The rosy-fingered dawn.

Here's your trivia question for the day.

The rosy-fingered dawn.

Does this beautiful phrase appear in Shakespeare or Homer? If Shakespeare, in which play? If Homer, is it from the Iliad or the Odyssey, or both?

The answer's at the end of this post.

I'm planning to open every chapter of my second book with a quote from the Iliad, for reasons that will be vaguely discernible when you read it. One of my twitter friends, the very clever Deb Vlock, offered "the rosy fingered dawn," as one of the quotes (I've had a number of excellent suggestions from friends!).

The question was, was it valid? Opinions varied. I thought it was from the Odyssey. But after searching the Perseus database of ancient texts I can now report...

...the rosy fingered dawn appears in both the Odyssey and the Iliad. The phrase does not appear in Shakespeare, but it sounds very Shakespearean, doesn't it? I don't know if that's because literary geniuses tend to sound alike, or because the translators were so steeped in Shakespeare it came out that way. Here's the phrase in context:

Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared, Nestor left his couch and took his seat on the benches of white and polished marble that stood in front of his house. [Odyssey]

But when the sun set and darkness came on, they lay down to rest by the stern cables of the ship, and as soon as early rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, then they set sail for the wide camp of the Achaeans. [Iliad]

So Deb got it right. I should never have doubted her. Homer often re-uses good phrases across both books. The wine dark sea is another famous phrase the recurs.

While I have your attention, I did these searches using the Perseus Digital Library, easily the best online source of ancient texts anywhere on this planet. Or any other planet, for that matter. The interface is, ummm, a trifle archaic for these googly days, but I highly recommend it for anyone who needs accurate, checked, versions of ancient texts, in both the original and translation.


Bill Cameron said...

I knew it was Homer. I was reading Homer a long time before I ever got around the Shakespeare. My brain supplied The Odyssey without prompting, and while I'm sure it's a matter of translations, that one seems the more, er, emphatic of appearances. In The Iliad, sure, it's there, but it reads with more of a "dawn (which, by the way, has rosy fingers)" quality.

That might just be me. I always liked The Odyssey more than The Iliad too (I mean, the Greeks were just dicks, weren't they, and to win to boot?), while at least in The Odyssey they paid their karmic debt AND the coolest of them swooped in at the end to hook up with his hot wife again.

Josephine Damian said...

I was confusing it with this R-rated play on words:

Romeo and Juliet Text and Translation - Act II, Scene IV

NURSE: Is it good-den?
NURSE: Is it good evening? MER: 'Tis no less, I tell ye;
for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon. ...


Nearly 30 years since I studied the bard in college - remember some quotes better than others. lol

DebV said...

I lovelovelove "the wine-dark sea"! So beautiful! I agree with Bill that the Odyssey is somehow more engaging than the Iliad; maybe the problem is all those battles. But the Iliad's got some of the most gorgeous death scenes in Western literature, that's for sure.

And yep, Odysseus and Penelope are way cool. Oh, and that scene where the suitors' meat turns raw and they start neighing like horses (braying like asses? Can't remember) is truly chilling, don't you think?

Gary, it is SO neat that you're starting each chapter with an Iliad quote. This is a novel I MUST read! DV

Houssam said...

Everybody know that it belongs to Homer's Iliad but , what peeps want to know , what does that expression means ????????

Gary Corby said...


Rosy fingered dawn refers to the fact that at early dawn you can sometimes see rosy red streaks in the sky, somewhat reminiscent of extended fingers.