Maneuvers in the Dark of Night: Iliad 10 in the Twenty-First Century

Casey Dué
[This article was originally published in Homeric Contexts: Neoanalysis and the Interpretation of Oral Poetry (eds. F. Montanari, A. Rengakos, and C. Tsagalis) 165–173 (Walter de Gruyter, 2011).]
In this paper I wish to suggest some of the possibilities offered by a new approach to interpreting Iliad 10, the so-called Doloneia. I have recently completed a series of essays and a commentary on Iliad 10 with my colleague Mary Ebbott (Dué and Ebbott 2010). The approach we have taken in that volume, entitled Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush, intersects in some ways with the aims of Neoanalyst scholars like Jonathan Burgess and Georg Danek, who seek to show that in an oral tradition it is possible for a poet composing an epic like the Iliad to make use of the themes and structures of other traditional poems in ways that would be meaningful for an audience. [1] We understand Iliad 10 to have been composed and performed within a long oral tradition of such poetry, and we argue that it is an example of a very ancient theme, the lokhos (ambush). For us, the theme of lokhos, with its traditional structure and diction, long predates our received text of the Iliad. So too do the narrative traditions about Rhesos predate our Iliad. (In exploring these, we have built on the work of Bernard Fenik in his 1964 Iliad X and the Rhesus Myth.) Neoanalysts have not frequently applied their theoretical framework to Iliad 10, however. The Doloneia is usually thought to be a late composition and an innovation on the part of a poet who came after the composer of the Iliad, not an ancient motif that has been organically composed as part of the story of Achilles. [2]
Mary Ebbott and I argue that Iliad 10 gives us our best look at an alternative type of warfare poetics, namely the poetics of ambush. Using comparative evidence as well as what we know of the Epic Cycle and the epic tradition as a whole, we assert that such warfare was not construed as unheroic and should not be viewed as un-Homeric in some way (however “Homer” is conceived), but is in fact simply a traditional theme (as defined by Albert Lord), the lokhos, with its own traditional language, sub-themes, conventions, and poetics. [3] The polemos (what we frequently refer to as “conventional battle”) too is a theme, and the two are not entirely antithetical to one another. The best heroes star in both kinds of warfare. Some overlap of diction is therefore inevitable, but polemos and lokhos each represent a distinct narrative tradition that is recognizably different from and compositionally independent of the other.
In the history of Homeric scholarship Iliad 10 has often been asserted to be “Odyssean,” and that assessment has been used to maintain a variety of theories about the book (including that it is a “late” composition). In the model that we propose, Iliad 10 need only be viewed as related to the Odyssey in that it shares the theme of ambush and has Odysseus as a central character. [4] In other words, Iliad 10 and the Odyssey seem similar in terms of language because they partake of the same theme.
Other examples of the theme in the wider epic tradition, to the extent that we can reconstruct it, include the ambushes of Tydeus and Bellerophon (these stories are referred to at Iliad 4.376ff. and 6.187-190). In Iliad 13.276-287 Idomeneus praises Meriones’ abilities as an ambush fighter and describes the good and bad ambush warrior. On the shield of Achilles (Iliad 18.509ff), a group of men from the city at war form an ambush party (see λόχῳ in 513 and λοχῆσαι in 520), which is led by Athena and Ares. The use of the word ἐννύχιος at Iliad 21.37 strongly suggests that Lykaon was ambushed by Achilles, as does the description by Andromache of Achilles’ killing of her brothers (Iliad 6.421–424). These two episodes should not surprise us, given the prominence of the ambush of Troilos by Achilles in other Archaic sources, including early vase paintings and the Cypria. In Iliad 1, Achilles castigates Agamemnon for not going into ambush with the “best of the Achaeans.” In the Odyssey, the episode of the wooden horse and the capture of Troy is referred to as an ambush three times (Odyssey 4.277, 8.515, 11.525). Several ambushes are featured in Odysseus’ Cretan lies. Menelaos ambushes Proteus, the suitors set an unsuccessful ambush for Telemakhos, and both the killing of the Cyclops and the slaughter of the suitors are structured as ambushes. This last episode has been explored in great detail by Anthony Edwards, whose 1985 work Achilles in the Odyssey devotes a lengthy chapter to the ambush theme. Episodes from the Epic Cycle include not only the ambush of Troilos by Achilles and possibly the death of Achilles himself at the hands of Paris and Apollo but also the ambushes of Palamedes and Helenos in episodes that featured Odysseus and Diomedes. In Hesiodic epic, the castration of Ouranos by Kronos is called an ambush (λόχῳ, Theogony 174).
