The Plot of Zeus

Philippe Rousseau
[This article first appeared in French as "L'intrigue de Zeus," in Europe 79 (no. 865, May 2001), 120-158. In this online version, the original page-numbers will be indicated within brackets (“{“ and “}”). For example, “{51 | 52}” indicates where p. 51 of the original article ends and p. 52 begins. These indications will be useful to readers who need to look up references made in previous scholarship to the original printed version of this article.]
{120} Many of the particular idiosyncrasies of the Iliad which have troubled its critics, from the Alexandrian period on, were clarified in the work of Milman Parry, Albert Lord and their followers. They showed that the poem was the product of an “oral” tradition (which had already long been suspected), and, most of all, that “oral” epic obeyed different rules of composition, and that its understanding assumed alternate aesthetic norms to those of written works. The developments which the discoveries of the Parry school have enabled are considerable. These concern, principally, two aspects of Greek archaic poetry: the conditions and systems of the production of the “song”, on the one hand, and the analysis of bardic technique and the poetic forms developed within the oral tradition on the other. In the last few years, attention has been focused more closely on the ways in which a return to looking at “performance” might affect our understanding of the poetic texts coming out of the oral tradition. [1] What interpretive abilities should one attribute to the audience of epic poets? What degrees and types of complexity does orality support, or even render possible, within the organisation of its narrative discourse? What role do the specific forms of diction and poetic composition play in the reception and understanding of the oral “text” for its public? Some recent studies have drawn attention to the manner in which the construction of the lines or phrases, the order of the words, the relation between themes and formulas, the organisation of the discourse, the usage of comparisons and {120 | 121} metaphors, etc., obey certain rules which allow a practised audience to understand the meaning and appreciate the virtuosity of the recitation. They rely, in this analysis, on the comparison between archaic Greek epic with other oral traditions, on in-depth analysis of the poetic practice of Homer, and the image which certain scenes of the Iliad and the Odyssey sketch, directly or indirectly, of the poetic communication between the bard and his public. [2]
It should not, however, be concluded from this observation that previous research has become obsolete, as some scholars who subscribe to “Oral Poetry” sometimes have the tendency to suggest. It is not true that there is no more to be got from the “medley” of debates between Analysts, determined to take the Homeric poems apart, and Unitarians, joined in defending its unity. [3] The energy of their arguments, and the well-argued critique of their objections to the traditional conception of Iliad and Odyssey’s unity, require one to take account of the observations on which the Analysts’ doctrine was founded, going back to their fundamental principles: in particular, that of the organic conception of poetic unity, and the anti-intellectualist prejudice which underpins the positions of the two camps. By highlighting the processes of composition peculiar to Greek archaic poetry – to which the research of “Oral Poetry” made a major contribution from the outset –, a solution to a number of difficulties raised by High Criticism is certainly supplied; [4] and yet this more recent criticism, itself, primarily depends on questions posed by the former, without automatically interrogating the aesthetic premises which raised these issues in the first place. The irony with which the earlier period of Homeric interpretation is sometimes treated, when it does not simply render the contempt of aesthetes for the pedantry of “science”, implicitly represents the “Homeric question” as an incidental episode, without seeing how these critical positions are, themselves, a part of the intellectual structures which it denigrates.
The Analysts draw attention to real problems, which need to be solved through an interpretation focused on the meaning of the particular work which has been transmitted to us, and not, simply, on the ways in which the poetic tradition functions, with this text as both its product and representative. They bring to the fore the breaks and leaps in the narration, the poorly motivated episodes, the redundant passages and the {121 | 122} ellipses, the repetitions and irregularities of diction, the faults of character construction and the incoherence or improbabilities of the action. This attentive study to the finer details of the text provides the material for their discussions. It reveals, as if beneath a magnifying glass, what distinguishes the Iliad or the Odyssey from the aesthetic canons of the written tradition. Its error is to remove these textual instances from the poetic tradition to which the two epics belong, and from the sphere of control of the poems themselves, in order to read them instead as unintentional traces of the poems’ genesis.
I shall introduce an example to clarify my meaning.
In the first event of the funeral games in honour of Patroclus (Il. XXIII.262-652), High Criticism has spotted the indications of a modification (or interpolation) in an apparent inconsistency of the narrative. When, at Achilles’ call (272-286), the contestors enter the competition, old Nestor gives his son Antilochus, whose team of horses is considerably slower than that of the others, some advice on how to approach the race (306-348). His whole argument turns around a crucial moment of the course, the turning post, whose dangerous circuit could be the occasion for the young man to snatch victory from his quicker opponents. This sign – séma –, so strongly underlined in his speech (326-333), is evoked another time by the narrator before the start of the race (358-361), and once by one of the spectators as he waits for the chariots at the finish line (462, 465-468). But in the narration of the race proper – despite the fact that first an accident caused by the gods, and then a deceptive manoeuvre, achieve a double inversion of the expected ranking, giving the victory to Diomedes over Eumeles and to Antilochus over Menelaos – neither of these two dramatic events happen at the foreshadowed place: that is, the turning post. This is the root of the Analysts’ hypothesis that the speech of Nestor, which they deem too long, was an interpolation.
In response to this critical position, the defenders of the transmitted text have adopted two “unitarian” strategies, which both essentially negate this difficulty through various arguments. The strong defence upholds, at the cost of impossible contortions, that, of the two incidents, the second at least (that is to say, that which counts more in terms of the argument - the trickery of Antilochus), does occur at the place where Nestor’s instructions predicted it would: during the turn around the terma (the scholia show that this reading of the text was already practised in Antiquity). [5] The {122 | 123} weak one recognizes well enough that there is an irregularity in the construction, but substantially reduces its scope, sometimes explaining the length of Nestor’s speech through the poet’s desire to add an amusing side to the characterisation of this rather loquacious old man, and sometimes – which does not contradict the first reading – through his anxiety to insist on the tactical lesson on métis, which his son goes on to apply in his own way.
This open-mindedness, which makes the Analyst a contrario appear as a rather ridiculous pedant, claimed to have found its basis in a classic interpretation of “oral” theory. This would be that, in demanding that the poet pay attention to the weaknesses of the composition which were not perceptible from every point of view during the flow of the recitation, the constraints of this particular type of poetry have been underestimated. Surely, the structure of an oral poem is inevitably looser than that of a work produced at the writing desk, where its author has the leisure to go back a hundred times over his work? [6]
There is certainly no doubt that an oral poem of the Iliad’s monumental size, however one visualizes its transmission and translation into writing, could not have been subject to the minute revisions which are possible in writing. It should be noted that there are blunders made in some of the great works of written literature (Dickens’ Pickwick, for example, is a celebrated instance, and a critic recently pointed some out in Derek Walcott’s Omeros). It is, therefore, not surprising that one of Homer’s minor characters could kill himself in one book and reappear in tears, eight books and 5178 lines later, amongst the warriors who are carrying the corpse of his son (Il. V.576 and XIII.658).
But should one conclude from these few misprints, which are still very rare, that the orality of the poem forms a barrier to paying attention to the detail of an episode’s construction, under the pretext that the conditions of the production of the song should render such irregularities imperceptible and insignificant to the audience, as well as the bard? The argument must be weighed with care, for it is precisely the evident complexity of the Iliad which the opponents of the oral theory invoke in order to adduce that the poem could not have been composed without the help of writing. [7]
What we can glimpse of the intellectual life of archaic Greece obliges us to admit that the public of the bards was a cultivated public, [8] that their knowledge of the resources and rules as well as the repertoire {123 | 124} of the poetic tradition put them in a better position than us to perceive the allusions and subtleties of the composition presented to them. We should not imagine the ideal audience, conjured up by Odysseus amongst the Phaeacians, as being “fascinated” by the songs which they hear, but rather watchful and attentive to an object which they are able to interpret and appreciate (Od. ix.5-11). The virtuosity of the rhapsodes in handling their idiom and conventional forms of the composition (narrative schemes, type scenes, oval or ring compositions, comparisons, etc.) testifies to the competence and sophistication of the public before which they performed.
I will now return to the episode which I used as an example. In the chariot race, it is not the open-mindedness of the Unitarians (whether oralists or not) which draws attention to the unusual features of the recitation and enables decipherment of their meaning; it is the scrupulous thoroughness of the Analysts. For there does exist a discontinuity between the “programme” drawn up by Nestor and its realisation. This gap is a sign, which the “strong” defence tries to fill in and the “weak” one ignores; both making the narrative unreadable. Nestor’s description of the séma around which the chariots will turn was not introduced in order to exempt the poet from returning to it later in the narrative, as a recent commentary suggests; [9] it contradicts the Iliad’s choice to recount, and then interpret, the events of the race in a different, perhaps more conventional, way. If Eumeles’ chariot had broken near the turning post, as Idomeneus at one point believes (Il. XXIII.465-468); if it was in turning around the post that Antilochus had overtaken Menelaus, as his father recommended (344-345), [10] the ranking of the contestants at the finish line would not have posed a problem. But that is not what happened. Diomedes and Antilochus owe their place less to the superiority of their team or to their skill in driving than to the arbitrary intervention of the gods, in the case of the first, and to a violation of the rules of the course in the second. The importance of the result derives from an ambivalent and disputable move. This is the cause of the discussion that follows, which, it must be remembered, is started by Achilles (534-539).
But that isn’t all. It very quickly becomes apparent that the two dramatic episodes of the race are organised around two antithetical paradigms, both written into the narrative of the event. The first, expressed by Achilles (XXIII.274-278), makes victory depend only on the speed of the horses; the second, expressed by Nestor (306-348), on the tactical skill with which the charioteer is able to take {124 | 125} the bend. Let us accept, as can be shown, that the narrative of the chariot race is a mirror in which the Iliad questions, at the same time, its meaning, and which elements of the poetic tradition it will absorb within its monumental framework. The polarity of the paradigms of Nestor and Achilles reflects that of heroic values, conventionally designated, with G. Nagy, [11] as “force”, bié, and “cunning”, métis, studied by Detienne and Vernant. [12] Both are at the roots of the exploits celebrated by the epics of the Trojan Cycle. The first is Achilles’ quality, which he uses in his victory over Hector in the Iliad or over Memnon in the Ethiopis – to give only the two most famous examples. The second is embodied most notably in the epic tradition in Odysseus, the architect of the sacking of Troy, the hero of the Ilioupersis.
If this interpretation of the episode is correct, it is the epic “genre” itself, in celebrating heroic values within the exploits of heroes, which becomes the problematic object of the poem’s thought at that particular moment of the recitation, in a sequence of scenes submitted for decipherment by an educated audience, capable of perceiving the unusual features of a composition entirely traditional in its method.
