Iliad 7.194-6, praying silently, or -- never mind -- openly is OK

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bcrowell
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Iliad 7.194-6, praying silently, or -- never mind -- openly is OK

Post by bcrowell »

In Iliad 7.194-6, Ajax has won the drawing of lots so that he will face Hector in single combat. He tells the other soldiers that while he's getting his gear on, they should pray silently, so that the Trojan's won't know, but then he says they can pray openly if they like, since there is nothing to fear.

...τεύχεα δύω,
τόφρ ̓ ὑμεῖς εὔχεσθε Διὶ Κρονίωνι ἄνακτι
σιγῇ ἐφ ̓ ὑμείων ἵνα μὴ Τρῶές γε πύθωνται,
ἠὲ καὶ ἀμφαδίην, ἐπεὶ οὔ τινα δείδιμεν ἔμπης·

Is there any logic to this? Am I missing some cultural or religious fact?

I don't understand why he would say the one thing and then, seeming to change his mind, say the opposite.

His implication seems to be that if the outcome had been in doubt, then it might have been better to pray secretly. I'm finding that logic convoluted.

If the outcome is to be decided only by the natural results of their prowess, and he knows he's a better fighter than Hector, then it would seem unnecessary to pray at all. If, on the other hand, the result may be determined in whole or in part by the whims of the gods (which we've seen a lot of evidence for earlier), then it would seem important to pray, but irrelevant whether or not the prayer was secret.

Culturally, prayers and sacrifices in the ancient world were often a matter of civic ritual, a sort of glue that would bind society together. If so, then you would pray openly.

I suppose that if the Trojans saw the Greeks making obvious prayers, then they might see that as a sign of weakness or uncertainty. But since the Greeks aren't trying to bluff or scare off the Trojans, why does it matter if the Trojans might get an impression of weakness?

Could this all just be characterization of Ajax, showing him as having some internal doubt or uncertainty that he is afraid to show to his comrades? I guess this would make sense as a contrast with his showy throwing of the lot on the ground at line 190.
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Re: Iliad 7.194-6, praying silently, or -- never mind -- openly is OK

Post by jeidsath »

I've never read book 7 in Greek, and it has been a few decades since I read it in English, but the excerpt that you've quoted strikes me as rhetoric:

"While I'm getting on my gear, you all pray to Zeus for yourselves, silent so the Trojans don't find out--Or even do it right out loud, since we don't actually fear a single one of them."

Find out what? Not the fact that they are praying, I don't think. But maybe their "plan" to have Ajax as their champion? But that's a silly thing to hide, as he says.
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Re: Iliad 7.194-6, praying silently, or -- never mind -- openly is OK

Post by seneca2008 »

These are problematic verses.

Kirk says: "195-9 Aristarchus (Arn/A) athetized these vv. (so too Zenodotus and Aristophanes, Did/AT on 198) as out of character with Aias and making him absurdly contradict himself; even Leaf found that hypercritical. In fact Aias' series of qualifications enables him to lead from the idea of the prayer to a typical piece of self-projection, to be echoed by Hektor at 237-43.

195 For silent prayer cf. Odysseus' at 23.769, ὃν κατὰ θυμόν. The idea is not commonly expressed in II. but is reasonable in the circumstances, for the Trojans are assumed to be observing proceedings closely. The motive for silence is presumably to avoid their frustrating events by a counter- prayer. For σιγῇ ἐφ ̓ ὑμείων cf. 19.255 ἐπ' αὐτόφιν εἵατο σιγῇ, where the Achaeans listen in silence to (and partake in) Agamemnon's prayer.

196 Aias' amendment is reasonable enough, since a silent prayer might suggest that he is afraid. ἁμφαδίην is an obvious polar alternative to σιγῇ (cf. λάθρῃ ..... ἀμφαδόν at 243); the ἐπεὶ clause recurs at Od. 2.199."

So it seems to me that the poet is putting a rather nuanced position forward for Ajax. He is at first cautious and then decides to throw caution aside for fear of seeming afraid. Perhaps you might not regard any of it as logical but it does reveal something of Ajax's personality.

