Homer’s Iliad pulsates with war and violence, sometimes wrapped in glory but often shrouded as much in sorrow. Here, hostility and quarrel are portrayed as heart-breaking, or as we might say, soul-destroying. The second stretch simile is particularly a plea against anger.
See other examples of the heart effects of quarrel, anger and hatred, and Dante’s own plea for the life-wasting pointlessness of feuds. See also the bestellar reviews, complete with rich quote-mosaics, of Adam Nicolson’s magnificent Why Homer Matters, and Christopher Logue’s War Music, a muscular rendition of several books of the Iliad.
‘As far as goes the driving cast of a slender javelin
which a man throws making trial of his strength, either in a contest
or else in battle, under the heart-breaking hostilities,
so far the Trojans gave way with the Achaians pushing them.’
‘But what have you and I to do with the need for squabbling
and hurling insults at each other, as if we were two wives
who when they have fallen upon a heart-perishing quarrel
go out in the street and say abusive things to each other,
much true, and much that is not, and it is their rage that drives them.’
Source: Homer, The Iliad of Homer, trans. Richmond Lattimore (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1961 (1951)), book XVI, p. 346 and book XX, p. 411