The Iliad of Homer, ca 800 BCE

Book II[1]

While the others were seated and packed in close,

the endlessly talkative Thersites alone let his tongue run on,

his mind filled with a store of unruly words, baiting the leaders

wildly and recklessly, aiming to raise a laugh among the men.

He was the ugliest of all who had come to Ilium, bandy-legged

and lame of foot; rounded shoulders hunched over his chest;

and above them a narrow head with a scant few hairs.

He was loathed above all by Odysseus and Achilles,

his favorites for abuse; but now his shrill cry rose

against noble Agamemnon, despite the deep anger and indignation

of the Achaeans.


At the top of his voice he reviled the King:

‘Son of Atreus, what’s your problem now, what more do you need?

Your huts are filled with bronze, crowded with women,

the pick of the spoils we Achaeans grant you when we sack a city.

Is it gold you want now, the ransom for his son some horse-taming

Trojan shall bring you out of Ilium, the son that I or some other

Achaean have bound and led away? Or a young girl to sleep with,

one for you alone? Is it right for our leader to wrong us in this way?

Fools! Shameful weaklings! Achaean women!

Since you’re no longer men, home then with our ships, and leave

this fellow here, at Troy, to contemplate his prizes,

let him learn how much he depends on us, this man who insulted

Achilles, a better man than he, by arrogantly snatching his prize.

Surely Achilles has a heart free of anger, to accept it; or,

son of Atreus, that insolent act would be your last.’


So Thersites railed at Agamemnon, leader of men,

but noble Odysseus was soon at his side, and rage in his look,

lashed him with harsh words:

“Take care what you say, Thersites, so eloquent, so reckless,

take care when you challenge princes, alone. None baser than you

followed the Atreidae[2] to Troy, so you least of all

should sound a king’s name on your tongue, slandering our leaders,

with your eye on home. No one knows how this thing will end,

whether we Greeks will return in triumph or no. Go on then,

pour scorn on Agamemnon, our leader, the son of Atreus,

for the gifts you yourselves gave him: make free with your mockery.

But let me tell you this, and be sure: if I find you playing the fool

like this again, then let my head be parted from my shoulders,

and Telemachus be no son of mine, if I don’t lay hands on you,

strip you bare of cloak and tunic, all that hides your nakedness,

drive you from here, and send you wailing to the swift ships,

shamed by a hail of blows.”


So saying, Odysseus, struck with his staff at Thersites’ back

and shoulders, and the man cowered and shed a huge tear,

as a bloody weal was raised behind by the golden staff.

Then terrified, and in pain, he sat, helplessly wiping the tear

from his eye.


Then the Achaeans, despite their discontent, mocked him ruthlessly.

“There,” cried one to his neighbor, “Odysseus is ever a one

for fine deeds, clever in counsel, and strategy, but this is surely the best

thing he’s done for us Greeks, in shutting this scurrilous babbler’s

mouth. I think Thersites’ proud spirit will shrink from ever again

abusing kings with his foul words.”


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