Simoeisios the son of Anthemion (Homer Iliad 4.473-489)

 ῎Ενθ’ ἔβαλ’ ᾿Ανθεμίωνος υἱὸν Τελαμώνιος Αἴας,
ἠΐθεον θαλερὸν Σιμοείσιον, ὅν ποτε μήτηρ
῎Ιδηθεν κατιοῦσα παρ’ ὄχθῃσιν Σιμόεντος                    475
γείνατ’, ἐπεί ῥα τοκεῦσιν ἅμ’ ἕσπετο μῆλα ἰδέσθαι·
τοὔνεκά μιν κάλεον Σιμοείσιον· οὐδὲ τοκεῦσι
θρέπτρα φίλοις ἀπέδωκε, μινυνθάδιος δέ οἱ αἰὼν
ἔπλεθ’ ὑπ’ Αἴαντος μεγαθύμου δουρὶ δαμέντι.
πρῶτον γάρ μιν ἰόντα βάλε στῆθος παρὰ μαζὸν           480
δεξιόν· ἀντικρὺ δὲ δι’ ὤμου χάλκεον ἔγχος
ἦλθεν· ὃ δ’ ἐν κονίῃσι χαμαὶ πέσεν αἴγειρος ὣς
ἥ ῥά τ’ ἐν εἱαμενῇ ἕλεος μεγάλοιο πεφύκει
λείη, ἀτάρ τέ οἱ ὄζοι ἐπ’ ἀκροτάτῃ πεφύασι·
τὴν μέν θ’ ἁρματοπηγὸς ἀνὴρ αἴθωνι σιδήρῳ                 485
ἐξέταμ’, ὄφρα ἴτυν κάμψῃ περικαλλέϊ δίφρῳ·
ἣ μέν τ’ ἀζομένη κεῖται ποταμοῖο παρ’ ὄχθας
τοῖον ἄρ’ ᾿Ανθεμίδην Σιμοείσιον ἐξενάριξεν
Αἴας διογενής·

Homer Iliad 4.473-489
Then Telamonian Aias struck the son of Anthemion,

Simoeisios, in the full flower of his youth, whom

his mother once bore along the banks of the Simoeis         475

when she came down from Mount Ida, following

with her parents to watch their flocks.

And that is why they called him Simoeisios.

But he never paid back his dear parents

their gift for rearing him – his life was brief,

done in by the spear of great-minded Aias.

For he was the first one Aias hit — in                               480

the right nipple as he was coming forward,

and the bronze spear went straight through

his shoulder.  He fell down in the dusty ground

like a smooth black poplar that grows on a

meadow by a large marsh, branches sprouting

from its top – the kind of material a chariot-maker      485

cuts off with his flashing axe to bend into felloes

on a beautiful carrier for an archer and his driver;

but the tree lies drying along the banks of the river.

So did the son of Anthemion lie, Simoeisios,

who was slain by godlike Aias.

Of all the many little insets of these minor characters who die so haplessly on the battlefield throughout the fifteen-thousand odd lines of the Iliad, this one about Simoeisios the son of Anthemion has always been one of my favorites.  I wanted to see if I could articulate some reasons for this fascination.

It is not the shortest of its type (cf. Iliad 14.443-5), nor is it sufficiently long to qualify as part of a major aristeia for Aias.

I believe my intrigue begins with the very first line:

῎Ενθ’ ἔβαλ’ ᾿Ανθεμίωνος υἱὸν Τελαμώνιος Αἴας
kill               killed                    killer

Brutally abrupt, but incisive – as it were!  Should one make anything of the fact that the killed son remains nameless until the next line, as if, so to speak, his non-existence, his death, were already a fait accompli?  In a similar vein, is the diaeresis at the end of the first metron significant?  It strikes me as a rather unusual break, seeming to cut the line brusquely (cf. 481 and especially 486) and leave the combatants hanging.

Striking, too, is the parallel word order of genitive patronymic (᾿Ανθεμίωνος) plus the killed son (υἱὸν) and adjectival patronymic (Τελαμώνιος) plus the killing son (Αἴας).  Killed and killer are literally juxtaposed in overt confrontation with each other in the line.  And the verb (ἔβαλ’) at the front of the line and the verb’s subject (Αἴας) at the end enclose and overwhelm the centered object (υἱὸν) of their deadly action.  In short, the words are iconic:  they paint a picture.

Yet, at the same time that the two men confront each other they are linked by the vocalic echoes in the two patronymics ᾿Ανθεμίωνος and Τελαμώνιος:

α  ε  ι  ω  ο  and  ε  α  ω  ι  ο.

I find the first set especially interesting, its elements filling as they do the ‘vocalic space’ (if you are unfamiliar with this important concept see, in general, any text on phonetics, e.g. Fromkin 49 or Ladefoged 73 and, more germanely to Greek, Allen 62) from low central-back
———————————————————–

FROMKIN Victoria & RODMAN, Robert. 1974, 1983.  An Introduction to Language. Third Edtion. (Holt, Rinehart and Winston).

LADEFOGED Peter. 1975, 1982.  A Course in Phonetics. Second Edition. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers.

ALLEN W. Sidney. 1987.  Vox Gaeca. A Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Greek. Third Edition. (Cambridge University Press).

———————————————————–
(α) to middle front (ε) to high front (ι) to middle back (ω / ο), a kind of full circuit if you will of vocalic acoustics.  These vocalic peaks are in turn spaced between a mellifluous and not entirely dissimilar consonant structure:  ν  θ  μ  ν  ς and  Τ  λ  μ  ν  ς.  I find it hard not to sense that linkage as well.

So, we’ve already managed to say quite a bit about just the first line, and it seems like a promising start.  I thought it would be worthwhile to continue thinking further about this short passage.

