Chapter 4. Memorials, Tombs, and the γέρας θανόντων: The (Im)Permanence of Mortuary Architecture in the Iliad

What is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter? ... say a “grave-maker”: the house that he makes lasts till doomsday.
—Shakespeare Hamlet V, i.41–59
Physical objects play an important role in determining the narrative temporality of the Iliad. For instance, the wooden timbers of the Achaean ships slowly rotting on Trojan shores, the bodies of Sarpedon, Patroklos, and Hektor in danger of decaying and requiring divine preservatives (ambrosia and nektar) until they can be offered funeral rites, and the defensive walls of the Greeks and Trojans are all invested with a certain degree of temporal durability within the epic. Each object, whether made of flesh, wood, or stone, has an inherent lifespan which cannot be exceeded; it undergoes a natural process of degradation. Wood and flesh rot; architectural constructions and human bodies weaken at the joints and finally disintegrate. The rate of this decay marks time, and the objects themselves function like windows to the past and future. [1]
In this chapter, I discuss a particular set of objects that also participates in this cycle of temporal durability—the burial mounds (τύμβοι) and grave markers (σήματα) that dot the Trojan landscape. Troy abounds with markers of its former rulers—Ilos, Dardanus, and Aisuetes—which feature as landmarks and give shape and meaning to the space in which they are situated. These examples of mortuary architecture indicate the past within the present, as the traces of the dead still exist among and for the living. In a very tangible way tombs contribute to the epic project of preserving the kleos of the dead. The tomb offers a visual counterpart of the verbal account of epic poetry; the two supplement each other in the common cause of remembering the deeds of men.
And yet, this very intersection between tombs and epic helps reveal the temporal nature of poetic kleos itself. For, as the Iliad demonstrates, tombs, though made to be long-lasting and stable reminders of the fallen, are every bit as mortal as the human bodies they cover. Tombs fade over time; they can be worn down by time or torn down by human hands; and eventually, they will be forgotten and become indistinguishable from the land itself. What is implicit in this slow disintegration of the physical monument is the concurrent demise of its verbal counterpart, epic poetry.
My argument in this chapter is broadly similar to Andrew Ford’s analysis of physical objects in the Iliad in his perceptive Homer: The Poetry of the Past (Ford 1992:131–146). We are both concerned with the status of sēmata in the Homeric poems, both adduce much of the same textual evidence, and both find that commemorative architecture is represented in the Iliad as temporary. However, we differ in aim; Ford uses the impermanence of physical signs as evidence for a general theory that Homer—the poet coming at the end of the oral and beginning of the textual tradition of the Iliad and the Odyssey [2] —felt a genuine distrust for the commemorative powers of writing. [3] Hence, Ford privileges the kleos aphthiton of the oral tradition above any and all physical manifestations of that kleos, such as a warrior’s τύμβος and στήλη. In contrast, it is my contention that the Iliad conceives of even oral kleos aphthiton as a kind of “mortal” architecture. As tombs and grave markers, the material counterpart of kleos aphthiton, eventually fade, so too is the epic itself temporally conditioned. The adjective aphthiton designates a temporality which does not last ‘forever’ but rather endures a temporally bound though indefinite period; aphthiton specifies the temporality of the “not yet decayed.”
The Iliad represents the tomb as an object fated to suffer the ravages of time and as a figure for its own status as verbal monument. Like the wood, flesh, and stone noted above, these graves and their markers are presented as mortal objects within the narrative so as to indicate the mortal temporality the epic lays claim to for itself. Towards this end, we will begin by looking at the ritual practices associated with burial and tombstones, namely the γέρας θανόντων ‘the honorable portion due to the dead’ which consists of rites and practices designed to achieve a more permanent status for the mortal body of the hero. As we progress, it will become apparent how the construction of the tomb is an extension of the funerary ritual, for both function to preserve the physical remains and the memory of the fallen. Then we will turn our attention to those passages within the Iliad that posit a problematic permanence for sēmata and the kleos of heroes.

1. Burial rites, purifying fire, and the state of mortal permanence

In the sixteenth book of the Iliad, as Zeus contemplates rescuing his son Sarpedon from his appointed death, Hera dissuades him by saying that it would be a violation of natural law to do so. Instead, she consoles, he should allow Sarpedon to die and be carried off by the gods Sleep and Death to his home in Lycia,
ἔνθά ἑ ταρχύσουσι κασίγνατοί τε ἔται τε
τύμβῳ τε στήλῃ τε· τὸ γὰρ γέρας ἐστὶ θανόντων.
where his brothers and countrymen will perform burial rites for him
with both tomb and gravestone—for this is the honorable portion due to the dead.
Iliad XVI 456–457 = XVI 674–675
I isolate the phrase γέρας θανόντων ‘the honorable portion due to the dead’ because of its implication that certain activities performed for the dead fall within the nexus of obligations implied by the Homeric term γέρας.
The Greek noun γέρας, appearing already in Mycenaean Linear B, [4] appears related to γῆρας ‘old age’ and γέρων ‘old man’, but achieved independence of its linguistic roots early in its history. [5] Literally, geras is that which is due to a person in respect to his age, but comes to designate a gift, service, or reward given as an index of one’s social status. Geras is a key term in the social contexts: meat is divided (δαίομαι ‘to divide’) for the feast (δαίς ‘a feast’, a nominal derivative from the verbal root of δαίομαι) and apportioned to each member of the feast as a γέρας—the cut and amount of meat is a manifest token of the feaster’s public value. [6] As such, one’s γέρας is the physical manifestation of his or her τιμή, the term that designates the degree of esteem and value a person has in the eyes of his or her peers, and correspondingly, the self-image one possesses from how he or she is treated by others. [7] It is Agamemnon’s act of dishonorable distribution, taking Achilles’ γέρας—the girl Briseïs—for himself, which precipitates Achilles’ withdrawal from battle and the destruction of so many Achaean fighters.
Social worth must be scrupulously respected in the distribution of gifts, services, and rewards, since violations in distribution entail disastrous consequences. [8] Appropriate honors must be accorded to a hero even in death—proper treatment of the hero’s corpse is first and foremost among the services that must be rendered to the dead. The failure to provide such γέρας for the dead results in shame for the living, as Sarpedon warns his compatriot Glaukos in his dying moment:
σοὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ καὶ ἔπειτα κατηφείη καὶ ὄνειδος
ἔσσομαι ἤματα πάντα διαμπερές, εἴ κέ μ’ Ἀχαιοὶ
τεύχεα συλήσωσι νεῶν ἐν ἀγῶνι πεσόντα.
ἀλλ’ ἔχεο κρατερῶς, ὄτρυνε δὲ λαὸν ἅπαντα.
For I will be a cause of shame and reproach even for you hereafter
for all days continuously, if the Achaeans ever
strip me of my armor now that I have fallen in the gathering of the ships.
But hold on strongly, and stir up all our people.
Iliad XVI 498–501
If Glaukos abandons his friend Sarpedon and allows the Achaeans to strip him of his armor and to deny him cremation and burial rites, [9] he will suffer shame and reproach, two terms designating the inner dynamics of blame poetry, the doublet of Homeric epos. As Marcel Detienne (1996) and Gregory Nagy (1999) have demonstrated, blame poetry is the functional opposite of epic praise; it shrouds its subject in darkness and forgetfulness, casting its subject into oblivion, devouring him like the dogs that feast upon the unburied corpses of the dead. [10] The blame for failing to protect Sarpedon’s corpse will itself dog Glaukos ‘for all days, continuously’ (ἤματα πάντα διαμπερές, XVI 499), functioning as the negative equivalent of Achilles’ ‘unwithered fame’ (κλέος ἄφθιτον, IX 413). The connection between blame and the failure to protect a comrade’s corpse from disgrace is proved by the identical collocation of terms in a passage where Menelaus speaks to himself of the blame he will incur if he fails to defend the fallen fighter Patroklos:
σοὶ μὲν δὴ Μενέλαε κατηφείη καὶ ὄνειδος
ἔσσεται εἴ κ’ Ἀχιλῆος ἀγαυοῦ πιστὸν ἑταῖρον
τείχει ὕπο Τρώων ταχέες κύνες ἑλκήσουσιν.
ἀλλ’ ἔχεο κρατερῶς, ὄτρυνε δὲ λαὸν ἅπαντα.
For you indeed, Menelaus, this will be a cause of shame and reproach
if ever the swift dogs drag the trustworthy companion
of haughty Achilles beneath the walls of Troy.
But hold on strongly, and stir up all our people.
Iliad XVII 556–559
The formulaic repetitions (σοὶ ... κατηφείη καὶ ὄνειδος | ἔσσεται, XVI 498, cf. XVII 556; ἀλλ’ ἔχεο κρατερῶς, ὄτρυνε δὲ λαὸν ἅπαντα, XVI 501 = XVII 559) in an analogous situation—namely that a hero must defend the corpse of a companion from the opposing army—indicates the necessity implicit in carrying out those activities which constitute the γέρας θανόντων, the rites and practices due to the dead as an indication of their status. Further, the image of Patroklos torn apart by dogs is a concrete image of the blame Menelaus will suffer, as reproach will figuratively bite and devour him. That is to say, the fate of the hero’s body has repercussions on the honor of his surviving philoi: the destruction of the hero’s physical body is intimately tied with the metaphorical devouring of the social body of his philoi.
