“There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind.”

I’ve run variations of that quote from Homer’s “Iliad” here at the blog before; I think the translation that I like the best is the shortest: “There are no compacts between lions and men, and wolves and lambs have no accord.”  (I read that at the preface of one of Tom Clancy’s novels — I believe it was “Clear and Present Danger.”)

The most popular translation I can find online however, is below.  (The speaker here is Achilles.)

“Fool, prate not to me about covenants. There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other out and out an through. Therefore there can be no understanding between you and me, nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or other shall fall and glut grim Mars with his life’s blood. Put forth all your strength; you have need now to prove yourself indeed a bold soldier and man of war. You have no more chance, and Pallas Minerva will forthwith vanquish you by my spear: you shall now pay me in full for the grief you have caused me on account of my comrades whom you have killed in battle.”

 

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Throwback Thursday: the Evel Knievel toy “Chopper” (1975 – 1977)

I mentioned Evel Knievel toys in last week’s Throwback Thursday post — this was the “Chopper” that was sold by Ideal between 1975 and 1977.  This was a toy that I inherited from my older brother; by the end of the decade, it found its way to the bottom of my big burgundy-brown toybox in the family den.  (Do people still even have “dens?”)

The Evel Knievel rider and the windup mechanism were misplaced by the time I got my hands on this, but the bike worked just fine.   [As a (primarily) 80’s kid who was raised on “Star Wars” figures, it still strikes me how much the toys from the prior decade looked like dolls.]  The bike was a sturdy toy that never broke, and it was a hell of a lot of fun for a kid.  You just revved it up (backwards) by running that rear tire against the floor, and then it shot across the kitchen.  The internet informs me that Ideal later used the molds for this toy for a motorcycle for a Fonzie toy.

I … can vaguely remember the Evel Knievel phenomenon of the 1970’s.  He was doing successful televised jumps through 1977.  I … might remember an older sister calling me to a clunky little black-and-white television to see him.  It is only now, as a write this, that I finally get the reference that “The Simpsons” made to the famed superstar.  (Homer’s injurious skateboard jump over Springfield Gorge lampoons Kneivel’s 1973 failed attempt to arc across Idaho’s Snake River Canyon.)

I can definitely remember other kids on the street humbly trying to “jump” their small bikes “like Evel Knievel.”  We would have been … six years old?  Seven?  But then “The Dukes of Hazzard” hit our TV screens in 1979, and little kids tried to endlessly emulate them; The Duke Boys promptly replaced the real-life stuntman in the child-zeitgeist.

 

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“The Shield of Achilles,” by W. H. Auden

A good buddy of mine in New York is a bit of a classical scholar; he recently finished Homer’s “The Illiad.”  That’s a task that has been beyond me so far.  I tried to read it at age 36, and it was just too thick for me.

Anyway, you and I both know the greatest poetic allegory to “The Illiad” ever written — it’s none other than W.H. Auden’s “The Shield of Achilles.”

Thanks to Poets.org for the text.

 

“The Shield of Achilles”

  She looked over his shoulder
       For vines and olive trees,
     Marble well-governed cities
       And ships upon untamed seas,
     But there on the shining metal
       His hands had put instead
     An artificial wilderness
       And a sky like lead.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
   No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down, 
   Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
   An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line, 
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
   Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
   No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
   Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

     She looked over his shoulder
       For ritual pieties,
     White flower-garlanded heifers,
       Libation and sacrifice,
     But there on the shining metal
       Where the altar should have been,
     She saw by his flickering forge-light
       Quite another scene.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
   Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
   A crowd of ordinary decent folk
   Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
   That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
   And could not hope for help and no help came:
   What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

     She looked over his shoulder
       For athletes at their games,
     Men and women in a dance
       Moving their sweet limbs
     Quick, quick, to music,
       But there on the shining shield
     His hands had set no dancing-floor
       But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone, 
   Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
   That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
   Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

     The thin-lipped armorer,
       Hephaestos, hobbled away,
     Thetis of the shining breasts
       Cried out in dismay
     At what the god had wrought
       To please her son, the strong
     Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
       Who would not live long.


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The Shield of Achilles: Supplied to George IV by Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, 1821

“His wife and children will never welcome him home again …”

“If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them.”

— from Homer’s “The Odyssey” (Samuel Butler’s translation)

Today’s quote arrives to us today from my friend Francis James Franklin, who is not only an accomplished independent author but also a terrific classical scholar.  Thanks, Frank!!

Homer