Casey’s last post beautifully examined the invocation of the Muses that launches the catalog of the Achaeans and their ships and how this traditional language is used elsewhere in the poem. She inspired me to look at how the Trojan catalog in Iliad 2 is introduced. I will make a few initial observations on this introduction now, and follow up with further thoughts in subsequent posts. I will also look at the various contingents in this Trojan catalog as we continue to explore the oral poetics of Iliad 2.
As the Achaeans, once again assembled for battle, move from the ships toward the city of Troy in their attack, our view of the action moves along with them and then keeps on moving into the city of Troy itself. (This Greek text of Iliad 2.784–789 is a transcription of the lines as they appear in the Venetus A manuscript.)
784 ὡς ἄρα τῶν ὑπὸ ποσσὶ μέγα στεναχίζετο γαῖα
785 ἐρχομένων· μάλα δ᾽ ὦκα διέπρησσον πεδίοιο·
786 Τρωσὶν δ᾽ ἄγγελος ἦλθε ποδήνεμος ὠκέα Ϊ῀ρις
787 παρ Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο σὺν ἀγγελίῃ ἀλεγεινῇ·
788 οἱ δ᾽ ἀγορὰς ἀγόρευον ἐπὶ Πριάμοιο θύρῃσι
789 πάντες ὁμηγερέες, ἠμὲν νέοι ἠδὲ γέροντες·
 Just so the earth groaned loudly under their feet
 as they went. And they were swiftly crossing the plain.
 To the Trojans Iris with wind-swift feet came as a messenger
 from aegis-shaking Zeus with a troubling message.
 They were speaking in assembly at the doors of Priam,
 all of them gathered together, both young men and old.
The swiftness of the motion of the Achaeans is transferred to the swift motion of Iris. If we think of a cinematic “tracking shot” as we watch the massive forces of Achaeans rush toward Troy, we then easily continue our view over the walls into Troy to the place of assembly in front of Priam’s doors, taking on the motion of Iris herself arriving in Troy. (It comes as no surprise, then, that I disagree with Kirk [1985:244, at 2.786–787] that this change of scene is “abrupt”: there has to be a transition to the Trojans at some point, and the motion described helps move us along with it.)
This is the first time that we see the Trojans in the sequence of our Iliad. In Iliad 1, there is both an assembly of the Achaeans and a meeting among the gods, so our first glimpse of the Trojans in assembly creates a parallel among the three groups involved in this war, illustrating the balance that Lord observed oral poets strive for in their compositions (see especially Lord 1960/2000: 68–98). When we look at how the formula used to describe the assembly of Trojans as composed of “both young men and old men” (2.789) is used in other contexts, we find that it designates “all men of a certain group who count.” In Iliad 9 Diomedes uses this formula to say that all men of the Argives who count know how Agamemnon spoke to Diomedes earlier (ταῦτα δὲ πάντα / ἴσασ’ Ἀργείων ἠμὲν νέοι ἠδὲ γέροντες, Iliad 9.35–36). And Odysseus reminds Achilles that his father Peleus advised him to avoid strife so that all the men of the Argives who count would honor him (ληγέμεναι δ’ ἔριδος κακομηχάνου, ὄφρά σε μᾶλλον τίωσ’ Ἀργείων ἠμὲν νέοι ἠδὲ γέροντες, Iliad 9.257–258). Although the Trojans who count are said to be all there, we will see (in later posts) that there will be a need to gather and draw up the allies, who are not at this assembly.
I will also have more to say about Iris in subsequent posts, but I want to note now that her message is characterized as “troubling” or “painful,” ἀγγελίῃ ἀλεγεινῇ in 2.787. A wide variety of things can be described as ἀλεγεινός in Homeric epic, including the waves of the sea (κύματα, Iliad 24.8; Odyssey 8.183, 13.91, 13.264), a spear point (αἰχμὴ, Iliad 5.658), battle (μάχη, Iliad 18.248, 19.46, 20.43), and the transgression of the suitors (ὑπερβασίη, Odyssey 3.206). But there is another message in the Iliad that is qualified this way, and that is the message that Antilochos brings to Achilles that Patroklos has been killed (τόφρά οἱ ἐγγύθεν ἦλθεν ἀγαυοῦ Νέστορος υἱὸς / δάκρυα θερμὰ χέων, φάτο δ’ ἀγγελίην ἀλεγεινήν· Iliad 18.16–17). Both troubling messages portend death for the one receiving it: the renewed commitment of the Achaeans to the war ultimately means the deaths of those Trojans hearing the message from Iris, just as the news that Patroklos is dead will make Achilles himself return to battle, sealing his own death at Troy. Lord describes how themes and formulas of oral traditional poetry, such as this of delivering a troubling message, gain meaning through repeated use and the experience of both poet and audience with them (Lord 1960/2000: 148). The resonance between these two uses of the formula of a “troubling message,” where the first troubling message begins the war again without Achilles and the second sets in motion his return, leading to his own death as well as the death of Hector, and eventually the death of Priam and the destruction of Troy, is an example of the deep meaning formulas can accrue through their recurrences.
Kirk, G.S. 1985. The Iliad: A Commentary, Vol. 1. Cambridge.
Lord, A.B. 1960/2000. The Singer of Tales. Cambridge, MA. (2000, 2nd edition, eds. S. Mitchell and G. Nagy. Cambridge, MA).