Agamemnon Was A Total Dick

As my studies of Ancient Greek continue, thanks to the Greek 101 course available at The Great Courses, I have been translating small sections of ancient text, The Iliad, as part of the homework.  You can see my crazy chicken-scratch above for lines 17-27 in the first book.  For today’s post, I wanted to draw attention to lines 26-32 of Book 1 of the Iliad, wherein, Agamemnon lord of the Achaean Greeks, rebuffs the priest Chryses‘s efforts to ransom his daughter back.  The original Greek text below is provided in full in the  courtesy of Tufts University:

μή σε γέρον κοίλῃσιν ἐγὼ παρὰ νηυσὶ κιχείω
ἢ νῦν δηθύνοντ᾽ ἢ ὕστερον αὖτις ἰόντα,
μή νύ τοι οὐ χραίσμῃ σκῆπτρον καὶ στέμμα θεοῖο:
τὴν δ᾽ ἐγὼ οὐ λύσω: πρίν μιν καὶ γῆρας ἔπεισιν
ἡμετέρῳ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ ἐν Ἄργεϊ τηλόθι πάτρης
ἱστὸν ἐποιχομένην καὶ ἐμὸν λέχος ἀντιόωσαν:
ἀλλ᾽ ἴθι μή μ᾽ ἐρέθιζε σαώτερος ὥς κε νέηαι.

The 1898 translation by Samuel Butler translates this as:

“Old man,” said he, “let me not find you tarrying about our ships, nor yet coming hereafter. Your scepter of the god and your wreath shall profit you nothing. I will not free her. She shall grow old in my house at Argos far from her own home, busying herself with her loom and visiting my couch; so go, and do not provoke me or it shall be the worse for you.”

But there’s some wordplay here being left out of the translation (which I learned about more in the Greek 101 course) in line 31:

ἱστὸν ἐποιχομένην

Butler simply translates this as “working the loom”.  However, according to Tufts University online dictionaries, the word ἱστός (histos, 2nd declension masculine, expressed above in accusative form) can mean anything that is “upright”.  This can mean the beam of a loom, but other things too.  Further, ἐποίχομαι (epoikhomai, expressed above as a feminine-accusative participle) is a deponent verb meaning to “go over” or “ply”.  So, while in the literal sense it means “ply the loom”, it’s pretty obvious that Agamemnon is also making a lewd joke about Chryses’s daughter to her dad’s face.

Even by the standards of the day, when women were frequently captured in war and enslaved, this was pretty rude and obnoxious.  Other Greek myths outside the Iliad about Agamemnon do not paint a better picture.  In one story, Agamemnon offends the goddess Artemis prior to sailing off to the Trojan War, and different plays explain why: in Electra it is because he sacrificed a sacred animal to Artemis, and boasted of his own skill in hunting.  In the play Agamemnon, Artemis is angry at Agamemnon because he will throw many lives away for the sake of punishing the Trojans.

In any case, between the Iliad and the later Greek plays, it’s clear that King Agamemnon was the archetypal arrogant and powerful king who ignored the gods and the well-being of others, at his own peril.

In other words, Agamemnon was total ἱστός.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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