Swift-footed Achilles is Sitting

I’m listening to an audio lecture on the Iliad, and I’m intrigued by the Homeric use of epithets, such as “man-killing Hector” and “bright-eyed Athena.” Many characters have several epithets — Aphrodite is sometimes “laughter-loving,” other times “daughter of Zeus,” also “goddess of love.” Sometimes an epithet is used in a way that seems illogical, such as a reference to “swift-footed Achilles” while he’s sitting.

One respected theory about these epithets is that they’re not intended so much as figurative descriptions, but rather serve principally as metrical aids. At a given point in the narrative, a certain epithet may seem more fitting — lion-hearted Achilles raised shield and sword — but if the particular verse has room for three syllables instead of four (Homeric poetry doesn’t quite work that way, but the general principle stil applies), then swift-footed Achilles stands, shield and sword raised. According to this theory, the oral poets who first recited Homeric verse, and above all else had to get the meter right, found the metrical aids that these epithets provided invaluable.

Words associated with a character but not serving as adjectives, rather functioning to integrate the character into the structure of verse. Interesting stuff.

Reticulate

The cafeteria floor was composed entirely of 16″ square ceramic tiles, all black except for large rectangular areas of white tiles, three wide and ten long, arranged in a regular series of four colums and five rows, each white rectangle separated from the others by three black tiles. The tile arrangement was made to ease the placement of the folding cafeteria tables, but for Coach Dan’s purposes the twenty white rectangles coveniently reticulated the cafeteria floor into ten fencing strips, each nearly regulation size.

Macerated

Used exclusively indoors, the fencing uniforms were rarely threatened with exposure to mud, grass, snow, or any other natural element that posed a sartorial threat. And being used only for tournaments and practices, they would only on rare occassions be stained with dust and accidental food and beverage spills. Yet over the years their natural whiteness would fade into gray as they were routinely macerated with the oily dirt of perspiration, an effect that could be slowed but not entirely eliminated by constant washing.

Ineluctable

The family struggled financially, worked hard to pay off their debts, save for the future. But the bottom line was that thier domestic budget contained too many expenses and not enough income. Anxiety was the ineluctable condition in their household.

Chapter 3.3V

Rex closed his eyes, thought of the tournament that afternoon, how Francis Pine had goaded him into a position that neutralized his strength. When he thought of Francis, he was neither envious (as was Annie), disdainful (as was Double-J), or annoyed (as was Bernie), instead he admired his opponent, admired him so much that he wanted to pay him the ultimate compliment, which was to commit himself to besting him, to acknowledge that he was an opponent worthy of challenge, skilled enough to inspire you to improve your own skill with the blade.

He was going to beat Francis Pine the next time they faced. And Francis would respond by committing to winning their next bout. And so on it would go, a back and forth battle which would make the two of them better.

Rex smiled, yawned, and turned to his mother, snoring silently in the bed next to him. Whispering “good night,” he turned and closed his eyes, as frost descended in the night sky.

Chapter 3.3U

Rex lay next to his mother and stared at the ceiling, his mind still active. He thought about the conversations he had lately with his mother about the family sleeping arrangements. With no regular income getting a bigger trailer was out of the question, and sharing a room with his sisters was potentially more uncomfortable than the current situation. Of course there was the option of putting Rex’s bed in the main room, in the place of the sofa, which had been the arrangement when they had first moved in, after the old man had left.

But Rex was still very young then, the memory of his father leaving too hurtful to him, and he complained about being alone at night. He found it comforting then to fall asleep in his mother’s bed, being wakened by her a few hours later and shuffling off to his bed in the main room. Then his mother’s sickness became more pronounced, and she would forget to wake him at night, until eventually his staying in his mother’s bed until morning became routine.

For a while. By his early teens he was clearly no longer a child, and though nobody outside their home knew of their sleeping arrangements (so they believed), both Rex and his mother knew this state of affairs could not be maintained. Rex needed his own bed, and there were three possible locations to place it — in the main room (too public for Rex’ sensibilities), his sister’s room (which wasn’t going to work for any of the siblings), or his mother’s room.

