Appendix. The Semantic Field of ‘Decay’ in Homeric Epic

Homer makes use of six separate verbal roots to describe the process of decay as the physical bodies of plants, animals, and humans undergo the degenerative effects of time. These verbs are: φθίω/φθίνω/φθίνυθω ‘to wither, waste away, die’; σήπω ‘to rot, decay’; πύθω ‘to cause to rot, rot, putrefy’; σκέλλω ‘to dry up’; κάρφω ‘to cause to shrivel up, dry up, parch’; and ἄζω ‘to dry out, parch’. Each of these verbs, as I demonstrate below, is used to indicate a temporally conditioned experience of degenerative change over time. [1] Insofar as these changes are gradual, as a body slips from a pristine state into one of corruption or decay, the physical change itself becomes a material record of the passage of time and its withering effects. The value of the semantic field of ‘decay’ in Homer extends beyond the narrative to the poetics of the Iliad itself, for the poetic project of the Iliad is nothing other than to preserve Achilles’ κλέος ἄφθιτον, his fame which is characterized by being ἀ- ‘not (yet)’ + *φθιτον ‘having undergone the process of (vegetal) decay’. In order to fully understand the poetic project of the Iliad, then, we should track the precise sense of the semantic field of ‘decay’.
The following discussion, based on a comprehensive analysis of Homer’s verbs of ‘decay’ and their cognates, argues that Homeric usage demonstrates a clear concept of time in the abstract as measured through the change in the structural integrity of physical bodies over time. I treat each verb separately, and have organized textual evidence according to an analysis of the contexts in which each term occurs.

1. φθίω/φθίνω/φθινύθω ‘to wither, waste away, die’ [2]

The verbal root *φθι- is the most common way to refer to the organic process of decay in Homeric epic. The verb originally describes the process of vegetal decay, as plants lose their vital force and wither away, and the diminishing of streams of water; however, as we will see, the verb has already extended beyond these specific meanings to describe a series of possibilities for how humans ‘waste away’ through the diminishment of life or vitality—namely, through old age, illness, the lack of eating, inactivity, longing, and sorrow. Further, the verb may be used to describe how one ‘perishes’ in battle or through trickery and deceit. The substantive use of the passive participle (οἱ φθινόμενοι) can be used to refer to the ‘dead’ who occupy the underworld, as if implying that those beneath the ground are subject to the forces of decay brought on by the dampness of the earth itself. [3] And finally, the verb may be used as a curse when calling imprecations upon someone’s head.

1.1 Vegetal decay

The sense of φθίω describing ‘vegetal decay’ is preserved in certain passages, such as Iliad XXI 462–467 where Apollo’s response to Poseidon’s charge that he has forgotten the rough treatment the two gods received at the hands of Laomedon draws together the imagery of mankind (βροτοί) as vegetal matter (φύλλοισιν ἐοικότες ‘just like leaves’) which flourish and grow up to a certain fullness, but then wither and perish.
ἐννοσίγαι᾿, οὐκ ἄν με σαόφρονα μυθήσαιο
ἔμμεναι, εἰ δὴ σοί γε βροτῶν ἕνεκα πτολίξω
δειλῶν, οἳ φύλλοισιν ἐοικότες ἄλλοτε μέν τε
ζαφλεγέες τελέθουσιν ἀρούρης καρπὸν ἔδοντες,
ἄλλοτε δὲ φθινύθουσιν ἀκήριοι.
Earth-shaker, you would say I am not sound-of-wit,
if indeed I should make war with you for the sake of miserable
mortals, who, just like leaves at one time always
grow warm as they flourish while eating the fruit of the ploughed field,
and at another time wither away, lifeless.
Iliad XXI 462–466
Apollo offers a poetic image of man’s mortal nature: βροτῶν < IE root *mṛto- + δειλῶν ‘wretched’, a term structurally opposed to the gods’ “easy” and “blessed” living. [4] For the image of man compared with leaves, we may consider the comparison of the vast size of the Greek army to the number of leaves and flowers that grow ‘in season’ (ὥρῃ, Iliad II 468), [5] or Glaukos’ famous comparison of the generations of men to those of leaves that flourish ‘in season’ (ὥρῃ, VI 146–149) replicated so beautifully in Mimnermus fr. 2 (West). [6] At one time both men and leaves are full of internal warmth (ζαφλεγέες, XXI 465) and they flourish; at another time they diminish, decay, and die (ἀκήριοι, XXI 466). Life consists of consuming food (ἀρούρης καρπὸν ἔδοντες, XXI 465), which in turn fuels the internal ‘fire’ that characterizes living bodies (ζαφλεγής < ζα- + φλέγειν ‘to burn, blaze’); death (ἀκήριος < ἀ- + κῆρ ‘without heart, life’), then, implies a lack of eating and a corresponding reduction of growth, as well as a lack of the internal heat characteristic of living bodies. [7]
On the concept of ‘vegetal decay’ and its close associations with the concept of a ‘cycle’ of life, we may compare the description of Helios’ magical cattle on Thrinakia which do not die, but do not reproduce either.
Θρινακίην δ’ ἐς νῆσον ἀφίξεαι· ἔνθα δὲ πολλαὶ
βόσκοντ’ Ἠελίοιο βόες καὶ ἴφια μῆλα.
ἑπτὰ βοῶν ἀγέλαι, τόσα δ’ οἰῶν πώεα καλά,
πεντήκοντα δ’ ἕκαστα. γόνος δ’ οὐ γίνεται αὐτῶν,
οὐδέ ποτε φθινύθουσι.
Then you will reach the island Thrinakia, where are pastured
the cattle and the fat sheep of the sun god, Helios,
seven herds of oxen, and as many beautiful flocks of sheep,
and fifty to each herd. There is no giving birth among them,
nor do they ever waste away.
Odyssey xii 127–131
The sun god Helios’ cattle and sheep are magical animals who are apart from the mortal effects of time. Their number is fixed: they neither reproduce (γόνος δ’ οὐ γίνεται αὐτῶν, xii 130), nor perish (οὐδέ ποτε φθινύθουσι, xii 131). They do not decay, because they are outside of time’s influence, as if that which is not born into time does not suffer its withering effects. [8]

1.2 The diminishment of human vitality through old age and disease

The metaphorical step from ‘vegetal decay’ to the physical wasting away of the human body through old age (γῆρας) and disease (νοῦσος) is an easy one. The human body ages and deteriorates over time just as vegetation does—both wither away, die, and rot. Hence, we find passages such as when Odysseus reproaches Agamemnon’s suggestion that the Achaeans quit fighting and return home:
αἴθ’ ὤφελλες ἀεικελίου στρατοῦ ἄλλου
σημαίνειν, μηδ’ ἄμμιν ἀνασσέμεν, οἷσιν ἄρα Ζεύς
ἐκ νεότητος ἔδωκε καὶ ἐς γῆρας τολυπεύειν
ἀργαλέους πολέμους, ὄφρα φθιόμεσθα ἕκαστος.
I wish that of another unseemly army
you were the leader, and did not command us, to whom indeed Zeus
has granted from our youth even until old age to bring to completion
grievous wars, until we waste away, each one of us.
Iliad XIV 84–87
Odysseus’ speech connects the verb φθίω with the concept of passing ἐκ νεότητος ‘from youth’ ἐς γῆρας ‘to old age’. With age, the Achaeans will not only accomplish their war, but will—each one of them—waste away.
Further, Laertes is described as wasting away both through grief over the absence of his son and the death of his wife, which has set upon him an untimely old age:
Λαέρτης μὲν ἔτι ζώει, Διὶ δ’ εὔχεται αἰεὶ
θυμὸν ἀπὸ μελέων φθίσθαι οἷσ’ ἐν μεγάροισιν·
ἐκπάγλως γὰρ παιδὸς ὀδύρεται οἰχομένοιο
κουριδίης τ’ ἀλόχοιο δαΐφρονος, ἥ ἑ μάλιστα
ἤκαχ’ ἀποφθιμένη καὶ ἐν ὠμῷ γήραϊ θῆκεν.
Laertes is still alive, but he prays to Zeus always
that his heart waste away from his limbs in his home.
For terribly he grieves for his child who is gone away
and for his wedded virtuous wife, who especially
pained him when she died and set him in raw old age.
Odyssey xv 353–357
The phrase “raw old age” indicates that Laertes has aged before his time; [9] the implication, then, is that the effects of old age (γῆρας, cf. xv 357) upon the body—similar to those brought on by intense grief (ἐκπάγλως ... ὀδύρεται, xv 355)—are degenerative: the body withers away (φθίσθαι, xv 354) under their influence.
As for disease, we find a description of an Achaean warrior who was fated to die in one of two ways: either to wither away at home under a grievous sickness, or to be killed in battle by the Trojans:
νούσῳ ὑπ’ ἀργαλέῃ φθίσθαι οἷς ἐν μεγάροισιν,
ἢ μετ’ Ἀχαιῶν νηυσὶν ὑπὸ Τρώεσσι δαμῆναι.
[... that he would] wither away by a grievous sickness in his own home,
or that he would be conquered among the ships of the Achaeans at the hands of the Trojans.
Iliad XIII 667–668
Pairing defeat at war (δαμῆναι, XIII 668) with the withering effects of disease (νούσῳ ... φθίσθαι, XIII 667) marks the inner dynamics of heroic action in the Iliad—since mortals are destined to die anyway, they should seek to gain fame through their deeds in war (cf. XII 310–328). The description of a warrior being given a choice of an ignoble death at home versus a glorious death in battle reminds us of Achilles’ own choice to stay and fight in Troy and die but win κλέος ἄφθιτον or to return home and live a long life in his homeland of Φθίη, but lose any chance at fame (Iliad IX 410–416). It is significant to note that Achilles’ homeland Phthia where he would wither away in ignoble death is itself related to the *φθι- verbal stem. [10]
As we move further from ‘vegetal decay’, the verbal root *φθι- is used to describe other ‘wasting’ effects which are similar to old age. That is, one may ‘wither’ or ‘waste away’ their body (χρώς ‘flesh’), their heart (κῆρ, θυμός), or their life/life-force/vitality (αἰών). This kind of physical, emotional, and spiritual degeneration is brought about by means of longing (πόθος) for an absent person and sorrow (ὀδύρομαι, ὀιζυρός).
We begin with the more concrete examples, namely the physical wasting away of the body that is associated with improper eating.

1.3 The diminishment of human life or vitality through excessive eating or the failure to eat sufficiently

As might be expected, examples connecting the *φθι- root with improper eating appear only in the Odyssey, the epic which treats improper eating as a key example of violated relations of xenia. In our first example, Laertes wastes away through a lack of eating:
αὐτὰρ νῦν, ἐξ οὗ σύ γε ᾤχεο νηῒ Πύλονδε,
οὔ πώ μίν φασιν φαγέμεν καὶ πιέμεν αὔτως,
οὐδ’ ἐπὶ ἔργα ἰδεῖν, ἀλλὰ στοναχῇ τε γόῳ τε
ἧσται ὀδυρόμενος, φθινύθει δ’ ἀμφ’ ὀστεόφι χρώς.
But now, since the time when you [sc. Telemachus] went away by ship to Pylos,
they say [Laertes] has not yet eaten nor drunk as before,
nor looked to his farm, but in both lamentation and mourning
sits grieving, and the flesh on his bones is wasting away.
Odyssey xvi 142–145
Laertes’ χρώς ‘flesh’ is wasting away (φθινύθει, xvi 145) because he has neither eaten (φαγέμεν, xvi 143) nor drunk (πιέμεν, xvi 143) anything out of his lamentation and grief. His loss of his wife, son, and even grandson while Telemachus leaves town, drives him to self-destruction through not eating. [11] Note that the upkeep of the body through food and drink is connected with agriculture, for in addition to not taking care of himself, Laertes has not looked after his farm (οὐδ’ ἐπὶ ἔργα ἰδεῖν, xvi 144). The cultus of body and plants are likened: both require upkeep, without which both tend towards decay.
In a series of examples, the suitors ‘waste away’ Odysseus’ and Telemachus’ property through their uncontrolled feasting.
τόσσοι μητέρ’ ἐμὴν μνῶνται, τρύχουσι δὲ οἶκον.
ἡ δ’ οὔτ’ ἀρνεῖται στυγερὸν γάμον οὔτε τελευτὴν
ποιῆσαι δύναται· τοὶ δὲ φθινύθουσιν ἔδοντες
οἶκον ἐμόν· τάχα δή με διαρραίσουσι καὶ αὐτόν.
So many men are wooing my mother, and they wear out my house.
And she does not refuse the hateful marriage, nor is she able
to make an end of it; and these men waste away my home
with their eating. In truth, they will quickly break even me myself to pieces.
Odyssey I 248–251 = xvi 125–128 [12]
Note in particular the association between the οἶκος ‘household’ and Telemachus’ own body: the suitors ‘wear out’ (τρύχουσι, i 248) [13] and ‘waste away’ (φθινύθουσιν, i 250) the property by eating and drinking, and will soon break Telemachus himself apart (διαρραίσουσι, i 251). In other words, the diminution of the household by means of depleting its supplies is likened to the diminution of the human body, here figured as being broken into pieces.

