Homer Iliad 1.334-363, 16.1-19, 18.70-77 (Contributed by Tom Brown)

I loved the passage about the removal of Briseis, followed by Achilles’ tearful appeal to Thetis, when I first read it at school (c. 1967), but it was only 40 years later, at a lecture by Jasper Griffin on the opening of Book 16, that I made the connection between the two episodes: later I noticed the further significant echo in Book 18. Homer conveys with such tenderness and warmth the attempt by Thetis to comfort her son – ‘speak, do not hide it, so we both may know’ – and this comes at the crucial point when Achilles’ anger starts and directs the plot of the whole poem. There is poignant irony in his later comparison of Patroclus to a child weeping and pleading to her mother, and in his use of Thetis’ words: again, this is a key moment, triggering Patroclus’ return to the fighting. After his death, Thetis visits Achilles once more and uses the same words: Achilles then rages back into battle and kills Hector. Surely this artistry proves that the Iliad wasn’t cobbled together by random rhapsodes?

Tom Brown



χαίρετε κήρυκες Διὸς ἄγγελοι ἠδὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν,

ἆσσον ἴτ᾽: οὔ τί μοι ὔμμες ἐπαίτιοι ἀλλ᾽ Ἀγαμέμνων,                               335

ὃ σφῶϊ προΐει Βρισηΐδος εἵνεκα κούρης.

ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε διογενὲς Πατρόκλεες ἔξαγε κούρην

καί σφωϊν δὸς ἄγειν: τὼ δ᾽ αὐτὼ μάρτυροι ἔστων

πρός τε θεῶν μακάρων πρός τε θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων

καὶ πρὸς τοῦ βασιλῆος ἀπηνέος εἴ ποτε δ᾽ αὖτε                                          340

χρειὼ ἐμεῖο γένηται ἀεικέα λοιγὸν ἀμῦναι

τοῖς ἄλλοις: ἦ γὰρ ὅ γ᾽ ὀλοιῇσι φρεσὶ θύει,

οὐδέ τι οἶδε νοῆσαι ἅμα πρόσσω καὶ ὀπίσσω,

ὅππως οἱ παρὰ νηυσὶ σόοι μαχέοιντο Ἀχαιοί.

ὣς φάτο, Πάτροκλος δὲ φίλῳ ἐπεπείθεθ᾽ ἑταίρῳ,                                      345

ἐκ δ᾽ ἄγαγε κλισίης Βρισηΐδα καλλιπάρῃον,

δῶκε δ᾽ ἄγειν: τὼ δ᾽ αὖτις ἴτην παρὰ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν:

ἣ δ᾽ ἀέκουσ᾽ ἅμα τοῖσι γυνὴ κίεν: αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς

δακρύσας ἑτάρων ἄφαρ ἕζετο νόσφι λιασθείς,

θῖν᾽ ἔφ᾽ ἁλὸς πολιῆς, ὁρόων ἐπ᾽ ἀπείρονα πόντον:                                   350

πολλὰ δὲ μητρὶ φίλῃ ἠρήσατο χεῖρας ὀρεγνύς:

μῆτερ ἐπεί μ᾽ ἔτεκές γε μινυνθάδιόν περ ἐόντα,

τιμήν πέρ μοι ὄφελλεν Ὀλύμπιος ἐγγυαλίξαι

Ζεὺς ὑψιβρεμέτης: νῦν δ᾽ οὐδέ με τυτθὸν ἔτισεν:

ἦ γάρ μ᾽ Ἀτρεΐδης εὐρὺ κρείων Ἀγαμέμνων                                                 355

ἠτίμησεν: ἑλὼν γὰρ ἔχει γέρας αὐτὸς ἀπούρας.

ὣς φάτο δάκρυ χέων, τοῦ δ᾽ ἔκλυε πότνια μήτηρ

ἡμένη ἐν βένθεσσιν ἁλὸς παρὰ πατρὶ γέροντι:

καρπαλίμως δ᾽ ἀνέδυ πολιῆς ἁλὸς ἠΰτ᾽ ὀμίχλη,

καί ῥα πάροιθ᾽ αὐτοῖο καθέζετο δάκρυ χέοντος,                                        360

χειρί τέ μιν κατέρεξεν ἔπος τ᾽ ἔφατ᾽ ἔκ τ᾽ ὀνόμαζε:

τέκνον τί κλαίεις; τί δέ σε φρένας ἵκετο πένθος;

ἐξαύδα, μὴ κεῦθε νόῳ, ἵνα εἴδομεν ἄμφω.



‘Welcome, heralds, messengers of Zeus and men,

come closer. You are not to blame, but Agamemnon,              335

who sent you here for Briseis, my girl.

But come, god-born Patroklos, bring the girl

and give her to them. You be my witnesses

before the blessed gods, and mortal men

– and that cruel king – if ever need arises                                340

for me to ward off grim destruction from

the rest – he’s mad, mind deranged, he does not

know how to look both back and forward, so

the Akhaians may fight safely by the ships.’

He spoke; Patroklos obeyed his friend,

brought lovely Briseis from the hut, and gave                          345

her to them. They went back to the Akhaian ships,

the woman, unwilling, by their side. In tears,

Akhilleus went and sat far from his comrades,

staring across the endless ocean, stretching                              350

out his arms, and praying to his mother:

‘Mother, you bore me to a short life, so

Olympian Zeus should have increased my

praises – but he has honoured me not at all.

For Atreus’ son, wide-ruling Agamemnon,                              355

has dishonoured me, stolen and kept my prize.’

He spoke, weeping; his lady mother heard,

seated in the deep sea with her father.