* * *Cultivated Greeks of the archaic period were particularly well versed in the narratives from which the bards drew the subject matter for their songs. It is difficult to represent to ourselves the form in which this fluid material was known to them. To the repertoire of hexameter epics, which certainly did not “exist” as such – at least for the most part, in that it was continually reconstructed in the shifting forms of a “song” in the thread of its successive “performances” – must be added the multiples usages which lyric poetry or genealogies, in all the diversity of their respective genres, made of these legends: the examples applied in their discourse, tales of ordinary lives or banquets, stories of the women of old, etc. The Odyssey recalls the fame which some of these songs had gained, [13] whilst the speakers of the Iliad rest their arguments on such narratives in order to persuade their listeners. [14]
But references to the narrative heritage of gods, giants and heroes are not limited, in the Iliad, to {125 | 126} allusions to, or occasional citations of, the poems or poetic traditions that were fashionable at the time. They are present throughout, and form part of a systematic program. Aristotle, in the twenty-third chapter of the Poetics, praises Homer for his – “divinely inspired” – choice of plot: “Even though the Trojan War had a start and an end, he did not try to formulate the whole story (it would have been too extensive to be covered at a single glance), nor to reduce its extent, which would have made it incomprehensible due to its diversity. What he did, in fact, was to take out a single part, and to draw from numerous episodes for the rest, such as the catalogue of the ships or other episodes, which he scatters through his composition.” [15]
It is true that, if one situates the action recounted in the Iliad within the sequence of events – from Earth’s complaint at the start of the Cypria, overwhelmed by the weight of the demigods, to the immortal marriages of Telemachus and Penelope at the Telegony’s end, which structure a virtual narrative of the poems of the Trojan Cycle -, then the plot of the Iliad is nothing more than a short episode, limited in its content and brief in its duration, within this longer story. [16] Fifty-two days pass by between the arrival of Chryses at the camp of the Achaeans and the end of Hector’s funeral; and all of the events which occur within this period are subsumed by the bard under a single theme, that of ménis [17] – the “anger” of Achilles, announced in the first word of the poem.
But the apparent simplicity of the subject matter is misleading. What is more, critics, from Antiquity on, have taken care to point out everything which appears only to tie into the thread of the main action by an arbitrary or tenuous link: the first day of fighting, [18] the night foray of Odysseus and Diomedes into the Trojan camp, [19] Poseidon’s intervention alongside the Achaeans and Hera’s trick to protect him, [20] to say nothing of a large number of episodes of more limited extent. In only one case does their evaluation actually appear to have legitimate grounds. There are, in fact, good reasons to believe that book X, the “Doloneia”, does not actually belong to the Iliad, despite the fact that its theme fits into that of the poem – in other words, that it was not a part of the same “performance” as the rest of the work. In every other case, the variety of the subject matter is one of the indications of the “composite” – or systematically composed – character of the poem. The aesthetic unity of the Iliad is not the “organic” unity which the Analysts, as well as the Unitarians, demand. It is constructed, it is an artefact, whose virtuosity {126 | 127} and complexity the bard’s audience was able to appreciate, and which was performed so that they could understand – that is, decipher – its implicit discourse.
* * *The theme of the anger of Achilles enables the poem to reconstruct the mass of Trojan subject matter, recreating it in condensed form and exploring its significance. Its thinking focuses not so much on celebrating the glory, kleos, of its own hero, as on unravelling the logic of a chain of events, a story, which has led to the disappearance of the age of heroes.
Archaic epic was well versed in this interpretation of the Trojan War. The first fragment of Stasinos’ Cypria attributes to Zeus the aim of relieving the Earth, emptying it of the burdensome weight of the heroes through their deaths. [21] Hesiod’s Works and Days has the race of heroes disappearing in the wars which gave the Theban and Trojan Cycles their theme (164ff.). W. Kullmann [22] has highlighted a significant number of allusions to this motif in the Iliad, where the comparison with other Indo-European poetic traditions suggests that it is perhaps perpetuating a very old theme of eschatological warfare. [23]
This reading of the Trojan legend would not, therefore, have been overlooked by the rhapsode who composed (possibly in “dictation”) the Iliad which we read – no more than it was by his potential audience. But the poem does not limit itself to evoking this tradition in a few scattered allusions, nor to relating it to the general framework of the story, of which, according to Aristotle’s Poetics, its narrative only presents a portion. It reinterprets it, and integrates it into the plot by absorbing it into its monumental structure, so as to summarize the entire war, including the essential appendix of the “returns”.
* * *This articulation is realised in two ways.
The first works to connect the action of the Iliad to its past and future by a complex network of analepses and prolepses – for which the narrator sometimes takes responsibility, but which he also often places in the mouths of his characters. It is sometimes difficult to discern what kind of presence or {127 | 128} real importance events which are “recalled” in this way would have had in the epic tradition, around the time when the Iliad was coming into being. Episodes that appear to belong to a “recent” phase of the war in particular come to mind: the capture and sack of Thebes-under-Plakos, recollected by Achilles and Andromache (I.366-369; VI.414-428); of Lyrnessos and Pedasos, recalled by the bard, Achilles and Aeneas (II.691; XIX.60; XX.92 and 191); the adventures of Lycaon (XXI.35-44), etc. Proclus’ Chrestomathia mentions the two former episodes in his summary of the Cypria, but ignores the city of Eëtion. Thebes is certainly important for the Iliad, in that it is the last city to have been taken by Achilles, so that its fall prefigures and anticipates, by opposition, the fall of Troy. But this observation is not enough to assume that this episode of the legend was an ad hoc invention of Homer’s.
On the other hand, some major episodes of the story of the origins and beginnings of the war are also recalled: the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, Paris’ judgement, the abduction of Helen, the gathering at Aulis, the death of Protesilaus, Menelaus and Odysseus’ fruitless embassy to the Trojans, the murder of Troilus, etc. And there are predictions, too: the death of Achilles, the capture of the city and its destruction, Aeneas’ future kingship, the departure of the fleet and the destruction of the Achaean wall, etc. [24]
But this observation does not affect the essential point – that is, first and foremost, the way in which the Iliad projects the relationship between the story which makes up its own theme, and the story of the war entire. A whole series of indications underline the fact that the quarrel between the king and the most glorious of his warriors breaks out, along with the disasters which follow in its wake, at a decisive moment in the development of the war, at a time marked by fate for the downfall of Priam’s city. Odysseus’ recollection of the omen at Aulis (II.299-332), for example, does not only fulfil the intradiegetic function of persuading the Achaeans to reassemble around Agamemnon to launch the decisive attack against Troy; it also functions as a sign, through which the bard invites his audience to interpret the events presented to them in his recitation. Calchas, he suggests, was not mistaken. The king’s dream is not entirely misleading. The illusions which he brings into being, and the disaster which they help prepare for the Achaeans, are also tied, by a fundamental bond, to the future destruction of Troy. [25]
In the Iliad’s interpretation, the anger of Achilles becomes the decisive event of the war. Achilles’ retirement, the stunning {128 | 129} (though shocking) victories of Hector and the Trojans, the capture of the Achaean camp and the burning of the ships, the murder of Patroclus, could appear on reflection, in the concatenation of episodes, as the cause of the Trojan rout, the death of Hector and the imminent fall of the city, bereft of the warrior who protected it. [26] It matters little that Achilles should die before taking Troy. From the point of view of the Iliad, the hero’s task is achieved and the outcome of the war clear-cut. The poem remains silent on the events which lead to the death of Achilles (the subject matter of the Ethiopis), and says almost nothing of those which take place between his death and the taking of the city (the subject matter of the Little Iliad and the Ilioupersis). [27]
The absence of any reference to the death of the Amazon queen, the murder of Thersites, the duel between Achilles and Memnon, the judgement of the weapons, the theft of the Palladion and the wooden horse does not mean that Homer was ignoring the poetic traditions preserved in the summaries and scattered fragments of the Cycle poems. The research done by the Neo-Analysts has, besides, drawn attention to the passages in the Iliad which seem to echo or imitate scenes from the lost epics. But it should instead be concluded that this deliberate silence, which the bards’ public was meant to understand, was intended directly to connect the fall of Troy with Hector’s death, thus underlining that the crisis set in motion by the quarrel of Achilles and Agamemnon comprised the nodal episode of the whole war.
This narrative strategy has another implication. The “imminent” death of Achilles certainly preserves, in negative, the traditional version of the capture of the city; but there is no space given to the episodes leading up to it in the Ethiopis, or the other poems which would become lost to remembrance. Such a polemical move must be categorically interpreted as a denial of the value, or “truth”, of rival poetic traditions. One could make a similar remark with regards to the poems recounting the last days of Troy. The Iliad essentially only retains future events whose entire impact has to do with the actions it recounts, and keeps silent on the episodes and characteristic themes belonging to other songs – the particular “path” which gives each tradition its poetic identity. This observation, which applies to the future, also applies to a certain extent to the past, and could explain the complete absence of any reference to the Mysian episode and the character of Telephus, both of which are {129 | 130} central to the plot of the Cypria, but useless for gaining an understanding of the action of the Iliad and the war as a whole.
* * *I come now to the second method used by Homer to reinterpret the story of the Trojan War in the light of the anger of Achilles. It is directly linked to the first, and comprises the absorption of the essential narrative substance of the other Trojan Cycle epics into the poem’s plot. Not only does the Iliad recount the determining episode of the outcome of the war, but its monumental narrative is built in such a way that it offers, in miniature, a synthetic image of the whole story, replaying its key moments. At the end of the poem, all has been told – all, that is, which really deserved the telling.
This “interjection” of legend into the Iliadic narrative comes out most noticeably in the complex interplay between two types of narrative tropes, which could be described as thematic metonymy, on the one hand, and reconfigurations of episodes (or sequences of episodes) on the other. These would be clearly intelligible only to a public fairly well versed in the repertoire (and thus able to pick up on allusions or fainter echoes), and fairly used to interpreting the narratives it hears, in order to be able to both recognize and unravel these devices within the thread of the poem’s recitation.
I shall limit myself to four examples.