1.4 The diminishment of human life or vitality through longing and inactivity

We now turn to a less physical kind of ‘wasting away’—instead of the diminishment of one’s physical body, we now investigate those passages which describe the wasting away of one’s heart, life, or vitality through longing.
In our first passage, Penelope wishes for death so that she may not continue to waste away her αἰών ‘life, vitality’ through longing for her absent husband.
αἴθε μοι ὣς μαλακὸν θάνατον πόροι Ἄρτεμις ἁγνή
αὐτίκα νῦν, ἵνα μηκέτ’ ὀδυρομένη κατὰ θυμόν
αἰῶνα φθινύθω, πόσιος ποθέουσα φίλοιο
παντοίην ἀρετήν, ἐπεὶ ἔξοχος ἦεν Ἀχαιῶν.
How I wish chaste Artemis would give me a gentle death,
now at once, so that I may no longer grieving throughout my heart
waste away my life, longing for my dear husband
excellent in every virtue, since he was outstanding among the Achaeans.
Odyssey xviii 202–205
Penelope wastes away her αἰών ‘life, life-force, vitality’ (xviii 204) through the constant lamentation (ὀδυρομένη, xviii 203) that effects her in her heart (κατὰ θυμόν, xviii 203). Her sorrow comes from her ‘longing’ (ποθέουσα, xviii 204) for her absent husband, and this very loss constitutes a diminishment of personal vitality (αἰῶνα φθινύθω, xviii 204) that results in a wish for death (αἴθε μοι ... θάνατον πόροι Ἄρτεμις, xviii 202).
Achilles likewise continually wastes away his own κῆρ ‘heart’ through his longing to participate in battle.
αὐτὰρ ὁ μήνιε νηυσὶ παρήμενος ὠκυπόροισιν
διογενὴς Πηλῆος υἱός, πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς·
οὔτέ ποτ’ εἰς ἀγορὴν πωλέσκετο κυδιάνειραν
οὔτέ ποτ’ ἐς πόλεμον, ἀλλὰ φθινύθεσκε φίλον κῆρ
αὖθι μένων, ποθέεσκε δ’ ἀϋτήν τε πτόλεμόν τε.
But he was raging as he sat beside the swift-moving ships,
the Zeus-born son of Peleus, swift-footed Achilles.
Never to the public assembly where men win glory did he continue to go,
never to war, but rather he continually wasted away his own heart
while waiting there, and he continually longed for both battle-cry and war.
Iliad I 488–492
Note the implication of wasting away through (1) longing which wears out one’s heart (κῆρ), and (2) the extended temporality implicit in the anaphoric repetition of the adverb ‘never’ (οὔτέ ποτ᾿, I 490, 491), the repeated use of the iterative infix -σκ- which emphasizes the ‘continuative’ and ‘repetitive’ nature of the actions (πωλέσκετο, I 490; φθινύσθεσκε, I 491; ποθέεσκε, I 492), and the circumstantial participial phrases νηυσὶ παρήμενος ‘sitting beside the ships’ (I 488) and αὖθι μένων ‘waiting there’ (I 492). The emphasis is that Achilles is by the ships and not in battle; instead of being engaged in action where he can be most like himself—that is, where he can exhibit the characteristic behavior for which he received the epithet πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς ‘swift-footed Achilles’ (I 489)—the Greek hero is out of the action and wasting away, like the swift ships of the Achaeans dragged onto the Trojan shore. At this moment, both Achilles and Achaean ships are inactive; Homer’s use of the adverb ὠκύς ‘swift’ in the same metrical position in successive verses—once in the compound ὠκυπόροισιν ‘swift-moving’ (I 488), a participle modifying the ships, and once as the adverb in Achilles’ epithet πόδας ὠκύς ‘swift footed’ (I 489)—strikes an ironic tone, for while both sit and wait, neither is particularly ‘swift’. Consider further the description of the Achaean ships grounded and rotting from the long delay and their continued inactivity (II 134–135): both the Achaean ships and Achilles decay (σέσηπε, II 135; φθινύσθεσκε, I 491), suggesting that inactivity is a constitutive part of decay. [14]

1.5 The diminishment of human life or vitality through grief, sorrow, and weeping

Further analysis of the metaphorical use of *φθι- root verbs in which a person wastes away his or her heart, life, or vitality shows that they are used in context of grief, sorrow, and weeping only in the Odyssey, and express the emotions of loss felt by Penelope, Laertes, and Odysseus brought about through their physical separation from a loved one.
In our first example, which we have already investigated in another context, Laertes wastes away by not eating because of his ‘grief’ for his absent grandson:
αὐτὰρ νῦν, ἐξ οὗ σύ γε ᾤχεο νηῒ Πύλονδε,
οὔ πώ μίν φασιν φαγέμεν καὶ πιέμεν αὔτως,
οὐδ’ ἐπὶ ἔργα ἰδεῖν, ἀλλὰ στοναχῇ τε γόῳ τε
ἧσται ὀδυρόμενος, φθινύθει δ’ ἀμφ’ ὀστεόφι χρώς.
But now, since you went away in the ship to Pylos,
they say [Laertes] has not eaten in this way, nor drunk anything,
nor looked to his farm, but always in lamentation and mourning
sits grieving, and the flesh on his bones is wasting away.
Odyssey xvi 142–145
Laertes’ failure to eat and the subsequent wearing away of his flesh (χρώς, xvi 145) is attributed to his grief, lamentation, and mourning.
One’s lamentation can wear a body down physically, as in the simile describing a woman wasting away her cheeks with her tears as she cries over her dead husband and is led away into slavery.
ὡς δὲ γυνὴ κλαίῃσι φίλον πόσιν ἀμφιπεσοῦσα,
ὅς τε ἑῆς πρόσθεν πόλιος λαῶν τε πέσῃσιν,
ἄστεϊ καὶ τεκέεσσιν ἀμύνων νηλεὲς ἦμαρ·
ἡ μὲν τὸν θνῄσκοντα καὶ ἀσπαίροντα ἰδοῦσα
ἀμφ’ αὐτῷ χυμένη λίγα κωκύει· οἱ δέ τ’ ὄπισθε
κόπτοντες δούρεσσι μετάφρενον ἠδὲ καὶ ὤμους
εἴρερον εἰσανάγουσι, πόνον τ’ ἐχέμεν καὶ ὀϊζύν·
τῆς δ’ ἐλεεινοτάτῳ ἄχεϊ φθινύθουσι παρειαί.
As a woman weeps, having fallen upon the body of her dear husband,
who fell fighting in front of his city and people
as he tried to beat the pitiless day from his city and children;
she sees him dying and gasping for breath,
and winding her body about him she wails shrilly; but the men behind her,
hitting her back and shoulders with their spears,
lead her away into slavery, to have both hard work and wretchedness,
and her cheeks are worn away with the most piteous distress.
Odyssey viii 523–530
Here, tears waste away the mourner’s cheeks. The noun ὀϊζύν ‘wretchedness’ often appears in context of *φθι- root verbs that describe a character’s emotional suffering. [15]
Elsewhere, Odysseus complains to Kirke that she must set him and his crew on their way, for his crew’s constant lamenting is wearing away his heart.
ὦ Κίρκη, τέλεσόν μοι ὑπόσχεσιν, ἥν περ ὑπέστης,
οἴκαδε πεμψέμεναι· θυμὸς δέ μοι ἔσσυται ἤδη
ἠδ’ ἄλλων ἑτάρων, οἵ μευ φθινύθουσι φίλον κῆρ
ἀμφ’ ἔμ’ ὀδυρόμενοι, ὅτε που σύ γε νόσφι γένηαι.
O Kirke, accomplish now the promise you gave me,
that you would see me home. The spirit within me is urgent now,
as also in the rest of my friends, who are wasting away my heart,
lamenting around me, when you are away.
Odyssey x 483–486
This passage connects θυμός and κῆρ with a *φθι- verb in the context of lamentation (ὀδυρόμενοι, x 486). Here, the lamentation wastes away not Odysseus’ physical body (as the tears wasted away the mourning woman’s cheeks in the previous example: viii 529–530), but what we might call his “emotional body”: his κῆρ is worn down, such that his θυμός urges him to seek help from Kirke.
Further, when Kalypso releases Odysseus, she notes that he need not waste away his vitality (αἰών) any longer with his mourning.
κάμμορε, μή μοι ἔτ’ ἐνθάδ’ ὀδύρεο, μηδέ τοι αἰὼν
φθινέτω· ἤδη γάρ σε μάλα πρόφρασσ’ ἀποπέμψω.
Ill-fated man, no longer mourn here beside me nor let your vitality
waste away, since now I will send you on, with a good will.
Odyssey v 160–161
Formerly, Odysseus wasted away his vitality (αἰών, v 160) with his lamenting. His continual sorrow marks him as one with bad fortune (κάμμορε, v 160), an adjective that calls to mind Andromache’s speech to Hektor in Iliad VI 407–408 where she notes that Hektor’s own μένος ‘might’ will destroy him (φθίσει σε, VI 407) and she will be left behind in her bad fortune (ἔμ᾿ ἄμμορον, VI 407).
And finally, Laertes wastes away through his grief over his absent son and dead wife.
Λαέρτης μὲν ἔτι ζώει, Διὶ δ’ εὔχεται αἰεὶ
θυμὸν ἀπὸ μελέων φθίσθαι οἷσ’ ἐν μεγάροισιν·
ἐκπάγλως γὰρ παιδὸς ὀδύρεται οἰχομένοιο
κουριδίης τ’ ἀλόχοιο δαΐφρονος, ἥ ἑ μάλιστα
ἤκαχ’ ἀποφθιμένη καὶ ἐν ὠμῷ γήραϊ θῆκεν.
Laertes is still alive, but he prays to Zeus always
that his spirit waste away from his limbs in his houses.
For terribly he grieves for his child who is gone away
and for his wedded virtuous wife, who especially
pained him when she died and set him in raw old age.
Odyssey xv 353–357
We have already seen this passage in connection with the theme of old age, but it is worth considering again for its mention of ‘grief’ (xv 355) for lost son and wife that causes Laertes’ θυμός to wither away (xv 354).

