself out under Zeus'
direction. First the king of the gods warned the deities that he would
allow none to intervene on either side and would punish any offender
with his thunders. Holding up the scales of doom, he placed in them
the lot of Trojans and of Greeks; as the latter sank down, he hurled
at their host his lightnings, driving all the warriors in flight to
the great mound they had built. For a time Teucer the archer brother
of Ajax held them back, but when he was smitten by a mighty stone
hurled of Hector all resistance was broken. A vain attempt was made by
Hera and Athena to help the Greeks, but the goddesses quailed before
the punishment wherewith Zeus threatened them. When night came the
Trojans encamped on the open plain, their camp-fires gleaming like the
stars which appear on some night of stillness.

Disheartened at his defeat, Agamemnon freely acknowledged his fault
and suggested flight homewards. Nestor advised him to call an Assembly
and depute some of the leading men to make up the quarrel with
Achilles. The King listened to him, offering to give Achilles his own
daughter in wedlock, together with cities and much spoil of war. Three
ambassadors were chosen, Phoenix, Ajax and Odysseus. Reaching
Achilles' tent, they found him singing lays of heroes, Patroclus his
friend by his side. When he saw the ambassadors, he gave them a
courtly welcome. Odysseus laid the King's proposals before him, to
which Achilles answered with dignity.

"I hate as sore as the gates of Death a man who hideth one thing in
his heart and sayeth its opposite. Do the sons of Atreus alone of
men love their wives? Methinks all the wealth which Troy contained
before the Greeks came upon it, yea all the wealth which Apollo holds
in rocky Pytho, is not the worth of life itself. Cattle and horses
and brazen ware can be got by plunder, but a man's life cannot be
taken by spoil nor recovered when once it passeth the barrier of his
teeth. Nay, go back to the elders and bid them find a better plan
than this. Let Phoenix abide by me here that he may return with me
to-morrow in my ships if he will, for I will not constrain him by

Phoenix had been Achilles' tutor. In terror for the safety of the
Greek fleet, he appealed to his friend to relent.

"How can I be left alone here without thee, dear child? Thy father
sent me to teach thee to be a speaker of words and a doer of deeds.
In thy childhood I tended thee, for I knew that I should never have a
son and I looked to thee to save me from ruin. Tame thy great spirit.
Even the gods know how to change, whose honour is greater, and their
power. Men in prayer turn them by sacrifice when any hath sinned and
transgressed. For Prayers are the daughters of great Zeus; they are
halt and wrinkled and their eyes look askance. Their task it is to go
after Ruin; for Ruin is strong and sound of foot, wherefore she far
outrunneth them all and getteth before them in harming men over all the
world. But they come after; whosoever honoureth the daughters of Zeus
when they come nigh, him they greatly benefit and hear his entreaties,
but whoso denieth them and stubbornly refuseth, they go to Zeus and ask
that Ruin may dog him, that he may be requited with mischief. Therefore,
Achilles, bring it to pass that honour follow the daughters of Zeus,
even that honour which bendeth the heart of others as noble as thou."

When this appeal also failed, Ajax, a man of deeds rather than words,
deemed it best to return at once, begging Achilles to bear them no
ill-will and to remember the rights of hospitality which protected
them from his resentment. When Achilles assured them of his regard for
them and maintained his quarrel with Agamemnon alone, they departed
and brought the heavy news to their anxious friends. On hearing it
Diomedes briefly bade them get ready for the battle and fight without
Achilles' help.

When the Trojan host had taken up its quarters on the plain, Nestor
suggested that the Greeks should send one of their number to find out
what Hector intended to do on the morrow. Diomedes offered to
undertake the office of a spy, selecting Odysseus as his comrade.
After a prayer to Athena to aid them, they went silently towards the
bivouac. It chanced that Hector too had thought of a similar plan and
that Dolon had offered to reconnoitre the Greek position. He was a
wealthy man, ill-favoured to look upon, but swift of foot, and had
asked that his reward should be the horses and the chariot of

Hearing the sound of Dolon's feet as he ran, Diomedes and Odysseus
parted to let him pass between them; then cutting off his retreat they
closed on him and captured him. They learned how the Trojan host was
quartered; at the extremity of it was Rhesus, the newly arrived
Thracian King, whose white horses were a marvel of beauty and
swiftness. In return for his information Dolon begged them to spare
his life, but Diomedes deemed it safer to slay him. The two Greeks
penetrated the Thracian encampment, where they slew many warriors and
escaped with the horses back to the Greek armament.

When the fighting opened on the next day, Agamemnon distinguished
himself by deeds of great bravery, but retired at length wounded in
the hand. Zeus had warned Hector to wait for that very moment before
pushing home his attack. One after another the Greek leaders were
wounded, Diomedes, Odysseus, Machaon; Ajax alone held up the Trojan
onset, retiring slowly and stubbornly towards the sea. Achilles,
seeing the return of the wounded warrior Machaon, sent his friend
Patroclus to find out who he was. Nestor meeting Patroclus, told him
of the rout of the army, and advised him to beg Achilles at least to
allow the Myrmidons to sally forth under Patroclus' leadership, if he
would not fight in person. The importance of this episode is
emphasised in the poem. The dispatch of Patroclus is called "the
beginning of his undoing", it foreshadows the intervention which was
later to bring Achilles himself back into the conflict.

The Trojan host after an attempt to drive their horses over the trench
stormed it in five bodies. As they streamed towards the wall, an omen
of a doubtful nature filled Polydamas with some misgivings about the
wisdom of bursting through to the sea. It was possible that they might
be routed and that they would accordingly be caught in a trap, leaving
many of their dead behind them. His advice to remain content with the
success they had won roused the anger of Hector, whose headstrong
character is well portrayed in his speech.

"Thou biddest me consider long-winged birds, whereof I reck not nor
care for them whether they speed to right or left. Let us obey the
counsel of Zeus. One omen is the best, to fight for our country. Why
dost thou dread war and tumult? Even if all we others were slain at
the ships, there is no fear that thou wilt perish, for thy heart
cannot withstand the foe and is not warlike. But if thou holdest from
the fight or turnest another from war, straightway shalt thou lose
thy life under the blow of my spear."

Thus encouraged the army pressed forward, the walls being pierced by
the Lycian King Sarpedon, a son of Zeus. Taking up a mighty stone,
Hector broke open the gate and led his men forward to the final
onslaught on the ships.

For a brief space Zeus turned his eyes away from the conflict and
Poseidon used the opportunity to help the Greeks. Idomeneus the Cretan
and his henchman Meriones greatly distinguished themselves, the former
drawing a very vivid picture of the brave man.

"I know what courage is. Would that all the bravest of us were being
chosen for an ambush, wherein a man's bravery is most manifest. In
it the coward and the courageous man chiefliest appear. The colour of
the one changeth and his spirit cannot be schooled to remain stedfast,
but he shifteth his body, settling now on this foot now on that; his
heart beateth mightily, knocking against his breast as he bodeth death,
and his teeth chatter. But the good man's colour changeth not, nor is
he overmuch afraid when once he sitteth in his place of ambush; rather
he prayeth to join speedily in the dolorous battle."

Yet soon Idomeneus' strength left him; Hector hurried to the centre of
the attack, where he confronted Ajax.

At this point Hera determined to prolong the intervention of Poseidon
in favour of the Greeks. She persuaded Aphrodite to lend her all her
spells of beauty on the pretence that she wished to reconcile Ocean to
his wife Tethys. Armed with the goddess' girdle, she lulled Zeus to
sleep and then sent a message to Poseidon to give the Greeks his
heartiest assistance. Inspired by him the fugitives turned on their
pursuers; when Ajax smote down Hector with a stone the Trojans were
hurled in flight back through the gate and across the ramparts.

When Zeus awakened out of slumber and saw the rout of the Trojans, his
first impulse was to punish Hera for her deceit. He then restored the
situation, bidding Poseidon retire and sending Apollo to recover
Hector of his wound. The tide speedily turned again; the Trojans
rushed through the rampart and down to the outer line of the Greek
ships, where they found nobody to resist them except the giant Ajax
and his brother Teucer. After a desperate fight in which Ajax
single-handed saved the fleet, Hector succeeded in grasping the ship
of Protesilaus and called loud for fire. This was the greatest measure
of success vouchsafed him; from this point onwards the balance was
redressed in favour of the Greeks.

Achilles had been watching the anguish of Patroclus' spirit when this
disaster came upon their friends.

"Why weepest thou, Patroclus, like some prattling little child who
runneth to her mother and biddeth her take her up, catching at her
garment and checking her movement and gazing at her tearfully till
she lifteth her? Even so thou lettest fall the big tears."

Patroclus begged his friend to allow him to wear his armour and lead
the Myrmidons out to battle, not knowing that he was entreating for
his own ruin and death. After some reluctance Achilles gave him leave,
yet with the strictest orders not to pursue too far. Fresh and eager
for the battle the Myrmidons drove the Trojans back into the plain.
Patroclus' course was challenged by the Lycians, whose King Sarpedon
faced him in single combat. In great sorrow Zeus watched his son
Sarpedon go to his doom; in his agony he shed tear-drops of blood and
ordered Death and Sleep to carry the body back to Lycia for burial.