1. When Achilles, at the start of book eighteen, learns the news of Patroclus' death from Antilochus, the violence of his grief throws him to the ground, where he stays stretched out in the dust, his face, tunic and hair fouled, like the corpse of his lost friend. The women he has captured run out from the hut and crowd around him, beating their chests in accordance with the customary ritual. His mother responds to his cry with a funerary lament, to which the tears and ritual movements of the Nereids reply in turn. During the conversation which follows between Thetis and Achilles, the mother holds her son's head as if she were holding his corpse. This pathetic image of Achilles' grief provides the framework for the prediction of the hero's imminent death. There is little doubt that the context of this episode - replicating, as it does, death and the grief it causes - underlines the substitutive bond which exists between the two friends. Achilles substitutes himself, in imitation, for the "naked" corpse of Patroclus, soiled by dust, {130 | 131} just as Patroclus substituted himself in imitation of Achilles, when he borrowed his armour to go to the aid of the harassed Achaeans and their ships. But this scene explains more than the hero's grief, or the nature of the relationship between the two friends. The two accounts which we still have as evidence of the way in which the death of Achilles was narrated in archaic epic - the summary of the Ethiopis in Proclus' Chrestomathia, and Agamemnon's speech in the final book of the Odyssey - suggest that the audience of the Iliad would have seen, in the description of the grief of Achilles, a foreshadowing of the lamentations which would accompany the funeral after his death, predicted in this passage by Thetis' conditional prolepsis. [28] The death of Patroclus is, at the same time, the cause of Achilles' approaching death, and the mainstay of the Iliad's reconfiguration of that death and the scenes of mourning which marked it out in other traditions.
The text does not merely project this incumbent death into the future; it shows it as, in a sense, accomplished. The hero who raises himself at Iris’ call, and appears suddenly at the edge of the trench, clouded in a mirror image of the fire which was threatening the Achaean fleet, and who goes on to destroy Priam’s city, is at the same time the double of the soiled body of Patroclus and the prefiguration of his own corpse. The murderer of Hector and scourge of Troy no longer belongs to the land of the living.
The halo of flames with which Athena crowns his bare head is likened in a famous simile (XVIII.207-214) to the smoke and raging fires of a besieged city. But we should not be too hasty, in deciphering this motif, to connect the image directly and unilaterally to the future destruction of Troy. The threat is certainly there, and will be acted out. Another simile echoes it, in this sense, at the end of book XXI. [29] But, putting book XVIII in context, the transmitted text makes a digression in the form of an intervention with vital consequences for its interpretation, namely, the firing of Protesilaus’ ship by Hector in book XVI (114-123). This was the fire which gave the signal for Patroclus’ fatal expedition (124-129). It represents the raging of the Achaean’s distress, just as the death of Patroclus – which is connected to it – represents raging grief for Achilles. It is this flame, most of all, which burns on the hero’s head and which will go on to light the fire which will melt away Troy. In the dialectic of the Iliad, true to the boulé (the plan of Zeus), it is the grief of the Achaeans in the two complementary figures of the burning of the ships and the death of Patroclus, which leads Hector to his death and Troy to its fall. {131 | 132}
2. An apparent metonymic economy ensures the integration of the future destruction of Troy into the themes of the Iliad in its own right. The poem – most notably in book XXII – does more than simply lay out the coming catastrophe, pronouncing it as the inevitable consequence of the death of the city’s main defender. It underlines the symbolic identity of the two events. Priam, in anticipation, paints the picture of the sack of Troy in terms which sum it up in all its horror, in his fruitless supplication to his son not to wait for Achilles’ attack, and to take shelter behind the walls so he can protect them (XXII.59-76). Andromache, too, has her own vision of the lot which will fall to Astyanax when the Achaeans have taken over the city of which his father was the sole defender (XXIV.734-738). A simile compares the grief of the Trojans at the moment of Hector’s death to smoke from a fire (XXII.410-411). These textual signs would have provided the means for an audience well versed in narratives of the sack of Troy to comprehend how the Ilioupersis could be reconfigured, even within the Iliadic episode of the fight between Hector and Achilles. It is certain that the gaps in our education place us in a less favourable position than that of the bards’ public, to perceive the sophistication and richness of this reconstruction. But there is another clue which should not escape us: Hector gives in to his adversary when, abandoned by Apollo, he allows himself to be caught in Athena’s trap, deceived by a disguise which the goddess assumes in order to put the Trojan at the mercy of his enemy (XXII.227-247). This deception, which so profits Achilles, certainly points towards the strategem which enabled Odysseus and the other leaders of the army, under the inspiration and with the help of the goddess, to take Troy for their own. [30]
3. In terms of the opening scenes, the Iliad similarly integrates Helen’s abduction by Paris into the interpretive logic of its plot. At the start of book III, the two armies, in the midst of preparing to launch the decisive (and long deferred) battle, decide to restore peace amongst themselves, and to leave the task of resolving their quarrel to the heroes whose animosity had incited the war in the first place, by means of a duel. As if men could control the disputes caused by the gods amongst themselves, and escape the misfortune to which they are doomed by destiny! This poetic fiction, designated as such, [31] relies on the delusion fostered in the sequence of episodes which opens the meeting between Paris and Menelaos, and at the same time provides the means to take things back “to the beginning”. To enumerate: as soon as the conditions for peace have been agreed on, Iris goes to find {132 | 133} Helen in Paris’ palace, and sends her, reawakening her desire for her former husband, to a place which should be recognised as a symbolic equivalent to her country of origin, Lacedaimon, within the fictional conditions of the Iliad. [32] Throughout the episode, the narrative highlights, through a series of signs and allusions, this figurative return which negates the first voyage (tenuously within the narrative, but highly effectively within the poetic construction), the source of all difficulties. [33]
The resulting pact between the Trojans and the Achaeans establishes a friendly relationship between the two armies comparable, in the obligations which it entails, to that which binds guest and host. [34] Both are placed under the protection of Zeus, and transgressions of the laws governing them are punishable by the same exigencies. This similarity is what makes the reconfiguration of the original transgression of Paris within the Iliad possible.
The entire episode is played out in five scenes, articulated in such a way as to provide an outline of the event’s significance.
The wounding of the son of Atreus provokes the resumption of hostilities.Let us examine briefly, to begin with, the way in which the narrative presents the temporal positioning of these five “moments” of the action. The “seduction” of Helen [B] naturally follows (III.383) Paris’ removal [A], and Pandarus’ betrayal [E] is a result of the deliberation of the gods [D]. But the concatenation, in lines 448 and 449, of scene [B] followed by the tableau of the action on the plain [C], leaves the temporal relationship between the events reported {133 | 134} in the two episodes more indeterminate, without at any point in the narrative signalling a flashback (which would contravene a well-established convention of Homeric narration). The juxtaposition of the aorist in the offer which closes the first scene, and the imperfect of duration in the introduction to the second, effectively leaves the audience free to construct the temporal relation between the two actions as they wish. Agamemnon’s pronouncement (III.456-460) could now have preceded, followed or been simultaneous to Paris’ breaking of the pact.
The divine scene which follows, on the other hand, although it does not formally violate “Zielinski’s law” – for the narrator does not state that he is returning to the thread of his plot at a point in the development of the action later than that reached at the end of scene [B] – nevertheless incorporates a marked sign, which obliges the audience to reflect on the sense in which the chronology of the diegesis and the narrative organisation relate. It consists of an observation which the bard does not directly account for, but places instead in the mouth of the principal actor in his cast: Zeus. Trying to provoke Hera and Athena, the “son of Cronos” essentially reflects that, even if the two protectresses of Menelaos seem content to view the combat from their Olympian seat, Aphrodite, for her part, is keeping close to Paris’ side and is again going to save him at the moment when he thought to die (IV.7-12). To which he adds that the victory belongs to Menelaos (IV.13), in terms close to those used by Agamemnon a few lines before (III.457). The situation which Zeus’ speech envisages thus corresponds to the end of the duel [A], before the goddess goes looking for Helen. The action which results from the gods’ deliberation – that is, Pandarus’ betrayal [E] – is thus exactly contemporaneous with [B], Paris’ seduction of Helen with the help of Aphrodite. The two episodes are conceived so that the audience understands that they unfold in parallel, in contrasting positions but in direct correlation, as shown most notably in the symmetry of the scenes built around the visits of Iris and Aphrodite to Helen at the start and end of the third book. The intimacy of Paris’ bedroom lies on one side, the space of the future battlefield, open to the gaze of all, on the other. Pandarus’ crime is the palpable counterpart to that of Paris. The first is induced by Aphrodite, the second by Hera and Athena, who thus work together (though in confrontation) towards the disaster which will destroy Troy and the race of heroes. All under the supervision of Zeus… It should be noted in passing {134 | 135} that, for the development of the Iliad’s plot, that is, initiating the reprisal of war, only Pandarus’ betrayal was necessary; the secret union between Paris and Helen could not, by itself, have produced this effect.
There is no reason to suppose that the significance of this complex construction should have escaped Homer’s audience. The scene of the seduction should be recognised for what it is: the reconfiguration within the Iliad of Helen’s abduction. The assistance which the goddess provides Paris at every turn, as Zeus pointedly remarks, is newly demonstrated in the rescue of the Trojan prince (IV.10-12). In the tradition of the Cypria, this favouritism was presented as the consequence of the Judgement, and manifested itself in particular in the help given to Paris by Aphrodite in the conquest of Helen. The goddess’ promise, which had earlier secured the young shepherd’s vote, is the cause – which the audience of the Iliad needed no further prompting to recall – of the vehemence with which she forces Helen to return to Paris’ bed and bedroom. He himself, in fact, recalls the abduction and the union which followed in inviting his wife to sleep with him, thus signalling the profound identification of the Iliadic episode with the original scene that it replays (III.441-446). [36]
This reconfiguration has a double purpose. It allows the Iliad, as we have already mentioned above, to integrate the event which began the war within its plot, and thus to present itself as the monumental summation of traditional knowledge concerning the disappearance of the race of heroes (along with the implications this might have for rival poetic traditions). But it also enables it to impose an interpretation of this mythic event, which ties in with the reading that the poem proposes of the story of the Trojan War. The initial abduction was one aspect of it, as Paris recalls, [37] and its reconfiguration underlines that he was guided by the design and with the help of a divinity whose power is not defied by mortals without punishment. The episode of Pandarus, which makes up the visible front of the transgression whose mythic significance is recalled in the seduction of Helen, completes the analysis. If the archer is described by the narrator as “out of his senses” when he gives in to Athena’s persuasion (IV.104), his folly throws light in retrospect on that of Paris, elsewhere condemned by other characters, [38] and made manifest in the scene of the seduction in his oblivious response to {135 | 136} the sarcasm of his wife. [39] Paris and the Trojans are to blame, even though the whole affair was planned by the gods – or rather, by one of them. Now, this culpability is important within the dialectic of the Iliad. It makes the trials and defeat which Zeus initially inflicts on the Achaeans more paradoxical, but at the same time explains the lot which lies in wait for Troy: the annihilation of the city, for which Hector’s death is the metonymic expression.
The organisation of the episodes narrating the breaking of the pact thus reveals its meaning. The two complementary transgressions can certainly be parallel according to the chronology of the diegesis; but in terms of the order of cause and effect, it is Paris’ transgression which comes first. It is effectively this which governs everything; and, through it, the divine trap in which the Trojan prince allows himself to be caught – establishing the original transgression –, and the plans of the god who conceived it. K. Reinhardt and G. Dumézil have clearly shown, by different methods, that the judgement of Paris was presupposed in the layout of the interventions of the three goddesses in this part of the poem, contrary to the opinion of Aristarchus and most modern critics before them. The initiative of Aphrodite has as its counterpart the essentially complementary action of her two rivals. The allusions would have been clear enough that there was no need to underline them for the audience.
