The most famous event in the early history of Greece was the Trojan War, fought a generation after the time of Theseus-or shortly before 1200 b.c. Concerning that war, we have only the legendary tale told by Homer, a Greek poet who supposedly lived in the ninth century b.c.
Whether Homer actually lived, or whether the poems ascribed to him were written by one man or many, has exercised the ingenuity of literary critics for over two thousand years, but that is not the sort of problem that concerns us here.
What does concern us is that the Homeric poems have (along with the Bible and Shakespeare's plays) been the most notable and influential works of literature ever produced in the Western world, and that in 1601 Shakespeare wrote his own version of the Homeric tale.
Shakespeare was by no means the first, nor was he the last, to do a version of Homer.
Homer's poem may have first been put together about 850 b.c. and have been sung or recited by bard after bard, the tale being carried or from generation to generation through oral tradition. About 500 B.c it was carefully edited by Athenian scholars and placed into the form we now have.
Homer tells the tale of but a single episode in the long Trojan War which, according to legend, lasted ten years. The episode takes place in the tenth and last year and deals with a quarrel between two of the Greek leaders, with the near disaster that befalls the Greek cause as a result, and with the dramatic reconciliation that follows after all the participants have suffered tragic losses.
In the course of the epic, hints are given as to events that took place before the incident of the quarrel and of events that were to take place after the reconciliation. The popularity of Homer's tale led later Greek poets and dramatists to try their hand at telling other portions of the tale based on Homer's references and on other legends then extant but no surviving today.
Other ancient writers even tried retelling the tale of the quarrel itself in their own way, and the habit of doing so continued through the Middle Ages and into modern times. In 1925, for instance, the American write:
John Erskine published The Private Life of Helen of Troy, putting the tale of Troy into twentieth-century idiom.
Shakespeare tried his hand at it too, producing, alas, a play that is not considered one of his better productions and is by no means worthy of the grand original.
In Troy …
Shakespeare chooses to tell (more or less) the same incident that concerns Homer, which means that he too must concentrate on the final stages of a long siege. Where Homer was dealing with incidents in a war which (in his time) must have been well known to all Greeks, with its heroes' names being household words, Shakespeare was not quite in the same position.
Educated Englishmen in Shakespeare's time knew of the Trojan War, but chiefly through writings on the subject in Roman and medieval times. It was only toward the end of the sixteenth century that Homer's poem itself was translated into English by George Chapman (whose work inspired a famous sonnet by John Keats two centuries later). At the time Troilus and Cressida was being written, only a third of that translation had yet appeared, so it is doubtful how much firsthand knowledge of Homer's actual tale Shakespeare himself had and how much he had to depend on later (and distorted) versions of the Troy tale.
Shakespeare did not apparently feel safe in starting, as Homer did, toward the end of the war, and inserts a somewhat apologetic Prologue to set the stage. The Prologue begins directly:
In Troy there lies the scene.
– Prologue, line 1
The name of the walled city which endured the long siege was, apparently, Ilion (or Ilium, in the Latin spelling). Homer's poem is therefore called the Iliad. The region in which Ilium was located was known as Troas or the Troad, and from this, the city took the alternate name of Troia. It is the English form of this latter name, Troy, that is most familiar to us.
It is over three thousand years now since Troy was destroyed and yet, thanks to Homer, its name remains forever fresh to us.
Indeed, it remained fresh and alive through a period in early modern times when skeptical scholars considered the Trojan War to have been purely mythical and were sure that no city of Troy had ever existed. Considering that Homer filled his tale with gods, goddesses, monsters, and wonders, it was easy to feel skepticism.
However, after all the overlay of the marvellous has been scraped away, a core remains and, as it turns out, that core has value.
A German businessman, Heinrich Schliemann, who implicitly believed the essential truth of the Iliad (minus its gods), amassed wealth and in the late nineteenth century used it to go to Greece and Turkey, where he hoped to dig up the ruins of Troy and some of the great Greek cities of the time. From the 1860s to his death in 1890, he achieved phenomenal success, locating the site of Troy and other places mentioned in the Iliad.
Historians now know quite a bit about the early phase of Greek history, which they call the Mycenaean Age. From what they have learned, we find that Homer's tale is a surprisingly faithful rendering (though with a few anachronisms) of Mycenaean society. Historians are now just as certain that there was a siege of Troy, as a century ago they were certain there was not.
… isles of Greece The Prologue goes on to describe those who were attacking Troy:
From isles of Greece
The princes orgulous, their high blood chafed,
Have to the port of Athens sent their ships,
– Prologue, lines 1-3
According to the legend, it was a combined expedition of Greek forces drawn from all the petty kingdoms that were then to be found in Greece. In theory, all acknowledged an overlord who ruled in the southern portion of the peninsula and it was this overlord who acted as commander in chief of the expedition.
The overlordship was not tight, however, and the leaders of the various contingents were very aware of their own rights and privileges. There was a strong resemblance between the situation in Mycenaean Greece and that in medieval Europe, where a king was titular overlord but could only with the greatest difficulty induce his various dukes and counts to obey him. Shakespeare was not so far removed from this stage of history to fail to understand it, hence his reference to the princes "orgulous"; that is, "haughty."
The Greek forces, coming from various regions, had to meet at some gathering place to form a unified fleet. According to legend, that meeting place was at Aulis, a harbor in Boeotia, protected by the long island of Euboea (see page I-59).
Shakespeare here makes the gathering place Athens, which is incorrect
… toward Phrygia
Having gathered, the united fleet now moves on across the Aegean Sea toward Troy. The total number of ships is given:
… Sixty and nine, that wore
Their crownets regal, from th'Athenian bay
Put forth toward Phrygia;
– Prologue, lines 5-7
In Mycenaean times, a people we now call the Phrygians were in control of western Asia Minor. They still dominated the area in the supposed time in which Homer lived, three and a half centuries after the Trojan War, so he could speak of them familiarly. Their power was not destroyed till about 700 b.c. when the nomadic Cimmerians from the regions north of the Black Sea invaded Asia Minor and wreaked widespread destruction. The name "Phrygia" was still applied to a region of west central Asia Minor throughout ancient times, however.
The chances are that the Trojans (although pictured in the Iliad as being in no way different from the Greeks in language, customs, or religion) were Phrygians.
Shakespeare's mention of 69 ships is an extremely modest underestimate of the legendary number. The Iliad lists the numbers of ships brought by each Greek contingent in Book Two and the total comes to 1186. Christopher Marlowe in his play Dr. Faustus is closer to Homer, by far, when he has Faustus cry out at seeing the shade of the beautiful woman who, according to legend, brought on the war, "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships-"
The ravished Helen. ..
The basic cause of the expedition was undoubtedly most unromantic. Troy controlled the narrow waters between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea and was, therefore, master of an important trade route. By charging tolls for passage, they grew rich, and this made the city a valuable prize for any freebooting expedition.
Not only did Troy's wealth form a tempting target, but the Mycenaeans were being prodded from behind. New tribes of Greeks from the north, relatively uncivilized ones called Dorians, were making their pressure felt. Conditions at home were less settled than they had been and the urge to take part in piratical expeditions overseas increased.
Indeed, the time of the Trojan War was one of great turmoil throughout the civilized world and it was not only Troy that was suffering harm from sea raiders. Other raiders ravaged the coast of Egypt and Canaan, for instance. Certain contingents of these raiders settled down on the Canaan-ite coast and became the Philistines, who strongly influenced Israelite history.
By Homer's time a much more trivial, but much more romantic, cause had been given for the expedition. Shakespeare gives it briefly here. The Greeks, he says, have sworn
To ransack Troy, within whose strong immures
The ravished Helen, Menelaus" queen,
With wanton Paris sleeps-and that's the quarrel.
– Prologue, lines 8-10
In ancient times piratical raids were common. Ships would come ashore and armed men would suddenly snatch up cattle and people, then sail away again. If the people captured (and intended for the slave-market) included any of prominent family, reprisal raids might be carried through. The immediate cause of the Trojan War could well have been such a raid, of which the Trojans may have been guilty or which it siuited the Greeks to say that the Trojans were guilty.
With time, the details of the abduction were adorned and elaborated with complicated myth, and this particular one has become world-famous. I'll give it briefly.
At a certain wedding (involving a bride and groom who will appear later in this chapter) all the gods and goddesses had been invited-with one exception. Eris, the Goddess of Discord, had been overlooked. She appeared unbidden and in anger tossed a golden apple (the "Apple of Discord") among the guests. It bore the label "To the Fairest."
At once three goddesses claimed it: Juno (Hera), the wife of Jupiter (Zeus); Minerva (Athena), the Goddess of Wisdom; and Venus (Aphrodite), the Goddess of Beauty.
The goddesses agreed to accept the decision of Paris, a Trojan prince, and each goddess tried her best to bribe him. Juno offered him power, Minerva offered him wisdom, and Venus offered him the fairest woman in the world for his bride. He chose Venus, which was probably the honest choice in any case.
There was a complication, though. The fairest woman in the world was Helen, who was already married to Menelaus, King of Sparta.
Guided by Venus, Paris arrived as a guest in Sparta, was royally treated by Menelaus, and then, when Menelaus was off on state affairs, Paris seized the opportunity to abduct the willing Helen (Paris was very handsome) and carry her off to Troy.
Menelaus was rightly angry over this and the result was the Greek expedition against Troy.
To Tenedos …
The journey of the Greek fleet is followed:
To Tenedos they come,
And the deep-drawing barks do there disgorge
Their warlike fraughtage. Now on Dardan plains
The fresh and yet unbruised Greeks do pitch
Their brave pavilions.
– Prologue, lines 11-15
Tenedos is a small island about four miles off the shore of Asia Minor, near Troy.
Troy itself is several miles inland and the plain between itself and the sea is the "Dardan plain." Dardania is a name for a section of the Trojan coast. The name is derived, according to the myth, from Dardanus, a son of Jupiter. A grandson of Dardanus was Tros, from whose name Troy was derived.
Having brought the Greeks to Troy, the Prologue now warns the audience that the play will not start at the beginning:
… our play
Leaps o'er the vaunt and firstlings of those broils,
Beginning in the middle,
– Prologue, lines 26-28
… Troilus, alas …
Yet though the play begins in the middle of a war, it does not begin with martial scenes or even with martial speeches. It begins with a rather sickly speech of love.
The fault lies not in Homer but in medieval distortions of the tale. In Shakespeare's time the most popular version of the tale of Troy was a twelfth-century French romance, written by Benoit de Sainte-Maure, called Roman de Troie. Even that wasn't based on Homer directly, but on works written in late Roman times which were themselves altered versions of the original account.
The Roman de Troie was written when the devices of courtly love (see page I-54) were taking France by storm, so that Homer's vigorously masculine tale became prettified with the addition of an artificial love story. It was the love story, rather than the Homeric background, that interested later writers such as Boccaccio in Italy and Chaucer in England, and through them, Shakespeare.
The first scene of Troilus and Cressida is in Troy. A young Trojan warrior comes on the scene, sulky and petulant because he is being frustrated in love. He is taking off his armor and won't fight, saying:
Each Troyan that is master of his heart,
Let him to field; Troilus, alas, hath none
– Act I, scene i, lines 4-5
As the name of the play tells us, the action is to revolve to a large extent about Troilus, but who is he?
In Homer's Iliad he is dead before the action starts, and he receives exactly one mention. Toward the very end of the book, when the aged King of Troy is making ready to go to the Greek camp to try to ransom the dead body of his most heroic son, he berates his remaining sons, saying,[In my quotations from the Iliad, I am making use of the recent translation by Robert Graves, The Anger of Achilles (Doubleday, 1959). ] "Your dead brothers were the best soldiers in my dominions. Mestor, Troilus the Chariot-Fighter, and Hector, a very god among men-yes, his aspect was rather divine than human-fallen and gone, and mere dregs left me."
That is all; nothing more..
The later poets and commentators filled in the gap, though, and invented various tales concerning Troilus that agreed in only one respect: he was eventually killed by Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors.
Since Troilus is heroic and since his tale is not told (and therefore fixed) by Homer, there is room left for addition in medieval fashion, when the medieval writers took their turn. It was Troilus to whom the tale of courtly love was affixed.
I'll not meddle…
With Troilus is an older man, Pandarus, who listens impatiently to the young hero's sighs. Apparently he has been doing his best to bring the love affair to a happy conclusion. Now he pretends to lose patience, saying:
Well, I have told you enough of this.
For my part, I'll not meddle nor make no farther.
– Act I, scene i, lines 13-14
Who is Pandarus? In the Iliad there is indeed a character by this name. He is pictured as an expert archer and appears in Homer's tale on two separate occasions.
His first appearance is in Book Four of the Iliad. A truce has been declared between the armies and for a moment it seems as though the war may end in a compromise with Helen returned and Troy left standing. Pandarus, however, treacherously shoots an arrow at Menelaus and wounds him. The war goes on.
Pandarus makes a second appearance in Book Five. He shoots an arrow at Diomedes, one of the major Greek heroes, and wounds him slightly. A little later, he encounters the enraged Greek at close range and is himself killed. Exit Pandarus.
Shakespeare's Pandarus has no more in common with this other one than the name. In Troilus and Cressida Pandarus is a genial old man, very interested in sex-a kind of voyeur, in fact-and so unashamed in his vicarious delight over the whole matter that he has given the word "pander" to the English language.
To be sure, it is not Shakespeare who is entirely responsible for this change. Pandarus appears as Pandaro in a short poem ("Filostrato") about this love affair published by the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio in 1338. In "Filostrato" Pandaro is the cousin of the girl whom Troilus loves.
The English poet Chaucer (see page I-54) published in 1385 Troilus and Criseyde, a much longer work, based on "Filostrato." In it Pandaro, the girl's cousin, became Pandare, the girl's uncle.
