The Poetics of Ambush

The phrase “poetics of ambush” encapsulates our approach and our goals for this volume, so let us begin here by defining what we mean by it. When we speak of “poetics” we mean that we are proposing a theory of the structure and functioning of the traditional language within which Iliad 10, as well as several other episodes within the epic tradition, was created and therefore must also be understood and interpreted. Similar to the way Todorov has defined poetics in general, our poetics takes the epic tradition as its object of study, but also seeks the laws governing its discourse within the epic tradition itself. [1] Todorov has further explained: “Interpretation both precedes and follows poetics: the notions of poetics are produced according to the necessities of concrete analysis, which in its turn may advance only by using the instruments elaborated by doctrine” (1981:7–8). In our case, we will use the episodes of ambush (more on our use of that term in a moment) to define the poetics involved, and once we have proposed those definitions, we can assess how they function in various episodes. Because our evidence of the traditional language is necessarily limited by what has survived (indeed, Iliad 10 is our most extensive surviving ambush episode), the alternation between poetics and interpretation that Todorov describes is a short cycle back and forth. Nevertheless, a knowledge of the system—that is, a poetics—is necessary for a complete understanding of these episodes and a proper interpretation of them.
Defining and applying “poetics” in this way is also true to the nature of the oral tradition as a systematic and traditional language (as defined in Parry and Lord’s work), and we are indeed concerned here with an oral-traditional poetics. That is, since poetics is a theory of how meaning is created, our poetics of ambush seeks to explain how the traditional language creates meaning in an oral composition-in-performance for a traditional audience. Within the system that Parry and Lord articulated, we define ambush as a theme, a “group of ideas regularly used in telling a tale in the formulaic style of traditional song” (Lord 1960/2000:68). By defining ambush as a theme, we examine how the theme is involved in both how the singer composes the song (which is how Lord explores the definition and structure of the theme) and how the audience understands it. In this way “theme” is in some ways like “genre” when genre is defined as something like “a set of norms and expectations that structure our reading of texts, allowing us to organize sense making according to conventional patterns, and to perceive variations in the use of convention.” [2] In terms of Homeric epic specifically, Foley has argued similarly that a theme “cues idiomatic meaning and participates in the reception as well as the composition of Homeric poetry” (1999:169). The theme, then, will have certain features that define and identify it as such, and in turn it will shape the audience’s expectations of what will happen and how to understand it.
When we use the word “ambush” in the phrase “poetics of ambush,” we mean it as a convenient name for a theme that encompasses many types of activities. Ambush is one of the most prominent of these activities, which is why we have chosen it to stand for the whole, but the theme also includes spying missions, raids on enemy camps, cattle rustling, and other types of epic warfare that happen at night. Action at night is a key characteristic of the ambush theme, and we may also recognize an ambush by several other telling characteristics. The heroes wear animal skins, crouch in hidden positions, sometimes in marshy or woody locations near a road, endure discomfort as they lie in wait, and use planning and intelligence to overcome a foe that they might otherwise not be able to. The term lokhos ‘ambush’ and related words are, of course, significant, but they may not always be explicit. We will discuss in greater detail each of these markers of the ambush theme, as well as how these different kinds of activities may be considered sub-themes that are traditionally linked with one another.

The Traditionality of Ambush Episodes

Although Iliad 10 has been portrayed by some scholars as an anomaly, allusions to night raids, episodes of ambush, spying missions, and other forms of “irregular warfare” are, in fact, frequent in the ancient Greek epic tradition. [3] In this essay we will have occasion to discuss the exploits of Tydeus, the wooden horse and the sack of Troy, the attack on the suitors in the Odyssey, and episodes thought to have been part of the Epic Cycle, such as the ambush of Troilos by Achilles and the stealing of the Palladion by Odysseus and Diomedes. These last two narratives are generally met with suspicion and often with outright condemnation by modern scholars who denigrate them as un-Homeric and even un-heroic. Indeed, scholars have used the ambush techniques employed in these episodes as evidence of the un-Homeric and un-heroic nature of the Epic Cycle. Malcolm Davies, for example, summarizes two of these incidents as follows:
Next in Proclus’ summary comes Achilles’ murder of Troilus … His death at Achilles’ hands becomes a very popular motif in later literature and art, but it is variously represented. Sometimes he is depicted as killed in ambush or slaughtered at the altar of Apollo; sometimes his killing is associated with Achilles’ sighting of Polyxena, with whom Achilles falls in love; sometimes Achilles himself is given homosexual feelings for Troilus. All and any of which are quite incompatible with the heroic world as constructed by Homer.
After this … Odysseus, with Diomedes’ aid, carried off the Palladium from Troy. Here too Odysseus’ collaboration with a colleague has Homeric precedent … but this episode is more profoundly unHomeric in several ways. [4]
As we have seen in our essay “Interpreting Iliad 10: Assumptions, Methodology, and the Place of the Doloneia within the History of Homeric Scholarship,” Iliad 10, too, has met with vehement resistance and has been categorized as “un-Homeric.” [5] In that essay and in this volume as a whole we do not deny the unusual character of the Doloneia, but we seek to propose an alternative to the usual explanations and solutions offered with respect to Iliad 10. We argue that Iliad 10 gives us our best look at an alternative type of warfare poetics, namely, the poetics of ambush. Using comparative evidence as well as what we know of the Epic Cycle and the epic tradition as a whole, we hope to show that such warfare was not construed as un-heroic and should not be viewed as un-Homeric in some way (however “Homer” is conceived); ambush is in fact a traditional theme (as defined by Albert Lord), the lokhos, with its own traditional language, sub-themes, conventions, and poetics. [6] As we will see below, polemos (what we frequently refer to as ‘conventional battle’) is also a theme, and the two are not entirely antithetical to one another. The best heroes star in both kinds of warfare. Some overlap of diction is therefore inevitable, but we will argue that polemos and lokhos each represent a distinct narrative theme that is recognizably different and compositionally independent from the other. The mechanics of the transition from one theme to the other in this very polemos-centered epic are explored below.

Polemos and Lokhos

Ambush warfare and the night raid in the epic tradition are linked by their use of cunning or trickery (mētis) and endurance of prolonged hardship, as opposed to the outright brute force (biē) and face-to-face fighting of the battlefield. As Anthony Edwards notes in his overview of the subject: “The λόχος, or ambush, is a stratagem employing a small number of picked men and relying upon planning and dissimulation rather than speed and force.” [7] We propose to treat the reconnaissance mission, the night raid, and the ambush, all encompassed by the Doloneia, as partaking of this larger theme. Many of the best known night episodes in the epic tradition, such as the stealing of the Palladion, are best understood within the poetics of ambush, which, as we have noted, encompasses several different forms of irregular or guerilla warfare. Likewise, most of the attested ambushes in the epic tradition occur at night. We discuss below how such episodes are linked thematically within the system of Homeric oral traditional poetry so that any one can easily suggest, and modulate into, another.
Anthony Edwards has treated most comprehensively the theme of the ambush in the Iliad and the Odyssey. In his 1985 study of the character of Achilles in the Odyssey, Edwards explores the character of Odysseus as a type associated with ambush warfare, in contrast to Achilles, who exemplifies, in his argument, the invincible spearman in conventional battle. [8] In the course of this study, Edwards demonstrates that ambush warfare is not “unheroic” in any sense of that word, though he argues that the Iliad and Odyssey do conceive of the ambush within different ethical frameworks. A key passage is Iliad 1.225–228, in which Achilles attacks Agamemnon for his lack of courage, noting that he has never once had the endurance (τέτληκας) to go on ambush missions with the “best of the Achaeans”:
οἰνοβαρές, κυνὸς ὄμματ᾽ ἔχων, κραδίην δ᾽ ἐλάφοιο,
οὔτέ ποτ᾽ ἐς πόλεμον ἅμα λαῷ θωρηχθῆναι
οὔτε λόχον δ᾽ ἰέναι σὺν ἀριστήεσσιν Ἀχαιῶν
τέτληκας θυμῷ· τὸ δέ τοι κὴρ εἴδεται εἶναι.
Iliad 1.225–228
You drunkard, with a dog’s eyes and a deer’s heart,
whenever it comes to arming yourself for war with the rest of the warriors
or going on an ambush with the best of the Achaeans,
you don’t have the heart for it. That looks like death to you.
Edwards uses this brief passage to explore a number of oppositions, which he goes on to treat in detail. These oppositions include:
  • Polemos ‘conventional battle’ and lokhos ‘ambush’
  • Biē ‘force’ and mētis ‘cunning’
  • Achilles and Odysseus
  • Iliad and Odyssey
Edwards makes the case that the Odyssey is unique in its privileging of ambush warfare over the traditional polemos and that the poem consistently associates this type of warfare with the traditional character of Odysseus. In the Iliad, polemos and lokhos are frequently cited as alternative forms of warfare. Edwards argues that the lokhos is a valid form of warfare in the Iliad, but it is often characterized as the resort of the weak against a promakhos anēr.
But we cannot take this schema too far. Even in the Iliad Achilles can be the hero of ambush. In Iliad 21, we learn that Achilles captured the Trojan Lykaon at night, in what is presumably a night raid with unmistakable suggestions of ambush:
ἔνθ᾽ υἷι Πριάμοιο συνήντετο Δαρδανίδαο
ἐκ ποταμοῦ φεύγοντι Λυκάονι, τόν ῥά ποτ᾽ αὐτὸς
ἦγε λαβὼν ἐκ πατρὸς ἀλωῆς οὐκ ἐθέλοντα
ἐννύχιος προμολών· ὃ δ᾽ ἐρινεὸν ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ
τάμνε νέους ὄρπηκας, ἵν᾽ ἅρματος ἄντυγες εἶεν·
τῷ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἀνώϊστον κακὸν ἤλυθε δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.
Iliad 21.34–39
There Achilles encountered the son of Dardanian Priam,
Lykaon, as he was fleeing out of the river, whom once he himself
had led away after he captured him, unwilling as he was, from his father’s orchard,
attacking him at night. Lykaon was cutting a wild fig tree with sharp bronze,
cutting new branches to be rails of a chariot.
For him, an unexpected evil came, radiant Achilles.
Whatever distinctions may exist between the Iliad and the Odyssey, an exclusive denigration or privileging of ambush warfare is not among them. The theme of ambush, like its heroes, is much more complex and adaptable than that.

Diomedes in the polemos and in the lokhos

Like Achilles, Diomedes is a versatile hero who plays a starring role in both the lokhos and the polemos. Because Diomedes is the leader of the night raid in Iliad 10, it is fitting to explore his character in some depth. An Iliadic hero of the first rank, he is first mentioned in the Catalogue of Ships as the bringer of eighty ships, and like Menelaos he is known for his battle cry (Iliad 2.563; see our commentary on 10.283 for more on this epithet). Until he is injured, Diomedes is the best offensive warrior of the Achaeans during Achilles’ absence. [9] In Iliad 4, Agamemnon rebukes Diomedes, asserting that he does not measure up to his father Tydeus, who was one of the Seven Against Thebes and who died in that unsuccessful assault. Diomedes holds his tongue, but Sthenelos counters the rebuke by citing their role in the successful expedition of the Epigonoi against Thebes (Iliad 4.404–410). Diomedes’ take on the exchange reveals much about his character:
τὸν δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὑπόδρα ἰδὼν προσέφη κρατερὸς Διομήδης·
τέττα, σιωπῇ ἧσο, ἐμῷ δ᾽ ἐπιπείθεο μύθῳ·
οὐ γὰρ ἐγὼ νεμεσῶ Ἀγαμέμνονι ποιμένι λαῶν
ὀτρύνοντι μάχεσθαι ἐϋκνήμιδας Ἀχαιούς·
415τούτῳ μὲν γὰρ κῦδος ἅμ᾽ ἕψεται εἴ κεν Ἀχαιοὶ
Τρῶας δῃώσωσιν ἕλωσί τε Ἴλιον ἱρήν,
τούτῳ δ᾽ αὖ μέγα πένθος Ἀχαιῶν δῃωθέντων.
ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε δὴ καὶ νῶϊ μεδώμεθα θούριδος ἀλκῆς.
420ἦ ῥα καὶ ἐξ ὀχέων σὺν τεύχεσιν ἆλτο χαμᾶζε·
δεινὸν δ᾽ ἔβραχε χαλκὸς ἐπὶ στήθεσσιν ἄνακτος
ὀρνυμένου· ὑπό κεν ταλασίφρονά περ δέος εἷλεν.
Iliad 4.411–421
Then powerful Diomedes gave him a fierce look and addressed him:
“Keep quiet and be persuaded to obey my words.
For I do not feel indignation toward Agamemnon who shepherds the warriors
for urging on the well-greaved Achaeans to fight.
415Radiant glory will accompany this man if the Achaeans
cut down the Trojans and take holy Ilion,
and he will have great sorrow if the Achaeans are cut down.
But come, let’s remember our fury and battle resolve.”
He spoke and leapt to the ground from his chariot together with his armor.
420And the bronze on his chest clanged so terribly as the lord Diomedes
rose up, fear would have taken hold of even a man with an especially enduring heart.
This scene is our first extended presentation of Diomedes in the Iliad. We see him eager to distinguish himself in the front line of battle, and he is depicted as a terrifying warrior in full battle gear.
But it is in Iliad 5 that Diomedes makes his mark, during his famous aristeia, in the course of which he challenges Apollo himself and wounds Aphrodite and Ares:
Αἰνείᾳ δ᾽ ἐπόρουσε βοὴν ἀγαθὸς Διομήδης,
γιγνώσκων ὅ οἱ αὐτὸς ὑπείρεχε χεῖρας Ἀπόλλων·
ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γ᾽ ἄρ᾽ οὐδὲ θεὸν μέγαν ἅζετο, ἵετο δ᾽ αἰεὶ
435Αἰνείαν κτεῖναι καὶ ἀπὸ κλυτὰ τεύχεα δῦσαι.
τρὶς μὲν ἔπειτ᾽ ἐπόρουσε κατακτάμεναι μενεαίνων,
τρὶς δέ οἱ ἐστυφέλιξε φαεινὴν ἀσπίδ᾽ Ἀπόλλων·
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δὴ τὸ τέταρτον ἐπέσσυτο δαίμονι ἶσος, [10]
δεινὰ δ᾽ ὁμοκλήσας προσέφη ἑκάεργος Ἀπόλλων·
440φράζεο Τυδεΐδη καὶ χάζεο, μηδὲ θεοῖσιν
ἶσ᾽ ἔθελε φρονέειν, ἐπεὶ οὔ ποτε φῦλον ὁμοῖον
ἀθανάτων τε θεῶν χαμαὶ ἐρχομένων τ᾽ ἀνθρώπων.
Iliad 5.432–442
Diomedes well-known for his battle-cry sprang upon Aeneas,
though he knew that Apollo himself held him in his arms.
But he had no holy fear of the great god, but he kept going
435for Aeneas, trying to kill him and strip him of his famous armor.
Three times he sprang upon him, raging to kill him,
and three times Apollo struck hard his shining shield.
But when he rushed at him like a divine force for a fourth time,
calling on him in terrifying voice Apollo who works from afar addressed him:
440“Take thought, son of Tydeus, and withdraw, and with the gods
don’t wish to think on equal terms, since not ever can our kinds be the same,
the immortal gods and the people who walk on earth.”
The language here of three charges followed by a potential fourth is similar to that used for Patroklos during his aristeia (compare Iliad 16.702–711 and 16.784–793), where Apollo, unseen, does indeed strike the first blow in a series that will result in Patroklos’ death. The prolonged and supernatural nature of Diomedes’ aristeia marks him as one of the foremost warriors in the polemos. The way that Diomedes is introduced at the start of his aristeia likewise characterizes him as a promakhos anēr :
ἔνθ᾽ αὖ Τυδεΐδῃ Διομήδεϊ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη
δῶκε μένος καὶ θάρσος, ἵν᾽ ἔκδηλος μετὰ πᾶσιν
Ἀργείοισι γένοιτο ἰδὲ κλέος ἐσθλὸν ἄροιτο·
δαῖέ οἱ ἐκ κόρυθός τε καὶ ἀσπίδος ἀκάματον πῦρ
5ἀστέρ᾽ ὀπωρινῷ ἐναλίγκιον, ὅς τε μάλιστα
λαμπρὸν παμφαίνῃσι λελουμένος ὠκεανοῖο·
τοῖόν οἱ πῦρ δαῖεν ἀπὸ κρατός τε καὶ ὤμων,
ὦρσε δέ μιν κατὰ μέσσον ὅθι πλεῖστοι κλονέοντο.
Iliad 5.1–8
But now to Diomedes, son of Tydeus, Pallas Athena
gave both power and boldness, so that standing out among all
the Argives he would win true fame.
From his helmet and shield she ignited an untiring fire,
5like an autumn star that shines most of all,
shines brightly having just bathed in the Okeanos.
That was how she ignited the fire from his head and shoulders,
and she stirred him toward the middle, where most of the men were rushing to battle.
Just as Diomedes is connected to Patroklos by way of traditional language in the previous passage, he is here similarly connected to Achilles, who is compared to a similar star while on the battlefield (Iliad 22.26–32).
There is another parallel to Achilles in this passage. Diomedes does not have an extended arming scene before his aristeia in our Iliad. With the exception of the description of the dressing of Diomedes and Odysseus for the night raid in Iliad 10, there are only four of these extended arming scenes for heroes in the Iliad: those of Paris (3.328–338), Agamemnon (11.15–55), Patroklos (16.130–154), and Achilles (19.364–424). Yet this description, with its emphasis on Diomedes’ helmet and shield, functions not unlike an arming scene, and the imagery of fire and star parallel the arming scene of Achilles:
αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα σάκος μέγα τε στιβαρόν τε
εἵλετο, τοῦ δ᾽ ἀπάνευθε σέλας γένετ᾽ ἠΰτε μήνης.
ὡς δ᾽ ὅτ᾽ ἂν ἐκ πόντοιο σέλας ναύτῃσι φανήῃ
καιομένοιο πυρός, τό τε καίεται ὑψόθ᾽ ὄρεσφι
σταθμῷ ἐν οἰοπόλῳ· τοὺς δ᾽ οὐκ ἐθέλοντας ἄελλαι
πόντον ἐπ᾽ ἰχθυόεντα φίλων ἀπάνευθε φέρουσιν·
ὣς ἀπ᾽ Ἀχιλλῆος σάκεος σέλας αἰθέρ᾽ ἵκανε.
Iliad 19.373–379
And then the shield, great and massive,
Achilles took, and from it there was a far-reaching gleam, as from the moon.
As when out in the middle of the sea a gleam appears to sailors
from a burning fire, and it burns high in the mountains
at a shepherds’ station, and the sailors, against their will, by gusts of winds
are carried over the sea swarming with fish, far away from their loved ones,
so did the gleam from the shield of Achilles reach all the way up to the aether.
Fire and star images seem to be imagery of salvation, in addition to making the hero conspicuous among other heroes for his aristeia. [11] Diomedes becomes a savior for the Greeks in Achilles’ absence, but his star quickly burns out; when Achilles reenters battle in Iliad 19, the Greeks are once again in desperate need of him.
Diomedes plays a starring role in one other major episode of the Iliad, also a time of extreme need due to Achilles’ refusal to reenter battle, and that is of course Iliad 10, the Doloneia. [12] Here he is paired with Odysseus in a night ambush, a kind of warfare that requires a different set of skills than the conventional polemos. As noted above, the Doloneia has long troubled scholars, who find the actions of Odysseus and Diomedes in that night raid to be un-Homeric and even un-heroic. But if we look at the Greek epic tradition as a whole, taking into account what we know of the Epic Cycle, we find that Diomedes traditionally excelled at the kind of ambush warfare depicted in Iliad 10.
In the Cypria, Diomedes and Odysseus drown Palamedes, ambushing him while he is fishing:
Παλαμήδην δὲ ἀποπνιγῆναι προελθόντα ἐπὶ ἰχθύων θήραν, Διομήδην δὲ τὸν ἀποκτείναντα εἶναι καὶ Ὀδυσσέα ἐπιλεξάμενος ἐν ἔπεσιν οἶδα τοῖς Κυπρίοις.
Cypria testimonium 30 [Bernabé] = Pausanias 10.31.2
Palamedes was drowned when he went out to catch fish. Diomedes was the killer and also Odysseus, as I know from reading the epic poem the Cypria.
Malcom Davies is scornful of such a portrayal of these heroes. “The collaboration of Odysseus and Diomedes is Iliadic, but further from Homeric values one could hardly go than this tale of cowardly and treacherous murder […] of a fellow Greek.” [13] We need not focus here on the question of whether or not the Doloneia and the actions attributed to Diomedes in the Epic Cycle are “Homeric,” a term which is loaded with multiple assumptions about the epics and their composition. For the moment it is enough to recognize that these actions do seem to be an important part of the epic tradition. Diomedes is a stellar fighter in the polemos, but he is equally good at the lokhos.
The sack of Troy is itself the ultimate night ambush, and Diomedes is involved in several nighttime escapades leading up to and during the sack of Troy. In testimonium 34 [Bernabé] of the Cypria, a lesser-known version of Polyxena’s story has her being wounded by Odysseus and Diomedes during the sack:
ὑπὸ Nεοπτολέμου φασὶν αὐτὴν (sc. Πολυξένην) σφαγιασθῆναι Εὐριπίδης καὶ Ἴβυκος. ὁ δὲ τὰ Κυπριακὰ ποιήσας φησίν ὑπὸ Ὀδυσσέως καὶ Διομήδους ἐν τῆι τῆς πόλεως ἁλώσει τραυματισθεῖσαν ἀπολέσθαι.
Scholia to Euripides Hecuba 41
Euripides and Ibycus say that Polyxena’s throat was cut by Neoptolemos. But the composer of the Cypria says that she died after being wounded by Odysseus and Diomedes in the capture of the city.
In the epic now known as the Little Iliad, according to the summary of it by Proklos, Odysseus is instrumental in the ambush and capture of Helenos, the prophetic son of Priam, and it is Diomedes, according to Proklos, who brings back Philoctetes (whose presence was required, according to the prophecy of Helenos, for the successful capture of Troy) from Lemnos: [14]
μετὰ ταῦτα Ὀδυσσεὺς λοχήσας Ἕλενον λαμβάνει, καὶ χρήσαντος περὶ τῆς ἁλώσεως τούτου Διομήδης ἐκ Λήμνου Φιλοκτήτην ἀνάγει.
After this Odysseus captures Helenos in an ambush, and as a result of Helenos’ prophecy about the city’s conquest Diomedes brings Philoctetes back from Lemnos.
Also narrated in the Little Iliad, according to Proklos, was the theft of the Palladion, which survives in several variant versions in which Diomedes or Odysseus or both try to get sole possession of it, each betraying the other. [15] The Palladion is of course yet another item that had been foretold to be required for the successful capture of Troy.
In all of these episodes Diomedes is linked, as he is in the Doloneia, with Odysseus, the hero most closely identified with ambush warfare. Odysseus is the hero who blinds the Cyclops by ambush, and, as Edwards has shown, his attack on the suitors is structured like an ambush is many ways. We have noted as well that the sack of Troy is an ambush, of which Odysseus is the mastermind. Indeed, the mētis that governs ambush warfare is Odysseus’ signature trait. [16] But it should not be forgotten that Odysseus has his fair share of conventional fighting. The Odyssey ends with Odysseus about to engage the families of the suitors in battle, and Laertes rejoicing that he will have a contest for aretē with his son and grandson. When Demodokos sings about the fall of Troy in Odyssey 8, Odysseus is the hero “raging like Ares” (8.518) through the streets of Troy. In Iliad 4.354–355, Odysseus angrily responds to the rebuke of Agamemnon by asserting that he “mixes with the champions of the Trojans” (προμάχοισι μιγέντα / Τρώων). [17] In Iliad 11, Odysseus and Diomedes together stave off a rout of the Greek forces before they both are wounded. [18]