But the presentation of the divine interventions reveals another aspect of this metonymic use, and interpretation, of the mythic material. The repetition of the abduction follows immediately on from the deliverance of Paris, and seems to unfold entirely separate from the rest of the gods and Zeus’ authority. Pandarus’ betrayal apparently results from an agreement made between the supreme god and the goddesses of the Achaean party. I will return later to the negotiation between the divine husband and wife, and will content myself here by drawing attention to the role which the narrative awards Zeus, and which is not limited to the assembly at the start of book IV. The god acts alongside Aphrodite as well as Athena, in an oblique but different way in both cases. He hedges and disguises [40] his true objectives when he addresses Hera, proposing that she recognise the peace made between the two armies. What he really wants is for the war to resume, but with something in addition, which I will for the moment set aside for later investigation. His interlocutor falls for it, thinking she will be able to snatch from Zeus the destruction of a city which she had not for an instant dreamt {136 | 137} of saving. Athena leaves on her mission and the Trojans dedicate themselves to the death – delayed for four days! – which attends perjury, in the hand of Pandarus. [41]
The part played by the “son of Cronos” in the breaking of the pact, within the sequence of events leading to the abduction of Helen, is evoked in a more subtle manner, by signs (often in negative form) which the narrator leaves for the listener to identify and comprehend. The first can be found in line III.302, in the indication that the god “did not yet give his assent” to the oath which the warriors in the two armies offer up, dedicating whichever of the two sides first violates the sworn pact to utter destruction. The departure of Priam (III.303-313), after the drawing of lots which gives Paris the advantage (324-325) – as follows in the duel, with the ironic answer that the pattern of events gives, twice, to Menelaos’ prayer to Zeus [42] – prepare for the intervention of Aphrodite, described as the “daughter of Zeus” in the phrase which recounts her action (373-374).
This submission, conscious or unconscious, of the divinities of the two camps to the secret design of the supreme god plays a part in the fundamental themes of the Iliad; but we must, at the same time, read into it an echo of the legends around the divine plan which began the Trojan War. The lack of symmetry which we have noted between the methods of Zeus’ action in the first and second part of the narrative of the breaking of the pact, divulges its meaning both within the action of the Iliad and through an analysis of the traditional narrative material, which reveals the construction of the poem’s plot. The cosmic crisis, of which the Iliad provides a condensed image, never goes out of the control of the universal regulator, “father of men and gods”, who only brings it about in order thus to reestablish the equilibrium of the world he governs. I will return later to this essential aspect of the structuring of the Iliad’s plot. But it is interesting to observe that Zeus’ action in Aphrodite’s and, apparently, Paris’ favour, takes a silent and negative form in the narrative of the duel and events immediately following it, whilst Athena’s intervention is the result of an agreement, which he makes sure is explicitly taken up by Hera – the goddess who, with her two allies, [43] defends a “normal” visualisation; that is, within the situation of the crisis which the poem’s action describes, a unilateral and rigid (not dialectic) visualisation of the divine and human order. {137 | 138}
4. I will start my final example with the unusual negotiation which leads to the resumption of hostilities between the Trojans and Achaeans. It has been as badly assessed as it has been understood, its critics oddly scandalised by its clever bargaining.
Let us recall the terms of the agreement! The explosion of Hera’s anger (IV.25-29) at the idea that the gods might sanction the peace concluded between the armies and save Priam’s city, elicits an even stronger reply from Zeus, whose style displays a better calculation of its content (31-49). It contains two sentiments, carefully balanced at the start and end: Hera’s sworn hatred against Priam and his people, and the partiality which Zeus has for their city (31-36; 43-49). In the middle comes the deal, whose implications in, and for, the action of the Iliad, Hera – and the Homeric critics with her – does not immediately grasp. Zeus gives way (36-37) in a move which imitates, and perhaps parodies, the “do it!” with which Hera had ended her protestation (29), and justifies this concession with a motive which takes up a similar quality to the veiled threat which accompanied his wife’s apparent submission. But he indicates straight away the price of his surrender – which should not be taken solely as a threat. Hera, in her turn, must give up to him, without resistance when the time comes, an equivalent to what was so precious to him, but which he nevertheless surrendered to her hatred. The sack of a city which you care for, in return for that of Priam’s city which I loved so much!
Hera falls for it and immediately agrees that she will no longer be able to shelter them from harm: three cities for one, three cities in one (51-54). If the proposal to save Troy is really a pretence, as the bard states (anxious to prevent his audience misinterpreting the meaning of this central scene), there can only be one reason: to manipulate the goddess into herself precipitating the resumption of war, in implicitly agreeing to the continuation of defeat, which the promise to Thetis assigns to the Achaeans. Such is, indeed, the result which Zeus obtains. The three “cities” which Hera hands over to the destructive rage of her husband are represented by only one within the Iliad: that is, the Achaean camp, raised up and metamorphosed into a kind of counter-city, when, on the evening of the first day, Nestor realises that the battle has not upheld the promises of the dream, and that danger is looming. [44] Argos, Sparta and Mycenae (the last taking up the second half of line 52 with its epithet): that is to say, Diomedes, Menelaos and Agamemnon. {138 | 139}
The Catalogue of the Ships provides the key to this construction, and to the strategem of the king of the gods: the contingents of Diomedes and the two Atrides follow each other, in a slightly different order which puts Agamemnon at the centre. [45] The three cities loved by Hera are none other than the Achaean army, in that Zeus has chosen to oppress them, to honour Achilles. The choice of the Atrides is a given. They are the leaders, the titled representatives of the coalition. But Diomedes? He seems to me to be associated with the two kings because he is the warrior, within the Iliad, whose exploits seem to promise victory to the Achaeans, the imminence of which the dream paints in glowing colours. In other words, it is because he is the apparent substitute for Achilles and claimant to his title – as his name suggests; the involuntary witness to this “plan of Zeus”, who dedicates the Achaean army to disaster in spite of his bravery.
The Iliad does not recount the taking and sack of Troy, which will happen in the future, nor the capture of the twenty-three cities (Trojan or Trojan allies) which Achilles has seized at that point. Even so, it evokes them, giving an increasingly prominent position as the plot progresses to images of besieged, attacked or incinerated cities. There is nevertheless one “city” described in the poem whose ramparts are assailed and whose gates are forced, in a fierce fight put up by the defenders trying to expel the invading enemy from their walls, and to quench the flames of the spreading fire. It is the Achaean camp. Mirroring the plan of Zeus, its fortifications are designed as a paradoxical reflection of the walls of Troy. Poseidon even takes exception to it for a moment (VII.446-453), and Achilles is right when he identifies in it the material impact of his anger and his absences (IX.348-350). It is, in other words, something like a poetic code within the Iliad, which a persistent tradition of criticism has tried to vanish away – without ever considering that the poem has already given itself that task (XII.10-33).
This counter-city does not shut its women and children away in its houses, with its treasures, like Hector’s city – it protects its ships. The Iliad itself underlines the symmetry of these concerns in presenting, in the form of a diptych, the contrasting addresses of Hector and Ajax at the critical moment of the battle. [46] The survival of the Achaean army is tied to their ships, just as that of Troy is connected to the walls protecting them. For the Achaeans, their hopes for the future are tied to the possibility of “return”. Achilles knows it just as well as {139 | 140} his older comrades, and it is in order to protect the fleet that he sends Patroclus and the Myrmidons in to fight, when Protesilaos’ ship is set on fire (XVI.80-82 and 126-129).
The transformation of the shore where the invaders beached their ships into a besieged city is more than a convenient method of introducing the development of traditional themes, in an epic which seems to exclude them in the outline of its subject. It is the consequence and the manifestation of an essential aspect of the poetic inventio of the Iliad. The assault on the Achaean camp and the burning of the ships are, at the same time, the counterpart and the cause of the ruin of Troy, just as the murder of Patroclus prefigures and brings about the death of Hector. The disaster which the anger of Achilles brings upon the army of the Atrides provides, at the centre of the poem, the inverse image of and the key to the future destruction of the city of Priam.
I will have occasion later on to take a look at the relationship which this narrative figure maintains, within the structuring of the Iliad’s plot, with the design of Zeus, the Dios boulé in question in the fifth verse of the proem. But I would like at this point to draw attention to an unexpected aspect of the poetic “inversion” which the poem of anger effects on the epic tradition. In the Trojan Cycle, the capture of the city was not the end of the story. The Achaeans who had survived the war still had to encounter the trials which the gods had devised for them on their return home. The conquerors pay the price of victory with wandering and death, on the sea, or upon arrival in their homeland. Nostos, the foregrounded image of salvation (as D. Frame has shown), thus becomes the “sinister return” of which Phemios sings in Odysseus’ palace, trying to please the queen’s Suitors.
I suggest that it is this general structuring of the Trojan legend which the Iliad inserts into its plot construction, by means of the “inversion” briefly noted above. The suffering and death which the anger of Achilles brings upon the Achaeans in the Homeric poem are the metonymic equivalent to the suffering and death which the anger of Athena, [47] according to a tradition which the Odyssey echoes, inflicted upon the conquerors when they took to sea after their victory. What happened after the fall of Troy, and as its direct result in the general economy of the legend, is reproduced in our poem before the event, as its cause. {140 | 141}
This interpretation allows for clarification of a difficulty which critics have often pointed out in the proem of the Iliad. After describing in the second line the innumerable sufferings, algea, inflicted on the Achaeans by the anger of Achilles, it goes on to state that it “sent a great number of valiant souls of heroes down to Hades, making them (that is, their bodies) prey for dogs and birds of all kinds”. The position assigned to the word ‘heroes’, in the middle of the phrase and carried over to the start of the fourth line, is without doubt a subtle sign that it is the disappearance of this race of men which will be in question during the poem. What the first phrase says about the destiny of their psuchai does not pose a problem, but the lot assigned to their corpses has somewhat troubled readers of the poem. In fact, if one ignores a brief tableau in book XXI (where fish are added to the list of scavengers), and the threats placed by Homer in the mouths of some of the heroes, the Iliad does not anywhere show corpses exposed to the dogs and birds. The expression is thus figurative, but the meaning of the metonymy is unclear. Why give such prominence to an image which J. Redfield has defined, in his book on The Tragedy of Hector, as that of the “anti-funeral”? The expression is explained, it seems to me, through an understanding – as I have suggested – of the relation between the theme of the suffering imposed on the Achaeans by the anger of Achilles and that of the ultimate disappearance of the conquerors of Troy during their return. The image of a body abandoned to the fury of the wild animals signals that the war, which the poem tries to represent synthetically, is a cataclysmic event, the ultimate disaster in which an entire age of humanity is destroyed. It does not indicate narrative content: it suggests its meaning.