These numerous examples show us that the ambush of Dolon (and later, Rhesos) that takes place in Iliad 10 is in no way an unusual story, and as I say Mary Ebbott and I have devoted a whole book to outlining what we call “the poetics of ambush.” A poet composing this story would have made use of the same traditional diction and narrative patterns that are used for these other ambushes and I think this can be demonstrated for our Iliad 10. In this sense I respectfully disagree with the analysis of Fenik, who ultimately concludes that a later, inferior (oral) poet whom he calls “the K[appa] poet” has only semi-successfully adapted earlier mythological material to this place in the Iliad. Georg Danek took a similar stance in an important 1988 monograph on Book 10, differing from Fenik, however, in that he stresses the poet’s skill as an oral poet and his individual style.
Mary Ebbott and I have argued that by approaching ambush as a theme in strict accordance with the way Albert Lord used that term we can view Iliad 10 not as an idiosyncratic work that does not belong in our Iliad, but rather as our only extended example in the Iliad of what was once a common, traditional theme. I submit that an episode like the Doloneia might be very old, with its own set of very old, traditional formulas. I will not argue this today on the basis of linguistics (since indeed Homeric diction evolved through time) but rather on the basis of formula, theme, and oral poetics. I want to explore here just one of these formulas, a formula for night. But I stress that there are many other examples I could have chosen to discuss. (I have chosen this one primarily for the sake of brevity. [5] )
τίφθ᾽ οὕτως ἠθεῖε κορύσσεαι; ἦ τιν᾽ ἑταίρων
ὀτρύνεις Τρώεσσιν ἐπίσκοπον; ἀλλὰ μάλ᾽ αἰνῶς
δείδω μὴ οὔ τίς τοι ὑπόσχηται τόδε ἔργον
ἄνδρας δυσμενέας σκοπιαζέμεν οἶος ἐπελθὼν
νύκτα δι᾽ ἀμβροσίην· μάλα τις θρασυκάρδιος ἔσται.
Iliad 10.37–41 [6]
“Why ever, dear brother, are you arming yourself like this? Is there some one of our comrades
that you will urge on to spy against the Trojans? But I am terribly
afraid that no one will undertake this task,
to spy on enemy men, going out alone
through the ambrosial night. He is going to have to be especially bold-hearted.”
In 10.41 and 10.142 we find the formula νύκτα δι᾽ ἀμβροσίην. Ambrosia is the food of the gods (see, e.g. Odyssey 5.93 and 199, 9.359) and their divine horses and is used by them for a variety of other purposes in Homer, including as perfume (Odyssey 4.445), as a cosmetic (Iliad 14.170), and as a preservative for the corpses of Patroklos and Sarpedon (Iliad 16.670 and 680 and 19.38). At Iliad 1.529 Zeus’ hair is described as ambrosios, and at 2.19 so is sleep. In Iliad 18.268 and 24.363 night is again ambrosial. But in 10.83, 10.276, and 10.386, the metrically equivalent phrase νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην—not found outside of book 10 in the Iliad—is used in the same position in the line.
βάν ῥ᾽ ἰέναι, λιπέτην δὲ κατ᾽ αὐτόθι πάντας ἀρίστους.
τοῖσι δὲ δεξιὸν ἧκεν ἐρῳδιὸν ἐγγὺς ὁδοῖο
Παλλὰς Ἀθηναίη· τοίδ᾽ οὐκ ἴδον ὀφθαλμοῖσι
νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην, ἀλλὰ κλάγξαντος ἄκουσαν.
Iliad 10.273-276
They set out to go, and the two of them left there in that place the other best [aristos] men.
To them on the right near the road a night heron was sent
by Pallas Athena. They did not see it with their eyes
in the dark night, but they heard it cry out.
This phrase has a spondee where ἀμβροσίην has a dactyl, but both phrases occupy the same metrical space. Indeed the historical documents that transmit the text vary between the two formulae at 10.142:
τίφθ᾽ οὕτως ἐπὶ νῆας ἀνὰ στρατὸν οἶοι ἀλᾶσθε
νύκτα δι᾽ ἀμβροσίην, ὅ τι δὴ χρειὼ τόσον ἵκει;
Iliad 10.141-142
“Why ever do you wander this way along the ships among the encamped mass of warriors
through the ambrosial night? What need so great has come upon us?”
