In the first volume of Joe Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy the title of the first book "The Blade Itself" is attributed to a quote from The Odyssey by Homer "The blade itself incites to deeds of violence". Googling also finds many mentions of this quote, but I have the Johnston and Fagles translations of The Odyssey and I cannot find the quote in either of them.

Obviously the exact text differs from translation to translation, but I've even searched for the words "blade" and "incite" (I have PDF versions of the texts) and I still can't find anything resembling the quote. Can anyone point me to where in the book the quote appears, or better still the exact text if you have the Johnston or Fagles translation.

8 Answers 8


Beginning of book XIX. Odysseus tells Telemachus to hide weapons, and if anyone asks why, to tell them that weapons are removed because smoke damages them, and also because in case of a quarrel view of weapons may lead to use of these weapons.

Johnston translation - is it this one?

all these war weapons we must stash inside,
and when the suitors notice they're not there
and question you, then reassure them,
using gentle language:
'I've put them away
in a place far from the smoke. Those weapons
are no longer like the ones Odysseus left
when he set off for Troy so long ago.
They're tarnished. That's how much the fire's breath
has reached them. Moreover, a god has set
greater fear inside my heart—you may drink
too much wine and then fight amongst yourselves
and wound each other. That would shame the feast,
disgrace your courtship. For iron by itself
can draw a man to use it.
  • 1
    Aha! Excellent, thanks, that's it! With that clue I've also found it in Fagles: Iron has powers to draw a man to ruin. Both translations are a long way from Abercrombie's quote. I wonder what translation he used. Mar 6, 2013 at 12:14
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    In litterature, "iron", or even "steel", is a common synecdoche for swords and other weapons, so it's not such a long way from the original.
    – Dungarth
    Mar 6, 2013 at 17:01

There is another source for the quote to consider - the loading screens from the original Rome: Total War games included that phrasing of the quote:

The blade itself incites to violence

  • Homer

Joe Abercrombie is a fan of the Total War series

Console or PC, what’s your current preference?
For a long time I was a big PC gamer, a big devotee of Civilization and Total War – tactical games you could only really get on PC...


Notable quotes (http://www.notable-quotes.com/h/homer_quotes.html) also attributes this quotation to the Odyssey but doesn't indicate which translation. On Joe Abercrombie's First Law wiki, he cites this reference: The source for the Homeric quote "The blade itself incites to deeds of violence." is Odyssey 16.294 (taken up by 19.13). Again, no citation to the actual translation. One wonders if he took some poetic license with the actual text so it would ring with modern audiences better.


Hmm- it would almost seem that Abercrombie should have considered this an original quote since a literal word for word translation does not fit the basic idea of Homer's quote, so referencing it as an "influence" on the final quote he used would (to me at least) have made a bit more sense as it is a quite creative representation of his story main arch of violence.

If I were repeating this quote I would attribute it to Joe Abercrombie rather than Homer.


William Cowper's translation...

"for the view Itself of arms incites to their abuse."

and George Musgrave's...

"for the steel blade itself Lures men to blood."

suggest that Abercrombie may have blended a bit or even done his own. I have not looked at every online translation. Both of the above are blank verse.


I just did a bit of work on the greek of this because I was curious also. (Biblical greek student, but the classical here was close enough to be readable).

A fairly literal/wooden/word-for-word translation would be something like: "And beckoning, the iron itself drags the man".

That word beckoning is really the word for like... flirting or courting which i enjoy the image of here. "Iron" while not being the same word as "blade" might as well be, being clearly a synechdoche, so I think translating it as "the blade itself drags the man" is fair enough. It doesn't contain the indirect object "to acts of violence", so the translator has added that in to supply context, as thats clearly what is being talked about. The blade itself doesnt drag the man to a friendly dinner and calm evening.

I think though that the abrecrombie quote is not so far from the text as to be an original thought. Aside from supplying "to deeds of violence", it is fairly literal.


Alexander Pope has; "Lest they, by sight of swords to fury fired", A.T.Murrey has; "For of itself does the iron draw a man towards it" and E.V.Rieu's translation is; "There's a force in iron that lures men on".

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    Are these related to translations of Homer's The Odyssey?
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 24, 2018 at 21:29

Since there is a crime novel with the same title, (The Blade Itself by Marcus Sakey), I"m guessing there's a Homeric translation Sakey and Abercrombie read., that we haven't.

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