As you know, there are two types of relative clause:

Type 1

The woman who lives next door is a doctor.

In this example,the relative clause tells us which person or thing (or what kind of person or thing ) the speaker means. We don't use a comma with this clause. Also, we can use that.

Type 2

My brother Ben, who lives in Hong Kong, is an architect.

In this example, the relative clause does not tell you which person or thing the speaker means. We already know which thing or person is meant. The relative clause in this sentence gives us extra information about the person or thing. We use a comma with this clause. Also, we cannot use that.

Now, I came across a sentence that doesn't follow these rules:

Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.

(It comes from the Illiad translated by Samuel Butler, and I thought that grammar rules haven't changed much since then.)

Please explain this contradiction, as far as you are able.

  • I don't think there's necessarily a problem with that in the above, since we can just assume it refers back to the anger rather than Achilles (or indeed Peleus). Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 15:13
  • The quote seems to be from The Iliad translated by Samuel Butler who lived in the 19th century. I don't think it is an appropriate example to explain using the modern contemporary grammar rules.
    – user140086
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 15:19
  • It comes from Iliad by Samuel Butler,and I thought that garmmer rules hasn't changed much.anyway, thank you
    – Pedram
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 15:24
  • In the 19th century, authors put in many more commas than they do today (which have been taken out in many current editions of 19th century fiction). You shouldn't assume that the modern rules for comma usage apply. Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 19:35

1 Answer 1


First of all, punctuation is a matter of style, not grammar. Secondly, what grammar rules are you considering -- those of English or those of Homeric Greek? Butler had to consider both. Notice that Butler says

Sing ... the anger

We don't ordinarily say that in English, preferring "Sing of the anger" or "Sing about the anger," but Homer wrote

μῆνιν [anger, accusative] ἄειδε [sing, imperative]

Actually, Homeric asks the goddess to sing of two things, the anger of Achilles and the following (semantically and textually) destruction (οὐλομένην), and it's the destruction that (grammatically and restrictively) brings the myriads of misfortunes to the Greeks. So the first two lines reads (roughly)

Sing, goddess, the anger of Achilles [and the destruction] that brought countless ills to the Greeks

Butler just has anger, but that leaves him with the owner of the anger, Achilles, standing between the anger and the relative clause. Butler doesn't want to give the sense that it is Achilles that has brought the countless ills; he wants to emphasize (as did Homer) that it's Achilles' overweening anger that's the culprit. So he separates Achilles from the relative clause with a comma.

Poetic license will always trump the conventions of punctutation.

  • I think the OP's question is more to do with "Why is the relative pronoun that used when it is not intended for restrictive use. Typically grammar books teach that you should not use that in place of which when it is for non-restrictive use.
    – user140086
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 3:34
  • @Rathony I guess I wasn't clear enough. It is intended to be restrictive. It's just that particular anger, the one that brought destruction to the Greeks. Achilles displays other anger in The Illiad, for instance when he kills Hector, but Homer isn't talking about that anger in the first two lines of the epic. English likes its restrictive relative clauses to immediately follow the modified noun phrase: "Sing, goddess, of the anger that brought countless ills." But that's not how the original is written, and Butler is trying keep the Greek diction.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 6:01

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