In the so-called Venetus A, the oldest complete Medieval manuscript of the Iliad, ὀρφναίην is written in the margin next to νύκτα δι᾽ ἀμβροσίην at this line, and a thirteenth century manuscript (Vaticanus Graecus 26) reads ὀρφναίην here instead of ἀμβροσίην. Although it is not impossible to have two metrically equivalent formulae expressing the same essential idea (since, as Gregory Nagy has shown, the principle of economy is a tendency, not a hard and fast rule), [7] such duplications are nevertheless rare in Homer and so we should expect the two adjectives to convey different things.
νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην is also found at Odyssey 9.143 and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes 578. The Odyssey 9 context of νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην is the ambush-like episode of the Cyclops, and this episode can serve to illustrate some of the features of the ambush theme. Nowhere is the blinding of the Cyclops called a lokhos, but with Odysseus as the mastermind it should not surprise us that the episode exhibits many of the traditional features of ambush. In Odyssey 9, Odysseus and his ships enter the harbor of the island opposite the land of the Cyclopes in the cover of darkness. There is a thick mist and no moon (9.143–145). The night here is described as νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην. I am going to argue further below that this formula is closely linked to the theme of ambush, and so it appropriately sets up the episode to come.
Odysseus leaves most of his men on the island and from there takes only his own ship over to the land of the Cyclopes. When they arrive he chooses the twelve best of his men from this ship to accompany him in his quest to meet the Cyclops (κρίνας ἑτάρων δυοκαίδεκ’ ἀρίστους, Odyssey 9.195). The selection of the “best” men is a traditional component of ambush and can be found in virtually every extended example of the theme. This motif recurs once the men are inside the Cyclops’ cave and imprisoned. Odysseus has the men draw lots to see who will join him in the blinding, and Odysseus says that the lots fell to the ones he himself would have chosen (τοὺς ἄν κε καὶ ἤθελον αὐτὸς ἑλέσθαι, Odyssey 9.334). Prior to the drawing of lots Odysseus tells us that he came up with a plan: ἥδε δέ μοι κατὰ θυμὸν ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή (Odyssey 9.318). This verse is the same (with the substitution of οἱ for μοι) as Iliad 10.17, describing Agamemnon’s nighttime deliberations.
It almost goes without saying that the situation Odysseus has gotten himself into in this episode requires the mētis that characterizes ambush warfare to overcome the biē (9.476) of Polyphemos. First there is the mētis of getting the Cyclops drunk. Next, the blinding itself is compared by way of a simile to the craft of a blacksmith. A second level of mētis is required to get out of the cave once Polyphemos is blinded. Odysseus tells us that he “schemed and schemed” (in the translation of Samuel Butler—the Greek is βούλευον at 9.420 with δόλος and μῆτις at Odyssey 9.422: πάντας δὲ δόλους καὶ μῆτιν ὕφαινον), and finally came up with another boulē at 9.424 (using the sheep as a disguise), for which the formula ἥδε δέ μοι κατὰ θυμὸν ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή is used once again. The importance of mētis in this episode is highlighted in the most famous lines of this episode, the pun that so perfectly captures Odysseus’ heroic identity: “Surely mē tis is killing you by trickery or by biē?” to which Polyphemos has been tricked into replying, “No one is killing me by trickery or by biē” (Odyssey 9.406-408).
Finally, the Cyclops episode is characterized by two other important features of ambush warfare, namely the use of disguise/concealment and the endurance of hardship over a long period of time, usually during the night. In Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush we explore the possibility that the many traditional epithets for Odysseus built on the root tla- evoke his ability to endure the hardships of ambush warfare (see Dué and Ebbott 2010 on 10.248). So, too, in this episode does Odysseus display this kind of endurance. Once Polyphemos is blinded Odysseus hangs on to the belly of a ram (for that is of course how he and his men conceal themselves) and waits for the Cyclops to open up the cave in the morning (Odyssey 9.435): ἐχόμην τετληότι θυμῷ (“I held on with an enduring heart”). He cannot go to sleep and he cannot let go, he can only endure and lament the men he has lost (στενάχοντες, Odyssey 9.436). The living ram as a covering is a twist on the animal skins worn at night in the ambush theme, as in Iliad 10. [8]
Many of the elements of this episode and the traditional phrases and verses used in telling the tale have parallels in the other adventures Odysseus relates in Odyssey 9-12, with the result that we can see the ambush theme underlying many of these episodes. That Iliad 10 likewise makes use of the poetics of ambush does not make the book “Odyssean” in the various potentially misleading ways that scholars over the past two centuries have used that term. Iliad 10 and the adventures of Odysseus do not resemble each other because they have the same individual author or because they were composed at the same late date. Rather they are both manifestations of the overarching theme of alternative warfare, which is fueled primarily by mētis, the characteristic most associated with the traditional character of Odysseus. The use of the formula νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes (where Hermes’ nighttime thievery and cunning are celebrated) is likewise suggestive of an association between this word and nighttime escapades.
