The Iliad (c. 7th century B.C.)
If you're all that strong, it's just a gift from some god.
With them went Athena, holding her goatskin-tippet, precious, unfading, incorruptible, with a hundred dangling tassels of solid gold, neatly braided, worth each a hundred oxen. Through the host she passed, dazzling them with the vision, and filling each heart with courage to wage war implacable and unceasing. In a moment war became sweeter to them than to sail back safely to their own native land.
One came to the war all over gold, like a girl. Poor fool! it did not save him from cruel death.
- Thick as autumnal leaves, or driving sand,
- The moving squadrons blacken all the strand.
Gods! How the son degenerates from the sire!
But loud clamorous cries resounded throughout the Trojan host: for they had not one speech and one language, but a confusion of tongues, since they were called from many lands. They were like a huge flock of ewes innumerable standing in a wide farmyard to be milked, which bleat without ceasing as they hear the cries of their lambs.
As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity. The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning. So one generation of men will grow while another dies.
Victory passes back and forth between men.
- Inflaming wine, pernicious to mankind,
- Unnerves the limbs, and dulls the noble mind.
’T is man’s to fight, but Heaven’s to give success.
Short is my date, but deathless my renown.
Clanless, lawless, homeless is he who is in love with civil war, that brutal ferocious thing.
- A generous friendship no cold medium knows,
- Burns with one love, with one resentment glows.
- Injustice, swift, erect, and unconfin’d,
- Sweeps the wide earth, and tramples o’er mankind.
The other chiefs and princes slept soundly all the night long: but not Agamemnon. No sleeps visited his eyes; the lord and commander of that great host had too much to make him anxious. He groaned again and again from the bottom of his heart, and his spirit trembled within him. There was storm in his mind; as when Zeus Thunderer flashes the lightning and sends torrents of rain or hail, or covers the fields with snow, or when he opens the mouth of ravening war. So we may imagine the King puffing and groaning as thick as hail, when he looked out over the plain.
Fate stands now upon the razor's edge.
Man, supposing you and I, escaping this battle, would be able to live on forever, ageless, immortal, so neither would I myself go on fighting in the foremost, nor would I urge you into the fighting where men win glory. But now, seeing that the spirits of death stand close about us in their thousands, no man can turn aside or escape them, let us go on and win glory for ourselves, or yield it to others.
Such were the calamities which the two mighty sons of Cronos brought upon the fighting hosts by their conflicting wills. Zeus willed victory to Hector and the Trojans.... Poseidon was for the Argives; he slipt out secretly from the sea and supported them because he was grieved at their discomfiture and indignant against Zeus.... So the two gripped the rope of war and tugged away over both armies with strong pulls, never breaking or loosing it while they loosed the knees of many a man.
- The best of things, beyond their measure, cloy;
- Sleep’s balmy blessing, love’s endearing joy;
- The feast, the dance; whate’er mankind desire,
- Even the sweet charms of sacred numbers tire.
- But Troy for ever reaps a dire delight
- In thirst of slaughter, and in lust of fight.
Zeus it seems has given us from youth to old age a nice ball of wool to wind-nothing but wars upon wars until we shall perish every one.
For our country ’t is a bliss to die.
Words are potent in debate, deeds in war decide your fate.
Among all creatures that breathe on earth and crawl on it there is not anywhere a thing more dismal than man is.
The God of War will see fair play--he's often slain that wants to slay!
Men soon grow sick of battle; when Zeus the steward of warfare tilts the scales, and cold steel reaps the fields, the grain is very little but the straw is very much. The belly is a bad mourner, and fasting will not bury the dead. Too many are falling, man after man and day after day; how could one ever have a moment's rest from privations? No, we must harden our hearts, and bury the man who dies and shed our tears that day. But those who survive the horrors of war should not forget to eat and drink, and then we shall be better able to wear our armour, which never grows weary, and to fight our enemies for ever and ever.
Who dies in youth and vigour, dies the best.
- Pity, while yet I live, these silver hairs;
- While yet thy father feels the woes he bears,
- Yet cursed with sense! a wretch, whom in his rage
- (All trembling on the verge of helpless age)
- Great Jove has placed, sad spectacle of pain!
- The bitter dregs of fortune’s cup to drain:
- To fill with scenes of death his closing eyes,
- And number all his days by miseries!
- My heroes slain, my bridal bed o’erturn’d,
- My daughters ravish’d, and my city burn’d,
- My bleeding infants dash’d against the floor;
- These I have yet to see, perhaps yet more!
- Perhaps even I, reserved by angry fate,
- The last sad relic of my ruin’d state,
- (Dire pomp of sovereign wretchedness!) must fall,
- And stain the pavement of my regal hall;
- Where famish’d dogs, late guardians of my door,
- Shall lick their mangled master’s spatter’d gore.
- Thou know’st the o’er-eager vehemence of youth,
- How quick in temper, and in judgement weak.
- ’T is true, ’t is certain; man though dead retains
- Part of himself: the immortal mind remains.
The Odyssey (c. 7th century B.C.)
- O prince, in early youth divinely wise,
- Born, the Ulysses of thy age to rise!
