Forgive us our trespasses

In the following passage, Achilles’ old guardian Phoenix begs him to give in to Agamemnon’s overtures of reconciliation. Agamemnon has acknowledged his wrong and wants to give recompense. The prayers of supplication are called limping because the man making them comes hesitatingly and with difficulty, wrinkled because the man has screwed up his face because of his inward struggle and with eyes averted because he cannot look the man he has wronged in the face. But the man who ignores these prayers will himself pay for not heeding them. Some commentators have said that this allegory is equivalent to “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us”. Unless we listen to the prayers of others and are reconciled with them then a worse fate will befall us.

ἀλλ᾽ Ἀχιλεῦ δάμασον θυμὸν μέγαν: οὐδέ τί σε χρὴ
νηλεὲς ἦτορ ἔχειν: στρεπτοὶ δέ τε καὶ θεοὶ αὐτοί,
τῶν περ καὶ μείζων ἀρετὴ τιμή τε βίη τε.
καὶ μὲν τοὺς θυέεσσι καὶ εὐχωλῇς ἀγανῇσι
λοιβῇ τε κνίσῃ τε παρατρωπῶσ᾽ ἄνθρωποι
λισσόμενοι, ὅτε κέν τις ὑπερβήῃ καὶ ἁμάρτῃ.
καὶ γάρ τε λιταί εἰσι Διὸς κοῦραι μεγάλοιο
χωλαί τε ῥυσαί τε παραβλῶπές τ᾽ ὀφθαλμώ,
αἵ ῥά τε καὶ μετόπισθ᾽ ἄτης ἀλέγουσι κιοῦσαι.
ἣ δ᾽ ἄτη σθεναρή τε καὶ ἀρτίπος, οὕνεκα πάσας
πολλὸν ὑπεκπροθέει, φθάνει δέ τε πᾶσαν ἐπ᾽ αἶαν
βλάπτουσ᾽ ἀνθρώπους: αἳ δ᾽ ἐξακέονται ὀπίσσω.
ὃς μέν τ᾽ αἰδέσεται κούρας Διὸς ἆσσον ἰούσας,
τὸν δὲ μέγ᾽ ὤνησαν καί τ᾽ ἔκλυον εὐχομένοιο:
ὃς δέ κ᾽ ἀνήνηται καί τε στερεῶς ἀποείπῃ,
λίσσονται δ᾽ ἄρα ταί γε Δία Κρονίωνα κιοῦσαι
τῷ ἄτην ἅμ᾽ ἕπεσθαι, ἵνα βλαφθεὶς ἀποτίσῃ.
ἀλλ᾽ Ἀχιλεῦ πόρε καὶ σὺ Διὸς κούρῃσιν ἕπεσθαι
ἀλλ᾽ Ἀχιλεῦ δάμασον θυμὸν μέγαν: οὐδέ τί σε χρὴ
νηλεὲς ἦτορ ἔχειν: στρεπτοὶ δέ τε καὶ θεοὶ αὐτοί,
τῶν περ καὶ μείζων ἀρετὴ τιμή τε βίη τε.
καὶ μὲν τοὺς θυέεσσι καὶ εὐχωλῇς ἀγανῇσι
λοιβῇ τε κνίσῃ τε παρατρωπῶσ᾽ ἄνθρωποι
λισσόμενοι, ὅτε κέν τις ὑπερβήῃ καὶ ἁμάρτῃ.
καὶ γάρ τε λιταί εἰσι Διὸς κοῦραι μεγάλοιο
χωλαί τε ῥυσαί τε παραβλῶπές τ᾽ ὀφθαλμώ,
αἵ ῥά τε καὶ μετόπισθ᾽ ἄτης ἀλέγουσι κιοῦσαι.
ἣ δ᾽ ἄτη σθεναρή τε καὶ ἀρτίπος, οὕνεκα πάσας
πολλὸν ὑπεκπροθέει, φθάνει δέ τε πᾶσαν ἐπ᾽ αἶαν
βλάπτουσ᾽ ἀνθρώπους: αἳ δ᾽ ἐξακέονται ὀπίσσω.
ὃς μέν τ᾽ αἰδέσεται κούρας Διὸς ἆσσον ἰούσας,
τὸν δὲ μέγ᾽ ὤνησαν καί τ᾽ ἔκλυον εὐχομένοιο:
ὃς δέ κ᾽ ἀνήνηται καί τε στερεῶς ἀποείπῃ,
λίσσονται δ᾽ ἄρα ταί γε Δία Κρονίωνα κιοῦσαι
τῷ ἄτην ἅμ᾽ ἕπεσθαι, ἵνα βλαφθεὶς ἀποτίσῃ.
ἀλλ᾽ Ἀχιλεῦ πόρε καὶ σὺ Διὸς κούρῃσιν ἕπεσθαι

