For us, an eagle in flight is an image of beauty and power. But for the ancient Greeks, an eagle in flight was an omen - a message from the gods. In Homer's epic, The Iliad, the Greeks have vowed to conquer Troy. But midway through the siege, mighty Hector and the Trojans battle them to the edge of defeat. Then, Homer recounts: "suddenly a fatal bird-sign flashed before the Trojans' eyes, an eagle flying high on the left across their front." The eagle they saw would most likely have been a Golden Eagle.
Bird Omens in The Iliad
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote.
[Golden Eagle calls]
For us, an eagle in flight is an image of beauty and power. But for the ancient Greeks, an eagle in flight was an omen – a message from the gods. [Golden Eagle calls]
In Homer’s epic, The Iliad, the Greeks have vowed to conquer Troy but, midway through the siege, mighty Hector and the Trojans battle them to the edge of defeat. Then, as Homer recounts: [music begins]
“suddenly . . .
a fatal bird-sign flashed before [the Trojans’] eyes,
an eagle flying high on the left across their front [Golden Eagle calls]
and clutching a monstrous bloody serpent in both talons,
still alive, still struggling – it had not lost its fight,
writhing back to strike it fanged the chest of its captor
right beside the throat – and agonized by the bites
the eagle flung it away to the earth, dashed it down
amidst the milling fighters, loosed a shriek
and the bird veered off along the gusting wind. [Golden Eagle calls]
The Trojans shuddered to see the serpent glistening,
wriggling at their feet, a sign from storming Zeus.”
The ominous event sparks a fierce debate: Believe the omen and retreat. Or ignore the omen and press the fight. Hector wins the debate – but in the end the fateful omen prevails, and the Trojans lose the war.
Call of the Golden Eagle provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York recorded by A.L. Priori.
Musical selection from “3200 Years Ago” composed by James Horner for the motion picture Troy, Reprise Records 2004
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2013 Tune In to Nature.org August 2013 / 2020 Narrator: Michael Stein
Homer – The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles, 1990, Penguin Books. Quotation from pp. 331-332, Iliad - Book 12, lines 230-239.