Chapter 3.3T

Rex’s body was more tired than his mind, but on this evening physical desires gave way to the intellect. He turned off the light in the main trailer room, then walked over to the main bedroom and opened the door gently.

There was just enough light from the nightlight to allow him to see his way around. His mother had not moved from the position where he had left her earlier that evening. He shut the door slowly behind him, walked over to the closet, and when his mother spoke he reacted without surprise.

“Have . . . you been home long?”

“I came back a few hours ago, Mother.”

“Did . . . what . . . ”

Bernie began undressing as her voice trailed off. He had put on the t-shirt and shorts he wore for sleeping by the time she spoke again.

“When . . . is your fencing tournament?”

“It was today, Mother.”

“Do . . . you need a ride?”

“No, Mother. I’m fine. Please go back to sleep.”

She was silent for a long moment, then, “You are . . . such a good boy.”

Rex decided not to answer, trusting that remaining silent would help his mother sleep. A moment later, he heard her regular, soft breathing.

Chapter 3.3S

They watched televsion for the next hour, not saying anything to the other until Rex announced it was time for everyone to get to bed.

His two sisters went noiselessly to the smaller bedroom, followed by Rex. He helped them get undressed, got them into the bed that they shared, drew their covers over them.

His older sister was practically asleep by the time he covered her. His younger sister, still very awake, looked up at him with a smile.

“Is Mr. Williams going to take us away?” she asked, in a voice that suggested more curiosity than worry.

“No,” replied Rex. “Never.”

“When you grow up,” she asked, “are you going to try out for the Three Musketeers?”

Rex laughed. “The Three Musketeers aren’t real. It’s just a story. They’re not a team.”

“What team are you going to be on?”

Rex shook his head. “We don’t have . . . teams in fencing, really. Not like in baseball or basketball.”

“Aren’t you on the high school team?”

Rex paused. “We’re . . . a bunch of fencers. Not a team.”

He kissed her on the forehead, then rose and left the bedroom, turning out the light as he left.

Chapter 3.3R

Rex had minimal interest in the program his sister was watching, but he was too tired to raise an objection or suggest an alternative. He thought of reading, taking a book into the kids’ bedroom, but knew he lacked the energy to pay sufficient attention.

During a commercial, his sister turned to him. “Did you win today?”

“Came in second for epee. Didn’t do so well in foil.”

“Mr. Williams came by today.”

Rex turned to her quickly. “Mr. Williams? Here?”

His sister nodded. Rex rose, walked over to the television, turned it off, turned to his sister. “What did he want?”

She shrugged. “Nothing. Just wanted to talk to Momma. Wanted to look at our cupboard.”

“And you let him?”

She nodded. “Refrigerator too.”

Rex closed his eyes, turned his head up at the ceiling, hands on his hips. “What we have for food is none of his business.”

“But he’s with the State, isn’t he like a cop — ”

“Mr. Williams is NOT a cop, he does not have a BADGE, and he’s got NO BUSINESS snooping around in our cupboards!”

His sister stared at him, unblinking. Rex sighed, relaxed his shoulders. “Sorry,” he said, turning to the television to restore its power.

Chapter 3.3Q

“Wiil that . . . Hutch — inson girl be there?”

“Annie was there,” Rex said with a nod. His mother smiled.

“Her family . . . they have been . . . so good to us.”

“They have good hearts. Especially Annie.”

“Rex!” she said, her voice suddenly rising into a soft, sharp shout.

“Yes, Mother?”

She hesitated, clearly uncomfortable with what she was about to say. “I’m . . . I’m . . .”

“Are you cold?”

She closed her eyes, sighed, moved her head up and down with just enough energy to indicate that Rex was correct.

“I can turn the furnace up –”

She shook her head forcefully. “We can’t . . . afford –”

“It’s OK.”

“No — not the . . . furnace.”

Rex sighed. “I can get you the comforter.” She nodded weakly. He walked to the wall behind him, opened the closet door and retrieved a faded, torn comforter. By the time he returned to his mother, she was sleeping.

He placed the comforter over her, kissed her forehead, and walked back into the main room of the trailer. His sister was watching television, and he sat in the couch beside her.