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 Ἀτρεΐδης … Ἀχιλλεύς 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?