The bright-eyed goddess Pallas lost no time.
Down she flashed from the peaks of Mount Olympus,
quickly reached the ships and found Odysseus first,
a mastermind like Zeus, still standing fast.
He had not laid a hand on his black benched hull,
such anguish racked his heart and fighting spirit.
Now close beside him the bright-eyed goddess stood
and urged him on: "Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus,
great tactician — what, is this the way?
All you Argives flying home to your fatherland,
tumbling into your oar-swept ships? Leaving Priam
and all the men of Troy a trophy to glory over,
Helen of Argos, Helen for whom so many Argives
lost their lives in Troy, far from native land!
No, don't give up now. Range the Achaean ranks,
with your winning words hold back each man you find —
don't let them haul their rolling ships to sea!"
The Iliad, 2.194-210
translated by Robert Fagles
[Argos. Agamemnon enters in his chariot.]
Look for the smoke — it is the city's seamark,
the victim we have burned.
The storms of ruin live!
Her last dying breath, rising up from the ashes
Sends us gales of incense rich in gold.
translated by Robert Fagles
Next succeeded [as King of Britain] Bladud, [Hudibras' son], and reigned twenty years. He built Kaerbadus, now Bath, and made hot baths in it for the benefit of the public, which he dedicated to the goddess Minerva; in whose temple he kept fires that never went out nor consumed to ashes, but as soon as they began to decay were turned into balls of stone.
About this time the prophet Elias [Elijah] prayed that it might not rain upon earth; and it did not rain for three years and six months.
This prince was a very ingenious man, and taught necromancy in his kingdom, nor did he leave off pursuing his magical operations, till he attempted to fly to the upper region of the air with wings which he had prepared, and fell down upon the temple of Apollo, in the city of Trinovantum [New Troy, later London], where he was dashed to pieces.
After this unhappy fate of Bladud, Leir, his son, was advanced to the throne, and nobly governed his country sixty years.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
The British History
(History of the Kings of Britain), II.X-XI (1138)
translated by Aaron Thompson (1718),
revised by John Allen Giles (1848)
Homer was constrained to consent that Venus, so sweet and delicate a saint, should be wounded in the battle of Troy, so as to endow her with courage and boldness, qualities not found in those who are exempt from danger. The gods are made to be angry, to fear, to flee, to be jealous, sorrowful, and passionate, in order to honor them with virtues which among us are built of these imperfections.
He who does not share the risk and difficulty can claim no involvement in the honor and pleasure that follow hazardous actions. It is a pity to have so much power that everything gives way to you. ... Imagine man accompanied by omnipotence: he is sunk; he must ask you for hindrance and resistance, as an alms; his being and his welfare are in indigence.
Michel de Montaigne
"Of the Disadvantage of Greatness"
Essays, III.7 (1585-1588)
translated by Donald M. Frame
[Enter the Prologue armed]
In Troy there lies the scene. From isles of Greece
The princes orgulous, their high blood chafed,
Have to the port of Athens sent their ships,
Fraught with the ministers and instruments
of cruel war. Sixty-and-nine, that wore
Their crownets regal, from th' Athenian bay
Put forth toward Phrygia, and their vow is made
To ransack Troy, within whose strong immures
The ravished Helen, Menelaus' queen,
With wanton Paris sleeps — and that's the quarrel.
Troilus and Cressida, Prologue 1-10
Before Constantine gave a just preference to the situation of Byzantium, he had conceived the design of erecting the seat of empire on this celebrated spot, from whence the Romans derived their fabulous origin. The extensive plain which lies below ancient Troy, towards the Rhaetean promontory and the tomb of Ajax, was first chosen for his new capital; and, though the undertaking was soon relinquished, the stately remains of unfinished walls and towers attracted the notice of all who sailed through the streights of the Hellespont.
Chapter XVII, Foundation of Constantinople
The History of the Decline and Fall
of the Roman Empire (1776-1788)
To Friedrich Schiller
23 December 1797
... I must tell you of a strange task I have set myself. It is to see whether or not there is room for an epic poem between the death of Hector and the departure of the Greeks from the coast of Troy. I am inclined to think there is not ...:
(1) There is nothing retrograde, everything moves steadily forward.
(2) The few remaining retarding events divide one's interest among several persons, and though these events concern larger numbers, they seem like the fate of individuals. The death of Achilles appears to me to be a magnificently tragic theme. The Ancients left us tragedies on the death of Ajax, the return of Philoctetus, and Polyxena, Hecuba, and other subjects of that epoch have also been treated.
The taking of Troy itself, the moment when a great destiny is fulfilled, is neither epic nor tragic; if treated as a true epic it can be viewed only in the distance, either in the past or the future. Virgil's rhetorical - sentimental treatment is irrelevant.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Letters from Goethe
translated by M. von Herzfeld & C.A.M. Sym
Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicaean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.
