20 March 2020

Unceasing burned the pyres (Iliad 1.43-52)

In the midst of an article about COVID-19 virus in Italy, I came upon this horrific paragraph:

With funerals banned under Italy's lockdown decree, the city crematorium is set to begin operating on a new 24-hour schedule this weekend to keep up.
All I could think of in that moment was another, equally grim line from long, long ago, the final line of the verses of Homer I quote below. Chryses, a priest of Apollo, has just finished invoking his aid for the mistreatment he and his daughter, Chryseis, have suffered at the hands of Agamemnon:


ὣς ἔφατ᾽ εὐχόμενος, τοῦ δ᾽ ἔκλυε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων,
βῆ δὲ κατ᾽ Οὐλύμποιο καρήνων χωόμενος κῆρ,
τόξ᾽ ὤμοισιν ἔχων ἀμφηρεφέα τε φαρέτρην:
ἔκλαγξαν δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὀϊστοὶ ἐπ᾽ ὤμων χωομένοιο,
αὐτοῦ κινηθέντος: ὃ δ᾽ ἤϊε νυκτὶ ἐοικώς.
ἕζετ᾽ ἔπειτ᾽ ἀπάνευθε νεῶν, μετὰ δ᾽ ἰὸν ἕηκε:
δεινὴ δὲ κλαγγὴ γένετ᾽ ἀργυρέοιο βιοῖο:
οὐρῆας μὲν πρῶτον ἐπῴχετο καὶ κύνας ἀργούς,
αὐτὰρ ἔπειτ᾽ αὐτοῖσι βέλος ἐχεπευκὲς ἐφιεὶς
βάλλ᾽: αἰεὶ δὲ πυραὶ νεκύων καίοντο θαμειαί. 

Iliad 1.43-52 

So Chryses spoke as he prayed; and Apollo heard,
Down he came from the peaks of Olympus with wrath in his heart,
With his bow and closed quiver upon his shoulders.
And the arrows clattered upon the shoulders of the god
As he set out in wrath; and he came on like the night.
Then he sat far off from the ships, and loosed a shaft.
A dreadful shrieking came from his silver bow:
First he attacked the mules and swift hounds.
Then he shot down the men with his piercing arrows.
And unceasing burned the pyres for their corpses.

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