Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Greek, Roman & Oriental
The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XV: Greek—Roman—Oriental
The Beating of Thersites
By Homer (fl. 850 B.C.)
From “The Iliad,” translated by George Chapman

  ULYSSES’ ruling thus restrained
The host from flight; and then again the Council was maintained
With such a concourse that the shore rang with the tumult made;
As when the far-resounding sea doth in its rage invade
His sandy confines, whose sides groan with his involved wave,        5
And make his own breast echo sighs. All sate, and audience gave.
Thersites only would speak all. A most disordered store
Of words he foolishly poured out, of which his mind held more
Than it could manage; anything with which he could procure
Laughter, he never could contain. He should have yet been sure        10
To touch no kings; t’ oppose their states becomes not jesters’ parts.
But he the filthiest fellow was of all that had deserts
In Troy’s brave siege. He was squint-eyed, and lame of either foot;
So crookbacked that he had no breast; sharp-headed, where did shoot
(Here and there ’spersed) thin, mossy hair. He most of all envied        15
Ulysses and Æacides, whom still his spleen would chide.
Nor could the sacred king himself avoid his saucy vein;
Against whom since he knew the Greeks did vehement hates sustain,
Being angry for Achilles’ wrong, he cried out, railing thus:
  “Atrides, why complain’st thou now? What wouldst thou more of us?        20
Thy tents are full of brass; and dames, the choice of all, are thine,
With whom we must present thee first, when any towns resign
To our invasion. Want’st thou, then, besides all this, more gold
From Troy’s knights to redeem their sons, whom to be dearly sold
I or some other Greek must take? Or wouldst thou yet again        25
Force from some other lord his prize, to soothe the lusts that reign
In thy encroaching appetite? It fits no prince to be
A prince of ill, and govern us, or lead our progeny
By rape to ruin. Oh, base Greeks, deserving infamy,
And ills eternal, Greekish girls, not Greeks, ye are! Come, flee        30
Home with our ships; leave this man here to perish with his preys,
And try if we helped him or not. He wronged a man that weighs
Far more than he himself in worth. He forced from Thetis’ son,
And keeps his prize still. Nor think I that mighty man hath won
The style of wrathful worthily; he’s soft, he’s too remiss;        35
Or else, Atrides, his had been thy last of injuries.”
  Thus he the people’s pastor chid; but straight stood up to him
Divine Ulysses, who, with looks exceeding grave and grim,
This bitter check gave: “Cease, vain fool, to vent thy railing vein
On kings thus, though it serve thee well; nor think thou canst restrain,        40
With that thy railing faculty, their wills in least degree;
For not a worse, of all this host, came with our king than thee,
To Troy’s great siege; then do not take into that mouth of thine
The names of kings, much less revile the dignities that shine
In their supreme states, wresting thus this motion for our home,        45
To soothe thy cowardice; since ourselves yet know not what will come
Of these designments, if it be our good to stay, or go.
Nor is it that thou stand’st on; thou revil’st our general so,
Only because he hath so much, not given by such as thou,
But our heroes. Therefore this thy rude vein makes me vow,        50
Which shall be curiously observed, if ever I shall hear
This madness from thy mouth again, let not Ulysses bear
This head, nor be the father called of young Telemachus,
If to thy nakedness I take and strip thee not, and thus
Whip thee to fleet from council; send, with sharp stripes, weeping hence        55
This glory thou affect’st to rail.” This said, his insolence
He settled with his scepter; struck his back and shoulders so
That bloody wales rose. He shrunk round, and from his eyes did flow
Moist tears, and, looking filthily, he sate, feared, smarted, dried
His blubbered cheeks; and all the press, though grieved to be denied        60
Their wished retreat for home, yet laughed delightsomely, and spake
Either to other: “Oh, ye gods, how infinitely take
Ulysses’ virtues in our good! Author of counsels, great
In ordering armies, how most well this act became his heat,
To beat from council this rude fool. I think his saucy spirit        65
Hereafter will not let his tongue abuse the sovereign merit,
Exempt from such base tongues as his.”

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