Besides the passages referring to the rites due to Sarpedon, the term γέρας appears four more times in Homer in association with what is due to the dead. [11] First, it is used to describe the procession of Myrmidons with their horses and chariots during Patroklos’ funeral (XXIII 9). In the fourth book of the Odyssey, Pisistratus calls the practice of cutting one’s hair in mourning and shedding tears “the γέρας for miserable mortals” (iv 197–198). [12] Toward the end of the Odyssey, the souls of the dead suitors complain that their bodies have been left unburied, and that since their friends do not know about their death, they cannot clean their wounds, lay out their bodies, and bury them, “which is the γέρας of the dead” (xxiv 190). And finally, Laertes, thinking his son Odysseus is dead, laments that he did not have the chance to close his son’s eyes in death—an action which he calls the γέρας of the dead (xxiv 292–296). These passages do not describe any single activity that might be considered the γέρας θανοντῶν, but rather point to an entire range of activities that are performed as part of the funeral rituals for the fallen hero. The range of activities listed above is confirmed in the descriptions of the funerals of the principal characters in the Iliad: Patroklos (funeral: XXIII 108–227; games: XXIII 229–897), Hektor (funeral: XXIV 719–804), and Achilles, whose funeral is described at length in the Odyssey (funeral: xxiv 43–84; games: xxiv 85–93). [13] These passages describe how the hero’s body is washed and anointed (Patroklos, Hektor, Achilles); the dead man is lamented (Patroklos, Hektor, Achilles); participants cut their hair in sign of mourning (Patroklos, Achilles); the corpse is circled by a procession of armed warriors (Patroklos, Achilles); sheep and cattle are slaughtered over the pyre (Patroklos, Achilles); honey and oil are placed in jars around the pyre (Patroklos, Achilles); the pyre’s flames are quenched with wine (Patroklos, Hektor); the cremated remains are placed in a golden urn which is then buried (Patroklos, Hektor, Achilles); and the rite is accompanied by a banquet (Patroklos, Hektor) and celebratory games (Patroklos, Achilles). [14]
One feature not overtly mentioned in the list of actions judged part of what is due to the dead but assumed within the entire ritual is the cremation of the corpse. Cremation is the sine qua non of Homeric funerary ritual. Even Homer’s use of the Greek verb θάπτω ‘to bury’, which would seem to imply inhumation, in fact is always used in contexts in which the hero’s body is cremated (Mylonas 1948:62, Garland 1982:73, 2001:34–37). For instance, Patroklos’ ghost visits Achilles to request a speedy burial once he has been cremated: “Bury me (θάπτέ με) as quickly as possible, that I may pass through the gates of Hades ... no longer will I come back from Hades, once you give me my allotment of fire (ἐπήν με πυρὸς λελάχητε)” (XXIII 71, 75–76). [15] The act of offering the dead ‘his share of fire’ is a clear euphemism for cremation. [16] In the Odyssey, the ghost of Elpenor—who, like Patroklos, had not yet been buried—approaches Odysseus and begs Odysseus not to leave him “unburied,” but to “burn” him:
μή μ’ ἄκλαυτον ἄθαπτον ἰὼν ὄπιθεν καταλείπειν
νοσφισθείς, μή τοί τι θεῶν μήνιμα γένωμαι,
ἀλλά με κακκῆαι.
Don’t leave me behind you unwept, unburied, as you go
after you’ve turned away, lest for you I become some source of the gods’ anger,
but rather, burn me up completely.
Odyssey xi 72–74
The scene with its collocation of ἄθαπτον ‘unburied, not yet buried’ (xi 72) and κακκῆαι ‘burn’ (xi 74) blurs the distinction between burial and cremation. We must conclude that in Homer, the verb θάπτω indicates burial as part of a tradition of a funeral ritual in which the deceased is mourned, cremated, and the remains are then interred. [17]
In Greek epic poetry, cremation followed by burial represents the normal custom; any deviation from that norm is marked as such. For instance, the now fragmentary epic cycle poem The Little Iliad, according to Porphyry’s epitome, described how the Achaean warrior Ajax was not cremated according to the standard epic custom, but was simply buried:
ὁ τὴν μικρὰν Ἰλιάδα γράψας ἱστορεῖ μηδὲ καυθῆναι συνήθως τὸν Αἴαντα, τεθῆναι δὲ οὕτως ἐν σορῷ διὰ τὴν ὀργὴν τοῦ βασιλέως.
The [poet] who wrote the “Little Iliad” narrated that Ajax was not burned in the usual way, but was simply placed in a coffin because of the anger of the king.
Little Iliad fr. 3, Davies 1988:54 = Bernabé 1987:77
The myth, as preserved by fragments of The Little Iliad, Sophocles’ Ajax, and ps.-Apollodorus’ Library (5.7), explain how Ajax flew into a blind rage at being judged second to Odysseus during the funeral games held in celebration of Achilles’ death; Ajax went mad and attacked the Achaeans’ sheep and cattle, mistaking them for the Achaean leaders. When he came to his senses, he was so ashamed that he threw himself on his own sword. Ajax’ funeral, specifically noted as unusual (μηδὲ ... συνήθως), seems to be due to Agamemnon’s anger at Ajax’ behavior. [18] The norm is here subverted, and Ajax’ body is treated as a special case.
It is my claim that the funerary rituals described in the Iliad and Odyssey, those performed as the γέρας θανοντῶν, operate within the general economy of permanence and decay. Ritual cremation aims to reduce the corpse of the hero to a more permanent form; it burns away the flesh to leave the relatively more stable bones, which are in turn covered with still more permanent structures of earth and stone: the τύμβος and στήλη. [19] To analyze the body’s role in this process, it is most convenient to digress briefly to the work of the French anthropologist Robert Hertz (1960) and his work on the social dimensions of burial practices. Hertz’ theory of the function of burial has been adopted by recent and influential scholars in anthropology, archaeology, and cultural anthropology: in particular, Maurice Bloch (1982), Sally Humphreys (1981), and Jean-Pierre Vernant (1981).
In his seminal work on burial practices among the people of Borneo, Hertz identified two distinct stages of the burial process. First, after the death of the individual, the corpse is deposited in a temporary burial situation for a length of time. [20] The corpse is left to decompose for a given time, spanning from the usual period of two years to an exceptional one-hundred years in the case of certain chieftains (Hertz 1960:31, 118n18). Hertz interprets the process of decomposition as a kind of “purification”—“it is only when the decomposition of the corpse is completed that the newcomer among the dead is thought to be rid of his impurity and deemed worthy of admittance to the company of his ancestors” (35). Once the flesh has entirely decayed and left behind a bare skeleton, the remains are exhumed and transferred from their isolated spot to a communal burial site, which is seen as the symbolic reintegration of the dead with his or her ancestors (53–55). Once established within the communal burial grounds, the person essentially ceases to be an individual, becoming instead one of the beneficent “ancestors.” [21]
Hertz distinguishes, therefore, two different stages in the burial process: a primary and secondary burial. The purpose of the primary burial appears to be the “purification” of the corpse by setting it aside and allowing time for the flesh to decay completely from the bones. The secondary burial, then, entails moving the “purified” bones to a centralized location where they will be placed alongside the bones of the ancestors. French anthropologist Arnold van Gennep saw this phenomenon of secondary burial as evidence of a structural binary distinction between two social classes (alive, dead) with an intermediary “liminal” phase (dying); the movement between classes across the liminal phase constitutes a “rite of passage” (Van Gennep 1960, Huntington and Metcalf 1991:29–37). According to van Gennep, mortuary practices universally treat the dying man as undergoing a transformation from living to dead, between which the person is dying. Applying the model to Hertz’s primary and secondary burial produces some startling insights, including the observation that while a corpse’s flesh is left to decay, he or she is in a sense not yet dead, but still dying; death represents the more stable status of secondary burial when the bones are enshrined in a more permanent repository.
Van Gennep’s model was taken up in a modified form by Richard Huntington and Peter Metcalf, who emphasize the role of van Gennep’s “liminal” phase. They recast the “rite of passage” as something closer to a material dialectic, in which we find “the three stages of preparation, decomposition, and extraction” (Huntington and Metcalf 1991:73). According to Huntington and Metcalf, funerary rituals are more product-driven than procedure-driven; through the process of primary followed by secondary burials with intervening period of organic decomposition, the corpse is manufactured into something useful.
From something perishable, inconveniently bulky, and useless in its present form, something long lasting, compact, and useful is obtained. The bones of the deceased partake of this nature, so that it is logical to take the time to recover them and store them with the other ancestors, from where they may exercise a benign influence upon their descendants.