1.6 The diminishment or passing of time

The implication of ‘diminishment’ implicit in φθίω carries over from vegetal and human bodies to other bodies—specifically the moon—which itself then functions as a method to measure passing time. As the moon’s body appears to diminish in size, its progress is described as a wasting away or a waning. Compare Odyssey xiv 162, xix 307: τοῦ μὲν φθίνοντος μηνός ‘at the wasting/waning of the month/moon’, describing the time when Odysseus is predicted to make his return and punish the suitors. [16] Compare further the description of how time passes when Odysseus and his crew are visiting with Kirke:
ἀλλ’ ὅτε τέτρατον ἦλθεν ἔτος καὶ ἐπήλυθον ὧραι,
μηνῶν φθινόντων, περὶ δ’ ἤματα πόλλ’ ἐτελέσθη ...
But when the end of a year came, and the seasons changed,
and the months wasted away, and the long days were accomplished, ...
Odyssey x 469–470 [17]
The wasting of the month is intimately connected with the visual experience of seeing the moon diminish in size. However, once the verb φθίω has been applied to describe time (e.g. a month) instead of the moon, it becomes more abstract, such that it can be paired with expressions for “the end of the year coming” or “the long days were accomplished.” It is with this sense that the poet describes Penelope’s days and nights wasting away as she weeps for Odysseus:
καὶ λίην κείνη γε μένει τετληότι θυμῷ
σοῖσιν ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν· ὀϊζυραὶ δέ οἱ αἰεὶ
φθίνουσιν νύκτες τε καὶ ἤματα δάκρυ χεούσῃ.
All too much does she [i.e., Penelope] wait for you with enduring spirit
there in your own palace, and always do both her nights and days,
wretched things, waste away as she sheds a tear.
Odyssey xi 181–183 [18]
Time itself, measured day after wretched day, seems ever to waste away for Penelope as she weeps for Odysseus, as if all days become a single day for Penelope in her sorrow, or as if time is passing her by. [19]
Finally, references to passing time may be used rhetorically to indicate the size of the poetic task at hand.
πάσας δ’ οὐκ ἂν ἐγὼ μυθήσομαι οὐδ’ ὀνομήνω,
ὅσσας ἡρώων ἀλόχους ἴδον ἠδὲ θύγατρας·
πρὶν γάρ κεν καὶ νὺξ φθῖτ’ ἄμβροτος. ἀλλὰ καὶ ὥρη
But I could not tell or name them all
the many women I saw who were the wives and daughters of heroes,
for before that even the immortal night would waste away. It is now time
to sleep.
Odyssey xi 328–331
Odysseus claims that there are so many names of famous women that immortal night would waste away. Passing time is once again seen as ‘wasting’, though not in sorrow, but through the labor of relating ‘all’ the women (πάσας, xi 328), however many (ὅσσας, xi 329) wives and daughters of heroes Odysseus saw in the underworld. For a similar claim about the impossibility of delivering an extraordinarily long catalogue, compare the second invocation of the Muses in the second book of the Iliad (II 484–493), especially with its claim that without the Muses’ aid, the poet would not be able to go through the whole catalogue,
οὐδ’ εἴ μοι δέκα μὲν γλῶσσαι, δέκα δὲ στόματ’ εἶεν,
φωνὴ δ’ ἄρρηκτος, χάλκεον δέ μοι ἦτορ ἐνείη.
not even if I had ten tongues and ten mouths
and an unbreakable voice, and the heart within me were made of bronze.
Iliad II 489–490
In other words, the difficulty of performing a long catalogue is exaggerated as so strenuous as to wear out multiple singers, an ‘unbreakable voice’, and bronze itself. Just so does Odysseus suggest that his performance of the catalogue of women would exhaust the resources of the night, here emphasized in terms of its durability as ‘immortal’ (ἄμβροτος, xi 331).

1.7 Death in battle or by means of deceit

The verb φθίω can be used rather colorlessly as well to mean simply ‘die, perish,’ specifically in battle contexts. [20] One example describes the death of soldiers rather generally:
αἵματι δὲ χθών
δεύετο πορφυρέῳ, τοὶ δ’ ἀγχιστῖνοι ἔπιπτον
νεκροί, ὁμοῦ Τρώων καὶ ὑπερμενέων ἐπικούρων
καὶ Δαναῶν· οὐδ’ οἳ γὰρ ἀναιμωτί γ’ ἐμάχοντο,
παυρότεροι δὲ πολὺ φθίνυθον, μέμνηντο γὰρ αἰεί
ἀλλήλοις καθ’ ὅμιλον ἀλεξέμεναι φόνον αἰπύν.
The ground was wet
with red blood, and close together were they falling,
the corpses of the Trojans, together with those of their very-mighty allies
and those of the Danaäns. For not without bloodletting were they fighting,
although far fewer [of the Danaäns] were dying, for they remembered always
to defend one another throughout their massed formation from sheer death.
Iliad XVII 360–365
In battle scenes, φθινύθω has basic sense of die. It is difficult to see any specific ‘vegetal’ imagery in this passage, although the reference to the ground being wet (χθὼν | δεύετο, XVII 360–361) with blood (αἵματι, XVII 360) does suggest a kind of agricultural image of watering the earth in order to nourish plant life. Here, however, the fluid points more to wasting vitality than to nurturing it.
In another passage, Hektor chides Paris for refraining from battle when so many people are perishing (φθινύθουσι) on his account (σέο δ’ εἵνεκ᾿, VI 326–331). One may also ‘perish’ at the hands of his enemy, as at VIII 359 which describes Hektor ‘perishing under the hands of the Argives in his father’s country’ (χερσὶν ὑπ’ Ἀργείων φθίμενος ἐν πατρίδι γαίῃ). Alternatively, one may ‘perish’ beneath his enemy’s spear, as when Patroklos wonders whether the Achaeans will be able to hold back Hektor, under whose spear they will perish (φθίσονται, XI 820). The participle may simply indicate that someone is ‘dead’, as at XVI 581 where Patroklos feels grief for his dead companion (Πατρόκλῳ δ’ ἄρ’ ἄχος γένετο φθιμένου ἑτάροιο), or at Odyssey xi 356–358 where Odysseus explains to Ajax how the Achaeans continually grieved for him when he was dead (ἀχνύμεθα φθιμένοιο διαμπερές). Further, a simile likening Achilles to a lion uses φθίω ‘to cause to wither’ as a synonym for πέφνω ‘to kill’:
ἑὲ δ’ αὐτὸν ἐποτρύνει μαχέσασθαι,
γλαυκιόων δ’ ἰθὺς φέρεται μένει, ἤν τινα πέφνῃ
ἀνδρῶν, ἢ αὐτὸς φθίεται πρώτῳ ἐν ὁμίλῳ.
he rouses himself to fight,
and with glowering eyes he is carried straight forward with might, if he may kill
someone of the men, or is himself killed in the first onrush.
Iliad XX 171–173
And finally, one may be driven on to death by one’s own eagerness for battle, as Andromache tells Hektor that his μένος ‘might’ will lead to his ruin (φθίσει σε, VI 407–413)—that is, it will cause him to wither away, for he cannot hold out against so many Achaeans. It remains implicit that Hektor’s death will cause Andromache to “wither away” as well through sorrow (ἄχεα). [21]
In addition to ‘being killed in battle’, the verb φθίω may be used to describe someone being killed through deceit (δόλος), as we find once in the Odyssey:
οἱ δέ τοι αὐτίκ’ ἰόντι κακὰ φράσσονται ὀπίσσω,
ὥς κε δόλῳ φθίῃς, τάδε δ’ αὐτοὶ πάντα δάσωνται.
But as soon as you go, these men will devise evils against you hereafter,
so that you may perish by guile, and they may divide all that is yours.
Odyssey ii 367–368
Athena warns Telemachus that the suitors will attempt to kill him in secret when he returns from his voyage to Pylos and Mycenae.

1.8 Reference to the dead in the underworld

Perhaps as an extension of the sense of φθίω to indicate ‘perish, die’, the passive participle of φθίω (οἱ φθιμένοι) is used to refer to the inhabitants of the underworld.
λώβη γὰρ τάδε γ’ ἐστὶ καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι,
εἰ δὴ μὴ παίδων τε κασιγνήτων τε φονῆας
τεισόμεθ’· οὐκ ἂν ἐμοί γε μετὰ φρεσὶν ἡδὺ γένοιτο
ζωέμεν, ἀλλὰ τάχιστα θανὼν φθιμένοισι μετείην.
For these things are a shame even for men of the future to learn about,
if indeed we don’t take revenge for the murder of our sons and brothers.
There would not be any sweetness in heart—for me, at least—
to go on living, but dying quickly, I would wish to be among the dead.
Odyssey xxiv 433–436
The families of the murdered suitors plan revenge on Odysseus and his family: failure to avenge the deaths of their sons and brothers would be so shameful that they would rather be ‘among the dead’ (φθιμένοισι μετείην, xxiv 346). The text suggests a sense in which shame itself may cause a body to waste away, such that a person who experiences extreme shame is reduced to the status of the dead. [22]

1.9 Curse—let someone perish

The use of φθίω to mean ‘be dead’ receives one further variation: it is used as a formula for cursing someone—literally, wishing that someone may perish.
τούσδε δ’ ἔα φθινύθειν, ἕνα καὶ δύο, τοί κεν Ἀχαιῶν
νόσφιν βουλεύωσ’.
Let those men perish, one and two, those men of the Achaeans
who make plans apart.
Iliad II 346–347
In this passage, Nestor curses those one or two Achaeans, whoever they are, who foster ideas different from the group—namely, as Nestor makes clear in the following verses—those who want to return to Argos before learning whether Zeus’ promise that Troy would be captured in the tenth year is true or false. [23]