Rising quickly from the grey sea, like a mist,

she came and sat before him as he wept,                                  360

stroked him with her hand, and spoke to him by name:

‘Child, why do you cry? What pain is in your heart?

Speak, do not hide it, so we both may know.’




ὣς οἳ μὲν περὶ νηὸς ἐϋσσέλμοιο μάχοντο:

Πάτροκλος δ᾽ Ἀχιλῆϊ παρίστατο ποιμένι λαῶν

δάκρυα θερμὰ χέων ὥς τε κρήνη μελάνυδρος,

ἥ τε κατ᾽ αἰγίλιπος πέτρης δνοφερὸν χέει ὕδωρ.

τὸν δὲ ἰδὼν ᾤκτιρε ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς,                                                 5

καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα:

‘τίπτε δεδάκρυσαι Πατρόκλεες, ἠΰτε κούρη

νηπίη, ἥ θ᾽ ἅμα μητρὶ θέουσ᾽ ἀνελέσθαι ἀνώγει

εἱανοῦ ἁπτομένη, καί τ᾽ ἐσσυμένην κατερύκει,

δακρυόεσσα δέ μιν ποτιδέρκεται, ὄφρ᾽ ἀνέληται:                                        10

τῇ ἴκελος Πάτροκλε τέρεν κατὰ δάκρυον εἴβεις.

ἠέ τι Μυρμιδόνεσσι πιφαύσκεαι, ἢ ἐμοὶ αὐτῷ,

ἦέ τιν᾽ ἀγγελίην Φθίης ἐξέκλυες οἶος;

ζώειν μὰν ἔτι φασὶ Μενοίτιον Ἄκτορος υἱόν,

ζώει δ᾽ Αἰακίδης Πηλεὺς μετὰ Μυρμιδόνεσσι;                                              15

τῶν κε μάλ᾽ ἀμφοτέρων ἀκαχοίμεθα τεθνηώτων.

ἦε σύ γ᾽ Ἀργείων ὀλοφύρεαι, ὡς ὀλέκονται

νηυσὶν ἔπι γλαφυρῇσιν ὑπερβασίης ἕνεκα σφῆς;

ἐξαύδα, μὴ κεῦθε νόῳ, ἵνα εἴδομεν ἄμφω.


So they fought on around the well-benched ship.                                           

But Patroklos came to Akhilleus, shepherd

of the people, shedding warm tears, like a black

spring that drips dark water down a cliff-face.

With pity, godlike quick Akhilleus saw him                                   5

and addressed him, speaking winged words:

‘Why do you weep, Patroklos, like a little girl

who runs beside her mother, plucks her dress

and begs to be picked up – slowing her down,

gazing with tearful eyes till she picks her up?                             10

Like her, Patroklos, you shed tender tears.

Do you have news for the Myrmidons or me?

Have you alone some message, come from Phthia?

They say Aktor’s son, Menoitios, still lives,

Peleus is alive among the Myrmidons

– we’d grieve for both of them if they were dead.                       15

Or do you mourn the Akhaians as they’re killed

beside the hollow ships by their own fault?

Speak, so we both may know, don’t hide your thoughts.’




τῷ δὲ βαρὺ στενάχοντι παρίστατο πότνια μήτηρ,

ὀξὺ δὲ κωκύσασα κάρη λάβε παιδὸς ἑοῖο,

καί ῥ᾽ ὀλοφυρομένη ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα:

‘τέκνον τί κλαίεις; τί δέ σε φρένας ἵκετο πένθος;

ἐξαύδα, μὴ κεῦθε: τὰ μὲν δή τοι τετέλεσται

ἐκ Διός, ὡς ἄρα δὴ πρίν γ᾽ εὔχεο χεῖρας ἀνασχὼν

πάντας ἐπὶ πρύμνῃσιν ἀλήμεναι υἷας Ἀχαιῶν

σεῦ ἐπιδευομένους, παθέειν τ᾽ ἀεκήλια ἔργα.


He groaned deeply as his mother stood by him;                                             70

with shrill cries, she took her son’s head in her hands,

and, lamenting, spoke winged words to him:

‘Child, why do you cry? What pain is in your heart?

Speak, do not hide it. Zeus made all this happen

as you asked, when you raised your hands and prayed

that the Akhaians be penned up against

the ships, and in your absence suffer terribly.’



Achilles tending Patroclus wounded by an arrow, identified by inscriptions on the upper part of the vase. Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix, ca. 500 BC. From Vulci.


Chosen by Tom Brown. Tom’s recommended translation is by Richard Whitaker (www.southernafricaniliad.com). This translation is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

The above text is provided by the Perseus Digital Library.

Read more of this text at the Perseus site.

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One Comment

  • I am impressed by the way the short and spondaic ‘teknon ti klaieis;’ (line 1. 362 and 18.73) brings the pace of the preceeding lines, a mainly dactylic rhythm, to a sudden halt. The effect is heightened by the similarly positioned spondees at the beginning of the next line, in both cases: the verbal repetition is typical of ‘oral’ composition but useful in creating a cross-reference of sympathy in the poem. The sudden rush of the narrative is brought to a stop which is moving and brings out the pathos of the situation.There is furthermore much tension in the spondees of ‘exauda, mh keuthe’ In the case of Achilles’ speech to Petroclus, though the narration tells us that Achilles pities him, there is something of a reproach in his speech which contains not a small hint of sarcasm. The imagery of the passage from book 16 is brilliant, even more so in the remoteness of the gentle domestic picture from the Iliad’s own harsh matter.

    John Hazel

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