Huntington and Metcalf 1991:74
Huntington and Metcalf compare the manufacture of permanent and useful “bones of the deceased” out of his or her “perishable [and] inconveniently bulky [body]” with other manufacturing techniques that employ rotting and fermentation to create a more stable and “useful” product, such as the production of indigo dye out of rotting vegetal matter; the production of hemp for textiles by leaving the stalks to rot in water some weeks so as to allow the fibers to be separated more easily; the production of wine and other spirits through the distilling of liquids running off of decaying organic matter; and the production of certain food products, such as pickled vegetables or meats, through the partial anaerobic rotting of food items in tightly sealed containers. [22] In each of these examples, rotting appears to have a positive value insofar as it produces useful, refined products from organic matter.
These anthropological models regarding the treatment of the dead are applicable to the Homeric poems, for in Homer we find a similar situation of double burial: the cremation of the hero’s body is followed by the interment of his bones. [23] As noted above, cremation is the sine qua non of Homeric funerary ritual. In a highly elaborate ritual, the hero’s body is burned on a pyre; once the flesh is all burned off, his bones are collected to be buried elsewhere. In an influential essay on the social implications of funerary practices in ancient Greece, Sally Humphreys (1981), Classicist and distinguished scholar in social anthropology, [24] has noted that the cremation of the body and collection of bones in Homeric epic point to a process in line with the observations of Hertz:
Seen in a wider context, both the collection of bones for secondary burial after the flesh has decayed and the belief that at death a spiritual part of the person leaves the body to become established in some new form of existence form part of the tendency to try to transform what was a living person and is now a decaying cadaver into something permanent and stable—mummy, monument or memory, ash, ancestor or angel ... [A]llowing the bones of the dead to become separated from the flesh which once encased them is only one of a number of ways of representing the separation of a part of the person which is capable of achieving immortality from the parts which are subject to destruction by time.
Humphreys 1981:268–269
Bone is more stable than flesh; it is a stronger material and less susceptible to decay. Following Huntington and Metcalf’s concept of productive death and decay, we may view Homeric funerary practice as a system for creating something more permanent out of what is wholly transitory. The cremating fire, then, is an accelerated version of the processes of natural organic decay; it produces the transformation from instable to stable more quickly, if not quite immediately, thereby shielding the grisly aspect of death from the celebrants, allowing them to maintain in their memories an image of the youthful fighter with flesh still supple. As anthropologist Maurice Bloch explains,
The ideal is ... for the body to be immediately cremated so that disfiguration and decay do not occur. The image of the uncorrupted youth continues and maintains the undiminished life of the ideal society. The perfect body is in itself the source of the timelessness of the second side of the funeral, in that it represents an unchangingly vigorous martial order of society composed forever of incorruptible heroes.
Bloch 1982:228 [25]
Humphreys notes three main ways of accomplishing this transformation of the instable body into something more permanent: (1) “The deceased may become identified with some stable material object, usually a part of, receptacle for, or representation of his or her own body”; (2) “he or she may be reincorporated into society as an ancestor or by reincarnation”; and (3) “he or she may start a new life in the world of the dead” (Humphreys 1981:268). The second possibility points to the practice of preservation of the memory of the dead through cultic worship; the third, to preservation of the soul of the dead as guaranteed by a particular culture’s eschatology. I leave these topics aside because my analysis of Homer is not concerned with the historical worship of heroes or religious cults; instead, I pursue the first possibility, the identification of the mortal body with something durable within the Iliad itself. For Homer this “stable material object” is indeed the “receptacle for” and “representation of” the deceased man’s body, to use Humphrey’s terms: it is the very tombstone and grave marker erected in honor of the dead.

2. The Homeric σῆμα and Achilles’ κλέος ἄφθιτον

The tomb (σῆμα) in Homeric epic consists of a mound (τύμβος) and grave marker (στήλη). [26] The tomb has three essential functions in Homeric epic: it indicates the location of the hero’s grave; it serves to indicate a hero’s identity; and it lends a sense of durability to the hero’s memory. These functions of indication, identification, and durability constitute a shared field between the tomb and heroic poetry itself. In this section I draw parallels between the commemoration of the hero by means of the architectural σῆμα ‘tomb’ and the preservation of the hero’s name and a narrative of his deeds in epic poetry. Both the σῆμα ‘tomb’ and κλέος ἄφθιτον ‘unwithered fame’ aim to preserve the hero against the oblivion of death; neither, I argue, can be perfectly successful.
The Greek noun σῆμα, which usually bears the general meaning ‘sign’, is regularly used with a specialized meaning ‘tomb’. The overlap of meaning between these two uses is remarkable and suggests that the function of the ‘tomb’ is to serve as a ‘sign’ for the dead person buried there. The ‘tomb’ consists of a burial mound—the τύμβος—and a vertical marker or column placed on top of the mound—the στήλη—which points to the fact that a hero is buried at the spot; its function is, in part, “indexical” (Sourvinou-Inwood 1995:113–118). The mound and column mark the spot as a landmark; the place itself becomes invested with meaning as the repository of a dead hero.
The long survivival of Ilos’ tomb (XI 166–168, 369–372, X 415, XXIII 349) and those of other long gone ancestors (Aiputos of Arcadia at II 604 and “old man Aisuetes” at II 793) points to the fact that tombs are built to last (cf. McGowan 1995:620). Tombs are more stable than human flesh. They aim to provide the kind of permanence the human body can never achieve. The concept of the permanence of the tomb is closely associated with other means of preserving the hero’s memory—namely, the poetic tradition of κλέος ἄφθιτον. We see the very choice of location for the tomb—namely, that it is set up in a conspicuous location—indicates that the dead person buried there has a claim to fame. For example, Odysseus’ companion Elpenor requests that he be buried in a manner that “men of the future may come to know of me”:
ἔνθα σ’ ἔπειτα, ἄναξ, κέλομαι μνήσασθαι ἐμεῖο.
μή μ’ ἄκλαυτον ἄθαπτον ἰὼν ὄπιθεν καταλείπειν
νοσφισθείς, μή τοί τι θεῶν μήνιμα γένωμαι,
ἀλλά με κακκῆαι σὺν τεύχεσιν, ἅσσα μοί ἐστι,
σῆμά τέ μοι χεῦαι πολιῆς ἐπὶ θινὶ θαλάσσης,
ἀνδρὸς δυστήνοιο, καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι·
ταῦτά τέ μοι τελέσαι πῆξαί τ’ ἐπὶ τύμβῳ ἐρετμόν,
τῷ καὶ ζωὸς ἔρεσσον ἐὼν μετ’ ἐμοῖσ’ ἑτάροισιν.
There, then, my lord, I bid you to remember me.
Don’t leave me behind you unwept, unburied, as you go
after you’ve turned away, lest for you I become some source of the gods’ anger,
but rather, burn me with my armor, as much as belongs to me,
and heap up a tomb for me upon the shore of the grey sea
and for men-to-come to know of me, an unhappy man.
Fulfill these things for me, and fix upon the burial mound my oar
with which I rowed while I was alive among my comrades.
Odyssey xi 71–78
The shade of Elpenor addresses Odysseus in the underworld and asks to be cremated and buried in a conspicuous location so that men of the future may learn about him. In other words, Elpenor asks for a tomb that will help preserve his memory—the tomb’s function is essentially to maintain his κλέος. [27] In fact, after Odysseus completes the goal of his mission to the underworld (his conversation with the prophet Tiresias), he sails back to Kirke’s island to see to Elpenor’s requested burial:
ἦμος δ’ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς,
δὴ τότ’ ἐγὼν ἑτάρους προΐην ἐς δώματα Κίρκης
οἰσέμεναι νεκρὸν Ἐλπήνορα τεθνηῶτα.
φιτροὺς δ’ αἶψα ταμόντες, ὅθ’ ἀκροτάτη πρόεχ’ ἀκτή,
θάπτομεν ἀχνύμενοι, θαλερὸν κατὰ δάκρυ χέοντες.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ νεκρός τ’ ἐκάη καὶ τεύχεα νεκροῦ,
τύμβον χεύαντες καὶ ἐπὶ στήλην ἐρύσαντες
πήξαμεν ἀκροτάτῳ τύμβῳ εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν.
When early-born, rosy-fingered Dawn appeared,
then I sent forth my companions to Kirke’s house
to fetch the corpse of Elpenor who had died.
Straightway then we cut wood logs, and, in the place where the headland lies furthest out to sea,
we buried him, sorrowing and shedding big tears.
But when the corpse was burned, and the dead man’s armor,
we heaped up a mound and dragged a column upon it,
and on the topmost part of the mound we planted his shapely oar.
Odyssey xii 8–15
Odysseus and his companions bury Elpenor as he requested, cremating his body and heaping up a mound. On the top of that mound they drag a στήλη, which is apparently to be identified with Elpenor’s ‘shapely oar’ (Heubeck 1989:117, Sourvinou-Inwood 1995:116). The oar is a personal touch; it suggests to the observer that the person buried there was a sailor (Heubeck 1989:82). Odysseus and his companions bury Elpenor in the most conspicuous possible location—‘in the place where the headland lies furthest out to sea’ (ὅθ’ ἀκροτάτη πρόεχ’ ἀκτή, xii 11). [28] Located at the strand of the shore lying furthest out to sea, Elpenor’s tomb will attract the attention of those who pass by, and hence, his fame will survive. [29]
In the Odyssey, Telemachus indicates that the absence of a τύμβος actually brings about the consequent loss of fame for the deceased and his kin—for had Odysseus perished while fighting in Troy, he would have been given proper burial and won κλέος for himself and his family; as it is, however, since he is presumably lost at sea and dead without proper burial, there is no fame (ἀκλειῶς):
τῷ κέν οἱ τύμβον μὲν ἐποίησαν Παναχαιοί,
ἠδέ κε καὶ ᾧ παιδὶ μέγα κλέος ἤρατ’ ὀπίσσω.