It was Shakespeare next who, using Chaucer's poem as a main source, wrote Troilus and Cressida and changed Pandare to Pandarus.
… fair Cressid.. .
Bumblingly, Pandarus urges patience on Troilus, and Troilus retorts that he is already superhumanly patient. He says:
At Priam's royal table do I sit,
And when fair Cressid comes into my thoughts-
– Act I, scene i, lines 31-32
Priam is King of Troy, the figure of a royal patriarch. He has, all told, fifty sons and twelve daughters by various wives, and Troilus is one of the sons. When the Greek expedition arrived before the walls of Troy, Priam was too old to fight, but he was still in full authority as king.
As for "fair Cressid," who is she? She is Pandarus' niece in the play and it is she with whom Troilus is in love, but where does she come from? She is not mentioned, not once, in the Iliad.
Yet, even so, we can trace her origin from the very first book of the Iliad. In that first book, Homer relates the cause of a quarrel between Agamemnon, the commander in chief of the Greek forces, and the greatest warrior in those forces, Achilles.
The army, it seems, has conducted a raid, carried off captives, and divided the loot. Agamemnon's share included a girl named Chryseis, while Achilles' share included another girl named Briseis. (The similarity in names is unfortunate and is a sure source of confusion.)
It turns out that Chryseis is the daughter of Chryses, a priest of Apollo. The priest comes to the camp to retrieve his daughter but when he is brusquely turned away by Agamemnon, Apollo (answering his priest's prayer) sends plague into the Greek camp. As a result, Achilles urges Agamemnon to return Chryseis and Agamemnon pettishly insists that, in that case, he will appropriate Briseis in return.
The quarrel flares and Achilles, in a rage, declares he will retire to his tent. He and his warriors will fight no more on behalf of this miserable leader. (And surely, our sympathies are all with the wronged Achilles at the start.)
The argument rests entirely on a matter of prestige. Agamemnon's view is that his prerogative as commander in chief is unassailable. Achilles insists that the commander in chief cannot hide behind his office while committing an injustice. The matter of the girls is a trifling symbol of the clash between central authority and individual rights. Homer does not introduce the thought that Agamemnon might be in love with Chryseis or Achilles with Briseis; certainly not in the medieval sense.
Later writers, however, more romantic than Homer and far less able, cannot resist stressing the love story, and make Achilles in love with Briseis.
In Benoit's medieval Roman de Troie, another factor is brought in to further complicate the matter and make the love tale even more interesting. The Trojan prince Troilus is also in love with Briseis, so that now there is a triangle of men, Agamemnon, Achilles, and Troilus, all competing for her.
Benoit distorts the name, and "Briseis" becomes "Briseide." Since it is almost impossible to avoid confusing "Briseis" with "Chryseis," "Briseide" easily becomes "Criseide." Hence Chaucer wrote of Troilus and Criseyde; and by a further small change Shakespeare wrote of Troilus and Cressida.
… Hector or my father.. .
Poor Troilus also complains that he must hide his aching heart and conceal the fact that he is hopelessly in love:
Lest Hector or my father should perceive me
– Act I, scene i, line 38
Hector was Priam's oldest son, his father's surrogate in the field, the commander in chief of the Trojan armies. He is the best and greatest warrior on the Trojan side, second only to Achilles as a fighter. He is one of the most attractive personalities in the Iliad and is the picture of patriotism.
The bias in his favor is far more pronounced in medieval versions of the tale, since the Trojans were supposed to be the ancestors of the Romans, and Rome always had a "good press" in the Middle Ages. Such a bias may also be expected in Shakespeare's play and it is there. Shakespeare consistently pictures Hector as braver and better than Achilles, for instance.
Why Troilus should be so reluctant to let Priam or Hector know of his love is not made clear in the play. One might argue that it was a time to fight and not to love and that father and older brother would object to having young Troilus moon away his time when the city was in such peril. More likely, however, courtly love is, by convention, supposed to be barred by tremendous hurdles; barriers of law or caste, parental disapproval, royal disfavor, and so on. Troilus must not be allowed to have it too easy, therefore.
… somewhat darker than Helen's
As for Pandarus, it is his task at the moment to keep Troilus' love in flame by a skillful praising of Cressida, saying:
An her hair were not somewhat darker than Helen's
– Act I, scene i, lines 43-44
He does not go on and really, the implication that Cressida might almost be compared with Helen can only be considered humorous.
Ever since the tale of the Trojan War has been extant, Helen has been considered beauty incarnate and beyond comparison. Notice, though, the implication that darker hair is, in itself, a blot on beauty (see page I-436).
… Cassandra's wit…
Pandarus continues to praise Cressida. Having compared her physical attributes with Helen's, in bumbling style, he searches for a way of praising her mind. He says:
… I would somebody had heard
her talk yesterday, as I did. I will not
dispraise your sister Cassandra's wit, but-
– Act I, scene i, lines 47-49
Cassandra was one of Priam's daughters Ad the most tragic of them. She was beloved by Apollo and had promise to yield to him if he would give her the gift of prophecy. When he had granted her that favor she nevertheless remained obdurate. The divine gift could not be withdrawn, but in revenge Apollo decreed that no one would ever believe her true prophecies. In other words, people believed her mad.
The comparison, then, with Cassandra in natter of wit is but another bumble, calculated, perhaps, to draw a laugh from the more knowing in the audience.
… behind her father …
Troilus continues to bemoan his fate, obvious to Pandaras' wheedling. The go-between therefore tries the other extreme. Violently, he disowns the whole business and washes his hands of i He will do nothing further for Troilus and says:
She's a fool to stay behind her father.
Let her to the Greeks, and so
I'll tell her the next time I see her.
– Act I, scene i, lines 83-85
Cressida's father is Calchas, a priest of Apdo. If Cressida's name is derived from the Iliad's Chryseis, her father's name must be derived from the name of Chryseis' father, Chryses. He too was a priest of Apollo.
Why "Calchas" from "Chryses"? Because there is also a Calchas in the Iliad. He is a skilled prophet or soothsayer on the Greek side, and can interpret the omens. It is he, for instance, who explained that the plague striking at the Greeks was the result of Agamemnon's refusal to surrender Chryseis to her father. Both Chryses and Calchas are thus involved in the demand that Agamemnon surrender Chryseis.
There is no hint in the Iliad that Calchas: anything but a Greek and certainly there is no confusion between him ad Chryses. In later stories, however, the confusion arises. Chryses the "Trojan priest of Apollo and Calchas the Greek soothsayer are combined ad the story arises that Calchas, a Trojan priest of Apollo, knowing through his prophetic arts that Troy must fall, deserts to the Greeks.
The story of the lost daughter is retained, though. Since Calchas/Chryses has now turned voluntarily to the Greeks to remain with them permanently, he can't be trying to retrieve a daughter from the Greeks. After all, he's there. He must, therefore, be trying to retrieve a daughter from the Trojan camp, a daughter he left behind in deserting to the Greeks. And it is this Trojan daughter, Cressida/Chryseis, whom Troilus loves.
… thy Daphne's love
Troilus is at once anxious to placate Pandarus, who, after all, remains the only bridge by which he can reach Cressida. Pandarus, however, pushing his advantage, rushes off, leaving Troilus behind to sing Cressida's praises, calling on Apollo (the god of poetry) to help him:
Tell me, Apollo, for thy Daphne's love,
What Cressid is…
– Act I, scene i, 102-3
It is interesting that Apollo, the personification of male beauty, is so often tragically unsuccessful in his loves. Cassandra refused him, for instance, and Daphne (see page I-36) is an even more famous love.
What news, Aeneas.. .
Troilus' soliloquy ends when another Trojan warrior enters. He is in full armor, on his way to the battle, and is rather puzzled that Troilus is lingering in Troy. Troilus asks:
What news, Aeneas, from the field today?
– Act I, scene i, line 11:
Aeneas, in the legends, is a son of none other than Venus, though hi father, Anchises, was a mortal man. Aeneas was not a Trojan exactly but a Dardanian; that is, the inhabitant of a district neighboring Troy proper He attempted to maintain neutrality in the war at first but the attacks c Achilles forced him to join forces with Priam and his sons.
None of this is in the Iliad. In the Iliad he is an ardent Trojan fighter second only to Hector. He is a darling of the gods and is saved by Venus and Apollo when about to be killed by Diomedes, and on another occasion by Neptune, when it is Achilles who is about to kill him.
Homer makes it quite plain that Aeneas is not fated to die in the general sack that destroys Troy (see page I-209). This was the basis of Vergil plot in the Aeneid, which deals with the wanderings of Aeneas after the destruction of Troy.
Because Aeneas was viewed as the ancestor of the Romans, he had to be treated with particular care by Western poets. The English had to 1 even more careful, for they aped the Romans in their search for a glorious beginning.
Several medieval chroniclers in England composed versions of a legendary past that traced the early Britons back to Troy. It seems, according them, that Aeneas had had a great-grandson, Brute, who, having inadvertently killed his father, fled Italy and finally landed in the northern island, which got its name of "Britain" from him.
There is absolutely nothing to it, of course, other than the accidental similarity between the common Roman name Brute or Brutus and the name of Britain. Nevertheless it gave the English a profound interest in the tale of Troy and a strong pro-Trojan sympathy. In particular, Aeneas must be, and is, idealized. In Troilus and Cressida he is gay, debonair, and the perfect medieval knight.
… Menelaus' horn
Aeneas tells Troilus that Paris has been wounded in a duel with Menelaus. (Such a duel is described in Book Three of the Iliad and it is after that duel, which Menelaus wins, that a truce is negotiated, a truce which is broken by Pandarus' arrow-see page I-79).
Troilus shrugs it off:
Let Paris bleed; 'tis but a scar to scorn:
Paris is gored with Menelaus' horn.
– Act I, scene i, lines 115-16
There was an accepted convention in Shakespearean England that a betrayed husband had horns; invisible ones, of course. This may be from a consideration of the sexual life of the polygamous stags, who fight each other for the possession of a harem of does. The deceived husband is, perhaps, likened to a defeated stag; hence his horns.
The husband whose wife had fooled him was universally viewed with amused contempt in Shakespeare's time. This attitude arose, perhaps, from the conventions of courtly love, (see page I-54) where the knight was, ideally, supposed to love the wife of another. In all such tales, the husband was the villain (witness the well-known romance of Tristan and Iseult) and the audience cheered when the horns were, so to speak, placed on his forehead.
The betrayed husband was therefore an inexhaustible theme for comedy and any mention of horns or horned animals, even any reference to foreheads, was the signal for laughter-and Shakespeare made the most of that.
Thus it is that Troilus scorns poor wronged Menelaus. To modern ears, which do not find adultery either as serious or as comic as the Elizabethans did, such jests fall flat.
Queen Hecuba …
The scene shifts to Cressida now. She enters with her servant, Alexander, looking after two women who have hastened by. She inquires who those were who passed and Alexander answers:
Queen Hecuba and Helen.
– Act I, scene ii, line 1b
Queen Hecuba (or Hecabe, in the Greek form) was the second wife of Priam. She bore him nineteen of his sixty-two children, including Hector, Paris, Troilus, and Cassandra of those mentioned so far. Because of her sufferings, she was a favorite character in tragic dramas devoted to the Trojan War and, indeed, in Hamlet Shakespeare makes use of this fact indirectly (see page II-115). Here, in Troilus and Cressida, however, she never appears onstage.
He chid Andromache …
Apparently the two women are hastening to the walls to see the battle, for they fear it may be going poorly. After all, even Hector is perturbed, or as the servant says:
Hector, whose patience Is as a virtue fixed, today was moved.
He chid Andromache, and struck his armorer,
– Act I, scene ii, lines 4-6
Andromache is Hector's wife. The last part of Book Six of the Iliad is devoted to a scene in which she hurries with her infant son, Scamandrius, to meet Hector before he leaves the city on his way to the battle. It is the most touching scene of married love in Homer. Andromache pleads with Hector to stay in the city, for all her own relatives are dead. "So, dear Hector," she says, "you are now not merely my husband-you are father, mother, and brother, too!"
But Hector must go and he reaches out his arms to give his son a farewell and to pray over him, hoping that someday the child's feats will be such that all will agree that "His father was the lesser man!" Alas, it was not to be, for Hector's son was killed when Troy was destroyed.
A lord of Troyan blood.,.
To make Hector scold Andromache, something most unusual must have happened. Cressida asks what that might be and is told:
… there is among the Greeks
A lord of Troyan blood, nephew to Hector;
They call him Ajax.
– Act I, scene ii, lines 12-14
Ajax plays a great role in the Iliad. He is one of two men in the epic that bears the name. Since the one here referred to is particularly large, he is called "Ajax the Greater." Of the two, only "the Greater" appears in Troilus and Cressida, so it suffices to call him Ajax.
In the Iliad Ajax is the strongest of the Greeks, save only for Achilles, but is considerably more renowned for his strength than for his subtlety. He is never wounded in the Iliad, and he is the only important hero who never at any time personally receives the help of a god or a goddess. He is the epitome of success through hard work, without inspiration.
He is not, in the Iliad, of Trojan blood; nor is he a nephew to Hector. The attribution of Trojan blood to Ajax is probably the result of confusion with Ajax's half brother (see page I-103).
… a gouty Briareus …
Alexander goes on to describe Ajax and makes him out to be a parody of the picture presented in Homer; as nothing more than a stolid, dim-witted man-mountain. He says of Ajax:
… he is a gouty Briareus, many hands and no use,
or purblind Argus, all eyes and no sight.