In this interpretive reconfiguration of an essential aspect of the Trojan legend, the role of the Achaean wall is a determining factor. It is the symbol of Achilles’ absence, the place where the destruction of Agamemnon’s army unfolds in all its horror, and a trap broken into by the Trojans – despite Polydamas’ warnings (XII.210-229) – to their detriment. The opening of book XII, which tells of the assault conducted on the wall by Hector and his allies, also predicts its imminent flooding by the combined waters of the rivers (directed by Apollo) and the sea, raised by Poseidon. The first few lines closely link the subsequent two events: the inadequacy of the fortification during the Trojan attack and its obliteration by the {141 | 142} gods (XII.3-9). The form of this cataclysm is interesting. The great deluge – the flood – is, effectively, one of two “natural” eschatological catastrophes which Greek mythology preserves in its memory. [48] The other, connected to the names of either Typhoeus or Phaethon, is the conflagration of the universe. The Iliad, which evokes lesser versions of these disasters in its similes, [49] describes the confrontation of the two in the opening scene of the battle of the gods (XXI.328-378). And there, things are clear: the intervention of Hephaistos, at Hera’s request, saves Achilles from the whirlpool in which the Scamander and the Simoïs are about to swallow him. For the Achaean, the threat comes from the water, from the fury of a river in flood, [50] just as fire is the agent of Troy’s future destruction. [51] The implication of Apollo and Poseidon, of the rivers and sea in the description of the flood which will destroy the Achaean wall – anticipated by the sea-god’s protests before the fortification of the camp – enables a link to be made between the scenes of books XII and XXI. If fire is the metonymic symbol of the ruin of Troy, then submersion in water figures for the disappearance of the conquerors during the return journey.
The flames which Hector uses to threaten the fleet [52] and which engulf Protesilaos’ ship [53] become charged with a double significance, in the inverse image of the city formed by the Achaean camp. They predict, at the same time as they cause, the fire which will destroy Troy; but they also reveal to or remind the audience that the death which awaits the Achaeans on the sea in the course of their sinister return [54] will itself be the result of the fires which they will set alight.
This dialectic method of constructing the progression of events presents a consideration which is worth examining for a moment, in an extension of the analysis developed by H. Lloyd-Jones in the first chapter of his book on the justice of Zeus. [55] The Odyssey, reflecting in its turn on the story of the Trojan War, has Nestor say (in the passage referred to above) that Zeus was preparing a sinister return for the Argives, because they were far from all being intelligent and just. [56] Nor does the Iliad ignore this theme, I believe. But the allusions made do not directly present themselves as predictions of what will happen at the moment of the fall of Troy. Instead, they take on the form of two series of reconfigurations, in a duplication which conforms to the logic of the plot. {142 | 143}
To start with Agamemnon: in two scenes in books VI and XI, connected by the resumption of motifs and repetition of lines (VI.37-65; XI.122-147), the son of Atreus displays a savagery towards the Trojans which prefigures the atrocities of the sack. The first is the more significant, because the murder of the suppliant Adrastes is presented as a model of the destiny promised to the city (VI.57-60), and because it intrudes into a moment when the Achaeans are still under the illusion that the victory announced by the dream is within their reach. [57] The second is part of Agamemnon’s aristeia, where it is possible to detect features similar to the situation in book VI, in the depiction of the terrible defeat which has taken place in the interval (narrated in book VIII). It should be noted that the king, in the two passages, justifies the vehemence with which he rejects his victims’ supplication by recalling the crimes representative of the Trojans’ guilt. It should also be observed that in both cases, the fortunes of the battle turn at the same moment as, or just after, the son of Atreus thought he would gain victory.
Achilles’ aristeia also has its own moments of rage and savagery, which the poem suggests – or says explicitly – will bring their own retribution. The passages are well known, and I will at this point simply bring them to mind briefly. The first to be looked at is obviously that concerning the fate of Hector’s corpse. The words exchanged by the two enemies before the duel (XXII.262-266), then after the wounding of the Trojan (330-366), as well as the outrages sworn against or inflicted on the corpse [58] are presented by the narrator and denounced by the gods [59] as transgressions for which Achilles will have to pay the price. But there is another passage, connected by a recurring motif to the first, and which does not concern Hector but rather the Trojans as a whole. I am referring to the massacre which Achilles unleashes on the banks and in the waters of the Scamander in book XXI. At the heart of the episode, framed by generalised descriptions of the massacre of the Trojans in the riverbed and the flight of the Paeonians along its banks, and forming a diptych either side of a brief passage reporting the god’s anger during the exactions imposed by the Achaean (XXI.136-138), two scenes recount the pathetic death of Lycaon, a son of Priam (34-135), killed by Achilles despite his pleas, and the heroic end of the gigantic Asteropaeus, grandson of Axios (139-204). The two narratives complement each other. The first ends with {143 | 144} Achilles’ cry of triumph as he abandons Lycaon’s corpse to the fish to devour, the second with the tableau of the eels and fish nibbling at the fat of Asteropaeus’ eviscerated corpse. The savage violence of the murderer, the horror of his behaviour as well as the outrages which he does not flinch from hurling at the river-god, so inflame the god’s anger that he swells his tide and would have drowned the hero without the intervention of Poseidon and Athena, followed by Hephaistos. We should add that there is a motif connecting this episode to the fate of Hector’s corpse: the capture of the twelve young Trojans which Achilles will later kill, keeping to his promise, on Patroclus’ funeral pyre. [60] In this set of brutal scenes, the excesses of the Achaean hero are not only justified, within his speeches, by the desire to avenge Patroclus, but are also directly linked to this motif in recollecting the massacre to which Hector’s Trojans abandoned themselves in the Achaean camp.
It should be added that some significant echoes link the narrative of Lycaon’s death to the episode of the murder of Adrastes in book VI – the violence of Achilles to that of Agamemnon. The excesses of the sack of Troy are anticipated, even in the course of the Iliad, by the overwhelming cruelty of the two principal actors in the drama on the Achaean side, and in both cases the poem suggests that it is inscribing a reconfiguration of the crimes committed by the conquerors of Troy during the city’s capture within its plot, along with the disasters earned by these transgressions on their return.
* * *I have advanced the idea that one of the purposes of this method of evoking and assimilating the key legendary episodes, by an allusive game of thematic metonymy and reconfigurations, was to make this monumental poem the summation of the epic traditions on the Trojan War. The other narratives, whether or not they formed a part of the repertory of “epic” songs, became superfluous, anecdotal or untruthful. Gregory Nagy has interpreted the relationship of the Iliad (and the Odyssey) with the traditions fixed in the epics of the Cycle, by creating an opposition between the traditions of “Panhellenic” scope (those which were formalised in the “Homeric” poems which we have now), and {144 | 145} more directly “epichoric” (or less Panhellenic) traditions. [61] His explanation is illuminating and should be upheld; but in representing the poetic mode of panhellenisation, he tends to place greater emphasis on eliminating the aspects most tied to “local” traditions, and to neglect slightly to observe that this is a positive signifier of the process of interjecting traditional material within the Iliadic project.
The allusions and reconfigurations which introduce the essential thematic substance traditionally attached to the Trojan War into the plot instigated by the anger of Achilles, allow the Iliad to unfold a global interpretation of this paradigmatic story within its plot. But this is completely different from, for example, the Cypria, to judge from the testimonials and fragments which have been passed down to us. The poem attributed to Stasinos effectively begins with a scene in which Zeus is seen deliberating with Thetis on the means to relieve the Earth, overwhelmed by the weight of the heroes. He announces the divine plan before its realisation. The message thus precedes the story, which can then simply be listened to as a narrative.
In the Iliad, on the other hand, events seems to throw the gods into disarray. Not a single divine deliberation prepares for Chryses’ arrival at the Achaean camp. When Apollo intervenes, it is in response to a prayer from his priest, insulted by Agamemnon. Wait: the plague is threatening the future of the expedition? Hera acts in her turn and pushes Achilles forwards. She then dispatches Athena to prevent the quarrel turning into a disaster. Thetis seems surprised when her son calls on her, and Zeus himself stays silent at first when she asks him to pay honour to Achilles. Although he approves her request the second time, and settles upon a plan during the following night to fulfil it, the fact still remains that everything which has happened up until that point has occurred without his knowledge. It is as if the course of events, the initiatives of men as much as the reactions which they elicit from the other gods, had anticipated his plans and his plot!
Further, when the implementation of his project is set in motion, its realisation is immediately countered by events as unexpected as they are inexplicable: a rhetorical move by Agamemnon throws his army into confusion, and they disperse; will the Trojans and Achaeans confront each other? They soon conclude a peace among themselves {145 | 146}, which empties the promise to Thetis of meaning, and which the god himself seems inclined to ratify, had he not come up against the resolute opposition of Hera; when battle resumes, it does not bring the predicted disaster to Agamemnon’s army, and Zeus even smilingly encourages his wife and daughter to give Diomedes and his companions strength when they are forced into retreat by Ares and the Trojans. And we find many other analogous examples in the narrative that follows, including, within the next few books, the moment when the supreme god sends the rest of the gods off the battlefield, in order to take up sole control of operations.
This presentation of events does not reflect either the poem’s unsteady evolution, or the inevitable clumsiness of an art form, where the conditions of production would have blinded it to the problems we have noted. Nor does A. Lesky’s theory of “double motivation” come any closer to an explanation. This is, on the one hand, because the question is not strictly related to the way in which the divine game is articulated alongside the responsibility of human actors in the examples listed above, and, on the other, because this theory leaves the essential problem of the relationship between the supreme god and the other gods (Olympian or otherwise) to one side, as well as that with mortals.
The Iliad does not simply say that its story follows a course imparted to it through the design of Zeus. It makes it appear within the texture of its plot. But its method is not didactic. The economy of the divine plan is only revealed to the poet’s audience, and to the actors of the drama, on reflection, for reasons pertaining to its fundamental character. It is not linear, but is essentially double and intertwined, working underhand towards different ends than those which it advertises, at the same time as it consents to declare them. The hesitation which Zeus shows in replying to Thetis’ prayer (I.511f.), as well as the manner of his promise (518-527) and the conception of the plan which enables its realisation (II.3ff.) are prime examples in this respect. Achilles discovers too late (XVIII.79-82) that the demands his mother had made to the god on his behalf with redoubled insistence, effectively incorporated the death of Patroclus and its consequences; Hector, that his victories and the confidence they inspired in the promises of the lord of Ida have led him to disaster, and his people with him; Hera, that the plan which she opposed from the moment that she suspected its existence, has in the end produced the result which she was fighting for, etc. If Thetis’ demand {146 | 147} is formulated in explicit terms, Zeus’ response does not express the content of the promise, represented by a demonstrative pronoun in the neuter plural, but rather is accompanied by a solemn commitment that what he plans will be realised.