Homeric heroes and the lokhos

Similarly, Achilles should not be pigeonholed as solely the hero of biē, for he, too, is an ambusher. In Iliad 9, Achilles points out how much effort he has devoted to fighting the war, describing it this way:
ὡς δ’ ὄρνις ἀπτῆσι νεοσσοῖσι προφέρῃσι
μάστακ’ ἐπεί κε λάβῃσι, κακῶς δ’ ἄρα οἱ πέλει αὐτῇ,
ὣς καὶ ἐγὼ πολλὰς μὲν ἀΰπνους νύκτας ἴαυον,
ἤματα δ’ αἱματόεντα διέπρησσον πολεμίζων
ἀνδράσι μαρνάμενος ὀάρων ἕνεκα σφετεράων.
Iliad 9.323–327
Like a bird that brings food to her fledgling young
in her bill, whenever she finds any, even if she herself fares poorly,
so I passed many sleepless nights,
and spent many bloody days in battle,
contending with men for the sake of their wives.
The days spent in bloody battle are an obvious part of Achilles’ contribution to the war effort, but just how has Achilles spent those sleepless nights? The scholia in the Townley manuscript (ad 21.37) suggest that it is in ambush: ἐννύχιος: εἶπε γὰρ “πολλὰς μὲν ἀΰπνους νύκτας ἴαυον” (“At night: For he said ‘I passed many sleepless nights”). The Trojan youth Lykaon was one of the unfortunate warriors that Achilles came upon ennukhios ‘at night’ (Iliad 21.37) in ambush. It is in fact a comment on the word ennukhios in the passage about Lykaon at Iliad 21.37 that leads the scholiast to quote the passage in Iliad 9. [19]
Another youth ambushed by Achilles according to the tradition is Troilos. [20] The ambush and death of Troilos was narrated in the Cypria, according to the summary of Proklos, and appears frequently in vase paintings. A tradition that the death of Troilos was required for the capture of Troy seems to be as early as the Archaic period. [21] Of the four scenes in the story, perhaps the most commonly depicted is Achilles crouching behind a fountain house as Polyxena, Troilos’ sister, draws water from the fountain (see Plate 1). [22] In the surviving examples, next to Achilles there is usually a tree, which, along with his crouching position, very likely serves to signify that Achilles is hiding in ambush. Unlike the capture of Lykaon, however, this ambush does not seem to have been conceived of by ancient artists as occurring at night. Achilles is generally depicted with his war helmet on, carrying his shield and long spear. He does not have any special clothing or gear. Instead, his posture and position make clear what kind of warfare is being undertaken. [23] Odysseus and Diomedes, by contrast, are depicted without helmets during the theft of the Palladion and in Doloneia scenes, or, in the case of later South Italian vases, with traveling caps and clothes. [24] On an Archaic black-figure vase in the Getty Museum that shows Diomedes killing Rhesos (Plate 2), a contrast is made between the helmet and shields that appear suspended (as though hung up on the wall) and the unarmed men being killed by the likewise unhelmeted Diomedes. [25]
The Achilles of our Iliad is clearly a promakhos anēr, but the epic tradition as a whole knew Achilles as an ambusher. The scholion in the Venetus A manuscript at Iliad 22.188 records that even such a seemingly canonical confrontation as that between Hektor and Achilles at the climax of the Iliad could be narrated as an ambush:
σημειῶδες ὅτι μόνος Ὅμηρός φησι μονομαχῆσαι τὸν Ἕκτορα, οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ πάντες ἐνεδρευθῆναι ὑπὸ Ἀχιλλέως.
It is significant that only Homer says that he fought Hektor in man-to-man combat. All the rest say that he was ambushed by Achilles.
It is far from clear what the scholiast means by “the rest” (οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ) here—we were not able to find a similar comment anywhere else in the scholia—but the implications of the comment are easily grasped: in some versions, Achilles took Hektor down by ambush.
It becomes less surprising that the best warriors in conventional battle are also frequently seen as the best in ambush warfare when we consider that both the Iliad and the Odyssey associate ambush warfare with exceptional courage and endurance. In Iliad 13, Meriones makes his claim to be one who fights “among the first” (13.270), which conventionally signifies the bravery of a warrior in conventional battle. In response, Idomeneus praises Meriones for his courage and abilities as a warrior who is excellent at ambush:
οὐδὲ γὰρ οὐδ᾽ ἐμέ φημι λελασμένον ἔμμεναι ἀλκῆς,
270ἀλλὰ μετὰ πρώτοισι μάχην ἀνὰ κυδιάνειραν
ἵσταμαι, ὁππότε νεῖκος ὀρώρηται πολέμοιο.
ἄλλον πού τινα μᾶλλον Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων
λήθω μαρνάμενος, σὲ δὲ ἴδμεναι αὐτὸν ὀΐω.
τὸν δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ Ἰδομενεὺς Κρητῶν ἀγὸς ἀντίον ηὔδα·
275οἶδ᾽ ἀρετὴν οἷός ἐσσι· τί σε χρὴ ταῦτα λέγεσθαι;
εἰ γὰρ νῦν παρὰ νηυσὶ λεγοίμεθα πάντες ἄριστοι
ἐς λόχον, ἔνθα μάλιστ᾽ ἀρετὴ διαείδεται ἀνδρῶν,
ἔνθ᾽ ὅ τε δειλὸς ἀνὴρ ὅς τ᾽ ἄλκιμος ἐξεφαάνθη·
τοῦ μὲν γάρ τε κακοῦ τρέπεται χρὼς ἄλλυδις ἄλλῃ,
280οὐδέ οἱ ἀτρέμας ἧσθαι ἐρητύετ᾽ ἐν φρεσὶ θυμός,
ἀλλὰ μετοκλάζει καὶ ἐπ᾽ ἀμφοτέρους πόδας ἵζει,
ἐν δέ τέ οἱ κραδίη μεγάλα στέρνοισι πατάσσει
κῆρας ὀϊομένῳ, πάταγος δέ τε γίγνετ᾽ ὀδόντων·
τοῦ δ᾽ ἀγαθοῦ οὔτ᾽ ἂρ τρέπεται χρὼς οὔτέ τι λίην
285ταρβεῖ, ἐπειδὰν πρῶτον ἐσίζηται λόχον ἀνδρῶν,
ἀρᾶται δὲ τάχιστα μιγήμεναι ἐν δαῒ λυγρῇ·
οὐδέ κεν ἔνθα τεόν γε μένος καὶ χεῖρας ὄνοιτο.
Iliad 13.269–287
“And I claim that I have not at all forgotten my battle resolve,
270but rather in the front lines throughout the battle that confers radiant glory
I stand my ground, whenever the strife of war has arisen.
Some other of the bronze-wearing Achaeans may have
overlooked my fighting, but I think that you yourself know it.”
Then Idomeneus the leader of the Cretans spoke back to him:
275“I know your merit, what sort of man you are—why do you need to say these things?
For if now beside the ships all of the best men [aristos] were being chosen
for an ambush—the place where the merit of men most shines through,
where the coward and the resolute man are revealed
(for the skin of the inferior man turns a different color at every turn
280and he can’t restrain the spirit in his body and keep from trembling
but he keeps shifting his weight and he sits on both feet
and the heart in his chest beats loudly
as he thinks about doom, and his teeth chatter,
whereas the skin of a brave man does not change nor is he at all
285frightened, when he first sits in an ambush of men,
but he prays to mix in mournful combat as soon as possible)—
there one could not reproach your mighty hands.”
In this exchange, there is no opposition or contradiction between Meriones’ claim and Idomeneus’ praise: instead, polemos and lokhos are complementary, and the two characterizations show that Meriones is a complete warrior who excels at both. In addition, here we see ambush described as “the place where the merit of men most shines through, where the coward and the resolute man are revealed” (Iliad 13.277–278). We can see that it involves crouching and staying still for long periods of time, time when lesser men are overcome by their fears. Ambush requires a particular kind of courage, different from that required to fight in front in conventional battle, and one that reveals aretē most of all. Thus, rather than being “lesser” or based in “cowardice” as some modern commentators would have it, Idomeneus’ words portray ambush as type of warfare only for the anēr alkimos (Iliad 13.278).
In the Odyssey, ambush is described in similar terms in several key places. In Odyssey 4, Menelaos praises Odysseus’ bravery and endurance inside the wooden horse, which is termed a lokhos: [26] οἷον καὶ τόδ’ ἔρεξε καὶ ἔτλη καρτερὸς ἀνὴρ/ἵππῳ ἔνι ξεστῷ (“What a thing he accomplished and endured, the powerful man, inside the wooden horse,” Odyssey 4.271–272). Menelaos goes on to tell how Odysseus restrained the men who wanted to respond to Helen’s voice as she mimicked their wives, thereby saving all the Achaeans. In Odyssey 11, Odysseus praises Achilles’ son Neoptolemos’ exploits in battle and his demeanor during this same ambush, making Achilles proud: [27]
‘αὐτὰρ ὅτ’ εἰς ἵππον κατεβαίνομεν, ὃν κάμ’ Ἐπειός,
Ἀργείων οἱ ἄριστοι, ἐμοὶ δ’ ἐπὶ πάντ’ ἐτέταλτο,
525ἠμὲν ἀνακλῖναι πυκινὸν λόχον ἠδ’ ἐπιθεῖναι,
ἔνθ’ ἄλλοι Δαναῶν ἡγήτορες ἠδὲ μέδοντες
δάκρυά τ’ ὠμόργνυντο, τρέμον θ’ ὑπὸ γυῖα ἑκάστου·
κεῖνον δ’ οὔ ποτε πάμπαν ἐγὼν ἴδον ὀφθαλμοῖσιν
οὔτ’ ὠχρήσαντα χρόα κάλλιμον οὔτε παρειῶν
530δάκρυ’ ὀμορξάμενον· ὁ δέ με μάλα πόλλ’ ἱκέτευεν
ἱππόθεν ἐξέμεναι, ξίφεος δ’ ἐπεμαίετο κώπην
καὶ δόρυ χαλκοβαρές, κακὰ δὲ Τρώεσσι μενοίνα.
538ὣς ἐφάμην, ψυχὴ δὲ ποδώκεος Αἰακίδαο
φοίτα μακρὰ βιβᾶσα κατ’ ἀσφοδελὸν λειμῶνα,
γηθοσύνη, ὅ οἱ υἱὸν ἔφην ἀριδείκετον εἶναι.
Odyssey 11.523–532, 538–540
Then when we went down into the horse that Epeios toiled to make
with the best [aristos] of the Argives, and it was laid entirely upon me
525to open the door to our close-packed [pukinos] ambush or close it,
there other rulers and leaders of the Danaans
wiped away tears and their limbs trembled underneath them.
I never the whole time saw with my eyes
his fair skin turn pale or him from his cheeks
530wiping tears. Instead he especially begged me
to let him go out of the horse, and he kept feeling for the handle of his sword
and his spear heavy with bronze, and plotted evil for the Trojans.
538So I spoke, and the soul of the swift-footed Achilles
went, taking long strides through the meadow of asphodel,
rejoicing, because I had said that his son had particularly distinguished himself.
In this passage, as in other descriptions of ambush, we find that it was the “best” men who were chosen for the ambush of Troy. [28] Still, even among these best men there exists a great deal of fear during the “waiting period” before the surprise attack of an ambush. Neoptolemos distinguishes himself by not showing any of the physical manifestations of fear, just as Meriones is credited with doing in Iliad 13.
The purpose of this discussion so far has been simply to explore the complexity of the Greek warrior hero and to suggest that modern notions of “heroic” behavior have colored our approaches to Homeric epic. The lokhos warfare of Iliad 10 does not seem so anomalous when we consider the Archaic epic tradition as a whole and what both the Iliad and the Odyssey have to say about ambush. By approaching Homeric poetry as a system, of which the Iliad and Odyssey happen to be the only two surviving examples, we can look for traditional narrative patterns that explain what may seem unusual from a modern literary perspective. It is possible to reconstruct a great deal of the system we have lost by carefully studying allusions to and summaries and quotations of the lost epics of the Epic Cycle. This more inclusive approach to Homeric poetry is what we adopt in this commentary, in which we hope to show that the figures of Diomedes and Odysseus behave in an entirely traditional manner in Iliad 10. If even Achilles can be a master of the lokhos, then it should not surprise us that a hero as versatile as Diomedes in the literary and mythological tradition has done his fair share of both kinds of fighting. And while the affinities between Iliad 10, the Odyssey, and even the Epic Cycle have been noticed before, it is our hope that we can move past using those affinities to make claims about the book’s late or non-Homeric authorship, and instead focus on how the poetics of the book add to our understanding of the poetics of the Iliad and the nature of the Homeric hero.