νῦν δέ μιν ἀκλειῶς ἅρπυιαι ἀνηρέψαντο.
In that case, all the Achaeans would have made a tomb for him,
and he would have won great fame even for his son hereafter.
But now storm winds carried him off without fame.
Odyssey I 239–241
Because Odysseus is apparently lost at sea, there was no opportunity for the Greeks to honor him with a tomb (κέν οἱ τύμβον μὲν ἐποίησαν, I 239), and as a consequence, there is neither any κλέος for Odysseus himself or for Telemachus. [30]
The association between tomb and fame is drawn even more securely in Menelaus’ description of the tomb he constructed in memory of Agamemnon in the fourth book of the Odyssey. He explains how while shipwrecked on Egypt, he learned of his brother’s fate and erected a monument to him.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ κατέπαυσα θεῶν χόλον αἰὲν ἐόντων,
χεῦ’ Ἀγαμέμνονι τύμβον, ἵν’ ἄσβεστον κλέος εἴη.
But when I had stayed the wrath of the gods who always are,
I heaped up a burial mound for Agamemnon, that his fame might be unquenchable.
Odyssey iv 583–584
Menelaus, while still in Egypt, heaps up a cenotaph for his dead brother Agamemnon, specifically so that Agamemnon’s κλέος may be preserved. The association between a person’s ‘fame’ and the physical marker of his death is clear. The adjective ἄσβεστος can be analyzed as the compound verbal adjective in *-το- of the verb *σβέννυμι ‘to put out, quench’, and is a formal equivalent of Achilles’ κλέος ἄφθιτον. (IX 413) In Homer the adjective ἄσβεστος is used to describe fire (φλόξ: XVI 123, XVII 89), laughter (γέλως: I 599, viii 326, xx 346), might (μένος: XXII 96), the cry of battle (βοή: XI 50, XIII 169 = XIII 540), and finally, a person’s fame (κλέος: iv 584 of Agamemnon, vii 333 of Alkinoos). Although Menelaus claims that Agamemnon’s fame will be ‘unquenchable’, a study of the other uses of ἄσβεστος suggests otherwise, for each activity described as ‘unquenchable’, although long lasting, does in fact eventually come to an end. The fire set upon the Achaeans’ ships is extinguished (XVI 123, XVII 89); the gods eventually cease laughing at Hephaistos’ lame foot (I 599); Hektor’s μένος is eventually extinguished when he is killed by Achilles (XXII 96); and the βοή that continually punctuates the great day of battle is finally silenced with the death of Hektor and the end of battle narrative in the Iliad. So too, I submit, is the κλέος associated with the construction of tombs only temporarily ‘unquenchable’—sooner or later it is put out like a flame doused in gleaming wine: compare Iliad XXIII 250 where Achilles ‘quenches’ (σβέσαν) the fires of Patroklos’ pyre; the verb used here (σβέσαν ‘they quenched’ < σβέννυμι) is the root of ἄσβεστος.
The preservation of the hero’s κλέος, then, is a key element in the ideology of the funeral monument. The most magnificent burial throughout the Homeric corpus is that of Achilles himself, narrated in the twenty-fourth book of the Odyssey. Agamemnon explains how the Achaeans treated their dead hero:
ἀμφ᾿ ἀυτοῖσι δ᾿ ἔπειτα μέγαν καὶ ἀμύμονα τύμβον
χεύαμεν Ἀργείων ἱερὸς στρατὸς αἰχμητάων
ἀκτῇ ἔπι προὐχούσῃ, ἐπὶ πλατεῖ Ἑλλησπόντῳ,
ὥς κεν τηλεφανὴς ἐκ ποντόφιν ἀνδράσιν εἴη
τοῖσ᾿, οἳ νῦν γεγάασι καὶ οἳ μετόπισθεν ἔσονται.
Then, we piled up a great and blameless grave mound about them,
we the sacred army of Argive spearmen,
upon the headland furthest out to sea on the broad Hellespont,
so that it might be visible from far off from the sea for men,
both for those who are now living and those who will be in the hereafter.
Odyssey xxiv 80–84
The tomb heaped up for Achilles is specified as “great and blameless,” and its location is specified as a prominent and conspicuous location—on the headland jutting out to sea, much like Elpenor’s tomb discussed above. The location is selected so as to be seen from far away (τηλεφανής, xxiv 83). The spectators who are to look upon Achilles’ tomb are both those contemporary with the tomb—the men who live “now”—and those who will be “in the hereafter.” The orientation of the tomb is specifically toward the future, the “men in the hereafter.” I argue in the remainder of this chapter that this sense of futurity does not necessarily imply “eternity” or an unbound extent of time, but firmly locates funerary architecture within a temporally bound status.

3. The (im)permanence of thehero’s σῆμα in the Iliad

As we have seen, σῆμα indicates the location of the hero’s mortal remains by means of a mound and column; moreover, it implies temporal durability insofar as its structures are relatively stable and can better withstand the ravages of time than the organic body of the dead man. And yet, this stability is itself several times demonstrated to be impermanent in the Iliad: the marker may fail to denote location, or it may be moved; the memory associated with the dead man can fail and be corrupted or fade entirely. Homeric epic even demonstrates a problematic view of the tomb of Achilles himself—though built in a prominent place and meant to preserve his memory, the texts seem to raise the possibility of the eventual destruction or disintegration of the tomb itself. The problematic status of material objects, I argue, functions to foreshadow the potential demise of the oral epic tradition itself and the κλέος ἄφθιτον it seeks to preserve and disseminate.
Let us begin with two striking passages that point to the failure of the “indexical” function of the σῆμα. The first passage comes from the Theomakhia of the twenty-first book of the Iliad, when Athena defends herself against Ares.
ἣ δ’ ἀναχασσαμένη λίθον εἵλετο χειρὶ παχείῃ
κείμενον ἐν πεδίῳ, μέλανα τρηχύν τε μέγαν τε,
τόν ῥ’ ἄνδρες πρότεροι θέσαν ἔμμεναι οὖρον ἀρούρης·
τῷ βάλε θοῦρον Ἄρηα κατ’ αὐχένα, λῦσε δὲ γυῖα.
But [Athena] drew back and with her stout hand seized a stone
lying in the plain, black, jagged, and huge,
which earlier men had placed to be a boundary marker of a plow-field.
With it she struck furious Ares in his neck and loosened his limbs.
Iliad XXI 403–406
Athena picks up a great stone and uses it as a weapon, as is common for Greek and Trojan warriors. [31] What is remarkable here, however, is that this stone has a history—men of old (ἄνδρες πρότεροι, XXI 405) used it to mark the physical boundary (οὖρον, XXI 405) between shares of land that would otherwise be indistinguishable from one another. [32] The stone’s location is significant; it has been placed at an exact spot as a stable marker of property division. It is the tangible sign of the mutual agreement between men, a symbol of the cultural institution of legal negotiation that guided its placement. When Athena picks up the stone and casts it at Ares, then, she disturbs the boundary marker, and thereby destroys its referential force. As Andrew Ford (1992) notes in his analysis of the passage, “the goddess has erased the border; wherever it lands it will have lost its original significance” (147). Athena’s act demonstrates the fundamental failure of the indexical sign—once it is moved, it no longer fulfills the function for which it was established.
The second passage which points to the failure of the indexical σῆμα occurs in the twenty-third book of the Iliad during the funeral games held in honor of Patroklos. Nestor gives his son Antilochus advice about how to compensate for his slower horses by means of careful observation and well-timed steering.
σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ἕστηκε ξύλον αὖον ὅσον τ’ ὄργυι’ ὑπὲρ αἴης,
ἢ δρυὸς ἢ πεύκης· τὸ μὲν οὐ καταπύθεται ὄμβρῳ·
λᾶε δὲ τοῦ ἑκάτερθεν ἐρηρέδαται δύο λευκὼ
ἐν ξυνοχῇσιν ὁδοῦ, λεῖος δ’ ἱππόδρομος ἀμφὶς·
ἤ τευ σῆμα βροτοῖο πάλαι κατατεθνηῶτος,
ἢ τό γε νύσσα τέτυκτο ἐπὶ προτέρων ἀνθρώπων,
καὶ νῦν τέρματ’ ἔθηκε ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.
But I will tell you a very clear sign [σῆμα], and it will not escape your notice.
There is a dry stump standing as much as six feet above the ground, [33]
either of oak or of pine, which is not completely rotted away by rain-water.
And two white stones leaning on either side of it,
at the joining place of the road, and there is a smooth race-course around it.
