Homer’s masterpiece epic, The Iliad, written in 800 B.C., offers us a rare insight into the lament of the orphan in ancient Greece. In Book 22, we see that the Trojan hero, Hector, falls in death as Achilles’ spear is thrust into his neck. Afterwards, Hector’s body is latched by the ankles to a chariot and dragged past Troy towards the Achaean ships. Hector’s widow, Andromache, looks out from atop the walls of the city and wails in despair:

"Ah, Hector, how miserable I am…

Now you go to Hades’ house deep underground, abandoning me to bitter sorrow, widowed in our home. Our son’s an infant, born to wretched parents, you and me. No good will come to him from you, Hector, now that you’re dead. Nor will he help you. Even if he gets through this dreadful war with the Achaeans, his life will always be a constant pain and sorrow. For other men will take away his lands. The day a child becomes an orphan all his friends are gone. He cannot hold up his head for anyone, his cheeks are wet from crying.

In his need, the child goes to his father’s comrades, plucking one man’s cloak, another’s tunic. Some pity him and then hold out a cup, letting him for a moment wet his lips, without moistening his palate. Another man, whose parents are still living, pushes him out of the feast, hitting him with his fist, insulting him: ‘Go away, just as you are. You’ve no father at our feast.’

So, in tears, the child returns to his widowed mother. That child is our son Astyanax, who, in earlier days on his father’s knees, ate only marrow and rich fat from sheep. When sleep overpowered him and he’d stopped his childish play, he’d lie in his own bed, in his nurse’s arms—on a soft couch, his heart full of happy dreams. But now, now that he’s missing his dear father, he’ll suffer much."

From: Homer, The Iliad, as translated by Ian Johnston, Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC, Canada, 2001

To be continued…