Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica

LCL 19: 240-241



Achilles’ armor is displayed by Thetis, and there is a long description of the shield. She offers the armor as a reward for the man who recovered Achilles’ body. Ajax (son of Telamon) and Odysseus claim the prize, and the invidious decision between them is left to Trojan prisoners of war. After hearing the speeches, they award the armor to Odysseus. Quintus has narrated the fighting in Book 4 so as to show that this is the wrong decision. Ajax, raging with disappointment, plans to slaughter the Greeks during the night, but Athena diverts his fury against a flock of sheep. Once his madness leaves him, he feels humiliated and kills himself. He is lamented by his half-brother Teucer and his concubine Tecmessa. Odysseus tries to conciliate the army with a patently insincere speech. The book closes with Ajax’ funeral, which recalls that of Achilles at the end of Book 3. Four of the first five books have ended in lamentation, and each side has lost two champions.

Having engaged closely in Book 4 with Homer’s account of funeral games, Quintus now offers a description of the shield of Achilles described already by Homer in Book 18 of the Iliad. He alludes to some of the Homeric scenes but shows considerable independence, incorporating more of the horrors of war and including an allegorical scene, the lofty Mount of Virtue. The effect is disconcerting: Quintus


and Homer cannot both be right. (Lines 97–98 hardly remedy this problem.)

The contest for Achilles’ arms and its dénouement were described in the Aethiopis (which seems not to have had the story of Ajax’ madness) and in the Little Iliad. By Quintus’ time, countless rhetoricians and poets had composed speeches for Ajax and Odysseus. The fullest surviving version of the episode is in Book 13 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where, unsurprisingly, several similar arguments are deployed. Quintus’ account of the madness and suicide owes some details to Sophocles’ Ajax.

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.quintus_smyrnaeus-posthomerica.2018