Either it is the tomb (σῆμα) of a man who died long ago,
or it was set up as a turning-post by men of former times,
but now swift-footed, brilliant Achilles has made it the goal.
Iliad XXIII 326–333
Nestor begins his advice by pointing out what he calls ‘a very clear sign’ (σῆμα ... μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, XXIII 326), a tree stump with two white stones leaning against it. However, as Nestor goes on to describe the σῆμα more completely, we find it to be anything but “very clear.” The stump has indeed weathered the ages; Nestor specifies that it has not completely ‘rotted’ (οὐ καταπύθεται, XXIII 328) in the rain. Nevertheless, he is not able to identify what kind of tree it is: it might be oak, or it might be pine. The coordinating conjunctions ἤ ... ἤ ‘whether ... or’ point to the indefiniteness inherent in the σῆμα. More important for our purposes, however, is the fact that Nestor is further unable to tell whether the stump and white stones are a ‘tomb of a man who died long ago’ (τευ σῆμα βροτοῖο πάλαι κατατεθνηῶτος, XXIII 331), or was a turning-post (νύσσα, XXIII 332) for a race-course set up by men long ago (προτέρων ἀνθρώπων, XXIII 332). [34] Once again, the two options are presented as coordinate pairs following the conjunctions ἤ ... ἤ ‘either ... or’. In other words, Homer is offering us an example of a sign which has lost its referent; if the stump and stones were at one point a hero’s tomb and the tangible sign of his κλέος, that sign is no longer legible—significantly, not even by Nestor himself, that great repository of ancient lore. [35] Whatever oral tradition was once connected to that σῆμα, it has faded beyond the reaches of living memory.
The first two examples we have surveyed, then, demonstrate the problem of the stability of the σῆμα in two diametrically opposed senses. First, the σῆμα itself might be destroyed or moved from its proper location. This dislocation is a failure of the σῆμα to remain fixed; its status as ἔμπεδος ‘fixed in/on the ground’ is of necessity temporally bound, for every structure is eventually destroyed. Second, even when the σῆμα should outlast the disintegrating effects of time, such as Nestor’s σῆμα which has not rotted in the rain, it still may lose its referentiality if the supplemental oral tradition that specifies the object as the tomb of a specific warrior or even as a tomb at all fades away beyond all recovery. That is to say, the σῆμα can only function as a ‘sign’ which conveys meaning as long as it is connected to a living memory or tradition of memory. Once that tradition has died out, the σῆμα is no longer stable. [36] Sourvinou-Inwood explains,
As long as the deceased’s memory lived on in the community, and the grave monument was identified as the index of his burial, its physical presence inevitably activated the memory of the deceased, in those who perceived it, and in this way it also fed the memory and contributed to its preservation.
Sourvinou-Inwood 1995:118 [37]
A more extreme example of this outright forgetfulness of the tradition supporting the σῆμα is the description of the “tomb of Myrina,” a landmark in the Trojan plain known to the Trojans as a “hill,” but known only to the gods (and to the narrator) as a “tomb”:
ἔστι δέ τις προπάροιθε πόλιος αἰπεῖα κολώνη
ἐν πεδίῳ ἀπάνευθε περίδρομος ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα,
τὴν ἤτοι ἄνδρες Βατίειαν κικλήσκουσιν,
ἀθάνατοι δέ τε σῆμα πολυσκάρθμοιο Μυρίνης.
There is a certain steep hill in front of the city
in the plain, far off, with passage around on one side and the other,
which, truly, I tell you, men regularly call “Bramble Hill,”
but the immortals “The Tomb of Much-Leaping Myrina.”
Iliad II 811–814
An ancient scholiast identifies this Myrina as one of the Amazons who invaded Phrygia in prehistoric times. [38] The Iliad offers us a brief glimpse of a misread sign; the large τύμβος ‘grave mound’ piled over the Amazonian fighter has been mistaken for a natural feature of the landscape.
Regarding the destruction of the σῆμα or outright oblivion of its supporting oral tradition, what are we to make of situations in which the supplementary oral tradition remains intact? It has often been claimed that traditional epic poetry goes further than material structures in preserving the memory of the dead. For instance, Jean-Pierre Vernant has claimed,
There is a parallelism or continuity between Greek funeral rituals and epic verse. Both are directed to the same end, but the epic goes a step further than the funeral ritual. The funeral rites aim to procure for the person who has lost his life access to a new state of social existence, to transform the absence of the lost person into a more or less stable positive social status, that of “one of the dead.” Epic goes further: through glorifying praise, indefinitely repeated, it ensures for a small minority of the chosen—who thus stand out from the ordinary mass of the deceased, defined as the crowd of “nameless ones”—the permanence of their name, their fame, and the exploits they have accomplished. In this way it completes and crowns the process that the funeral rites have already set in motion: the transformation of an individual who has ceased to be into a figure whose presence, as one of the dead, is forever a part of the existence of the group.
Vernant 1981:285, emphasis added
Epic poetry “goes a step further” than funerary ritual and its material constructions; it establishes for the select few “the permanence of their name, their fame, their exploits” and “crowns” the process of preservation set in motion by the funeral ritual with its substitution of increasingly more durable material representations for the human body. That is to say, epic poetry is thought to provide a “permanent” status to a dead person’s name and deeds. Note that Vernant’s terms function as near translation for the terms we have been engaged with so far, ἄφθιτον ‘unwithered’ and ἔμπεδος ‘in place’. Epic aims to create a state of non-decay for the dead, to elevate the dead to the status of immortality, as Gregory Nagy has argued, through the fixation of the dead in the cultural medium of poetry and art. [39]
Yet, I maintain that the indefinite in Homer is always conditioned by the logical structure of the “not yet”: at best, the κλέος achieved through poetry is only as durable as the tradition in which it flourishes. There is enduring danger, therefore, that κλέος will fade or fail, as Vernant himself indicates in his observation that the epic tradition functions only under the condition of its being “indefinitely repeated.” The possibility remains open that a tradition can cease to be repeated, or that a specific monument can be reprogrammed to accommodate a different memory. Indeed, the Iliad itself represents an imagined scenario in which the σῆμα and its associated oral tradition meant to commemorate a fallen hero’s life can be re-programmed to indicate something else entirely once the living oral tradition that would support its original significance no longer exists. In particular, in the seventh book of the Iliad Hektor challenges the best of the Achaeans to single-combat with him in order to settle the battle once and for all. His offer is nothing short of a threat, for it hints at the loss of his victim’s reputation.
ὑμῖν δ᾿ ἐν γὰρ ἔασιν ἀριστῆες Παναχαιῶν,
τῶν νῦν ὅν τινα θυμὸς ἐμοὶ μαχέσασθαι ἀνώγῃ,
δεῦρ᾿ ἴτω ἐκ πάντων πρόμος ἔμμεναι Ἕκτορι δίῳ.
ὧδε δὲ μυθέομαι, Ζεὺς δ᾿ ἄμμ᾿ ἐπὶ μάρτυρος ἔστω·
εἰ μέν κεν ἐμε κεῖνος ἕλῃ ταναήκεϊ χαλχῷ,
τεύχεα συλήσας φερέτω κοίλας ἐπὶ νῆας,
σῶμα δὲ οἴκαδ᾿ ἐμὸν δόμεναι πάλιν, ὄφρα πυρός με
Τρῶες καὶ Τρώων ἄλοχοι λελάχωσι θανόντα·
εἰ δέ κ᾿ ἐγὼ τὸν ἕλω, δώῃ δέ μοι εὖχος Ἀπόλλων,
τεύχεα συλήσας οἴσω προτὶ Ἴλιον ἱρήν
καὶ κρεμόω ποτὶ νηὸν Ἀπόλλωνος ἑκάτοιο,
τὸν δὲ νέκυν ἐπὶ νῆας ἐϋσσέλμους ἀποδώσω,
ὄφρα ἑ ταρχύσωσι κάρη κομόωντες Ἀχαιοί
σῆμά τέ οἱ χεύωσιν ἐπὶ πλατεῖ Ἑλλησπόντῳ.
καί ποτέ τις εἴπησι καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἀνθρώπων,
νηῒ πολυκλήϊδι πλέων ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον·
ἀνδρὸς μὲν τόδε σῆμα πάλαι κατατεθνηῶτος,
ὅν ποτ᾿ ἀριστεύοντα κατέκτανε φαίδιμος Ἕκτωρ.”
ὥς ποτέ τις ἐρέει, τὸ δ ἐμὸν κλέος οὔ ποτ᾿ ὀλεῖται.
Since among you are the best of all the Achaeans,
let one of you, whomever his passion drives him on to fight with me,
come here now from all the others to be in the front against brilliant Hektor.
I make the following claim, and may Zeus be witness upon it:
if, on the one hand, that man should take my life with thin-edged bronze,
let him strip my armor and carry it to the hollow ships,
but give my body back home, so that the Trojans
and the wives of the Trojans may give me my share of fire, when I am dead.
But if, on the other hand, I shall kill him—may Apollo grant me the prayer!—
I shall strip his armor and carry it toward holy Ilion
and I will hang it up in the shrine of Apollo the far-shooter,
but I will give back the corpse to the well-benched ships,
so that the long-haired Achaeans may offer him proper funeral rites
and heap up a tomb (σῆμα) for him upon the broad Hellespont.
