In Book VI of The Iliad, when Hector has come to try to get Paris to fight, Helen chips in with her point of view:

Hector answered nothing, but Helen said warmly:
"Brother dear, I am ashamed; I shudder at myself! I can do nothing but evil! I wish a whirlwind had carried me off to the mountains on the day that I was born, or thrown me into the roaring sea—I wish the waves had swept me away before all this was done! But since the gods ordained it so, I wish I had been mated with a better man, one who could feel the contempt and indignation of the world! But this man is unstable, and ever shall be; some day I think this fault will find him out. But do come in now, brother, come in and sit down; I know your heart is most heavy with this world of trouble about us—all for my shame and his infatuation. Indeed, Zeus has laid a cruel fate upon us, to be a byword for generations to come!"
(translation by W.H.D. Rouse, 1938)

My association with the descriptor "warmly" is friendly and calm. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word like this:

warmly adverb (FRIENDLY)
in a very friendly or approving way:

  • He shook my hand warmly.
  • She greeted the proposals warmly.

Helen's speech doesn't seem to meet that description; instead, it seems rather despairing and mournful, not warm.

Why was this word used to describe Helen's small speech here?


1 Answer 1


The original Greek text is VI.332

τὸν δ᾽ Ἑλένη μύθοισι προσηύδα μειλιχίοισι:

where μειλιχίοισι means “gentle, soothing” (the word is related to μέλι meaning “honey”). This adjective does not seem appropriate to the first part of her speech, in which Helen expresses her shame at being the cause of the war. But the word also means “propitiatory” (from the custom of offering honey to the gods), and perhaps the poet’s idea is that Helen is trying to propitiate Hector’s anger by her self-abnegation.

Alternatively, the later part of her speech—“But do come in now, brother, come in and sit down; I know your heart is most heavy with this world of trouble about us”—is more straightforwardly soothing, and perhaps this is what the poet was referring to.

As for Rouse’s choice of “warmly”, the word means “with warm emotion”, and the emotion can be friendliness (as in the Cambridge Dictionary, quoted in the question), but other emotions can also be warm. The OED gives several possibilities, including:

warmly, adv. 2.b. Fervently, earnestly.

Oxford English Dictionary.

Helen’s words are certainly “fervent” (ardent, intense) and possibly Rouse had this in mind when choosing the translation.

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