The Theme of Ambush

Let us turn now more directly to Iliad 10. Anthony Edwards, whose 1985 work treats the topic of ambush most directly, does not discuss this book except by a passing reference, where he notes that the narrative of this night raid is structured as an ambush. [29] Indeed, if we were to try to place this book of the Iliad within the oppositions that Edwards traces, we would have to put it squarely on the side of the lokhos/mētis/Odysseus/Odyssey. Edwards therefore, perhaps strategically, avoids any extensive discussion of Iliad 10 in this study, since his interest is in showing how the Iliad and the Odyssey treat the theme of the ambush differently and, more specifically, have a different ethical view of this kind of warfare. And yet, Iliad 10 as an example of a glorious Iliadic ambush does not completely discredit Edwards’s arguments, with some modifications. The different treatments of ambush are distinctions not between the Iliad and Odyssey per se, but between two overarching thematic clusters or megathemes, of which the Iliad and the Odyssey (in many of its episodes) are each the best (and in fact only) surviving representatives. [30] Either tradition can allude to or make use of the narrative patterns of the other, and when one does, the narrative will necessarily take on a distinctly different flavor. [31] In the history of Homeric scholarship Iliad 10 has often been asserted to be “Odyssean,” and that charge has been used to maintain a variety of theories about the book (including that it is a “late” composition). In the model that we propose, Iliad 10 need only be viewed as related to the Odyssey in that it shares the theme of ambush and has Odysseus as a central character. [32] In other words, Iliad 10 and the Odyssey are similar in terms of language because they partake of the same theme, and theme and language are inseparable. Further below, we will also examine how they both partake of themes related to a journey, making the overlap of thematic language and details even greater.
We can start to examine the poetics of the ambush theme as illustrated in one aspect of Iliad 10 that has often stood out: the elaborate attention paid to the dressing of each hero, and the unusual clothing that they put on. [33] Two different types of description and characterization comprise the first half of the book. First, Agamemnon, Menelaos, Nestor, Odysseus, and Diomedes are each described as dressing as they set out into the night. Agamemnon and Diomedes each wear a lion skin, Menelaos wears a leopard skin, and Nestor wears a khiton and khlaina. Each takes a weapon (egkhos or doru), with the exception of Odysseus, who grabs only a shield. Second, Nestor and Diomedes are described in the state in which they are found by the others, with the result that each is characterized as a vigilant warrior. The elderly Nestor is found to be sleeping on a soft bed (εὐνῇ ἔνι μαλακῇ), but his battle weapons and gear are directly beside him, ready to be put on at a moment’s notice (Iliad 10.74–79). Diomedes, on the other hand, “[t]hey found outside of his shelter together with his armor, and around him his companions slept, and they had their shields under their heads. Their spears were planted with the spearheads up, and far and wide the bronze was shining, like the lightning of father Zeus. But the hero slept, and under him was spread the skin of a wild ox, and under his head was spread a shining tapestry” (Iliad 10.150–156). Diomedes is so ready for battle that he is not even inside his tent. He and his men are found sleeping outside with their armor, ready for battle.
At almost the midpoint of the book, just as Diomedes and Odysseus head out on their expedition, a lengthy description of the arming of Odysseus and Diomedes takes place:
ὣς εἰπόνθ᾽ ὅπλοισιν ἔνι δεινοῖσιν ἐδύτην.
255Τυδεΐδῃ μὲν δῶκε μενεπτόλεμος Θρασυμήδης
φάσγανον ἄμφηκες· τὸ δ᾽ ἑὸν παρὰ νηῒ λέλειπτο·
καὶ σάκος· ἀμφὶ δέ οἱ κυνέην κεφαλῆφιν ἔθηκε
ταυρείην, ἄφαλόν τε καὶ ἄλλοφον, ἥ τε καταῖτυξ
κέκληται, ῥύεται δὲ κάρη θαλερῶν αἰζηῶν.
260Μηριόνης δ᾽ Ὀδυσῆϊ δίδου βιὸν ἠδὲ φαρέτρην
καὶ ξίφος, ἀμφὶ δέ οἱ κυνέην κεφαλῆφιν ἔθηκε
ῥινοῦ ποιητήν· πολέσιν δ᾽ ἔντοσθεν ἱμᾶσιν
ἐντέτατο στερεῶς· ἔκτοσθε δὲ λευκοὶ ὀδόντες
ἀργιόδοντος ὑὸς θαμέες ἔχον ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα
265εὖ καὶ ἐπισταμένως· μέσσῃ δ᾽ ἐνὶ πῖλος ἀρήρει.
τήν ῥά ποτ᾽ ἐξ Ἐλεῶνος Ἀμύντορος Ὀρμενίδαο
ἐξέλετ᾽ Αὐτόλυκος πυκινὸν δόμον ἀντιτορήσας,
Σκάνδειαν δ᾽ ἄρα δῶκε Κυθηρίῳ Ἀμφιδάμαντι·
Ἀμφιδάμας δὲ Μόλῳ δῶκε ξεινήϊον εἶναι,
270αὐτὰρ ὃ Μηριόνῃ δῶκεν ᾧ παιδὶ φορῆναι·
δὴ τότ᾽ Ὀδυσσῆος πύκασεν κάρη ἀμφιτεθεῖσα.
τὼ δ᾽ ἐπεὶ οὖν ὅπλοισιν ἔνι δεινοῖσιν ἐδύτην,
βάν ῥ᾽ ἰέναι, λιπέτην δὲ κατ᾽ αὐτόθι πάντας ἀρίστους.
Iliad 10.254–273
So the two spoke and they put on the terrible implements of war.
255To the son of Tydeus Thrasymedes who stands his ground in battle gave
a two-edged sword—for he [Diomedes] had left his at the ship—
and a shield. And on his head he placed a leather cap
of bull’s hide, without a plume or a boss, the kind which is called
a skull-cap, and it protects the head of flourishing, vigorous young men.
260Meriones gave to Odysseus a bow and a quiver
and a sword, and he placed on his head a leather cap
made of hide. On the inside many leather straps
were stretched tight, and on the outside white tusks
from a white-tusked boar were arrayed one after another,
265well and skillfully. And in the middle there was a layer of felt fastened to it.
This helmet from Amyntor of Eleon, the descendant of Ormenos,
Autolykos took, breaking into his closely fitted [pukinos] house,
and he [Autolykos] gave it to Amphidamas of Kythera to take to Skandeia.
Amphidamas gave it to Molos as a guest gift,
270and he gave it to his son Meriones to carry.
Then it surrounded and closely covered the head of Odysseus.
So when the two had put on the terrible implements of war,
they set out to go, and the two of them left there in that place all the best [aristos] men.
The armor that they wear is in many ways atypical. Most distinctive is what they wear on their heads. Diomedes and Odysseus wear leather skull-caps (κυνέην … ταυρείην … ἥ τε καταῖτυξ κέκληται—the word καταῖτυξ is used only here in extant Greek literature), and the history of Odysseus’ headgear is elaborately described: Odysseus’ own maternal grandfather Autolykos stole it and gave it away as a gift to Amphidamas, who likewise gave it as a gift to Molos, who then gave it to the Cretan Meriones, who now gives it to Odysseus along with the other weapons Odysseus will carry, a bow and quiver and sword (see the next section for more on the bow and quiver).
Meriones must give Odysseus all of this gear because when Odysseus left his tent, unlike the other heroes who dressed in skins and cloaks and took their weapons, he took only his shield. [34] The history of the helmet as a gift indicates that such an object may have prestige as well as utility. [35] Its prestige reflects on “the best men,” who wear such equipment for these dangerous and important missions. That it was originally stolen by the thief extraordinaire Autolykos seems related to the stealth that it affords the wearer, which makes it even more fitting for Odysseus, who is very much like his grandfather, as we know from Odyssey 19.395–412.
Diomedes, too, is given a sword as well as a shield by Thrasymedes because he left his own back at the ships (Iliad 10.255–257). Thus the leaders of the guard lend their equipment to the leaders of the ambush. These details suggest thematic possibilities: the night meeting itself is hastily arranged, so the leaders who were awoken have dressed both in a hurry and for a meeting, not a mission, while the guards are fully armed for their post. [36] Nighttime activities, as we will explore further below, are associated with confusion and haste in general. Odysseus’ story about a night ambush in Odyssey 14 includes one ambusher leaving behind his cloak and another dropping his so that he can run faster. [37] These details serve their own particular purpose in Odysseus’ telling of the story (see our commentary on Iliad 10.53 and 10.149), but they may also signal traditional associations within the theme of ambush.
In a well-known 1958 article, James Armstrong argues that formulaic arming scenes are employed at climactic moments in the poem with great effect. He analyzes in detail four major arming scenes of the Iliad, namely, those of Paris in Iliad 3, Agamemnon in Iliad 11, Patroklos in Iliad 16, and Achilles in Iliad 19, arguing that formulaic language in these passages is manipulated for various poetic purposes, and that each scene resonates with what came before, so that there is a cumulative effect over the course of the poem. [38] Characterization through detail within formulaic themes and language and the resonance that Armstrong identifies, however, need not be literary. Instead, we can understand these scenes, following Albert Lord (1960/2000:89–91), as orally composed variations on the same theme. [39] The structure, as Lord points out, is consistent in all of these examples of the theme. The hero starts by putting on his greaves, then his breastplate, then a sword, a shield, a helmet, and finally a spear or two. But these are elaborated with further details, and this expansion of the theme indicates something about both the warrior who is arming and the moment in the battle for which he is arming. Conversely, Lord notes that the arming of a warrior can and does happen in one line, such as Menelaos at Iliad 3.339, showing a compression of the theme.
Similar to the expanded arming scene of Paris and the subsequent, compressed version of Menelaos in Iliad 3, we see that after the series of dressing scenes and the arming scene of Diomedes and Odysseus in Iliad 10, Dolon has a more compressed version, only three lines long (Iliad 10.333–335). He, too, dresses for his mission in attire that seems unusual, but which is appropriate for a nocturnal spying mission. He actually wears his animal pelt, that of a wolf, as he goes, and also has a skin cap, specified as made from the hide of a marten. He takes two weapons with him, a bow and a spear. That all three of these spies take weapons with them reflects, of course, the dangerous nature of their missions, but it also reveals that spying missions often become ambushes, a phenomenon we will address in greater detail below.
In the night raid/ambush tradition, it seems that the dressing and arming of heroes have a poetic purpose similar to the expanded arming scenes of conventional battle. Like these scenes, they contribute both to suspense, by increasing the audience’s anticipation of the coming ambush or raid, and to characterization, as the details of each dressing or arming passage reveal important aspects of the hero’s character as a fighter. Using arming scenes from Slavic epic as a comparison, Lord argues that there could also be a ritual aspect to the expanded or ‘ornamental’ arming scene: in the Iliad that ritual aspect “is probably one of dedication to the task and saving the hero’s people, even of sacrifice. Each of these men is about to set out upon a mission of deep significance, and the ‘ornamental’ theme is a signal and mark, both ‘ritualistic’ and artistic, of the role of the hero” (Lord 1960/2000:91). Although Lord does not include the arming scene of Iliad 10 in his discussion, it shares in this thematic significance. Odysseus and Diomedes, too, are arming for a special mission, and the details of what they wear, as we have just seen, are also a signal that they are taking on a particular role: at night the task is ambush, and that is what our heroes dress for.
Another “special” arming scene likewise reveals how this theme can take on characteristics specific to the context and to the warrior who is arming. [40] In Iliad 5, Athena responds to Ares’ aid to Hektor and the Trojans by going into battle to help the Achaeans. Athena arms herself in an extended description (Iliad 5.733–747), which includes very special equipment specific to Athena herself: the war tunic of Zeus and his aegis, a helmet that not only includes the phaloi that Agamemnon’s helmet has (Iliad 5.743 = 11.41) and that the leather caps at night lack (aphalon, Iliad 10.257), but is also fitted with the fighting men of a hundred cities (Iliad 5.744). [41] Such details make the theme divine, as it describes a kind of armor that no mortal could have. [42] Yet this sequence is recognizably the same theme and uses the same formulas when appropriate, such as when her spear is βριθὺ μέγα στιβαρόν (“heavy, big, sturdy,” Iliad 5.746) just as Achilles’ is (Iliad 19.388). Thus we see how the composition of the theme works: the singer has a basic structure and vocabulary that can be adapted to individual contexts. [43] Just as Agamemnon’s armor is more elaborate in some details and Achilles’ arming scene adds details such as how he tries it out because it is new to him, the details of the arming or dressing theme for a night mission share in the thematic structure, but the equipment is different because it is appropriate to the context. The fact that Athena takes off her peplos (Iliad 5.734–735) before arming for battle demonstrates her transition from one realm to another: she is the goddess of weaving and she made the peplos herself, but she is also a goddess of war, and the change in what she wears signals a change in her activity. The dressing scenes that begin Iliad 10 show the heroes wearing animal skins, which are not part of their usual daytime attire, and similarly signal a different milieu, where different kinds of missions will be suggested and undertaken.
We can add one final dressing scene, one that occurs at night, as a comparison. Rick Newton (1998) has compared the way Eumaios dresses for his nightwatch over the swine to the traditional arming scene, noting that the verb ὁπλίζετο ‘armed himself’ (Odyssey 14.526) is used to describe his action and that the sequence of items follows that of the traditional theme as seen in the Iliad. [44] Newton notes that there are two marked differences in this sequence, again appropriate to the context: Eumaios puts on a cloak in place of a shield and a goat-skin in place of a helmet. Building on Newton’s insights, we can note that both the cloak and the goat-skin are appropriate, not only to Eumaios’ mission of guarding the swine, but also to the night, since we have seen both cloaks and animal skins as significant elements in the night dressing scenes in Iliad 10. The fact that Eumaios’ dressing scene occurs just after the disguised Odysseus has told him his story about an ambush at Troy (Odyssey 14.462–506) also makes the thematic connections evident.
Thus the dressing and arming scenes in Iliad 10 are consistent with a theme seen elsewhere in the epic. But even more importantly, they serve to signal that the poet is moving into a different poetic register. The poet transitions by way of such scenes from one larger theme to another, and the alternative style of clothing is emblematic of not only this alternative mode of fighting but also an alternative poetics. The dressing scenes are our point of entry into this alternate, nighttime poetic world, in which heroes wear animal skins and leather caps, employ cunning rather than meet the enemy face-to-face, and do things that they might not in broad daylight. Please see the commentary in Part Three on these lines for more ways in which specific details of the clothing described in this passage are best understood within the poetics of ambush.