Norman Austin ([1975] 71–73) sees ὀρφναίη as being particularly evocative of night’s darkness, which is of course appropriate for both ambush and thievery. Night is in general ambrosial according to Austin because of the welcome rest it brings at the end of the day, but it is particularly so in the Iliad: “Night [in the Iliad] means the end of a day’s fighting. It is relief from weary battle, but, more importantly for the Homeric hero, it means survival through another day.” But the night of Iliad 10 is marked by anxiety, fear, and a raid on the enemy camp, hence we find νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην in several places. [9]
Georg Danek ([1988] 80) has interpreted the alternation between the formulas νύκτα δι᾽ ἀμβροσίην and νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην as an intentional variation on the part of the composer of this book. Danek views the attempt to vary traditional phraseology as a hallmark of this poet’s individual style. This approach, which has met with a great deal of approval in the last few decades, is problematic from the standpoint of the methodology developed by Parry and Lord in studying oral traditions. It rests on the assumption that a singer within a traditional system would strive to “break free” of that tradition and compose in a new way—a view that is at odds with the fieldwork of Parry and Lord. Is there another way to understand the variation? Austin’s approach is helpful, because it finds two different ways that night can be characterized and shows how context affects the choice of either formula.
Ironically, though, Austin himself throughout his 1975 work seeks to counter Parry’s demonstration of the economy of Homeric diction, and uses these words as an example of how the poet of the Iliad can achieve various literary goals, unconstrained by formulaic diction. But another way to look at it is to say that Austin’s account of the different conceptualizations of the night enhances and clarifies Parry’s arguments about the economy of Homeric diction, which Parry described as “free of phrases which, having the same metrical value and expressing the same idea, could replace one another” (Parry [1971] 86). There is more than one way to say “night” here, because night is not a monolithic concept. When a poet wants to invoke night with its associations with relief and rest, νύκτα δι᾽ ἀμβροσίην would be easily summoned. The night encompassed by Iliad 10, however, is of a different sort, and as a result, the formula νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην is used 3–4 times.
This interpretation seems strengthened by Iliad 24.363, which is identical to 10.83, with the exception of the formula for night:
τίς δ᾽ οὗτος κατὰ νῆας ἀνὰ στρατὸν ἔρχεαι οἶος
νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην, ὅτε θ᾽ εὕδουσι βροτοὶ ἄλλοι;
Iliad 10.82–83
“Who is this that comes down to the ships through the encamped mass of warriors all alone
through the dark night, when other mortals are sleeping?”

πῇ πάτερ ὧδ’ ἵππους τε καὶ ἡμιόνους ἰθύνεις
νύκτα δι’ ἀμβροσίην, ὅτε θ’ εὕδουσι βροτοὶ ἄλλοι;
Iliad 24.362–363
“Where, father, are you driving your horses and mules like this
through the ambrosial night, when the other mortals are sleeping?”
In Iliad 24, Priam is attempting to sneak into Achilles’ camp during the night undetected; the formula νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην would seem to be appropriate. But the speaker of these lines is Hermes, who talks to Priam in the form of a young man who should be unaware of Priam’s mission. Accordingly, he uses the more innocent sounding νύκτα δι’ ἀμβροσίην. Alternatively, we can interpret the absence of ὀρφναίην as significant within the system that generated the two formulas. As I have argued, the theme of the night raid/ambush attracts its own a subset of formulae that are not typically found outside of this context in the Iliad. One could argue that Priam’s expedition to Achilles, though it takes place at night, is not being characterized as an ambush, and the night is therefore not dark, but the more generic “ambrosial.”
This discussion has been intended to unite more closely the groundbreaking work of Neoanalyst scholars with the work of Parry and Lord on oral composition by theme for interpreting a book whose place in the Iliad has been questioned since Alexandrian times. Taking a Parry/Lord approach, I submit that the presence of the theme of ambush in both Iliad 10 and the Odyssey, and the examples, like the one I have discussed here, of shared formulaic diction, are evidence for the antiquity of the theme of ambush, not a relatively late date of composition. Both the Iliad and Odyssey draw on an inherited storehouse of formulaic diction and narrative patterns in expressing this theme. Likewise, the presence of the theme of ambush in what we know of the Epic Cycle should further suggest to us that the theme was at one time a common one in epic poetry related to the Trojan War, wherever the mētis of ambush was needed to succeed where the polemos could not. Though I have adhered systematically to some of the twentieth-century principles of Parry and Lord on oral composition, I hope that this conceptualization of the theme of ambush will be seen as a way forward into the twenty-first century, not backward.