Iliad 9.496

But, Achlles, overcome your mighty spirit. For you should not have a hard heart. Even the gods can be turned whose majesty and honour and power are far greater. For men by supplicating them can change their minds with sacrifices and assuaging prayers and drink offerings and burnt offerings when they exceed the bounds of force and commit sins. For prayers of supplication are the maidens of great Zeus, limping and wrinkled and with eyes averted. They come with care after the act of sin (ate). But sin is strong and sure footed and runs far ahead of all of them. It causes harm to men over all the earth but prayers come with their healing after. And the man who respects the maidens of Zeus when they come close, they greatly benefit him and listen to his prayers. But the man who denies them and refuses them, they go to Zeus the son of Kronos and pray for an act of retribution (ate) to attend him so that in his affliction he may pay the penalty. But, Achilles, go along with the maidens of Zeus.

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6 Responses to Forgive us our trespasses

  1. Cool. Do you think ατης, ατην, is related to atonement at all?

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    • platosparks says:

      It’s one of those words which don’t have an exact equivalent in English. It means madness sent by the gods or the results of that madness – either the sin committed by the person who had been made mad or how that person was afflicted. So in this case Agamemnon has done the wrong of taking Achilles’ woman which is one form of ατης and Achilles by not forgiving him may himself be afflicted by a divine retribution which is another form of ατης. I don’t think it matches atonement although in this case Agamemnon is trying to atone by making overtures to Achilles and promising him gifts. So you can relieve the consequences by atonement.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Right. I was thinking of the transliteration from the A. Greek to the English; from ἀτον to aton-e. The English Etymology Dictionary (EED) had no insight on the possible connection, stating that it was a simple contraction from ‘at one’ to ‘atone’ in order to denote an event that was meant to be done only at one time. The example of Jesus Christ’s ‘atonement,’ according to the EED, ‘meant to be done only once,’ is the best exemplar I could find for the use of the word.

        However, we must consider the validity of the transliteration and its similarities, especially since there are mythological cognates as well, especially between the story of Jesus and such others as Oedipus and Hercules; that is, if atonement is, as you state, payment/punishment for a deed (the Liddell & Scott confirms this with early uses such as the one seen in the Iliad at 6.356) then how is Jesus’ atonement not a punishment for trying to bring balance to the world? That last question is a bit convoluted, I know; although, consider this; I had a friend of mine, major in Religious Studies, who once explained the existence of nemesis in comics thus:

        If the hero is demonstrating his hubris by attempting to balance nature and bring peace to a particular city, then nemesis, the rise of the villain, is the response of the righteous anger of the gods.

        In that sense, the hero must ἄτη for his hubris by suffering loneliness, the death of those close to him, the suffering of his friends. Hercules and Theseus, especially, are remembered for destroying the enemies of Athens and bringing balance to the world. As such, they both suffered great loss in their lives, and had to be purified for it. This idea really gives meaning to the phrase ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ Nature is what it is, and it is what it is because of the gods. To upset nature is to upset the gods, even when the hero does it to save humanity – Prometheus comes to mind here.

        At any rate, a fascinating idea. Thank you for sparking it, platosparks.

        Liked by 1 person

      • platosparks says:

        Thanks for this interesting comment. For some reason I am reminded of Sophocles’ Antigone. She does the right thing with terrible consequences for herself and all around her. So people pay for their good deeds.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Thinking of Blindness, the Wrath of the Gods, and Atonement | Thinking Like the Ancients

  3. Pingback: Naamsverandering voor het behoud van vrede | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

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