Weapons of ambush

In addition to the animal skins and leather caps that signal a nighttime ambush theme, there is an additional detail to be noted in these arming scenes in Iliad 10 that is not present in the arming scenes that occur before conventional battle: both Odysseus and Dolon take a bow (Iliad 10.260 for Odysseus; Iliad 10.333 for Dolon). Why would this weapon appear only in the night arming scenes? Applying a practical approach to that question, McLeod (1988) demonstrates that the bow is known to be a particularly effective weapon in the dark of night. Working from both the information provided in Iliad scholia and comparative military sources, McLeod explains that an archer in the darkness has an advantage in shooting targets lit by campfires or torches (McLeod 1988:121–123). He then extends his argument to suggest that skilled archers may also be able to find targets in the dark by aiming at sound, and concludes that “the possibility remains that archers could be effective even in total darkness” (McLeod 1988:123–124).
The utility of a bow in the dark helps to explain why the arming scene includes the weapon only at night. It may even underlie the compressed simile of Apollo coming “like night” (Iliad 1.47) when he descends from Olympos to shoot arrows of plague at the Achaeans. And there are further thematic associations between archery and ambush. Odysseus, who excels at the ambush, is also a preeminent archer, as he himself boasts to the Phaeacians (Odyssey 8.215–222). Odysseus claims there that “Philoktetes alone surpassed me with the bow in the district of Troy, when we Achaeans used the bow” (Odyssey 8.219–220). But our Iliad does not present Odysseus as an archer in conventional battle at Troy, and the Odyssey stipulates that Odysseus left his bow at home when he went to war (Odyssey 21.38–41). That bow, and Odysseus’ ability to wield it as no one else in Ithaka can, will be the key to his triumph over the suitors in what Edwards has identified as the most extended ambush theme in our Homeric epics. [45] That Odysseus equips himself with a bow here, then, is an indication that we should expect his skills as an ambusher to be at the forefront in the episode that is about to unfold. Since he does not have his own bow, Odysseus borrows that of Meriones, who has it with him on guard duty (again attesting to its usefulness at night), and who, as we see elsewhere, is both a good archer (Iliad 13.650–652, 23.859–883) and a good ambusher (Iliad 13.274–291).
In Meriones and Odysseus, then, we have two examples of warriors in the Iliad whom we know to be good archers, but who usually, if not always, fight as spearmen in conventional battle, and whom we additionally know to be good ambushers. When we look at the archers who fight regularly with the bow during daytime battle, we can see that a thematic overlap exists between archery and ambush in terms of hidden positions and unexpected attacks. Paris is explicitly said to be in an ambush position when he wounds Diomedes with his arrow (ἐκ λόχου, Iliad 11.379). He has used the column on the grave-mound of Ilos as a place of concealment (Iliad 11.371–372). [46] The archer, like the ambusher, waits while hidden to effect a surprise attack. Diomedes is in the process of stripping the corpse of Agastrophos and obviously does not see Paris before he shoots. There is a difference in sequence between ambush with a spear or sword and the kind of ambush Paris achieves with his bow during conventional battle: usually, after ambushers have waited for their victims, they spring out of their hiding place to attack; by contrast Paris shoots and hits his victim, and then springs out from his hiding place to boast of his success (ἐκ λόχου ἀμπήδησε καὶ εὐχόμενος ἔπος ηὔδα, Iliad 11.379). [47] Diomedes had been wounded earlier by another arrow, one shot by Pandaros, and when Diomedes prays to Athena that she grant him the opportunity to kill Pandaros, he describes him as the one “who hit me first,” (ὅς μ’ ἔβαλε φθάμενος, Iliad 5.119). Although it is difficult to convey in English, the participle φθάμενος here expresses the notion that Pandaros hit Diomedes while Diomedes was unaware that he was a target; in other words, Pandaros got the jump on him and therefore got the better of him. [48]
Pandaros’ more famous shot at Menelaos provides another picture of archery as a surprise attack from a hidden position—in other words, a picture of how archery is like ambush. After Athena, disguised as Laodokos, persuades Pandaros that he would win kudos and the thanks of all the Trojans were he to kill Menelaos (Iliad 4.92–104), Pandaros takes out his bow, an action that prompts the story of how he acquired the bow. Pandaros, in fact, ambushed and killed the goat whose horn he then used to make the bow. Pandaros was “waiting in a hiding place” (δεδεγμένος ἐν προδοκῇσι, Iliad 4.107), and only when the goat walked over the rock did Pandaros shoot him. The impending shot at Menelaos is, of course, equally unsuspected because of the current cease-fire enforced by the oaths taken by both sides before the duel between Menelaos and Paris. Yet to make it even more unsuspected, Pandaros hides behind the shields of his comrades while he strings the bow:
καὶ τὸ μὲν εὖ κατέθηκε τανυσσάμενος ποτὶ γαίῃ
ἀγκλίνας· πρόσθεν δὲ σάκεα σχέθον ἐσθλοὶ ἑταῖροι
μὴ πρὶν ἀναΐξειαν ἀρήϊοι υἷες Ἀχαιῶν
πρὶν βλῆσθαι Μενέλαον ἀρήϊον Ἀτρέος υἱόν.
Iliad 4.112–115
And stringing it he placed it well down near the ground,
angling it, and his good comrades held their shields in front,
lest the Ares-like sons of the Achaeans rush him
before he hit Menelaos, the Ares-like son of Atreus.
When no hiding place (such as that Paris found behind the grave of Ilos or Pandaros had while hunting the goat) is available on the battlefield, one is created for the archer by the shields of his comrades. This position we also see depicted in vase painting: the archer crouching, angling his bow upwards, behind his comrades and their shields (see e.g. Louvre E 635 and Boston 01.8074, which has a “close-up” within its tondo of an archer partially hidden behind a shield, in Plates 3 and 4). The images of Achilles attacking Troilos discussed above show Achilles in much the same position (see Plate 1b). This overlap in the iconography of archery and ambush finds an analogue in the passage from the Iliad we have been discussing: Athena is reported to choose Pandaros in particular for this attack (Iliad 4.88), and we suggest that she does so not because his moral character would make him more willing to break the truce, but rather because an archer (and Pandaros is an excellent archer; see Iliad 2.827) is perfectly suited to an ambush enacted on an open plain in broad daylight. [49]
How an archer fights behind the shield of a comrade is most fully developed in the remarkable description of how Teucer shoots his arrows while he is protected by the shield of his brother Ajax (Iliad 8.266–272). [50] The description once again illustrates that archers fight from hidden positions even during conventional battle, and the subsequent list of Teucer’s kills shows that it is a successful method (Iliad 8.273–277). The way the two brothers fight together is also presented as a strategy they often employ, and their cooperative style provides one more link to ambush tactics. As we will see in further detail below, ambushes are frequently organized with two leaders, and at times consist of just two men, as we have in Iliad 10. Once Diomedes and Odysseus pair up for the night raid, dual verbs are frequently used to describe their actions, expressing a tight coordination between them. Ajax and Teucer present another kind of alternative fighting method involving pairs, and another example of how such alternative fighting, rather than being untraditional, may be quite an old element within the epic tradition. [51]
Another shared feature of archery and ambush lies in how each has been understood and interpreted in modern scholarship: that is, both archery and ambush have been thought to be negatively portrayed in the Homeric epics. Steven Farron has challenged the general consensus about archery, stating that, “In fact, there is no evidence in the Iliad that military archery was ineffectual or lower class” (2003:169). He points out that insults of archers come not from the narrator but in the words of men like Diomedes who have just been wounded by these archers (which demonstrates that they are indeed effective). Farron also highlights the passages in which Teucer’s success with the bow in battle is praised or desired by his comrades (2003:171–175). In the end, he allows that “military archery did have enough negative connotations for Homer to use them when he wanted to denigrate a character, nation, or action,” by which he means either Paris in particular or the Trojans collectively (2003:184). This conclusion, however, seems to fall back into the same problem that Farron identified earlier of evaluating the statements of characters as if they reflect general attitudes. As we have already begun to see in scholarly reactions to episodes of ambush, both in the Homeric epics and the Epic Cycle, such assumptions are often based on the interpreter’s own notions of what is “heroic” or “honorable” and are not entirely based in what the epics themselves have to say. The controversial scene featuring a debate about archery in Euripides’ Herakles (140–235) reveals just how complex and even conflicting the ancient attitudes can be. [52]
Yet Farron does suggest that the archery of Pandaros and Paris, as well as the onslaught of unnamed masses of Trojan archers, is presented as changing the course of battle in a way that spear-fighting does not (2003:174–178). Similarly, ambush missions achieve what conventional battle cannot. As we see in episodes in the Epic Cycle, night raids such as the stealing of the Palladion and, of course, the ambush by the wooden horse, are the methods by which the Achaeans ultimately win the war. In the Odyssey, Odysseus uses ambush to overcome the superior numbers of the suitors. The night raid of Iliad 10 has been criticized for its ineffectiveness, but such a characterization ignores the reactions of the Achaeans themselves, who rejoice in the victory (Iliad 10.540–542, 10.565–566). [53]
Although we have seen that bows can be an especially effective weapon at night, and that there are shared thematic concepts between archery and ambush, the bows that Dolon and Odysseus take on their respective missions are not in fact used as weapons in this episode. That is, we do not see the bow in action at night here. Diomedes uses his spear to stop Dolon in his tracks (Iliad 10.369–375), and he uses his sword to kill the Thracians (Iliad 10.482–484, 10.489), but Dolon never uses any of his weapons, and Odysseus uses his bow only to whip the horses (Iliad 10.500, 10.516). Any expectations raised by the inclusion of the bows in the arming scenes are, in the end, confounded by how this episode turns out, yet the confounding of expectations may itself be a feature of spying mission and ambush episodes. Another possibility is that the bow, like the special caps and other gear worn by Odysseus and Diomedes in Iliad 10, is a narrative signal so closely associated with ambush warfare that a poet would naturally include it as part of a spy’s equipment, whether or not it is ever actually used in the episode.

Sensory and spatial aspects of the night

One practical reason behind some of the differences in clothing and armor we find in Iliad 10 has to do with another nexus within the poetics of ambush, namely, the effect that the darkness of night has on the sense of sight. In the dark, the sense of sight is, of course, diminished, and the difficulty of moving through the darkness is emphasized in this book, as are the dangers attendant on the inability to see clearly. The corollary to this difficulty in seeing at night is the need for ambushers or spies to move undetected, to remain unseen. As we see in Iliad 10 when Nestor and Agamemnon arrive at Diomedes’ encampment, metal such as bronze can shine even in the dark:
ἔγχεα δέ σφιν
ὄρθ’ ἐπὶ σαυρωτῆρος ἐλήλατο, τῆλε δὲ χαλκὸς
λάμφ’ ὥς τε στεροπὴ πατρὸς Διός·
Iliad 10.152–154
Their spears
were planted with the spearheads up, and far and wide the bronze
was shining, like the lightning of father Zeus.
Whatever light is available at night, from the moon or from watch- or campfires, will be reflected by the metal armor used in daytime fighting, making metal a liability on ambush or spying missions. (For how that particular liability becomes decisive in the night raid episode in Aeneid 9, see our discussion of it in our essay, “Tradition and Reception.”) These thematic elements of sight and stealth in the dark are one reason for leather helmets or other gear that seem unusual at first glance but are actually appropriate to maneuvers in the dark.
With the proper equipment, a dark night is generally an asset to an ambusher. Darkness enables hiding, the surprise nature of the attack, and a successful escape afterwards. We see all of these benefits in the compressed story of an ambush that Odysseus tells within one of his Cretan tales (Odyssey 13.259–270). There we see that the dark night (νὺξ δὲ μάλα δνοφερὴ κάτεχ’ οὐρανόν, Odyssey 13.269) allows him to strike his victim, Orsilokhos, after lying in wait for him near the road with a comrade (ἐγγὺς ὁδοῖο λοχησάμενος σὺν ἑταίρῳ, Odyssey 13.268). After the murder darkness also helps him to escape from Crete unseen (Odyssey 13.269–270). Although darkness may require advance planning to navigate its difficulties, it gives the ambusher a definite advantage.
