Commentary on the Iliad (1900)

Commentary on the Iliad (1900)
By Walter Leaf
London Macmillan 1900

Perseus Documents Collection Table of Contents

Book 1 (Α)

Book 2 (Β)

Book 3 (Γ)

Book 4 (Δ)

Book 5 (Ε)

Book 6 (Ζ)

Book 7 (Η)

Book 8 (Θ)

Book 9 (Ι)

Book 10 (Κ)

Book 11 (Λ)

Book 12 (Μ)

Book 13 (Ν)

Book 14 (Ξ)

Book 15 (Ο)

Book 16 (Π)

Book 17 (Ρ)

Book 18 (Σ)

Book 19 (Τ)

Book 20 (Υ)


Book 21 (Φ)

Book 22 (Χ)

Book 23 (Ψ)

Book 24 (Ω)

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Book 20

Book 20 (Υ)


IT is evident that the traditional title of this book, Θεομαχία, is a complete misnomer. There is in Φ a real battle of the gods; but all that we have here is a bombastic introduction (1-74) which leads to nothing whatever, and is in quite ludicrous contradiction to the peaceful mood of 133 ff. It is likely enough that the prologue here really belongs to the battle in Φ; for 21.385 or 387 might follow on Od. 3.74 with much gain to the significance of 55-74. We have, in fact, a repetition of the phenomenon of Ν-Ξ, where we found the prologue of the Διὸς Ἀπάτη detached from the main story of Ξ and prefixed to the quite independent narrative of Ν.

The cause of the dislocation can be perceived. The Theomachy of Φ has been blended into a continuous story with the fight with the River. Its prologue therefore was dropped. The fight with the River, and indeed the greater part of the battles with which we have now to deal, involve constant intervention by the gods. But after Θ had been brought into the corpus of the Iliad, such intervention was only permissible when the veto of Zeus in 8.1-27 had been formally removed. For this purpose the discarded prologue of the Theomachy, with its direct recantation of the veto (24, 25), was placed before the fight with Aineias, which concludes with the direct interference of Poseidon. That the otherwise incredible change from tumultuous frenzy to peaceful indifference in the attitude of the gods at large should have been left untouched does more credit to the pious conservatism than to the skill of the editor.

The second section of the book, 76-352, is well marked, and has all the appearance of an independent Aeneid. Far from having any special appropriateness to this point of the war, it is glaringly inconsistent with its context. Achilles issues from the camp burning with the fury of insatiable revenge; yet his advice to his very first adversary is to go away lest some harm befall him (196). In the whole of this speech (178-98) there is not one word belonging to the situation. Achilles is in a merciful and, indeed, bantering mood, and long-suffering enough to listen to the wearisome repetitions, like those of an opera chorus, let us have no more talk, wherewith Aineias adorns the lengthy Trojan pedigree which he asserts that Achilles well knows already (200-58). When they come to blows Achilles is actually afraid at his adversary's cast (262), and his own return blow fails of its effect. Finally, after hearing of what might have been, we find Poseidon suddenly coming forward as a champion of the Trojans, in contradiction of all his policy, and saving Aineias for the future glory of his family.

There can, in short, be little doubt that we have here a separate poem with a distinct object. That object must undoubtedly be the glorification of Aineias an apology perhaps for the other episode twice alluded to, when he ran away from Achilles at Lyrnessos without a blow. Here he attributes his previous weakness to Zeus (242), and makes up for it by facing his enemy with not unequal courage; he rather than Achilles is throughout the hero. And the curious allusion to his descendants in 307 clearly gives the reason of the interpolation a desire to bring into some sort of harmony with the Iliad a later local legend of the kingship of the family of Aineias in the Troad, and perhaps even to explain a Poseidon-cultus among them.

The Aeneid seems to be a complete whole; doubts arise only as to the prologue in heaven 76-155, and to some passages in the Trojan genealogy. The latter are discussed in the notes on 215 and 219; with regard to the prologue we can only say that it may well be a later introduction, but that it must have become firmly attached before the wild contradiction with 48-74 could have been allowed to stand.11

That the last section (353-503) partly consists of the story of the primitive Μῆνις, the beginning of Achilles' career of vengeance, is highly probable. The main question is as to the point where the old work begins. Between 407 and 503 suspicion can attach only to a few short passages (see on 445, 463, 499). But the words of Achilles in 354-63 are, as Hentze has remarked, weak and colourless, and below the level required by the situation, shewing less energy even than those of Hector (366-72). It is therefore probable that 353-80 form a transition passage due to the diaskeuast who interpolated the Aeneid. With 381 the original opening of the battle may have begun. Still there are traces which seem to betray a later hand in the following passage. The apparent allusion to the Panionic festival of the Helikonian Poseidon in 404 has caused suspicion in some quarters. But those who believe in the origin of the Μῆνις in Greece proper may take this as a trace rather of the Achaian worship of the god in the Peloponnesian Helike. They will regard with more doubt the description of Iphition's origin in 384 ff., which betrays more knowledge of Asia Minor than we find elsewhere in the older portions of the Iliad, and is evidently in close connexion with a passage in the Catalogue (2.865-66). I should regard 383-94 as interpolated here again the taunt of Achilles seems meaningless, and very different from the intense passion of his other short speeches, 429, 449 ff. The family history is only enough to delay the action at a moment where rapidity is needed, without giving any particular importance to the victim, or significance to the strong word ἐκπαγλότατε. But the point is one for the scholar's private judgment.

Commentary on line 2

a)ko/rhtoi is more in accordance with the usual rhythm (cf. κάρη κομόωντες), than ἀκόρητον, though less supported. And it is Achilles' men, not he himself, who might be supposed to have had a surfeit of battle.