– Act I, scene ii, lines 29-30
Briareus was an earthborn monster with fifty heads and a hundred arms. The most important myth in which he figured was one in which the tale of a revolt against Jupiter is central. The other gods, led by Neptune and Apollo, succeed in binding Jupiter, and he might have been overthrown, but for the action of a sea nymph, who hastily brought Briareus to the rescue. The monster untied Jupiter and by his presence cowed the other gods.
As for Argus, he was a monster with a hundred eyes who was sent by Juno (Hera) in order that he might watch the nymph Io. Io had been one of Jupiter's many loves, and that god had turned her into a heifer to hide her from Juno, but unsuccessfully. Argus' vigilance (his eyes never closed in unison; fifty at least were always open and alert) would prevent Jupiter from ever turning Io back into human form.
Jupiter sent Mercury (Hermes) to the rescue. Mercury lulled Argus to a simultaneous hundred-eyed sleep with a soothing lullaby and then cut off his head. Juno placed Argus' many eyes in the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock.
Alexander's description of Ajax, in other words, is that of a man who has all the physical attributes required for a warrior but who lacks the intelligence to make those attributes work for him.
And, apparently, what bothers Hector is that this mule of a man has struck him down. Hector cannot help but feel the shame of it.
That's Anterior …
Pandarus arrives on the scene and at once begins busily to praise Troilus, hoping to arouse Cressida's ardor. Cressida, who knows exactly what he is doing, teases him unmercifully by never allowing his praises to stand but turning everything on its head.
Soon the men are returning from the field at the close of the day, and Pandarus decides to let Troilus' own appearance do the talking. He leads Cressida to a place where she can see them, continuing to promise her Troilus, but naming the others as they pass.
Aeneas passes first and is praised, of course. (Aeneas is always praised-he must be.) Then comes another, and Pandarus says:
That's Anterior. He has a shrewd wit, I can tell you;
and he's man good enough-he's one
o' the soundest judgments in Troy whosoever. ..
– Act I, scene ii, lines 197-99
In the Iliad Antenor was one of the elders of Troy. He was a councilor of Priam and a man of good judgment, as Shakespeare says, but far too old to fight. There is undoubtedly confusion here with Agenor, his son, who in the Iliad plays an important role as a Trojan warrior.
That's Helenus …
Pandarus' fussing becomes funnier and funnier. Hector and Paris pass and he praises them with forced enthusiasm, but keeps watching for Troilus and growing constantly more upset because Troilus doesn't appear.
When Cressida asks the name of one of the passing warriors, Pandarus answers absently:
That's Helenus. 1 marvel where Troilus is.
That's Helenus. I think he went not forth today.
– Act I, scene ii, lines 227-29
Helenus was another son of Priam and Hecuba,, and, according to some accounts, a twin brother of Cassandra. He was likewise blessed with the powers of a soothsayer and was a priest. He was the only one of Priam's sons to survive the fall of Troy (perhaps because of his priestly character) and in the end, according to some of the later tales, married Andromache, Hector's widow. Together they ended their lives ruling over Epirus, a district in northwestern Greece.
… That's Deiphobus
But Cressida is still teasing Pandarus unmercifully. She clearly knows all the men whom Pandarus is identifying. In fact, she sees Troilus before Pandarus does and asks in mock disdain:
What sneaking fellow comes yonder?
– Act I, scene ii, line 234
And, at the crisis, Pandarus fails to recognize him after all, saying:
Where? Yonder? That's Deiphobus.
– Act I, scene ii, line 235
Only belatedly does he realize it is Troilus.
Deiphobus is still another son of Priam and Hecuba. After Paris dies in battle, it is he who next marries Helen. As a result, when Troy is taken, he is killed by Menelaus and his corpse is hideously mangled.
Pandarus makes up for his tardiness in recognizing Troilus by setting up such a caterwauling after him that Cressida is embarrassed; not so embarrassed, however, that she fails to continue her teasing.
It is only after Pandarus leaves that she reveals in a soliloquy that she is actually in love with Troilus, but holds off because she thinks women are valued only as long as they are not attained.
… after seven years' siege.. .
With the third scene we find ourselves in the Greek camp for the first time.
There is a general air of depression over the camp and Agamemnon, the commander in chief, is trying to instill heart in the warriors. Their troubles are, after all, long-standing ones, so why be disheartened now?
… is it matter new to us
That we come short of our suppose so far
That after seven years' siege yet Troy walls stand;
-Act I, scene iii, lines 10-12
If this is the last year of the war, as it must be, then Troy's walls have been standing nine years, not seven-but that is a small error that makes no difference.
Agamemnon goes on to point out that the difficulty of the task but tests their mettle and tries their worth.
Agamemnon is in a difficult position, for as commander in chief of the Greek army, the chief odium will fall upon him if the expedition fails. He is commander in chief because he is the king of Mycenae, which at the time of the Trojan War was the chief city of Greece and gave its name to the Mycenaean Age. It declined soon after the Trojan War thanks to the devastation that accompanied the Dorian conquest of much of Greece. It was but a disregarded village in the days of Greece's greatest period, centuries later.
Mycenae, located in the northeastern Peloponnesus, six miles north of Argos, has been excavated in the last century, and ample evidence has been discovered of past greatness.
Agamemnon was the grandson of Pelops (see page I-68) and, in theory, he ruled over all of Greece, though in actual fact the princes of northern Greece (Achilles among them) were restive in the face of the claims of leadership on the part of the southern city, Mycenae.
He was married to Clytemnestra, the daughter of Tyndareus, King of Sparta, a city located some fifty-five miles south of Mycenae.
The younger sister of Clytemnestra was none other than Helen, over whom the Greeks and Trojans were fighting. Helen's beauty was such that her life, from beginning to end, was one of fatal attraction to men. While she was still a young girl of twelve, she was kidnapped, according to the legends, by the Athenian hero Theseus. She was rescued by her brothers, Castor and Polydeuces, and after she was restored, her father, Tyndareus, decided to marry her off and let her husband have the responsibility of holding her.
That was easier said than done, for when the word went out that Helen's hand was to be given in marriage, all the heroes of Greece came to Sparta to compete for her. It seemed impossible to choose one without making enemies of all the others.
It was Ulysses who had the solution. He had no real hope of gaining Helen for himself. He suggested to Tyndareus, therefore, that the competing heroes all be required to take an oath to agree to whatever decision was made as to Helen's husband and to promise to support that husband against anyone who might attempt to take Helen away from him. This was done and Ulysses was rewarded with the hand of Penelope, Helen's cousin.
It was Menelaus who was chosen as Helen's husband. For one thing, he was wealthy; for another, he was the younger brother of the King of Mycenae, Agamemnon.
Agamemnon himself could not compete for Helen because he was already married, but he pressed hard on behalf of his younger brother, and it was very likely because of the prestige and pressure of the "Great King" that Menelaus was accepted.
This was a good stroke of policy on Agamemnon's part. Menelaus succeeded to the throne of Sparta, as Helen's husband. Since Menelaus was a rather passive character, dominated by his more forceful brother, Agamemnon found himself greatly strengthened by his indirect control of the important city of Sparta.
By the same token, Paris' abduction of Helen was a serious blow to Agamemnon, for it weakened Menelaus' claim on the Spartan throne (which was Helen's rather than his own). Agamemnon had to push hard for a punitive expedition on Troy, and it may have been, again, the influence of the Great King, rather than any vow, which gathered the feudal lords of Greece into the expedition.
In the Iliad Agamemnon does not shine. His quarrel with Achilles, in which the Great King is entirely in the wrong, nearly wrecks the Greek cause, and on more than one occasion Homer (who is always respectful to him) shows him being deservedly corrected by others.
… Nestor shall apply
When Agamemnon is done, the oldest of the Greek leaders stands up to second his words:
With due observance of thy godlike seat,
Great Agamemnon, Nestor shall apply Thy latest words.
– Act I, scene iii, lines 31-33
In the Iliad Nestor is active among the Greeks despite the fact that he is described as ruling over the third generation of subjects. Although he is so old, he survives to see Troy sacked. Then, ten years after the fall of that city, when the last of the Greek warriors returns home, Nestor is still alive and still ruling in his city of Pylos on the southwestern shore of Greece. Pylos, like Mycenae, was an important center in the time of the Trojan War, but faded away in later tunes. It left not even a village behind.
The frequent reference to Nestor's age made some of the Roman writers grant him two hundred years, but that is not really necessary. In the Mycenaean Age it is quite likely that the life expectancy would be no more than twenty-five to thirty years, and that few men would reach forty before violence or disease laid them low. If Nestor was seventy years old at the time of the play he would be ruling over the third generation of men, and even ten years after the fall of Troy, he would be only eighty.
An occasional person could reach such an age, even in the short-lived times of the ancients, but certainly he would represent a marvel.
In the Iliad Nestor is shown in the field, driving his chariot. He does not actually engage in combat, but he is always there overseeing his forces. What's more, he is constantly giving advice in long-winded speeches, and although no one in the Iliad ever indicates that he is bored by Nestor, it seems clear that Nestor is a bore just the same. He is forever recalling the feats of his youth and one gets the idea that the same feats must surely have been recalled over and over again. The old man seems more obviously a bore in Shakespeare's version.
The gentle Thetis …
Nestor seconds Agamemnon's views. The old man points out that any-} one can succeed when the task is easy, but that great enterprises call out the best in man. On calm seas, any ship can sail, but on stormy seas, it is the strong vessel that makes its mark. Nestor says:
But let the ruffian Boreas once enrage
The gentle Thetis, and anon behold
The strong-ribbed bark through liquid mountains cut,
Bounding between the two moist elements
Like Perseus' horse,
– Act I, scene iii, lines 38-42
Boreas is the personification of the north wind and Thetis is used here as the personification of the ocean, but that is wrong. There is common confusion between Thetis and Tethys. The latter was a Titaness and the wife of Oceanus (who is clearly the god of the ocean), so that Tethys can serve as a feminine version of the personification.
Thetis, in her own right, plays an important role in the Greek myths and in the Iliad particularly. She is a sea nymph (all the easier to confuse her with Tethys) and it was she who brought Briareus to the rescue of Jupiter (see page I-86).
Thetis' beauty was such that both Jupiter and Neptune tried to win her, until they found out she was fated to have a son stronger than his father. It was unsafe for either god, or any god, to marry her in that case, and she was forced to marry a mortal. The mortal chosen was a Thessalian prince named Peleus, and at the marriage (pushed through much against the will of Thetis) all the gods and goddesses assembled.
It was at this wedding that Eris appeared with her Apple of Discord. What's more, born of this marriage was Achilles, who was, indeed, far stronger than his father Peleus.
In the Iliad Thetis makes several appearances in her role as Achilles' mother, bewailing the fact that her son was fated to endless glory but short life.
The reference to Perseus' horse is to the famous winged stallion Pegasus. Perseus was a Greek hero in the generations before the Trojan War, whose great feat was the destruction of Medusa, one of the three Gorgons, whose appearance was so fearful that they turned to stone anyone who looked at them. With divine help, Perseus was able to cut off the head of Medusa. The blood that dripped from it, on striking the ground, gave rise to Pegasus, who leaped up at once and winged his way into the sky. In that sense, he was Perseus' horse, though there was no further connection between the two.
… hear Ulysses speak
When Nestor is finished, the shrewdest of the Greeks arises, and addressing the two preceding speakers says:
… let it please both Thou great, and wise,
to hear Ulysses speak.
– Act I, scene iii, lines 68-69
As Nestor is the very personification of the rather tedious wisdom of age, so Ulysses (Odysseus) is the very personification of shrewdness and clever, but not always ethical, strategy. This comes out even better in Homer's companion poem, the Odyssey, which deals with Ulysses' return home after the fall of Troy, and of the ten years of adventures he survives through cleverness and endurance.
The later tales of the Troy cycle attributed to Ulysses all the clever stratagems devised by the Greeks, notably that of the wooden horse itself, with which the fall of Troy was finally encompassed. Since cleverness easily degenerates into slyness and rascality, some of the later myths picture Ulysses as a deceitful coward. None of that, however, appears anywhere in Homer, where Ulysses is depicted as uniformly admirable. Nor does it appear in Shakespeare's play.
… Prince of Ithaca
Agamemnon says at once:
Speak, Prince of Ithaca;
– Act I, scene iii, line 70
Ithaca is the home island of Ulysses; its exact location is not certain. Indeed, it has been an interesting game among classical scholars to try to determine which Greek island it might be from the descriptions given in the Odyssey.
The general feeling is that it is one of the Ionian Islands off the west coast of Greece. The particular island (called "Ithake" on modern maps) is small, only thirty-six square miles in area, and some twenty miles from the mainland. It is surrounded by larger islands, which presumably also represented part of Ulysses' domain.
… rank Thersites …
Agamemnon states that there is as much chance that Ulysses will utter folly as that:
When rank Thersites opes his mastic jaws,
We shall hear music, wit, and oracle.
– Act I, scene iii, lines 73-74
Thersites plays one small part in the Iliad. He is the only common man, the only non-aristocrat, mentioned by name, and Homer has a field day at his expense, describing him as: "-a certain Thersites, who had no control over his tongue, and poured out an endless stream of abuse against his superiors, saying whatever came into his head that might raise a laugh. Thersites was by far the ugliest man in the Greek army: bandylegged, lame, hump-backed, crook-necked and bald."
His appearance is in Book Two, where as a result of a miscalculation by Agamemnon, the Greek army is about to break up and make for home. Ulysses is desperately trying to stop them when Thersites breaks into invective against Agamemnon and keeps it up until he is stopped by a blow from Ulysses and some stern words.
That is all! It must be remembered that the Iliad was written about aristocrats and for an aristocratic audience, and, moreover, that it was aristocratic patronage that kept bards in comfort. Homer and those like him could scarcely afford to portray a common man successfully running down warriors and noblemen.
