Saturday 4 March 2017

Speared in the nipple

There is a beautiful map [who doesn't love a map?] of the geography of Homer's Iliad picked up by Kottke from wikimedia commons. I show a fragment [L]  showing where Philoctetes Φιλοκτήτης came from and where Ajax Αἴας died. I thought it would be easy and interesting to cross reference this travelogue / gazetteer with the equally varied anatomy-of-dispatch in the Iliad: the most casually brutal story until they started throwing bodies out of The Towering Inferno. Here is all you need to know about the origins of the Trojan War - sung.
In the same way as bible-thumpers from the US Midwest can quote chapter and verse [that's where the cliché comes from] of The Book, a certain type of classical scholar will parse out the Iliad to the finest detail; knowing who killed whom and how. There is a certain stylised repetitivity in the Iliad, all the better for ancient bards to trot it out by the hour like a mnemonic challenge [bloboprev].  Some purple prose from Book 11 [transl by Samuel "Erewhon" Butler]:
Agamemnon led them on, and slew first Bienor, a leader of his people, and afterwards his comrade and charioteer Oileus, who sprang from his chariot and was coming full towards him; but Agamemnon struck him on the forehead with his spear; his bronze visor was of no avail against the weapon, which pierced both bronze and bone, so that his brains were battered in and he was killed in full fight. Agamemnon stripped their shirts from off them and left them with their breasts all bare to lie where they had fallen. He then went on to kill Isus and Antiphus two sons of Priam, the one a bastard, the other born in wedlock; they were in the same chariot- the bastard driving, while noble Antiphus fought beside him. Achilles had once taken both of them prisoners in the glades of Ida, and had bound them with fresh withes as they were shepherding, but he had taken a ransom for them; now, however, Agamemnon son of Atreus smote Isus in the chest above the nipple with his spear, while he struck Antiphus hard by the ear and threw him from his chariot.
But there is a huge variety in the parts through which the passing of a spear ensures death. I used the Excel sort function to make sure I didn't miss out any: arm - back - buttock - cheek - chest - collar-bone - ear - eye - groin - gut - head - hip - jaw - liver - mouth - neck - nipple - nose - ribs - shoulder - side - stomach - testicles - thigh - throat.
Death by testicles? you may ask: my Butlerian reading of Book 13 is about 10cm at variance:
Adamas then sought shelter under cover of his men, but Meriones followed after and hit him with a spear midway between the private parts and the navel, where a wound is particularly painful to wretched mortals.
Then again maybe not, my ability to read ancient Greek is not-so-good and I rely on translators. Here's another option: from Ian Johnston:
But Meriones went after him, as he moved back, and hit him underneath his navel, in the scrotum, the most agonizing way for men to perish miserably in battle. 
You could abstract another, shorter, list of parts fatally damaged by swords and . . . rocks.  Altogether ouch!

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