Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Words of Gods and Men

Four passages in Homer's Iliad distinguish between the language of gods and men. The things denoted are (1) a giant, (2) a hill, (3) a bird, and (4) a river. The following translations are by A.T. Murray.

But thou camest, goddess [Thetis], and didst loose him [Zeus] from his bonds, when thou hadst with speed called to high Olympus him of the hundred hands, whom the gods call Briareus, but all men Aegaeon; for he is mightier than his father.
Now there is before the city [Troy] a steep mound afar out in the plain, with a clear space about it on this side and on that; this do men call Batieia, but the immortals call it the barrow of Myrine, light of step.
Thereon he [Sleep] perched, thick-hidden by the branches of the fir, in the likeness of a clear-voiced mountain bird, that the gods call Chalcis, and men Cymindis.
Against Leto stood forth the strong helper, Hermes, and against Hephaestus the great, deep-eddying river, that gods call Xanthus, and men Scamander.
M.M. Willcock in his commentary says:
The accepted explanation is that the gods' language is the transmitted poetical language of the past, while the language of men is the common and everyday terminology known to the poet.

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