Homer Iliad 1.6-8

ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.
Τίς τάρ σφωε θεῶν ἔριδι ξυνέηκε μάχεσθαι;

… since that time when first in angry striving
Atreus’ son lord of men and godlike Achilles
took a stand apart.  Who among the gods shoved
the two of them together in strife?

Today’s little riff illustrates – among other things – the fact that you can never come back to a piece of great literature too often.  How many times have I read — since the first time in some UG course at UC Berkeley in the mid-fifties — these opening lines  from the Iliad about the fateful falling out between Agamemnon and Achilles?  And how could I not – until just the other day as I was, according to wont, browsing through my OCT text of Homer – have seen before the exquisitely iconic architecture of just these few lines?  I mean, if I read them once, I’ve read them a thousand times.  But only now …

The point is the use of the verb διαστήτην (‘[the two of them] took a stand apart’ – i.e., got in an argument) followed by ἈτρεΐδηςἈχιλλεύς in which the two names quite literally ‘stand apart’ at the beginning and ending of the line:  thus the placement of the verb’s two nouns quite literally mirrors/reflects/visualizes iconically [further, here and here] over and above the mere denotation of the words the connotation of the sense.

I hesitate to launch into further analyses over and above what I set out to do … such as dwell on the clever and thus supportive linguistic antagonism in διαστήτην and ξυνέηκε (‘apart’ … ‘together’) in almost identical metrical sedes [cf. passim here, here and here]; the ludic verbal/substantival reinforcement of ἐρίσαντε and ἔριδι;  the reflection of ἀνδρῶν / δῖος (of men / godlike) in the next line’s σφωε θεῶν (the two of them / gods); and so forth and so on in this most inexhaustible of poets who anchors the very beginning of the Western literary tradition.

What’s not to love?

Should I deplore that for all these years I have been such a careless reader of Homer? Or should I celebrate the fathomless depths of a poetry going on three thousand years that – again – after all these years of just my brief life has the power to show me something new, reveal a fresh take, still thrill me with its utter brilliance?

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