Casey Dué
University of Houston
Dué-Maneuvers figure
Folio 128 verso of the Venetus A, showing an alternate reading for verse 1.142

Works Cited

Austin, N. 1975. Archery at the Dark of the Moon: Poetic Problems in Homer’s Odyssey. Berkeley.
Block, E. 1985. “Clothing Makes the Man: A Pattern in the Odyssey.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 115:1–11.
Burgess, J. 2001. The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle. Baltimore.
———. 2006. “Neoanalysis, Orality, and Intertextuality: An Examination of Homeric Motif Transference.” Oral Tradition 21:148–189.
Danek, G. 1988. Studien zur Dolonie. Vienna.
———. 1998. Epos und Zitat: Studien zu den Quellen der Odyssee. Wiener Studien 22. Vienna.
———. 2002. “Traditional Referentiality and Homeric Intertextuality.” In Montanari and Ascheri 2002:3–19.
Dué, C. 2010. “Agamemnon’s Densely-packed Sorrow in Iliad 10: A Hypertextual Reading of a Homeric Simile.” In C. Tsagalis, ed., Homeric Hypertextuality. Trends in Classics 2: 279-299.
Dué, C. and M. Ebbott. 2010. Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush: A Multitext Edition with Essays and Commentary. Cambridge, MA.
Edwards, A. T. 1985. Achilles in the Odyssey. Königstein.
Fenik, B. 1964. Iliad X and the Rhesus: The Myth. Collection Latomus 73. Brussels.
Gunn, D. 1971. “Thematic Composition and Homeric Authorship.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 75:39-53
Hainsworth, J. B. 1993. The Iliad: A Commentary III. Books 9–12. Cambridge.
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Lord, A. B. 1960/2000. The Singer of Tales. Cambridge, MA. 2nd ed, 2000. ed. S. Mitchell and G. Nagy. Cambridge, MA.
Martin, R. P. 2000. “Wrapping Homer Up: Cohesion, Discourse, and Deviation in the Iliad.” In Sharrock and Morales 2000:43–65.
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Nagy, G. 1979. Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Baltimore.
———. 1996. Homeric Questions. Austin.
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[ back ] 1. See especially Burgess 2006 and Danek 1998 and 2002. For a model for our contention, explored in detail in the essay “The Poetics of Ambush” (Dué and Ebbott 2010:31-87), that Iliad 10 may interact with or allude to similar episodes in the Epic Cycle, we can look to Burgess’s path-finding 2001 book. For interactions between the Iliad and Odyssey see Nagy 1979 and Edwards 1985.
[ back ] 2. See however Kullman (1960) 86. The important work of Fenik 1964 and Danek 1988 will be discussed in this paper.
[ back ] 3. See Lord (1960/2000) 68-98.
[ back ] 4. We may compare Richard Martin’s ([2000] 60–61) similar formulation about the affinities between Nestor’s tale of a cattle raid undertaken in his youth in Iliad 11 and the Odyssey: “It is the occurrence of this theme, and not any alleged ‘late’ compositional traits, that accounts for the similarity between Nestor’s tale and the Odyssey at the level of diction. The appearance of a number of words only here in the Iliad, but with parallels in the Odyssey, does not mean that an ‘Odyssey-Poet’ composed Nestor’s speech.” On the cattle raid as an epic theme and its affinities with ambush see Dué and Ebbott (2010) 80-84.
[ back ] 5. For more a more extended discussion of the relationship between formula and theme see Dué (2010) with additional bibliography ad loc.
[ back ] 6. Greek quotations from the Iliad in this paper are taken from the Venetus A manuscript (Marcianus Graeus 454 [= 822]) except where noted.
[ back ] 7. See Nagy (1996) 25 with bibliography ad loc.
[ back ] 8. That the trick with the ram and sheep is akin to animal skins was suggested by Block (1985) 3, who compares it to the sealskins under which Menelaos and his men hide. Block does not connect it with ambush. Menelaos’ ambush of Proteus is called exactly that, and both hiding places/tricks are related to the theme in terms of the thematic signal of animal skins and the enduring of discomfort that both involve.
[ back ] 9. For alternate views on why night is ambrosial see Hainsworth 1993 ad 10.41 and Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988 ad 4.429, 4.445, and 5.93 with bibliography ad loc.