Because sight is limited at night, hearing becomes a more important sense. But what one hears, especially in the dark, is less certain and more in need of interpretation. Visual and auditory perception are highlighted from the beginning of Iliad 10, as Agamemnon sees the numerous campfires of the Trojans on the plain and hears their music and the din of their activity (Iliad 10.11–13). As we discuss in our commentary on those lines, the description of these sights and sounds and Agamemnon’s reaction to them reveal that we are seeing and hearing from his point of view. In other words, Agamemnon’s distress focalizes the sights and sounds from the Trojan camp, and his reaction forefronts his own interpretation, namely, that his perceptions mean trouble for the Achaeans.
Similarly, when the Achaean leaders arrive at the guards’ post, it is the sounds that the guards hear in the night that are given prominence in the description of their vigilance. Nestor and the others find, to their relief, that the guards have not fallen asleep (a concern expressed by Agamemnon at Iliad 10.97–99); rather, they are sitting awake with their weapons (Iliad 10.180–182). The guards are then compared to watchdogs, specifically to watchdogs who are keeping a “hard watch” (δυσωρήσωνται) after they hear some undefined beast moving through the woods on a mountain. The dogs raise a commotion, and they can have no sleep that night. The Achaean night watch is in the same position, the simile makes clear: sleep is lost to them, and they keep turning toward the plain whenever they hear something from the Trojan camp (Iliad 10.183–189). Multiple comparisons within one simile, such as the choice between a lion or wolf, are not unusual in Homeric similes, but within the action of this simile the unspecified beast (is it a lion? a wolf?) highlights the uncertainty of the watchers, in that they do not even know exactly what they are guarding against. [54] We can imagine that the Achaean guards have a similar reaction to the noises they hear: Are the Trojans attacking? Or are they just moving about (ἰόντων, Iliad 10.189)? Both inside and outside of the simile, the noises in the night are more ominous because of the inability to see what is actually happening. Though they turn toward the noise in both cases as if to see, the guards and the guard dogs must rely on their hearing to prepare for a possible attack.
Later, the need to interpret sounds correctly becomes a key element in the capture of Dolon. Odysseus shows off his ambush skills and mētis when he and Diomedes first embark on their mission. Just as Diomedes hoped his partner would (Iliad 10.224–226), Odysseus is the first to perceive Dolon, and uses his intelligence in planning their strategy. Odysseus suggests that they get ahead of Dolon on the plain so that they can rush and seize him, and if Dolon outruns them he will still be cut off from Troy (Iliad 10.344–348). So they let Dolon pass them and run after him from behind, at which point hearing and seeing come into play. Dolon hears their footsteps and perceives that those footsteps are behind him. Then we are told how he interprets the noise and its location:
τὼ μὲν ἐπιδραμέτην, ὅδ’ ἄρ’ ἔστη δοῦπον ἀκούσας.
ἔλπετο γὰρ κατὰ θυμὸν ἀποστρέψοντας ἑταίρους
ἐκ Τρώων ἰέναι πάλιν Ἕκτορος ὀτρύναντος.
ἀλλ’ ὅτε δή ῥ’ ἄπεσαν δουρηνεκὲς ἢ καὶ ἔλασσον,
γνῶ ῥ’ ἄνδρας δηΐους, λαιψηρὰ δὲ γούνατ’ ἐνώμα
φευγέμεναι· τοὶ δ’ αἶψα διώκειν ὡρμήθησαν.
Iliad 10.354–359
The two ran after him, and he came to a stop having heard the noise.
For he [Dolon] thought in his heart that it was his comrades coming to turn him back,
his comrades from the Trojans, with Hektor summoning him to come back.
But when they were a spear’s throw away or even less,
he recognized that they were enemy men, and he moved his nimble knees
to flee. But they immediately started to pursue.
Dolon’s assumption, based on the sound of someone running up behind him, that is, from the same direction he has come, is that they must be his comrades, also coming from the Trojan camp. He assumes they have come to deliver a message to abort the mission. Odysseus’ strategy cuts Dolon off from an escape route and has the added benefit of hindering Dolon’s ability to interpret the sound of their approach correctly. Only once Diomedes and Odysseus are much closer can Dolon see that they are not his comrades at all, and he realizes his appraisal was wrong. Dolon is a swift runner (Iliad 10.316), but the fact that he stops when he hears the footsteps gives Diomedes and Odysseus an advantage in capturing him.
Recognizing that vision is limited at night, the Achaeans take measures to prevent missing someone or something in the dark. As Agamemnon and Menelaos make their plans to gather the other leaders, Menelaos asks Agamemnon where he should meet him (Iliad 10.62–63). Agamemnon tells him to wait with the guards so that they do not somehow miss each other (Iliad 10.65). [55] Similarly, when Odysseus places the spoils from Dolon on a tamarisk bush, he makes a sign, a sēma, so that they will not miss it (Iliad 10.466–468, here the verb is λανθάνω). [56] Agamemnon also instructs Menelaos to “call out” wherever he goes as he awakens the leaders for the meeting (φθέγγεο δ’ ᾗ κεν ἴῃσθα, Iliad 10.67). Calling out will give warning of Menelaos’ approach, since in the dark it is easier to be heard than seen. Wondering who is approaching, Nestor says much the same to Agamemnon himself—he obviously cannot see him clearly—and he tells him to call out and not to approach silently (φθέγγεο, μηδ’ ἀκέων ἐπ’ ἔμ’ ἔρχεο, Iliad 10.85). We can compare this to the other gathering of leaders that happens earlier in the night, in Iliad 9. There, Agamemnon instructs his herald to summon each man by name to the assembly, but not to shout (κλήδην εἰς ἀγορὴν κικλήσκειν ἄνδρα ἕκαστον, / μὴ δὲ βοᾶν, Iliad 9.11–12), perhaps so that the nearby enemy not overhear them. Within the confines of the encampment, then, sound is used to avoid confusion, and words and voices are meant to identify friends. Such a use of sound is something that Dolon does not consider when he assumes those behind him to be Trojan comrades.
A historical example of the confusion that can happen when fighting at night, even with calling out a verbal signal such as a password, is offered by Thucydides’ account of the Athenian night attack on Epipolae, near Syracuse (Thucydides 7.43–44). After initial success in their attack, the Athenians pushed on until they were in turn routed by the Boeotians. Since some Athenians were still advancing as their comrades started retreating, it was difficult, Thucydides tells us, to tell friend from foe. Even the use of the password did not help, since everyone asked for it at once, and the enemy could discern it and use it to their advantage. [57] Thucydides emphasizes just how difficult it is to fight at night (as well as to get an accurate account of it afterwards) with a question: “in a night battle, how would anyone know anything clearly?” (ἐν δὲ νυκτομαχίᾳ … πῶς ἄν τις σαφῶς τι ᾔδει; Thucydides 7.44). He reports that there was a moon on the night in question, but that the moonlight only allows one to see the form of a body—not enough to trust in the recognition of those on one’s own side (Thucydides 7.44).
We have already seen that some of these same concerns and problems are present in the night episode in Iliad 10 and that careful planning is necessary to avoid the kind of confusion the Athenians suffered at Epipolae. In addition to the precautions taken because of limited sight and the possibility for confusion related to sound, we see a great deal of attention paid to spatial orientation in this episode. Odysseus asks for details about not only the night watch (Iliad 10.408) but also the arrangements of the Trojan camp (Iliad 10.424–425). Dolon provides these details (Iliad 10.428–431) before directing Odysseus and Diomedes to the Thracians, who are “farthest apart from the others” (Iliad 10.434), a factor that seems to make them a better target for an ambush. This detailed information is necessary because of the difficulties of moving, as well as fighting, in the dark. Below we will discuss how ambush is structured like a journey, both a going there and a returning home, and such information is necessary to successfully complete that journey, to navigate a terrain that might even be familiar in daylight, but which presents new dangers on this night in particular. When Diomedes and Odysseus ambush the Thracians, confusion is further averted by planning: Odysseus and Diomedes divide the tasks to be done (Iliad 10.480–481). When Odysseus has finished freeing the horses, he signals to Diomedes with a single sound (Iliad 10.502): his whistle balances the need for quiet as part of stealth with the inability to signal with a gesture or some other means that relies on sight.
Once we realize how the dark of night affects the strategies and actions of these kinds of missions, and therefore the language used to express them, we can better understand certain figures of speech that would otherwise seem problematic. We find one such figure of speech in a line that has long bothered Homeric scholars, the climactic moment when Diomedes kills Rhesos. Here is how the verses read in the Venetus A text:
ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ βασιλῆα κιχήσατο Τυδέος υἱός,
τὸν τρισκαιδέκατον μελιηδέα θυμὸν ἀπηύρα
ἀσθμαίνοντα· κακὸν γὰρ ὄναρ κεφαλῇφιν ἐπέστη
τὴν νύκτ’ Οἰνείδαο πάϊς διὰ μῆτιν Ἀθήνης.
Iliad 10.494–497
But when the son of Tydeus reached the king,
from him the thirteenth he took away the honey-sweet life [thumos]
as he gasped for breath. For a bad dream stood at his head
that night, the descendent of Oineus [Diomedes], through the scheme [mētis] of Athena.
In the Venetus A manuscript, there is an obelos next to 10.497, and the corresponding scholion indicates that it is athetized “because it is paltry even in its composition [sunthesis: its connection to the previous line], and because it means but does not say that Diomedes stands by Rhesos like a dream, and because ‘through the scheme of Athena’ is vexing, for it was rather through the report of Dolon” (ἀθετεῖται, ὅτι καὶ τῇ συνθέσει εὐτελής· καὶ μὴ ῥηθέντος δὲ νοεῖται ὅτι ὡς ὄναρ ἐφίσταται τῷ Ῥήσῳ ὁ Διομήδης, καὶ τὸ <διὰ μῆτιν Ἀθήνης> λυπεῖ· μᾶλλον γὰρ διὰ τὴν Δόλωνος ἀπαγγελίαν). The intermarginal A scholion on the line notes that this line was not in the editions of either Zenodotus or Aristophanes.
Bernard Fenik has examined the perceived anomalies in these lines, which have caused modern scholars, as well, to challenge both the inclusion of 10.497 in our text and the meaning of the line; they have done so not only for the reasons stated in the A scholia, but also because of the accusative τὴν νύκτ(α) (Fenik 1964:44–54). Fenik adduces parallel uses of the accusative to mean ‘time when’ rather than ‘extent of time’ in Homeric epic, and as a result he dismisses that element as a reason for excluding the line. Instead, Fenik argues that the bad dream is an older element within the tradition about Rhesos that is being referred to in a compressed way here, and, similarly, that the mētis of Athena is part of a tradition that is not explained or explored in full in this version.
Thus, following Fenik, one way to understand the difficulties here is to recognize a broader tradition about Rhesos, one that encompasses the other versions we see reported in the scholia and in other ancient authors. [58] As we have seen in other places, the compression that makes certain things opaque for us would have been more easily understood by a traditional audience who would readily know the stories alluded to. But there may be a particular reason for the abrupt equation between the bad dream and Diomedes here, and that is the surprise element of the ambush in the dark. The scholion notes that the line means Diomedes is like a bad dream, but does not explicitly say so—that is, we do not have a word such as ὡς to indicate that a comparison is being made. Instead, we, or the audience, hear first about the bad dream standing at Rhesos’ head, as dreams do in Homeric epic, but then the dream comes into focus and is embodied as Diomedes.
We can compare the similar action in the dark that takes place when Achilles first captures Lykaon, a passage that we examined above in our discussion of Achilles as an ambusher. This description of a nighttime attack also uses an apposition, this time between Achilles and what his presence means for Lykaon—an unexpected evil:
ἔνθ᾽ υἷι Πριάμοιο συνήντετο Δαρδανίδαο
ἐκ ποταμοῦ φεύγοντι Λυκάονι, τόν ῥά ποτ᾽ αὐτὸς
ἦγε λαβὼν ἐκ πατρὸς ἀλωῆς οὐκ ἐθέλοντα
ἐννύχιος προμολών· ὃ δ᾽ ἐρινεὸν ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ
τάμνε νέους ὄρπηκας, ἵν᾽ ἅρματος ἄντυγες εἶεν·
τῷ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἀνώϊστον κακὸν ἤλυθε δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.
Iliad 21.34–39
There Achilles encountered the son of Dardanian Priam,
Lykaon, as he was fleeing out of the river, whom once he himself
had led away after he captured him, unwilling as he was, from his father’s orchard,
attacking him at night. Lykaon was cutting a wild fig tree with sharp bronze,
cutting new branches to be rails of a chariot.
For him, an unexpected evil came, radiant Achilles.
Unlooked-for evil comes to Lykaon and suddenly, coming out of the darkness, that evil is Achilles. The abrupt appearance of the metaphor is an aural experience similar to the eyes finally focusing in the dark, such as when Dolon finally discerns that the men running toward him are his enemies, but only after it is too late to escape. The appositions in Iliad 21 and Iliad 10, the unlooked-for evil that suddenly appears and the bad dream that comes true, emphasize the unexpected and unseen nature of the attacks. The mental picture created is especially frightening: the emergence of the enemy from the previously empty darkness. The performance language for episodes including attacks at night, we suggest, may have developed a special use of language, this abrupt, almost jarring apposition, to recreate verbally what happens within the story visually as the enemy comes into the focus of his victim.

