Tale from the Iliad, Book 6. Translated by Joan Sutton. We are departing from our usual type of posting with this very special contribution from Joan Sutton. Joan is a Greek scholar who has been studying Homer’s Iliad for the past six years. This story has not been rewritten for oral performance, but is a direct translation of the original poetry. Joan offered the story to us as a fascinating piece about how knowing another’s story can bring about peace. We welcome you to “work” the story so that it is tellable for you, to tell others about it, and to share your experiences and responses with us.
Joan’s translation from the Greek of Homer, and retelling for the Forum, offers us an example of how a storyteller used storytelling in the middle of a long epic to engage us in the power of story. Here in the middle of a battle two warriors meet. They are at first enemy to each other as nations designate. But for a moment, they stop. They come to know one another through their stories and find their relationship. They exchange gifts on a battle field pledging their friendship further. It is exactly what we storytellers who are engaged in healing are doing. In the midst of the battles of our lives, we suddenly withdraw our projections onto ourselves, our situations, another person, the hospital, the name of the illness, the cause of the trauma and we tell or listen to a story. In the listening, we are weaned from the focus on the fixation we are having. Our minds are engaged creatively, imaginatively, emotionally. It is like the window opening in a stuffy room. The content , which becomes us the listener, moves us to truly see the other as person or the situation for what it is.. and in this pause fresh insight, compassion, humor or acknowledgement has the chance to birth. As for the exchange, what is the value of what we give and receive. In this tale it is not its monetary value, or material worth. It is the giving what one has that is of value. Therefore we have chosen to place this particular tale in the forum to engender discussion. The discussion, the realization, the comtemplation is what we are offering. Often that is more valuable than another text to tell. Hope to hear from those of you who read this story, or retell it.
Homer’s 8th century BC poem takes place during the tenth year of the Trojan War. The Trojan War began in the 12th Century. B.C. E. when Paris, a headstrong Trojan prince, violated all laws of hospitality by running off with Helen, the beautiful wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. The Greek armies united under Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon, King of Mycenae. They sailed to Troy, where they besieged the walled city for ten years. THE ILIAD describes the tragedy of war. However, woven within the narrative are instructions about how to nurture rather than to destroy human life. I have translated and adapted a section from Book 6 of the Iliad.
Meeting in Battle
While the battle raged around them, Glaucus, a Trojan ally, came face to face with Diomedes, a young Greek hero. Diomedes was so powerful that most enemies fled at the sight of him. Yet Glaucus stood his ground.
Diomedes asked in amazement, “Who are you and what is your ancestry, brave one? I’ve never seen you before. Grief-stricken are the parents of children those who’ve tried to face me. But perhaps you’re a god come down from heaven. I wouldn’t fight an immortal. No one ever had any luck doing that.
“Let me tell you the story of someone who tried to attack a god.
“It was Lycurgus, who thought he was so brave! What a fool he was. One day when he was walking on Mt. Nysa, he came upon baby Dionysus and his nursemaids. Did he act like a humble stranger? Quite the opposite! Yelling loudly, he chased the god and his nurses down the mountainside. The women dropped their holy objects on the ground, and little Dionysus was so scared that he jumped into the waves of the sea. But Thetis, the sea goddess, knew how to welcome the great god. Enclosing him in her arms, she comforted the trembling child. From that time on all the gods hated Lycurgus; Zeus struck him blind and he didn’t last long after that.
“So I won’t fight you if you’re a god, but if you’re a mortal man who eats food that grows from the ground, come hither, so that you can test the limits of destruction.”
Glaucus answered, “Great hearted Diomedes, I know who you are, but why bother to ask about me? Don’t you know that men are like leaves? The wind blows the leaves down to the ground. Withered, they scatter and disappear. But when spring comes, the forest greens up again, and new leaves grow on the trees. The generations of men are just the same: one dies; another is born.
“But if you insist, listen. I will tell you the story of my family, which is quite famous.
“My grandfather, Bellerophon, lived in horse-pasturing Argos. He had received many gifts from the gods, since he was unusually handsome, smart and manly. But he got into trouble when he was the king’s guest. Queen Anteia was in love with Bellerophon, but he rejected her. How could he sleep with the wife of his host, King Proetus? Enraged by this rebuff, the queen told her husband, ‘Oh King, if you don’t kill Bellerophon, you should die yourself, since that evil man tried to seduce me, though I was unwilling.’
“The king was enraged, and he wanted Bellerophon to die, but he could not kill a guest outright. So instead he sent him off to the King of Lycia bearing this lethal message, scratched on folding waxed tablets and sealed. It said, ‘Kill this man. He tried to seduce your daughter, Anteia.’
“When Bellerophon arrived in Lycia, the King, observing the laws of hospitality, entertained his guest royally for nine days. Finally on the tenth day, he asked Bellerophon to show him the tablets. But when he had seen the message, the King no longer felt hospitable towards Bellerophon and sent him off to slay the savage Chimera, a monster descended from the gods. In front she was a lion, in back a serpent, and in the middle a she-goat who breathed fire. She was absolutely terrifying! But Bellerophon, trusting in the gods, killed her. Next, he slew a whole army of Solymi, glorious warriors, and even conquered the Amazons, though they were women stronger than any men.
“Finally the King wove a tricky scheme: he arranged for Bellerophon to be ambushed by the greatest warriors of Lycia. However these warriors never came home again, since Bellerophon killed them all. Then the King realized that Bellerophon must be a favorite of the gods, and honored him above all others, giving him the best orchard land and his own daughter in marriage.
“But Bellerophon subsequently had many troubles. Two of his three children died, and he ended up wandering alone in the wilderness, eating his heart out, abandoned by the gods. His one surviving son, Hippolochus, was my father. He sent me to fight for Troy and told me to always be brave and uphold the honor of our noble family. So now you know my heritage, and I swear to you that this is true.”
When Glaucus finished his story, Diomedes was so deeply stirred that he raised his spear and aiming from on high, planted its sharp point into the fertile ground. Then, rejoicing, he spoke these gentle words, “For gods’ sake! You are a guest of my father’s house from way back! My grandfather, Oeneus, once hosted your grandfather, noble Bellerophon, in his palace for twenty days! They exchanged beautiful and precious guest gifts. Oeneus gave a belt shining with rare crimson colors and Bellerophon gave a magnificent double-sided cup made of gold. I left behind that very same cup in my house when I came here!
“Therefore, in Argos, you are my own guest-friend, and I am yours likewise in Lycia, whenever I go to that land!
“From knowing each others’ stories, we have become kin. We cannot fight each other! There are plenty of other warriors we can fight instead. And let us exchange armor so that all men will know that we boast of being guest friends from the time of our grandfathers.”
With that, the two warriors grasped each other’s arms as they swore friendship. And Zeus must have taken away the wits of Glaucus who exchanged his golden armor, worth one hundred oxen, for Diomedes’ bronze armor, worth only nine oxen.