As for the plan itself, all we know of it (excepting that it is the product of a deliberation whose terms are not given at this early stage) is the dream which the god sends to Agamemnon to persuade him to reassemble his army and engage a decisive battle around Troy. Nothing is said about the premises of this decision, nor of the effects awaiting its recipient. But there is no reason not to think, as commentators have so often done, that what follows does not, could not, enter into the plan of Zeus. The episodes are constructed and link together in such a way that the audience, aided by the fifth verse of the proem, can decipher the design directing them.
The events of the first day form a trap, which the human and divine actors of the story fall into one after another. The Achaeans reassemble around Agamemnon, conjuring a caricature of Achilles’ protests in the person and complaints of Thersites, and thus bind themselves up in the injury which their king inflicted on the former. Peace is only concluded in order to give Paris and Pandarus the opportunity to break it, and the Trojans the chance to join in liability for their crime, making them entirely aware of the reason for Diomedes’ ensuing attack: first Aeneas, when the archer reminds him of the arrow which he shot at Menelaos (V.180-216), then Hector, when, despite his initial doubts, he gives way to Sarpedon’s reproach and leads his troops into battle (V.494-497), before returning to Troy and bringing back Paris, undeterred by his meeting with Helen in his brother’s bedroom (VI.321-369 and 503-529). On the eve of battle, Priam and the Trojans seal the fate of their city in bending to Paris’ will (despite Antenor’s advice) (VII.345-380), and the Achaeans, in Diomedes’ words (399-402), accept the lot awaiting them in spite of Nestor’s caution, his awareness of danger demonstrated in his project of fortifying the camp (323-344).
The same is true of the gods: it is Hera who, in book two, ensures that the army reassemble around their king (II.156-165), just as she provokes the resumption of war at the start of book four, thus accepting in anticipation (even though she has no knowledge of it) the {147 | 148} disaster which Zeus is preparing for the Achaeans (IV.24-72). Finally, Poseidon, at the end of this prolonged prelude, himself complains to Zeus of the Achaeans’ construction work, and obtains from his brother the promise of its destruction, whose implications within the metonymic network of the poem we have seen above (VII.443-463). The scene is, then, prepared for the carnage to follow. A thunderstorm rumbles for the whole night, portending the fate alloted to the Trojans and Achaeans by Zeus (476-482).
It is not useful to explore in more detail here the logic of the divine plan which governs the Iliad’s plot. It is made apparent in the constant turns of fortune in battle, and the advances and retreats of the armies between the opposite poles of the city and the ships (or the camp). It would be possible to describe this mechanism as resulting, in principle, from the integration of the two “promises” which determine the general course of the Trojan War, on the one hand, and the anger of Achilles on the other. Both were sanctioned by a particular gesture of Zeus’, the force of which he himself explains to Thetis when he agrees to her request. The first promise is recalled several times within the poem by gods and men, and is the determining factor in the final destiny of Troy. The other is Zeus’ promise to Thetis. They are apparently contradictory, since one promises victory to the Achaeans, whilst the other grants it temporarily to their enemies.
The plan of Zeus and the plot of the poem articulate these themes in a double sense. It is in fulfilment of the original promise that the dream persuades Agamemnon to call the Achaeans to arm for battle, that Hera asks Athena to prevent the flight of the fleet, and opposes the proposition to sanction the peace made between the armies and to spare Troy; that Diomedes, after the first day of fighting and on the evening of the second, encourages his comrades-in-arms to pursue the war; that Poseidon can fear seeing the work of his hands, the Trojan walls, supplanted in men’s memory by the fragile rampart of the Achaeans, etc. The Trojan War functions on this level as the means, the motor of the implementation of the plan conceived by Zeus to give Achilles satisfaction, and to make Agamemnon (and the army which identifies with him) pay the price for the injury inflicted on the hero.
In reciprocation, the anger of Achilles, his retreat from the battlefield and the disaster which these cause to the Achaeans, all of which {148 | 149} are connected to the promise made to Thetis, arose as the means of realising the first promise. The trials and deaths of the Achaeans – by drawing Hector and the Trojans outside the protection of the impenetrable city walls [62] , and encouraging them to camp in the plan instead of returning within their walls after Achilles’ reappearance – become, in their turn, the cause of Hector’s death and the fall of Troy. [63]
* * *Let me conclude this basic survey of a few aspects of the poetic construction of the Iliad with two remarks.
The first has bearing on the meaning of the unusual dialectic which we find employed in the construction of the plot. Apart from Zeus himself, the principal actors of the drama (including gods) follow the plan of the supreme god in a circuitous route, the whole course of which they are unable to appreciate. They are, then, the agents of the story, and if events regularly turn out differently from how they envisaged, and produce outcomes different to those they thought or expected, it is no less a consequence of their actions. Achilles can tell his mother that he caused the loss of his friend, [64] in a reply which throws light on the difference between the way in which the god granted his prayer, and what he thought he asked for; and Hera, with an ironic naïveté which she is careful to highlight, can make Zeus recognise that the sufferings of the Achaeans (to which she involuntarily contributed) led the Trojans to the disaster which her resentment had laid in store for them. But the consequences are clearly not the same for mortals and immortals. The latter play, lose and recover unharmed in the full radiance of their condition. The former suffer and die, as a result of their own decisions (or those of the leaders they follow and thus support, both on the Achaean and Trojan sides) without the possibility of prediction, though it was premeditated by Zeus.
The confusing turn taken by events, dooming mortals to death, is not presented in the Iliad as the effect of a trap set by an arbitrary and despotic king of the gods. The strategem has its reasons, which the poem exposes in two complementary aspects.
First of all, its purpose in underlining the responsibility of the heroes for their own disappearance. The Trojans are blamed {149 | 150} for their crimes and for siding with Paris and Hector, the authors of their misfortune, at two crucial moments in the plot where they could have reacted differently. [65] Their fatal mistake also has older roots – even beyond the episode of Menelaos and Odysseus’ embassy to Troy which the poem also recounts, and which is recalled in turn in the first of these two scenes [66] – in the transgressions of Laomedon and Heracles which made them guilty against the gods. [67]
If the Achaeans are responsible for the outbreak of the war – as demonstrated by the reconfigurations of books III and IV, and the achievement of the Iliadic narrative in creating a symbolic image of the fall Troy [68] –, the violence of Agamemnon against first the priest of Apollo and then Achilles, “justifies” the former’s humiliation and the misfortunes of the Achaeans who stay by his side; whilst Achilles pays for his refusal (in spite of the obligations governing friendship between comrades-in-arms) to the Achaeans come to offer him “splendid presents” to try to obtain his help (IX.630ff.), with the death of Patroclus – and soon enough, with his own death. To say nothing of the violence with which the two heroes treat their enemies in the fury of battle or after victory – in particular, the contempt which both show towards suppliants, who are protected by Zeus: it is a trait which we have recognised above as an Iliadic reflection of the crimes committed by the Achaeans during the sack of Troy, and punished by the gods during the conquerors’ return to their homeland.
Even if the wrong originates on the Trojan side, both camps are responsible for significant transgressions against the order which Zeus, above all, guarantees. The death of heroes is that of a “generation”, where the weight of their crimes – despite their courage and heroic exploits – has made the earth unable to support them, according to an interpretation of eschatological myth which is manifestly that of the Iliad. The plan of Zeus, and the deception intrinsic to it, are a means of reestablishing the rule of right.
But this return to order – which forms the second aspect of the narrative’s inherent logic – is not immediately effected according to the standards it serves to reestablish. It is assumed that the world is passing through a moment of crisis, symbolised by the anger of Achilles and the paradoxical, but temporary, Trojan victory. The sovereign god is made manifest in two forms, whose deep connection {150 | 151} remains briefly elusive: that of “father of men and gods”, on the one hand, and that of “son of Cronos” on the other. The first is the Olympian, keen to maintain the order which he himself set in place. The other has worrying – despotic – features; and the gods who embody most strictly the original division of the divine and human cosmos – Hera, Athena and Poseidon – perceive in it the threat of a violent challenge to the principles on which the rule of the gods was founded. He leaves Olympus and sets himself up on Ida, away from the gods, [69] refusing to communicate the intricacies of his plans to his wife, and daring to stand by the Trojans’ cause and Achilles’ withdrawal – against his own former judgements, as Hera and Poseidon bitterly recall. The blatant use of the patronymic “son of Cronos” in the vocative, as an apostrophe, is a familiarity which only Hera allows herself, of all the gods, six times in the Iliad. [70] It is used, each time, to denounce an abuse of power, where the god’s conduct raises or recalls fears. The two cardinal moments of Zeus’ sovereignty – his right to rule, and the violence which established that right after the theogonic conflicts – are evoked within the poem in the staging of the divine game, [71] and thus ostensibly become disassociated from each other during the crisis initiated by Thetis’ request. But the realisation of Zeus’ design during the course of the plot’s evolution brings into the foreground the (deeply disturbing) dialectic unity between the order of law and the violence on which it rests.
* * *With regards to the content of this divine plan, I have stated above that it was not formulated in advance. But the audience is invited to take an interest in it as early as the Iliad’s proem. Indeed, in the fifth verse, after the description of the subject of the song – Achilles’ anger and its deadly consequences for the heroes – we read a clause (tied to its precedents through relatives), Dios d’eteleieto boulé: “and the plan of Zeus was being fulfilled”. The meaning of this phrase, and its relation to the rest of the sentence, have been the subject of lively discussions since Antiquity. Interpreters have been principally opposed on the identification of the referent of “the plan of Zeus”. The question of the syntax of the phrase has effectively been subordinated to the latter problem. Two positions have confronted each other from the Hellenistic period on. Critics who compared the proem of the Iliad to that of the Cypria, where they observed the same expression, concluded that the plan of Zeus described by {151 | 152} Homer must have been the one which, according to Stasinos, determines the whole course of the Trojan War – that is, the project to relieve the earth of the heroes’ weight by a war of extinction. Aristarchus and his pupils, disregarding on principle all use of the poems of the Cycle in explaining the Homeric poems, contended that this boulé could only be the one conceived by Zeus at the start of book II to fulfil the promise made to Thetis at the end of the first book. Modern critics have mostly followed the Alexandrian view, until an article by W. Kullmann revived the opposing explanation, upheld by Welcker in the previous century. This interpretation (provided that not too much importance be attributed to the literal comparison with Stasinos’ poem) certainly has the advantage over the other, in that it offers a wider perspective, and takes better account of the poem’s complexity. But it misses an essential aspect of the Homeric poem. If the proem does not define the divine project more explicitly, and if the phrase which concerns us fits as an incidental clause within the sentence defining the theme of the Muse’s song, it is because it aims at saying more than simply recalling the legendary framework within which the Iliadic episode writes itself. It has an impact, as does the rest of the phrase around it, on the poem as a whole, and invites the audience to interpret it correctly. It would certainly be wrong to think that it provides a sort of general theological explanation, with the course of events obeying the will of the sovereign god. [72] But it must, without a doubt, be awarded an “open” reference. The content of this boulé is not announced by the narrator at the start of the performance. Nor is its comprehension a given. It depends on the audience’s thought process, like a riddle which they must learn to decode, as the narrative progresses. Because it is thus that they will be able to understand how the plot of Zeus, within the Iliad, leads the age of heroes into extinction.