Consider how, beyond the opening patronymic (᾿Ανθεμίωνος υἱὸν), the slain man is described in the following line (474):  ἠΐθεον θαλερὸν Σιμοείσιον (‘Simoeisios in the full flower of youth’), cut down before his time (478: μινυνθάδιος δέ οἱ αἰὼν).  The word θαλερὸν contains all the promise of fertility and progeny that in this case was never to be realized, related as it is through its root to the idea of fruitfulness and cognate with L. felix in that primary sense of fruitful.  The long (474-479) relative clause beginning at the end of 474 (ὅν) goes on to explore in exquisite detail just how Simoeisios did not fulfill those parental expectations.  This hopeful notion of fruitfulness and offspring is topicalized in the line-initial reference to Simoeisios’ own birthing (474-6: … μήτηρ / … / γείνατ’ …), the twinned allusions to those who bore him (476:  τοκεῦσιν, 477: τοκεῦσι), and the pathos of the θρέπτρα (478) that he did not pay back.

What could be more antithetical to death than birth?  Where do you think the juxtaposition you often see in film (or novels) of a birth and a death came from?  Ultimately, it all goes back to Homer!

Pursuing this elemental antithesis we note that the simile that elaborates on the death of Simoeisios (482-488:  … ὣς / … / τοῖον …) also contains the language of birth, and it parallels structurally the description of his birth just discussed above, which also contained the language of death (479).  The latter, we saw, was introduced by ὅν (474), the former, by ὣς (482);  the introduction of each occupies the final two metra of the hexameter, as follows:

… ὅν ποτε μήτηρ

… αἴγειρος ὣς

and each is six lines long (474-479 ~ 482-487).  The simile, as so often happens in Homer, sort of takes off on its own and spins out a tale that appears not immediately related to the larger narrative in which it is embedded.  The dying Simoeisios is likened to a dark poplar (itself associated with death) that had grown (483: πεφύκει) in a meadow and puts forth branches (484: πεφύασι);  part of it (485: τὴν μέν) will end up as wheel rims, and part (487: ἣ μέν) lies all parched and dried up.  Indeed this very line of ‘death’ is poignantly contrasted to an earlier line of birth, both events located on the banks of the river Simoeis that gave Simoeisios his name:

… ὅν ποτε μήτηρ
475        ῎Ιδηθεν κατιοῦσα παρ’ ὄχθῃσιν Σιμόεντος γείνατ’

487        ἣ μέν τ’ ἀζομένη κεῖται ποταμοῖο παρὄχθας

This world of plants that grow and die is part of the great naturalism that permeates Homeric poetry at every turn and, in more muted form than that of the divine universe, runs parallel commentary on the world of men.  I think in this connection most immediately of the ‘generation of leaves’ simile (Iliad 6.146-149) from which Glaukos the son of Hippolochos, addressing Diomedes the son of Tydeus on the battlefield, gives expression to the following sentiment (149):  ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἡ μὲν φύει ἡ δ’ ἀπολήγει as the generation of men now comes about and now ceases.  And there is of course also the very name of the hero’s father, Anthemion, with its obvious evocation of this natural rhythm (cf. 2.468, 17.56 [within a plant simile applied to Euphorbos as Menelaus kills him];  at 13.484 Aeneas is described as possessing ἥβης ἄνθος in contrast to the speaker’s [Idomeneus] lesser powers).

Finally, to demarcate the whole passage the conclusion recapitulates the beginning in a typical ring composition.  The ‘protagonist’ of this 17-line mini-tragedy is placed in the identical metrical sedes immediately before the bucolic diaeresis, and the father’s name is likewise situated in metrically very similar positions.  Finally, the birthing mother (474: ὅν ποτε μήτηρ) stands in sad metrical contrast to the verb of slaughter (488: ἐξενάριξεν) and makes more precise the opening ἔβαλ’:
473f
῎Ενθ’ ἔβαλ’ ᾿Ανθεμίωνος υἱὸν Τελαμώνιος Αἴας,
ἠΐθεον θαλερὸν Σιμοείσιον ὅν ποτε μήτηρ

488f
τοῖον ἄρ’ ᾿Ανθεμίδην Σιμοείσιον ἐξενάριξεν
Αἴας διογενής

I’m glad I got a chance to talk about this perhaps otherwise forgettable passage of Homeric poetry – if for no other reason than to clarify for myself in a more analytical fashion why it has always appealed so deeply to me, and to show you why it really is not forgettable.  It seems that every time I come back to linger over these few lines I see something new, something fresh that I had not noticed before.  I do not therefore pretend to have done an exhaustive or in any sense final reading of the passage.  Think of my comments as a kind of eternal propaideutic, and spend some of your own time savoring this passage and playing with it in your mind.

The account of the death of this future shepherd (476) turned warrior at Troy is for me somehow a proleptic emblem of all the other warriors, small and insignificant as well as great and powerful, who will die in the course of the war at Troy – indeed, in a more overarching compass, of every young man throughout the ages right down to our own day’s debacle in Afghanistan whither went off to war so many never to return, and left aging parents childless, wives husbandless, children fatherless.  It is a jewel-like piece of compositional coherence, and the extreme care and planning with which it seems to have been put together is perhaps more evocative of Hellenistic epigram than of Homeric epic.  But there it is.

Like a fine jazz pianist with his repertoire of licks and riffs in a given scale that he can blend in as seamless support and variation on a larger theme, the Homeric poet had, I believe, set-pieces largely worked out in advance that he could appeal to in the course of his oral composition to double and deepen the texture of a given type of narrative like, in this case, the deaths of warriors.

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One Response to Simoeisios the son of Anthemion (Homer Iliad 4.473-489)

  1. heather says:

    Homer is the best!

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