Extract from Pope's translation of the Iliad, Book XI, describing Agamemnon's rampage during the third battle:

Wide o’er the field with guideless fury rolls,
Breaking their ranks, and crushing out their souls;
While his keen falchion drinks the warriors’ lives;
More grateful, now, to vultures than their wives!

Unless the meaning of the bolded line is idiomatic, it's lost on me. Is the poet implying that the warriors' souls would like their vanquished corpses, by the action of vultures, to disappear from the battlefields? Wouldn't a burial (or rather, a cremation) serve the purpose more honorably?

  • 1
    Interesting question. The other translations I've seen take a different tack entirely: "more enticing to vultures than their wives", or "to delight the vultures more than their wives", etc. Don't know why Pope chooses "grateful" here.
    – verbose
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 10:00

1 Answer 1


Pope uses “grateful” in this sense:

grateful, adj., 1. Pleasing to the mind or the senses, agreeable, acceptable, welcome.

Oxford English Dictionary.

and not in the more usual sense of “feeling gratitude”. So the meaning of the line is that Agamemnon’s massacre is pleasing to vultures, who will feast on the corpses, and not to wives, who will mourn their dead husbands.

Other lines in Pope’s Iliad in which he uses this sense include:

The sable fumes in curling spires arise,
And waft their grateful odours to the skies. (I.416–417)

Swift-gliding mists the dusky fields invade,
To thieves more grateful than the midnight shade (III.17–18)

Jove bids at length the expected gales arise;
The gales blow grateful, and the vessel flies. (VII.7–8)

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