[ back ] 1. I am thinking in particular of the recent work of Gregory Nagy, Richard Martin, John Miles Foley, etc., whose interest in this essential dimension of poetic activity relates directly to the great work of A. B. Lord, The Singer of Tales, Cambridge Mass. 1960 [2nd edition 2000, edited by S. Mitchell and G. Nagy, with an introduction and reproduction of recordings and photos of traditional singers in what was then still Yugoslavia]. The contributions to the 1994 colloquium at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C., published by E. Bakker and A. Kahane in Written Voices, Spoken Signs: Tradition, Performance, and the Epic Text, Cambridge Mass. 1997, give an interesting overview of this research.
[ back ] 2. Some narratives ask their intradiegetic audience to interpret them. This is the case, most clearly, in the epic tales used as examples by the speakers of the Iliad (the deeds of Meleager reported by Phoinix in IX.524-599, or the youthful exploits which Nestor recounts in XI.670-761). One finds in the Odyssey a particular version of this narrative practice in the story invented by Odysseus to obtain a cloak from Eumaeus (xiv.462-506), and identified by his listener as an ainos (xiv.508).
[ back ] 3. For a useful commentary on this important question, see the classic study of Jean Bollack, “Ulysse chez les philologues”, Actes des la recherche en sciences sociales, 5-6, 1975, p.9-35 [reproduced in Jean Bollack, La Grèce de personne, Paris, 1997, p.29-59].
[ back ] 4. This is the (revealing) name, by which the discipline practised by the Analysts is designated.
[ back ] 5. Ph. Rousseau, “Fragments d’un commentaire antique du recit de la course des chars dans le XXIIIe chant de l’Iliade”, Philologus, 136, 1992 p. 158-180.
[ back ] 6. This manner of conceiving the workings of oral tradition was already advocated by the philologists who began, at the start of the 19th century, to draw a connection between the idiosyncrasies/poetic weaknesses of Homeric epic and its oral nature. It continued into the 20th century in the work of dedicated oralists.
[ back ] 7. A poem recorded in dictation (oral dicatated text) does not make use of writing in its composition.
[ back ] 8. This idea comes out well in Bruno Gentili’s book, Poesia e pubblico nella Grecia antica: da Omero al V secolo. Rome-Bari, 1985 (English translation by Th. Cole, under the title Poetry and its Public in Ancient Greece: From Homer to the Fifth Century, Baltimore & London, 1988).
[ back ] 9. N. Richardson, The Iliad: A Commentary, vol. VI. Cambridge, 1993, p. 209.
[ back ] 10. The particle ge in line 344 underlines that it is at the turning post that the young charioteer should pass by his opponent, if he wants to take first place. The condition is strict.
[ back ] 11. The Best of the Achaeans, Baltimore, 1979 (French translation by J. Carlier and N. Loraux under the title Le Meilleur des Achéens, Paris, 1994), passim.
[ back ] 12. Les Ruses de l’intelligence. La mêtis des Grecs, Paris, 1974 (the first chapter is devoted to Antilochus’ race).
[ back ] 13. Il. VIII.74, and the remarks made by Telemachus at Od. I.351. See P. Pucci’s commentary in Ulysse Polutropos, Lille, 1995, p.278ff.
[ back ] 14. See especially the exempla of Lycurgus (VI.130-140), Meleager (IX.527-599), and Niobe (XXIV.602-617), as well as those which Nestor uses in his own tale (I.260-273; VII.132-157 [cf. IV.319]; XI.670-762; XXIII.629-643). The famous exemplum mythologicum of I.396-406 has more the function of an analepsis than of an “example” in its own right. For genealogies, see for example VI.150-211 and 216-233, and XX.213-241.
[ back ] 15. 1459a.31-37. The translation is that of Roselyne Dupont-Roc and Jean Lallot, Paris, 1980, p.119 (see, for the formulation of the first phrase, note 4 in their commentary, p.371).
[ back ] 16. I shall leave to one side the question of the epics’ dating. It is enough to note here that this manner of considering the relation of the Iliad to the rest of the Cycle has, without doubt, its roots in an “edition” of the epic corpus, in which Homer’s poem followed the Cypria and preceded the Ethiopis. As evidence for this, there exists an alternative wording of the proem (for which the scholiasts found an attestation in a treatise by Aristoxenus of Tarentum [fr. 91a Wehrli]), and the poem’s conclusion.
[ back ] 17. This noun, marked by opposition to other denominations for anger in epic language, normally applies to the formidable resentment of the gods towards mortal errors.
[ back ] 18. Books II to VII.
[ back ] 19. Book X.
[ back ] 20. Books XIII to XV.
[ back ] 21. “There was a time when the innumerable tribes [of men] wandered about the world, and crushed the surface of the earth’s broad chest. Zeus, seeing this, took pity on her and decided, in his subtle mind, to relieve the nourishing earth of men, by stirring up the great conflict of the war for Ilium, in order to vanish this burden by their deaths.” For the text, see A. Bernabé ed., Poetae epici graeci. Testimonia et fragmenta. Part 1, 2 ed., Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1996, p.43ff. An allusion made by Proclus’ Chrestomathia and the more detailed summary of a mythographer, conserved among the scholia on the Iliad, offer slightly different versions, perhaps, of the same story.
[ back ] 22. See especially, in addition to his fundamental work, Die Quellen der Ilias, Wiesbaden, 1960, the two articles published in Philologus, 99, 1955.167-192, and 100, 1956.132-133.
[ back ] 23. See G. Dumézil, Mythe et épopée, 1, Paris, 1968, p.208-237 (the first part, dedicated to the Mahabharata, has the title “The Unburdened Earth”).
[ back ] 24. These allusions have been studied thoroughly by W. Kullmann from the unitarian Neo-Analytical perspective, of which he certainly provides the best example. It might perhaps be asked if his idea of the weight of the Cypria in the pre-Homeric epic tradition does not lead him to rely on the slightest signs to pinpoint the echo of a motif attested in Proclus’ summary. The traditions which led to Stasinos’ poem were able to be presented in a far more fluid format than in the period when our version of the Iliad was in the process of formation. The place which the ill-fated expedition of the Achaeans to the kingdom of Telephus holds here seems to me to be uncertain, despite the detailed arguments put forward in Die Quellen der Ilias.
[ back ] 25. The substance of the illusion is not the capture of the city, it is the time anticipated by Zeus, in the potential optative: “now”, or, in the narrative, “on this day” (Il. 12.19 and 66; 36-40). The insistence on the time of these predictions’ fulfilment endorses recognition of the significant temporal value of the enclitic adverb po – “yet” – in line II.419 and III.302. The son of Cronos does not yet grant the prayers which are addressed to him. A similar example can be found in the signs through which the bard invites his audience to understand his intention, in Achilles’ reckoning of the victories which he achieved, before his quarrel with Agamemnon made him withdraw from combat (IX.328-329): the twelve cities taken in the course of the naval expedition are set against the eleven captured during the land operation; subtracting them points towards the destiny of Troy, at the same moment that the hero invites his former (and future) fellow warriors to give up hope of taking the city.
[ back ] 26. Andromache seems to comment on the etymology of Hector’s name in her lamentation over his corpse (XXIV.728-732): “… this city will be destroyed from top to bottom. Because you are dead, you, her guardian; it is you who defended her and who protected her chaste wives and young children; hollow ships will soon take them away, and I will be among them…”
[ back ] 27. The only explicit references to the events which we know from the poems of the Cycle, apart from the particular circumstances surrounding the death of Achilles, which we know belong to the tradition of the Ethiopis, are the return of Philoctetes to Troy (II.724-725; the previous lines take up an episode celebrated in the Cypria), the story of which was in the Little Iliad, and the saving of Aeneas (XX.300-308), of which the Ilioupersis gives a version.
[ back ] 28. Il. XVIII.95f. The connection between the death of Patroclus in the Iliad, and that of Achilles in the pre-Homeric traditions of the Ethiopis or the Achilleid, was first made, to the best of my knowledge, by D. Mülder, Die Ilias und ihre Quellen, Berlin, 1910, p.159ff. (cf., amongst other significant works on the explanation of this scene, J. T. Kakridis, Homeric Researches, Lund, 1949, p.85f.; W. Schadewalt, Von Homers Welt und Werk, 4th edition, Stuttgart, 1965, p.168; W. Kullmann, Die Quellen der Ilias, p.38, and the comments made by J. de Romilly in Perspectives actuelles sur l'épopée homérique, Paris, 1983, p.26-29).
[ back ] 29. Lines 522-525. In the latter comparison, the smoke which rises to the sky is caused by the burning of the city, and the first should certainly be understood in the same way (the two lines are almos identical, in the text of the manuscripts).
[ back ] 30. It is interesting to note, too, that the hero whose form Athena takes, Deiphobus, had an important role in the tradition of the Ilioupersis. The Odyssey associates him with the hesitation of the Trojans inside the Wooden Horse, which was without doubt a dramatic moment of the narrative (iv.276).
[ back ] 31. Critics are often surprised by the “unlikelihood” of the unexpected meeting between Paris and Menelaos, and have therefore concluded that this joining of episodes betrays the heavy-handedness of the compiler/composer of the monumental poem. But a “composite” does not try to disguise itself. It displays itself, predominantly, in order to be deciphered.
[ back ] 32. Iris’ visit to Helen (III.121-138) adheres to an often misunderstood requirement. The veil which the Argive princess weaves in Paris’ bedroom (or megaron) can only be adorned with feats of war, which the weaver does not reproduce, as scholars generally say, but rather produces. When peace seems on the verge of being reestablished, even though the chances of its being so are entirely illusory, the weaving inevitably stops. It matters little that it is only for a short time. The desire for Menelaos which Iris breathes into Helen leads her back in thought to Lacedaimon (239, cf. 244; the earth which holds her brothers from then on marks the distance which separates human hopes from their reality, that is, from their destiny as arranged by the gods).