And someday someone will say, even among late-born men,
as he is sailing with his ship with many oar-locks upon the wine-dark sea,
This here is the tomb (σῆμα) of a man who died long ago,
who was once one of the best—glorious Hektor killed him.”
So someday someone will speak, and my fame (κλέος) will never perish.
Iliad VII 73–91
Hektor’s challenge points to an ethics underlying heroic combat, for even though one may kill the other, the victor will not defile the corpse of his victim, but return it to friends and family so it may be fittingly cremated and buried. Here, the burial is envisioned as taking place in a conspicuous location, upon the shore overlooking the Hellespont. What is remarkable here, however, is that Hektor imagines a long-lasting tomb that is not forgotten; in Hektor’s vision, the tomb remains connected to an active oral tradition that preserves memory of past events. Note especially Hektor’s claim that ‘someday someone will say, even among late-born men’ (ποτέ τις εἴπησι καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἀνθρώπων, VII 87). The implications of the indefinite temporal adverbs καί ποτέ ‘even someday’ (VII 87, 91), the future orientation of the verbs εἴπησι (VII 87) [40] and ἐρέει (VII 91), and the temporal adverb ὀψέ ‘late’ (in the compound ὀψιγόνων ‘of late-born men’, VII 87), all point to the idea that the σῆμα and its supplementary oral tradition may survive far into the future. [41] However, what we must notice is that the σῆμα is here imagined to preserve the κλέος not of the victim, but of the victor—Hektor’s hypothetical observer from the future will say, “This here is the tomb (σῆμα) of a man who died long ago, who was once one of the best—glorious Hektor killed him.” There is no mention of the fallen man’s name nor any of the circumstances of his life; of course Hektor is speaking generally, since no Greek fighter has risen to fight him yet, but the generic identification—‘whomever the spirit moves to fight me’ (ὅν τινα θυμὸς ἐμοὶ μαχέσασθαι ἀνώγῃ, VII 74)—sits uneasily with the emphasis on remembering the hero’s name in the epic tradition. The single fact remembered, so far as Hektor is concerned, about the fallen is that Hektor killed him. Only the victor’s fame will survive: “So someday someone will speak, and my fame (τὸ δ’ ἐμὸν κλέος) will never perish (οὔ ποτ᾿ ὀλεῖται)” (VII 91). Like the sēma that Nestor identifies during the chariot race at Patroklos’ funeral games, the sēma in Hektor’s speech will have lost its referent: instead of marking the tomb and kleos of the dead who lies there, it commemorates that of his killer. [42] This passage gives us a model for what happens when a supplementary oral tradition fails to function: the monument loses its mnemonic force, and comes to mean something else altogether.
In conclusion to this investigation of mortuary architecture and its association with the hero’s κλέος ἄφθιτον, I wish to draw our attention to two final passages which present the strong exception taken by the sixth-century BCE Greek lyric poet Simonides to an epigram attributed by him to Cleobulus, supposedly inscribed upon the funeral marker for Midas. The funerary epigram reads:
χαλκῆ παρθένος εἰμί, Μίδου δ’ ἐπὶ σήματος ἧμαι.
ἔς τ’ ἂν ὕδωρ τε νάῃ καὶ δένδρεα μακρὰ τεθήλῃ
ἠέλιος δ’ ἀνιὼν φαίνῃ λαμπρά τε σελήνη,
καὶ ποταμοί γε ῥέωσιν, ἀνακλύζῃ δὲ θάλασσα,
αὐτοῦ τῇδε μένουσα πολυκλαύτῳ ἐπὶ τύμβῳ
σημανέω παριοῦσι Μίδης ὅτι τῇδε τέθαπται. [43]
I am a bronze maiden, and am set upon the tomb of Midas.
As long as both water flows and tall trees flourish,
and the sun shines when it rises as does the shining moon,
and the rivers run and the sea breaks upon the shore,
I, all the while remaining here upon this much-lamented tomb,
will announce to those who pass by that Midas has been buried here.
The epigram claims to be an inscription upon a funerary monument which here takes the form of a bronze maiden (χαλκῆ παρθένος εἰμί, 1). The text claims to represent the voice of the maiden herself, set upon Midas’ tomb to proclaim to all who pass by that Midas is buried here. Most striking, however, is the text’s claim to extreme durability—it will last ‘as long as’ (ἔς τ’ ἂν, literally rendered ‘up to whenever’, 2) the natural world continues. As long as rivers flow, trees flourish, and the sun rises, so too will the monument ‘remain’ (μένουσα, 5) in place and will ‘speak’ (σημανέω, 6) to passers by. The tomb’s durability is emphasized by pairing the future tense σημανέω with a string of subjunctive verbs (νάῃ ... τεθήλῃ, 2; φαίνῃ, 3; ῥέωσιν ... ἀνακλύζῃ, 4) in a future-more-vivid temporal construction. Simonides’ response attacks this claim:
τίς κεν αἰνήσειε νόῳ πίσυνος Λίνδου ναέταν Κλεόβουλον,
ἀεναοῖς ποταμοῖσ’ ἄνθεσι τ’ εἰαρινοῖς
ἀελίου τε φλογὶ χρυσέας τε σελάνας
καὶ θαλασσαίαισι δίναισ’ ἀντία θέντα μένος στάλας;
ἅπαντα γάρ ἐστι θεῶν ἥσσω· λίθον δὲ
καὶ βρότεοι παλάμαι θραύοντι· μωροῦ
φωτὸς ἅδε βούλα.
Who is there who is sound in mind who could approve of Cleobulus, who lives in Lindos,
who against ever-flowing rivers and springtime flowers,
and against the blaze of the sun and of the golden moon,
and against the eddying of the seas, sets the might of a tomb?
For all these things are lesser than gods; but stone
even mortal hands can shatter. This is the opinion
of a stupid man.
Simonides fr. 76 PMG
Only a fool, Simonides argues, would set a stone up in competition against the sun, the moon, rivers, and trees, for all these things are gods and therefore (presumably) immortal, whereas a tomb is truly mortal architecture: anyone can destroy it with his or her own hands.
This controversy points to a deep-seated ambivalence inherent in the ideology of monumental architecture and the epic tradition already apparent in Homer. The funerary practices of cremation followed by burial indicate a desire to preserve the body beyond the capacity of its own material substance. The tomb and marker serve such a function, but never in an unambiguous way. Tombs may be destroyed or forgotten; the stories attached to them may be corrupted or entirely forgotten. What is significant about all this is that these funeral monuments are deeply connected with the epic tradition of κλέος ἄφθιτον. Like its verbal counterpart, the funerary monument is a durable but, ultimately, temporally bound construction.


[ back ] 1. On the temporal dimensions of physical objects in Greek literature, see Bassi 2005 and Grethlein 2008.
[ back ] 2. Ford (1992) notes, “If we think of Homer as the ‘great master’ at the end of the tradition who fixed the poems, by definition he had come across the fact of alphabetic writing” (132).
[ back ] 3. At the outset of his discussion Ford (1992) asks, “What was it for a poet descended from an oral tradition to meet writing? Would he have immediately perceived and embraced its potential to fix his songs in a stable and enduring form?” (135). By the end of his analysis of sēmata in the poems, he concludes, “Homer seems to go beyond self-assertion here to undertake an aggressive war on the visible; he seems determined to show that no tangible, visible thing can be trusted to mark the fames of men accurately and enduringly” (146, emphasis added).
[ back ] 4. Morpurgo 1963 identifies γέρας with ke-ra of Linear B, as does Palmer 1963:199, 211, 426, s.v. ke-ra, citing PY Eb 416.1: i-je-re-ja ke-ra ‘the γέρας (ke-ra) of the priestess’, where ke-ra (γέρας) is used to designate land-holdings.
[ back ] 5. See Chantraine 1968–1980:216, s.v. γέρας, and Garland 1982:69 with n. 3–4.
[ back ] 6. For the etymological relationship between δαίομαι and δαίς, see Chantraine 1968–1980:247–248, s.v. δαίομαι. On “division” as the paramount principle in the Homeric feast, see Saïd 1979 and Rundin 1996. Clay 1994 investigates how seating arrangement and order at the symposium function as a spatial manifestation of the principles of division in accordance with social hierarchy. The division of goods and services can be expressed in one of two models. In a democratic model, all parties receive “equal” shares. In contrast, the Homeric isē dais appears to follow what Saïd 1979:18–19 and Rundin 1996:196 have identified as a “proportional,” “geometric,” or even “virtually equal” model of division, “whereby some are more equal than others; that is, a proportional or virtually equal distribution is a distribution of shares that are not equal in the strict sense we are accustomed to, but rather weighted according to their recipients’ varied social statuses” (Rundin 1996:196). On the Homeric isē dais, see further Motto and Clark 1969.