1.10 Compound cognates [24]

In addition to the simple root forms of φθίω, φθίνω, φθινύθω, there are several compound cognate nouns, adjectives, and verbs, which I list here with citations.
1. ἀποφθίω/ἀποφθινύθω < ἀπό ‘away’ + φθίω/φθινύθω = ‘to waste away, perish’. This compound is semantically indistinguishable from the pure root verb: compare V 643 and XVI 540 which take θυμός as the accusative of respect—one wastes away ‘with respect to his life’.
2. ἐκφθίω < ἐκ ‘out of’ + φθίω = ‘to waste away from out of’, used twice in the Odyssey to describe the supply of wine and food on Odysseus’ ships: ix 163 (the wine has not yet been wasted away from within the ships), xii 329 (the food in the ships was all wasted away).
3. καταφθίω < κατά ‘down, throughout, thoroughly’ + φθίω = ‘to cause to waste away, perish’, a compound which appears in the active only once (v 341), and otherwise appears in the passive, mostly indicating simply that a person is ‘dead’ (II 288, iii 196, xi 491).
4. φθισήνωρ < φθίω + ἀνήρ ‘man’ = ‘man-destroying’, used only as an epithet of πόλεμος ‘war’: II 833, IX 604, X 78, XI 331, XIV 43.
5. φθισίμβροτος < φθίω + (μ)βροτός = ‘mortal-destroying’, used as an epithet of μάχη ‘battle’ at XIII 339, and as an epithet of Athena’s aegis at xxii 297.
6. ἄφθιτος < ἀ- + φθιτος = ‘unwithered’. The adjective formed with the alpha privative is used primarily of the works of Hephaistos’ divine craftsmanship: Agamemnon’s σκῆπτρον ‘scepter’ (II 46, 186), Hera’s θρόνος ‘throne’ (XIV 238), the rims of the wheels of her chariot (V 724), Hephaistos’ home (XVIII 370), and Poseidon’s home (XIII 22) are all designated by the adjective ἄφθιτος, mostly with the formulaic line ending ἄφθιτον αἰεί # ‘continually unwithered’. [25] In each of these cases, the god’s craft is made of metal (gold, bronze), which is an indication of its enduring quality; his craft renders his products “beautiful,” particularly because of their “starry” decorations. [26] The adjective ἄφθιτος is also used to describe the remarkably productive grapevines on the island of the Cyclopes (ἄφθιτοι ἄμπελοι εἶεν #, ix 133), Zeus’ divine thoughts (Ζεὺς ἄφθιτα μήδεα εἰδώς #, XXIV 88, cf. Hesiod Theogony 545, 550, 561, frr. 141.26, 234.2 M-W), [27] and, of course, Achilles’ ‘unwithered fame’ (κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται #, IX 413). In her discussion of the distribution of ἄφθιτος in Homer, Margalit Finkelberg has noted, “Only one out of the nine cases in which ἄφθιτος is found in Homer, κλέος ἄφθιτον at Il. 9.413, does not belong to the sphere of divine and marvelous, and only two, κλέος ἄφθιτον again and ἄφθιτα μήδεα at 24.88, fall into the sphere of incorporeal objects” (Finkelberg 2007:346n19).
The phrase κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται occurs only here in Homer, though we find similar formulations in κλέος οὔποτε ὀλεῖται ‘fame will never be lost’ (II 325, VII 91, xxiv 196) and ἄσβεστον κλέος εἴη ‘fame may be unquenched’ (iv 584, vii 333), as well as phrases that refer to the extent of a hero’s fame: κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει / κλέος οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἱκάνει ‘fame reaches heaven / fame reaches wide heaven’ (VIII 192, viii 74, ix 20, xix 108), ὑπουράνιον κλέος ‘heaven-reaching fame’ (X 212, ix 264.), μέγα κλέος ‘great fame’ (VI 446, XI 21, XVII 131, i 240, ii 125, xiv 340, xvi 241, xxiv 33), and κλέος εὐρύ ‘wide fame’ (i 344, iii 83, 204, iv 726, 816, xix 333, xxiii 137). [28] It would seem, then, that Achilles’ κλέος ἄφθιτον is part of a larger traditional theme of heroic fame in Indo-European poetry—though we find traces of the theme in ancient Near Eastern literature as well. [29]
7. It is worthwhile to point out a further compound not of φθίνω ‘wither, fade, decay, perish’, but of φθείρω ‘destroy’: θυμοφθόρος < θυμός + φθόρος = ‘life-destroying’: Iliad VI 169 (of the σῆμα ‘signs’ in Bellerophon’s tablets), Odyssey ii 329 (of φάρμακα ‘drugs’), iv 716 (of ἄχος ‘grief’), x 363 (of κάματον ‘work, labor’). The verb φθείρω is cognate with Sanskrit root *kṣar- ‘flow, melt away, perish’ (as opposed to Sanskrit *kṣi- ‘perish’, which is cognate with φθίνω), but the semantics of φθείρω and φθίνω (related to *kṣar- and *kṣi-, respectively) are close, and some scholars have suggested that they are in fact related (cf. Burrow 1959b:262).
The compounds of φθίω all exhibit the same characteristics as the simple verb root itself. Organic matter withers away under the effect of pain, grief, work, and perhaps also poisonous drugs. The single adjective which attempts to negate the effect of this wasting—ἄφθιτος—deals mostly with works which are not, or no longer, organic, such as Agamemnon’s σκῆπτρον which has been cut from a tree and covered in gold so that it can no longer grow or shrink (cf. Iliad I 234–237). [30] The metallic composition of Hephaistos’ craftwork suggests the characteristic perdurative nature of these items, yet does not guarantee that they are themselves everlasting and beyond any temporal measure. [31] As I show in chapter 3 above, the Iliad represents other material works (the Trojan defensive walls) made by the gods (Poseidon, Apollo) as durable, but eventually breakable, even though they were constructed to be ἄρρηκτος. I argue that Homer’s use of ἄρρηκτος in the context of the Trojan Wall does not imply not the actual unbreakability of the Trojan wall, but rather the wall’s temporal condition of remaining unbroken, but only for the time being; although it does not collapse within the narrative bounds of the Iliad, the very tradition to which the Iliad belongs necessitates its collapse. So too, I suggest, does the adjective ἄφθιτον describe Zeus’ counsels and Achilles’ fame—that is to say, they have the same temporally conditioned status as Hephaistos’ works of art. Zeus’ counsels are unfailing only because they have not yet failed; Achilles fame is unwithering only because it has not yet withered (cf. Benveniste 1975:166, quoted in the Introduction above). They have so far survived the temporal degeneration implied by the *φθι- verbal root, but their survival is itself temporally conditioned. It is long lasting, to be sure, but not permanent.

2. σήπω 'to rot, decay' [32]

In comparison with φθίω/φθίνω/φθινύθω, the verb σήπω is far more restricted in usage. It appears only three times in Homeric epic, and on each occasion describes the decay of organic bodies—the wooden planks of the Achaeans’ ships, and the bodies of Patroklos and Hektor. In the first passage describing the rotting of the ship’s wooden planks, Homer emphasizes the passage of time (nine years) during which the timber and the cables that hold the planks together have become ruined.
ἐννέα δὴ βεβάασι Διὸς μεγάλου ἐνιαυτοί,
καὶ δὴ δοῦρα σέσηπε νεῶν καὶ σπάρτα λέλυνται.
Indeed, nine years of great Zeus have gone by,
and indeed the wooden planks of our ships have rotted and the cables are destroyed.
Iliad II 134–135
The implication of the rotting of wood and cables—as I have argued at length in chapter 1 above—is that the ships have begun to fall apart at their joints. The cohesion between the separate elements of the compound bodies of ship and rope has weakened, and the ships are literally disintegrating before the Achaeans’ eyes.
In the two remaining Homeric uses of σήπω to describe the decay of the bodies of fallen heroes, we find a similar implication of a body that is no longer intact and can no longer maintain its pristine integrity. First, Achilles explains his reasons for hesitating to return to battle at once—he fears for the body of his companion Patroklos, lest it be defiled by maggots that enter the wounds:
νῦν δ’ ἤτοι μὲν ἐγὼ θωρήξομαι· ἀλλὰ μάλ’ αἰνῶς
δείδω, μή μοι τόφρα Μενοιτίου ἄλκιμον υἱόν
μυῖαι καδδῦσαι κατὰ χαλκοτύπους ὠτειλάς
εὐλὰς ἐγγείνωνται, ἀεικίσσωσι δὲ νεκρόν
ἐκ δ’ αἰὼν πέφαται—κατὰ δὲ χρόα πάντα σαπήῃ.
And now, in truth, I tell you, I will arm myself. But very terribly
am I afraid lest in the meantime the flies enter
Menoitios’ strong son, down through the wounds beaten into him by bronze,
and breed maggots, and do unbefitting things to the corpse
now that his life has been slain out of him—and that all his flesh may completely rot.
Iliad XIX 23–27
Here, Achilles speaks to Thetis about his fears that the body of Patroklos will rot while Achilles dons his armor and fights Hektor. There is a stark contrast between the immortal armor that Achilles is to put on and the pathetic state of Patroklos’ very mortal body which is now open to the flies to become a breeding ground for maggots. For Patroklos’ body has been penetrated by bronze weapons: flies may now enter his καλκοτύπους ὠτειλάς ‘bronze-struck wounds’ (XIX 25). It is through these openings that corruption would enter, if Thetis did not artificially—through the application of nektar and ambrosia—close the corpse’s openings (XIX 29–39). [33] We find the same situation in the case of Hektor, as Hermes describes the status of the corpse to Priam:
δυωδεκάτη δέ οἱ ἠώς
κειμένῳ, οὐδέ τί οἱ χρὼς σήπεται, οὐδέ μιν εὐλαί
ἔσθουσ’, αἵ ῥά τε φῶτας ἀρηϊφάτους κατέδουσιν.
θηοῖό κεν αὐτὸς ἐπελθών,
οἷον ἐερσήεις κεῖται, περὶ δ’ αἷμα νένιπται,
οὐδέ ποθι μιαρός· σὺν δ ἕλκεα πάντα μέμυκεν,
ὅσσ’ ἐτύπη· πολέες γὰρ ἐν αὐτῷ χαλκὸν ἔλασσαν.
But it is the twelfth dawn for him
lying there, but neither is his flesh rotted at all, nor do maggots
eat him, which indeed always devour mortals slain in battle.
You yourself can look in wonder when you go there,
how he lies fresh with dew, and the blood all around has been washed from him,
nor is he defiled anywhere. All the wounds have closed up
where he was struck; for many drove bronze into him.
Iliad XXIV 412–415, 418–421
The εὐλαί ‘maggots’ have not yet entered the body and begun to devour it, for Hektor’s wounds—struck (ἐτύπη, XXIV 421) into him when many drove their bronze weapons (χαλκόν, XXIV 421) into him (compare Patroklos’ καλκοτύπους ‘bronze-struck’ wounds, XIX 25)—have been magically closed (σὺν ... μέμυκεν, XXIV 420) by the ambrosia Aphrodite instilled into his body (XXIII 185–187). [34]
In short, then, the natural process of decay indicated by the verb σήπω appears to lead to the disintegration of organic bodies by attacking those bodies at joints and openings—the places where life-force must be expended to maintain strict cohesion of parts and an intact surface. Once that surface has been broken and those joints weakened, however, corruption slips inside and causes the deterioration of the body from within. In the case of the mortal bodies of Patroklos and Hektor, it is only the divine interference of the gods and their application of immortal and immortalizing products—nektar and ambrosia—that virtually seal the body from decay for a given period of time.

3. πύθω ‘cause to rot, rot, putrefy’ [35]