And yet, if one reads Thersites' speech in the one scene given him, it makes good sense. He scolds Agamemnon for hogging the best of the loot and for offending Achilles, on whom the Greek victory most depends. It was all true enough, and the blow he received did not alter that fact. Homer may have been having his moment of grim fun with the aristocrats.
Shakespeare, who was likewise patronized by aristocrats and who likewise rarely showed the common people in a good light, adopted Thersites as part of the comic relief in the play, though it is black comedy indeed. Thersites' mastic (that is, abusive) jaws never open without spewing out untold bitterness, and we are prepared for that in this comment of Agamemnon's.
… the glorious planet Sol
Ulysses points out that the trouble with the Greek force rests in its divisions, the existence within it of factions that neutralize its efforts. This lack of central authority, he maintains, is against nature itself, for inanimate nature shows the beneficial effects of order even in the heavens, where the planets move through the sky in strict accordance with certain rules:
And therefore is the glorious planet
Sol In noble eminence enthroned and sphered
Amidst the other; whose med'cinable eye
Corrects the influence of evil planets,
– Act I, scene iii, lines 89-92
"Sol" is the Latin word for "sun" and is the personification of the sun in the Roman myths.
This passage sounds as though Shakespeare, through Ulysses' mouth, is proclaiming the sun to be the ruler of the planets, for he is "in noble eminence enthroned" and he governs and controls the others.
If so, this is a startlingly modern view, not only for Ulysses, but even for Shakespeare, for it seems to refer to the heliocentric theory of the solar system, which places the sun at the center and makes the planets (including the earth itself) revolve about it. The mere fact that the sun is at the center would make it appear to rule the planetary system (so that it is a solar system), and Isaac Newton eventually showed, some sixty-seven years after Shakespeare's death, that the sun's overwhelming gravitational force did, indeed, keep the planets in their place.
It is surprising that Shakespeare should seem to be giving this impression, for all through his plays he shows himself a complete conservative as far as science is concerned and accepts only the Greek view of the universe. To be sure, some Greeks, notably Aristarchus of Samos, about 250 b.c., claimed the sun was the center of the planetary system, but few listened to them, and the Greek majority view continued to place the earth at the center. This latter doctrine was made final by the grand synthesis of the astronomer Ptolemy, about a.d. 150. (The earth-at-center theory is therefore called the "Ptolemaic system" in consequence.)
In 1543 Copernicus advanced the same notion that Aristarchus once had, but with much more detailed reasoning. His view was not accepted by most scholars for a long time, and in Shakespeare's lifetime the Copernican view was still widely considered rather far out and blasphemous.
Can Shakespeare, then, be taking the progressive Copernican view against the conservative Ptolemaic attitude?
No! That he remains conservative is clear at several points. He refers, for instance, to the "planet Sol." The Greeks observed that several heavenly bodies shifted position constantly against the background of non-shifting of "fixed" stars. These bodies they called "planets," meaning, in English, "wanderers." The known planets included the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, seven bodies in all.
Once the Copernican view of the planetary system was established, it seemed unreasonable to call the sun a planet, since it didn't wander among the stars, really, but was thought to be the motionless center of the planetary system.
It fell out of fashion to call the sun a planet, therefore. The name "planet" was then applied only to those bodies which revolved about the sun. This meant that the earth itself would have to be viewed as a planet. The moon revolves about the earth, the only body to retain its Ptolemaic position, and it is not, strictly speaking, viewed as a planet any longer. It is a satellite. Of the Greek planets, therefore, only Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn retain the name and to these are added the earth and the planetary bodies since discovered: Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and a host of tiny bodies called planetoids or asteroids.
Shakespeare refers to Sol as a planet, however, thus insisting that the sun moves and is not the center of the planetary system. He has the sun not merely enthroned but also "sphered." That is, it is embedded in a sphere that encircles the earth (see page I-25), whereas if it were the center of the planetary system, it could not be part of a sphere.
Finally, in speaking of the necessity of order in the heavens, Shakespeare has Ulysses say, a bit earlier in the speech:
The heavens themselves, the planets, and this center
Observe degree, priority, and place.
– Act I, scene iii, lines 85-86
That makes a clear distinction between the planets and "this center," that is, earth.
If the sun is "in noble eminence enthroned," then, it is only because, in Shakespeare's view, it is the brightest and most magnificent of the planets and not because it has a central position.
In evil mixture …
Ulysses goes on to point out the harmful effects of disorder in the heavens:
But when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues, and what portents, what mutiny,
– Act I, scene iii, lines 94-96
This seems to reflect the universal belief in astrology in Greek times, in Shakespeare's times, and, for that matter, in our own times. The planets were supposed to influence matters on earth by their ever changing positions against the stars and relative to each other. Certain positions foreboded evil and therefore represented "the planets in evil mixture."
And yet the motions of the planets followed a fixed pattern that could be worked out, and was worked out, by Greek astronomers (a thousand years after the Trojan War, to be sure) so that such "evil mixture" could not really represent disorder. They followed inevitably from planetary motion.
There were, however, some heavenly phenomena which were very spectacular and which took place only rarely; notably eclipses of the sun and of the moon. These therefore were particularly baleful and frightening, and remained signs of apparent disorder in the heavens even after they had been explained astronomically and had been proven to be predictable.
Still more frightening and disorderly were the occasional appearances of comets, whose comings and goings seemed utterly erratic and were shown to be governed by the sun's gravitational field only two centuries after Shakespeare's death.
The great Achilles …
Having established (most eloquently) the general principle that only in centralized authority accepted by all, only in an established hierarchy of mastery, is order and efficiency to be found, Ulysses descends to specifics. Agamemnon should be the autocratic head of the enterprise against Troy, but his subordinates flout him and, in particular:
The great Achilles, whom opinion crowns
The sinew and the forehand of our host,
Having his ear full of his airy fame,
Grows dainty of his worth, and in his tent
Lies mocking our designs.
– Act I, scene iii, lines 142-46
Achilles was certainly the foremost hero on the Greek side and in the Iliad he is by no means treated as a conceited fop. Before the poem opens, he has been the mainstay of the army; his expeditions have subdued the Trojan dominions in Asia Minor; he has fought harder than anyone.
It is only when Agamemnon tries to take away his lawful prize, the girl Briseis, and scorns him before the gathered army, that Achilles loses his temper and withdraws from the fight. He proves himself to be vengeful and cruel thereafter, but at least he has a reasonable cause for his anger.
In Roman and medieval times, however, the legend of the Roman descent from Aeneas swung popular opinion heavily in favor of the Trojans. Achilles was therefore downgraded and there seemed nothing wrong in having him sulk in his tent out of vainglorious conceit, rather than in righteous wrath. Furthermore, the proponents of courtly love did not fail to make use of later myths concerning Achilles' love for a Trojan princess. That will appear later in the play as a cause for his malingering.
… With him Patroclus
Nor is Achilles alone. He has a friend:
With him Patroclus
Upon a lazy bed the livelong day
Breaks scurril jests,
– Act I, scene iii, lines 146-48
Patroclus is one of the important characters in the Iliad and is pictured there as the bosom friend of Achilles. Homer makes nothing of the relationship beyond that of loving friendship, but the later Greeks casually assumed more. They saw nothing wrong in homosexuality and even felt it to be a superior form of love. Consequently they had no hesitation in seeing Achilles and Patroclus as lovers in the literal sense of the word. This did not prevent Patroclus from being portrayed as a noble character (indeed, the gentlest of the Greeks) and a brave warrior.
In Christian Europe, however, homosexuality was an abomination and the Greek outlook could not be retained on its own terms. Shakespeare is forced to present Patroclus as effeminate, though he does not deprive him of all our sympathy either.
… roaring Typhon …
Ulysses is offended at the fact that Patroclus mimics the Greek leaders for Achilles' amusement. Vehemently, Ulysses insists that the imitations are poor ones, though he does not hesitate to describe them with a realism that must surely be sufficient to embarrass the ones being imitated.
He describes Patroclus pretending to be Agamemnon, for instance, with an affectation of great self-importance and melodramatic language (undoubtedly not too much an exaggeration of the way Agamemnon should be played). The language Patroclus uses, says Ulysses indignantly, is so ridiculously exaggerated that:
… from the tongue of roaring Typhon dropped,
Would seem hyperboles.
– Act I, scene iii, lines 160-61
Typhon, in the Greek myths, was the largest monster ever born. His arms were a hundred miles long, his legs were serpents, his eyes flashed fire, and his mouth spewed forth flaming rocks. He may have been a personification of a volcano or, possibly, of a hurricane.
The gods themselves fled in terror before him and he was even able to capture Jupiter and for a while incapacitate him. Typhon was, however, eventually defeated and buried under Mount Etna, the largest and most fearsome volcano known to the ancient world.
Whether volcano or hurricane, it is clear that Typhon had a roaring voice, and that is the point of the metaphor.
… Vulcan and his wife
Ulysses next describes Patroclus imitating Nestor getting ready to speak, or to answer a night alarm, meticulously demonstrating how he acts the old, old man (again presumably very much the way Nestor is really acted). And Ulysses says indignantly:
That's done, as near as the extremest ends
Of parallels, as like as Vulcan and his wife,
– Act I, scene iii, lines 167-68
Since parallels never meet, they can be extended infinitely in either direction. The imitation is as far from reality, Ulysses' words are saying, as is an infinite distance in one direction from an infinite distance in the other. The other comparison of opposites is Vulcan (Hephaestus) and his wife, Venus (see page I-11).
He hath a lady. ..
Ulysses does not go on to say that Patroclus imitates Ulysses as well, but one can easily imagine he does and that that is what really annoys the Ithacan.
But further discussion is interrupted by a messenger who arrives from Troy. It is Aeneas, debonair and gay, bringing a challenge from Hector, offering single combat with any Greek. As a cause for combat, he sends a message which Aeneas delivers as:
He hath a lady wiser, fairer, truer,
Than ever Greek did compass in his arms;
– Act I, scene iii, lines 275-76
This is straight out of the medieval tales, when knights were supposed to fight in the names of their ladies in accord with the rules of courtly love (see page I-54). Agamemnon rises to the occasion, following the silly conventions on his own account, saying:
This shall be told our lovers, Lord Aeneas;
If none of them have soul in such a kind,
We left them all at home. But we are soldiers;
And may that soldier a mere recreant prove,
That means not, hath not, or is not in love!
– Act I, scene iii, lines 284-88
It is hard to believe that such lines can be read seriously in surroundings that even hint at the grandeur with which Homer surrounded the Trojan War.
… the great Myrmidon
Agamemnon leads Aeneas off to carry the challenge to the various tents, but it is clear that it is meant for Achilles.
When he is gone, Ulysses huddles with Nestor. Ulysses has an idea-Why send Achilles against Hector? Suppose by some accident Achilles is wounded. With Achilles known to be their best man, that would be disastrous.
If, on the other hand, someone other than Achilles is sent, and loses, it will still be taken for granted that Achilles would have won if he had fought. On the other hand, if the lesser man should win, not only would that be a terrific gain for the Greeks, but Achilles himself, suddenly finding himself in second place behind a new champion, would leave off his posturing and laziness and would buckle down to the serious business of fighting. Ulysses' advice is that they:
… make a lott'ry;
And by device let blockish Ajax draw
The sort to fight with Hector; among ourselves
Give him allowance for the better man,
For that will physic the great Myrmidon
Who broils in loud applause, and make him fall
His crest that prouder than blue Iris bends.
– Act I, scene iii, lines 373-79
At the start of Book Seven of the Iliad, Hector does challenge the Greek champions, though not with a silly make-believe excuse involving courtly love. Several Greek champions did accept the challenge, lots were drawn, and the choice did fall on Ajax, though Homer makes no mention of any device to do so.
As for the Myrmidons, they were a tribe in Phthia in southern Thessaly over whom Achilles ruled, hence the reference to him as "the great Myrmidon." The word seems to contain the Greek myrmex, meaning "ant," and the ancient mythmakers invented an explanation for this.
Aeacus, the grandfather of Achilles, ruled the small island of Aegina near Athens. Either it was not populated to begin with or its population was destroyed by a plague. In either case, Aeacus prayed to Zeus that he be given men to rule and in response the god converted the ants on the island into men. These Myrmidons followed Aeacus' son, Peleus, to Thessaly and from there a contingent went with Peleus' son, Achilles, to the Trojan War.
Iris is usually the personification of the rainbow (see page I-67), but here she is used to represent the sky generally.
I.. as Cerberus
Now we are ready to have our first glimpse of Ajax and Thersites. A proclamation has been posted concerning Hector's challenge and Ajax wants to know what it says. Since Ajax is illiterate, he must ask Thersites to read it for him and Thersites is not in an obliging mood. (He never is.)
Thersites scolds Ajax most viciously and eloquently and Ajax, who can speak only with his fists, uses those as arguments. Thersites strikes back (with words) where he knows it will hurt most, saying:
Thou grumblest and railest every hour on Achilles, and thou
art as full of envy at his greatness as Cerberus is at Proser
– Act II, scene i, lines 33-35
Cerberus is the ugly, slavering, three-headed dog that guards the gateway to the underground abode of the dead, serving to prevent any living from invading those regions and any of the dead from escaping. Proserpina, on the other hand, is the beautiful queen of the underworld, the daughter of Ceres, whom Hades had carried off (see page I-7).
… Achilles' brach …
Achilles and Patroclus come on the scene and prevent Ajax from striking Thersites further. Achilles is clearly amused at Thersites and encourages him to continue his scurrilous comments concerning Ajax, to the latter's huge annoyance. Nor does Thersites spare Achilles himself, and when the gentle Patroclus tries to quiet the lowborn railer, Thersites says, sarcastically:
/ will hold my peace when Achilles'
brach bids me, shall I?
