Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Jul 4th - Jul 10th,  2003

Chapter IV

Homer's Moon

Columns Archive


  Once again we're taking a look at Cancer, the fourth sign of the zodiac. Athena says that the fourth book of the Iliad corresponds to this water sign which in turn rules food, feasting and drinking.



  Astrologically speaking, this would not seem to be an easy set of metaphors to weave their way into the Iliad, an epic poem about male-oriented battle on the dusty plains before Troy. Cancer is a flush, liquid-filled cup or bowl. It is spray filled surf and describes the soft, tender, more feminine parts of the body, like the belly, breasts and nipples; not the armor encased furies of the hard hearted God of War. Nevertheless, let's examine Homer's images.

  The book opens with Hebe serving the gods cups of gold filled with nectar as they watch and comment on the events before Troy. It is in this book that Zeus declares a divine requirement:

  "My altar never lacked a feast at Troy
nor split wine, nor the smoke of sacrifice-
perquisites of the gods."

  Food is used as an equation to battle in this book, as Agamemnon goads his captains into the conflict,

  "Idomeneus, you are a man I prize
above all handlers of fast horses, whether
in war or any labor, or at feasts
whenever in their mixing bowls our peers
prepare the wine reserved for counselors.
Akhaian gentlemen with flowing hair
may down their portions, but your cup will be
filled up and filled again, like mine- to drink-
as we are moved to!"
"Now the feast is war!"

Agamemnon between Odysseus and Ajax


  And in a later development, to different captains,

  "You two should be
among the first in action, in the blaze
of combat- as you both are first to hear
my word of feasting, every time we Akhaians
prepare a feast for our staff officers.
There is the fare you like: roast meat, and cups
of honey-hearted wine, all you desire!"

  There is even a very strange image that Zeus uses to describe Hera's emotional sentiment:

  "Could you breach the gates
and the great walls yourself and feed on Priam
with all his sons, and all the other Trojans,
dished up raw, you might appease this rage!"

Hera and Zeus

Hera and Zeus

  Scattered throughout this book are references to nipples and belly, whether they measure where the bowstring is drawn to, or where the spear penetrates their flesh. Athena even gets to play Mom!

  "...the way a mother
would keep a fly from settling on a child
when he is happily asleep..."

  The water images are indeed lush.

  "As down upon a shore of echoing surf
big waves may run under a freshening west wind,
looming first on the open sea, and riding
shoreward to fall on sand in foam and roar,
around all promontories crested surges
making a briny spume inshore-"

  The pictures keep on flowing, fast and furious like a "snow-water torrent(s) risen and flowing down the mountain side," right in the middle of our battle. The leap is amazing in demonstrating how easily Homer applies his craft, using dissimilar themes, yet weaving them together both beautifully and seamlessly.