The verb πύθω occurs four times in Homer, always describing the physical decay of human remains, often associated with the purification of a body in the damp earth or other wet environment. The first three uses all describe the rotting of human bones (ὀστέα). In the first passage, Agamemnon laments that Menelaus, whom he believes to be mortally wounded by Pandarus’s arrow (IV 148–149), will perish and his bones will be left behind to rot in Troy, while the war will now be given up to Agamemnon’s shame.
καί κεν ἐλέγχιστος πολυδίψιον Ἄργος ἱκοίμην.
αὐτίκα γὰρ μνήσονται Ἀχαιοὶ πατρίδος αἴης,
κὰδ δέ κεν εὐχωλὴν Πριάμῳ καὶ Τρωσὶ λίποιμεν
Ἀργείην Ἑλένην· σέο δ’ ὀστέα πύσει ἄρουρα
κειμένου ἐν Τροίῃ ἀτελευτήτῳ ἐπὶ ἔργῳ.
And I would return most blameworthy to very thirsty Argos.
For at once the Achaeans will remember the land of their fathers,
and we would leave behind Argive Helen for Priam and the Trojans
to be their triumph. But the ploughland will rot your bones
as you lie dead in Troy with your task unaccomplished. [36]
Iliad IV 171–175
The collocation of πύθω with the term for plowed fields (ἄρουρα, IV 174) may suggest a cognitive link between physical decay and the natural pattern of vegetal life, especially that cultivated through agriculture: crops grow, diminish, and eventually decay. But most significant for our study here is the implication that if the Achaeans leave, there will be none left to care for the dead; the Argives will remember (μνήσονται, IV 172) their own homelands, not Menelaus and his unaccomplished labors (ἀτελευτήτῳ ἐπὶ ἔργῳ).
Mention of ‘plowland’ (ἄρουρα, IV 174) seems to imply the dampness of the earth which aids in the putrefaction of the bones, as is also implied in a passage from the pseudo-Hesiodic Shield of Herakles:
τῶν καὶ ψυχαὶ μὲν χθόνα δύνουσ’ Ἄιδος εἴσω
αὐτῶν, ὀστέα δέ σφι περὶ ῥινοῖο σαπείσης
Σειρίου ἀζαλέοιο κελαινῇ πύθεται αἴῃ.
The souls of these men [sc. men who wage war against Zeus] go down beneath the earth into the house of Hades
and when the flesh has rotted all around, their bones
putrefy in the dark earth with parching Sirius above.
Shield of Herakles 151–153 Most
The souls (ψυχαι, 151) of the dead enter Hades, but their bodies are left behind to rot: their skin rots away (ῥινοῖο σαπείσης, 152) and their bones putrefy (ὀστέα … πύθεται, 152–153) within the ‘dark earth’ (μαλαίνῃ ... αἴῃ, 153). I interpret the reference to ‘parching Sirius’ (Σειρίου ἀζαλέοιο, 153) to mean that we are to imagine that the earth itself is warm from the Dog Star’s heat. Note that that the underworld (Tartaros, Hades) is regularly represented as ‘moldy’ and ‘damp’ in Greek epic; it is a place dark, damp, and full of mold and decay, as noted by the epithets εὐρώεις ‘moldy, full of decay’ [37] and ἠερόεις ‘misty’. [38] The combination of heat and damp provided in Shield of Herakles 152–153 provides the perfect condition for decay. [39] In sum, πύθομαι appears to be associated particularly with damp or wet aspects of decay: hence, ‘to induce putrefaction’.
In another passage, Telemachus complains to his visitor (Athena in disguise) that the suitors are eating up the livelihood of his father who has died and whose bones are rotting in the rain or the sea:
τούτοισιν μὲν ταῦτα μέλει, κίθαρις καὶ ἀοιδή,
ῥεῖ’, ἐπεὶ ἀλλότριον βίοτον νήποινον ἔδουσιν,
ἀνέρος, οὗ δή που λεύκ’ ὀστέα πύθεται ὄμβρῳ
κείμεν’ ἐπ’ ἠπείρου, ἢ εἰν ἁλὶ κῦμα κυλίνδει.
For these things are an easy care to them, the lyre and epic poetry,
since they are eating up the livelihood of another with impunity,
of a man whose white bones, I suppose, are putrefying in the rain
as they lie on the shore, or a wave rolls them about in the salt sea.
Odyssey i 159–162
Telemachus imagines his father’s white bones rotting in the rain, or being rolled about in the sea—both images involve his father’s mortal remains exposed and lacking proper burial, and hence subject to the elements. Note especially the association with water, both rain (ὄμβρῳ, i 161) and sea (ἁλί, i 162), once again indicating that the verb πύθω ‘rot’ is intimately connected with liquid and liquefaction. [40]
Elsewhere Kirke warns Odysseus about sailing too near to the Sirens in terms of the death and decay that await those who listen to their song.
Σειρῆνας μὲν πρῶτον ἀφίξεαι, αἵ ῥά τε πάντας
ἀνθρώπους θέλγουσιν, ὅ τίς σφεας εἰσαφίκηται.
ὅς τις ἀϊδρείῃ πελάσῃ καὶ φθόγγον ἀκούσῃ
Σειρήνων, τῷ δ’ οὔ τι γυνὴ καὶ νήπια τέκνα
οἴκαδε νοστήσαντι παρίσταται οὐδὲ γάνυνται,
ἀλλά τε Σειρῆνες λιγυρῇ θέλγουσιν ἀοιδῇ,
ἥμεναι ἐν λειμῶνι· πολὺς δ’ ἀμφ’ ὀστεόφιν θίς
ἀνδρῶν πυθομένων, περὶ δὲ ῥινοὶ μινύθουσιν.
First, you will reach the Sirens, who indeed always enchant
all men, whoever comes upon them.
Whoever without knowing draws near and listens to the voice
of the Sirens, for that man not at all do his wife and his helpless children
stand about him as he returns home nor are they gladdened by him,
but the Sirens enchant him with their high-pitched epic poetry,
while they sit on their meadow. And there is a great heap all about with the bones
of rotting men, and their skins shrink around them.
Odyssey xii 39–46
The Sirens’ song enchants men to stop their voyage and listen to their song, but the wait is deadly. Men perish, and the meadow all around the Sirens is littered with piles of the bones of their rotting corpses. Once again we find rotting connected with ὄστεα ‘bones’—here, a great pile of bones (πολὺς ... ὀστεόφιν θίς, xii 45). Further, Homer offers an image of human skin growing smaller in size (μινύθουσιν, xii 46); it is no longer big enough to cover the bones. The dead lack burial—they are lost to the world, forgotten and uncared for by loved ones, for their loved ones will no longer surround them and offer them care (τῷ δ’ οὔ τι ... παρίσταται, xii 43); they will no longer return home (τῷ δ’ οὔ τι ... οἴκαδε νοστήσαντι, xii 42–43).
In our last passage, Diomedes verbally attacks Paris who has just wounded him with an arrow in his foot. Diomedes claims that Paris’ arrow has only ‘scratched’ (ἐπιγράψας) his foot, whereas Diomedes’ spear kills a man outright:
καὶ εἴ κ’ ὀλίγον περ ἐπαύρῃ,
ὀξὺ βέλος πέλεται, καὶ ἀκήριον αἶψα τίθησι.
τοῦ δὲ γυναικὸς μέν τ’ ἀμφίδρυφοί εἰσι παρειαί,
παῖδες δ’ ὀρφανικοί· ὃ δέ θ’ αἵματι γαῖαν ἐρεύθων
πύθεται, οἰωνοὶ δὲ περὶ πλέες ἠὲ γυναῖκες.
even if it touches him only a little,
the missile is sharp, and at once renders him lifeless.
And the cheeks of his wife are torn on both sides in mourning,
and his children are orphans, and he, while reddening the earth with his blood,
putrefies, and there are more birds around him than women.
Iliad XI 391–395
Here Diomedes indicates a connection between the blood pouring from a lifeless body and the process of decay: here too we find a reference to liquid in the form of blood that reddens the earth (αἵματι γαῖαν ἐρεύθων, XI 394). As in the previous passage, rotting is connected with a lack of proper burial rites: instead of women standing around the body ready to care for the dead (περί, XI 395), there are vultures ready to devour his corpse (οἰωνοὶ δὲ περὶ πλέες, ΧΙ 395). [41]
The four Homeric uses of πύθω all point to the fear of the fate of the human body if left uncared for and unburied/unburned. The body ceases to be what it was—solid, supple, intact—and rots away into nothing but tatters of flesh, a meal for scavengers, and bones bleached white in the sun. I believe the emphasis on “purification” may be especially significant in this context, for, as I argue in chapter 4 above, the funeral rites performed for the dead—cremation followed by a secondary burial of the bones and the erection of a mound of earth (τύμβος) and gravemarker (στήλη)—are represented as a means by which to reduce the mortal part of man’s body into something more durable. The passages which describe the “putrefaction” of bones, then—the process of the corruption of bones as solid body itself molders and loses its physical rigidity, more liquid now than solid, or the shrinking of skin from around bones—points to the very fear of temporal vulnerability that underlies both the attempt to stabilize human remains through long-lasting architectural constructions and memorializing poetic compositions.

4. σκέλλω ‘to dry up’ [42]

The verb σκέλλω appears once in the Homeric corpus, when Homer describes how Apollo protects Hektor’s corpse from being ‘dried out’ by the sun by positioning a dark cloud overhead.
ὣς φάτ’ ἀπειλήσας· τὸν δ’ οὐ κύνες ἀμφεπένοντο,
ἀλλὰ κύνας μὲν ἄλαλκε Διὸς θυγάτηρ Ἀφροδίτη
ἤματα καὶ νύκτας, ῥοδόεντι δὲ χρῖεν ἐλαίῳ
ἀμβροσίῳ, ἵνα μή μιν ἀποδρύφοι ἑλκυστάζων.
τῷ δ’ ἐπὶ κυάνεον νέφος ἤγαγε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων
οὐρανόθεν πεδίον δέ, κάλυψε δὲ χῶρον ἅπαντα
ὅσσον ἐπεῖχε νέκυς, μὴ πρὶν μένος ἠελίοιο
σκήλει’ ἀμφὶ περὶ χρόα ἴνεσιν ἠδὲ μέλεσσιν.
Thus he spoke, threatening. But the dogs did not gather about him,
but rather Aphrodite, Zeus’ daughter, warded off the dogs
throughout days and nights, and she anointed him with a rosy,
ambrosial oil, so [Achilles] might not tear his flesh by continually dragging it.
And upon him Phoibos Apollo led a dark cloud
from heaven to the ground, and covered the entire space,
however much the corpse was taking up, lest too soon the might of the sun
might wither his flesh all around on his sinews and limbs.
Iliad XXIII 184–191
The verb takes as object Hektor’s χρόα ‘flesh’, and indicates how the force of the sun (μένος ἠελίοιο, XXIII 190), if not filtered by Apollo’s dark cloud (κυάνεον νέφος, XXIII 188), would dry out the body. Scholia A at Iliad XXIII 191b (Erbse) glosses Homer’s σκήλει(ε) as σκληροποιήσειεν ‘make hard, harden’. [43]
The passage indicates the fate of a body left unburied and lying in the sun. However, unlike πύθω (as we saw above), the verb σκέλλω does not speak of decay as a wet process, but rather as a dry process. Indeed, Apollo’s divine care preserves Hektor’s body such that both Hermes and Hecuba describe it as dewy fresh (ἐερσήεις, Iliad XXIV 419, 757). [44]

5. κάρφω ‘cause to shrivel up, dry out, parch’ [45]

