In Book XIV of The Iliad, when Poseidon is encouraging the Greeks while the Trojans are attacking their ships, he says this to Agamemnon while disguised:

But the famous Earthshaker kept no blind man's watch: he saw them go, and went after, taking the shape of an old ancient gaffer. He took hold of Agamemnon's right hand, and said in plain words:
"Your Grace, now I guess Achillês is reet fain in that cruel heart of his, when a sees blood and rout among us, for a has no sense in his head, not a jot. May a be damned so, may God whistle him down! But tha'rt a' reet, the blessed gods bain't angered wi' thee, not they. Do 'ee bide a bit, and thast see yon gurt lords and captains dusten across the plain to home!"
Then with a great shout he scampered away.
(translation by W.H.D. Rouse, 1938)

This is, to be frank, almost as incomprehensible as reading the original Greek, at least to me. "fain" means rather; I didn't find an entry for "reet" in the dictionary (although I have seen it used for rodent noises). What does it mean that Achillês is "reet fain"? What does it mean for God (Zeus) to "whistle him down"? Why is Agamemnon a "reet" ("tha'rt a' reet")? The rest of it seems to boil down to "the gods are angry at Achillês, not you - make sure you see your lords and captains get home"; is that an accurate understanding?

And, above all... why is this translated in such an incomprehensible manner?

  • 3
    That's a depiction of a rural English accent, probably SW England like Somerset or so. (Initially "tha'rt a' reet" made me think Yorkshire, but "gurt" is more a West Country thing. To provide you with reference points I happen to know you're familiar with, compare it with moles in the Redwall series or Wessex villagers in Thomas Hardy novels.) It's almost certainly a deliberate choice of the translator, as in this other question.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 17, 2022 at 20:42

1 Answer 1


In the phrase "reet fain", "fain" can hardly be an adverb. It makes more sense to read "reet" as an adverb and "fain" as an adjective.

According to Wiktionary, reet exists as an adverb, at least in Tyneside (in North-East England):

  1. (Tyneside) right

(Since W. H. D. Rouse was born in India, went to school in London and to university in Cambridge, I don't know why he would use "reet" here.)

fain means

  1. (archaic) Well-pleased, glad.
  2. (archaic) Satisfied, contented.

So "reet fain" can be read as "right glad", where right means "really" or "very".

These meanings are consistent with what I could find in other translations.

Samuel Butler's translation:

Meanwhile Neptune had kept no blind look-out, and came up to them in the semblance of an old man. He took Agamemnon's right hand in his own and said, "Son of Atreus, I take it Achilles is glad now that he sees the Achaeans routed and slain, for he is utterly without remorse- may he come to a bad end and heaven confound him. As for yourself, the blessed gods are not yet so bitterly angry with you but that the princes and counsellors of the Trojans shall again raise the dust upon the plain, and you shall see them flying from the ships and tents towards their city."

William Cullen Bryant's translation:

He went among
The warriors in the semblance of a man
Stricken in years, and, seizing the right hand
Of Agamemnon, spake these wingèd words:⁠—

“O son of Atreus, the revengeful heart
Of Peleus’ son must leap within his breast
For joy
, to see the slaughter and the rout
Of the Achaians, since with him there dwells
No touch of pity.

Leconte de Lisle's translation:

Il prit la main droite de l’Atréide Agamemnôn, et il lui dit : — Atréide, maintenant le cœur féroce d’Akhilleus se réjouit dans sa poitrine, en voyant la fuite et le carnage des Akhaiens. Il a perdu l’esprit.

What Rouse translates as "may God whistle him down" is translated as "may he come to a bad end and heaven confound him" by Samuel Butler and as "may some god o’erwhelm his name / With infamy" by William Cullen Bryant.

My interpretation of "tha'rt a' reet" is "you are all right". Samuel Butler writes, "As for yourself, the blessed gods are not yet so bitterly angry with you …"; William Cullen Bryant writes, "With thee the blessed gods / Are not so far incensed". In other words, Agamemnon is OK, the gods aren't as angry with him as they are with Achilles.

  • If Neptune is impersonating an old man, this translator represents him as an old country man speaking in a rustic dialect. Compare this question. Jan 17 at 17:22

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