Homer: Iliad: Extracts from Book XVI: Zeus, Fate and the Death of Sarpedon | Sabidius.com
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Ancient Greece

Homer: Iliad: Extracts from Book XVI: Zeus, Fate and the Death of Sarpedon


Readers are invited to look first at Sabidius’ introduction to his translation of Book I of the ‘Iliad’ (see items from March 2010) for initial comments about Homer’s great work. These short extracts, telling of the encounter between Achilles’ bosom companion Patroclus and Zeus’ mortal son, Sarpedon, demonstrate how entertwined are the considerations of the gods with the affairs of the protagonists on both sides. They also provide good examples of Homer’s practice of repeating phrases, and sometimes even whole lines, which is a chacteristic of poetry which was initially orally composed. Here lines 455-457 are identical or almost identical to lines 673-675, and the same is the case in relation to lines 668-673 and lines 678-683. In this translation these lines have been italicised to highlight these similarities.

The text from is taken from ‘A Greek Anthology’, JACT (Cambridge University Press), 2002.

Ll. 419-461. Achilles, still refusing to fight himself because he believes he has been treated with dishonour by Agamemnon, has been persuaded by Patroclus to lend him his armour so that he can impersonate him, and therereby strike terror into the Trojans. To begin with, this plan is successful and in the course of his victorious progress Patroclus encounters Sarpedon, king of the Lycians, who is one of the most faithful allies of the Trojans, and a son of Zeus by a mortal woman.

But when Sarpedon saw his comrades without body armour being overcome beneath the hands of Patroclus, the son of Menoetius, then he called out angrily to the godlike Lycians: “Shame, O Lycians, whence do you flee? For I shall meet this man, so that I shall know who this (is) that is prevailing, and, indeed, has done much mischief to the Trojans, since he has loosened the knees of so many noble men.”

So he spoke, and leapt from his chariot to the ground with his armour. And Patroclus from the opposite side, when he saw (him), sprang from his chariot. And, as vultures with crooked talons and hooked sister and wife beaks fight upon a high rock with loud cries, so they rushed shrieking upon one another.

The son of wily Cronos (i.e. Zeus), seeing (them), took pity on (them), and he spoke to Hera, his sister and wife: “Alas, woe (is) me, because it is fated that Sarpedon, to me the dearest of men, be overcome by the son of Menoetius. In two ways my heart has been anxious in its pondering thought, whether snatching him from the tearful battle while he is (yet) alive, I should set (him) in the fertile land of Lycia, or whether I shall slay (him) now beneath the hands of the son of Menoetius.”

Then, the ox-eyed queenly Hera replied to him: “What a statement you have said! Do you wish to release once more from dolorous death a man who is dead (and) doomed long ago by destiny? Go ahead! But all we other gods do not agree with you. I shall tell you something else, and you keep this in your mind: if you send Sarpedon alive to his home, have a care lest any other of the gods may wish to send his (own) dear son (away) from the mighty conflict; for many sons of immortals are fighting around the great city of Priam, and to these (immortals) you will inspire bitter resentment. But, if he is dear to you, and grieves your heart, then, indeed, allow him to be ovecome in mighty conflict beneath the hands of Patroclus, the son of Menoetius; but, when his soul and his life have left him, send Death and sweet Sleep to carry him, until they come to the land of broad Lycia (and) there his brothers and kinsmen will bury him with mound and pillar; for this is the due of the dead.”
Thus she spoke, and the father both of gods and men did not disobey. But he poured down bloody rain-drops on to the earth, honouring his dear son, who Patroclus was about to kill in deep-soiled Troy, far from his native land.

Ll. 638-683. After Patroclus has killed Sarpedon, the Greeks and Trojans fight fiercely over his body, while Zeus watches.

But a man, even if (he were) observant, could not have recognised godlike Sarpedon, since he had been covered with missiles and blood and dust from his head right through to the soles of his feet. And they ever thronged around the corpse, as when flies in a farmstead buzz around pails full of milk in the season of spring when the milk fills the pails; so thus they thronged around the corpse. And Zeus did not ever turn his bright eyes (away) from the mighty conflict, but ever looked down upon them and debated in his heart, pondering very much about the killing of Patroclus, whether even there in the mighty conflict over godlike Sarpedon glorious Hector should now slay him with a sword and strip his armour from his shoulders, or whether he should inflict stark trouble on even more men still. To him pondering thus it seemed to be better that the brave follower of Achilles, the son of Peleus, should drive both the Trojans and bronze-armoured Hector back to the city and take away the lives of many. And, first of all, he caused an unwarlike spirit in Hector; and, climbing into his chariot, he turned to escape, and called upon the other Trojans to flee; for he recognised the sacred scales of Zeus. Nor did the mighty Lycians remain but were all put to flight, when they saw their king smitten to the heart lying in a heap of corpses; for many had fallen down on to him when the son of Cronos prolonged the mighty conflict. But they stripped the shining bronze armour from the shoulders of Sarpedon; this the brave son of Menoetius gave to his companions to carry to their hollow ships. But then cloud-gathering Zeus addressed Apollo: “Come now, dear Phoebus, having gone to fetch Sarpedon out of the range of weapons, cleanse his dark blood, and, carrying him very far away, wash (him) in the streaming waters of the rivers and anoint (him) with ambrosia and put immortal raiment around (him); and send him to the swift escorts, the twin brothers, Sleep and Death, to carry (him) together with them, (escorts) who will then set him in the fertile land of broad Lycia, (and) there his brothers and kinsmen will bury him with mound and pillar; for this is the due of the dead.”

Thus he spoke, and Apollo did not disobey his father. He went down from the mountains of Ida into the dread din of battle, and, forthwith, having lifted up godlike Sarpedon out of the range of weapons, (and) carrying (him) very far away, he washed (him) in the streaming waters of the river and anointed (him) with ambrosia and put immortal clothing around (him); and he sent (him) to the swift escorts, the twin brothers Sleep and Death, to carry (him), (escorts) who then set him swiftly down in the fertile land of broad Lycia.

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