The verb κάρφω appears twice in the thirteenth book of Homer’s Odyssey, both passages in which Athena disguises Odysseus so that he may return to Ithaca without being recognized by the suitors. In order that he not be recognized (ἄγνωστον, xiii 397), she ‘shrivels up’ his flesh:
ἀλλ’ ἄγε σ’ ἄγνωστον τεύξω πάντεσσι βροτοῖσι·
κάρψω μὲν χρόα καλὸν ἐνὶ γναμπτοῖσι μέλεσσι,
ξανθὰς δ’ ἐκ κεφαλῆς ὀλέσω τρίχας, ἀμφὶ δὲ λαῖφος
ἕσσω, ὅ κεν στυγέῃσιν ἰδὼν ἄνθρωπος ἔχοντα,
κνυζώσω δέ τοι ὄσσε πάρος περικαλλέ’ ἐόντε,
ὡς ἂν ἀεικέλιος πᾶσι μνηστῆρσι φανήῃς
σῇ τ’ ἀλόχῳ καὶ παιδί, τὸν ἐν μεγάροισιν ἔλειπες.
But come, let me make you unrecognizable to all mortals.
I will shrivel up the beautiful flesh upon your flexible limbs;
I’ll destroy the sandy hair on your head; and about you a tattered garment
I will dress, one which a man will loathe you when he sees you with it.
And I will dim your two eyes which were formerly very lovely,
so you will appear unprepossessing to all the suitors
and to your wife and child, whom you left behind in your palace.
Odyssey xiii 397–403
ὣς ἄρα μιν φαμένη ῥάβδῳ ἐπεμάσσατ’ Ἀθήνη.
κάρψε μέν οἱ χρόα καλὸν ἐνὶ γναμπτοῖσι μέλεσσι.
So speaking, with her wand Athena tapped him.
She shriveled up his beautiful flesh upon his flexible limbs.
Odyssey xiii 429–430
In both passages, Athena brings about, step by step, the physical degeneration of Odysseus’ body as if by old age. She causes Odysseus’ χρόα καλόν ‘beautiful flesh’ (xiii 398, 430) to shrivel up (κάρψω, xiii 398; κάρψε, xiii 430), she destroys (ὀλέσω, xiii 399) his ‘sandy hair’ (ξανθὰς... τρίχας, xiii 399), and she dims (κνυζώσω, xiii 401) his ‘eyes which were formerly very lovely’ (ὄσσε πάρος περικαλλέ’ ἐόντε, xiii 401). In each instance, Odysseus’ body, formerly beautiful and youthful, undergoes a magical process of instantaneous aging, so that he appears old and decrepit, “unrecognizable” to all mortals—even his own wife and child.
The sense of κάρφω as a drying agent is preserved in the ancient scholastic tradition. In his discussion of the verses of the Odyssey just cited, Eustathius writes,
κάρψαι δέ ἐστι τὸ ξηράναι καὶ συσπάσαι, ἐκ τοῦ κάρφω. ἀφ’ οὗ καὶ τὸ κάρφος. κάρφεται δὲ χροῦς ὁ τοῦ γέροντος, ὡς δηλοῖ τὸ, ἀμφὶ δὲ δέρμα πᾶσι μέλεσσι παλαιοῦ θῆκε γέροντος. ταυτὸν γὰρ εἰπεῖν κάρψε χρόα, καὶ δέρμα γέροντος ἔθετο.
‘κάρψαι’ is ‘to dry’ and ‘to shrivel’, from the verb κάρφω, from which is also the noun κάρφος ‘a dry thing’. κάρφεται is used of the flesh of an old man, as this verse makes clear, that “she placed the skin of an old man about all his limbs.” For κάρψε χρόα ‘she shriveled his flesh’ means the same thing as δέρμα γέροντος ἔθετο ‘she placed the skin of an old man upon him’.
Eustathius Commentarii ad Homeri Odysseam, ed. Stallbaum, II.54, 2–3
What is particularly interesting in Eustathius’ discussion is his emphasis on the association between “drying out” with old age itself in the passage from the Odyssey. Old age is essentially a “drying up” of youthful vitality, as though youthful vigor is itself a fluid that is evaporated by the withering effects of time and the continual exposure to drying agents, like the sun and the wind.
The verb κάρφω also appears in both Hesiod and Archilochus in passages describing the ‘shriveling up’ of χρώς ‘flesh’. These passages are instructive for our understanding of the semantics of κάρφω, so I include analysis of them here.
φεύγειν δὲ σκιεροὺς θώκους καὶ ἐπ’ ἠῶ κοῖτον
ὥρῃ ἐν ἀμήτου, ὅτε τ’ ἠέλιος χρόα κάρφει·
τημοῦτος σπεύδειν καὶ οἴκαδε καρπὸν ἀγινεῖν
ὄρθρου ἀνιστάμενος, ἵνα τοι βίος ἄρκιος εἴη.
But avoid shady seats and staying in bed until dawn
in the season of reaping, when the sun shrivels up the flesh.
At that time be serious and bring home the fruit
after waking up early, so that your livelihood may be sure.
Ηesiod Works and Days 574–577
Hesiod connects ‘shriveling’ with age of a different sort—namely, with the maturation of agricultural produce in the proper season. During the ‘season of reaping’ (ὥρῃ ἐν ἀμήτου, 575) when the fruit (καρπόν, 576) is ripe, the sun (ἠέλιος, 575) causes one’s flesh to shrivel up (χρόα κάρφει, 575), and so, Hesiod advises, one should begin work early. Hesiod may be suggesting an etymological connection between κάρφω and καρπός, perhaps implying that mortal flesh and vegetal matter are similar insofar as they both undergo processes of maturation and shrivel up once past their prime. [46]
In Archilochus fr. 188 W, the poet likewise indicates an association between ‘shriveling up’ and old age, and, like Hesiod, employs terms suggesting agriculture:
οὐκέθ’ ὁμῶς θάλλεις ἁπαλὸν χρόα κάρφεται γὰρ ἤδη
ὄγμος· κακοῦ δὲ γήραος καθαιρεῖ
. . . . . ] ἀ̣φ᾿ἱμερτοῦ δὲ θορὼν γλυκὺς ἵμερος π[ροσώπου . . . . . ]κ̣εν· ἦ γὰρ πολλὰ δή σ’ἐ̣πῆι̣ξεν
πνεύμ]α̣τα χειμερίων ἀνέμων, μ̣ά̣λ̣α̣ π̣ο̣λλάκις δ̣’ ε[

No longer as before does your tender flesh blossom; for already
your furrow [47] is shriveled up. The..... of evil old age
is destroying, and sweet desire rushing . . . . . from your desirable face.
Yes, for indeed many a blast of winters’ winds
has attacked you, and very often ...

Archilochus fr. 188 W
Archilochus speaks, presumably, to a woman whose ‘blossom’ of youth has begun to fade—the metaphorical use of θάλλεις ‘blossom, bloom’ and ὄγμος ‘furrow’, both terms properly belonging to agriculture, implies an association between “shriveling” and the natural vegetal cycle of growth followed by diminishment and decay. As Christopher Brown has argued,
The vegetative imagery implicit in ὄγμος [‘furrow’] is anticipated by the use of the verb θάλλω [‘blossom, flourish’], which suggests luxuriant, flourishing vegetation ... The reason for this loss of softness is explained in the γάρ-clause by an image that makes the more general point that the ὥρα [‘season’] has passed, that the fertile vigor of youth is drying up with the passage of time.
Brown 1995:33
Evil old age destroys youth and its attendant ‘sweet sexual desire’ (γλυκὺς ἵμερος). It shrivels the flesh (χρόα), once tender (ἁπαλόν). Old age dries up youth, like one blasted repeatedly by gusts of winter wind. In this context, I find very attractive Brown’s suggestion that the poem further suggests the passing of time through references to a cycle of seasons: “θάλλεις evokes spring, the parched furrow summer ... the loss of desire may imply autumn, and then there is a clear reference to the winter in [verse] 5” (Brown 1995:33n19). Although the fragmentary condition of the poem prevents this reading from being secure, it does not seem controversial to say that Archilochus here presents the human life in terms of a vegetative cycle in which a “springtime” of youthful, flourishing growth is followed by a “summertime” and “autumn” of the diminishment and drying out of age.
In an important article Steven Lowenstam (1979) argued that the primary sense of Greek θάλλω and its cognates (from Indo-European root *dhal-) is not specific to the vegetal or agricultural process of ‘blooming’ or ‘growing’, [48] but rather indicates a more general act of ‘spring[ing] forth or emerg[ing] with or from moisture’ (Lowenstam 1979:132, 135). I accept Lowenstam’s argument, but wish to note that the collocation of θάλλω with ὄγμος ‘furrow’ in Archilochus’ fragment points to a specifically “vegetal” sense of the verb in this context. I do find particularly significant Lowenstam’s finding that in those cases where θάλλω refers to plants, “there is an association, often explicit, always implicit, between water and a bush or tree which is healthy or growing” (Lowenstam 1979:131). In other words, there is a connection between growing, blooming, youth, and vitality with water or wetness. The corollary—that is, that withering, shriveling, old age, and dying are associated with dryness—is to be found precisely in the semantics of the use of κάρφω with its basic sense of drying out and causing to shrivel up. [49]

6. ἄζω ‘dry out, parch’ [50]

Besides κάρφω, we may compare ἄζω ‘dry out, parch’ which appears at Hesiod Theogony 99 in the context of a person’s life force being ‘dried out’ through tears and sorrow (ἄζηται κραδίην ἀκαχήμενος, ‘he dries out his heart with sorrow’). [51] The ‘drying out’ experienced in moments of duress recalls the Homeric usage discussed above of a person’s heart being ‘withered’ by grief (e.g. φθινύθεσκε φίλον κῆρ, Iliad I 491; ἤτοι ὁ τῆς ἀχέων φρένας ἔφθιεν, XVIII 446): one’s liquid vitality becomes sapped away, like a plant withering away. [52]
Hesiod uses the verb ἄζω again at Works and Days 578 to desribe the effect of the dog star Sirius on men as it ‘dries out their head and knees’ (ἐπεὶ κεφαλὴν καὶ γούνατα Σείριος ἄζει). The appearance of Sirius in the morning sky heralds a period of summer that offers dangers to the unwary farmer: the summer heat causes plants to wilt, men to grow weak, and women to become sexually aroused. Onians (1951) argued that drying out one’s ‘head and knees’ (κεφαλὴν καὶ γούνατα) suggests the weakening of the male’s sexual procreative capabilities, again as vital fluid leaves the body. [53]
A passage from the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite connects ‘drying’ (ἀζάνεσθαι) and ‘withering away’ (ἀμφιπεριφθινύθειν). Aphrodite discusses the life of the nymphs who will raise her son Aeneas, explaining that these creatures will perish when their trees dry up and wither away:
ἀλλ’ ὅτε κεν δὴ μοῖρα παρεστήκῃ θανάτοιο
ἀζάνεται μὲν πρῶτον ἐπὶ χθονὶ δένδρεα καλά,
φλοιὸς δ’ ἀμφιπεριφθινύθει, πίπτουσι δ’ ἄπ’ ὄζοι,
τῶν δέ χ’ ὁμοῦ ψυχὴ λείποι φάος ἠελίοιο.
But indeed whenever their fated death stands beside them,
first the beautiful trees dry out upon the ground,
and their bark withers away all around on either side, and their branches fall,
and at the same time their soul departs the light of the sun.
Hymn to Aphrodite 269–272
The nymphs who will raise Aeneas eat the ‘immortal food’ of the gods (ἄμβροτον εἶδαρ ἔδουσιν, 260), though are not themselves immortal; rather, they live for a long time (δηρὸν μὲν ζώουσι, 260)—as long as the trees that grow when they are born (264–265). But when these trees themselves ‘dry out’ (ἀζάνεται, 270) and their bark ‘withers away all around on either side’ (ἀμφιπεριφθινύθει, 271), then the nymphs themselves perish. We may compare a description of a fallen tree drying out as it lies by the bank of a river at Iliad IV 487 (ἡ μέν τ᾿ ἀζομένη κεῖται ποταμοῖο παρ᾿ ὄχθας) in a simile describing the warrior Simoeisios as he lies dead, cut down by Ajax.
The family of words related to ἄζω ‘dry out, parch’ includes the adjective ἀζαλέος ‘dry’, used to describe ‘a mountain’ (οὔρεος, Iliad XX 491); ‘wood’ (ὕλη, Odyssey ix 234); ‘a dry bull’s-hide’ (βῶν ἀζαλέην, Iliad VII 239). The substantive ἄζα ‘dryness, heat’ attested in Hellenistic poets is perhaps the same word found at Odyssey xxii 184 (ἄζῃ), traditionally interpreted as ‘mildew’ or ‘rust’. [54] In all these cases we may detect a temporal dimension as what was once vital, supple, and moist dries out and withers.