– Act II, scene i, lines 119-20
"Brach" is an archaic word for a bitch and Patroclus is thus compared with a female animal. This is one of the few explicit and contemptuous references to homosexuality to be found in Shakespeare.
Thersites then departs, leaving Achilles to read the news of Hector's challenge to Ajax (pretending to care little about the matter for himself).
… Let Helen go
In the Iliad, the duel between Ajax and Hector takes up a good portion of Book Seven. It ends with both champions alive but with Hector having had clearly the worst of it. (This is reflected in the earlier statement in Troilus and Cressida that Ajax had beaten Hector down on one occasion, see page I-87.)
At the end of the duel, therefore, it is reasonable that the disheartened Trojans hold a conference and consider whether or not to offer to give up Helen, pay an indemnity, and buy off the Greeks. Antenor counsels this line of action, but Paris insists he will not give up Helen, and when the offer of an indemnity without Helen is made, the Greeks (heartened by Ajax's showing) refuse, so the war goes on.
Shakespeare changes this. Hector's challenge has been issued and it has not yet been taken up, yet the Trojans are now seen in council trying to reach an important decision. Nestor, on behalf of the Greeks, has offered to end the war if the Trojans surrender Helen and pay an indemnity. It seems unreasonable to suppose that the Greeks would make such an offer or the Trojans consider one while the issue of the duel remained in doubt.
Yet the council proceedings are presented. In Shakespeare, it is Hector who makes the plea for a peace even at the price of a virtual surrender, saying in part:
… modest doubt is called
The beacon of the wise, the tent that searches
To the bottom of the worst. Let Helen go.
– Act II, scene ii, lines 15-17
This is in character for Shakespeare's Hector and for Homer's Hector too. In the Iliad Hector is never pictured as a fire-eater for the sake of battle. He is pictured as knowing well that Troy is in the wrong and that Paris' abduction is indefensible, but he fights because Troy is his city. He is a fighter in a poor cause, but his own character enforces respect nevertheless.
… for an old aunt…
Paris argues the hawkish view in the Iliad, but it is Troilus who speaks first here. He points out that it was the Trojans who first suffered loss at the hands of the Greeks and that the abduction of Helen was but a retaliation that all the Trojans favored at the time it was carried through. He goes on to describe Paris' retaliation:
And for an old aunt whom the Greeks held captive
He brought a Grecian queen, whose youth and freshness
Wrinkles Apollo's and makes pale the morning.
– Act II, scene ii, lines 77-79
The "old aunt" is Hesione, a sister of King Priam. When Hercules captured and sacked Troy, he carried off Hesione into captivity. She was never returned despite Trojan demands.
The capture of Hesione plays no part in the Homeric tale, and the abduction of Helen could, in any case, never be viewed as a fair return for an earlier outrage. Hesione was captured as a war prisoner, and however deplorable we consider such things now, this was considered legitimate in ancient times. Paris, on the other hand, had taken Helen not as the spoils of war, but by treachery and at the cost of violating what was due his host, Menelaus, who was entertaining him with all hospitality. The two actions simply weren't comparable.
The tale of Hesione has another point of impingement on the tale of Troy. She was awarded to Telamon, the brother of Peleus. By her, Tela-mon had a son named Teucer, who is therefore first cousin to Achilles. Teucer does not appear in Troilus and Cressida but he does appear in the Iliad as a skilled archer.
Telamon, by a previous wife (an Athenian woman), had another son, who was none other than Ajax. Ajax is therefore first cousin to Achilles and half brother to Teucer. In the Iliad Teucer is always fighting at the side of Ajax and the two half brothers are devoted to each other.
Teucer, notice, is half Trojan through his mother and is actually a nephew of Priam and a first cousin to Hector, Troilus, Paris, and the rest, as well as to Achilles. At the beginning of the play, when Ajax is first mentioned to Cressida, he is described as "a lord of Troyan blood, nephew to Hector," which he isn't. The confusion is with Teucer, who is a lord of Trojan blood, cousin to Hector.
Our firebrand brother …
The council is interrupted by Cassandra, Priam's mad daughter, whose prophecies are always true, but never believed. She wails:
Cry, Troyans, cry! Practice your eyes with tears!
Troy must not be, nor goodly Ilion stand;
Our firebrand brother, Paris, burns us all.
-Act II, scene ii, lines 108-10
Just before Paris was born (according to legends that play no part in the Iliad) Hecuba dreamed she was delivered of a burning firebrand. A soothsayer, when consulted, said that this meant that Troy would be burned and destroyed because of the child about to be born. He urged that the child be killed as soon as born.
Priam, unable to bring himself to do the job or witness its being done, had a herdsman take the child, instructing him to kill it The herdsman could not do it either, but exposed the child in an uninhabited place. There it was found by a she-bear, which suckled it.
The herdsman, finding the child alive when he returned after some days, decided to bring it up as his own son, and it was while the young man was engaged in herding that the three goddesses Juno, Minerva, and Venus came down to have him decide which was the most beautiful.
After this, Paris, still in his role as herdsman, entered certain games being held in Troy, did marvelously well, even against Hector, and was recognized by Cassandra as the long-lost Paris. There was no thought of killing him; he was restored to his royal position and, eventually, proved his title to the firebrand dream by sailing to Sparta and abducting Helen.
… whom Aristotle …
Hector refers to Cassandra's cries as proof that Helen ought to be returned and the war ended, but Cassandra is simply dismissed as mad by Troilus. Paris rises and places himself on Troilus' side.
Hector is not convinced. He says his two younger brothers argue:
… but superficially: not much
Unlike young men, whom Aristotle thought
Unfit to hear moral philosophy.
– Act II, scene ii, lines 165-67
This is, actually, one of the most amusing anachronisms in Shakespeare. The dramatist forgets, for the moment, that he is discussing a war that took place in 1200 b.c., and has Hector refer to a philosopher who died in 322 b.c.-rune centuries later.
And yet, although Hector denigrates the arguments of Troilus and Paris, he cannot manage to stand against the kind of arguments that refer to such abstractions as honor, glory, and patriotism. It is decided (as in the Iliad) to keep Helen and let the war go on.
… thy caduceus…
The scene shifts back to the Greek camp, where Thersites, standing outside Achilles' tent, is brooding over his recent beating by Ajax. He inveighs against the stupidity of both heroes, Achilles as well as Ajax, and invokes the vengeance of the gods upon them, saying:
O thou great thunder-darter of Olympus,
forget that thou art Jove, the king of gods;
and, Mercury, lose all the serpentine craft of thy caduceus,
if ye take not that little, little,
less than little wit from them that they have;
– Act II, scene iii, lines 10-14
Jupiter (Zeus) was, in all likelihood, a storm god originally. His home would naturally be on a mountaintop where the clouds gather. Olympus was the one chosen by the Greeks, and it was a logical choice, for it is the highest mountain in Greece-although not so terribly high at that, only 1.8 miles. It is located in northern Thessaly, about 170 miles northwest of Athens.
As a storm god, Jupiter would naturally be in charge of the lightning. He would therefore be a thunder-darter, or, more correctly, a thunderbolt-darter.
Mercury (Hermes) was, in many myths, the messenger of the gods, a kind of male version of Iris (see page I-67). It is because of Mercury's swiftness in fulfilling his errands that he is usually pictured with small wings on his sandals and hat.
In carrying the messages of Jupiter, he was acting as Jupiter's herald or substitute and therefore carried with him the aura of Jupiter's majesty. In token of that he carried a staff, as earthly heralds did. In earliest times, the staff may have had flexible twigs at the end which would be wound back over the body of the staff.
In later times, these twigs, shown in representations of Mercury and misunderstood, became serpents. It is this serpent-bound staff, called the caduceus, which became a characteristic mark of Mercury. The caduceus was further confused in still later times with a magical wand, the agent by which Mercury, at the behest of Jupiter, brought about supernatural effects. Thersites therefore speaks of the "craft of thy caduceus."
… the Neapolitan bone-ache.. .
Having wished evil on Ajax and Achilles specifically, Thersites goes on to curse the Greeks generally:
After this, the vengeance on the whole camp!
Or, rather, the Neapolitan bone-ache, for that,
methinks, is the curse depending on those that war for a placket.
– Act II, scene iii, lines 18-21
The "Neapolitan bone-ache" is syphilis. This was not recognized as a serious, contagious disease until the early sixteenth century. Indeed, the story arose that it first appeared in Italy during battles at which some of Columbus' sailors were present. It therefore seemed that those sailors had picked up syphilis in the New World from the Indians and brought it back to Europe. (Europe sent the Indians smallpox in return.)
This may not be so and the disease may have occurred in Europe earlier, and been considered one of the forms of leprosy, perhaps; but if so, syphilis occurred less frequently then and less virulently. If the sixteenth century did not find it a new disease, it found it at least a more serious version of an old one, and it still required a new name.
This was difficult to find, for it was early recognized that contagion most easily resulted through sexual intercourse, so that it became shameful to admit the disease or even discuss it. It was natural for any group to consider it characteristic of a neighboring group. The French, for instance, would call it the "Neapolitan bone-ache," while the Italians would call it the "French disease."
In 1530 an Italian physician, Girolamo Fracastoro, wrote a Lathi epic poem which was a mock myth about a shepherd who offended Apollo and who fell victim to what Fracastoro called the "French disease." The shepherd's name was the Greek-sounding one (but not real Greek) of Syphilis, and it is this which gave the present name to the disease.
In Shakespeare's time the disease was still less than a century old in European consciousness. It had the doubtful virtue of novelty and of being associated with sex. Any reference to it, then, was good for a laugh, especially if it was arranged to have the laugh at the expense of foreigners. Thersites not only affixes it to the Neapolitans (making the reference doubly anachronistic, since Naples was not to be founded till some five centuries after the Trojan War) but makes use of the sexual angle as well by insisting it is to be what is expected for any army that wars for a placket (a petticoat, and therefore a coarse term for a woman).
References to syphilis abound in Shakespeare, usually at the expense of the French, but since moderns don't find the subject as humorous as the Elizabethans did, I shall pick up such references as infrequently as I can.
… a privileged man …
Thersites assumes, in this scene, a totally un-Homeric role. He is a jester; a man of quick wit (or perhaps slightly addled brains) whose remarks and responses are a source of amusement. He had apparently fulfilled that function for Ajax but Ajax had beaten him and he was now seeking employment with Achilles instead.
In return for amusing his master (in days when amusement was not yet electronified and easy to come by at the flick of a dial) a jester was allowed extraordinary leeway in his mockery and much more freedom of speech than anyone else might have. Naturally, this worked best when the jester's patron was powerful and could suppress the hurt feelings of underlings who might otherwise break the jester's neck.
Thus, when Thersites begins to perform for Achilles, Patroclus reacts with the beginnings of violence to one of Thersites' scurrilous remarks and Achilles restrains him by saying:
He is a privileged man. Proceed, Thersites.
-Act II, scene iii, line 59
Such a jester was often called a "fool" and many a Shakespearean play has someone listed as "Fool" in the cast of characters. This was not necessarily because they were foolish, but because very often they hid their sharp satire behind oblique comments in such a way that the points were not immediately apparent and therefore seemed foolish to the dull-witted. It also helped keep the jester from broken bones if he played the fool so that those he mocked might not be certain whether his remarks were deliberately hurtful or whether they were perhaps just the aimless maunderings of a lackwit.
Thersites is given this name a little later in the scene when Ajax is inveighing against Achilles and Nestor is surprised at the spleen of those remarks. Ulysses explains:
Achilles hath inveigled his fool from him.
– Act II, scene iii, line 93
… and a cuckold…
Thersites' bitter jesting for the benefit of Achilles, and largely at the expense of Patroclus, is interrupted by the arrival of a deputation from the Greeks. Achilles promptly retires into the tent, unwilling to talk to them, and before leaving himself, Thersites expresses his opinion of both sides of this inter-Greek friction:
Here is such patchery, such juggling, and such knavery.
All the argument is a whore and a cuckold…
– Act II, scene iii, lines 73-75
The whore is Helen, of course, and the cuckold (that is, the deceived husband) is Menelaus.
Why cuckold? The word is a form of "cuckoo." The common European species of cuckoo lays its egg in the nest of another and smaller bird, leaving to the foster parents the task of rearing the cuckoo fledgling. The male adulterer also lays his egg in the nest of another, to use the ribald analogy that must have occurred as long ago as Roman times, for the Romans called an adulterer a "cuckoo." The word shifted to "cuckold" and the name passed from the adulterer to the adulterer's victim. The name, or any guarded reference to it, was as sure-fire a source of laughter in Elizabethan times as any remark concerning horns (see page I-84).
… rely on none
The deputation of Greeks who have arrived at Achilles' tent intend to urge him to fight more vigorously.
This parallels, in a way, Book Nine of the Iliad, where the Greeks, having had some trouble in an immediately preceding battle, gloomily anticipate more and decide to try to win over Achilles once again.
A deputation of three, Ajax, Ulysses and Phoenix (the last an old tutor of Achilles), are sent. They offer to return the girl Agamemnon took from Achilles, together with additional rich gifts as compensation for Achilles' humiliation. By now, however, Achilles has so consumed himself with anger that he prefers his grievance to all else and he absolutely refuses.
In the Iliad Achilles puts himself in the wrong at this point, so that in the end he will have to suffer too, as well as Agamemnon and his Greek army. But if Achilles puts himself in the wrong, he does it at least in a grand fashion.
In Troilus and Cressida Achilles can offer nothing but petulance. Ulysses enters the tent and emerges to say that Achilles will not fight. When Agamemnon asks the reason, Ulysses replies:
He doth rely on none,
– Act II, scene iii, line 165
This is mere sulkiness, or, as it turns out later, lovesickness and treason, which is even worse. Shakespeare thus continues his Trojan-biased downgrading of the Homeric picture of the great Greek hero.