The great glory Patroclus had won tempted him to forget his promise to
Achilles. He pursued the Trojans back to the walls of the town,
slaying Cebriones the charioteer of Hector. In the fight which took
place over the body Patroclus was assailed by Hector and Euphorbus
under the guidance of Apollo. Hector administered the death-blow;
before he died Patroclus foretold a speedy vengeance to come from

A mighty struggle arose over his body. Menelaus slew Euphorbus, but
retreated at the approach of Hector, who seized the armour of Achilles
and put it on. A thick cloud settled over the combatants, heightening
the dread of battle. The gods came down to encourage their respective
warriors; the Greeks were thrust back over the plain, but the bravery
of Ajax and Menelaus enabled the latter to save Patroclus' body and
carry it from the dust of battle towards the ships.

When the news of his friend's death came to Achilles his grief was so
mighty that it seemed likely that he would have slain himself. He
burst into a lamentation so bitter that his mother heard him in her
sea-cave and came forth to learn what new sorrow had taken him. Too
late he learned the hard lesson that revenge may be sweet but is
always bought at the cost of some far greater thing.

"I could not bring salvation to Patroclus or my men, but sit at the
ships a useless burden upon the land, albeit I am such a man as no
other in war, though others excel me in speech. Perish strife from
among men and gods, and anger which inciteth even a prudent man to
take offence; far sweeter than dropping honey it groweth in a man's
heart like smoke, even now as Agamemnon hath roused me to a fury."

Being robbed of his armour he could not sally out to convey his
companion's body into the camp. Hera therefore sent Iris to him
bidding him merely show himself at the trenches and cry aloud. At the
sound of his thrice-repeated cry the Trojans shrank back in terror,
leaving the Greeks to carry in Patroclus' body unmolested; then Hera
bade the sun set at once into the ocean to end the great day of

Polydamas knew well what the appearance of Achilles portended to the
Trojans, for he was the one man among them who could look both before
and after; his advice was that they should retire into the town and
there shut themselves up. It was received with scorn by Hector. In the
Greek camp Achilles burst into a wild lament over Patroclus, swearing
that he would not bury him before he had brought in Hector dead and
twelve living captives to sacrifice before the pyre. That night his
mother went to Hephaestus and persuaded him to make divine armour for
her son, which the poet describes in detail.

On receiving the armour from his mother Achilles made haste to
reconcile himself with Agamemnon. His impatience for revenge and the
oath he had taken made it impossible for him to take any food. His
strength was maintained by Athena who supplied him with nectar. On
issuing forth to the fight he addressed his two horses:

"Xanthus and Balius, bethink you how ye may save your charioteer
when he hath done with the battle, and desert him not in death as
ye did Patroclus."

In reply they prophesied his coming end.

"For this we are not to blame, but the mighty god--and violent Fate.
We can run quick as the breath of the North wind, who men say is
the swiftest of all, but thy fate it is to die by the might of a
god and a man."

The Avenging Spirits forbade them to reveal more. The awe of the
climax of the poem is heightened by supernatural interventions. At
last the gods themselves received permission from Zeus to enter the
fray. They took sides, the shock of their meeting causing the nether
deity to start from his throne in fear that his realm should collapse
about him. Achilles met Aeneas and would have slain him had not
Poseidon saved him. Hector withdrew before him, warned by Apollo not
to meet him face to face. Disregarding the god's advice he attacked
Achilles, but for the moment was spirited away. Disappointed of his
prey Achilles sowed havoc among the lesser Trojans.

Choked by the numerous corpses the River-God Scamander begged him
cease his work of destruction. When the Hero disregarded him, he
assembled all his waters and would have overwhelmed him but for Athena
who gave him power to resist; the river was checked by the Fire-God
who dried up his streams. The gods then plunged into strife, the sight
whereof made Zeus laugh in joy. Athena quickly routed Aphrodite and
Hera Artemis. Apollo deemed it worthless to fight Poseidon.

"Thou wouldst not call me prudent were I to strive with thee for
cowering mortals, who like leaves sometimes are full of fire, then
again waste away spiritless. Let us make an end of our quarrel;
let men fight it out themselves."

Deserted by their protectors the Trojans broke before Achilles, who
nearly took the town.

Baulked a second time of his vengeance by Apollo, Achilles vowed he
would have punished the god had he the power. Hector had at last
decided to face his foe at the Scaean Gate. His father and his mother
pleaded with him in a frenzy of grief to enter the town, but the dread
of Polydamas' reproaches fixed his resolve. When Achilles came rushing
towards him, his heart failed; he ran three times round the walls of
the city. Meanwhile the gods held up the scales of doom; when his life
sank down to death Apollo left him for ever.

Athena then took the shape of Deiphobus, encouraging him to face
Achilles. Seeing unexpectedly a friend, he turned and stood his
ground, for she had already warned Achilles of her plot. Hector
launched his spear which sped true, but failed to penetrate the divine
armour. When he found no Deiphobus at his side to give him another
weapon, he knew his end had come. Drawing himself up for a final
effort, he darted at Achilles; the latter spied a gap in the armour he
had once worn, through which he smote Hector mortally. Lying in
approaching death, the Trojan begged that his body might be honoured
with a burial, but Achilles swore he should never have it, rather the
dogs and carrion birds should devour his flesh. Seeing their great foe
dead the Greeks flocked around him, not one passing by him without
stabbing his body. Achilles bored through his ankles and attached him
to his car; then whipping up his horses, he drove full speed to the
camp, dragging Hector in disgrace over the plain. This scene of pure
savagery is succeeded by the laments of Priam, Hecuba and Andromache
over him whom Zeus allowed to be outraged in his own land.

That night the shade of Patroclus visited Achilles, bidding him bury
him speedily that he might cross the gates of death; the dust of his
ashes was to be stored up in an urn and mixed with Achilles' own when
his turn came to die. After the funeral Achilles held games of great
splendour in which the leading athletes contended for the prizes he

Yet nothing could make up for the loss of his friend. Every day he
dragged Hector's body round Patroclus' tomb, but Apollo in pity for
the dead man kept away corruption, maintaining the body in all its
beauty of manhood. At last on the twelfth day Apollo appealed to the
gods to end the barbarous outrage.

"Hath not Hector offered to you many a sacrifice of bulls and
goats? Yet ye countenance the deeds of Achilles, who hath forsaken
all pity which doth harm to men and bringeth a blessing too. Many
another is like to lose a friend, but he will weep and let his
foe's body go, for the Fates have given men an heart to endure.
Good man though he be, let Achilles take heed lest he move us to
indignation by outraging in fury senseless clay."

Zeus sent to fetch Thetis whom he bade persuade her son to ransom the
body; meanwhile Iris went to Troy to tell Priam to take a ransom and
go to the ships without fear, for the convoy who should guide him
would save him from harm.

On hearing of Priam's resolve Hecuba tried to dissuade him, but the
old King would not be turned. That night he went forth alone; he was
met in the plain by Hermes, disguised as a servant of Achilles, who
conducted him to the hut where Hector lay. Slipping in unseen, Priam
caught Achilles' knees and kissed the dread hands that had slain his
son. In pity for the aged King Achilles remembered his own father,
left as defenceless as Priam. Calling out his servants he bade them
wash the corpse outside, lest Priam at the sight of it should upbraid
him and thus provoke him to slay him and offend against the commands
of Zeus. As they supped, Priam marvelled at the stature and beauty of
Achilles and Achilles wondered at Priam's reverend form and his words.
While Achilles slept, Hermes came to Priam to warn him of his danger
if he were found in the Greek host. Hastily harnessing the chariot, he
led him back safely to Troy, where the body was laid upon a bed in
Hector's palace.

The laments which follow are of great beauty. Andromache bewailed her
widowhood, Hecuba her dearest son; Helen's lament is a masterpiece.

"Hector, far the dearest to me of all my brethren, of a truth Paris
is my lord, who brought me hither--would I had died first. This is
the tenth year since I left my native land, yet have I never heard
from thee a word cruel or despiteful; rather, if any other chode me,
thy sister or a brother's wife or thy mother--though thy father is
gentle to me always as he were my own sire--thou didst restrain such
with words of persuasion and kindness and gentleness all thine own.
Wherefore I grieve for thee and for myself in anguish, for there is
no other friend in broad Troy kind and tender, but all shudder at me."

Then with many a tear they laid to his rest mighty Hector.

Such is the _Iliad_. To modern readers it very often seems a little
dull. Horace long ago pointed out that it is inevitable that a long
poem should flag; even Homer nods sometimes. Some of the episodes are
distinctly wearisome, for they are invented to give a place in this
national Epic to lesser heroes who could hardly be mentioned if
Achilles were always in the foreground. Achilles himself is not a
pleasing person; his character is wayward and violent; he is sometimes
childish, always liable to be carried away by a fit of pettishness and
unable to retain our real respect; further, a hero who is practically
invulnerable and yet dons divine armour to attack those who are no
match for him when he is without it falls below the ordinary
"sportsman's" level. Nor can we feel much reverence for many of the
gods; Hera is odious, Athena guilty of flat treachery, Zeus, liable to
allow his good nature to overcome his judgment--Apollo alone seems
consistently noble. More, we shall look in vain in the _Iliad_ for any
sign of the pure battle-joy which is so characteristic of northern
Epic poetry; the Greek ideal of bravery had nothing of the Berserker
in it. Perhaps these are the reasons why the sympathy of nearly all
readers is with the Trojans, who are numerically inferior, are aided
by fewer and weaker gods and have less mighty champions to defend

What then is left to admire in the _Iliad_? It is well to remember
that the poem is not the first but the last of a long series; its very
perfection of form and language makes it certain that it is the result
of a long literary tradition. As such, it has one or two remarkable
features. We shall not find in many other Epics that sense of wistful
sorrow for man's brief and uncertain life which is the finest breath
of all poetry that seeks to touch the human heart. The marks of rude
or crude workmanship which disfigure much Epic have nearly all
disappeared from the _Iliad_. The characterisation of many of the
figures of the poem is masterly, their very natures being hit off in a
few lines--and it is important to remember that it is not really the
business of Epic to attempt analysis of character at all except very
briefly; the story cannot be kept waiting. But the real Homeric power
is displayed in the famous scenes of pure and worthy pathos such as
the parting of Andromache from Hector and the laments over his body.
Those who would learn how to touch great depths of sorrow and remain
dignified must see how it has been treated in the _Iliad_.

