I Beyond Others

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

Hektor_Denkmal_2

Then in turn the hard-working housekeeper gave him an answer:
‘Hektor, since you have urged me to tell you the truth, she is not
with any of the sisters of her lord or the wives of her brothers,
nor has she gone to the house of Athene, where all the other
lovely-haired women of Troy propitiate the grim goddess,
but she has gone to the great bastion of Ilion, because she heard that
the Trojans were losing, and great grew the strength of the Achaians.
Therefore she has gone in speed to the wall, like a woman
gone mad, and a nurse attending her carries the baby.’

So the housekeeper spoke, and Hektor hastened from his home
backward by the way he had come through the well-laid streets. So
as he had come to the gates on his way through the great city,
the Skaian gates, whereby he would issue into the plain, there
at last his own generous wife came running to meet him,
Andromache, the daughter of high-hearted Eetion;
Eetion, who had dwelt underneath wooded Plakos,
in Thebe below Plakos, lord over the Kilikian people.
It was his daughter who was given to Hektor of the bronze helm.
She came to him there, and beside her went an attendant carrying
the boy in the fold of her bosom, a little child, only a baby,
Hektor’s son, the admired, beautiful as a star shining,
whom Hektor called Skamandrios, but all of the others
Astyanax — lord of the city; since Hektor alone saved Ilion.
Hektor smiled in silence as he looked on his son, but she,
Andromache, stood close beside him, letting her tears fall,
and clung to his hand and called him by name and spoke to him: ‘Dearest,
your own great strength will be your death, and you have no pity
on your little son, nor on me, ill-starred, who soon must be your widow;
for presently the Achaians, gathering together,
will set upon you and kill you; and for me it would be far better
to sink into the earth when I have lost you, for there is no other
consolation for me after you have gone to your destiny —
only grief; since I have no father, no honoured mother.
It was brilliant Achilleus who slew my father, Eetion,
when he stormed the strong-founded citadel of the Kilikians,
Thebe of the towering gates. He killed Eetion
but did not strip his armour, for his heart respected the dead man,
but burned the body in all its elaborate war-gear
and piled a grave mound over it, and the nymphs of the mountains,
daughters of Zeus of the aegis, planted elm trees about it.
And they who were my seven brothers in the great house all went
upon a single day down into the house of the death god,
for swift-footed brilliant Achilleus slaughtered all of them
as they were tending their white sheep and their lumbering oxen;
and when he had led my mother, who was queen under wooded Plakos,
here, along with all his other possessions, Achilleus
released her again, accepting ransom beyond count, but Artemis
of the showering arrows struck her down in the halls of her father.
Hektor, thus you are father to me, and my honoured mother,
you are my brother, and you it is who are my young husband.
Please take pity upon me then, stay here on the rampart,
that you may not leave your child an orphan, your wife a widow,
but draw your people up by the fig tree, there where the city
is openest to attack, and where the wall may be mounted.
Three times their bravest came that way, and fought there to storm it
about the two Aiantes and renowned Idomeneus,
about the two Atreidai and the fighting sons of Tydeus.
Either some man well skilled in prophetic arts had spoken,
or the very spirit within themselves had stirred them to the onslaught.’

Then tall Hector of the shining helm answered her: ‘All these
things are in my mind also, lady; yet I would feel deep shame
before the Trojans, and the Trojan women with trailing garments,
if like a coward I were to shrink aside from the fighting;
and the spirit will not let me, for I have learned to be valiant
and to fight always among the foremost ranks of the Trojans,
winning for my own self great glory, and for my father.
For I know this thing well in my heart, and my mind knows it:
there will come a day when sacred Ilion will perish,
and Priam, and the people of Priam of the strong ash spear.
But it is not so much the pain to come of the Trojans
that troubles me, not even of Priam the king nor Hekabe,
not the thought of my brothers who in their numbers and valour
shall drop in the dust under the hands of men who hate them,
as troubles me the thought of you, when some bronze-armoured
Achaian leads you off, taking away your day of liberty,
in tears; and in Argos you must work at the loom of another,
and carry water from the spring Messeis or Hypereia,
all unwilling, but strong will be the necessity upon you;
and some day seeing you shedding tears a man will say of you:
“This is the wife of Hektor, who was ever the bravest fighter
of the Trojans, breakers of horses, in the days when they fought about Ilion.”
So will one speak of you; and for you it will be yet a fresh grief,
to be widowed of such a man who could fight off the day of your slavery.
But may I be dead and the piled earth hide me under before I
hear you crying and know by this that they drag you captive.’