Kirk is a great resource for unraveling some of the Iliad's complexities.
Persuade tibi hoc sic esse, ut scribo: quaedam tempora eripiuntur nobis, quaedam subducuntur, quaedam effluunt. Turpissima tamen est iactura, quae per neglegentiam fit. Et si volueris attendere, maxima pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, magna nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus.

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Re: Iliad 7.194-6, praying silently, or -- never mind -- openly is OK

Post by Paul Derouda »

Again, it's been several years since I read the Iliad, so I might be missing some nuances here...

I think Ajax embodies machismo or even what we might call toxic masculinity more than any other hero in the Iliad, even by ancient Greek standards, which of course were different from our own. This trait is particularly pronounced in Sophocles' Ajax (where he's downright psychotic and murderous), but it's there in the Iliad too. With Diomedes, he's the second strongest of the heroes right after Achilles, but he's also the most obtuse. Unlike for example Achilles, he never shows any interest to music and unlike Odysseus, he never shows any subtlety or wit. He's all traditional masculine virtues, and nothing else - strength, courage, honor, loyalty, honesty, decisiveness. It's no wonder he ends up in an inextricable dispute with a trickster like Odysseus, and is incapable of forgiving him even in Hades (as described in the Odyssey). So I think these lines have to be read in the light of his personality.

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Re: Iliad 7.194-6, praying silently, or -- never mind -- openly is OK

Post by seneca2008 »

Paul

I agree with you and thats what I meant by suggesting that the description is nuanced. Perhaps It would have been better to say that it is psychologically revealing. Ajax is not like the other heroes. All heroes cannot bear being shamed, but Ajax is the only one that cannot live with it and has to commit suicide.
Persuade tibi hoc sic esse, ut scribo: quaedam tempora eripiuntur nobis, quaedam subducuntur, quaedam effluunt. Turpissima tamen est iactura, quae per neglegentiam fit. Et si volueris attendere, maxima pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, magna nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus.

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Re: Iliad 7.194-6, praying silently, or -- never mind -- openly is OK

Post by Paul Derouda »

Yes, nuanced is the right word. If we discount unimportant characters like Thersites, who is intended as a comic relief, epic never describes its heroes in negative terms. We're never told directly that Ajax is an obtuse, insecure macho, but it is there, between the lines.

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Re: Iliad 7.194-6, praying silently, or -- never mind -- openly is OK

Post by jeidsath »

The first branch of the advice still strikes me as mock advice. To amp it up a bit: "pray silently by yourselves, you ladies, so the Trojans don't hear your whimpering--but I'm just joshing you all, we're afraid of nothing, so pray right out loud."

The first part of Kirk's comment on the athetization is really a direct quote from Aristonicus: "ἕως τοῦ ἔλπομαι ἐν Σαλαμῖνι (199) στίχοι πέντε ἀθετοῦνται, ὅτι οὐ κατὰ τὸν Αἴαντα οἱ λόγοι καὶ ἑαυτῷ ἀνθυποφέρει γελοίως." (That is, they were stumped by this and just wanted the problem to go away.)

Eustathius is clearly aware of the problem and has some (bad) suggestions: Ὅτι προτρέπων εἰς εὐχὴν ὁ Αἴας τοὺς Ἕλληνάς φησιν «ἄλλ’ ἄγετ’, ὄφρ’ ἂν ἐγὼ πολεμήϊα τεύχεα δύω, τόφρ’ ὑμεῖς εὔχεσθε Διῒ ἄνακτι, σιγῇ ἐφ’ ὑμείων, ἵνα μὴ Τρῶές γε πύθωνται», καὶ δόξωμεν δηλαδὴ θορυβεῖσθαι, «ἠὲ καὶ ἀμφαδίην, ἐπεὶ οὔ τινα δείδιμεν ἔμπης», τουτέστιν ἢ καὶ ἀμφαδὸν εὔχεσθε, ἐπεὶ οὔτινα δεδίαμεν. Τοῦτο δὲ καὶ πᾶς τις ἂν εἴποι εὐλαβηθεὶς μὲν εἰπεῖν τι ὡς ἄξιον αἰδοῦς, θαρρήσας δὲ αὖθις φάναι αὐτὸ διὰ τὸ μὴ εἶναι αἰσχρόν. Ἄλλως δέ, τὸ μὲν «σιγῇ ἐφ’ ὑμῶν, ἵνα μὴ Τρῶές γε πύθωνται» πρόσφορόν ἐστι παροιμιακῶς τοῖς μυστηριάζεσθαι θέλουσιν. Ὁ δὲ μὴ ἔχων ἀνάγκην κρύφα λαλεῖν προσθείη ἂν καὶ τὸ «ἢ καὶ ἀμφαδίην, ἐπεὶ οὔ τινα δείδιμεν».