… more coals to Cancer…
It is time for the Greeks to make do without Achilles as best they can, obviously, and they begin to flatter Ajax into accepting the duel with Hector.
Thus, when Agamemnon suggests that Ajax be sent into the tent to plead with Achilles, Ulysses demurs grandiloquently and says that Achilles is not worth so great an honor as having a man like Ajax demur to him:
That were to enlard his fat-already pride,
And add more coals to Cancer when he burns
With entertaining great Hyperion.
– Act II, scene iii, lines 197-99
Hyperion (the sun, see page I-11) makes a complete round of the sky against the background of the stars in the course of one year. The stars in its path are divided into twelve constellations, which, all together, make up the Zodiac. (This is from a Greek phrase meaning "circle of animals" because so many of the constellations are visualized as animals.)
On June 21 the sun enters the sign of Cancer (the Crab) and summer starts on that day. Ulysses refers to summer heat in the notion of Cancer burning because of the entry of great Hyperion. Ajax kowtowing to Achilles would but make summer heat hotter; that is, it would make proud Achilles prouder.
Bull-bearing Milo. ..
The flattery grows grosser and grosser and Ajax, delighted, accepts it all. Ulysses says, in praise of Ajax:
… for thy vigor,
Bull-bearing Milo his addition yield
To sinewy Ajax.
– Act II, scene iii, lines 247-49
Milo was an athlete of Croton, a city on the coast of the Italian toe, whose feats of strength had grown legendary. The most famous tale was that he lifted a particular calf onto his shoulders every day. It grew heavier with age, of course, and finally Milo was lifting a full-grown bull. This was the reason for his addition (that is, tide) of "Bull-bearing," a title which, Ulysses was saying, he would now have to yield to Ajax.
This is another anachronism, of course, almost as bad as the one about Aristotle. Milo was not a myth but an actual historical figure (though the stories about him might be exaggerated, to be sure). He died about 500 b.c., seven centuries after the Trojan War.
Ajax is now thoroughly softened up and has played the scene as an utter puppet in the hands of Ulysses. This is completely unclassical, for Ajax is a truly heroic figure in the Iliad and was viewed as a sympathetic and tragic figure in later tales. Partly this was because he was considered an Athenian, for he was from the small island of Salamis, which, in the century when the Iliad was edited into its final form, had just been annexed by Athens.
Yet there is an echo of the classic too. After Achilles' death there was a competition for his armor, which narrowed down to Ulysses and Ajax. Ulysses won out and Ajax, in grief and shame, went mad. Ajax, it would seem, in one way or another, is always at the mercy of Ulysses.
This part of the task done, Ulysses now suggests that Agamemnon call a council of war, at which the arrangement to put up Ajax against Hector be completed. He says:
Please it our great general
To call together all his state of war;
Fresh kings are come to Troy.
– Act II, scene iii, lines 260-62
It would not have been reasonable to suppose that the city of Troy, all by itself, could have withstood a huge expeditionary force of a united Greece. Rather, it stood at the head of a large combination of forces itself. The tribes of Asia Minor stood with it and one of the most prominent Trojan heroes in the Iliad was Sarpedon, a prince of Lycia in southwestern Asia Minor, some three hundred miles south of Troy. He does not appear in Troilus and Cressida, but Pandarus, who does, is also a Lycian-at least in the Iliad.
In Book Ten of the Iliad, immediately after the unsuccessful deputation to Achilles, there is, indeed, the tale of a new reinforcement of the Trojans. This is Rhesus, a Thracian king who has led both men and horses to the aid of the Trojans. Thrace is in Europe, to be sure, but it lies to the northeast of Greece and was inhabited by non-Greeks. (Nor did it ever become Greek in the future. It is the region that makes up the modern kingdom of Bulgaria.)
In the Iliad Ulysses and Diomedes sneak into the Trojan camp under the cover of night and assassinate Rhesus, nullifying the effect of his reinforcement, but nothing of the sort takes place in Troilus and Cressida. The reference to fresh kings coming to Troy is all that is left.
O Cupid, Cupid, Cupid
As Act Three opens, Pandarus has finally made arrangements to bring Troilus and Cressida together for a night and has come to Priam's palace to persuade Paris to cover for Troilus, so that no one may suspect where the young prince is.
This gives Shakespeare a chance to place Helen herself on stage-in one scene only.
In the Iliad Helen's beauty is made overwhelming. All are victims of it and all are affected by it. Homer places her praise, with exceeding effectiveness, in the mouths of the old men of Troy, showing that even impotent age feels the influence. He says:
"At Helen's approach, these grey-beards muttered earnestly among themselves. 'How entrancing she is! Like an immortal goddess! Yes, marvellously like one! I cannot blame the Trojans and Greeks for battling over her so bitterly!'"
And Helen is her own victim too. She is conscious of herself as the cause of immense misery; she is contrite and ashamed, and, in the same scene referred to above, she says to Priam:
" 'I ought to have died before eloping with Prince Paris-imagine, leaving my home, my family, my unmarried daughter, and so many women friends of my own age! But leave them I did, and now I weep for remorse… Oh, I am a shameless bitch, if ever there was one.'"
Furthermore, Helen is intelligent and in the Odyssey, when, ten years after the fall of Troy, she is once again the wife of Menelaus and the two are entertaining the son of Ulysses in their home, Helen is clearly more quick-witted than her husband.
But how does Shakespeare present Helen in the one scene in which she appears? She appears as a vain, silly woman, with an empty head, unaware of (or uncaring about) what she has caused, and incapable, apparently, of making an intelligent remark.
Helen scarcely allows Pandarus the chance to make his arrangements with Paris and insists he sing for her, saying:
Let thy song be love.
This love will undo us all
O Cupid, Cupid, Cupid!
– Act III, scene i, lines 111-12
Cupid (Eros) is the god of love (see page 1-19).
This is Helen as viewed through the eyes of courtly love. By the convention of the troubadours, a woman need not deserve love, she need merely be a woman.
… be thou my Charon
The arrangements with Paris are made and Pandarus hurries back to bring Troilus and Cressida together. Troilus is waiting for him in a fever of impatience, and says:
I stalk about her door
Like a strange soul upon the Stygian banks
Staying for waftage. O, be thou my Charon,
And give me swift transportance to those fields
Where I may wallow in the lily beds
Proposed for the deserver.
– Act III, scene ii, lines 7-12
The Stygian banks are those that border the river Styx, which, according to the Greek myths, flows about Hades, separating it from the abode of mortal men. The spirits of dead men must wait upon those banks until a ferry, under the guidance of an underworld deity called Charon (see page I-68) ferried him across.
It is not to Hades itself that Troilus demands passage, of course, but to the Elysian Fields (see page I-13) where he can "wallow in the lily beds."
"As false as Cressid"
The lovers meet, with Pandarus licking his chops lecherously and doing everything but forcing them into embrace. The two young people make eloquent speeches to each other, protesting their love. Troilus swears his constancy, adding a new simile to the common comparisons for truth:
"As true as Troilus" shall crown up the verse
And sanctify the numbers.
– Act III, scene ii, lines 183-84
Cressida, similarly, makes up a series of similes for falseness, adding a new and climactic one, in case she should ever be unfaithful:
Yea, let them say, to stick the heart of falsehood,
"As false as Cressid."
– Act III, scene ii, lines 196-97
Pandarus too chimes in:
/ have taken such pains to bring you together,
let all pitiful goers-between be called to the world's end
after my name; call them all Pandars.
– Act III, scene ii, lines 201-3
All these wishes came true, as Shakespeare knew they would, for they were already current in his time, thanks to Chaucer's earlier tale. And, indeed, goers-between are still called Pandars (panders) to this day.
Let Diomedes.. .
But the young lovers have no sooner met and consummated their passion than the clouds begin to gather. In the Greek camp, remember, is Calchas, the renegade Trojan (the analogue of Chryses in the Iliad).
His services have been such that Agamemnon has always been willing to ask the Trojans to surrender Cressida in return for some Trojan who might be prisoner of the Greeks. They have always refused. But now the Greeks have captured Antenor and he is so important to the Trojans, says Calchas, that they will surely give up Cressida to have him back.
It is curious how this reverses the situation in the Iliad. In the Iliad Chryses the priest asks Agamemnon to return his daughter, Chryseis, who is held in the Greek camp. In Troilus and Cressida Calchas the priest asks Agamemnon to obtain his daughter, Cressida, who is held in the Trojan camp. In the Iliad Agamemnon refuses the request; in Troilus and Cressida he agrees.
Let Diomedes bear him,
And bring us Cressid hither; Calchas shall have
What he requests of us.
– Act III, scene iii, lines 30-32
Diomedes is the son of Tydeus, who was one of the seven against Thebes (see page I-57). Diomedes and the sons of the other fallen leaders swore to avenge that defeat. They were called the Epigoni ("after-born") and succeeded where their fathers had failed-taking and sacking Thebes.
Not long after that, Diomedes and his friend Sthenelus, the son of Capaneus (see page I-58), joined the expedition to Troy, leading the men of Argos.
In the Iliad, Diomedes is one of the most effective of the Greek warriors, third only to Achilles and Ajax. Indeed, in Book Five Diomedes wreaks havoc among the Trojans and not even Hector can stand against him. It is only in post-Homeric times that his role in the Troilus-Cressida story was invented.
… great Mars to faction
Diomedes is also taking the message to Hector that the Trojan's challenge has been accepted and that Ajax will fight with him.
With that done, Ulysses now tightens his net about Achilles. He suggests that the Greek princes pass the great hero by with slight regard, while he follows behind to explain to the startled Achilles that what is past is easily forgotten and that man's reputation depends on what he is doing, not on what he has done. It is Ajax who is now the darling of the army because he is going to fight Hector, and Achilles, who is doing nothing, is disregarded. Yet Achilles, he admits, is one
Whose glorious deeds, but in these fields of late,
Made emulous missions 'mongst the gods themselves
And drave great Mars to faction.
– Act III, scene iii, lines 187-89
In the Iliad the gods themselves take sides in the fighting. Most active on the Greek side are Juno and Minerva (who lost out in the contest before Paris) and Neptune (who had once built walls for Troy and then been defrauded of his pay). Most active on the Trojan side are Venus (who won the contest before Paris), her loving Mars, and Apollo (who had also been defrauded in the matter of the walls, but apparently didn't care).
At one point Mars actually joined in the spearing and killing as though he were human, until Diomedes, guided by Minerva, wounded him and drove him from the field.
The gods do not appear in Troilus and Cressida, and their fighting leaves behind but this one reference by Ulysses.
… one of Priam's daughters
Achilles says brusquely that he has his reasons for remaining out of the fight, whereupon Ulysses explains, dryly, that the reasons are not private:
'Tis known, Achilles, that you are in love
With one of Priam's daughters.
– Act III, scene iii, lines 192-93
The daughter in question is Polyxena. She does not appear in the Iliad, but later poets, anxious to add love and romance to Homer's austere tale, supplied her. Achilles was supposed to have fallen in love with her and to have been ready to betray the Greeks for her sake. Others write, variously, that she was indeed married to him eventually and that it was at the marriage rites that Achilles was slain by Paris (with Polyxena's treacherous help, according to some). Other versions are that she killed herself after he died, or was sacrificed at his burial rites.
Achilles writhes in embarrassment, but Ulysses says calmly that it is not at all surprising that his secret is known:
The providence that's in a watchful state
Knows almost every grain of Pluto's gold
– Act III, scene iii, lines 196-97
Pluto, as the god of the underworld, was naturally related to gold and to other forms of mineral wealth found in the ground. It was an easy transition to imagine Pluto to be the god of wealth. Actually, the personification of wealth was given the name "Plutus," a close variant of "Pluto."
In later myths Plutus was imagined to be the son of Ceres (Demeter). She is the harvest goddess and the reference to wealth in the grounds can refer to the richly growing gram as well as to the minerals. But then, Pluto (Hades) was the son-in-law of the same goddess, since it was he who carried off Proserpina, Ceres' daughter.
To be pedantically correct, one should speak only of Plutus in connection with wealth, but the mistake is a small one.
… young Pyrrhus. ..
Ulysses further turns the knife in the wound:
But it must grieve young Pyrrhus now at home,
When fame shall in our islands sound her trump,
And all the Greekish girls shall tripping sing,
"Great Hector's sister did Achilles win,
But our great Ajax bravely beat down him."
– Act III, scene iii, lines 209-13
Pyrrhus (also known as Neoptolemus) is Achilles' son, and his birth came about as follows.
Before the expedition to Troy began, Thetis had hidden her young son Achilles on the island of Scyrus, for she knew that if he went to Troy he would win deathless fame but die young. She preferred to have him live a quiet but long life. She had him disguised as a maiden at the court of the Scyran ruler.
The Greeks came searching for him in response to Calchas' warning that they could not take Troy without Achilles. Ulysses cleverly discovered which maiden was Achilles by presenting a display of jewels and finery, among which a sword was hidden. Where the real girls snatched at the jewels, Achilles seized the sword.
Apparently, Achilles also revealed himself to the other maidens in such a fashion as to father a son on one of them. That son, Pyrrhus, remained in Scyrus while Achilles was at Troy.
The accretion of myths and elaborate tales about the central pillar of Homer's story has made hash of the chronology of the affair.
For instance, it is at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis that the Apple of Discord is flung among the guests, and it is immediately afterward that Paris, still a herdsman, must choose among the goddesses. Paris must be a teen-ager at the time and Achilles is not yet born, so Paris must be at least fifteen years older than Achilles.
