Gladstone and Homer

I try not to buy books. My book shelves are full. I have no room for more books. But my resolve failed when I saw “Time and Place of Homer” in a charity bookshop for the price of £3.99. Before I get on to the contents of the book, the actual book is of interest in itself. It was written by W.E.Gladstone – the Victorian Prime Minister – and printed in 1876. This was in between terms of premiership for Gladstone. The first owner was James Bryce, later Viscount Bryce, who signed and dated the book in 1876. Wikipedia tells me that he was a major politician and writer; his last major post was ambassador to the United States. As Wikipedia says

“As an author, Bryce quickly became well known in America for his 1888 work, The American Commonwealth. The book thoroughly examined the institutions of the United States from the point of view of a historian and constitutional lawyer, and it at once became a classic …. “Sixty years ago, there were no great fortunes in America, few large fortunes, no poverty. Now there is some poverty … and a greater number of gigantic fortunes than in any other country of the world””

Plus ca change

The next owner was F.W.Hirst. a friend of Bryce and himself an influential journalist. The current owner is less illustrious namely me.

The book is an attempt to link people, events and places in Homer to historical figures and events. I can’t imagine a modern politician at the height of his career producing such a scholarly work. It is interesting to note that Britain’s power was its height when classicists were in charge. Gladstone was much influenced by the recent excavations by Schliemann. Later he wrote a preface for Schliemann’s publication on Mycaenae.

This is just an extract.

III. Turning next to the precious metals proper, we find yet more pointed evidence. The Excavations have supplied from the ‘Treasure of Priam’ two headdresses or head-ornaments of pure gold: as shown in the Remains at p. 335. It is not too much to say that this discovery enables us to construe, a passage in the Iliad which in one part has hitherto only been rendered conjecturally. Andromache, on learning the death of Hector, in the agony of her grief, flung away from her head the desmata sigaloenta, which we may translate her glistering head-dress. Of this headdress he proceeds to enumerate the parts. They are

I. The kredemnon; evidently a rare one, for it was presented by Aphroditfe on the occasion of the marriage with Hector. That the kredemnon is textile appears from the fact that Ino Leucothee lends one to Odysseus when tossed upon the waves, to spread beneath his breast, that it may buoy him up; adding an injunction to return it, by throwing it back into the sea on reaching the shore, which we may take probably as an indication of its great value. Its light and fine material fitted it to be worn both as a veil and as a turban; and that it was used in this latter mode we may judge from its application to the battlements or walls of Troy on a brow such as that of Hissarlik (II. xvi. 100). It was also worn or used as a veil by Penelopfe (Od..i. 334).

2. Next comes the ampux: a gold frontlet, or headband, which crosses the forehead, and is clearly represented in the upper one of the two Engravings given in the’ Remains.’ This ornament was sometimes used upon horses, but only upon the horses of the gods. See II- V. 358, 363, 720; viii. 382.

3. After this comes the κεκρύφαλόν, a word used nowhere else in Homer, but found in Aristophanes and in other authors, and meaning a net-work which confined, and more or less concealed, the hair, probably near the nape of the neck. This also was textile and has disappeared in the fire like the kredemnon.

4. Anadesme. Interpreted by Eustathius seira, a cord or chain, to bind round the temple (but this place is already occupied by the ampux): by B. Crusius in loc a hair-band; by Liddell and Scott a head-band. All these seem to clash with the office of the ampux; but there was no knowledge to justify any other specific sense, until the Hissarlik discoveries produced these two head-dresses, with their rows of pendent plaited chains of gold dropping over the brow, and then double, at greater length, falling down the side-face. The force of the epithet plecte is exactly given, and likewise even that of the preposition ana, for the anadesme is not merely a tie or chain, but a tie up to something else. In point of precise rendering, nothing is now left to desire: and there seems to be strong ground for the belief that Homer’s eye was conversant with this particular fashion of head-dress. The minute detail of the verses testifies to the significance of the ornament, and this again corresponds with its appearance, and with the effort Dr. Schliemann reasonably conjectures to have been made to rescue it. I give the passage…

Iliad 22 468-472

τῆλε δ᾽ ἀπὸ κρατὸς βάλε δέσματα σιγαλόεντα,
ἄμπυκα κεκρύφαλόν τε ἰδὲ πλεκτὴν ἀναδέσμην
κρήδεμνόν θ᾽, ὅ ῥά οἱ δῶκε χρυσῆ Ἀφροδίτη
ἤματι τῷ ὅτε μιν κορυθαίολος ἠγάγεθ᾽ Ἕκτωρ
ἐκ δόμου Ἠετίωνος, ἐπεὶ πόρε μυρία ἕδνα.

Gladstone assumes his readers know Greek so he doesn’t translate so here is the Perseus translation.

Far from off her head she cast the bright attiring thereof, the frontlet and coif and kerchief and woven band, and the veil that golden Aphrodite had given her on the day when Hector of the flashing helm hed her as his bride forth from the house of Eetion, after he had brought bride-gifts past counting.

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2 Responses to Gladstone and Homer

  1. Now that is historical history!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The grumpy old man | platosparks

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