On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.
Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah! Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy Land!
Edgar Allen Poe
"To Helen" (1831)
We sailed through the barren Archipelago, and into the narrow channel they sometimes call the Dardanelles and sometimes the Hellespont. This part of the country is rich in historic reminiscences, and poor as Sahara in every thing else. For instance, as we approached the Dardanelles, we coasted along the Plains of Troy and past the mouth of the Scamander; we saw where Troy had stood (in the distance,) and where it does not stand now — a city that perished when the world was young. The poor Trojans are all dead, now.
The Innocents Abroad (1869)
... what lies behind the Homeric world, as the womb of everything Hellenic? For in that world the extraordinary artistic precision, calm, and purity of the lines raise us above the mere contents: through an artistic deception the colors seem lighter, milder, warmer; and in this colorful warm light the men appear better and more sympathetic.
But what do we behold when, no longer led and protected by the hand of Homer, we stride back into the pre-Homeric world? Only night and terror and an imagination accustomed to the horrible. What kind of earthly existence do these revolting, terrible theogonic myths reflect? A life ruled only by the children of Night: strife, lust, deceit, old age, and death. ...
The names of Orpheus, Musaeus, and their cults reveal the consequences to which the uninterrupted spectacle of a world of struggle and cruelty was pressing: toward a disgust with existence, toward the conception of this existence as a punishment and penance, toward the belief in the identity of existence and guilt. ...
The Hellenic genius was ready with yet another answer to the question, "What is a life of struggle and victory for?" and it gave that answer through the whole breadth of Greek history.
To understand it, we must start with the point that the Greek genius tolerated the terrible presence of this urge and considered it justified ...
"Homer's Contest" (1872)
The Portable Nietzsche
translated by Walter Kaufmann
When 'Omer smote 'is bloomin' lyre,
He'd 'eard men sing by land an' sea;
An' what he thought 'e might require,
'E went an' took — the same as me!
"When 'Omer smote 'is bloomin' lyre"
Introduction to the Barrack-Room Ballads in
The Seven Seas (1896)
Rudyard Kipling's Verse,
I do not believe the story of the West, the epic of this wonder work of the nineteenth century, will confine itself to any one section. I do not believe that a chronicle of uneventful, unperturbed life will truly present the character of the region. No doubt there is beauty, poetry even, to be found ... in the dull, prosaic farm labor of the prairies. No doubt there are thousands upon thousands of people beyond the Missouri who lead uneventful, unperturbed lives. ...
Equally there is no doubt that simultaneously with the siege of Troy there was to be found in the vast tracts of the old Greek world a quiet, beautiful bucolic life. No doubt there were thousands of people who never saw a spear hurled, except at the games. But the expression of the general life of that time, its idiosyncrasy, is not to be found in bucolic verse, or unadventurous chronicle, but in Homer's Iliad, an epic of strife, of conquest.
Exactly the same condition prevailed within the past half century in the West as prevailed in Trojan times. It was the beginning of an epoch, the dawn of a new civilization, and the man of deeds, the man of action, the adventurer, the pioneer, was the great figure, the true figure.
... the conquerers of the West have gone to their graves unsung, save in the traducing, falsifying dime-novels which have succeeded only in discrediting our one great chance for distinctive American literature. We had the material, Homer found no better ...
"The Literature of the West"
Boston Evening Transcript, 8 January 1902
Novels and Essays
... no one in the western tradition is more akin to Homer than is Tolstoy. ...
... in the unflinching clarity of the Homeric and Tolstoyan attitude there is far more than resignation. There is joy, the joy that burns in the "ancient glittering eyes" of the sages in Yeats's "Lapis Lazuli". For they loved and revered the "humanness" of man; they delighted in the life of the body coolly perceived but ardently narrated.
Moreover, it was their instinct to close the gap between spirit and gesture, to relate the hand to the sword, the keel to the brine, and the wheel-rim to the singing cobblestones. Both the Homer of the Iliad and Tolstoy saw action whole; the air vibrates around their personages and the force of their being electrifies insensate nature. Achilles' horses weep at his impending doom and the oak flowers to persuade Bolkonsky that his heart will live again. This consonance between man and the surrounding world extends even to the cups in which Nestor looks for wisdom when the sun is down and to the birch-leaves that glitter like a sudden riot of jewels after the storm has swept over Levin's estate. The barriers between mind and object, the ambiguities which metaphysicians discern in the very notion of reality and perception, impeded neither Homer nor Tolstoy. Life flooded in upon them like the sea.
Tolstoy or Dostoevsky
An Essay in the Old Criticism (1959)
Socrates had said that Homer was the teacher of the Greeks, and he meant by that that those who ruled Greece had their notions of what kind of men they would like to be set for them by the Homeric epics. ... A man who knew Homer was a Greek. ...