[ back ] 33. Helen comes out of her bedroom (142): it was her presence there which was the cause of the war, as the old men seated at the city gates underline in their comments (156-160); Priam invites her to sit near him so that she can see her first husband and her parents (163); she sadly recalls the world which she left behind to follow Paris (173-175); her gaze takes her, finally, beyond the Achaeans whom she sees on the plain, to the home which she calls “ours” and the life which she lived with Menelaos before Paris came (232-233).
[ back ] 34. This philotés is regularly referred to when the Trojans define the conditions of the pact: line 73ff., 94, 256ff. It is evoked again by Zeus when he pretends to weigh the conclusion which the gods should draw from the duel (IV.16). This usage of the word finds an ironic echo in the philotés which unites the two lovers, in spite of the pact, at the end of book III (lines 441 and 445).
[ back ] 36. Il. III.441-446. The intended proximity of the expressions used to denote the two reprehensible unions should be noted, in lines 441 and 445: philotèti… eunèthenté and philotèti kai eunèi.
[ back ] 37. III.444 harpaxas.
[ back ] 38. See especially what Helen says about him to Hector (VI.349-353).
[ back ] 39. Il. III.438-446. When the disaster is fully realised, at the start of book XXIV, the Iliad directly attributes its cause to the caprice which drove Paris to choose Aphrodite over her two rivals in the Judgement (29-30).
[ back ] 40. The narrative is explicit on this point (IV.5-6).
[ back ] 41. Pandarus pays his debt straight away (V.275-296). Failing to understand that Diomedes and his exploits are essential to the construction of the Iliad, the Analysts have doubted that his death had anything to do with his crime, and reject the line in which the archer mentions the arrow fired at Menelaos (V.206ff.). The link which the narrative establishes, through Aeneas, between the punishment of perjury and the wounding of Aphrodite, should be noted in passing.
[ back ] 42. Il. III.349-368. Menelaos here questions, as in book XIII (631-635), the justice of Zeus, conforming to a characteristic trait of his epic description. I allow myself to return to this point in my article on “Le deuxième Atride” [The second Atrides] in M.-M. Mactoux and E. Geny ed. Anthropologie et société. Mélanges Pierre Lévêque, volume 5. Paris, 1990, p.325-354.
[ back ] 43. Athena and Poseidon.
[ back ] 44. Il. VII.327-343. The conclusion of the speech provides the explanation, as commonly happens in ring composition, when compared to the first line. The bard’s audience would have been well practised in unravelling this kind of composition.
[ back ] 45. II.559-568 (Diomedes), 569-580 (Agememnon), 581-590 (Menelaos). The privileged place awarded to Mycenae in the second hemistich of IV.52 corresponds to the position of Agamemnon in this section of the Catalogue.
[ back ] 46. XV.486-499 (Hector) and 502-513 (Ajax).
[ back ] 47. Od. iii.134ff. and 145.
[ back ] 48. Plato outlines its operation in the introduction to the Timaeus, 22c ff. (cf. J. Bollack, La Grèce de personne, p.155ff. [revised translation in an article published in German in 1971] and, from a different perspective, the observations of M. Detienne, L’Invention de la mythologie, Paris, 1981, p.163ff. [who only takes an interest in the flood, and leaves Phaethon’s fire to one side]).
[ back ] 49. For the violence and devastation of the flood, see among others: V.87-94 and 597-600; XI.492-496; XVI.384-393; XVII.747-752; XXI.281-283. For the fire: II.780 and 781-785; XI.155-162; XVII.737-741; XVIII.207-214; XX.490-494; XXI.12-16 and 522-525; XXII.410-411. It is possible to see a tendency within the poem to associate fire with the damage inflicted by the Achaeans and water with the Trojans, with the exceptions perhaps themselves arising from the same convention.
[ back ] 50. Il. XXI.212-327. See especially, alongside the description of the flood, Achilles’ fears (272-283) and the threats of the river-god (316-323).
[ back ] 51. Il. XX.315-317 and XXI.374-376.
[ back ] 52. Il. VIII.180-183 (along with the echo which these threats afterwards meet with, for example: IX.241-243; XI.666 ff.; XII.440 ff.; XIV.44-47; XV.718).
[ back ] 53. Il. XVI.122 ff.
[ back ] 54. This is the title of the poem which Phemios sings to the suitors in Odysseus’ palace (Od. i.326 ff.), and the expression which Nestor uses to define the design which Zeus contemplates against the Achaeans after the destruction of the city (Od. iii.132).
[ back ] 55. The Justice of Zeus, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1971, p.1-27.
[ back ] 56. Od. iii.132 ff.
[ back ] 57. See Nestor’s speech after the description of the murder: VI.67-71.
[ back ] 58. Il. XXII.354; 396-404 (and 464f.); XXIII.21 and 182f.; XXIV.14ff. This theme was the subject of C. Segal’s incisive study: The Theme of the Mutilation of the Corpse in the Iliad, Mnemosyne Suppl., 17, Leyde, 1971.
[ back ] 59. Il. XXII.358-360; XXIV.33-54 and 112-116. One naturally thinks that this price must be the hero’s death, clearly announced in this context by Hector, and that this will be the manifestation of the gods’ anger. The predictions of Thetis and the horse Xanthus require us to acknowledge that Achilles’ acts of violence were just as inevitable as the crimes of the Achaeans during the sack of Troy. In order to avoid this conclusion, one would have to imagine that the threats of Hector and Apollo are making allusion to something other than Achilles’ death.
[ back ] 60. Il. XVIII.336f.; XXI.26-32; XXIII.20-23 and 175-183.
[ back ] 61. See The Best of the Achaeans, p.7 §14 n.4, with the illuminating explanations on pages 115ff., 117-121, 139-141.
[ back ] 62. The Iliad draws particular attention to this component of its plot. Andromache sees the danger straight away (VI.407-410) and asks Hector not to draw up his army outside the shelter of the walls (431-439: these lines, crucial for the poem’s comprehension, have drawn the critics to suspect and athetise them from antiquity on): she thus prepares for Polydamas’ double warning to Hector, before the decisive assault on the camp (XII.211-229) and during the nocturnal deliberation of the Trojans after the reappearance of Achilles on the battlefield (XVIII.254-283). His threatening prediction (I.240-244) and Nestor’s fears (I.282-284) are realised (IX.232-246), and Achilles underlines the fact to the army’s envoys (IX.351-355, after a sarcastic description of the camp fortifications which stresses the thematic relation between the two walls; see further XVI.64-79). It is because he sees the terrible situation into which his victories have led him, and the disaster brought upon his army, that Hector, in an ultimate error, refuses to take shelter in the walls of Troy and causes the sack of his city in confronting Achilles (XXII.99-110).
[ back ] 63. A note in the exegetic scholia on line 55 of book one attests that ancient commentators (perhaps belonging to the Pergamene school) were already aware of this internal dialectic within the poem’s plot.
[ back ] 64. Il. XVIII.82. The verbal form is ambiguous, and is sometimes also understood, more simply, to mean that the hero has lost his companion without taking any action.
[ back ] 65. During the night assembly in book VII, the Trojans, against the advice of Antenor, endorse Paris’ refusal to give Helen back to the Achaeans (VII.345-380), and loudly applaud Hector’s misguided response to Polydamas on the night following Achilles’ return (XVIII.243-311). Within the thread of the narrative, Hector, if he was set in contrast to his brother at the opening of the poem, ends up becoming the scourge of Troy which he accused Paris of being, before leaving him to Helen’s rebukes (cf. III.46-51 and VI.280-285). This merging of the two sons of Priam is made curiously apparent in the application, in book XV.263-268, of a lengthy comparison to Hector which the bard had used to describe Paris running at the end of book VI.506-511. The article “Hector”, in Paul Wathelet’s Dictionnaire des Troyens de l’Iliade (Liège, 1988), makes important comments on this subject.
[ back ] 66. See III.205-224 and XI.123-125 and 138-141.
[ back ] 67. The first is recalled by Poseidon (XXI.441-457), the other by Heracles’ grandson Tlepolemus, and his enemy, Sarpedon (V.640ff. and 648-651).
[ back ] 68. The final line of the Iliad, in the manuscript tradition, closes with a formula which makes “Hector tamer of horses” the primary representative of the Trojans, “tamers of horses”. The choice of this apparently neutral formula is even more significant, because elsewhere the Iliad uses the formula “murderous Hector” (in the same case and the same metrical position), connecting the Trojan hero to the god Ares (to whom he has similarities), but which would have ended the poem with the individual fate of the murderer of Patroclus. It should be noted, moreover, that the epithet androphonoio is used to qualify Ares in the alternative version of the conclusion preserved in the scholia to manuscript T (this effectively consists of a transition between the Iliad and the Aethiopis, in an ancient edition of the Trojan Cycle). On the interpretation of apparently formulaic “doublets”, see G. Nagy, “Formula and Meter: The Oral Poetics of Homer”, Greek Mythology and Poetics, Ithaca and London, 1990, p.18-35 (revised version in an article published in 1976 in A. Stolz and R. S. Shannon ed., Oral Literature and the Formula, Ann Arbor, 1976).
[ back ] 69. He leaves Olympus after the assembly of the gods at the beginning of book VIII.41-52, to return the same evening after having suppressed Hera and Athena’s tentative revolt, lines 438f. He makes his way to Ida again at the beginning of book XI.181-184, at the moment when the battle is about to change direction after Agamemnon is wounded. It is from there that he directs the Achaean rout (see, among other passages, XII.252-255), and there that Hera comes to distract him from worrying over the fighting in the episode of the Apaté (XIV.153-351, with Zeus waking up and the consequences of his doing so at the beginning of book XV). And he is also there when he raises the aegis, causing the flight of the Achaeans grouped around Patroclus’ corpse (XVII.593-596). But it is interesting to note that the semantic opposition between the two mountains seems to weaken after Protesilaos’ ship is set on fire, as the unsituated dialogue that takes place between Zeus and Hera, for example, in the middle of book XVI.431-461, shows, or Athena’s strange mission, which precedes and precipitates the Achaeans’ last rout, XVII.543-581. The return of the god to Olympus is predicated in the divine scene described in book XVIII.356-368, but is not described.
[ back ] 70. Il. I.552; IV.25; VIII.462; XIV.330; XVI.440; XVIII.361.
[ back ] 71. See, in particular, VIII.477-483, and the recurrent use of the theogonic theme in the episode of Hera’s seduction of Zeus (XIV.202ff., 274f., 279f., 295f.).
[ back ] 72. Kullmann refutes this attempt at compromise, in observing that the word boulé cannot designate will in archaic language.