The ambush as a narrative pattern

Just as night raid and ambush narratives are marked by their own thematically appropriate arming scenes, so too do these narratives have a traditional structure attested in various levels of complexity, compression, and expansion. Anthony Edwards has argued that the second half of the Odyssey leading up to the slaughter of the suitors is our most expanded example of the ambush narrative pattern, featuring all three of the standard elements he identifies as belonging to an ambush: planning, concealment, and surprise attack. [59] Another way to think about the structure of the ambush theme is that it is composed of several smaller themes. [60] These sub-themes are associated with the larger theme, but in performance a singer may choose to include them or not, or to expand or compress any one sub-theme. [61] When we examine specific uses of the ambush theme in what survives of the Greek oral epic tradition, then, we should not be surprised if all of the elements or sub-themes we identify as being associated with the ambush theme are not present in each instance. Conversely, as we shall discuss below, the presence of several of these sub-themes will indicate that the ambush theme is operative even if the word λόχος is not explicitly used to describe it. The sub-themes that constitute an ambush include: (1) selecting the best men as leaders and/or participants; (2) preparing and arming for the ambush; (3) choosing a location for the ambush; (4) the ambushers concealing themselves and enduring discomfort while they wait; (5) the surprise attack; (6) returning home.
The decision to undertake a spying mission or an ambush is often born of a situation of desperation, or the need to defeat an enemy who was not or cannot be beaten in conventional battle. [62] In Iliad 10, Agamemnon and the other Achaeans fear complete destruction and that the Trojans may even attack at night (Iliad 10.43–45 and 10.100–101). In other variations on the theme, a single hero has defeated many challengers or overcome other means to kill him, so an ambush is used to exact revenge or as a last-resort attempt on his life: examples include Tydeus (Iliad 4.385–398) and Bellerophon (Iliad 6.187–190). The besieged city on the Shield of Achilles sends out men on an ambush (Iliad 18.513–522). And of course, the Achaeans find no way to take Troy other than to use the ambush of the wooden horse.
In the planning phase, the bravest men (aristoi) volunteer and/or are chosen to go on the mission, and the right location is chosen. Often the ambush consists of two men or a small group of men led by two leaders. This is the case with the slaughter of the suitors (led by Odysseus and Telemakhos in Odyssey 22) and the ambush of Tydeus (led by Maion and Polyphontes in Iliad 4.394–395). On the Shield of Achilles, the two leaders are Athena and Ares (Iliad 18.516). In one Cretan lie (Odyssey 13.256–286) Odysseus claims he is in exile for killing Idomeneus’ son Orsilokhos in an ambush, and the thematic pull of two ambushers is so strong that he ambushes Orsilokhos with a nameless companion (λοχησάμενος σὺν ἑταίρῳ, Odyssey 13.268). In Odysseus’ tale of an ambush at Troy, told to Eumaios in Odyssey 14, the presence of the speaker as a third leader tacked on to the initial two, Menelaos and Odysseus (τοῖσι δ’ ἅμα τρίτος ἦρχον ἐγών, Odyssey 14.471), might be an intentional clue as to the true nature of the storyteller’s identity. [63] In any case, in Iliad 10, the selection process is narrated in full, and it includes many details as to who is selected and why. In addition, the importance that the two work as a team is highlighted in two ways in Iliad 10. First, Diomedes specifically requests a partner, explaining how much better it is for two men to work together on such a mission (Iliad 10.220–226). Second, once the mission begins, the dual is used frequently to refer to Diomedes and Odysseus working together.
Other instances of ambush, however, include only the number of the best and bravest to be chosen. In Odyssey 4.663–672, Antinoos says he needs a fast ship and twenty men for the ambush of Telemakhos. [64] In Odyssey 4.531–532, Proteus reports that Aigisthos likewise chose twenty of the best men in the district for the ambush of Agamemnon (κρινάμενος κατὰ δῆμον ἐείκοσι φῶτας ἀρίστους εἷσε λόχον). [65] We hear in the Iliad that fifty men are sent to ambush Tydeus (Iliad 4.392–393). In other instances, the emphasis is given to the best men without a specific number: for example, against Bellerophon are sent the best men chosen from broad Lycia (κρίνας ἐκ Λυκίης εὐρείης φῶτας ἀρίστους, Iliad 6.188–189), but a precise number is not included. Similarly, in one of his Cretan lies, Odysseus describes how as a leader of ambush, he would choose the best men (ὁπότε κρίνοιμι λόχονδε ἄνδρας ἀριστῆας, Odyssey 14.217–218).
Along with the selection of men, there must also be a plan or a plot for an ambush, and for this element the thematic vocabulary often includes βουλή and/or δόλος. We see the need for a plan, βουλή, in Iliad 10 from the beginning of the night episode (Iliad 10.5). [66] Similarly, Proteus asks Menelaos, who has just successfully ambushed him, who among the gods told him the plans so that Menelaos could take him, unwilling as he was, in ambush (τίς νύ τοι, Ἀτρέος υἱέ, θεῶν συμφράσσατο βουλάς, / ὄφρα μ’ ἕλοις ἀέκοντα λοχησάμενος, Odyssey 4.462–463). The presence of the word δόλος can give an ambush-like feel to an episode not otherwise identified as such (for example, Hephaistos trapping Ares and Aphrodite in his bed; see the use of δόλος in this song at Odyssey 8.276, 8.282, and 8.317). Confining our examination of the word only to those episodes which are explicitly called or structured as an ambush, however, we see δόλος used to describe the ambush with the Trojan horse (Odyssey 8.494), the ambush of Bellerophon (Iliad 6.187), the ambush of Proteus by Menelaos (Odyssey 4.437 and 4.453), the ambush on the Shield of Achilles (Iliad 18.526), the death of Agamemnon (Odyssey 3.325, 4.92, and 11.439), the suitors’ attempted ambush of Telemakhos as predicted by Eurykleia (Odyssey 2.368), and the death of the suitors at the hands of Telemakhos (Odyssey 1.296) and Odysseus (Odyssey 11.120). The preeminent hero of ambush, Odysseus, is known for his skills at deception and trickery, and so is often associated with the word δόλος. He even introduces himself to the Phaeacians as Odysseus, son of Laertes, who is known to mortals for all sorts of tricks (πᾶσι δόλοισιν, Odyssey 9.19). [67]
In Iliad 10, the planning of the mission and selection of men is followed by an arming scene. If other night raid episodes from the Epic Cycle survived, we might have more examples of such scenes. As it is, only one other ambush in the Homeric epics, Menelaos’ ambush of Proteus, shows particular preparations of dress. The preparation for the disguise and concealment is narrated here in some detail. Menelaos tells Telemakhos about how he was delayed in Egypt and could only find out how to get home by ambushing the sea god Proteus (Odyssey 4.351–480): the ambush is suggested by the goddess Eidothea (τόν γ’ εἴ πως σὺ δύναιο λοχησάμενος λελαβέσθαι, Odyssey 4.388), who also does the planning and makes preparations for it. She suggests ambushing Proteus in his sleep, as he lies among the seals, and orders Menelaos to choose his three best men: as we have seen, it is always the best (aristoi) who go on ambushes (Odyssey 4.403–409). To enable the four men to hide while they wait for the arrival of Proteus and for the moment he falls asleep, Eidothea provides them with four seal hides recently skinned for the plot (δόλος) she has arranged (Odyssey 4.435–437). They will hide beneath these animal skins, a parallel to those skins featured in the dressing scenes in Iliad 10. Although these preparations differ from those of the arming scene we have in Iliad 10, the two scenes do share ambushers who dress or equip themselves specifically for stealth.
Following the selection of men, the drafting of plans, and the arming or equipping of the ambushers, comes the selection of a location, also chosen with a view to stealth, since the ambushers will need to wait there undetected in order to take their victim(s) by surprise. Edwards notes that in the Odyssey great care is given to setting up the house properly for Odysseus’ and Telemakhos’ slaughter of the suitors. On the Shield of Achilles in Iliad 18, men from the city at war choose a place that is “suitable for ambush” (εἶκε λοχῆσαι, Iliad 18.520), at a watering place on a river. In the Cretan lie that Odysseus tells to Athena in Odyssey 13, Odysseus says that he ambushed his victim near a road during the dark of night: the darkness provided the necessary stealth, for no one saw him kill Orsilokhos (13.268–270). This description is very similar to the place where Odysseus and Diomedes ambush Dolon, for there, too, they move off the road to wait until he passes (Iliad 10.344–350). For their attempt at ambushing Telemakhos, the suitors choose a rocky island in the channel between Ithaka and Samos, where ships can be hidden (Odyssey 4.842–847). Intriguingly, the suitors are called “Achaeans” as they wait in ambush: the phrasing τῇ τόν γε μένον λοχόωντες Ἀχαιοί (“in that place the Achaeans waited for him in ambush”) suggests a formula that could be used within any ambush theme after the location has been chosen. In his Cretan lie of Odyssey 14, Odysseus describes their hidden position in the ambush before Troy:
ἡμεῖς μὲν περὶ ἄστυ κατὰ ῥωπήϊα πυκνά,
ἂν δόνακας καὶ ἕλος, ὑπὸ τεύχεσι πεπτηῶτες
κείμεθα, νὺξ δ’ ἄρ’ ἐπῆλθε κακὴ βορέαο πεσόντος,
Odyssey 14.473–476
We got down under the dense [pukinos] shrubs that were around the city,
in the reeds and the marsh, and crouching beneath our armor
we lay there, while an evil night came over us as the North wind fell,
and it was icy cold.
A marshy or forested area provides good hiding places, and in ambush scenes in vase painting, we often see the location portrayed with plants of some kind (see Plate 1b). [68] The wooden horse is no doubt the most famous location for an ambush in the epic tradition. In the commentary below (on Iliad 10.5–9) we discuss how the place of ambush has poetic affinities with an animal’s lair in the traditional diction. The place of ambush and the animal’s lair, like the cunning that characterizes ambush, are modified by the adjective pukinos ‘close packed’ (i.e. with elements that come one right after another). Conceptually, the place of ambush and the cunning required to orchestrate an ambush are closely linked, such that the wooden horse is referred to as a pukinon lokhon (Odyssey 11.525) in what is surely a semantically loaded phrase.
Once the location is selected, the chosen men conceal themselves. As in the example from Odyssey 14 cited above, the period of concealment is marked by its hardship, which includes cold, lack of sleep, and the discomfort of a crouching position. [69] It is also known for the fear that accompanies the men as they wait for the right moment to attack. As we have noted already, in Odyssey 4 Menelaos describes the way that the Achaean heroes were tormented by Helen and had to be restrained from exiting the horse too soon. In the Odyssey 11 passage discussed above, we learn that it was Odysseus’ task to choose the moment to open up the wooden horse. The brave man does not let his fear show during this period of time, as we have seen in the descriptions of ambush in Odyssey 11 and Iliad 13 above. In one of Odysseus’ Cretan lies, he says that when he went on an ambush his audacious spirit never looked toward death, but that he was the very first to spring out and attack the enemy (οὔ ποτέ μοι θάνατον προτιόσσετο θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ,/ ἀλλὰ πολὺ πρώτιστος ἐπάλμενος ἔγχει ἕλεσκον / ἀνδρῶν δυσμενέων ὅ τέ μοι εἴξειε πόδεσσι, Odyssey 14.219–221).
Menelaos’ description of his ambush of Proteus also highlights the discomfort involved. Once Eidothea has prepared the seal skins for Menelaos and his chosen best men, she sits them down and covers them with the seal skin, and Menelaos says this would have been a most dreadful ambush because of the endurance it would have required:
ἔνθα κεν αἰνότατος λόχος ἔπλετο· τεῖρε γὰρ αἰνῶς
φωκάων ἁλιοτρεφέων ὀλοώτατος ὀδμή·
τίς γάρ κ’ εἰναλίῳ παρὰ κήτεϊ κοιμηθείη;
Odyssey 4.441–443
Then it would have been a most dreadful ambush. For dreadfully it was wearing us out,
that most deadly smell of the sea-raised seals.
For who would go to bed next to a monster of the sea?
Eidothea comes to their rescue again by placing ambrosia under their noses so that they can endure their wait there, hidden under the seal skins, and indeed Menelaos relates how they wait all morning with an enduring spirit (πᾶσαν δ’ ἠοίην μένομεν τετληότι θυμῷ, Odyssey 4.447). Because Proteus sleeps during the day, this ambush on a sleeping target takes place in daylight instead of the dark, but the concealment and need for endurance remains. The language of endurance, as it does here, often includes some form of the verb τλάω, which is fitting since ambush requires both endurance and daring to overcome fear and accomplish the mission. Odysseus, the champion of ambush, has not one but three distinctive epithets that can relate to this quality of endurance: πολύτλας, ταλασίφρονος, and τλήμων.
The waiting and endurance, the fear and discomfort, are all in service of the surprise attack itself. Leaving their hiding place, the ambushers make some sort of quick movement. Sometimes the movement is expressed as springing or leaping, as when Odysseus describes how he would leap out first in ambush (ἐπάλμενος, Odyssey 14.220) or when Odysseus leaps onto the threshold with his bow to begin the slaughter of the suitors (ἆλτο δ’ ἐπὶ μέγαν οὐδὸν ἔχων βιὸν, Odyssey 22.2). [70] In other cases, the movement is described as running or rushing at the victims, as when Menelaos and his men rush at Proteus (ἡμεῖς δὲ ἰάχοντες ἐπεσσύμεθ’, Odyssey 4.454) or the ambushers run at the shepherds on the Shield (οἳ μὲν τὰ προϊδόντες ἐπέδραμον, Iliad 18.527). In the case of the ambush from the Trojan horse, the ambushers pour out, giving a picture of all of them moving quickly together (ἱππόθεν ἐκχύμενοι, Odyssey 8.515). Similarly, when Odysseus and Diomedes ambush Dolon in Iliad 10, Odysseus plans for them to conceal themselves off of the road until Dolon passes, and then rush at him (ἐπαΐξαντες, Iliad 10.345 and ἐπαΐσσων, 10.348). When they do make their move, they run after Dolon (τὼ μὲν ἐπεδραμέτην, Iliad 10.354).
Many factors contribute to the surprise nature of the attack. Night is, of course, often the time when ambush occurs, as we see in the examples of the suitors’ attempt to ambush Telemakhos (Odyssey 16.365–370) and the ambushes Odysseus describes in his Cretan lies (Odyssey 13.259–272, νύξ at 13.269 and Odyssey 14.468–503, νύξ at 14.475). The darkness adds to both the concealment prior to the attack and the surprise, since the victims do not see the attackers clearly until it is too late, which is precisely what happens to Dolon (Iliad 10.354–359). Similarly, when Achilles ambushes Lykaon at night, Lykaon does not see him in time to escape (Iliad 21.34–39). The fact that Lykaon is out cutting branches for chariot rails at night seems to be a consequence of the siege of Troy, making his foray outside of the city another example of a dangerous night mission. When his father Priam makes his own nighttime journey outside the city and into the Achaean camp, his appearance in Achilles’ shelter produces great surprise for Achilles and his companions (Iliad 24.483–484).
In a nocturnal attack, part of the element of surprise may be that the victims, such as Rhesos and the Thracians in Iliad 10, the Trojans when the Achaeans emerge from the Trojan horse, or Proteus in Odyssey 4, are sleeping. [71] A sleeping victim may be the most unsuspecting, but in other examples the victims are similarly unprepared for a fight because of their involvement in some peaceful activity. Agamemnon is attending a feast that Aigisthos has arranged as the place of ambush (Odyssey 4.535 and 11.410). On the Shield of Achilles, the ambushers attack herdsmen who are said to be delighting in their pipes (οἳ δὲ τάχα προγένοντο, δύω δ’ ἅμ’ ἕποντο νομῆες / τερπόμενοι σύριγξι· δόλον δ’ οὔ τι προνόησαν, Iliad 18.526–527). Such an attack on herders may give us clues as to other ambushes that are narrated only in compressed form. For example, Andromache relates that Achilles killed all seven of her brothers while they were tending their cattle and sheep (Iliad 6.421–424). Since they, like the herdsmen on the Shield, seem not to have been on the lookout for treachery, we may infer that Andromache’s brothers are among the victims of Achilles as an ambusher. [72]
In ambushes, the number of attackers and attacked is usually unequal, but the numerical advantage can be on either side and does not ensure success. As we have seen above, Tydeus and Bellerophon are each attacked by many, but each succeeds in killing all of them (or all but one intentionally left alive). On the other hand, the number of suitors matches that of Telemakhos and his crew when they plan to ambush him, but they also fail. Odysseus, Telemakhos, and their loyal servants successfully ambush the larger number of suitors; the Achaeans in the wooden horse successfully ambush the larger number of Trojans; and Odysseus and Diomedes successfully ambush a larger number of Thracians. In the ambush of Agamemnon, no one is left alive, except Aigisthos for the time being (Odyssey 4.536–537). The planning and skill of the ambushers seem to be much more important factors than numbers. But whether one is the attacker or the attacked, an ambush can be an occasion for renown if he survives. When Nestor proposes the spying mission in Iliad 10, he declares that the spy, if he gets back successfully, will have kleos as well as offerings from his comrades (Iliad 10.211–217). When Tydeus successfully kills his ambushers, he is said to have accomplished mermera erga, the same phrase used for Hektor’s deeds in conventional battle. [73]
The success or failure of a surprise attack is expressed in terms of returning home, and it is through this concept that ambush shares thematic language and details with the theme of the journey, especially the nostos, the journey of homecoming. For spying missions or ambushes seem to be conceived of as having the same overall structure of a journey, and the two themes share the particular spatial structure of going out and, more importantly, coming home. If spies do not return, they cannot share the crucial information they were sent to obtain. Because of the stealth involved, if the warriors on an ambush die, their loved ones may not know where they died or be able to recover their bodies. We see this concern expressed similarly in connection with deaths that happen during a journey. For example, Telemakhos says that if his father had died at Troy, he would have had a proper burial and the kleos of a warrior, but since he apparently died before reaching home, he is without kleos (Odyssey 1.234–243). [74] In Iliad 10, we see the other Achaeans anxiously awaiting the homecoming of Diomedes and Odysseus, indicating both the necessity of the return and the danger involved in such missions (Iliad 10.536–539). When they do arrive, they are greeted in the same language used elsewhere in the epics for welcoming those who have just completed a journey (Iliad 10.542; see our commentary on this line). In contrast, the narrator says, just as Dolon leaves the Trojan camp, that he will not bring the information back to Hektor that he is being sent to gather; since he will not come back, we know immediately that his mission will not be a success (Iliad 10.336–337; see also the commentary on these lines).
The similarities between homecoming journeys and ambush-themed missions are revealed in several places. When Priam is about to set out on a nighttime infiltration into the enemy camp in Iliad 24, Hecuba asks him to pray to Zeus for his arrival back home (τῆ σπεῖσον Διὶ πατρί, καὶ εὔχεο οἴκαδ’ ἱκέσθαι / ἂψ ἐκ δυσμενέων ἀνδρῶν, Iliad 24.287–288). And in another sort of collocation of these themes, Menelaos has to successfully ambush Proteus in order to realize his homecoming (τόν γ’ εἴ πως σὺ δύναιο λοχησάμενος λελαβέσθαι, / ὅς κέν τοι εἴπῃσιν ὁδὸν καὶ μέτρα κελεύθου / νόστον θ’, ὡς ἐπὶ πόντον ἐλεύσεαι ἰχθυόεντα, Odyssey 4.388–390).
The failure of an ambush, even in very compressed versions of ambush narratives, is expressed in terms of a failed return home. For example, in the ambush of Tydeus by fifty Thebans, we hear that “he killed them all, and released only one to return home” (πάντας ἔπεφν’, ἕνα δ’ οἶον ἵει οἶκον δὲ νέεσθαι, Iliad 4.397). Similarly, in the failed attempt to ambush Bellerophon, the ambushers never return home (κρίνας ἐκ Λυκίης εὐρείης φῶτας ἀρίστους / εἷσε λόχον· τοὶ δ’ οὔ τι πάλιν οἶκον δὲ νέοντο· / πάντας γὰρ κατέπεφνεν ἀμύμων Βελλεροφόντης, Iliad 6.188–190). [75]
So, when Diomedes is looking for a partner for the nocturnal spying mission in Iliad 10, he chooses Odysseus for the qualities that make him a good ambusher, especially his ability to get home:
τοῖς δ’ αὖτις μετέειπε βοὴν ἀγαθὸς Διομήδης·
εἰ μὲν δὴ ἕταρόν γε κελεύετέ μ’ αὐτὸν ἑλέσθαι,
πῶς ἂν ἔπειτ’ Ὀδυσῆος ἐγὼ θείοιο λαθοίμην,
οὗ περὶ μὲν πρόφρων κραδίη καὶ θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ
ἐν πάντεσσι πόνοισι, φιλεῖ δέ ἑ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη.
τούτου γ’ ἑσπομένοιο καὶ ἐκ πυρὸς αἰθομένοιο
ἄμφω νοστήσαιμεν, ἐπεὶ περίοιδε νοῆσαι.
Iliad 10.241–247
Among them in turn Diomedes well-known for his battle-cry spoke,
“If you are ordering me to choose a companion myself,
how could I overlook god-like Odysseus,
whose heart and audacious spirit are especially ready
for every kind of labor [ponos], and Pallas Athena loves him?
With him accompanying me even from burning fire
we could return home [nostos], since he is an expert at devising [noos].”
In the commentary on these lines, we discuss further how the qualities of the willing heart and audacious spirit are appropriate to ambush, but here we will emphasize that Diomedes says that Odysseus could get them home even from a blazing fire. And on an ambush, as on a journey, getting home is a crucial aspect of the mission. Athena, the goddess who loves both Odysseus and Diomedes, tells Diomedes during the ambush to remember his homecoming (νόστου δὴ μνῆσαι μεγαθύμου Τυδέος υἱὲ, Iliad 10.509, see also the commentary on this line). Only that way can the mission be a success.
Once we recognize that the theme of ambush overlaps with that of the journey, sharing both formulaic language (since formulas work in service of theme) and structure, certain aspects of Iliad 10 are more easily understood. The meal and especially the bath that end the episode are often found in the context of a journey with similar language, and they have been seen as out of place here or too “Odyssean” (see commentary on 10.566–579). As we have seen with other aspects of the language in Iliad 10, it is Odyssean not because it is late or non-Iliadic or non-Homeric, but because it shares in the same themes as the Odyssey, including both ambush and journey. In the next section we will discuss how spying missions, ambushes, and night raids are thematically related, but all of these resemble journeys because they all seem to be conceived very generally as narratives of “going there and getting back.”