My translation: "That turning them to prayer, Ajax says to the Greeks, "but get going, that while I should don my gear of war, you all at the same time pray to Lord Zeus, silently by yourselves, so the Trojans don't learn of it" and so we don't appear to make an obvious ruckus, "or also in the open, since we don't fear any one of them actually." This means 'or pray a public prayer, since we have never feared one of them.' And this is 'and every one if he might speak, first take care to say something worthy of respect, second take courage to say it again on account of it not being shameful.' But otherwise, the "silently by yourselves, so that the Trojans don't learn of it" is fittingly proverbial for those who wish to say mystery-prayers. But the one not having the need of speaking cryptically might be told as well the "or also in the open, since we don't fear any one of them."

The μυστηριάζεσθαι suggestion is almost neat and creative, actually, but doesn't seem to have anything to do with the actual prayer that comes next.
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Re: Iliad 7.194-6, praying silently, or -- never mind -- openly is OK

Post by Paul Derouda »

I agree that it should be interpreted as bravado, but perhaps your interpretation of mock advice is overreading this a bit, as nothing else in Ajax’ talk suggests that he’s actually taunting his Greek comrades. I’m wondering if ἐπεὶ οὔ τινα δείδιμεν ἔμπης is actually is a ”royal we”, majestic plural, and just means that ”since I, Ajax, am not afraid of anyone” - this is not uncommon in Homer.

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Re: Iliad 7.194-6, praying silently, or -- never mind -- openly is OK

Post by jeidsath »

There's certainly a lot of ego in his statement, and I agree that he either entirely or mostly means himself in the second branch. But to me it's the first branch that is the difficult part to understand, while the second is straightforward.

Leaf's note on this, surprisingly to me, elaborates on the μυστηριάζεσθαι idea.
ἐφ' ὑμείων, as T 255 επ' αὐτόφιν εἵατο σιγῆι. The idea seems to be, 'Do not let the Trojans hear your words, lest they may endeavour to counteract your petitions by prayers of their own'; this he immediately revokes by the καί in 196, virtually = nay. There was a widely-spread primitive idea that every local or national god could be approached only by a particular form of words, which was therefore carefully concealed from an enemy. Thus the title by which the god of Rome was to be addressed was concealed, as a state secret of the highest importance. So the real pronunciation of Y-h-v-h was kept secret by the Jews, Jehovah being only a conventional form for reading with the vowels of Adonai. It is said that the direction in the Prayer Book to read the Lord's Prayer 'with a loud voice' goes back to a period when this too was superstitiously regarded as a magical formula to be repeated silently, lest the enemies of Christianity might find it out. 195-9 were athetized by Zenod., Aristophanes, and Ar. on the ground that 'they are not consistent with the character of Aias, and that he raises objects to himself (ανθυποφέρει ἑαυτῶι) absurdly'; a judgement which does not comment itself. It is certainly not inconsistent that a hero, after recommending a conventional precaution, should correct himself, and say that he has no need of such devices. (See, however, Wilamowitz H. U. p. 244.)
Wilamowitz's referenced argument:
Wilamowitz H. U. p. 244
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Now, I don't think there's much internal support for Leaf's and Eustathius's idea of secret prayers here. But it very much reminds me of Pratum Spirituale story 196, in which some shepherd boys have overheard the secret words of mass, and engage in a mock celebration. (Compare also Alcibiades and the profanation of the mysteries.) The ancient world certainly had some interesting ideas about prayer secrecy that we don't share today.

