Friday, July 25, 2014

Haven’t we had this discussion before? Iris’s message and the Trojan assembly

Just as the Catalogue of Ships is much longer and more elaborate than the catalogue of the Trojans and their allies, so it seems that my posts will be shorter than Casey’s. But the Iliad’s oral, traditional poetry shows us that such compression for what comes second is part of the poetics. In addition to the example of the two catalogues, we can also compare the version in the Venetus A of the arming of Paris and Menelaos for their duel. (Lord used this example for illustrating compression and expansion, Lord 1960/2000: 89–91.) Paris’s arming scene is composed in 11 lines (Iliad 3.328–338), detailing each piece of equipment he dons, while Menelaos’s is summed up in just one line “Similarly Ares-like Menelaos put on his war gear as well” (Iliad 3.339). [I specify the Venetus A’s version has only one line because P40 records three partial lines following this one in which Menelaos putting on some war gear is described!] The benefit for me in going second is that I can likewise refer back to Casey’s masterly explanations in what I am addressing. 

For example, Casey noted in her latest post that the evolution of the epic over time allows for it to organically recompose themes and episodes that in other ways of telling the story would happen earlier within the narrative than the tenth year of the war. Thus the Catalogue of Ships, or any roster of fighters, might be though of as appropriate to the beginning of the war, but it can be (and has been!) recomposed to become a integral part of the Iliad. I of course agree completely with what Casey is saying, and I want to extend the discussion by noting that the traditionality of the theme or episode allows  it to evoke those other ways of using it as well. That is, the Catalogue of Ships certainly is integrated into the narrative of the Iliad in the tenth year of the war, but if it was ever sung as part of the telling of the beginning of the war, it can also maintain that trace of those earlier events within the current performance. The Catalogue comes at a point in this tenth year when the Achaeans could have left, but instead they renew their commitment to the war and resume the fighting. Thus the war “restarts” and the contingents fighting for both sides are recomposed into this action sequence. 

In my last post, I examined the lines in which the Trojans are introduced to us with the arrival of the divine messenger Iris and looked at the meanings of the formulas “ἠμὲν νέοι ἠδὲ γέροντες” (2.789) and “ἀγγελίῃ ἀλεγεινῇ” (2.787) and the deeper connections they create by way of their other uses in the epic. Now I will continue looking at the message Iris brings, to see how it, too, is both organic within this narrative and also possibly evokes ways of singing such an episode at the very beginning of the war. So what I hope to show here is that (1) Iris’s message to and about the Trojan assembly both belongs to the tenth year of the war and evokes the very beginning of the war through its deployment of its traditional language, And (2) that it can do both simultaneously adds depth of meaning (a phenomenon we see frequently with traditional language).  Here is the fuller passage, again using the Venetus A manuscript’s version:

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·
790  ἀγχοῦ δ᾽ ἱ¨σταμένη προσέφη πόδας ὠκέα Ϊ῀ρις·
791  εἴσατο δὲ φθογγὴν· υἱέϊ Πριάμοιο Πολίτῃ
792  ὃς Τρώων σκοπὸς ΐζε ποδωκείῃσι πεποιθὼς.
793  τύμβῳ ἐπ ακροτάτῳ Αἰσυήταο γέροντος
794  δέγμενος ὁππότε, ναῦφιν ἀφορμηθεῖεν Ἀχαιοί·
795  τῷ μιν ἐεισαμένη προσέφη πόδας ὠκέα Ϊ῀ρις·
796  ὦ γέρον. αἰεί τοι μῦθοι φίλοι ἄκριτοί εἰσιν·
797  ὥς ποτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ εἰρήνης. πόλεμος δ᾽ ἀλίαστος όρωρεν·
798  ἤδη μὲν ῆ μὲν δὴ μάλα πολλὰ μάχας εἰσήλυθον ἀνδρῶν.
799  ἀλλ᾽ οὔ πω τοιόνδε τοσόνδέ τε λαὸν ὄπωπα·
800  λίην γὰρ φύλλοισιν ἐοικότες ἢ ψαμάθοισιν
801  ἔρχονται πεδίοιο μαχησόμενοι περι προτι ἄστυ·
802  Ἕκτορ· σοὶ δὲ μάλιστ᾽ ἐπιτέλλομαι· ὧδε δὲ ῥέξαι·
803  πολλοὶ γὰρ κατὰ ἄστυ μέγα Πριάμου ἐπίκουροι
804  ἄλλη δ᾽ ἄλλων γλῶσσα πολυσπερέων ἀνθρώπων·
805  τοῖσιν ἕκαστος ἀνὴρ σημαινέτω οἷσί περ ἄρχει·
806  τῶν δ᾽ ἐξηγείσθω κοσμησάμενος πολιήτας·