Thematic Connections between Spying Missions, Cattle Raids, and Ambush

As we mentioned above, we are treating as part of the theme of ambush other similarly structured episodes, such as night raids and spying missions. There seems to be considerable thematic overlap between such episodes. We propose that each particular episode is best understood within the framework of a larger ambush theme that encompasses them all. Albert Lord describes the working of what he calls the “habitual association of themes” in the composition of oral poetry. He notes that such associations need not be linear, that theme ‘b’ always follows theme ‘a’, and that this is due to “a strong force that keeps certain themes together. It is deeply embedded in the tradition” (Lord 1960/2000:97–98). Lord later picks up this point in his discussion of the song as a whole in an oral tradition: “At the end of the previous chapter we saw that some themes have a tendency to cling together, held by a kind of tension, and to form recurrent patterns of groups of themes. They adhere to one another so tenaciously that their use transcends the boundaries of any one song or of any group of songs” (Lord 1960/2000:112). It is this strongly felt connection between the associated themes of ambush, night raids, spying missions, and other types of guerilla or alternative warfare that allows any one of these sub-themes to call up another within the structure of a song. That is, we see in these various episodes, as scattered as they may be in what has survived of the epic tradition outside of Iliad 10, a recurrent pattern of groups of themes, all of which we are referring to as ambush.
The example we adduce, a song within the song of the Odyssey, demonstrates how any of these themes can lead to another. Helen tells Telemakhos and their assembled guests a story about Odysseus infiltrating the city of Troy as a spy. She sets the story up as an epic performance, a performance parallel to those of Demodokos in the court of the Phaeacians or Phemios in Ithaka. She notes that this will be entertainment (μύθοις τέρπεσθε, Odyssey 4.239) as part of the feast (and, of course, she has distributed the nēpenthes drug to ensure it can be entertainment rather than a cause for grieving, Odyssey 4.220–239). Like the epic narrator, she makes a disclaimer that she is unable to tell all of what Odysseus did, [76] but the disclaimer already leads us into the ambush theme:
πάντα μὲν οὐκ ἂν ἐγὼ μυθήσομαι οὐδ’ ὀνομήνω,
ὅσσοι Ὀδυσσῆος ταλασίφρονός εἰσιν ἄεθλοι·
ἀλλ’ οἷον τόδ’ ἔρεξε καὶ ἔτλη καρτερὸς ἀνὴρ
δήμῳ ἔνι Τρώων, ὅθι πάσχετε πήματ’ Ἀχαιοί.
Odyssey 4.240–243
I could not perform nor name everything,
how many ordeals there were for Odysseus with his enduring heart
But [I will tell] the following example which that powerful man did and endured/dared
in the district of the Trojans, where you Achaeans were suffering pains.
The language of endurance and daring that Helen uses to introduce the tale alerts her audience and us to the theme she will be performing: a theme of ambush, naturally starring a hero of ambush, Odysseus.
But as the tale begins it involves a spying mission. The element of disguise—Odysseus dresses in rags and makes himself look beaten and like a beggar of no account (Odyssey 4.244–249)—also appears in the larger theme of the ambush of the suitors in the Odyssey. Entering the enemy city or camp is described twice here (ἀνδρῶν δυσμενέων κατέδυ πόλιν εὐρυάγυιαν, Odyssey 4.246 and τῷ ἴκελος κατέδυ Τρώων πόλιν, Odyssey 4.249), using formulaic language that connects this spying mission to night episodes such as those in Iliad 10 (e.g. ἀνδρῶν δυσμενέων δῦναι στρατὸν ἐγγὺς ἐόντων / Τρώων, Iliad 10.220–221, εἰ γὰρ δὴ μέματον Τρώων καταδῦναι ὅμιλον, Iliad 10.433 and ὅππως τοῦσδ’ ἵππους λάβετον καταδύντες ὅμιλον / Τρώων, Iliad 10.545–546). The craftiness associated with ambush is also apparent in this episode. Helen relates that, although she recognizes Odysseus, he evades her questioning with his cunning (ὁ δὲ κερδοσύνῃ ἀλέεινεν, Odyssey 4.251). The importance of nostos and noos that we have seen to be shared between ambush and journey themes also appears here, as Helen swears not to reveal Odysseus until he returns safely to the ship, and then he details the whole noos of the Achaeans to Helen (Odyssey 4.252–256). And finally, the successful spying mission (Odysseus brings back much “intelligence”: ἦλθε μετ’ Ἀργείους, κατὰ δὲ φρόνιν ἤγαγε πολλήν, Odyssey 4.258) does become an ambush when Odysseus kills many men before he leaves Troy (πολλοὺς δὲ Τρώων κτείνας ταναήκεϊ χαλκῷ, Odyssey 4.257). We also see the importance of the return here. Only upon return can Odysseus share the information he has learned with the Achaeans and then, of course, go on subsequent missions inside Troy, including stealing the Palladion and hiding within the wooden horse, as Menelaos’ story (a performance directly responding to Helen’s) goes on to relate (Odyssey 4.265–289).
As we can see from this compressed example in Helen’s narration of one of Odysseus’ exploits, the language of spying missions and that of ambush episodes have much in common. As Lord noted about closely associated themes, one easily leads to the other. In Proklos’ summary of the Little Iliad, we see a similar episode briefly described: “Odysseus, disfiguring himself, goes into Ilion as a spy. He is recognized by Helen; jointly, they plan the capture of the city. Odysseus kills some Trojans and returns to the ships.” Whether we should consider this the same episode that Helen relates or not (one key difference being the detail that Helen is helping Odysseus to plot the destruction of Troy, rather than just learning of their plans), this summary reveals that an expanded version of such a mission existed.
Even without a full version, connections emerge from recurrences of these themes across the Homeric texts and the Epic Cycle. The Little Iliad as a whole includes several such ambush episodes: Odysseus ambushes Helenos, Diomedes and Odysseus steal the Palladion from Troy, and the wooden horse is built and filled with the warriors who will ambush all of Troy. Thus the whole song seems to be a series of ambush themes, connected one to another and culminating in the greatest ambush at Troy, for it is by ambush warfare that the city is at long last sacked. In Iliad 10, we see a spying mission theme double to become two spying missions, which then turns into an ambush of one spy by the other two, prompting a night raid that includes an ambush of sleeping victims. Even Odyssey 4 seems to be built on themes of ambush: not only do the two aforementioned stories about Odysseus have to do with ambush, but the visit with Menelaos also includes the story of his ambush of Proteus, from whom he learns of Aigisthos’ ambush of Agamemnon. The book then ends with the suitors’ plan to ambush Telemakhos. Thus, as in Iliad 10 or the Little Iliad, these connected themes build on one another to create the larger song.
A final epic theme that seems closely connected to the theme of ambush is that of the cattle raid, or, as a variation, horse or even sheep rustling. Tales of stealing horses have an obvious parallel in the taking of Rhesos’ horses in the Doloneia. In addition, Nestor’s cattle raiding tale in Iliad 11, our best example from Homeric epic, takes place at night (the cattle raids described at Iliad 11.669–684 begin a long chain of events in Nestor’s story). [77] We have noted Richard Martin’s discussion of how Nestor draws on a different but nevertheless traditional type of epic tradition when he tells his tale. [78] Like the surviving episodes of ambush, stories involving cattle raids and horse thieving are alluded to in a very compressed manner in the Homeric epics. In a reference to a tradition perhaps related to the one referred to in Nestor’s reminiscence, in Odyssey 15.226–240, where the background of Theoklymenos is recounted, we hear that his ancestor Melampous rustled cattle on behalf of Neleus, Nestor’s father, for the sake of Neleus’ daughter. [79] Such a detail is intriguing in the context of the Odyssey, and must reflect a deep tradition of these kinds of stories.
We can find another example of a compressed raiding story, this time with horses and sheep, within the story of how Odysseus obtained his bow as a guest-gift from Iphitos. The two meet in Messene on their individual journeys to retrieve lost livestock: some men had stolen sheep from Ithaka and Iphitos had lost his horses, who were then stolen by Herakles. They meet at the house of a man named Ortilokhos, whose name means something like “inciter of ambush” (Odyssey 21.13–38). Again, because the story is so compressed, we have only these tantalizing traces of a possibly larger story, but those traces are nevertheless suggestive that ambush and cattle raids are, like spying missions and ambushes, themes that could easily be connected in the mind of a singer. [80]
When we look at the wider epic tradition, we find still other episodes of cattle raids. According to Proklos’ summary, in the Cypria, Kastor and Polydeukes are on a cattle raid when Kastor is killed (the episode is also told in Pindar Nemean 10.55–90, where the cattle are briefly mentioned). In the same epic, Achilles drives off the cattle of Aeneas, an episode that seems to have been told just before the episodes of his ambushes of Troilos and Lykaon. [81] If we also include the Homeric Hymns, Sarah Iles Johnston (2002) has recently shown that such a cattle raid tradition is in fact the central theme of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, whose diction resembles that of Iliad 10 in many places. [82] Hermes in fact steals Apollo’s cattle on the evening of his birthday, again showing an association between this theme and nighttime (Homeric Hymn to Hermes 68–78). His talent for thieving and trickery (the hymn calls him cunning, a cattle driver, and a watcher by night, among other epithets, Homeric Hymn to Hermes 13–15) naturally associates him with both types of story (ambush and cattle raid), with the result that the traditional diction associated with this god spans both themes. [83] Finally, as we will note in the following section, Hermes does appear in the other episode in the Iliad of crossing into enemy territory, when Priam makes his “night raid” into the Achaean encampment in Iliad 24.

The Ambush Theme in Other Episodes

Familiarity with the traditional structure of ambush allows us to see that what we are calling the poetics of ambush can also enhance our understanding of episodes that might not be deemed ambushes by strict definition. Nowhere is the blinding of the Cyclops called a lokhos, but with Odysseus as its mastermind we should not be surprised that the episode exhibits many of the traditional features of ambush. In Odyssey 9, Odysseus and his ships enter the harbor of the island opposite the land of the Cyclopes under the cover of darkness. There is a thick mist and no moon (9.143–145). The night here is described as νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην. This formula, which emphasizes night’s darkness, is found elsewhere in Homer only in Iliad 10—and it is also found in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. In the commentary below (on 10.41), we argue that this formula is closely linked to the theme of ambush.
Odysseus leaves most of his men on the island and from there takes only his own ship over to the land of the Cyclopes. When they arrive he chooses the twelve best of his men from his ship to accompany him in his quest to meet the Cyclops (κρίνας ἑτάρων δυοκαίδεκ’ ἀρίστους, Odyssey 9.195). We have seen that the selection of the “best” men is a traditional component of ambush. This motif recurs once the men are imprisoned inside the Cyclops’ cave. Odysseus has the men draw lots to see who will join him in the blinding, and he says that the lots fell to those he himself would have chosen (τοὺς ἄν κε καὶ ἤθελον αὐτὸς ἑλέσθαι, Odyssey 9.334). Prior to the drawing of lots Odysseus tells us that he came up with a plan: ἥδε δέ μοι κατὰ θυμὸν ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή (Odyssey 9.318). This verse is the same (with the substitution of οἱ for μοι) as Iliad 10.17, describing Agamemnon’s nighttime deliberations.
It almost goes without saying that the situation Odysseus has gotten himself into in this episode requires mētis to overcome the biē (Odyssey 9.476) of Polyphemos. First, there is the mētis of getting the Cyclops drunk. Next, the blinding itself is compared by way of a simile to the craft of a blacksmith. A second level of mētis is required to get out of the cave once Polyphemos is blinded. Odysseus tells us that he “schemed and schemed” (in the translation of Samuel Butler—the Greek is βούλευον at Odyssey 9.420 with δόλος and μῆτις at Odyssey 9.422: πάντας δὲ δόλους καὶ μῆτιν ὕφαινον), and finally came up with another boulē at Odyssey 9.424 (using the sheep as a disguise), for which the formula ἥδε δέ μοι κατὰ θυμὸν ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή is used once again. The importance of mētis is highlighted in the most famous lines of the episode, the pun that so perfectly captures Odysseus’ heroic identity: “Surely mē tis (or, mētis) is killing you by trickery or by biē?” to which Polyphemos has been tricked into replying: “No one is killing me by trickery or by biē ” (Odyssey 9.406–408).
Finally, the Cyclops episode is characterized by two other important features of ambush warfare, namely, the use of disguise/concealment and the endurance of hardship over a long period of time, usually during the night. In the commentary below, we explore the possibility that the many traditional epithets for Odysseus built on the root tla- evoke his ability to endure the hardships of ambush warfare (see commentary on 10.248). So, too, in this episode does Odysseus display such endurance. Once Polyphemos is blinded, Odysseus hangs on to the belly of a ram (for that is how he and his men conceal themselves) and waits for the Cyclops to open up the cave in the morning (Odyssey 9.435): ἐχόμην τετληότι θυμῷ (“I held on with an enduring heart”). He cannot go to sleep and he cannot let go, he can only endure and lament the men he has lost (στενάχοντες, Odyssey 9.436). The living ram as a covering or disguise is a twist on the animal skins worn at night in the ambush theme. [84]
Many of the elements of this episode and the traditional phrases and verses used in its telling have parallels in the other adventures Odysseus relates in Odyssey 9–12, with the result that we can see ambush themes underlying many of these episodes. That Iliad 10 likewise makes use of the poetics of ambush does not make the book “Odyssean” in the various potentially misleading ways that scholars over the past two centuries have used that term. Iliad 10 and the adventures of Odysseus do not resemble each other because they have the same individual author or because they were composed at the same late date. Rather, they are both manifestations of the overarching theme of alternative warfare, which is fueled primarily by mētis, the characteristic most associated with the traditional character of Odysseus.
Are there any other episodes in the Iliad that make use of the poetics or traditional structure of ambush in this way? To a certain extent it is likely that all narration of action or warfare that occurs during the night could be shown to share certain elements of diction, formulas, and narrative patterns, as we will see, for example, when we consider the openings of Books 2, 9, and 10 in the commentary below. But we have found ourselves returning to one episode in the Iliad again and again in our commentary: the expedition of Priam to the tent of Achilles in Iliad 24 (see especially on 10.1ff., 10.41, 10.267, 10.285, and 10.384). We get a glimpse of the theme of the night raid as early as Iliad 24.24, where we learn that the gods, distressed by Achilles’ desecration of Hektor’s corpse, “kept urging the sharp-sighted slayer of Argos [Hermes] to steal the body.” Zeus dismisses the idea as impractical, but Hermes nevertheless plays a vital role in the ensuing mission, since he is the one who accompanies Priam through the Achaean camp. In the commentary below (see 10.267), we suggest that Hermes, who has close ties with and is a helper to Odysseus in the Odyssey, has a special affinity for ambush warfare. There are significant overlaps in formulaic diction between various ambush narratives, Iliad 10, and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. [85] But other gods are also said to accompany heroes on ambush. The best example is on the shield of Achilles, where Athena and Ares together lead the ambush party from the city at war (Iliad 18.516). In Iliad 10, Odysseus and Diomedes each pray to Athena and ask her to accompany them on their mission, and she is there both to breathe menos into Diomedes and to warn him to leave before it is too late (Iliad 10.482, 507–512). Athena explicitly promises her help to Odysseus when he ambushes the suitors, reassuring Odysseus that, with her help, he could overcome many more men single-handedly (Odyssey 20.44–53). Given the arguments we have made about the Cyclops episode in Odyssey 9, these verses now stand out: καὶ τις θεὸς ἡγεμόνευε / νύκτα δι’ ὀρφναίην (“A god led the way through the dark night,” Odyssey 9.142–143). It seems likely and fitting that, like Odyssey 9, Iliad 24 makes use of some of the traditional narrative patterns of ambush warfare. Priam has to sneak through the enemy camp in the dark of night on a highly dangerous mission. If more of the Epic Cycle had survived, we would most likely find that the various nighttime exploits of Diomedes and Odysseus, including their infiltration of the city of Troy, shared many elements with Iliad 24. Ultimately, Iliad 24 focuses on an episode in which the face-to-face assault of the polemos is set aside, and an alternative strategy, stealth followed by supplication, is adopted. Ambush is itself an alternative means of achieving warfare objectives, but it is nevertheless a traditional theme, one invoked in several places in the Iliad and Odyssey as we have them and, from what we can tell from the surviving evidence, one that was prevalent in the larger ancient Greek epic tradition.