A few vigorous lines hit off the plan of the _Odyssey_.

"Sing, Muse, of the man of much wandering who travelled right far
after sacking sacred Troy, and saw the cities of many men and knew
their ways. Many a sorrow he suffered on the sea, trying to win a
return home for himself and his comrades; yet he could not for all
his longing, for they died like fools through their own blindness."

Odysseus, when the poem opens, was in Calypso's isle pitied of all the
gods save Poseidon. In a council Zeus gave his consent that Hermes
should go to Calypso, while Athena should descend to Ithaca to
encourage Odysseus' son Telemachus to seek out news of his father.

Taking the form of Mentes, Athena met Telemachus and informed him that
his father was not yet dead. Seeing the suitors who were wooing his
mother Penelope and eating up the house in riot, she advised him to
dismiss them and visit Nestor in Pylos. A lay sung by Phemius brought
Penelope from her chamber, who was astonished at the immediate change
which her son's speech showed had come upon him, transforming him to

Next day Telemachus called an Assembly of the Ithacans; his appeal to
the suitors to leave him in peace provoked an insulting speech from
their ringleader Antinous who held Penelope to blame for their
presence; she had constantly eluded them, on one occasion promising to
marry when she had woven a shroud for Laertes her father-in-law; the
work she did by day she undid at night, till she was betrayed by a
serving-woman. Telemachus then asked the suitors for a ship to get
news of his father. When the assembly broke up, Athena appeared in
answer to Telemachus' prayer in the form of Mentor and pledged herself
to go with him on his travels. She prepared a ship and got together a
crew, while Telemachus bade his old nurse Eurycleia conceal from his
mother his departure.

In Pylos Nestor told him all he knew of Odysseus, describing the
sorrows which came upon the Greek leaders on their return and
especially the evil end of Agamemnon. He added that Menelaus had just
returned to Sparta and was far more likely to know the truth than any
other, for he had wandered widely over the seas on his home-coming.
Bidding Nestor look after Telemachus, Athena vanished from his sight,
but not before she was recognised by the old hero. On the morrow
Telemachus set out for Sparta, accompanied by Pisistratus, one of
Nestor's sons.

Menelaus gave them a kindly welcome and a casual mention of his
father's name stirred Telemachus to tears. At that moment Helen
entered; her quicker perception at once traced the resemblance between
the young stranger and Odysseus. When Telemachus admitted his
identity, Helen told some of his father's deeds. Once he entered Troy
disguised as a beggar, unrecognised of all save Helen herself. "After
he made her swear an oath that she would not betray him, he revealed
all the plans of the Greeks. Then, after slaying many Trojans, he
departed with much knowledge, while Helen's heart rejoiced, for she
was already bent on a return home, repenting of the blindness which
Aphrodite had sent her in persuading her to abandon home and daughter
and a husband who lacked naught, neither wit not manhood." Menelaus
then recounted how Odysseus saved him when they were in the wooden
horse, when one false sound would have betrayed them. On the next
morning Telemachus told the story of the ruin of his home; Menelaus
prophesied the end of the suitors, then preceded to recount how in
Egypt he waylaid and captured Proteus, the changing god of the sea,
whom he compelled to relate the fate of the Greek leaders and to
prophesy his own return; from him he heard that Odysseus was with
Calypso who kept him by force. On learning this important piece of
news Telemachus was eager to return to Ithaca with all speed.

Meanwhile the suitors had learned of the departure of Telemachus and
plotted to intercept him on his return. Their treachery was told to
Penelope, who was utterly undone on hearing it; feeling herself left
without a human protector she prayed to Athena, who appeared to her in
a dream in the likeness of her own sister to assure her that Athena
was watching over her, but refusing to say definitely whether Odysseus
was alive.

The poem at this point takes up the story of Odysseus himself. Going
to the isle where he was held captive, Hermes after admiring its great
beauty delivered Zeus' message to Calypso to let the captive go. She
reproached the gods for their jealousy and reluctantly promised to
obey. She found Odysseus on the shore, eating out his heart in the
desire for his home. When she informed him that she intended to let
him go, he first with commendable prudence made her swear that she did
not design some greater evil for him. Smiling at his cunning, she
swore the most solemn of all oaths to help him, then supplied tools
and materials for the building of his boat. When he was out on the
deep, Poseidon wrecked his craft, but a sea goddess Leucothea, once a
mortal, gave him a scarf to wrap round him, bidding him cast it from
him with his back turned away when he got to land. After two nights
and two days on the deep he at length saw land. Finding the mouth of a
small stream, he swam up it, then utterly weary flung himself down on
a heap of leaves under a bush, guarded by Athena.

The next episode introduces one of the most charming figures in
ancient literature. Nausicaa was the daughter of Alcinous, King of
Phaeacia, on whose island Odysseus had landed. To her Athena appeared
in a dream, bidding her obtain from her father leave to go down to the
sea to wash his soiled garments. The young girl obeyed, telling her
father that it was but seemly that he, the first man in the kingdom,
should appear at council in raiment white as snow. He gave her the
leave she desired. After their work was done, she and her handmaids
began a game of ball; their merry cries woke up Odysseus, who started
up on hearing human voices. Coming forward, he frightened by his
appearance the handmaids, but Nausicaa, emboldened by Athena, stood
still and listened to his story. She supplied him with clean garments
after she had given him food and drink. On the homeward journey
Nausicaa bade Odysseus bethink him of the inconvenient talk which his
presence would occasion if he were seen with her near the city. She
therefore judged it best that she should enter first, at the same time
she gave him full information of the road to the palace; when he
entered it he was to proceed straight to the Queen Arete, whose favour
was indispensable if he desired a return home.

Just outside the city Athena met him in the guise of a girl to tell
him his way; she further cast about him a thick cloud to protect him
from curious eyes. Passing through the King's gardens, which were a
marvel of beauty and fruitfulness, Odysseus entered the palace and
threw his arms in supplication about Arete's knees. She listened
kindly to him and begged Alcinous give him welcome. When all the
courtiers had retired to rest, Arete, noticing that the garments
Odysseus wore had been woven by her own hands, asked him whence he had
them and how he had come to the island. On hearing the story of his
shipwreck Alcinous promised him a safe convoy to his home on the

At an assembly Alcinous consulted with his counsellors about Odysseus;
all agreed to help in providing him with a ship and rowers. At a trial
of skill Odysseus, after being taunted by some of the Phaeacians,
hurled the quoit beyond them all. Later, a song of the wooden horse of
Troy moved him to tears; though unnoticed by the others, he did not
escape the eye of Alcinous who bade him tell them plainly who he was.
Then he revealed himself and told the marvellous story of his

First he and his companions reached the land of the Lotus-eaters.
Finding out that the lotus made all who ate it lose their desire for
home, Odysseus sailed away with all speed, forcing away some who had
tasted the plant. Thence they reached the island of the Cyclopes, a
wild race who knew no ordinances; each living in his cave was a law to
himself, caring nothing for the others. Leaving his twelve ships,
Odysseus proceeded with some of his men to the cave of one of the
Cyclopes, a son of Poseidon, taking with him a skin of wine. When the
one-eyed monster returned with his flock of sheep, he shut the mouth
of the cave with a mighty stone which no mortal could move; then
lighting a fire he caught sight of his visitors and asked who they
were. Odysseus answered craftily, whereupon the monster devoured six
of his company. Odysseus opened his wine-skin and offered some of the
wine; when the Cyclops asked his name, Odysseus told him he was called
Noman; in return for his kindness in offering him the strangely sweet
drink the Cyclops promised to eat him last of all. But the wine soon
plunged the monster into a slumber, from which he was awakened by the
burning end of a great stake which Odysseus thrust into his eye. On
hearing his cries of agony the other Cyclopes came to him, but went
away when they heard that Noman was killing him. As it was impossible
for anyone but the Cyclops to open the cave, Odysseus tied his men
beneath the cattle, putting the beast which carried a man between two
which were unburdened; he himself hung on to the ram. As the animals
passed out, the Cyclops was a little surprised that the ram went last,
but thought he did so out of grief for his master. When they were all
safely outside, Odysseus freed his friends and made haste to get to
the ship. Thrusting out, when he was at what seemed a safe distance he
shouted to the Cyclops, who then remembered an old prophecy and hurled
a huge rock which nearly washed them back; a second rock which he
hurled on learning Odysseus' real name narrowly missed the ship. Then
the Cyclops prayed to Poseidon to punish Odysseus; the god heard him,
persecuting him from that time onward. Reassembling his ships,
Odysseus proceeded on his voyage.