[786] To the Trojans Iris with wind-swift feet came as a messenger
[787] from aegis-shaking Zeus with a troubling message. 
[788] They were speaking in assembly at the doors of Priam,
[789] all of them gathered together, both young men and old.
[790] Swift-footed Iris stood close by and spoke,
[791] and she likened her voice to that of the son of Priam, Polites,
[792] who was sitting as a lookout for the Trojans, confident in the swiftness of his feet,
[793] on the highest point of the burial mound of the old man Aisyetes
[794] awaiting the time when the Achaeans would make a start from their ships.
[795] Resembling him, swift footed Iris spoke:
[796] “Old man, always dear [philos] to you are words [muthos] without decision,
[797] so it was once in peacetime, but unavoidable war has come about.
[798] Indeed [v.l. Already] so many times I have entered battles with men,
[799] but not yet have I seen so many and such great warriors.
[800] As numerous as leaves or grains of sand
[801] they come across the plain to fight around [v.l. against] the city.
[802] Hektor, to you most of all I give commands: do the following.
[803] Since there are throughout the great city of Priam many allies,
[804] and the language of one group differs from the language of the other men from all over,
[805] let each man give signals to those whom he rules.
[806] And once he has arrayed his citizens, let each be the leader of them.”

Iris comes in the guise of Polites, son of Priam, who is acting as a lookout. It certainly makes sense to have lookouts posted for the movements of the Achaeans even now in the tenth year of the war, so that the Trojans can be alerted when they are on the attack, but the details of what Iris says evoke the Achaeans’ very first landing at and attack against Troy. She contrasts “peacetime” with the fact that war is now upon them (Iliad 2.797)—a contrast easily made at the beginning of a conflict with a call to action. Another detail that recalls the beginning of the war is when she says that she has never seen so many or such great warriors (Iliad 2.799). Since the Trojans, including Polites, have been seeing these warriors for over nine years now,  this description of the overwhelming force of the Achaeans, like the renewed commitment to the war on the Achaeans’ part earlier in Book 2 that prompts the Catalogue of Ships, similarly conjures up the beginning of the war, when the arrival of the Achaeans could have been announced in this same language. As Casey was pointing out about the Catalogue itself, this statement’s evocation of the beginning of the war does not mean it is inappropriate or poorly integrated here, but rather that traditional language can operate on both levels simultaneously. (David Elmer [2013: 102] also shows how the poetry can operate at the levels of the past and present at the same time when he argues that the Catalogue of Ships becomes the “ultimate emblem” of order and the epic tradition as it “appears to describe not just the various components of Agamemnon’s fleet when he sailed for Troy but also the units into which the leaders divide the army on the present occasion.” The Catalogue, Elmer goes on to say, “also exhibits the poetic order imposed by the narrator with the help of the Muses.”)

One other aspect of Iris’s speech also suggests the way the language here could have been used to sing the beginning of the war, and, if it had been used in such a way, could for a traditional audience bring to mind that episode. David Elmer’s work brought my attention to Iris’s opening description of this Trojan assembly, where their words are ἄκριτοι (2.796, “without decision” in my translation, “that do not arrive at a result” in Elmer’s, 2013: 134). Elmer contrasts this habitual lack of consensus and decision-making among the Trojans that Iris describes (instead, right after her speech, Hector alone makes a decision and takes action) with the collective decision making of the Achaeans (Elmer 2013: 134–135). (Elmer also notes the communication problem of speaking different languages that Iris points to at 2.803–806 as part of the problem for “true collective action” among the Trojans.) This contrast, Elmer points out, is similarly seen in Iliad 7 when both the Achaeans and the Trojans hold assemblies after the day’s battle has been concluded. The Achaean leaders all express their approval of Nestor’s suggestion to build their defensive wall (Iliad 7.344), and meanwhile, the Trojans hold an assembly that is “angry and full of discord” (Iliad 7.345–346, Elmer’s translation of δεινὴ τετρηχυῖα, 2013: 133). 

What the Trojans discuss at that discordant assembly in Iliad 7 brings me back to how Iris’s characterization of Priam’s speeches as “without decision” can evoke the beginning of the war. In the assembly in Iliad 7, the proposal discussed (and rejected by Paris) is the return of Helen to the Achaeans. If the Trojans were in assembly when Polites or Iris brought the message that the Achaeans had arrived (for the first time) to make war on Troy, we can imagine that the subject of deliberation was whether or not to return Helen. That their public speeches (μῦθοι) then were also ἄκριτοι is evidenced by the fact that they are still in the tenth year considering whether they should return Helen, as seen both in the assembly in Iliad 7 and in the words of the Trojan elders in Iliad 3, who when they see Helen say that she is worth fighting for, but even so, she should go back in the ships and not remain with them (Iliad 3.154–160). We are not told in this scene in Iliad 2 what the Trojans were discussing in their assembly—but its associations with other Trojan assemblies (such as that in Iliad 7) and the whole scene’s associations with the beginning of the war draw our attention to that crucial decision that the Trojans could never make, even to save themselves. Iris’s message therefore gives not only a sense of that first landing of the Achaeans at Troy but also fulfills her opening description— it tells us that no matter how many times the Trojans deliberate over how to prevent or to end this war, their speeches are always without a collective agreement, without a final decision about what to do about Helen. Thus the assembly in the past, when the Achaeans first arrived, and this assembly in the present when the war is renewed, can use the same traditional language and themes and thereby give us a sense of the war at those two points in time—and even as a repeating continuance from the beginning to the “now” of the story. 

Work cited:
Elmer, David F. 2013. The Poetics of Consent: Collective Decision Making & the Iliad. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

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