Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm having some problem understanding the phrase "but do you others go about among the host and prevent their doing so" in the context of the following paragraph:

The dream then vanished and I awoke. Let us now therefore, arm the sons of the Achaeans. But it will be well that I should first sound them and to this end I will tell them to fly with their ships; but do you others go about among the host and prevent their doing so.

The phrase "I will tell them to fly with their ships" seems to contradict the phrase "but do you others go about among the host and prevent their doing so".

share|improve this question
    
Note that "sound" in this case seems to mean "to measure" (sounding is a way to measure depth esp. of water). So in this translation, the idea of measuring their willingness to fight is more explicit than in jwpat7's first quotation: in order to measure them, we will encourage them to choose a course of action. –  horatio Dec 14 '12 at 18:26
    
@Horatio So what you'saying is that Agamemnon was trying to verify the willingness of the Achaeans in going to war, or going back home. This is exactly my conclusion about this "subtle plan". –  user1042389 Dec 14 '12 at 18:33
    
Only based upon the quote and the answer below yes, I think so: "Let us arm them, but I should first measure their willingness to fight, I'll go talk to them and tell them to leave, while you all go urge them to stay." –  horatio Dec 14 '12 at 18:36
    
I will accept your answer on those terms. Thank you. –  user1042389 Dec 14 '12 at 18:37
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You may find it easier to understand what Agamemnon means if you see this same passage from the Iliad in a different translation, and with a bit more context:

But first the king convened a council of brave elders by Nestor’s ship, and when they were met laid out a subtle plan, saying: ‘Listen, in ambrosial night a dream from heaven came to me, my friends ... Now, let us see if we can rouse the Achaeans to arms; first I will try them with words, as is the custom, inviting them to sail in the benched ships, while you must each urge them to stay.’

Note that the contradictory ends both are part of a subtle plan. As the Achaeans “rushed with a mighty roar towards the ships” after Agamemnon invited them to leave,

Hera passed the word to Athene: ‘See, Atrytone, daughter of Zeus the aegis-bearer! Shall the Argives run, like this, for their native land, over the sea’s broad back? ... Pass through the ranks of the bronze-greaved Achaeans; restrain them with your gentle eloquence, don’t let them launch their curved ships on the sea.’
The goddess, bright-eyed Athene, heard her and willingly obeyed. Down from the heights of Olympus she sped, and soon reached the swift ships of the Achaeans. There she found Odysseus, ...

With Odysseus roused, and with bright-eyed Athene by his side, disguised as a herald, the Achaeans soon turn from their ships and prepare once more for battle.

Note that one obvious interpretation of the passage in the question is that Agamemnon wishes to find out if the Achaeans are willing to continue in war, vs returning home. That seems incorrect, as Agamemnon was assured, via the Lying Dream that Zeus sent to him (at the beginning of Book II) that “he shall take Troy. There are no longer divided counsels among the gods; Juno has brought them to her own mind, and woe betides the Trojans.” Being so assured, Agamemnon does not need to find out if the Achaeans will continue; instead, he needs to trick them into continuing. To do so, he causes them to rush for the ships; this rush persuades Hera (Juno) to tell Athene (Minerva) to go to Odysseus, with result as noted above. This is all part of Agamemnon's subtle plan, which is at odds with Jove's (Zeus's) subtle plan, which is to punish the Argives (Achaeans) for the death of Achilles.

share|improve this answer
    
Why would Agamemnon urge them to stay, while at the same time he was inviting the Achaeans to sail against the Trojans? –  user1042389 Dec 14 '12 at 18:00
1  
A subtle plan, my lord? –  TimLymington Dec 14 '12 at 18:10
    
@TimLymington So with this subtle plan Agamemnon was trying to verify the willingness of the Achaeans in going to war, or going back home. Is that what you're saying? Sorry, but English is not my native tongue. –  user1042389 Dec 14 '12 at 18:13
    
@user1042389, see edit –  jwpat7 Dec 14 '12 at 18:14
    
@jwpat7 The intent of this subtle plan is yet not clear to me. –  user1042389 Dec 14 '12 at 18:25
show 3 more comments

The do in that sentence is meant in the following sense

do 18. (takes an infinitive without to) used as an auxiliary to intensify positive statements and commands

If you take out the "do" you'll have the sense of the clause:

... but you others go out among the host and prevent their doing so.

Use of do in that way is archaic, but you'll often hear it in its more modern (chiefly BrE) application. For example,

Do be good now.

share|improve this answer
1  
But the contradiction is still there –  user1042389 Dec 14 '12 at 17:51
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.