Poetry is the most powerful form of rhetoric .... The philosopher cannot move nations; he speaks only to a few. The poet can take the philosopher's understanding and translate it into images which touch the deepest passions and cause men to know without knowing that they know. Aristotle's description of heroic virtue means nothing to men in general, but Homer's incarnation of that virtue in the Greeks and Trojans is unforgettable.
This desire to depict the truth about man and to make other men fulfill that truth is what raises poetry to its greatest heights in the epic and the drama. Poetry takes on its significance, in both its content and its uses, from the political nobility of the poet. Poetry is not autonomous; its life is infused by its attachment to the same objects which motivate the best of acting men.
"Introduction: Political Philosophy and Poetry", in
Allan Bloom & Harry V. Jaffa
Shakespeare's Politics (1964)
We have seen how Alexander thought of himself as the young Achilles, destined from birth to win glory and renown in battle against the barbarians of Asia. His attitude to war was fundamentally Homeric: for him it remained, first and last, the royal road to personal areté [achievement]. He slept with two things beneath his pillow: a dagger, and a well-thumbed copy of the Iliad.
Olympias had taught him from childhood to regard kingship as his destiny. Aristotle had implanted in his mind the conviction that only through pre-eminent areté could that kingship be justified — and by his emphasis on a legitimate war against Persia had shown him how such areté might be achieved.
Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.:
A Historical Biography (1970; 1974; 1991)
When Henry Tudor was born, knighthood was in its sunset, but its afterglow was more intense than its high noon, for it touched a wider public. The printing press had usurped the place of the minstrel, and the exploits of Jason, Hector, Charlemagne, Lancelot and Galahad had become the household possessions of a Coventry mason as well as the clean-fingered gentleman.
By 1491, the year of the King's birth, a score of books had left William Caxton's press to enchant an entire generation into living a chivalric ideal which had probably never conformed to actual life but was, in the sixteenth century, perversely and passionately valued. Its very artificiality gave it meaning.
The romance of chivalry was fashioned by a host of unknown craftsmen out of three great literary traditions — the songs of Charlemagne and his noble captains, the romance of Troy with its unpredictable heroes, and the Arthurian cycle touched with the sin of Lancelot. These three embodied the childhood aspirations of most of Europe ....
Lacey Baldwin Smith
The Mask of Royalty (1971)
[The historicity of style was] of considerable interest to the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria, and especially to the greatest of them, Aristarchus (second century B.C.). ... For our purposes he is important, together with his Alexandrian forerunners, because he contributed that historical sophistication to the reading of texts which permits the growth of philology.
Aristarchus silenced critics who objected to alleged Homeric breaches of decorum (Nausicaa doing the laundry, insults exchanged by gods, kinds carving the meat) by pointing to changes in social customs. His replies to these criticisms thus established the fallacy of anachronism (anticipated to be sure by Aristotle, Poetics 1461a).
As an editor and commentator on Homer, he insisted on establishing the meaning of a word by reference to all its Homeric contexts, in preference to its usage in later centuries. He refused to alter certain grammatical constructions merely because they were no longer current. In effect, Aristarchus defended Homer as the representative of his own mundus significans. The result was to open a space between model and imitator. This Alexandrian consciousness of the historicity and consequently the remoteness of older texts can be regarded as a permanent acquisition of Graeco-Roman culture.
Thomas M. Greene
The Light in Troy:
Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry (1982)
The strikingly visual or emblematic character of these scenes [Greek and Roman crises in Shakespeare] is tied to a complex textuality unusual for the popular theater. Disentangling such knots led to an investigation of the generic character and historical occasions of a group of Shakespeare's plays I call "translations of empire," after the literary-political tradition dedicated to the transfer of authority from Troy to imperial Rome to London (Troynovant) and ... from one social group to another within London. ...
Both the classical texts themselves and their early modern coinages prompt Shakespeare's thinking about the shape and possibilities of his emergent theater and English national identity, which he routinely presents as a jeopardized possibility rather than a fait accompli.
Drama, politics, and the translation of empire (1997)
The historical sense is a historic acquisition, an indirect consequence of the democratic revolutions in Europe, which cost Europe its nobility, as the French example shows. ... The adaptive advantage here traced is our half-barbarian openness to other cultures, to the alien. The historical sense opened modern European culture to the great gains of awareness and appreciation of other cultures. But it did so democratically, lacking any measure of the relative value of cultures. Consequently, although it enabled Europe to recover Homer, it had no measure of the nobility of Homer or of other noble cultures.
"Our Virtues as Normal Moderns",
comment on Sections 222-25
An Interpretation of
Beyond Good and Evil (2001)