[ back ] 1. The ancient scholiasts noted the functional equivalence between σήπομαι ‘decay’, πύθομαι ‘rot’, and yet another verb, φθείρω ‘destroy’ (cognate with the Sanskrit root *kṣar-: cf. Burrow 1959a, 1959b, Chantraine 1968–1980:1198–1200, Frisk 1973–1979:II.1013–1014, s.v. φθείρω), and gloss one word with the other. See, for example, Scholia D at Iliad XI 395 (van Thiel), which glosses πύθεται· σήπεται. Likewise, Scholia T glosses the words as equivalent at Odyssey I 161; cf. Scholia D at Iliad XXIII 328 (van Thiel) which equates all the three verbs: καταπύθεται·, σήπεται, φθείρεται.
[ back ] 2. For discussions of the etymology and semantics of φθίω/φθίνω/φθινύθω, see Ebeling 1963:II.425–426, Pokorny 1959, s.v. ĝh /g h, Leumann 1950:212n4, Cunliffe 1963:408, Chantraine 1968–1980:1200–1201, Frisk 1973–1979:II.1014–1016, Liddell, Scott, and Jones 1996:1928–1929, s.v. φθινύθω, φθίνω, φθίω. On the cognate Sanskrit verbal root *kṣi-, see Pokorny 1959 and Burrow 1959a, 1959b. On the relationship between the variant forms φθῑνω and φθίνυθω, see Chantraine 1958:160 who notes that the two forms reflect an original *φθίνω. On the root *φθι- and decay in epic poetry, see Nagy 1974:229–261, esp. 240–255, 1999:174–189 (Ch. 10§1–19), and Bakker 2002.
[ back ] 3. On this point, see the discussion of πύθομαι below.
[ back ] 4. On the *mṛto- root, see my discussion in chapter 2 above (with bibliography); on the structural opposition between men’s “wretched” lives and gods’ “easy” and “blessed” lives, see my discussion in chapter 5 above (with citations).
[ back ] 5. ὅσσα τε φύλλα καὶ ἄνθεα γίνεται ὥρῃ ‘as many leaves and flowers are born in season’ (Iliad II 468).
[ back ] 6. Glaukos’ simile: ὅιη περ φύλλων γενεή, τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν. | φύλλα τὰ μέν τ᾿ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ’ ὕλη | τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ’ ἐπιγίνεται ὥρῃ ‘Just as the generations of leaves, so also are the generations of men. The wind sheds the leaves upon the ground, but the tree, ever burgeoning, makes them grow when spring comes in season’ (Iliad VI 146–148). On Mimnermus fr. 2, see Griffith 1975 and Bakker 2002.
[ back ] 7. In this context, it is useful to note that θυμός, regularly undersood as ‘life, spirit, passion’ in Homeric diction, is etymologically cognate with Latin fumus ‘smoke’ (cf. Sanskrit dhumá); in other words, θυμός indicates a connection between life and internal heat—the ‘fire in the belly’.
[ back ] 8. One may compare the story of how Apollo’s cattle in the Hymn to Hermes are designated as ἀδμῆτες (103), a word that, with its double sense of ‘unbroken by the plow’ as well as ‘not yet sexually penetrated’, suggests that the cattle do not engage in sexual reproduction and are fixed in number. However, by the end of the hymn, once Apollo and Hermes have exchanged their essential accoutrements of lyre and cattle, the cattle begin to reproduce sexually (490–494), as if through theft and commerce the herd has essentially moved from a divine space into a human one. On this reading, see especially Kahn 1978:48, and on ἀδμῆτες as indicating the status of the female parthenos as “not yet” sexually penetrated, see Bergren 1989:10.
[ back ] 9. Compare Hesiod Works and Days 705 in which marriage with a bad wife ὠμῷ γάραϊ δῶκεν ‘gives one over to raw old age’; the context of Hesiod’s use of the expression securely demonstrates the sense ‘premature, before its time’ for ὠμός. Contrast the adjective ὠμογέροντα at Iliad XXIII 791 which, in context, describes Odysseus as being ‘green for his age’—i.e., despite his age, he is nonetheless able to outrun Ajax and Antilochus in a footrace. For commentary on ὠμός, ὠμῷ γάραϊ, and ὠμογέροντα, see West 1978:329 (at Hesiod Works and Days 705), Hoekstra 1989:255 (at Odyssey xv 377), and Richardson 1993:257 (at Iliad XXIII 791). See further Scholia AbT at Iliad XXIII 791 (Erbse), a passage not mentioned in Richardson’s discussion, which glosses ὠμογέροντα ‘raw old man’ as τὸν μὴ καθηψημένον ὑπὸ τοῦ γήρως· ἡ δὲ μεταφορὰ ἀπὸ τῶν κρεῶν ‘the man who has not been softened (lit. ‘boiled down’) by old age; the metaphor derives from meats’. The suggestion that the description of Odysseus as essentially ‘still fresh’ for his age derives from a metaphorical usage of an adjective proper to describing cooking meat is suggestive, for it implies a similar effect of cooking time upon man and meat. For different use of ‘raw’ and ‘green’ to suggest not premature old age, but youthful vigor, see Virgil Aeneid 6.304 where Charon is described as iam senior, sed cruda deo viridisque senectus ‘already quite old, but for the god there is a raw and green old age’, and the imitation of this verse at Tacitus Agricola 29.4 quibus cruda et viridis senectus.
[ back ] 10. On the connection between Phthia and ‘decay’, compare Iliad XIX 322–323 in which Achilles speaks of the prospect of learning of the withering away of his father (εἴ κεν τοῦ πατρὸς ἀποφθιμένοιο πυθοίμην) who is still in Phthia, shedding tears for his absent son (ὅς που νῦν Φθίηφι τέρεν κατὰ δάκρυον εἴβει). See also XIX 329–330 for Achilles’ impossible wish that he alone would have perished in Troy (οἶον ἐμὲ φθείσεσθαι ... | αὐτοῦ ἐνὶ Τροίῃ, XIX 329–330) and that Patroklos could have returned to Phthia (σὲ δέ τε Φθίηνδε νέεσθαι, XIX 330). See further Nagy 1999:184–85 (Ch. 10§14) and Lynn-George 1988:155.
[ back ] 11. On the temporal experience of melancholia brought on by extreme grief, resulting in the physical loss of “drive, appetite, or sexuality,” see Fuchs 2005a:116–118.
[ back ] 12. Compare Odyssey xiv 90–95: ὅ τ’ οὐκ ἐθέλουσι δικαίως | μνᾶσθαι οὐδὲ νέεσθαι ἐπὶ σφέτερ’, ἀλλὰ ἕκηλοι | κτήματα δαρδάπτουσιν ὑπέρβιον, οὐδ’ ἔπι φειδώ. | ὅσσαι γὰρ νύκτες τε καὶ ἡμέραι ἐκ Διός εἰσιν, | οὔ ποθ’ ἓν ἱρεύουσ’ ἱερήϊον οὐδὲ δύ’ οἶα· | οἶνον δὲ φθινύθουσιν ὑπέρβιον ἐξαφύοντες ‘the fact that they [sc. the suitors] are not willing to make their suit decently, nor go home to their own houses, but at their ease they forcibly eat up his property, and spare nothing. For as many as the nights and the days from Zeus, on not one of these do they dedicate a single victim, nor only two, and they violently draw the wine and waste it away’.
[ back ] 13. The verb τρύχω ‘to wear away’ appears five times in the Odyssey: three times it refers to the suitors ‘wearing away’ Odysseus’/Telemachus’ οἶκος (i 248 = xvi 125, xix 133); once it refers to Telemachus himself as being ‘worn down’ by the suitors, essentially equating Telemachus with his household (i 288); and once it refers to Odysseus’ men who are ‘worn out’ with hunger (λιμῷ) on Thrinakia (x 177). Every instance of the verb in Homer, then, is associated with an act of eating that wastes away a household’s stores and by extension the livelihood of the owner of that household, or with a lack of eating that wastes away the body.
[ back ] 14. See my discussion of the decay of the Achaean ships and the disintegration of the Achaean resolve in chapter 1 above.
[ back ] 15. Compare Odyssey xi 182–183, xiii 337–338, and xvi 38–39 for Penelope’s wretched days and nights (ὀϊζυραί ... νύκτες τε και ἤματα) which waste away (φθίνουσιν) as she weeps (δάκρυ χεούσῃ).
[ back ] 16. The Greek words for moon (μήνη) and month (μήν) are cognate: cf. Chantraine 1968–1980:695–696, s.v. μήν.
[ back ] 17. Odyssey x 469–470 = xix 152–153 = xxiv 142–143.
[ back ] 18. Compare Odyssey xiii 337–338 and xvi 38–39.
[ back ] 19. Compare the description of the melancholic patient’s experience of time as analyzed in terms of phenomenological psychology: Straus 1960, 1966, Fuchs 2001a:183–184, 2001b:236–240, 2003:73, 2005a:110, 112–114, 117, 2005b:196–197, Wyllie 2005a:180–183.
[ back ] 20. Compare Iliad VI 32–33: λαοὶ μὲν φθινύθουσι περὶ πτόλιν αἰπύ τε τεῖχος | μαρνάμενοι. Death in battle is associated with ‘falling’ (πίπτειν), ‘corpses’ (νεκροί), ‘blood’ (αἷμα), and ‘death’ (φόνος): cf. XVII 360–365.
[ back ] 21. Compare Hektor’s reply to Andromache at VI 462–463: σοὶ δ’ αὖ νέον ἔσσεται ἄλγος | χήτεϊ τοιοῦδ’ ἀνδρὸς ἀμύνειν δούλιον ἦμαρ, ‘you will have a new grief, to be the widow of such a man as could fight back your day of slavery’.
[ back ] 22. See chapter 2 above (with bibliography) above on the representation of shame as devouring one’s body like dogs that feast upon the corpses of the dead. On the temporal experience of shame and the awareness of one’s own body as “corporeal,” see Fuchs 2001b and 2005a.
[ back ] 23. See Kirk 1985:152 for a useful discussion of Nestor’s speech here.
[ back ] 24. Chantraine 1968–1980:1200–1201.
[ back ] 25. The line-final formulaic ἄφθιτον / ἄφθιτα αἰεί # appears four times in the Iliad: II 46, 186, XIV 238, XIII 22. For different metrical positions of ἄφθιτος in Homeric epic, see Iliad XVIII 369–371: Ἡφαίστου δ’ ἵκανε δόμον Θέτις ἀργυρόπεζα | ἄφθιτον ἀστερόεντα μεταπρεπέ’ ἀθανάτοισι | χάλκεον, ὅν ῥ’ αὐτὸς ποιήσατο κυλλοποδίων, “Thetis of the silver feet arrived at Hephaistos’ house, unwithered, starry, shining among the immortals, made of bronze, which the club-footed god himself made”; and V 274–275: τῶν ἤτοι χρυσέη ἴτυς ἄφθιτος, αὐτὰρ ὕπερθεν | χάλκε’ ὀπίσσωτρα προσαρηρότα, θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι, “In truth, the rim of them [i.e., the wheels of Hera’s chariot] is unwithered gold, but upon it are fitted bronze tires, a wonder to behold.”
[ back ] 26. In the nine uses of the adjective ἀστερόεις ‘starry’ in the Iliad (IV 44, V 769 = VIII 46, VI 108, XV 371, XVI 134, XVIII 370, XIX 128, 130), four in the Odyssey (ix 527, xi 17, xii 380, xx 113), and three in the Homeric Hymns (Hymn to Demeter 33, Homeric Hymn 30.17, Homeric Hymn 31.3), the adjective is regularly used in the line-final formulaic οὐρανὸν ἀστερόεντα (2x Il., 3x Od., 1x h. Hom.) preceeded by εἰς or καί, but flexible enough to work in the genitive (οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος, 4x Il., 1x Od., 2x h. Hom.) and dative (οὐρανῷ ἀστερόεντι, 1x Il.). Only twice does the adjective modify something other than οὐρανός ‘heaven’: at Iliad XVIII 370 Hephaistos’ δόμος ‘home’ is said to be ‘starry’, and at Iliad XVI 134, Peleus’ armor is called ‘starry’ as Patroklos puts it on to go into battle. Peleus’ armor was a gift from the gods (cf. XVII 194–198, XVIII 84–85) presented on the day he married the goddess Thetis, and said to be the craftsmanship of Hephaistos (cf. Paton 1912:1 with n. 2, citing Eustathius). In short, then, the adjective ‘starry’, applied only to the heavens themselves and twice to works of Hephaistos’ craftsmanship, helps to define the long-lasting (ἄφθιτον, ἄμβροτα) quality of divine craft.