He next called at the isle of Aeolus, king of the winds, who gave him
in a bag all the winds but one, a favouring breeze which was to waft
him to his own island. For nine days Odysseus guarded his bag, but at
last, when Ithaca was in sight, he sank into a sleep of exhaustion.
Thinking that the bag concealed some treasure, his men opened it, only
to be blown back to Aeolus who bid him begone as an evil man when he
begged aid a second time.

After visiting the Laestrygones, a man-eating people, who devoured all
the fleet except one ship's company, the remainder reached Aeaea, the
island where lived the dread goddess Circe. Odysseus sent forward
Eurylochus with some twenty companions who found Circe weaving at a
loom. Seeing them she invited them within; then after giving them a
charmed potion she smote them with her rod, turning them into swine.
Eurylochus who had suspected some trickery hurried back to Odysseus
with the news. The latter determined to go alone to save his friends.
On the way he was met by Hermes, who showed him the herb moly, an
antidote to Circe's draught. Finding that her magic failed, she at
once knew that her visitor was Odysseus whose visit had been
prophesied to her by Hermes. He bound her down by a solemn oath to
refrain from further mischief and persuaded her to restore to his men
their humanity. When Odysseus desired to depart home, she told him of
the wanderings that awaited him. First he must go to the land of the
dead to consult the shade of Teiresias, the blind old prophet, who
would help him.

Following the goddess' instructions, they sailed to the land of the
Cimmerians on the confines of the earth. There Odysseus dug a trench
into which he poured the blood of slain victims which he did not allow
the dead spirits to touch till Teiresias appeared. The seer told him
of the sorrows that awaited him and vaguely indicated that his death
should come upon him from the sea; he added that any spirit he allowed
to touch the blood would tell him truly all whereof he was as yet
ignorant, and that those ghosts he drove away would return to the

First arose the spirit of his dead mother Anticleia who told him that
his wife and son were yet alive and his father was living away from
the town in wretchedness.

"For me, it was not the visitation of Apollo that took me, nor any
sickness whose corruption drove the life from my frame; rather it
was longing for thee and thy counsels and thy gentleness which
spoiled me of my spirit."

Thrice he tried to embrace her, and thrice the ghost eluded him, for
it was "as a dream that had fled away from the white frame of the
body". A procession of famous women followed, then came the wraith of
Agamemnon who told how he had been foully slain by his own wife, as
faithless as Penelope was prudent. Achilles next approached; when
Odysseus tried to console him for his early death by reminding him of
the honour he had when he was alive, he answered:

"Speak not comfortingly of death; I would rather be a clown and a
thrall on earth to another man than rule among the departed."

On hearing that his son Neoptolemus had won great glory in the capture
of Troy, the spirit left him, exulting with joy that his son was
worthy of him. Ajax turned from Odysseus in anger at the loss of
Achilles' armour for the possession of which they had striven. The
last figure that came was the ghost of Heracles, though the hero
himself was with the gods in Olympus.

"Round him was the whirr of the dead as of birds fleeing in panic.
Like to black night, with his bow ready and an arrow on the string,
he glared about him terribly, as ever intending to shoot. Over his
breast was flung a fearful belt, whereon were graven bears and lions
and fights, battles, murders and man-slayings."

He recognised Odysseus before he passed back to death; when a crowd of
terrifying apparitions came thronging to the trench, Odysseus fled to
his ship lest the Gorgon might be sent from the awful Queen of the

Returning to Circe, he learned from her of the remaining dangers. The
first of these was the island of the Sirens, who by the marvellous
sweetness of their song charmed to their ruin all who passed. Odysseus
filled the ears of his crews with wax, bidding them to tie him to the
mast of his ship and to row hard past the temptresses in spite of his
strugglings. They then entered the dangerous strait, on one side of
which was Scylla, a dreadful monster who lived in a cave near by, on
the other was the deadly whirlpool of Charybdis. Scylla carried off
six of his men who called in vain to Odysseus to save them, stretching
out their hands to him in their last agony. From the strait they
passed to the island of Trinacria, where they found grazing the cattle
of the Sun. Odysseus had learned from both Teiresias and Circe that an
evil doom would come upon them if they touched the animals; he
therefore made his companions swear a great oath not to touch them if
they landed. For a whole month they were wind-bound in the island and
ate all the provisions which Circe had given them. At a time when
Odysseus had gone to explore the island Eurylochus persuaded his men
to kill and eat; as he returned Odysseus smelled the savour of their
feast and knew that destruction was at hand. For nine days the
feasting continued. When the ship put out to sea Zeus, in answer to
the prayer of the offended Sun-God, sent a storm which drowned all the
crew and drove Odysseus back to the dreaded strait. Escaping through
it with difficulty, he drifted helplessly over the deep and on the
tenth day landed on the island of "the dread goddess who used human
speech", Calypso, who tended him and kept him in captivity.

On the next day the Phaeacians loaded Odysseus with presents and
landed him on his own island while he slept. Poseidon in anger at the
arrival of the hero changed the returning Phaeacian ship into stone
when it was almost within the harbour of the city. When Odysseus awoke
he failed to recognise his own land. Athena appeared to him disguised
as a shepherd, telling him he was indeed in Ithaca:

"Thou art witless or art come from afar, if thou enquirest about
this land. It is not utterly unknown; many know it who dwell in the
East and in the West. It is rough and unfitted for steeds, yet it is
not a sorry isle, though narrow. It hath plenteous store of corn and
the vine groweth herein. It hath alway rain and glistening dew. It
nourisheth goats and cattle and all kinds of woods and its streams
are everlasting."

Such is the description of the land for which Odysseus forsook
Calypso's offer of immortality. After smiling at Odysseus' pretence
that he was a Cretan Athena counselled him how to slay the suitors and
hurried to fetch Telemachus from Sparta. The poet tells why Athena
loved Odysseus more than all others.

"Crafty would he be and a cunning trickster who surpassed thee in
wiles, though it were a god who challenged thee. We know craft
enough, both of us, for thou art by far the best of mortals in speech
and counsel and I among the gods am famed for devices and cunning."

Transformed by her into an old beggar, Odysseus went to the hut of his
faithful old swineherd Eumaeus; the dogs set upon him, but Eumaeus
scared them away and welcomed him to his dwelling. In spite of
Odysseus' assurance that the master would return Eumaeus, who had been
often deceived by similar words, refused to believe. Feigning himself
to be a Cretan, Odysseus saw for himself that the old servant's
loyalty was steadfast; a deft touch brings out his care for his
master's substance:

"laying a bed for Odysseus before the fire, he went out and slept
among the dogs in a cave beneath the breath of the winds."

By the intervention of Athena the two leading characters are brought
together. She stood beside the sleeping Telemachus in Sparta, warning
him of the ambush set for him in Ithaca and bidding him to land on a
lonely part of the coast whence he was to proceed to the hut of
Eumaeus. On his departure from Sparta an omen was interpreted by Helen
to mean that Odysseus was not far from home. As he was on the point of
leaving Pylos on the morrow a bard named Theoclymenus appealed to him
for protection, for he had slain a man and was a fugitive from
justice. Taking him on board Telemachus frustrated the ambush, landing
in safety; he proceeded to Eumaeus' hut, where Odysseus had with some
difficulty been persuaded to remain.

The dogs were the first to announce the arrival of a friend,
gambolling about him. After speaking a word of cheer to Eumaeus
Telemachus enquired who the stranger was; hearing that he was a Cretan
he lamented his inability to give him a welcome in his home owing to
the insolence of his enemies. Remembering the anxiety of his mother
during his absence he sent Eumaeus to the town to acquaint her with
his arrival. Athena seized the opportunity to reveal Odysseus to his
son, transforming him to his own shape. After a moment of utter
amazement at the marvel of the change, Telemachus ran to his father
and fell upon his neck, his joy finding expression in tears. The two
then laid their plans for the destruction of the suitors. By the time
Eumaeus had returned Odysseus had resumed his sorry and tattered

Telemachus went to the town alone, bidding Eumaeus bring the stranger
with him. They were met by one Melanthius a goatherd, who covered them
with insults. "In truth one churl is leading another, for the god ever
bringeth like to like. Whither art thou taking this glutton, this evil
pauper, a kill-joy of the feast? He hath learned many a knavish trick
and is like to refuse to labour; creeping among the people he would
rather ask alms to fill his insatiate maw." Leaping on Odysseus, he
kicked at him, yet failed to stir him from the pathway. Swallowing the
insult Odysseus walked towards his house. A superb stroke of art has
created the next incident. In the courtyard lay Argus, a hound whom
Odysseus had once fed. Neglected in the absence of his master he had
crept to a dung-heap, full of lice. When he marked Odysseus coming
towards him he wagged his tail and dropped his ears, but could not
come near his lord. Seeing him from a little distance Odysseus wiped
away his tears unnoticed of Eumaeus and asked whose the hound was.
Eumaeus told the story of his neglect: "but the doom of death took
Argus straightway after seeing Odysseus in the twentieth year". In the
palace Telemachus sent his father food, bidding him ask a charity of
the wooers. Antinous answered by hurling a stool which struck his
shoulder. The noise of the high words which followed brought down
Penelope who protested against the godless behaviour of the suitors
and asked to interview the stranger in hope of learning some tidings
of her husband, but Odysseus put her off till nightfall when they
would be less likely to suffer from the insolence of the suitors.