[ back ] 7. Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics I 5, 1095b23–24) claims that ἀρετή ‘personal excellence, virtue’ is superior to τιμή ‘honor, status’ precisely because ‘τιμή is thought to depend on those who bestow honor rather than on him who receives it’ (δοκεῖ γὰρ ἐν τοῖς τιμῶσι μᾶλλον εἶναι ἢ ἐν τῷ τιμωμένῳ). Finkelberg (1998) notes that ἔμμορε τιμῆς “he or she has been allotted timē” is “the only Homeric formula in which the word timē occurs ... This seems to indicate that timē should be regarded not as a competitive but as what can be called a ‘distributive’ value” (16).
[ back ] 8. Motto and Clark 1969 demonstrate that Achilles is primarily concerned with the fairness of the distribution of γέρας in accordance with τιμή. See also Muellner 1996 who reveals the connection between Achilles’ μῆνις ‘rage’ and social disequilibrium.
[ back ] 9. A dead hero is usually—though not always—cremated in his armor. Compare Iliad VI 416–419 (Eëtion), Odyssey xi 72–76 (Elpenor). Only Achilles’ second set of armor is specifically not cremated with the hero; it becomes the source of contention between Odysseus and Ajax during the funeral games held in honor of Achilles, and motivates Ajax’ enduring hatred of Odysseus.
[ back ] 10. Detienne 1996, esp. 39–52 identifies “blame” as the opposite of “praise,” the poetic manifestations of the opposed pair of concepts “memory” and “forgetfulness.” Nagy’s analysis (1999:222–227, Ch. 12§1–6) complements Detienne’s study by tracing the use of particular diction associated with each category of poetic speech. On blaming speech ‘devouring’ (δάπτω) its victim like a dog devours a corpse and the blame-poet ‘fattening himself’ (παίνομαι) upon the object of his blame, see Nagy 1999:225–226, Ch. 12§5 with n. 8. Nagy concludes, “In effect, then, the language of praise poetry presents the language of unjustified blame as parallel to the eating of heroes’ corpses by dogs” (226, Ch. 12§5).
[ back ] 11. There may be a further association between γέρας and θάνατος: Lincoln 1991:62–75 has demonstrated that Charon, the figure who ferries souls across the river Styx to the land of the dead in Greek mythology, is a personification of old age. Lincoln notes the regular description of Charon as an “old man” in Greek, Old Norse, Germanic, Celtic and other Indo-European traditions (Greek γέρων; Old Norse karl; Anglo-Saxon ceorl); this repeated adjective suggests a link between age and death, represented by a single Proto-Indo-European verbal root (*ǵer-) indicating the verbal idea “to age, mature, ripen,” and in its oldest sense “to rub away, erode, become worn down” (Lincoln 1991:64, 73n14, citing Pokorny 1989:390–391).
[ back ] 12. Although this passage does not contain the exact phrase γέρας θανόντων, it does refer to γέρας in a funerary context as what is due to “mortals” when they have died.
[ back ] 13. On these burials and ancient burial rites in general as described in Homer, see Garland 1982, Kurtz and Boardman 1971, Lorimer 1950, Mylonas 1948, Petropoulou 1988, Sourvinou-Inwood 1981, 1995, and Whitehead 1984.
[ back ] 14. Patroklos’ lavish funeral may borrow some of its details from a second millennium BCE funeral for Hittite royalty known as the Šalliš waštaiš ritual, a multi-day funeral on the third day of which the following details are mentioned: “When it dawns on the third day, women go to the p[yr]e, to the bones to gather (them). | They extinguish the fire with ten vessels of beer, te[n vessels of wine] ten vessels of w.-beverage. | a silver h.-vessel (weighing) twenty minae and a half (?), filled with fine oil. | They tak[e] (out) the bones with silver tongs? and put them (i.e. the bones) into the fine oil in the silver h.-vessel. | They take them out of the fine oil and lay them down on the linen g.-cloth. A fine cloth is laid under the linen cloth. | When they finish to gather the bones, they wrap them | in the linen and fine cloths. They put them on the Š.-chair for sittin[g | But if it is a woman (i.e. if the queen has died), they put them on the h.-benches” (Kassian, Korolëv, and Sidel᾿tsev 2002:261). For text and commentary on the Hittite ritual, see Otten 1958 and Kassian, Korolëv, and Sidel᾿tsev 2002; for discussion and bibliography, see van den Hout 1994 and Rutherford 2007. On Homeric reflections of Hittite language and culture, see Puhvel 1991, Watkins 1998. See, in general, the excellent and concise treatment on the subject of burial and the cult of the dead in Burkert 1985:190–194, 424–426.
[ back ] 15. The verb λελάχητε is the reduplicated causal aorist subjunctive of λαγχάνω ‘to make to obtain, to give one his due’: on the reduplicated causal aorist, compare λελάθῃ ‘make him forget’ at Iliad XV 60 and ἐκλέλαθον ‘they made him forget’ at II 600 with discussion at Risch 1974:243 (§87c) and Janko 1994:235, 265.
[ back ] 16. See Iliad VII 79–80 = XXII 342–343, XV 350 with Kirk 1990:244 and Janko 1994:265. See further Hesychius’ gloss of λελαχεῖν as θάψαι ‘to bury’ which he supports by citing Iliad VII 80.
[ back ] 17. Clarke 1999:186 argues that θάπτω refers “to the whole process of committing the corpse to the earth, not specifically to burning.” Sourvinou-Inwood 1995:110 notes that Achilles himself seems to think of the act of “burying Patroklos” as consisting of multiple parts: cremation of the corpse, followed by erection of a σῆμα, and finally, the cutting of mourners’ hair. See further Burkert 1985:190–194 on the multiplicity of ritualized events that constitute the ancient funeral.
[ back ] 18. The observation that Ajax’ interment without cremation is exceptional may go back to Aristarchus: see Severyns 1928:331–332. On the entire issue of Ajax’ burial, see Holt 1992. I read διὰ τὴν ὀργὴν τοῦ βασιλέως with Holt as referring to Agamemnon’s anger at Ajax; for a different view, see Holt 1992:319n1, explaining an alternate interpretation suggested by an anonymous referee for the American Journal of Philology.
[ back ] 19. I wish to emphasize that the burial customs I describe here are those found in Greek epic poetry. I do not attempt to make any claims about actual funerary practices in Greece or elsewhere. The relationship between Homer’s burials and what might be considered to be contemporary burials on the Greek mainland or in Ionia—that is, burials discovered by archaeologists and analyzed as belonging to the late Bronze or early Iron ages—is notoriously vexed. Aegean archaeologists have long noted that the ubiquitous cremations in the epic poems appear to be at odds with the actual practice among the Greeks, for whom cremation is rare during the Bronze and Iron ages: for discussion see Kurtz and Boardman 1971, I. Morris 1987, Mylonas 1948, Sourvinou-Inwood 1995, Vermeule 1979, and compare the comment by Janko 1994:165. Coldstream 1976 and Whitley 1988 discuss the possible impact Homeric epic made on funerary practices in Greece in the eighth century BCE. A treatment of the funerary practices is beyond the scope of my investigation—I am interested in establishing the practice of funerary ritual and its ideology as expressed within epic itself.
[ back ] 20. See Hertz 1960:30, “Whatever the variety of these customs, which often co-exist in one place and are substituted one for the other, the rite, in its essence, is constant; the body of the deceased, while awaiting the second burial, is temporarily deposited in a burial-place distinct from the final one; it is almost invariably isolated.”
[ back ] 21. Hertz’s major contribution was the observation that the multiple stages of death—exclusion, purification, reintegration—essentially mirrors the spiritual journey of the dead person’s soul from the land of the living to limbo and on to the land of the ancestral dead. In depth discussions of Hertz’s work and influence can be found at Huntington and Metcalf 1991:33–38, 79–107, Parker Pearson 2000:45–56.
[ back ] 22. See Huntington and Metcalf 1991:72–74, drawing on the work of Adams 1977.
[ back ] 23. Williams (2004) notes how cremation is not at odds with Hertz’ “primary burial,” for both operations serve a similar function of transforming the cadaver into a more stable form (267). Indeed, Williams details how the performance of cremation can work as a “technology of remembrance” by creating “such a unique and powerful impact on the senses that it can form the very basis of the way the dead person is remembered” (267).
[ back ] 24. For a useful discussion and critique of Humphreys’ application of theories of social anthropology to the study of Classical antiquity, see Hunter 1981.
[ back ] 25. See Williams 2004 on the cremation process itself creating a powerful “memory” of the event through the sights, sounds, smells, and length of time for the corpse to be reduced to bone and ash (upwards of ten hours). In other words, the corpse acts as an agent in creating its own memory of the deceased and the experience of the funeral. For a similar argument, see Robb 2007 on the agency of bodies (vs. “mourner active models”), culturally embedded death, and biographical narratives reflected in funerary rituals.
[ back ] 26. On the τύμβος ‘grave mound’ in Homeric epic, see Iliad II 604, 793, IV 177, VII 336, 435, XI 371, XVI 457 = XVI 675, XVII 434, XXIII 245, XXIV 666; Odyssey I 239 = xiv 369, iv 584, xi 77, xii 14, 15, xxiv 32, 80. Compare the verb τυμβοχοέω ‘to heap up a tomb’ at Iliad XXI 323. On the στήλη ‘grave marker’ in Homeric epic, see Iliad XI 371, XIII 437, XVI 457, 675, XVII 434; Odyssey xiii 14.