[ back ] 27. Nagy 1974:Appendix A provides a different interpretation, suggesting the phrase Ζεὺς ἄφθιτα μήδεα εἰδώς indicates ‘Zeus’ unfailing genitals’. In other words, the tradition is here evaluating Zeus’ own sexual productivity in terms of an unfailing stream.
[ back ] 28. For κλέος ἄφθιτον outside of Homer, see Hesiod fr. 70 M-W, Sappho fr. 44.4 L-P, Ibycus fr. 151.47–48 PMG, and Theognis fr. 245 W, with discussion by Floyd 1980 on these post-Homeric uses of the phrase. It cannot be determined whether these uses are “borrowings” of Homer or an epic tradition, or independent uses of the phrase within non-epic poetic genres.
[ back ] 29. See Nagy 1974 (following Kuhn, who identified an equivalent of the “formula” κλέος ἄφθιτον in the Vedic śrávaḥ ... ákṣitam) on κλέος ἄφθιτον as an Indo-European formula, such that the other uses outside of Homer are explained by the common tradition and not by any specific contact or knowledge of the Homeric epics. See also Schmidt 1967:61–102, esp. 61–70, Watkins 1995:173–178, and West 2007:396–410 on the theme of “undying fame” in Indo-European poetry. Finkelberg (1986) argued to the contrary that κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται is not a proper “formula” nor an Indo-European borrowing, but an “ad hoc innovation” by the poet (5) based on two established formulae: κλέος οὔποτ᾿ ὀλεῖται # (3x), and u u ἄφθιτον αἰεί # (4x) (Finkelberg 1986:4–5, 2007:344–349). Finkelberg’s arguments have been accepted by Olson 1995:224–227, but effectively refuted by A. Edwards 1988, Nagy 1990a:122n3, 1990b:244n126, and, most recently, Volk 2002—although see Finkelberg 2007 for a strengthened restatement of her 1986 article. Finkelberg 1986, 2007 and Volk 2002 provide citations of earlier literature on the topic. Important also is Risch’s demonstration of compound names in -kleos in Linear B, including perhaps a shortened form of *Ak w hthitoklewejja, which Risch understands as a compound of ἄφθιτον and κλέος (Risch 1987:10–11): here we perhaps have another attestation of kleos aphthiton attested in Mycenaean Greek, suggesting the continuity of a traditional Indo-European heroic epic. On “heroic fame” in Near Eastern poetry, see West 1997:514–515.
[ back ] 30. See the seminal discussion of Agamemnon’s σκῆπτρον and its characterization as ἄφθιτον in Nagy 1999:179–180 (Ch. 10§8).
[ back ] 31. Compare Floyd 1980, arguing that the objects modified by the compound adjectival root *a-kṣi- in Sanskrit (cognate with Greek *ἀ-φθι-) do not in fact appear to be ‘everlasting’. See further Nagy’s reply (1981).
[ back ] 32. See Ebeling 1963:II.275, s.v. σήπω (‘putrefacio’), Frisk 1973–1979:II.696–697 (‘verfaulen, faul werden’; Akt. ‘faulen machen’), Chantraine 1968–1980:998–99 (‘être pourri, corrompu’), and Liddell, Scott, and Jones 1996:1594. The etymology of this verb is obscure.
[ back ] 33. See my discussion at chapter 2 above.
[ back ] 34. See my discussion at chapter 2 above.
[ back ] 35. See Ebeling 1963:II.248, Pokorny 1959, s.v. -/peṷə-, Frisk 1973–1979:II.621–622, Chantraine 1968–1980:952–953, Cunliffe 1963:352, Liddell, Scott, and Jones 1996:1551–1552, s.v. πύθομαι.
[ back ] 36. I translate ἀτελευτήτῳ ἐπὶ ἔργῳ following Cunliffe 1963:143, s.v. ἐπί II (f).
[ back ] 37. For Hades described as εὐρώεις ‘moldy, full of decay’, see Iliad XX 65, Odyssey x 512, xxiii 322, xxiv 10, Hesiod Works and Days 153. For Tartaros described as εὐρώεις ‘moldy, full of decay’, see Hesiod Theogony 731, 739 = 810, with commentary by West 1966:361, noting the underworld “as a place of physical decay.” Compare Odyssey xxiv 10 for the ‘moldy path’ (εὐρώεντα κέλευθα), a euphemism for death, and Hymn to Demeter 482 ‘under the dank darkness’ (ὑπὸ ζόφῳ εὐρώεντι). See further Chantraine 1968–1980:388, s.v. εὐρώς, and Liddell, Scott, and Jones 1996:731, s.v. εὐρώεις. Edwards 1991:295 (at Iliad XX 65–66) notes that “εὐρώεις (etc.) is used in archaic epic only of the Underworld”; Heubeck 1989:70 (at Odyssey x 512) glosses εὐρώεντα as ‘abounding in mold, decay’.
[ back ] 38. For Tartaros described as ἠερόεις ‘misty’, see Iliad VIII 13, Hesiod Theogony 119. Compare Iliad XV 191 for the ‘gloominess of the underworld’ (ζόφος); Odyssey xx 64 for the ‘misty path’ (ἠερόεντα κέλευθα), a euphemism for death. See Chantraine 1968–1980:26–27, s.v. ἀήρ, Liddell, Scott, and Jones 1996:766, s.v. ἠερόεις.
[ back ] 39. Consider the Scholia vetera to Hesiod Works and Days 782a2–3 (Pertusi) which explains that ‘The sixteenth day of the month is not favorable for plants, for the light of the moon, since it is warm, is septic [i.e., causes them to rot]’ (ἡ ἑκκαιδεκάτη οὐκ ἐπιτηδεία τοῖς φυτοῖς· τὸ γὰρ τῆς σελήνης φῶς χλιαρὸν ὂν σηπτικόν ἐστι). The combination of warmth and dampness proves destructive for organic bodies.
[ back ] 40. Compare Hesiod Works and Days for the advice that during the rainy winter, one should haul a ship onto dry land (νῆα δ’ ἐπ ᾿ ἠπείρου ἐρύσαι, 624) and draw out the ship’s bilge plug (χείμαρον ἐξερύσας, 626) so that rain doesn’t cause it to putrefy (ἵνα μὴ πύθῃ Διὸς ὄμβρος, 626).
[ back ] 41. See Vermeule 1979:103–109 with figures 21–23 on the Iliadic imagery of birds and dogs devouring dead, unburied men.
[ back ] 42. See Ebeling 1963:II.280, Liddell, Scott, and Jones 1996:1606, s.v. σκέλλω, Frisk 1973–1979:II.722–723, Chantraine 1968–1980:1012–1013, s.v. σκέλλομαι. Compare ἐνσκέλλω ‘to dry or wither up’ used of wood/timber (‘to be dry, seasoned’) by Apollonius of Rhodes Argonautica III 1251. See Liddell, Scott, and Jones 1996:573, s.v. ἐνσκέλλω for further citations.
[ back ] 43. See see Liddell, Scott, and Jones 1996:1612, s.v. σκληροποιέω. Similarly, Scholia D at Iliad XXIII 191: σκήλῃ· σκληρύνῃ. ξηράνῃ, ὅθεν καὶ σκελετὸς ὁ ξηρός ‘Make hard. Parch, from which also the word σκελετός ‘dried up’’. Compare Hesychius: σκελοῦνται· σκελετισθήσονται. Note that Apollonius of Rhodes follows Homer in using σκέλλω to describe the ‘drying’ of human flesh (χρὼς | ἐσκλήκει, Argonautica II 200–201) when he describes how Phineus, worn down and trembling in his limbs from old age (τρέμε δ’ ἅψεα νισσομένοιο | ἀδρανίῃ γήραι τε, II 199–200), makes his way on withered feet (ῥικνοῖς ποσὶν, II 198) to Jason and the Argonauts to request aid against the Harpies who continually snatch away and befoul his food.
[ back ] 44. The dew on Hektor’s body accords with the cloud cover provided by Apollo to safeguard the body from decay (XXIII 184–191), as noted by Richardson (1993:315). ‘Dewy’ is also used to describe the λωτός flower that springs up beneath Zeus as he, bewitched by Aphrodite’s zōnē, takes Hera in his arms and covers the two of them with a golden cloud raining dew on the grass below (XIV 346–351). See my discussion at chapter 2 above.
[ back ] 45. See Ebeling 1963:I.657, Frisk 1973–1979:I.795, Chantraine 1968–1980:501–502, and Liddell, Scott, and Jones 1996:881, s.v. κάρφω.
[ back ] 46. Ebeling 1963:I.657 suggests a connection between κάρφω and καρπός, identifying them as both from a root *καρπ- and compares the Latin carpere ‘to pluck, harvest’, though neither Chantraine (1968–1980) nor Frisk (1973–1979) draw a connection between the terms. Even if κάρφω and καρπός are not etymologically related, it may well be the case that Hesiod suggests a connection with them here by folk-etymology, such as that offered by Eustathius Commentarii ad Homeri Odysseam (Stallbaum), II.54, 10–11: δοκεῖ δὲ τοῦ κάρφω μέσος παρακείμενος εἶναι κέκαρπα, καὶ ἐξ αὐτοῦ καρπὸς, ὡς οἱ παλαιοί φασι καὶ αὐτό, ‘it seems that the root (μέσος) of the verb κάρφω (‘to cause to shrivel’) is closely connected with κέκαρπα (‘I have produced fruit’), and from it comes καρπός (‘fruit’), as the ancients say it also.”
[ back ] 47. I read ὄγμος in verse 2 instead of Snell’s conjectured ὄγμοις (Snell 1944). Brown and Gerber (1993) (cf. further Brown 1995, Gerber 1999) have argued convincingly (pace Slings 1995, cf. Bremer, van Erp Taalman Kip, and Slings 1987) that ὄγμος here refers to the ‘sexual vitality of youth’ (Gerber 1999:203)—or more specifically, to a ‘woman’s procreative capability’, which is said to be ‘drying up’ (Brown and Gerber 1993:196). In other words, κάρφεται ... ὄγμος provides “a powerful image for fading sexual allure and diminishing fertility” (Brown 1995:34).
[ back ] 48. Lowenstam 1979, pace Pokorny 1959:234, Frisk 1973–1979:I.649, and Chantraine 1968–1980:420.
[ back ] 49. On the association between life, youth, and vitality with liquid, and old age, decrepitude, and death with dryness, see Onians 1951:200–228 with bibliography and extensive citations of Greek and Roman literature.
[ back ] 50. On ἄζω, see Pokorny 1959, s.v. *ăs- ‘brennen, glühen’, and *azd- ‘dörre, trocke’; according to Frisk (1973–1979:I.25–26, s.v. ἄζω) the nearest cognates are the Old Polish ozd ‘dried malt’, Slovenian ozdíti ‘to dry malt’. Benveniste (1955:39) suggests a connection between ἄζω and Hittite verb ḫāt- ‘dry’, with its present tense ḫāteš- ‘dry out’ and ḫātnu- ‘cause to dry out, wither’. Beekes (2010:I.26–27) posits an Indo-European root *h 2 ed-ie/o- based on the apparent Hittite cognates, but notes a possible “extension of the same root” in *h 2 eh 1 s-, apparently the root of Latin āreō ‘to be dry’, āra ‘altar’ (āsa in old Latin), and Hittite ḫašša- ‘hearth’, and perhaps Sanskrit āsa ‘ashes, dust’.
[ back ] 51. The ancient scholia at Theogony 99 glosses the passage: ἀναξηραίνει γὰρ ἡ λύπη, ὅθεν καὶ ἄϋπνον τίθησι, ‘Pain dries out, because it makes one sleepless’. Indeed, the scholiast at Iliad XIV 253, explaining why sleep is described as being ‘poured’ around someone (ἀμφιχυθείς), notes that ‘sleep is wet’ (ὑγρὸς γὰρ ὁ ὕπνος); the implication is that those worries that prevent one from sleeping would have a drying effect. See West 1966:187–188 for discussion and further citations connecting pain with dryness (e.g. ξηρόν … λύπαις at Euripides Electra 239–240).
[ back ] 52. See Onians 1951:48, “When a man is in trouble or pines away, he may be said to ‘melt’, ‘dissolve’ (τήκειν) his θυμός, or to ‘waste it away’ (ἀποφθινύθειν) … Elsewhere in similar circumstances the organs of consciousness, the heart or the lungs (φρένες) that contain the θμνός, are said to be ‘eaten’ or ‘wasted’ (‘diminished’).”
[ back ] 53. Onians 1951:175–186, esp. 177–178. See West 1978:305 for further bibliography.
[ back ] 54. Chantraine 1968–1980:25, s.v. ἄζομαι, notes “Il s’agit probablement de poussière et peut-être de cuir desséché et racorni” [“This is probably dust and perhaps shriveled leather”]. Compare Scholia HQ at Odyssey xxii 184: πεπαλαγμένον ἄζῃ· μεμολυσμένον τῇ ξηρότητι, ‘it has become stained with dryness’.