Notice the part I've bolded below, and compare to Leaf's claim about the Lord's Prayer at one time being a magical formula to be repeated silently.
Pratum Spirituale 196
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Διηγήσατο ἡμῖν ὁ Γεώργιος ὁ τῆς Ἄφρων χώρας ὕπαρχος γεγονὼς, ὁ φιλόχριστος καὶ φιλομόναχος καὶ φιλόπτωχος, ὁ πᾶσι χαίρων τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς οἷς ἀγαπᾷ ὁ Θεός. Ὅτι ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ μου (ἦν δὲ τῶν μερῶν Ἀπαμείας τῆς δευτέρας τῶν Σύρων ἐπαρχίας)· ὅτι χωρίον ἐστὶν ἀπὸ μιλίων τῆς πόλεως τεσσαράκοντα, τὸ Γοναγὸν καλούμενον. Ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσιν οὖν τοῦ αὐτοῦ κτήματος ὡς ἀπὸ μιλίου ἑνὸς παιδία ἔβοσκον θρέμματα. Καὶ οἷα συμβαίνει, καὶ ὀφείλει γίνεσθαι παιδίοις, ἠθέλησαν παῖξαι κατὰ τὴν τῶν παίδων συνήθειαν. Καὶ ὡς ἔπαιζον, λέγουσι πρὸς ἀλλήλους· Δεῦτε, ποιήσωμεν σύναξιν, καὶ προσενέγκωμεν προσφοράν· καὶ τούτου πᾶσιν ἀρέσαντος, προεβάλοντο ἐξ αὐτῶν ὡς ἐν τάξει πρεσβυτέρου, καὶ ἄλλους δύο, ὡς ἐν τάξει διακόνων. Καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς μίαν πέτραν ὁμαλήν· καὶ γὰρ ἔπαιζον. Καὶ ἐπὶ τῇ πέτρᾳ, ὡς ἐν τάξει θυσιαστηρίου διεθήκασι τοὺς ἄρτους, καὶ ἐν καυκίῳ ὀστρακίνῳ οἶνον. Καὶ παρίστανται, ὁ μὲν ὡς πρεσβύτερος, οἱ δὲ ὡς διάκονοι, ἔνθεν καὶ ἔνθεν. Καὶ ὁ μὲν τὴν προσκομιδὴν ἔλεγεν, οἱ δὲ τοῖς φακιολίοις ἐῤῥίπιζον. Εὑρέθη δὲ ὁ ῥηθεὶς πρεσβύτερος τὴν ἀναφορὰν ἐπιστάμενος· ἐπειδὴ καὶ ἡ συνήθεια ἐν τῇ Ἐκκλησίᾳ παρέδραμεν, ὥστε τοὺς παῖδας ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ ἁγίου ἱερατείου ἵστασθαι ἐν ταῖς ἁγίαις συνάξεσιν, καὶ πρώτους μετὰ τοὺς κληρικοὺς τῶν ἁγίων μεταλαμβάνειν μυστηρίων. Ἐπειδὴ δὲ ἔν τισι τόποις ἐκφωνεῖν μεγάλως εἰώθασιν οἱ πρεσβύτεροι, εὑρέθησαν τὰ παιδία, τὴν εὐχὴν τῆς ἁγίας ἀναφορᾶς ἐκμανθάνοντα, ἐκ τοῦ συνεχῶς αὐτὴν ἐκφωνεῖσθαι. Ὡς οὖν πάντα πεποιήκασιν κατὰ τὴν ἐκκλησιαστικὴν συνήθειαν, πρινὴ τοὺς ἄρτους μελίσωσιν, πῦρ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατελήλυθεν, καὶ τὰ προσκομισθέντα πάντα κατέφαγεν, καὶ τὴν πέτραν κατέκαυσεν ἅπασαν· ὡς μηδὲ τὸ παράπαν μήτε τῆς πέτρας, μήτε τῶν ἐν αὐτῇ προσενεχθέντων καταλειφθῆναι