Eventually, Paris abducts Helen and the Trojan War starts. Now Achilles is old enough to go to war. Let us say he is fifteen at the start of the war and has already left a girl with child. By the time of the last year of the war, in which both the Iliad and Troilus and Cressida are set, Achilles is twenty-four and Paris is thirty-nine. Since Hector is the oldest son of Priam, he must be in his late forties at least.
This is bearable, perhaps, but now consider that Pyrrhus, at Achilles' death in the last year of the war, can scarcely be much more than ten years old. Yet according to the later legends, he is brought to Troy and fights with surpassing bravery in the final battles, to say nothing of being one of the crudest of the sackers at the end (see page I-209).
Such things did not bother those who listened to the tales, of course, and they don't really bother us, either, since the value of those tales does not depend on such mundane matters as precise chronology. However, it is a curiosity and so I mention it.
A valiant Greek …
Achilles is left shaken after Ulysses departs and Patroclus urges his great friend to return to the wars. (This Patroclus also does in the Iliad.) But Achilles cannot yet bring himself to do this. He suggests only that Ajax, after the combat, invite Hector and the other Trojan leaders to visit him under a flag of truce.
Meanwhile, Diomedes has brought Antenor to Troy. He is greeted by Paris and Aeneas and Paris says:
A valiant Greek, Aeneas; take his hand.
Witness the process of your speech, wherein
You told how Diomed, a whole week by days,
Did haunt you in the field.
– Act IV, scene i, lines 7-10
This reflects a passage in the Iliad, but one that is considerably softened in Aeneas' favor. In Book Five of the Iliad, the one dominated by the feats of Diomedes, Aeneas and Diomedes meet in the field and the latter has much the better of it. With a great boulder, Diomedes strikes down Aeneas and would surely have killed him except that first Venus and then Apollo swooped down to save him.
… Anchises' life
Aeneas is all chivalrous graciousness, in the best tradition of medieval gallantry, and says:
Now, by Anchises' life,
– Act IV, scene i, lines 21-22
Anchises is Aeneas' father. Venus fell in love with the handsome young Anchises and had Aeneas by him. She made Anchises promise, however, that he would never reveal the fact that he was the goddess' lover. Incautiously, Anchises let out the secret and was in consequence paralyzed, blinded, or killed (depending on which version of the story you read).
Anchises was far better known to Shakespeare's audience than one might expect from the Greek myths alone. He is the subject of a dramatic story in Vergil's Aeneid. The aged Anchises cannot walk (this fits in with the suggestion that he was paralyzed because of his indiscretion concerning Venus) and was therefore helpless at the time of the sack and destruction of Troy. Aeneas, therefore, bore him out of the burning city on his back, thus setting a greatly admired example of filial love, a love that is reflected backward by having Aeneas swear by his father's life.
By Venus' hand …
Aeneas goes on to combine hospitality and martial threat in courtly manner:
By Venus' hand 1 swear,
No man alive can love in such a sort
The thing he means to kill
– Act IV, scene i, lines 22-24
The mention of Venus' hand makes sense in light of the events in Book Five of the Iliad. When Aeneas lies felled by Diomedes' boulder, sure to be killed if the gods did not intervene, Venus (Aeneas' mother) flew down from Olympus to save him. The furious Diomedes cast his spear even at the goddess and wounded her in the hand. She fled, screaming, and it was only when the much more powerful Apollo took her place that Diomedes was forced to retire. Thus, Aeneas was swearing by that part of his mother which had been hurt on his behalf.
… Some say the Genius
On the very morning after their night together, the news comes to Troilus that he must give up Cressida and send her to the Greek camp.
Brokenhearted, Troilus and Cressida vow eternal fidelity. Troilus gives Cressida a sleeve (an arm cover which in medieval times was a separate article of clothing, not sewn to shirt or robe) and Cressida returns a glove.
The deputation waits outside for Cressida to be turned over to them, and when Aeneas calls out impatiently, Troilus says:
Hark! You are called. Some say the Genius
Cries so to him that instantly must die.
– Act IV, scene iv, lines 50-51
To the Romans, every man had a personal spirit (the equivalent of what we would call a guardian angel) which they called a "Genius." Every woman, similarly, had her "Juno," and Genius may be a masculine form of Juno. To this day, we speak of a man who is supremely gifted as a "genius," though we forget that by this we mean that the divine spirit is speaking through him with particular effectiveness.
Hosts of superstitions naturally arose concerning these Geniuses. It would warn the person it guarded of imminent death, for instance, as Troilus says here.
Fie, fie upon her
Cressida is brought to the Greek camp, where she is suddenly a different person. She has been flirtatious and a little hypocritical with Troilus, teasing and a little ribald with Pandarus, but nothing so bad. In the Greek camp, however, she is suddenly a gay wanton, joking with the Greek leaders and eager to kiss them all-even Nestor.
Only the clear-eyed Ulysses refuses, insulting her openly, and saying to Nestor after she leaves:
Fie, fie upon her!
There's language in her eye, her cheek, her lip;
Nay, her foot speaks. Her wanton spirits look out
At every joint and motive of her body.
– Act IV, scene v, lines 54-57
Without warning, Cressida is pictured as an utterly worthless woman.
Why so sudden a change? Surely there must have been room to express Cressida's side of the matter in at least one speech. She is torn away from home, and from love at the very moment of that love's height, with only her father at her side, frightened, uncertain, weak. Chaucer, in his version, presents Cressida's dilemma far more sympathetically and lets us pity her in her fall. Shakespeare only lets us despise her.
Might we speculate that Shakespeare is being savage to Cressida and showing her in the worst possible fashion because he wishes to make a point outside the play?
The play seems to have been performed first in 1602, and Shakespeare may have been writing it in 1600-1. Is there a possibility, then, that Shakespeare was influenced by a dramatic event that took place in the time when he was writing the play?
Shakespeare's patron, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton (see page I-3), with whom Shakespeare may have been on the closest possible terms, was himself a member of the faction of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.
About the time that Shakespeare was beginning his career as a dramatist, Essex had become the favorite and lover of Queen Elizabeth I (who was thirty-three years older than he was).
Essex longed for a successful military career, though the sensible Queen saw that although he might be suitable for a lover, he was not suitable for a general. In 1596, however, he finally persuaded her to allow him to lead an expedition to Spain (with which England was still carrying on a desultory war, a war of which the defeat of the Armada in 1588 had been the high point). Southampton accompanied him on this expedition.
The expedition had a certain success, for the city of Cadiz was seized and sacked. Elizabeth I did not consider the results of the expedition to have been worth its expense, however-she was always a most careful lady with a shilling-and Essex did not receive the credit that he (and his faction, including Southampton and, presumably, Shakespeare) felt he deserved.
Essex, however, became more of a war hawk than ever, having tasted the delights of victory. In 1599 he talked the reluctant Elizabeth (who by now was beginning to feel he was becoming entirely too ambitious to be a safe subject) into letting him lead an expedition into Ireland to put down a rebellion there. Again Southampton left with him, but this time Elizabeth called him back, to his deep discomfiture.
The Essex faction had high hopes for the Irish adventure, and Shakespeare, writing Henry V while Essex was in Ireland, refers to the expedition most flatteringly in the chorus that precedes Act V of that play (see page II-508).
The expedition, however, proved a complete fiasco and Essex returned to England in absolute fury at what he, and his faction, believed to be the machinations of the anti-Essex group at the English court. It seemed to them that they had deliberately intrigued against Essex to prevent him from achieving military renown.
In desperation, Essex began to plot rebellion. Southampton arranged to have Shakespeare's play Richard 11 revived. It dealt with the deposition of an English monarch (see page II-304) and Elizabeth did not miss the point. Both Southampton and Essex were arrested, tried for treason, and convicted in February 1601. Essex was, indeed, executed on February 25, but Southampton's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and, after Elizabeth's death in 1603, he was released.
It is tempting to think that Shakespeare wrote Troilus and Cressida under the deep shadow of the misfortunes of Essex and Southampton.
To him, the expedition against Troy may have seemed very much like Essex's expeditions against Cadiz and, later, against Ireland. These expeditions were fought for what seemed to Shakespeare, perhaps, to be a most ungrateful and worthless woman who was oblivious to the sufferings of her faithful servants and whom he may have envisioned as amusing herself with Essex's rival, Sir Walter Raleigh, while the faithful Essex was suffering in the field. Could this be why Shakespeare draws Helen as so contemptible (see page I-111)?
The factions that disrupted the Greek effort on the fields of Troy were magnified by Shakespeare, perhaps as a bitter satire on the factions at the English court that had, in the view of the Essex faction, stabbed Essex in the back.
And Cressida, of course, would then be another aspect of Elizabeth- that false woman who had betrayed her lover and sent him to the gallows. Could Shakespeare have been working on the fourth act just when the execution of Essex came to pass (with Southampton still in prison)? Could he have turned to his pen for revenge on Cressida, making no effort whatever to explain her or excuse her? Did he want her defection to be as bare and as disgraceful as possible so that Ulysses' "Fie, fie upon her!" might reflect as strongly as possible upon the Queen?
The youngest son…
At last we are ready for the duel between Hector and Ajax. Since Ajax is a relative of Hector's (here again is the confusion between Ajax and Teucer) it is agreed that the fight is not to be to the death.
While they prepare, Agamemnon asks the name of a sad Trojan on the other side. Ulysses answers:
The youngest son of Priam, a true knight,
Not yet mature, yet matchless …
– Act IV, scene v, lines 96-97
It is Troilus being described here, in the very highest terms. The praise has nothing directly to do with the play, and one cannot help but wonder if Shakespeare intends it to refer to the betrayed and executed Essex; if it is his epitaph for that rash person.
This is an example, by the way, of the curious way in which in Troilus and Cressida the combatants on either side don't seem to know each other until they are introduced, although they have presumably been fighting each other for years.
This is true in the Iliad as well. In Book Three of that poem, when Paris and Menelaus are getting ready for their duel, Priam and his councilors sit on the wall and view the Greek army. Helen is there too, and Priam has her identify several of the Greek champions: Agamemnon, Ulysses, Ajax. Surely after nine years of war Priam ought to know these people. Perhaps the war was much shorter in the earliest legends (and, for all we know, in truth) but grew longer to accommodate the numerous tales added to the primitive story by later poets-and perhaps Homer's tale was tailored to correspond, unavoidably leaving inconsistencies as a result.
Not Neoptolemus …
The duel between Ajax and Hector is fought and ends in a draw and in a graceful speech by the chivalrous Hector, as does the similar duel in Book Seven of the Iliad (where, however, Hector clearly gets the worse of the exchanges).
Ajax, who is not very good at speaking, manages to express his disappointment at not having beaten Hector definitely.
To which Hector, rather vaingloriously, replies:
Not Neoptolemus so mirable,
On whose bright crest Fame with her loud'st "Oyes"
Cries, "This is he!" could promise to himself
A thought of added honor torn from Hector.
– Act IV, scene v, lines 141-44
The only Neoptolemus in the Greek myths was the son of Achilles (see page I-116), who was also known as Pyrrhus, meaning "ruddy," the latter possibly being a nickname. This is possibly an anachronism on Shakespeare's part, for Hector could scarcely be speaking of a boy who had not yet appeared in the war-or else it is Achilles who is being referred to rather than his son.
/ knew thy grandsire.. .
The Trojan leaders are then invited to the Greek camp under conditions of truce (as Achilles had asked, see page I-116). There they greet each other with careful courtesy, and old Nestor says to Hector:
I knew thy grandsire,
And once fought with him.
– Act IV, scene v, lines 195-96
Hector's grandfather was Laomedon, who built the walls of Troy. According to legend, he built them with the aid of Poseidon and Apollo, who were condemned to earthly labor by Zeus for their rebellion against him (which Thetis and Briareus thwarted, see page I-86). When the walls were complete, Laomedon refused the gods their pay and in revenge they sent a sea monster to ravage the Trojan coast.
The Trojans had to sacrifice maidens periodically to the monster, and eventually Laomedon's own daughter, Hesione, was exposed to him. She was rescued by Hercules. It was when Laomedon broke his word again and refused certain horses which he had promised in return for the rescue, that Hercules sacked the city and took Hesione captive. He also killed Laomedon and all but one of his sons. The sole surviving son was Priam.
Nestor is not recorded as having fought with Laomedon (either for him or against him, in either meaning of the phrase). There is, however, an odd coincidence here. Hercules is also recorded as having made war against Neleus, Nestor's father, to have slain Neleus and all but one of his sons and to have placed the one survivor, Nestor, on the throne of Pylos. In this respect, Priam and Nestor had a good deal in common.
… your Greekish embassy
Hector also greets Ulysses (who has cleverly cut off what promises to be a flood of Nestorian reminiscence) and says:
Ah, sir, there's many a Greek and Troyan dead,
Since first I saw yourself and Diomed
In llion, on your Greekish embassy.
– Act IV, scene v, lines 213-15
This represents a point of difference from the Iliad. Before the fighting began, the Greeks had sent Ulysses and Menelaus (not Diomedes) to Troy, under a flag of truce, to demand the return of Helen. This is referred to in Book Three of the Iliad.
It is, however, very easy to associate Diomedes with Ulysses, for they often acted in concert in the legends about Troy. In the Iliad it is Ulysses and Diomedes who act in concert in Book Ten to kill Rhesus the Thracian.
In later myths they are also joined. Thus, the two together sneak into Troy itself in order to steal the Palladium, an image of Minerva (Athena), who bore the alternate name of Pallas, after which the object, holy to her, was named. This was supposed to guard the city and it was not until it was stolen that the city became vulnerable.
Tomorrow do I meet thee …
As the fourth act ends, it would seem that a well-rounded climax is clearly being prepared. Troilus approaches Ulysses to ask where Calchas' tent might be located. Ulysses has shown that he admires Troilus and despises Cressida, and it is no great feat to guess that he will be the instrument whereby Troilus will learn of Cressida's infidelity.
