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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

This is rather a strange message to engrave on a warrior’s shield. Achilles has chosen to live in the “city of war and death” and has turned his back on the “city of peace and laws”. Perhaps his mother is trying to remind him of the life he has left behind; or perhaps Vulcan hopes that the death of his friend Patroclus will make him reassess his original choice. In Alexander Pope’s “radiant” translation” the choice which warriors face is stark and clear.

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11 February, 2010

Homer250

On Achilles’ new shield Vulcan depicts the two different types of cities which humans can build on earth; one based on peace and the rule of law; the other based on war, killing, and pillage (900 BC)

Read the full quote in context here.

In his fine translation of Homer’s Iliad, Alexander Pope (1688-1744) describes the images which Vulcan carves on Achilles’ new shield, which his mother Thetis has done to help Achilles recover from the news of his friend Patroclus’ death. Vulcan depicts the two different types of cities which humans can build on earth; one based on peace and the rule of law; the other based on war, killing, and pillage:

Two cities radiant on the shield appear,
The image one of peace, and one of war.
Here sacred pomp and genial feast delight,
And solemn dance, and Hymeneal rite;…
There, in the Forum swarm a numerous train;
The subject of debate, a townsman slain:
One pleads the fine discharged, which one denied,
And bade the public and the laws decide:…
Another part (a prospect diff’ring far)
Glow’d with refulgent arms, and horrid war.
Two mighty hosts a leaguer’d town embrace,
And one would pillage, one would burn, the place….
Now here, now there, the carcasses they tore:
Fate stalk’d amidst them, grim with human gore.
And the whole war came out, and met the eye:
And each bold figure seem’d to live, or die.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

Two cities radiant on the shield appear,
The image one of peace, and one of war.
Here sacred pomp and genial feast delight,
And solemn dance, and Hymeneal rite;

Along the street the new-made brides are led,
With torches flaming, to the nuptial bed:
The youthful dancers in a circle bound
To the soft flute, and cittern’s silver sound:
Thro’ the fair streets, the matrons in a row
Stand in their porches, and enjoy the show.

There, in the Forum swarm a numerous train;
The subject of debate, a townsman slain:
One pleads the fine discharged, which one denied,
And bade the public and the laws decide:

The witness is produced on either hand:
For this, or that, the partial people stand:
Th’ appointed heralds still the noisy bands,
And form a ring, with sceptres in their hands;
On seats of stone, within the sacred place,
The rev’rend elders nodded o’er the case;
Alternate, each th’ attending sceptre took,
And, rising solemn, each his sentence spoke.
Two golden talents lay amidst, in sight,
The prize of him who best adjudg’d the right.

Another part (a prospect diff’ring far)
Glow’d with refulgent arms, and horrid war.
Two mighty hosts a leaguer’d town embrace,
And one would pillage, one would burn, the place.

Meantime the townsmen, arm’d with silent care,
A secret ambush on the foe prepare:
Their wives, their children, and the watchful band
Of trembling parents, on the turrets stand.
They march, by Pallas and by Mars made bold;
Gold were the Gods, their radiant garments gold,
And gold their armour; these the squadron led,
August, divine, superior by the head!
A place for ambush fit they found, and stood
Cover’d with shields, beside a silver flood.
Two spies at distance lurk, and watchful seem
If sheep or oxen seek the winding stream.
Soon the white flocks proceeded o’er the plains,
And steers slow-moving, and two shepherd swains;
Behind them, piping on their reeds, they go,
Nor fear an ambush, nor suspect a foe.
In arms the glitt’ring squadron rising round,
Rush sudden; hills of slaughter heap the ground:
Whole flocks and herds lie bleeding on the plains,
And, all amidst them, dead, the shepherd swains!
The bell’wing oxen the besiegers hear;
They rise, take horse, approach, and meet the war;
They fight, they fall, beside the silver flood;
The waving silver seem’d to blush with blood.
There tumult, there contention, stood confess’d;
One rear’d a dagger at a captive’s breast,
One held a living foe, that freshly bled
With new-made wounds; another dragg’d a dead;
Now here, now there, the carcasses they tore:
Fate stalk’d amidst them, grim with human gore.
And the whole war came out, and met the eye:
And each bold figure seem’d to live, or die.

[More works by Homer (900 BC – 900 BC) and on Epic Literature]