- If to the son the father's worth descends,
- O'er the wide waves success thy ways attends:
- To tread the walks of death he stood prepared;
- And what he greatly thought, he nobly dared.
For never, never, wicked man was wise.
All men need the gods.
- But the great leveler, Death: not even the gods
- can defend a man, not even one they love, that day
- when fate takes hold and lays him out at last.
- Heroes in various climes myself have found,
- For martial deeds and depths of thought renowned;
- But Ithacus, unrivalled in his claim,
- May boast a title to the loudest fame:
- In battle calm, he guides the rapid storm,
- Wise to resolve, and patient to perform.
- By the dire fury of a traitress wife,
- Ends the sad evening of a stormy life:
- Whence with incessant grief my soul annoy'd,
- These riches are possess'd, but not enjoy'd!
- My wars, the copious theme of every tongue,
- To you, your fathers have recorded long:
- How favouring heaven repaid my glorious toils
- With a sack'd palace, and barbaric spoils.
A decent boldness ever meets with friends.
- Oh, pity human woe!
- ’T is what the happy to the unhappy owe.
Hunger is insolent, and will be fed.
A generous heart repairs a slanderous tongue.
- That is the gods' work, spinning threads of death
- through the lives of mortal men,
- an all to make a song for those to come.
- Odysseus then you are, o great contender,
- of whom the glittering god with the golden wand
- spoke to me ever, and foretold
- the black swift ship would carry you from Troy.
- Put up your weapon in the sheath. We two
- shall mingle and make love upon our bed.
- So mutual trust may come of play and love.
- I took the victims, over the trench I cut their throats
- And the dark blood flowed in--and up out of Erebus they came,
- flocking toward me now, the ghosts of the dead and gone ...
- Brides and unwed youths and old men who had suffered much
- And girls with their tender hearts freshly scarred by sorrow
- And great armies of battle dead, stabbed by bronze spears,
- men of war still wrapped in bloody armor--thousands
- swarming around the trench from every side--
- unearthly cries--blanching terror gripped me!
- Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand
- for some poor country man, on iron rations,
- than lord it over all the exhausted dead.
- Now I the strength of Hercules behold,
- A towering spectre of gigantic mould,
- A shadowy form! for high in heaven's abodes
- Himself resides, a god among the gods;
- There, in the bright assemblies of the skies,
- He nectar quaffs, and Hebe crowns his joys.
- Here hovering ghosts, like fowl, his shade surround,
- And clang their pinions with terrific sound;
- Gloomy as night he stands, in act to throw
- The aerial arrow from the twanging bow.
- Around his breast a wondrous zone is roll'd,
- Where woodland monsters grin in fretted gold:
- There sullen lions sternly seem to roar,
- The bear to growl, to foam the tusky boar;
- There war and havoc, and destruction stood,
- And vengeful murder red with human blood.
- Thus terribly adorn'd the figures shine,
- Inimitably wrought with skill divine.
- Enough: in misery can words avail?
- And what so tedious as a twice-told tale?
- How prone to doubt, how cautious are the wise!
- Who, versed in fortune, fear the flattering show,
- And taste not half the bliss the gods bestow.
- The gods
- living in bliss are fond of no wrongdoing,
- but honor discipline and right behavior.
- A guest remembers all of his days
- that host who makes provisions for him kindly.
- If then my fortunes can delight my friend,
- A story fruitful of events, attend:
- Another's sorrow may thy ear enjoy,
- And wine the lengthened intervals employ.
- Long nights the now declining year bestows,
- A part we consecrate to soft repose,
- A part in pleasing talk we entertain;
- For too much rest itself becomes a pain.
- Let those, whom sleep invites, the call obey,
- Their cares resuming with the dawning days
- Here let us feast, and to the feast be joined
- Discourse, the sweetest banquet of the mind;
- Review the series of our lives, and taste
- The melancholy joy of evil past:
- For he who much has suffered, much will know;
- And pleased remembrance builds delight on woe.
Love deceives the best of womankind.
- The fool of fate, thy manufacture, man,
- With penury, contempt, repulse, and care,
- The galling load of life is doom'd to bear.
It is not right to glory in the slain.
- Think of a catch that fishermen haul in to a halfmoon bay
- in a fine-meshed net from the whit-caps of the sea:
- how all are poured out on the sand, in throes for the salt- sea,
- twitching their cold lives away in Helios' fiery air:
- so lay the suitors heaped on one another.
- The royal pair mingled in love again
- and afterward lay revelling in stories:
- hers of the siege her beauty stood at home
- from arrogant suitors, crowding on her sight,
- and how they fed their courtships on his cattle
- oxen and fat sheep, and drank up rivers
- of wine out of the vats. Odysseus told
- of what hard blows he had dealt to others
- and of what blows he had taken--all that story.
- Now hear me, men of Ithaka.
- When these hard deeds were done by Lord Odysseus
- the immortal gods were not far off. I saw
- with my own eyes someone divine who fought
- beside him, in the shape and dress of Mentor;
- it was a god who shone before Odysseus,
- a god who swept the suitors down the hall
- dying in droves.
- Each future day increase of wealth shall bring,
- And o'er the past Oblivion stretch her wing.