[ back ] 1. Todorov 1981: “Poetics … aims at a knowledge of the general laws that preside over the birth of each work … [and] it seeks these laws within literature itself. Poetics is an approach therefore at once ‘abstract’ and ‘internal’… The goal of this study is no longer to articulate a paraphrase, a descriptive résumé of the concrete work, but to propose a theory of the structure and function of literary discourse, a theory that affords a list of literary possibilities, so that existing literary works appear as achieved particular cases” (6–7).
[ back ] 2. Brooks 1981:xv–xvi. Compare also Todorov 1990:18, where he states that genres “function as ‘horizons of expectation’ for readers and ‘models of writing’ for authors.” Since we are dealing with oral poetics, we would replace “readers” with “audience,” “writing” with “composing,” and “authors” with “singers” in this formulation. Of course, when we compare theme to genre, we are still speaking of a subgenre of epic, with which it is not contradictory.
[ back ] 3. For the concept of irregular warfare as pertains to the Trojan War and its representation in the Iliad (as well as attestations of its use in the Bronze Age Mediterranean) see Strauss 2006:140.
[ back ] 4. Davies 1989:47 and 66.
[ back ] 5. See e.g. Buchan 2004: “the actions of the Doloneia itself are quintessentially unheroic and therefore not to be publically articulated. There is nothing heroic about the deliberate lying to Dolon to gain information or about the manner in which Diomedes enjoys the killing of the unarmed, sleeping Thracians” (119–120).
[ back ] 6. See Lord 1960/2000:68–98.
[ back ] 7. Edwards 1985:18. See the commentary on 10.316 for Dolon’s epithet ποδώκης ‘swift-footed’ as perhaps an important quality for spying missions; Dolon’s swiftness is overcome, however, by Odysseus’ strategy when Odysseus and Diomedes ambush him.
[ back ] 8. Edwards notes that Achilles’ chief epithets have to do with swiftness, signifying “the irresistible onset and inescapable pursuit of the ἄριστος Ἀχαιῶν,” but also the swiftness of his impending death (see Edwards 1985:16). Whereas the Achilles-type hero is ὠκύμωρος ‘swift to die’, the cunning of the ambush-type hero allows him to escape death at various points.
[ back ] 9. See Benardete 1968 for his argument that Diomedes’ aristeia is definitive for the overall plot and themes of the Iliad, because it is during his aristeia that both kleos and mortality come into focus and become the compelling forces of the war. Higbie 1995:87–101 uses Diomedes as a standard for her investigation into names and naming type-scenes and notes that he “may appear in the greatest number of long battle scenes of anyone in the Iliad” (92). Schnapp-Gourbeillon 1981:95–131 examines the character of Diomedes both in his aristeia in Iliad 5 and in Iliad 10.
[ back ] 10. See Nagy 1979:143–144 on what it means to be δαίμονι ἶσος in the Iliad and how the phrase situates Diomedes here as a ritual antagonist to Apollo, and therefore also like Achilles.
[ back ] 11. See Nagy 1979:338–341.
[ back ] 12. See Rabel 1991 and the general commentary on Iliad 10.85.
[ back ] 13. Davies 1989:48.
[ back ] 14. See Davies 1989:63.
[ back ] 15. Davies 1989: “In other words, like the detail of Palamedes’ death in the Cypria, another unHomeric story of cowardice, treachery and deceit” (67).
[ back ] 16. On Odysseus’ mētis, see Detienne and Vernant 1974/1978:18–19, Haft 1990, and the commentary below. On the mētis-related epithets of Kronos and Zeus, both of whom use an ambush style of attack to overthrow their fathers, see further below. On mētis in general, see especially Detienne and Vernant 1974/1978: “it implies a complex but very coherent body of mental attitudes and intellectual behaviour which combine flair, wisdom, forethought, subtlety of mind, deception, resourcefulness, vigilance, opportunism, various skills, and experience acquired over the years. It is applied to situations which are transient, shifting, disconcerting, and ambiguous, situations which do not lend themselves to precise measurement, exact calculation, or rigorous logic” (1991:3–4).
[ back ] 17. On this passage see Cook 2009a:145.
[ back ] 18. For Odysseus as a spearman, see also Edwards 1985:39n42 with additional citations ad loc.
[ back ] 19. On the scholion quoted here see Gantz 1993:603.
[ back ] 20. See Apollodorus The Library Epitome 3.32 with additional citations in the edition of Frazer (1921) ad loc.
[ back ] 21. On the Troilos episode in literature and art, see especially the comprehensive treatment and bibliography in Kossatz-Deissmann 1981, as well as d’Agostino 1987, Robertson 1990, and Scaife 1995.
[ back ] 22. The other three episodes are the fleeing of Troilos (usually on horseback) and Polyxena (on foot), the killing of Troilos, and the battle over his corpse.
[ back ] 23. The iconography of this scene may have been influenced by or have developed in conjunction with another style of ambush warfare that occurs in daytime battle. Further below, we discuss the way that archers fight in battle; they crouch behind the shields of their comrades or other objects. In vase painting, archers are depicted in very much the same position as Achilles is in the Troilos scenes.
[ back ] 24. See Lissarrague 1980, Williams 1986, and Boardman and Vafopoulou-Richardson 1986. For more on the Doloneia scenes on Greek vases, see “Tradition and Reception” below.
[ back ] 25. Getty Museum 96.A.E.1 (550–540 BCE).
[ back ] 26. The wooden horse is called a lokhos at Odyssey 4.277, 8.515, 11.525.
[ back ] 27. Verse 11.525 is bracketed by some scholars because the scholia say that Aristarchus did not know it. Many scholars, however, have defended the verse, which is attested in all the manuscripts. The language is similar to that of Iliad 5.751. See Edwards 1985:31n30.
[ back ] 28. See also Iliad 1.227, 6.188, 13.276; Odyssey 4.278, 8.512, 14.218, 15.28. On the motif of selecting picked men, cf. Edwards 1985:21 and 22 and see further below in “Ambush as a Narrative Pattern.”
[ back ] 29. Edwards 1985:38. Edwards’s 1981 doctoral dissertation includes a two-page appendix on Iliad 10.
[ back ] 30. Edwards seems inclined in this direction in the one place that he addresses Iliad 10 in his 1985 work, though he does not develop the idea further: “Fenik has shown that at one stage in the development of the Iliad, the Doloneia … was in fact an attempt to assassinate Hector as a response to his devastating victory during the preceding day. Following in the wake of the Presbeia and Achilles’ refusal to return to battle, this Doloneia would have been an attempt to achieve by δόλος what otherwise required the βίη of Achilles. Although our Iliad may itself exhibit no overt awareness of this tradition … still the episode preserves an instance of open rivalry between Odysseus and Achilles over the ambush and the spearfight” (39–40). Here he is suggesting that the traditions behind the two characters embody the difference and rivalry between ambush and conventional battlefield warfare. See also Edwards’s 1981 dissertation, where he discusses even more directly the Iliad and Odyssey as co-evolving oral traditions.
[ back ] 31. Petegorsky 1982:176 makes this point as well: “If an episode or a passage in the Iliad strikes us as ‘Odyssean’ in character, we should take this as an indication not that the passage in question has as its source a passage in the Odyssey and is therefore ‘late’, but rather that at this point in the poem, the poet is, for whatever reason, employing themes that evoke what we recognize as an Odyssean frame as opposed to an Iliadic one.”
[ back ] 32. We may compare Martin’s (2000:60–61) similar formulation about the affinities between Nestor’s tale of a cattle raid undertaken in his youth in Iliad 11 and the Odyssey: “It is the occurrence of this theme, and not any alleged ‘late’ compositional traits, that accounts for the similarity between Nestor’s tale and the Odyssey at the level of diction. The appearance of a number of words only here in the Iliad, but with parallels in the Odyssey, does not mean that an ‘Odyssey-Poet’ composed Nestor’s speech.” On the cattle raid as an epic theme and its affinities with ambush, see also below.
[ back ] 33. See e.g. the commentaries of Leaf 1900 and Hainsworth 1993 ad loc. Hainsworth comments that “the lion skin of 23 (cf. 177) betrays this Book’s taste for exotic detail.” Leaf takes the animal skins to be pseudo-archaisms meant to mark them as “hero[es] of the very olden times.”
[ back ] 34. See Haft 1984:295–299 for the resemblances between Meriones and the persona Odysseus creates for himself in the Cretan lies of the Odyssey. In addition to the sharing of armor here, she also notes that “both heroes excel in ambush” (298).
[ back ] 35. Higbie 1995:195–203 discusses the “geneaology of objects,” such as this helmet, and also horses and armor, and concludes that “the Homeric world treasured possessions as much for their ancestry as for their intrinsic value” (1995:203). She notes that even though it is here borrowed, the boar’s tusk helmet becomes a distinctive attribute of Odysseus in later Greek art (1995:202–203).
[ back ] 36. Wathelet 1989:219–220 sees a different possible significance to the borrowing of armor. Since Diomedes and Odysseus are wearing the equipment of others, he argues, they are in disguise. Wathelet then connects this disguise to initiation rituals, which he says are also connected to the night. His arguments are an intriguing connection to another aspect of ambush we explore below: its connection especially to young men.
[ back ] 37. See Muellner 1976:96–97, especially n43, for his arguments on how these stories create cross-references, and how the ambush theme affects the use of εὔχομαι in the Odyssey passage. Block 1985:6 also sees this tale as a reworking of the Doloneia. Newton 1998:144–147 sees parallels between this story and another Iliadic episode that starts at night: the test of the army in Iliad 2, in which Odysseus throws off his cloaks as he starts to run.
[ back ] 38. See Iliad 3.328–338, 11.15–55, 16.130–154, and 19.364–424. Armstrong’s larger point is that this is the work of an orally composing master poet who makes use of the oral traditional system of formulaic language in ways that we might call “literary.” Our own analysis of the dressing/arming scenes in Iliad 10 develops and understands Armstrong’s insights in a different way. On the function and importance of descriptions of armor/arming scenes for the conferral of kleos, see also Morris 1992:4–19.
[ back ] 39. See also Lord 1991:89–93.
[ back ] 40. Armstrong 1958:342n11 notes this arming scene only in the footnote, and excludes it from his discussion as too unusual for his argument. That he is unable to accommodate this scene, which structurally has much in common with the four he does discuss, perhaps indicates that his argument is too limited.
[ back ] 41. When Athena wants to return to battle in Iliad 8, she arms again (Iliad 8.384–391). The scene there shows how the compression or expansion of a theme works: several details are not included in the second description, but the structure remains. We can also compare Athena’s dressing/arming scene in Odyssey 1.96–101.
[ back ] 42. Fenik 1968:73–74 also recognizes this scene as a typical arming scene but “on a divine level.”
[ back ] 43. Lord 1991:91 makes a similar point when he compares Iliad 3.338, from the arming scene of Paris, and Iliad 16.139, from the arming scene of Patroklos: “the basic lines in each case have been adapted to the hero of the moment, Paris or Patroclus.”
[ back ] 44. Newton 1998:149–150. See Odyssey 14.528–531.
[ back ] 45. See Edwards 1985:22–23 and 36–37. See also the section below, “The ambush as a narrative pattern.”
[ back ] 46. This grave-mound, a manmade (ἀνδροκμήτῳ, Iliad 11.372) landmark on the Trojan plain, also figures in other night raid/ambush episodes: it is where Hektor holds the council before sending Dolon out as a spy (Iliad 10.415), and Priam has just passed it when Hermes comes to meet him as he moves toward the Achaean camp (Iliad 24.349). See Hainsworth 1993:243 (ad 11.166) for the tomb’s place in the geography of Troy.
[ back ] 47. See Muellner 1976:90–92 for his discussion of the anomalous use of εὔχομαι in this line—those differences may be another indication that we are dealing with unconventional warfare in this case.
[ back ] 48. Van Wees 1988:5 states that this sequence is a very common one: “Usually, as far as one can tell, the victim is unaware of any immediate threat when he is hit by a spear or arrow.” Building on this observation, Farron 2003:178–179 argues that, because warriors are more often than not unaware that they are under attack, “attacking someone unawares is normal and acceptable,” but that attitudes such as those expressed by Hektor at Iliad 7.235–242 and Diomedes here offer a perspective that finds it less than courageous.
[ back ] 49. Van Erp Taalman Kip (2000:390–392) also argues, in the context of the involvement of the gods rather than anything to do with ambush, that Athena looks for Pandaros not because of his moral failings, as other commentators understand it, but because she needs an archer.
[ back ] 50. See Edgeworth 1985 for his argument that the fighting method of Ajax and Teucer seems very old and that together they make up the perfect Mycenean warrior. See Ebbott 2003:39–44 for an explanation of how the simile here that Teucer returns behind Ajax’s shield like a child hiding behind his mother relates to Teucer’s illegitimacy.
[ back ] 51. See Page 1959:235–238, Edgeworth and Mayrhofer 1987, Nagy 1997, and Ebbott 2003:41–44 for arguments that the dual Aiante originally meant Ajax and Teucer rather than Ajax and Ajax. See also our commentary on 10.53.
[ back ] 52. See George 1994 for a detailed study of this debate within Euripides’ Herakles.
[ back ] 53. Petegorsky 1982:188–189, 191, 200–212 argues that the Doloneia is exceptional within the Iliad in showing the effectiveness of mētis. In so doing it returns the narrative to the Achaean reliance on the strength of Achilles to save them.
[ back ] 54. The two possible nocturnal predators are also reflected in the lion’s skin worn by Diomedes (Iliad 10.177–178) and the wolf’s skin worn by Dolon (Iliad 10.334).
[ back ] 55. See the commentary on this line for more on the verb ἀβροτάξομεν ‘to miss, to fail to see.’
[ back ] 56. Other examples of λανθάνω at night show that it is all too easy to go unseen in the dark: for example, the successful eluding of guards by Phoinix (Iliad 9.474–477); Priam eluding the guards of the Achaean camp (Iliad 24.566, 24.681); and Odysseus ambushing Orsilokhos and getting away unseen (Odyssey 13.270).
[ back ] 57. The use of a password at night and its discovery by the enemy are also key elements in the portrayal of a night attack in the tragedy Rhesos: see Euripides Rhesos 521–522, 572–573, 687–688.
[ back ] 58. See “Tradition and Reception” for more on the Rhesos tradition as a whole, and our disagreements with Fenik there.
[ back ] 59. See Edwards 1985:22–23 and 36–37.
[ back ] 60. Lord 1960/2000:71 describes the use of smaller themes to compose a larger theme this way: “Although he [= the singer] thinks of the theme as a unit, it can be broken down into smaller parts: the receipt of a letter, the summoning of a council, and so forth. Yet these are subsidiary to the larger theme.”
[ back ] 61. Using the example of the theme of a hero arming for battle, a sub-theme of ambush that we discussed in detail above, Lord observes that “the poet has a choice of using a short form of these themes (or of omitting them entirely) or of elaborating them” (Lord 1960/2000:88).
[ back ] 62. We can compare an example from outside Homeric epic: Herakles ambushes the Aktorione Molione when he cannot defeat them on the battlefield (Pindar Olympian 10.26–34; Apollodorus 2.7.2).
[ back ] 63. See the commentary below ad 10.53 and 10.149. Haft 1984, Reece 1994, Newton 1998, and Marks 2003 all interpret this story from different perspectives.
[ back ] 64. See also Odyssey 4.778, where Antinoos chooses the twenty best men, ἐκρίνατ’ ἐείκοσι φῶτας ἀρίστους, and Athena’s warning to Telemakhos that the best of the suitors are setting the ambush at Odyssey 15.28.
[ back ] 65. The location chosen for the ambush of Agamemnon, a feast, does not seem to have been a good one, since we are told that none of the twenty men chosen survived the ambush.
[ back ] 66. See the full discussion in the commentary at 10.1ff. and 10.43–44, in conjunction with the discussion of the ambush-theme adjective pukinos at 10.5–9.
[ back ] 67. See also Iliad 3.202, 4.339, 11.430, and 23.725; Odyssey 3.122, 13.292–293, and 19.212. Dolos is also used to refer to the ambush (at night) of Ouranos by Gaia and Kronos in Theogony 174–175: εἷσε δέ μιν κρύψασα λόχῳ· ἐνέθηκε δὲ χερσὶν / ἅρπην καρχαρόδοντα· δόλον δ᾽ ὑπεθήκατο πάντα (“[Gaia] hid him and sat him down in an ambush. She put a sickle with jagged teeth in his hands and revealed the whole trick”). It is because of this trick that Kronos receives the epithet ἀγκυλομήτης (Theogony 18 and 137; Iliad 2.205, 2.319, 4.49, 4.75, 9.37, 11.450, 16.431, 18.293; Odyssey 21.415). Likewise Zeus is called μητίετα when he is born (Theogony 456). He will in turn ambush Kronos, again with the help of Gaia, in Theogony 494–496: Γαίης ἐννεσίῃσι πολυφραδέεσσι δολωθεὶς / ὃν γόνον ἄψ ἀνέηκε μέγας Κρόνος ἀγκυλομήτης / νικηθεὶς τέχνῃσι βίηφί τε παιδὸς ἑοῖο (“Tricked by the eloquent suggestions of Gaia, great Kronos who is crooked and crafty sent back up his offspring, conquered by the skill and force of his son”; see also Theogony 471). For Zeus’ traditional epithet μητίετα, see Iliad 1.175, 1.508, 2.197, 2.324, 6.198, 7.478, 8.170, 9.377, 10.104, etc.; Odyssey 14.243, 16.298, 20.102. The seizure of Persephone in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter seems to be similarly structured as an ambush. Gaia is said to grow the flowers that Persephone is picking when she is taken “by a plot” (δόλον, 8). Later Persephone says the she was taken “through the shrewd [pukinos] mētis of the son of Kronos” (Κρονίδεω πυκινὴν διὰ μῆτιν, 415). For the adjective pukinos and its associations with ambush, see the general commentary below on 10.5–9.
[ back ] 68. Again, if we compare the ambush of the Aktorione Molione by Herakles, we see that he waited for them in a λόχμη ‘thicket’ (Pindar Olympian 10.30). The boar that scars Odysseus similarly lies hidden in a dense thicket before charging: ἐν λόχμῃ πυκινῇ κατέκειτο μέγας σῦς, Odyssey 19.439).
[ back ] 69. On the hardship that characterizes ambush, see also Edwards 1985:22 and the commentary below on 10.248. In the story in Odyssey 14, surprisingly, most of the men do seem to go to sleep; Odysseus says he could not because he was too cold.
[ back ] 70. Compare also how Paris springs from his place of ambush after he shoots Diomedes (ἐκ λόχου ἀμπήδησε, Iliad 11.372).
[ back ] 71. As we noted above, Menelaos’ attack on the sleeping victim happens during the day, due to Proteus’ own sleeping habits. Below we will also add Polyphemos to the list of sleeping ambush victims when we discuss how the Cyclops episode in Odyssey 9 is structured as an ambush without ever being called one.
[ back ] 72. When Achilles and Aeneas face off in Iliad 20, Achilles recalls that Aeneas was tending cattle the previous time that Achilles attacked him (though at the moment of attack Aeneas was separated from the cattle, 20.187–190). This episode was narrated in the Cypria, according to the summary of Proklos, where it is characterized as a cattle raid (on which see further below). The reference here suggests that the episode is yet another instance of Achilles as a lone ambusher.
[ back ] 73. See the commentary on 10.47–48, 10.289, and 10.524 for more on this phrase in an ambush context.
[ back ] 74. Compare Odyssey 14.365–372, and see discussion in the commentary at 10.211–212.
[ back ] 75. By contrast, two verbs meaning to ‘return (home)’ are used in the Iliad only in a polemos context: ἀπονέομαι and ἀπονοστέω have the marked meaning of a return to Troy for the Trojans (ἀπονέομαι at Iliad 3.313, 12.73, 14.46, 20.212, 21.561, 24.330; ἀπονοστέω at Iliad 8.499, 12.115) and either a return from Troy to their homes or a return to their ships for the Achaeans (ἀπονέομαι at Iliad 2.113, 2.288, 5.716, 9.20, 15.295, 15.305, 16.252, 17.415; ἀπονοστέω at Iliad 1.60, 17.406).
[ back ] 76. Compare e.g. Iliad 12.176 for an example of the narrator saying that it is difficult to tell all of what happened in the battle at the Achaean wall.
[ back ] 77. See also Tsagalis 2008:153–187 for the connection between the dark of night and the destruction of cattle, as encapsulated in the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ. For a modern fictional parallel to this nighttime cattle raid, compare Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove (1985).
[ back ] 78. Martin 2000. See above, note 32.
[ back ] 79. See Reece 1994:162–166 for his arguments that the figure of Theoklymenos is a substitute for Odysseus himself in an alternate, older tradition in which Telemakhos travels to Crete and meets up with his father, who returns with him disguised as a seer. Whether or not that version of the story existed, what we are arguing here is that this particular element of Theoklymenos’ story seems to belong to an old tradition.
[ back ] 80. Crissy 1997:43–45, 53 draws parallels between Herakles killing Iphitos in this compressed narrative and Odysseus killing the suitors (in an ambush) with this same bow.
[ back ] 81. Cf. Iliad 20.187–190 and above, p. 76n72. The reference to this raid in Iliad 20 is highly suggestive of ambush, and provides another example of the overlap between these two themes.
[ back ] 82. See further in our commentary on 10.41, 10.267, and 10.466.
[ back ] 83. In visual depictions of the Doloneia, Hermes is sometimes included: see Lissarrague 1980:18.
[ back ] 84. That the trick with the ram and sheep is akin to animal skins was suggested by Block 1985:3, who compares it to the seal skins under which Menelaos and his men hide. Block does not connect it with ambush. We have seen that Menelaos’ ambush of Proteus is called exactly that, and both hiding places/tricks are related to the ambush theme in terms of the thematic signals of animal skins and the enduring of discomfort.
[ back ] 85. See also above on cattle raiding as an epic theme closely associated with ambush.