In Ithaca was a beggar named Irus, gluttonous and big-boned but a
coward. Encouraged by the winkings and noddings of the suitors he bade
Odysseus begone. A quiet answer made him imagine he had to deal with a
poltroon and he challenged him to a fight. The proposal was welcomed
with glee by the suitors, who promised on oath to see fair play for
the old man in his quarrel with a younger. But when they saw the
mighty limbs and stout frame of Odysseus, they deemed that Irus had
brought trouble on his own head. Chattering with fear Irus had to be
forced to the combat. One blow was enough to lay him low; the ease
with which Odysseus had disposed of his foe made him for a time
popular with the suitors.

Under an inspiration of Athena, Penelope came down once more to chide
the wooers for their insolence; she also upbraided them for their

"Yours is not the custom of wooers in former days who were wont to
sue for wedlock with the daughter of a rich man and contend among
themselves. Such men offer oxen and stout cattle and glorious gifts;
they will never consume another's substance without payment."

Stung by the taunt, they gave her the accustomed presents, while
Odysseus rejoiced that she flattered their heart in soft words with a
different intent in her spirit. The insolence of the suitors was
matched by the pertness of the serving maids, of whom Melantho was the
most impudent. A threat from Odysseus drew down upon him the wrath of
the suitors who were with difficulty persuaded by Telemachus to depart
home to their beds.

That night Odysseus and his son removed the arms from the walls, the
latter being told to urge as a pretext for his action the necessity of
cleaning from them the rust and of removing a temptation to violence
when the suitors were heated with wine. At the promised interview with
his wife Odysseus again pretended he was a Cretan; describing the very
dress which Odysseus had worn, he assured her that he would soon
return with the many treasures which he had collected. Half persuaded
by the exact description of a garment she had herself made, she bade
her maids look to him, but he would not suffer any of them to approach
him save his old nurse Eurycleia. As she was washing him in the dim
light of the fireside her fingers touched the old scar above his knee,
the result of an accident in a boar-hunt during his youth.

"Dropping the basin she fell backwards; joy and grief took her
heart at once, her eyes filled with tears and her utterance was
checked. Catching him by his beard, she said: 'In very sooth thou
art Odysseus, my dear boy; and I knew thee not before I had touched
the body of my lord.' So speaking she looked at Penelope, fain to
tell her that her lord was within. But Odysseus laid his hand upon
the nurse's mouth, with the other he drew her to him and whispered:
'Nurse, wouldst thou ruin me? Thou didst nourish me at thy breast,
and now I am come back after mighty sufferings. Be silent, lest
another learn the news, or I tell thee that when I have punished
the suitors I will not even refrain from thee when I destroy the
other women in my halls.'"

Concealing the scar carefully under his rags by the fireside he put a
good interpretation on a strange dream which had visited his wife.

That night Odysseus with his own eyes witnessed the intrigues between
his women and the suitors. He heard his wife weeping in her chamber
for him and prayed to Zeus for aid in the coming trial. On the morrow
he was again outraged; the suitors were moved to laughter by a
prophecy of Theoclymenus:

"Yet they were laughing with alien lips, the meat they ate was
dabbled with blood, their eyes were filled with tears and their
hearts boded lamentation. Among them spake Theoclymenus; 'Wretched
men, what is this evil that is come upon you? Your heads and faces
and the knees beneath you are shrouded in night, mourning is kindled
among you, your cheeks are bedewed with tears, the walls and the
fair pillars are sprinkled with blood, the forecourt and the yard is
full of spectres hastening to the gloom of Erebus; the sun hath
perished from the heaven and a mist of ruin hath swept upon you.'"

In answer Eurymachus bade him begone if all within was night; taking
him at his word, the seer withdrew before the coming ruin.

Then Athena put it into the heart of Penelope to set the suitors a
final test. She brought forth the bow of Odysseus together with twelve
axes. It had been an exercise of her lord to set up the axes in a
line, string the bow and shoot through the heads of the axes which had
been hollowed for that purpose. She promised to follow at once the
suitor who could string the bow and shoot through the axes. First
Telemachus set up the axes and tried to string the weapon; failing
three times he would have succeeded at the next effort but for a
glance from his father. Leiodes vainly tried his strength, to be
rebuked by Antinous who suggested that the bow should be made more
pliant by being heated at the fire.

Noticing that Eumaeus and Philoetius had gone out together Odysseus
went after them and revealed himself to them; the three then returned
to the hall. After all the suitors had failed except Antinous, who did
not deem that he should waste a feast-day in stringing bows, Odysseus
begged that he might try, Penelope insisting on his right to attempt
the feat. When she retired Eumaeus brought the bow to Odysseus, then
told Eurycleia to keep the woman in their chambers while Philoetius
bolted the hall door.

"But already Odysseus was turning the bow this way and that testing
it lest the worms had devoured it in his absence. Then when he had
balanced it and looked it all over, even as when a man skilled in
the lyre and song easily putteth a new string about a peg, even so
without an effort Odysseus strung his mighty bow. Taking it in his
right hand he tried the string which sang sweetly beneath his touch
like to the voice of a swallow. Then he took an arrow and shot it
with a straight aim through the axes, missing not one. Then he spake
to Telemachus: 'Thy guest bringeth thee no shame as he sitteth in
thy halls, for I missed not the mark nor spent much time in the
stringing. My strength is yet whole within me. But now it is time to
make a banquet for the Achaeans in the light of day and then season
it with song and dance, which are the crown of revelry.' So speaking
he nodded, and his son took a sword and a spear and stood by him
clad in gleaming bronze."

The first victim was Antinous, whom Odysseus shot through the neck as
he was in the act of drinking, never dreaming that one man would
attack a multitude of suitors. Eurymachus fell after vainly attempting
a compromise. Melanthius was caught in the act of supplying arms to
the rest and was left bound to be dealt with when the main work was
done. Athena herself encouraged Odysseus in his labour of vengeance,
deflecting from him any weapons that were hurled at him. At length all
was over, the serving women were made to cleanse the hall of all
traces of bloodshed; the guiltiest of them were hanged, while
Melanthius died a horrible death by mutilation. Odysseus then summoned
his wife to his presence.

Eurycleia carried the message to her, laughing with joy so much that
Penelope deemed her mad. The story of the vengeance which Odysseus had
exacted was so incredible that it must have been the act of a god, not
a man. When she entered the hall Telemachus upbraided her for her
unbelief, but Odysseus smiled on hearing that she intended to test him
by certain proofs which they two alone were aware of. He withdrew for
a time to cleanse him of his stains and to put on his royal garments,
after ordering the servants to maintain a revelry to blind the people
to the death of their chief men.

When he reappeared, endued with grace which Athena gave him, he
marvelled at the untoward heart which the gods had given his wife and
bade his nurse lay him his bed. Penelope caught up his words quickly;
the bed was to be laid outside the chamber which he himself had made.
The words filled Odysseus with dismay:

"Who hath put my bed elsewhere? It would be a hard task for any man
however cunning, except a god set it in some other place. Of men
none could easily shift it, for there is a wonder in that cunningly
made bed whereat I laboured and none else. Within the courtyard was
growing the trunk of an olive; round it I built my bed-chamber with
thick stones and roofed it well, placing in it doors that shut tight.
Then I cut away the olive branches, smoothed the trunk, made a
bedpost, and bored all with a gimlet. From that foundation I smoothed
my bed, tricking it out with gold and silver and ivory and stretching
from its frame thongs of cow-hide dyed red. Such is the wonder I tell
of, yet I know not, Lady, whether the bed is yet fixed there, or
whether another hath moved it, cutting the foundation of olive from

On hearing the details of their secret Penelope ran to him casting her
arms about him and begging him to forgive her unbelief, for many a
pretender had come, making her ever more and more suspicious. Thus
reunited the two spent the night in recounting the agonies of their
separation; Odysseus mentioned the strange prophecy of Teiresias,
deciding to seek out his father on the morrow.

A vivid description tells how the souls of the suitors were conducted
to the realm of the dead, the old comrades of Odysseus before Troy
recognising in the vengeance all the marks of his handiwork. Odysseus
found his father in a wretched old age hoeing his garden, clad in
soiled garments with a goat-skin hat on his head which but increased
his sorrow. At the sight Odysseus was moved to tears of compassion.
Yet even then he could not refrain from his wiles, for he told how he
had indeed seen Odysseus though five years before. In despair the old
man took the dust in his hands and cast it about his head in mighty

"Then Odysseus' spirit was moved and the stinging throb smote his
nostrils. Clinging to his father he kissed him and told him he was
indeed his son, returned after twenty years."

For a moment the old man doubted, but believed when Odysseus showed
the scar and told him the number and names of the trees they had
planted together in their orchard.

Meanwhile news of the death of the wooers had run through the city.
The father of Antinous raised a tumult and led a body of armed men to
demand satisfaction. The threatening uproar was stopped by the
intervention of Athena who thus completed the restoration of her
favourite as she had begun it.