So speaking glorious Hektor held out his arms to his baby,
who shrank back to his fair-girdled nurse’s bosom
screaming, and frightened at the aspect of his own father,
terrified as he saw the bronze and the crest with its horse-hair,
nodding dreadfully, as he thought, from the peak of the helmet.
Then his beloved father laughed out, and his honoured mother,
and at once glorious Hektor lifted from his head the helmet
and laid it in all its shining upon the ground. Then taking
up his dear son he tossed him about in his arms, and kissed him,
and lifted his voice in prayer to Zeus and the other immortals:
‘Zeus, and you other immortals, grant that this boy, who is my son,
may be as I am, pre-eminent among the Trojans,
great in strength as I am, and rule strongly over Ilion;
and some day let them say of him: “He is better by far than his father”,
as he comes in from the fighting; and let him kill his enemy
and bring home the blooded spoils, and delight the heart of his mother.’

So speaking he set his child again in the arms of his beloved
wife, who took him back again to her fragrant bosom,
smiling in her tears; and her husband saw, and took pity upon her,
and stroked her with his hand, and called her by name and spoke to her:
‘Poor Andromache! Why does your heart sorrow so much for me?
No man is going to hurl me to Hades, unless it is fated,
but as for fate, I think that no man yet has escaped it
once it has taken its first form, neither brave man nor coward.
Go therefore back to our house, and take up your own work,
the loom and the distaff, and see to it that your handmaidens
ply their work also; but the men must see to the fighting,
all men who are the people of Ilion, but I beyond others.’

— Homer, as translated by Richmond Lattimore

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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8 Responses to I Beyond Others

  1. Mary Scriver says:

    I haven’t read this since 1960’s, the Edith Hamilton years. Lattimore really IS good, isn’t he?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. H.D. Miller says:

    Lattimore is good, but Fagles is better, especially if you’re teaching The Iliad to undergrads.

    They always have quite a bit to say about this passage, and about Hector and Andromache and their relationship. What still surprises me is that they completely understand why Hector has to go out and meet Achilles, “beyond others” (or in Fagles translation “most of all”).

    It’s encouraging to believe that undergrads still understand the self-sacrificing duties of leadership. (Although, I’m probably teaching students who are wildly unrepresentative of the wider population.)

    Like

    • Mary Scriver says:

      You related to George RR Miller? I expect he’s read this stuff carefully and is mainlining it to just about all the kids, though not in quite as elegant language.

      Like

    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      Interesting to hear that today’s undergrads still sympathize with Hector. I find that commentary on the passage — which is a favorite of mine — often assumes that Hector, exhibiting “toxic masculinity,” is ignoring Andromache’s expressions of humanity and good sense. For me, the passage is about the human condition, particularly as it relates to war, and the roles that men and women find themselves forced to assume in times of extreme stress. And yes, Hector can do nothing but lead his people, even though we all know, and the characters know, the end will not be pretty.

      Thanks for posting the Fagles. I can see why it’s the go-to translation these days. I prefer the muscularity of the Lattimore, though.

      Like

  3. agnostic says:

    Julian Jaynes would point out the lack of words about subjective mental states — emotion, cognition, perception (including colors) — and how everything is about physical properties, actions, and social relationships. In other words, focus being externally rather than internally directed.

    This is one of the last examples of the primitive mindset, before becoming aware of its own internal mental states, or before developing introspective consciousness. After that was “the dawn of consciousness,” whatever you do or don’t believe about his theory of the earlier “bicameral mind”.

    It’s really striking how alien The Iliad sounds, even compared to other ancient writings. It was not just ancient but psychologically still primitive. Jaynes puts the transition toward introspective consciousness during the first millennium BC, fairly evident by the second half of it. Sure, people needed to be smarter and more patriotic — more state-organized — than they were as hunter-gatherers. But it’s weird to modern, or even later ancient ears, how few words there are about their thoughts, their feels, and colors.

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    • Mary Scriver says:

      I have a prejudice to confess and a bit of new thought to flag. I am not a fan of Julian Jaynes. I think that no one working before the current wave of neurology research has a real understanding of what likely happens in the mind. The New Thought, which may also become outdated in time, is that objects represent metaphorical concepts drawn from the material culture of the author. They are the equivalent of repeated phrases: “rosy-fingered dawn” and “wine-dark seas” that represented much more than what the noun was identifying. Lots of wonderful stuff to read about the world of hominins BEFORE language.

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  4. jjbees says:

    Is the Lattimore translation recommended?

    I’m inspired to read the Iliad by this passage.

    I’m more interested in great poetry than easy reading; the Lattimore piece above seemed better than the one Fagles wrote.

    Advice?

    Like

    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      I really love the Lattimore translation. I sampled the Fagles a while back and didn’t care for it as much. I think the Fagles is highly appreciated, though. I’m sure it has its merits.

      Like

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