μνημόσυνον. Καὶ τοῦτο ἀθρόως γενόμενον θεασάμενοι οἱ παῖδες, εἰς τὴν γῆν ἀπὸ φόβου κατέπεσαν, καὶ ἡμιθανεῖς μεμενήκασιν, ῥῆξαι φωνὴν ἢ ἀναστῆναι ἐκ τῆς γῆς μὴ δυνάμενοι. Μὴ εἰσελθόντων δὲ αὐτῶν εἰς τὸ κτῆμα τῇ ὥρᾳ ᾗ εἶχον ἔθος εἰσέρχεσθαι, ἀλλ’ ἐκπλήκτων κειμένων εἰς τὸ ἔδαφος, ἐξῆλθον οἱ τούτων γονεῖς ἐκ τοῦ κτήματος ἰδεῖν τίνος χάριν κατὰ τὸ ἔθος οὐ παρεγένοντο. Καὶ ἀναζητοῦντες, εὗρον αὐτοὺς κειμένους, μήτε τινὰ τῶν παρόντων γινώσκοντας, μήτε λαλῆσαι τοῖς λαλοῦσιν ἰσχύοντας. Οὕτως ἡμιθανεῖς αὐτοὺς οἱ γονεῖς θεασάμενοι, ἕκαστος τὸ ἴδιον παιδίον βαστάσας εἰς τὸ κτῆμα ἀπήνεγκεν· καὶ ἐν ἐκστάσει τοιαύτῃ τὰ τέκνα ὁρῶντες ἐξίσταντο· τὴν τῆς ἐκστάσεως αἰτίαν μαθεῖν μὴ δυνάμενοι. Καὶ πολλάκις αὐτοὺς δι’ ὅλης τῆς ἡμέρας ἐρωτῶντες, ἀποκρίσεως παρ’ αὐτῶν οὐκ ἐτύγχανον, καὶ τῶν συμβεβηκότων αὐτοῖς οὐδὲν ὅλως μαθεῖν ἠδυνήθησαν, ἕως οὗ ἡ ἡμέρα ἐκείνη πᾶσα καὶ ἡ νὺξ παρῆλθεν. Τότε γὰρ οἱ παῖδες εἰς ἑαυτοὺς κατ’ ὀλίγον ἐλθόντες, ἄπαντα αὐτοῖς διηγήσαντο, ὡς ἐπράχθη τε καὶ γεγένηται. Καὶ λαβόντες αὐτοὺς οἱ γονεῖς, καὶ τοὺς τοῦ αὐτοῦ κτήματος κτήτορας, ἐξῆλθον, καὶ τὸν τρόπον ὑπέδειξαν, ἐν ᾧ τὸ παράδοξον τοῦτο θαῦμα ἐγένετο, ἴχνη τινὰ τοῦ καταβάντος πυρὸς ὑποφαίνοντες. Οἵτινες τῶν γεγονότων ἀκούσαντες, καὶ ἐξ αὐτοῦ πεισθέντες τοῦ πράγματος, εἰς τὴν πόλιν εἰσέδραμον, καὶ πάντα τῷ ἐπισκόπῳ τῆς πόλεως καθ’ ἑξῆς ἀνήγαγον. Ὁ δὲ θαυμάσας τῶν λεγομένων τὸ μέγεθος, ἐν τῷ τόπῳ σὺν παντὶ τῷ κλήρῳ ἐξῆλθεν, καὶ τοὺς παῖδας ἰδὼν, καὶ ἐπ’ αὐτῶν ἀκηκοὼς τὰ γενόμενα, καὶ τὰ σημεῖα τοῦ οὐρανίου πυρὸς θεασάμενος, τοὺς μὲν παῖδας εἰς μοναστήριον ἔβαλεν, τὸν δὲ τόπον εὐαγὲς μοναστήριον πεποίηκεν· ἐπάνω τοῦ τόπου τοῦ πυρὸς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν ᾠκοδόμησε, καὶ τὸ ἅγιον στήσας θυσιαστήριον. Ἔλεγεν δὲ ἡμῖν ὁ αὐτὸς κῦρος Γεώργιος, ὅτι ἕνα ἐξ αὐτῶν τῶν παίδων ἦν θεασάμενος ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ μοναστηρίῳ, ἔνθα τὸ τοιοῦτον θαῦμα γέγονεν, καὶ τοῦτο μὲν τὸ θεῖον καὶ ἀγγελικὸν θαῦμα διηγήσατο Γεώργιος ὁ φιλόχριστος.
"Here stuck the great stupid boys, who for the life of them could never master the accidence..."

Joel Eidsath -- jeidsath@gmail.com

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