* * * * *

It is strange that this poem, which is such a favourite with modern
readers, should have made a less deep impression on the Greeks. To
them, Homer is nearly always the _Iliad_, possibly because Achilles
was semi-divine, whereas Odysseus was a mere mortal. But the latter is
for that very reason of more importance to us, we feel him to be more
akin to our own life. Further, the type of character which Odysseus
stands for is really far nobler than the fervid and somewhat incalculable
nature of the son of Thetis. Odysseus is patient endurance, common sense,
self-restraint, coolness, resource and strength; he is indeed a manifold
personality, far more complex than anything attempted previously in Greek
literature and therefore far more modern in his appeal. It is only after
reading the _Odyssey_ that we begin to understand why Diomedes chose
Odysseus as his companion in the famous Dolon adventure in Noman's land.
Achilles would have been the wrong man for this or any other situation
which demanded first and last a cool head.

The romantic elements which are so necessary a part of all Epic are
much more convincing in the _Odyssey_; the actions and adventures are
indeed beyond experience, but they are treated in such a masterly
style that they are made inevitable; it would be difficult to improve
on any of the little details which force us to believe the whole
story. Added to them is another genuine romantic feature, the sense of
wandering in strange new lands untrodden before of man's foot; the
beings who move in these lands are gracious, barbarous, magical,
monstrous, superhuman, dreamy, or prophetic by turns; they are all
different and all fascinating. The reader is further introduced to the
life of the dead as well as of the living and the memory of his visit
is one which he will retain for ever. Not many stories of adventure
can impress themselves indelibly as does the _Odyssey_.

To English readers the poem has a special value, for it deals with the
sea and its wonders. The native land of its hero is not very unlike
our own, "full of mist and rain", yet able to make us love it far more
than a Calypso's isle with an offer of immortality to any who will
exchange his real love of home for an unnatural haven of peace. A
splendid hero, a good love-story, admirable narrative, romance and
excitement, together with a breath of the sea which gives plenty of
space and pure air have made the _Odyssey_ the companion of many a
veteran reader in whom the Greek spirit cannot die.

* * * * *

Of the impression which Homer has made upon the mind of Europe it
would be difficult to give an estimate. The Greeks themselves early
came to regard his text with a sort of veneration; it was learned by
heart and quoted to spellbound audiences in the cities and at the
great national meetings at Olympia. Every Greek boy was expected to
know some portion at least by heart; Plato evidently loved Homer and
when he was obliged to point out that the system of morality which he
stood for was antiquated and needed revision, apologised for the
criticism he could not avoid. It is sometimes said that Homer was the
Bible of the Greeks; while this statement is probably inaccurate--for
no theological system was built on him nor did he claim any divine
revelation--yet it is certain that authors of all ages searched the
text for all kinds of purposes, antiquarian, ethical, social, as well
as religious. This careful study of Homer culminated in the learned
and accurate work of the great Alexandrian school of Zenodotus and

In Roman times Homer never failed to inspire lesser writers; Ennius is
said to have translated the _Odyssey_, while Virgil's _Aeneid_ is
clearly a child of the Greek Homeric tradition. In the Middle Ages the
Trojan legend was one of the four great cycles which were treated over
and over again in the Chansons. Even drama was glad to borrow the
great characters of the _Iliad_, as Shakespeare did in _Troilus and
Cressida_. In England a number of famous translations has witnessed to
the undying appeal of the first of the Greek masters. Chapman
published his _Iliad_ in 1611, his _Odyssey_ in 1616; Pope's version
appeared between 1715 and 1726; Cowper issued his translation in 1791.
In the next century the Earl Derby retranslated the _Iliad_, while an
excellent prose version of the _Odyssey_ by Butcher and Lang was
followed by a prose version of the _Iliad_ by Lang Myers and Leaf. At
a time when Europe had succeeded in persuading itself that the whole
story of a siege of Troy was an obvious myth, a series of startling
discoveries on the site of Troy and on the mainland of Greece proved
how lamentably shallow is some of the cleverest and most destructive
Higher Criticism.

The marvellous rapidity and vigour of these two poems will save them
from death; the splendid qualities of direct narration, constructive
skill, dignity and poetical power will always make Homer a name to
love. Those who know no Greek and therefore fear that they may lose
some of the directness of the Homeric appeal might recall the famous
sonnet written by Keats who had had no opportunity to learn the great
language. His words are no doubt familiar enough; that they have
become inseparable from Homer must be our apology for inserting them

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and Kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet never did I breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold.

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken,
Or like stout Cortes, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific--and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise--
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.


The whole of the Homeric tradition is affected by the recent
discoveries made in Crete. The civilisation there unearthed raises
questions of great interest; the problems it suggests are certain to
modify current ideas of Homeric study.

See _Discoveries in Crete_, by R. Burrows (Murray, 1907).

A very good account of the early age of European literature is in _The
Heroic Age_, by Chadwick (Cambridge, 1912).

The best interpretation of Greek poetry is Symonds' _Greek Poets_, 2
vols. (Smith Elder).

Jebb's _Homer_ is the best introduction to the many difficulties
presented by the poems.

Flaxman's engravings for the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ are of the highest


Towards the end of the sixth century before Christ, one of the most
momentous advances in literature was made by the genius of Aeschylus.
European drama was created and a means of utterance was given to the
rapidly growing democratic spirit of Greece. Before Aeschylus wrote,
rude public exhibitions had been given of the life and adventures of
Dionysus, the god of wine. Choruses had sung odes to the deity and
variety was obtained by a series of short dialogues between one of the
Chorus and the remainder. Aeschylus added a second actor to converse
with the first; he thus started a movement which eventually ousted the
Chorus from its place of importance, for the interest now began to
concentrate on the two actors; it was their performance which gave
drama its name. In time more characters were added; the Chorus became
less necessary and in the long run was felt to be a hindrance to the
movement of the story. This process is plainly visible in the extant
works of the Attic tragedians.

Aeschylus was born at Eleusis in 525; before the end of the century he
was writing tragedies. In 490 he fought in the great battle of
Marathon and took part in the victory of Salamis in 480. This
experience of the struggle for freedom against Persian despotism added
a vigour and a self-reliance to his writing which is characteristic of
a growing national spirit. He is said to have visited Sicily in 468
and again in 458, various motives being given for his leaving Athens.
His death at Gela in 456 is said to have been due to an eagle, which
dropped a tortoise upon his head which he mistook for a stone. He has
left to the world seven plays in which the rapid development of drama
is conspicuous.

One of the earliest of his plays is the _Suppliants_, little read
owing to the uncertainty of the text and the meagreness of the
dramatic interest. The plot is simple enough. Danaus, sprung from Io
of Argos, flees from Egypt with his fifty daughters who avoid wedlock
with the fifty sons of Aegyptus. He sails to Argos and lays suppliant
boughs on the altars of the gods, imploring protection. The King of
Argos after consultation with his people decides to admit the
fugitives and to secure them from Aegyptus' violence. A herald from
the latter threatens to take the Danaids back with him, but the King
intervenes and saves them. There is little in this play but long
choral odes; yet one or two Aeschylean features are evident. The King
dreads offending the god of suppliants

"lest he should make him to haunt his house, a dread visitor who
quits not sinners even in the world to come."

The Egyptian herald reverences no gods of Greece "who reared him not
nor brought him to old age". The Chorus declare that "what is fated
will come to pass, for Zeus' mighty boundless will cannot be
thwarted". Here we have the three leading ideas in the system of
Aeschylus--the doctrine of the inherited curse, of human pride and
impiety, and the might of Destiny.

The _Persians_ is unique as being the only surviving historical play
in Greek literature. It is a poem rather than a drama, as there is
little truly dramatic action. The piece is a succession of very vivid
sketches of the incidents in the great struggle which freed Europe
from the threat of Eastern despotism. A Chorus of Persian elders is
waiting for news of the advance of the great array which Xerxes led
against Greece in 480. They tell how Persia extended her sway over
Asia. Yet they are uneasy, for

"what mortal can avoid the crafty deception of Heaven? In seeming
kindness it entices men into a trap whence they cannot escape."

The Queen-mother Atossa enters, resplendent with jewels; she too is
anxious, for in a dream she had seen Xerxes yoke two women together
who were at feud, one clad in Persian garb, the other in Greek. The
former was obedient to the yoke, but the latter tore the car to pieces
and broke the curb. The Chorus advises her to propitiate the gods with
sacrifice, and to pray to Darius her dead husband to send his son
prosperity. At that moment a herald enters with the news of the Greek
victory at Salamis. Xerxes, beguiled by some fiend or evil spirit,
drew up his fleet at night to intercept the Greeks, supposed to be
preparing for flight. But at early dawn they sailed out to attack,
singing mightily

"Ye sons of Greece, onward! Free your country, your children and
wives, the shrines of your fathers' gods, and your ancestral tombs.
Now must ye fight for all."

Winning a glorious victory, they landed on the little island
(Psyttaleia) where the choicest Persian troops had been placed to cut
off the retreat of the Greek navy, and slew them all. Later, they
drove back the Persians by land; through Boeotia, Thessaly and
Macedonia the broken host retreated, finally recrossing to Asia over
the Hellespont.