As for Achilles, Ulysses' plan has worked wonderfully. He is a new man and when Hector twits him for not fighting, he says:
Dost thou entreat me, Hector?
Tomorrow do I meet thee, jell as death;
– Act IV, scene v, lines 267-68
What, then, ought we to expect in the fifth act? Troilus will learn of Cressida's faithlessness, we can be sure, and will go raving out on the field to avenge himself on the Greeks. Perhaps he is to be killed by Diomedes, perhaps by Achilles-but he must die. Troilus dies, in the Greek legends that deal with him, before Achilles' spear, and of what dramatic value is it to survive under the conditions of the tragedy as outlined in this play?
Achilles must also kill Hector, since that is an absolute necessity; all versions of the Troy legend agree there. In the Iliad Achilles returns to the fight only after Hector has killed Patroclus, but perhaps Shakespeare might not have needed that part of Homer's plot. After all, Shakespeare's presentation of Patroclus scarcely fits the notion of that effeminate as a doughty warrior. (Homer's presentation of Patroclus was quite different.) Shakespeare might well have felt it would be more satisfactory to have Ulysses' plan stand as the spring that set Achilles to fighting again.
Then, Cressida must die too. Perhaps by her own hand out of contrition or perhaps, in shame, after being cast off by a disgusted, or sated, or callous Diomedes.
Indeed, a century before Troilus and Cressida was written, a Scottish poet named Robert Henryson had written a continuation of Chaucer's tale and called it Testament of Cresseid. It was so close an imitation of Chaucer that for a while it was considered authentically Chaucerian and in 1532 was actually included in an edition of Chaucer's works.
In the Testament Diomedes grows tired of Cressida and casts her off. Cressida rails against Venus and Cupid and is stricken by them with leprosy in punishment. Her face and body utterly altered by this loathsome disease, she begs by the roadside, and Troilus, magnificent on his horse, passes her and tosses her a coin, without recognizing her.
It is a crude denouement, and a savage one, and we could hope that the gentle Shakespeare might never have felt tempted to adopt it, but it was popular and shows what an audience would like in the way of dramatic retribution.
What does Shakespeare really do, then?
Very little, really. The fifth act falls apart and Troilus and Cressida, which is tight enough and sensible enough through the first four acts, becomes a rather unsatisfactory play as a result of the fifth act. While it is not my intention in this book to make literary judgments, it appears that the fifth act is so poor that some critics have suggested that Shakespeare did not write it.
We can imagine such a possibility. Suppose that Essex's execution had taken place while Shakespeare was writing Troilus and Cressida. He might have written the fourth act savagely, putting Cressida in her place, and then have found the whole thing too unpleasant to continue. If he abandoned the play, some other member of the actors' company of which Shakespeare was a member may have worked up an ending for the play; one that could not match what had gone before, naturally.
Or perhaps we don't have to go that far. It is not absolutely essential to absolve Shakespeare of every inferior passage in his plays. He may have been the greatest writer who ever lived but he was still a man and not a god. He could still write hurriedly; he could still write halfheartedly. And with Essex's execution burning him, he may have botched the last act himself.
.. a letter from Queen Hecuba
Just as the fifth act begins there is a sudden retreat from the situation as it had been developed at the end of the fourth act. Suddenly Thersites delivers a letter to Achilles, who reads it and says:
My sweet Patroclus, I am thwarted quite
From my great purpose in tomorrow's battle.
Here is a letter from Queen Hecuba,
A token from her daughter, my fair love,
Both taxing me and gaging me to keep
An oath that I have sworn. 1 will not break it.
– Act V, scene i, lines 38-43
So all of Ulysses' careful planning, all his wisdom and slyness, go suddenly for nothing, and when Achilles is brought to battle it will be in Homer's fashion. In that case, why should Shakespeare have introduced Ulysses' plot at all? It is almost as though another hand, taking up the fifth act, having no idea as to what Shakespeare intended, fell back on Homer in default of anything else.
… Ariachne's broken woof…
Meanwhile Ulysses has guided Troilus to Calchas' tent, where the young man quickly sees that Cressida is false. The conversation is one long, shallow flirtation of Cressida with Diomedes. She even gives him as a token the very sleeve that Troilus had given her.
The brokenhearted Troilus tries to chop logic and convince himself that he does not really see his Cressida; that there are two Cressidas. One is Diomedes' Cressida, a faithless, worthless woman; and the other, secure in his own mind, is his ideal Cressida, faithful and true. Yet he must admit that this separation is not real, that somehow the two are one:
And yet the spacious breadth of this division
Admits no orifex for a point as subtle
As Ariachne's broken woof to enter.
– Act V, scene ii, lines 147-49
Arachne (not "Ariachne," a change Shakespeare makes to save the meter, apparently) was a Lydian woman so proud of her skill as a weaver that she challenged Minerva (Athena) herself to compete with her. In the competition, Arachne produced a tapestry into which those myths that were uncomplimentary to the gods were woven. When she was done, Minerva could find no fault with it and petulantly tore it to shreds. Arachne tried to hang herself, but Minerva, somewhat remorsefully, saved her life, changed the girl into a spider and the rope into a strand of spider web.
Troilus is saying that not even the finest strand of a spider's web can really be fit between the two Cressidas he is trying to conjure up. He realizes that there is only one Cressida and that he has been betrayed.
… The fierce Polydamas
And now suddenly the play explodes into a battle scene, something which the Iliad is fiercely crammed with. It begins with Hector arming himself for the fray despite the pleas of his wife Andromache, his sister Cassandra, and his father Priam. Troilus, on the other hand, urges him into the battle with savage forcefulness, for he longs for revenge on Diomedes.
The tide of battle goes against the Greeks to begin with and Agamemnon comes on stage to rally his men:
Renew, renew! The fierce Polydamas
Hath beat down Menon;
– Act V, scene v, lines 6-7
Polydamas appears briefly in the Iliad as a friend of Hector's, one who counsels moderation. In Book Twelve, when the Trojan fortunes are beginning to ride high, Polydamas cautions against cocksureness and predicts the end may be disaster. Trojans are winning victories because Achilles is not fighting, but what if he rejoins the battle?
It is to him that Hector makes a famous rejoinder. In quite an un-Homeric mood, he derides all the omens, all the worries about whether birds are flying on the right or on the left, and says: "A divine message? The best divine message is: 'Defend your country!'."
Menon, whom Polydamas has "beat down," does not appear in the Iliad, nor do most of the other names that Agamemnon calls out, recounting the tale of defeats in sonorous syllables.
One name, however, perhaps by accident, is memorable, though he does not appear in the Iliad. Agamemnon speaks of:
… Palamedes Sore hurt and bruised.
– Act V, scene v, lines 13-14
Palamedes appears in the later myths as a man almost as shrewd as Ulysses himself. When the heroes were gathering to go to Troy, Menelaus and Palamedes traveled to Ithaca to urge Ulysses to come. Ulysses had learned from an oracle that if he went he would not return for twenty years and then penniless and alone, so he pretended to be mad. He guided a plow along the seashore, sowing salt instead of seed. Palamedes watched the display cynically, and suddenly placed Ulysses' one-year-old son, Telemachus, in the path of the plow. Ulysses turned it aside and his pretense of madness was broken.
Ulysses never forgave Palamedes and eventually engineered his death by having him framed for treason. This happened before the Iliad opens and there is no hint concerning it in Homer's tale.
This speech of Agamemnon's reflects the situation in Book Fifteen of the Iliad. Achilles obdurately refuses to fight; a number of the Greek chieftains, including Agamemnon, Diomedes, and Ulysses, have been wounded, and the Trojan fortunes are at their peak. The Greeks have fallen back to their very ships and the Trojans, with Hector leading them on, are bringing the torches with which to set those ships on fire.
Patroclus ta'en …
But in the course of Agamemnon's cry, however, one significant phrase creeps in:
Patroclus ta'en or slain.
– Act V, scene v, line 13
Thus, in four words, is masked the most dramatic portion of the Iliad. Achilles, having brutally rejected Agamemnon's offer of amends in Book Nine, forfeits the side of right and must, in his turn, begin to pay.
That payment comes in Book Sixteen, when Patroclus, horror-stricken at the Greek defeat and at the imminent burning of their ships, begs Achilles to let him enter the fight. Achilles agrees. He allows Patroclus to wear Achilles' own armor, but warns him merely to drive the Trojans from the ships and not to attempt to assault the city.
Patroclus does well. The Trojans are driven back, but the excitement of battle causes him to forget Achilles' advice. He pursues the fleeing Trojans, is stopped by Hector, and killed.
… bear Patroclus' body…
Agamemnon's remark that Patroclus is either taken or slain is soon settled in favor of the latter alternative. Nestor enters, saying:
Go, bear Patroclus' body to Achilles,
– Act V, scene v, line 17
Again, in a few words, many dramatic deeds in the Iliad are slurred over. In Book Seventeen there is a gigantic struggle over Patroclus' body. Hector manages to strip the dead man of the armor of Achilles, but the Greeks save the body itself in a fight in which Menelaus and Ajax do particularly well. In the Iliad it is Menelaus who sends the message to Achilles, not Nestor, but then it is Nestor's son, Antilochus (who does not appear in Troilus and Cressida), who actually carries the message.
… Great Achilles Events follow quickly. Ulysses comes onstage, crying:
O courage, courage, princes! Great Achilles
Is arming, weeping, cursing, vowing vengeance!
Patroclus' wounds have roused his drowsy blood,
– Act V, scene v, lines 30-32
So it happens in the Iliad. Achilles, paid back for his intransigence, realizes too late that he has sulked in his tent too long. In the Iliad, however, he doesn't arm so quickly. He has no armor, for he had given it to Patroclus, who had lost it to Hector.
A new set of armor must be forged for Achilles by Vulcan himself, something to which Book Eighteen of the Iliad is devoted. In Book Nineteen there is the formal reconciliation of Agamemnon and Achilles, and only then, in Book Twenty, does Achilles join the battle.
.. . I'll hunt thee for thy hide
In Books Twenty, Twenty-one, and Twenty-two, Achilles is at war, and none can stand before him. Indeed, in those three books, no Greek warrior but Achilles is mentioned. It is as though he, a single man, fights alone against the Trojans (with occasional help from one god or another) and defeats them.
In Book Twenty-two, when the Trojan army has fled within the walls of Troy in fear of the raging Achilles, Hector at last comes out alone to meet him in the climactic battle of the Iliad. But the issue is never hi doubt.
The onrush of Achilles daunts even Hector, and at the last moment he turns to flee, trying to find his way safe through one of the city gates. Achilles heads him off and three times they run completely round the city (which can only be village-size by modern standards).
Only then does Hector turn, perforce, to face Achilles, and is killed!
None of this can appear in Troilus and Cressida. The medieval poets, with their pro-Trojan/Roman prejudice, had to treat Hector much more gently, and Shakespeare inherits that attitude from them.
He has the two champions fight indeed, but it is Achilles who has to fall back, weakening. Hector says, gallantly,
Pause, if thou wilt.
– Act V, scene vi, line 14
And Achilles goes off, muttering that he is out of practice.
Yet something must be done to account for the fact that Hector does indeed die at the hands of Achilles, so Shakespeare makes the former do a most un-Hectorish thing. Hector meets an unnamed Greek in rich armor and decides he wants it. When the Greek tries to run, Hector calls out:
Wilt thou not, beast, abide?
Why then, fly on, I'll hunt thee for thy hide.
– Act V, scene vi, lines 30-31
Nowhere in Homer, nor anywhere else in this play, does Hector give anyone reason to think he would ever call a foeman "beast" or take the attitude that war is a hunt, with other men playing the role of animals, and it is partly because of this that some critics doubt that Shakespeare wrote the last act. And yet it is necessary for Hector to do something of this sort, in order that he might earn the retribution that now falls upon him.
… Troy, sink down
Hector catches his prey and kills him. It is late in the day and Hector decides the day's fight is over. Perhaps he is helped to that decision by his eagerness to try on the new armor he has won. At any rate, he takes off his own armor, stands unprotected-and at that moment, Achilles and a contingent of his Myrmidons appear on the scene.
Hector cries out that he is unarmed, but Achilles orders his men to kill, and then says, in grim satisfaction:
So, Ilion, fall thou next! Come, Troy, sink down!
Here lies thy heart, thy sinews, and thy bone.
– Act V, scene viii, lines 11-12
For Achilles to kill Hector in this way is unthinkable in a Homeric context and must strike any lover of the Iliad as simple sacrilege. But there it is-the medieval pro-Trojan, pro-Hector view.
… wells and Niobes. ..
Troilus bears the news of Hector's death to the Trojan army:
Go in to Troy, and say there Hector's dead.
There is a word will Priam turn to stone,
Make wells and Niobes of the maids and wives,
– Act V, scene x, lines 17-19
Niobe was a Theban queen, a daughter of Tantalus (see page I-13), whose pride in her six sons and six daughters led her to boast herself the superior of the goddess Latona (Leto), who had only one of each. La-tona's children, however, happened to be Apollo and Diana.
To avenge the taunt, Apollo and Diana shot down all twelve children, the twelfth in Niobe's arms. She wept continuously after that, day after day, until the gods, in pity, turned her to stone, with a spring of tears still bubbling out and trickling down.
… no more to say
This essentially ends the play. As Troilus says:
Hector is dead; there is no more to say.
– Act V, scene x, line 22
To be sure, Troilus promises revenge on the Greeks and on Achilles particularly, but that is just talk. There can be no revenge. Troy must fall.
Nor has Troilus revenge on Diomedes or Cressida. Diomedes still lives and still has Cressida.
The fifth act is an ending of sorts, but it is not the ending toward which the first four acts were heading.