[ back ] 27. On the association between πυνθάνομαι/πεύθομαι and κλέος, cf. Iliad IX 524: οὕτω καὶ τῶν πρόσθεν ἐπευθόμεθα κλέα ἀνδρῶν | ἡρώων ..., ‘thus also we used to learn of the famous deeds of men who were heroes in former times ...” On κλέα ἀνδρῶν used to indicate epic poetry, see Iliad IX 186–189 where the Achaean ambassadors find Achilles “delighting his heart with a clear-toned lyre” as ‘he was singing the famous deeds of men’ (ἄειδε δ’ ἄρα κλέα ἀνδρῶν).
[ back ] 28. See Stanford 1967:I.406–406 on the conspicuousness of the location of the σῆμα as an indication of the hero’s esteem.
[ back ] 29. However, see Kahane 2005:112–113 for an interesting argument that the epic suggests that even Elpenor’s oar is not guaranteed to remain a stable signifier of a dead sailor. Kahane compares Tiresias’ prophecy to Odysseus and the instructions pertaining to how he may win favor at last with Poseidon, by carrying an oar far inland until someone from the mainland mistakes it for a winnowing fan (Odyssey xi 127). The mistaken identification will be a ‘very clear sign’ (σῆμα ... μάλ᾿ ἀριφραδές, xi 126) for Odysseus and an indication of where he is to plant that oar and establish a center of worship for the god far from the sea. The key issue here is the fact that the oar Odysseus is to establish far inland will always be misread as a winnowing fan; Kahane observes, “The force of the oar’s misreading is underscored by the fact that it is perfectly reasonable for a landlocked observer to interpret an oar as a winnowing fan” (113). The implication is that even Elpenor’s oar can be read correctly only under a set of rather specific circumstances—though the oar’s location on the sea shore would seem to satisfy Kahane’s requirements. See further Purves 2006b:11–18 on the σῆμα that Odysseus carries inland, and 2006b:14–15 on the connection between oar/winnowing fan as a σῆμα for Elpenor on the shore and for Odysseus while inland.
[ back ] 30. See Sinos 1980:47 who cites this passage to argue that “In Epic, we find that the τύμβος ‘tomb’ of a hero is closely connected with his κλέος and that of his descendants.” For similar passages connecting fame with one’s τύμβος, see Iliad VII 86–91; Odyssey iv 584, xi 72–76, xiv 369–370, xxiv 80–94; and compare descriptions of the preservation of kleos through song: Odyssey iii 203–204, xxiv 196–202.
[ back ] 31. For instance, Tydeus picks up and hurls a boulder described as “a great work (μέγα ἔργον) such as no two men, such as they are now, could lift” (Iliad V 302–304). Compare VII 264–265 (~ XXI 403–404) where Hektor strikes Ajax’s shield with a “stone lying in the plain, black, jagged, and huge”; and see further XII 380–383, 445–449, XX 285–287.
[ back ] 32. On the importance of boundary divisions, compare XII 421–423, a simile in which the Lycians and Danaäns face off at close quarters and fight like men fighting over the proper placement of a boundary marker between fields: “as when about boundary markers (ἀμφ’ οὔροισι) two men fight while they hold measuring-cords (μέτρα) in their hands at the place where fields join together (ἐπιξύνῳ), and the two of them in a small area (ὀλίγῳ ἐνὶ χώρῳ) contend over the equal division, just so did the battlements hold them [sc. Lycians and Danaäns] apart.” On this simile, see Elmer 2008 who compares the boundary dispute represented here with the ancient ball game known as episkuros as both feature “a territorial conflict in which one side seeks to dispossess the other of the area it occupies” (416). Hence, the game episkuros functions as “a symbolization of a boundary dispute,” whereas the Iliadic simile of XII 417–424 is, “from the point of view of the audience, … a stylization of the ‘real-life’ situation of boundary disputes. That is, epic narrative and game occupy analogous positions as images of an archetypical conflict over boundaries” (420). On the importance of the οὖρος ‘boundary marker’ (ὅρος in Attic) as a landmark, it is interesting to note that the noun can be used with the sense of a ‘memorial stone’ or ‘pillar’ (e.g. Herodotus 1.93), especially one set up on mortgaged property to indicate the terms of debt (see Solon fr. 36.6 W: ὅρους ἀνεῖλον). The eradication of such markers is nothing short of revolutionary, as we read in Solon fr. 36 W: see Almeida 2003:8–9 (with n. 40–41), 27–28, 34, 40, 95, 223–224 for discussion and further bibliography.
[ back ] 33. The unit of measure indicated by ὄργυια—traditionally rendered as ‘a fathom’—implies the distance measured out by a man’s outstretched arms. Stanford 1967:I.383 draws our attention to its cognate verb ὀρέγω ‘to stretch out’, and notes that “the length across an average man’s outstretched arms and shoulders” is approximately six feet. The phrase ὅσον τ’ ὄργυιαν appears twice in the Odyssey (ix 325, x 167; cf. xi 25), though only here in the Iliad.
[ back ] 34. See McGowan 1995 on the use of funerary markers as turning posts in funeral games.
[ back ] 35. On Nestor’s authoritative memory spanning three generations, see Iliad I 250–252. On Nestor and memory, see especially Dickson 1992, 1995. On the ambiguities in Nestor’s speech here, see Dickson 1995:216–219, 224n8, Ford 1992:144–145, Kahane 2005:114, Lynn-George 1988:265–266, and Peradotto 1990:159–160.
[ back ] 36. Compare Ford 1992:144, who also notes the necessity of a continuous tradition to “supplement” the identity of the person buried in a given tomb.
[ back ] 37. In his discussion of Iliad XXIII 326–333 and Nestor’s inability to tell whether the turning post is the tomb of a long-dead hero or not, Dickson (1995) notes, “At this ultimate limit, once memory has failed and all narrative and naming along with it, kleos surely must fail as well” (219).
[ back ] 38. Myrina is identified as an Amazon by Scholia D at Iliad II 814. A tradition regarding an Amazonian invasion is attested at Iliad III 189 where Priam recalls how he helped fight the Amazons at the river Sangarius off to the east (cf. Leaf 1900–1902:I.111 and Kirk 1985:247). There is some historic evidence of an Aeolic town named “Myrina,” and Strabo claims that Cyme and Smyrna were also named after Amazons (11.5.4, 12.8.6, 13.3.6, 14.1.4).
[ back ] 39. See Nagy 1974:229–261, more forcefully formulated at Nagy 1999:179–181 (Ch. 10§7–9), analyzing Agamemnon’s scepter.
[ back ] 40. Although εἴπησι, strictly speaking, is an aorist subjunctive verb, the subjunctive mood shows expectation about the future. See Goodwin 1893:97–98; Willcock 1978–1984:I.252. For the pattern of aorist subjunctive εἴπησι followed by future indicative ἐρέει, compare Hektor at Iliad VI 459–462, a passage speculating about future events.
[ back ] 41. See, for instance, Kirk 1990:246, “The second καί in 87 could mean either ‘even’ or ‘also’, the point being that the mound will last long into the future” (emphasis added).
[ back ] 42. Hektor’s claim that his fame will never perish (κλέος οὔ ποτ᾿ ὀλεῖται#, VII 91) makes use of a formulaic variation of Achilles’ own ‘fame unwithered’ (κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται#, IX 413) found elsewhere in early Greek poetry at Iliad ΙΙ 325 (on the fame of the great portent Zeus showed the Achaeans at Aulis before they sailed to Troy), Odyssey xxiv 196 (on Penelope’s fame for remaining faithful to Odysseus), Hesiod fr. 70.5 M-W = fr. 41 Most (on Ino nursing Dionysus [?] so his fame would never perish), Homeric Hymn to Apollo 156, and Theognis 867. See Finkelberg 2007 for an argument that the two phrases are genetically connected. The fact that Hektor’s κλέος οὔ ποτ᾿ ὀλεῖται is an analogical formulaic substitution for Achilles’ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται is further confirmed in terms of the similar status of temporality in each construction, since Hektor essentially posits his “fame that will not perish” upon the enduring status of the tomb of his victim (σῆμα, VII 86, 89); yet, as I have established in this chapter, the status of the material monument of the dead is itself of temporary durability.
[ back ] 43. One tradition attributes this epigram to Homer: Vita Homeri Herodotea 135–140 (ed. Allen Homeri Opera, Vol. V, p. 198–199), Certamen Homeri et Hesiodi 265–270 (ed. Allen Homeri Opera, Vol. V, p. 235–236), Homer Epigram 3 (West). An alternate tradition attributes it to Cleobulus, the tyrant of Lindos in Rhodes around 600 BCE, considered by some to be one of the “Seven Sages” (cf. Plutarch de E Delphico 3): Simonides fr. 581 PMG, Diogenes Laertes 1.6, and the Palatine Anthology 7.153. Plato Phaedrus 264c–d also preserves the poem, with variant reading: ὄφρ᾿ ἂν for ἔς τ’ ἂν in verse 2.