On hearing the news Atossa disappears and the Persian Chorus sing a
dirge. The Queen returns without her finery, attired as a suppliant;
she bids the Chorus call up Darius, while she offers libations to the
dead. The ghost of the great Empire-builder rises before the
astonished spectators, enquiring what trouble has overtaken his land.
His release from Death is not easy, "for the gods of the lower world
are readier to take men's spirits than to let them go". On learning
that his son has been totally defeated, he delivers his judgment. The
oracles had long ago prophesied this disaster; it was hurried on by
Xerxes' rashness, for when a man is himself hurrying on to ruin Heaven
abets him. He had listened to evil counsellors, who bade him rival his
father's glory by making wider conquests. The ruin of Persia is not
yet complete, for when insolence is fully ripe it bears a crop of ruin
and reaps a harvest of tears. This evil came upon Xerxes through the
sacrilegious demolition of altars and temples. Zeus punishes
overweening pride, and his correcting hand is heavy. Darius counsels
Atossa to comfort their son and to prevent him from attacking Greece
again; he further advises the Chorus to take life's pleasures while
they can, for after death there is no profit in wealth. A distinctly
grotesque touch is added by the appearance of Xerxes himself, broken
and defeated, filling the scene with lamentations for lost friends and
departed glory, unable to answer the Chorus when they demand the
whereabouts of some of the most famous Persian warriors.

The play is valuable as the result of a personal experience of the
poet. As a piece of literature it is important, for it is a poetic
description of the first armed conflict between East and West. It
directly inspired Shelley when he wrote his _Hellas_ at a time when
Greece was rousing herself from many centuries of Eastern oppression.
As a historical drama it is of great value, for it is substantially
accurate in its main facts, though Aeschylus has been compelled to
take some liberties with time and human motives in order to satisfy
dramatic needs. From Herodotus it seems probable that Darius himself
hankered after the subjugation of Greece, while Xerxes at the outset
was inclined to leave her in peace.

One or two characteristic features are worth note. The genius of
Aeschylus was very bold; it was a daring thing to bring up a ghost
from the dead, for the supernatural appeal does not succeed except
when it is treated with proper insight; yet even Aeschylus' genius has
not quite succeeded in filling his canvas, the last scenes being
distinctly poor in comparison with the splendour of the main theme. On
the other hand a notable advance in dramatic power has been made. The
main actors are becoming human; their wills are beginning to operate.
Tragedy is based on a conflict of some sort; here the wilful spirit of
youth is portrayed as defying the forces of justice and righteousness;
it is insolence which brings Xerxes to ruin. The substantial creed of
Aeschylus is contained in Darius' speech; as the poet progresses in
dramatic cunning we shall find that he constantly finds his sources of
tragic inspiration in the acts of the sinners who defy the will of the

_The Seven against Thebes_ was performed in 472. It was one of a
trilogy, a series of three plays dealing with the misfortunes of
Oedipus' race. After the death of Oedipus his sons Polyneices and
Eteocles quarrelled for the sovereignty of Thebes. Polyneices,
expelled and banished by his younger brother, assembled an army of
chosen warriors to attack his native land. Eteocles opens the play
with a speech which encourages the citizens to defend their town. A
messenger hurries in telling how he left the besiegers casting lots to
decide which of the seven gates of Thebes each should attack. Eteocles
prays that the curse of his father may not destroy the town and leaves
to arrange the defences. In his absence the Chorus of virgins sing a
wild prayer to the gods to save them. Hearing this, the King returns
to administer a vigorous reproof; he declares that their frenzied
supplications fill the city with terrors, discouraging the fighting
men. He demands from them obedience, the mother of salvation; if at
last they are to perish, they cannot escape the inevitable. His
masterful spirit at last cows them into a better frame of mind; this
scene presents to us one of the most manly characters in Aeschylus'

After a choral ode a piece of intense tragic horror follows. The
messenger tells the names of the champions who are to assault the
gates. As he names them and the boastful or impious mottoes on their
shields, the King names the Theban champions who are to quell their
pride in the fear of the gods. Five of the insolent attackers are
mentioned, then the only righteous one of the invading force,
Amphiaraus the seer; he it was who rebuked the violence of Tydeus, the
evil genius among the besiegers, and openly reviled Polyneices for
attacking his own native land. He had prophesied his own death before
the city, yet resolved to meet his fate nobly; on his shield alone was
no device, for he wished to be, not to seem, a good man. The pathos of
the impending ruin of a great character through evil associations is
heightened by the terror of what follows. Only one gate remains
without an assailant, the gate Eteocles is to defend; it is to be
attacked by the King's own brother, Polyneices. Filled with horror,
the Chorus begs him send another to that gate, for "there can be no
old age to the pollution of kindred bloodshed". Recognising that his
father's curse is working itself out, he departs to kill and be killed
by his own brother, for "when the gods send evil none can avoid it".

In an interval the Chorus reflect on their King's impending doom. His
father's curse strikes them with dread; Oedipus himself was born of a
father Laius who, though warned thrice by Apollo that if he died
without issue he would save his land, listened to the counsels of
friends and in imprudence begat his own destroyer. Their song is
interrupted by a messenger who announces that they have prospered at
six gates, but at the seventh the two brothers have slain each other.
This news inspires another song in which the joy of deliverance
gradually yields to pity for an unhappy house, cursed and blighted,
the glory of Oedipus serving but to make more acute the shame of his
latter end and the triumph of the ruin he invoked on his sons. The
agony of this scene is intensified by the entry of Ismene and
Antigone, Oedipus' daughters, the latter mourning for Polyneices, the
former for Eteocles. The climax is reached when a herald announces a
decree made by the senate and people. Eteocles, their King who
defended the land, was to be buried with all honours, but Polyneices
was to lie unburied. Calmly and with great dignity Antigone informs
the herald that if nobody else buries her brother, she will. A warning
threat fails to move her. The play closes with a double note of terror
at the doom of Polyneices and pity for the death of a brave King.

Further progress in dramatic art has been made in this play. One of
the main sources of the pathos of human life is the operation of what
seems to us to be mere blind chance. Just as the casual dropping of
Desdemona's handkerchief gave Iago his opportunity, so the casual
allotting of the seven gates brings the two brothers into conflict.
But behind it was the working of an inherited curse; yet Aeschylus is
careful to point out that the curse need never have existed at all but
for the wilfulness of Laius; he was the origin of all the mischief,
obstinately refusing to listen to a warning thrice given him by
Apollo. Another secret of dramatic excellence has been discovered by
the poet, that of contrast. Two brothers and two sisters are balanced
in pairs against one another. The weaker sister Ismene laments the
stronger brother, while the more unfortunate Polyneices is championed
by the more firmly drawn sister. Equally admirable is the contrast
between the righteous Amphiaraus and his godless companions. The
character of each of these is a masterpiece. War, horror, kindred
bloodshed, with a promise of further agonies to arise from Antigone's
resolve are the elements which Aeschylus has fused together in this
vivid play.

"There was war in Heaven" between the new gods and the old. The
_Prometheus Bound_ contains the story of the proud tyranny of Zeus,
the latest ruler of the gods. Hephaestus, the god of fire, opens a
conversation with Force and Violence who are pinning Prometheus with
chains of adamant to the rocks of Caucasus. Hephaestus performs his
task with reluctance and in pity for the victim, the deep-counselling
son of right-minded Law. Yet the command of Zeus his master is urgent,
overriding the claims of kindred blood. Force and Violence, full of
hatred, hold down the god who has stolen fire, Hephaestus' right, and
given it to men. They bid the Fire-God make the chains fast and drive
the wedge through Prometheus' body. When the work is done they leave
him with the taunt:

"Now steal the rights of the gods and give them to the creatures
of the day; what can mortals do to relieve thy agonies? The gods
wrongly call thee a far-seeing counsellor, who thyself lackest a
counsellor to save thee from thy present lot."

Abandoned of all, Prometheus breaks out into a wild appeal to earth,
air, the myriad laughter of the sea, the founts and streams to witness
his humiliation; but soon he reflects that he had foreseen his agony
and must bear it as best he can, for the might of Necessity is not to
be fought against. A sound of lightly moving pinions strikes his ears;
sympathisers have come to visit him; they are the Chorus, the
daughters of Ocean, who have heard the sound of the riveted chains and
hurried forth in their winged car Awestruck, they come to see how Zeus
is smiting down the mighty gods of old. It would be difficult to
imagine a more natural and touching motive for the entry of a Chorus.

In the dialogue that follows the tragic appeal to pity is quickly
blended with a different interest. By a superb stroke of art Aeschylus
excites the audience to an intense curiosity. Though apparently
subdued, Prometheus has the certainty of ultimate triumph over his
foe; he alone has secret knowledge of something which will one day
hurl Zeus from his throne; the time will come when the new president
of Heaven will hurry to him in anxious desire for reconciliation; when
ruin threatens him he will forsake his pride and beg Prometheus to
save him. But no words will prevail on the sufferer till he is
released from his bonds and receives ample satisfaction for his
maltreatment. The Chorus bids him tell the whole history of the
quarrel. To them he unfolds the story of Zeus' ingratitude. There was
a discord among the older gods, some wishing to depose Cronos and make
Zeus their King. Warned by his mother, Prometheus knew that only
counsel could avail in the struggle, not violence. When he failed to
persuade the Titans to use cunning, he joined Zeus who with his aid
hurled his foes down to Tartarus. Securing the sovereignty, Zeus
distributed honours to his supporters, but was anxious to wipe out the
human race and create a new stock. Prometheus resisted him, giving
mortals fire the creator of many arts and ridding them of the dread of
death. This act brought him into conflict with Zeus. He invites the
Chorus to step down from their car and hear the rest of his story. At
this point Ocean enters, one of the older gods. He offers to act as a
mediator with Zeus, but Prometheus warns him to keep out of the
conflict; he has witnessed the sorrows of Atlas, his own brother, and
of Typhos, pinned down under Etna, and desires to bring trouble upon
no other god; he must bear his agonies alone till the time of
deliverance is ripe. Ocean departing, Prometheus continues his story.
He gave men writing and knowledge of astronomy, taught them to tame
the wild beasts, invented the ship, created medicine, divination and
metallurgy. Yet for all this, his art is weaker far than Necessity,
whereof the controllers are Fate and the unforgetting Furies.
Terror-struck at his sufferings, the Chorus point out how utterly his
goodness has been wasted in helping the race of mortals who cannot
save him. He warns them that a time would come when Zeus should be no
longer King; when they ask for more knowledge, he turns them to other
thoughts, bidding them hide the secret as much as possible. Their
interest is drawn away to another of Zeus' victims, who at this moment
rushes on the scene; it is lo, cajoled and abandoned by Zeus, plagued
and tormented by the dread unsleeping gadfly sent by Zeus' consort
Hera. She relates her story to the wondering Chorus, and then
Prometheus tells her the long tale of misery and wandering that await
her as she passes from the Caucasus to Egypt, where she is promised
deliverance from her tormentor.

The play now moves to its awful climax. The sight of Io stirs
Prometheus to prophesy more clearly the end in store for Zeus. There
would be born one to discover a terror far greater than the
thunderbolt, and smite Zeus and his brother Poseidon into utter
slavery. On hearing this Zeus sends from heaven his messenger Hermes
to demand fuller knowledge of this new monarch. Disdaining his
threats, Prometheus mocks the new gods and defies their ruler to do
his worst. Hermes then delivers his warning. Prometheus would be
overwhelmed with the terrors of thunder and lightning, while the red
eagle would tear out his heart unceasingly till one should arise to
inherit his agonies, descending to the depths of Tartarus. He advises
the Chorus to depart from the rebel, lest they too should share in the
vengeance. They remain faithful to Prometheus, ready to suffer with
him; then descend the thunderings and lightnings, the mountains rock,
the winds roar, and the sky is confounded with sea; the dread agony
has begun.

Once more the bold originality of Aeschylus displays itself. Here is a
theme unique in Greek literature. The strife between the two races of
gods opens out a vista of the world ages before man was created. It
will provide a solution to a very difficult problem which will
confront us in a later play. The conflict between two stubborn wills
is the source of a sublime tragedy in which our sympathies are with
the sufferer; Zeus, who punishes Prometheus for "unjustly" helping
mortals, himself falls below the level of human morality; he is
tyrannous, ungrateful and revengeful--in short, he displays all the
wrong-headedness of a new ruler. No doubt in the sequel these defects
would have disappeared; experience would have induced a kindlier
temper and the sense of an impending doom would have made it essential
for him to relent in order to learn the great secret about his

Pathos is repeatedly appealed to in the play. Hephaestus is one of the
kindliest figures in Greek tragedy; the noble-hearted young goddesses
cannot fail to hold our affection. They are the most human Chorus in
all drama; their entry is admirable; in the sequel we should have
found them still near Prometheus after his cycle of tortures. But the
subject-matter is calculated to win the admiration of all humanity; it
is the persecution of him to whom on Greek principles mankind owes all
that it is of value in its civilisation. We cannot help thinking of
another God, racked and tormented and nailed to a cross of shame to
save the race He loved. The very power and majesty of Aeschylus' work
has made it difficult for successors to imitate him; few can hope to
equal his sublime grandeur; Shelley attempted it in his _Prometheus
Unbound_, but his Prometheus becomes abstract Humanity, ceasing to be
a character, while his play is really a mere poem celebrating the
inevitable victory of man over the evils of his environment and
picturing the return of an age of happiness.

Nearly all the characters in Greek tragedy were the heroes of
well-known popular legends. In abandoning the well-trodden circle
Aeschylus has here ensured an undying freshness for his work--it is
novel, free and unconventional; more than that, it is dignified.

The slightest error of taste would have degraded if to the level of a
comedy; throughout it maintains a uniform tone of loftiness and
sincerity. The language is easy but powerful, the art with which the
story is told is consummate. Finally, it is one of the few pieces in
the literature of the world which are truly sublime; it ranks with Job
and Dante. The great purpose of creation, the struggles of beings of
terrific power, the majesty of gods, the whole universe sighing and
lamenting for the agonies of a deity of wondrous foresight, saving
others but not himself--such is the theme of this mighty and affecting

In 458 Aeschylus wrote the one trilogy which is extant. It describes
the murder of Agamemnon, the revenge of Orestes and his purification
from blood-guiltiness. It will be necessary to trace the history of
Agamemnon's family before we can understand these plays. His
great-grandfather was Tantalus, who betrayed the secrets of the gods
and was subjected to unending torture in Hades. Pelops, his son, begat
two sons, Atreus and Thyestes. The former killed Thyestes' son,
invited the father to a banquet and served up his own son's body for
him to eat. The sons of Atreus were Agamemnon and Menelaus, who
married respectively Clytemnestra and Helen, daughters of Zeus and
Leda, both evil women; the son of Thyestes was Aegisthus, a deadly foe
of his cousins who had banished him. The "inherited curse" then had
developed itself in this unhappy stock and it did not fail to ruin it.

When Helen abandoned Menelaus and went to Troy with Paris, Agamemnon
led a great armament to recover the adulteress. The fleet was
wind-bound at Aulis, because the Greeks had offended Artemis. Chalcas
the seer informed Agamemnon that it would be impossible for him to
reach Troy unless he offered his eldest daughter Iphigeneia to
Artemis. Torn by patriotism and fatherly affection, Agamemnon resorted
to a strategem to bring his daughter to the sacrifice. He sent a
messenger to Clytemnestra saying he wished to marry their child to
Achilles. When the mother and daughter arrived at Aulis they learned
the bitter truth. Iphigeneia was indeed sacrificed, but Artemis
spirited her away to the country now called Crimea, there to serve as
her priestess. Believing that her daughter was dead, Clytemnestra
returned to Argos to plot destruction for her husband, forming an
illicit union with his foe Aegisthus, nursing her revenge during the
ten years of the siege.

The _Agamemnon_, the first play of the trilogy, opens in a romantic
setting. It is night. A watchman is on the wall of Argos, stationed
there by the Queen. For ten years he had waited for the signal of the
beacon-fire to be lit at Nauplia, the port of Argos, to announce the
fall of Troy. At last the expected signal is given. He hurries to tell
the news to the Queen, a woman with the resolution of a man; in his
absence the Chorus of Argive Elders enter the stage, singing one of
the finest odes to be found in any language. It likens Agamemnon and
his brother to two avenging spirits sent to punish the sinner. The
Chorus are past military age, and are come to learn from Clytemnestra
why there is sacrifice throughout all Argos. They remember the woes at
the beginning of the campaign, how Chalcas prophesied that in time
Troy would be taken, yet hinted darkly of some blinding curse of
Heaven hanging over the Greeks, his burden being

"Sing woe, sing woe, but let the good prevail."

"Yea, the law of Zeus is, wisdom by suffering, for thus soberness of
thought comes to those who wish not for it. First men are emboldened
by ill-counselling foolish frenzy which begins their troubles; even
as Agamemnon, through sin against Artemis, was compelled to slay his
daughter to save his armament. Her cries for a father's mercy, her
unuttered appeals to her slayers--these he disregarded. What is to
come of it, no man knows; yet it is useless to lament the issue before
it comes, as come it will, clear as the light of day."

Clytemnestra enters, the sternest woman figure in all literature. She
reminds the Chorus that she is no child and is not known to have a
slumbering wit. When they enquire how she has learned so quickly of
the capture of Troy, she describes with great brilliance the long
chain of beacon fires she has caused to be made, stretching from Ida
in Troyland to Argos. She imagines the wretched fate of the conquered
and the joy of the victors, rid for ever of their watchings beneath
the open sky. Striking the same ominous note as Chalcas did, she

"If they reverence the Gods of Troy and their shrines, they shall not
be caught even as they have taken the city. May no lust of plundering
fall upon the army, for it needs a safe return home. Yet even if the
army sins not against the gods, the anger of the slain may awake,
though no new ills arise. But let the right prevail, for all to see
it clearly."

This speech inspires the Chorus to sing another solemn ode. Too much
prosperity leads to godlessness; Paris carried away Helen in pride and
infatuation, stealing the light of Menelaus' eyes, leaving him only
the torturing memories of her beauty which visited him in his dreams.
But there is a spirit of discontent in every city of Greece; all had
sent their young men to Troy in the glory of life, and in return they
had a handful of ashes, asking why their sons should fall in murderous
strife for another man's wife. At night the dark dread haunts Argos
that the gods care not for men who shed much blood, who succeed by
injustice, who are well spoken of overmuch. Often these are smitten
full in the face by the thunderbolt; and perhaps this beacon message
is mere imagining or a lie sent from heaven.

Hearing this the Queen comes forth to prove the truth of her story. A
herald at that moment advances to confirm it, for Troy has been

"Altars and shrines have been demolished and all the seed of land
destroyed. Thus is Agamemnon the happiest man of mortals, most
worthy of honour, for Paris and his city cannot say that their
crime was greater than its punishment."

Immediately after learning this story, Clytemnestra makes the first of
a number of speeches charged with a dreadful double meaning.


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