Hour 5. When mortals become ‘equal’ to immortals: Death of a hero, death of a bridegroom

The meaning of daimōn

5§1. The key word for this hour is daimōn (plural daimones), which I translate for the moment simply as ‘superhuman force’. This word is used to refer to an unspecified god or hero intervening in human life. The word daimōn is to be contrasted with theos, ‘god’, which is used to refer to a specified god.
5§2. In this connection, we may compare the words polytheism and monotheism. Also henotheism. The term henotheism refers to the worshipping of one divinity at a time. I think of the one-at-a-time mentality of henotheism as serial monotheism.
5§3. On the ritual occasion of a wedding in ancient Greek society, what happens at the climactic moment of the wedding is the equating of mortal humans with the immortal gods. That is what we saw in Hour 4 when we were reading Song 44 of Sappho, about the Wedding of Hector and Andromache. In that song, the bridegroom and the bride are said to be theoeikeloi, ‘looking just like the gods [theoi]’ (line 34). Now, as we will see here in Hour 5, the climactic moment of the ritual occasion of fighting in war is likewise signaled by the equating of mortal humans with immortal gods.

The expression ‘equal to a daimōn

5§4. The ritual of war collapses the distinction between human and divine - but only at the precise moment when the warrior comes face-to-face with his own martial death. I should add that the warrior may not necessarily die when he faces death. Still, the warrior’s identity is defined by the ritual need for him to face death in war. As we will also see, the medium of epic records the actual moment when the hero faces death in war by applying to the hero the epithet daimoni īsos, ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’.
5§5. I concentrate here on the expression daimoni īsos, ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’. In the Iliad, such wording focuses on the climax of god-hero antagonism. At the moment of such a climax, the hero can be equated with a daimōn.
5§6. In the first passage we will examine, the hero Patroklos comes face-to-face with death as he confronts the god Apollo. At this climactic moment of god-hero antagonism, Patroklos is described as ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’:

Hour 5 Text A

|698 The sons of the Achaeans could now have taken Troy |699 by the hands of Patroklos, for he was raging in all directions with his spear, |700 if Phoebus Apollo had not made his stand at the well-built wall, |701 standing there and thinking destructive thoughts against him [= Patroklos], since he [= Apollo] was supporting the Trojans. |702 Three times did he [= Patroklos] reach the base of the high wall, |703 that is what Patroklos did, and three times was he beaten back by Apollo, |704 who struck with his own immortal hands the luminous shield [of Patroklos]. |705 But when he [= Patroklos] rushed ahead for yet a fourth time, equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn], |706 he [= Apollo] shouted to him with a terrifying voice and spoke winged words: |707 “Draw back, Patroklos, you who are descended from the gods in the sky. It is not your destiny [aisa] |708 to destroy with your spear the city of the proud Trojans, |709 nor will it be the destiny of Achilles, who is a far better man than you are.” |710 That is what he [= Apollo] said. On hearing this, Patroklos drew quite a way back, |711 thus avoiding the anger [mēnis] of Apollo who shoots from afar.
Iliad XVI 698-711 [1]
5§7. Here, then, is a moment of “fatal attraction,” signaled by the expression daimoni īsos, ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’. But who is the daimōn in this expression? It must be a god. And, although the word daimōn itself partially conceals the identity of the god, the context here gives the answer away: the daimōn with whom Patroklos is equated here is the god Apollo himself. And this god is about to kill Patroklos.
5§8. But so far we have seen only a “dress rehearsal.” The real moment of identification between hero and god comes the next time, when Patroklos does not back away from Apollo after three attempts but faces him at the fourth attempt. The previous time Patroklos had avoided the mēnis, ‘anger’, of Apollo (Iliad XVI 711). The next time, he fails to avoid it. And I will now quote the passage that tells about this next time. [2] In this next passage, we finally see that climactic moment of god-hero antagonism, “the real thing”:

Hour 5 Text B

|783 Then Patroklos rushed ahead toward the Trojans, with the worst intentions. |784 Three times he rushed at them, and he was equal [atalantos] to swift Arēs. |785 He [= Patroklos] was making a terrifying shout, and he killed three times nine men. |786 But when he [= Patroklos] rushed ahead for yet a fourth time, equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn], |787 then, O Patroklos, the end of your life made its appearance to you. |788 Facing you now was Phoebus [Apollo], ready to fight you in grim battle. |789 He [= Apollo] was terrifying. But he [= Patroklos] did not notice him as he [= Apollo] was coming at him in the heat of battle. |790 For he [= Apollo] was covered in a great cloud of mist as he made contact with him. |791 He [= Apollo] stood behind him and he struck him on his back and his broad shoulders |792 with the downturned flat of his hand, making his eyes spin. |793 His helmet was knocked off his head by Phoebus Apollo, |794 and it rolled rattling off under the horses’ hooves. |795 That is what happened to this helmet, and its horse-tail plumes were all begrimed |796 with blood and dust. Before this time, it was not sanctioned |797 that this horse-hair helmet should ever get begrimed in the dust, |798 while it was protecting the head and comely forehead of that godlike man, |799 protecting the head of Achilles. But now Zeus gave it to Hector |800 for him to wear on his head. And his [= Hector’s] destruction was near. |801 Broken completely in his [= Patroklos’] hands was that spear of his that casts a long shadow, |802 a huge and heavy and massive piece of weaponry, and from his shoulders |803 his shield, strap and all, fell to the ground, with its beautiful edgework. |804 Taken away from him was his breastplate, removed by lord Apollo son of Zeus. |805 And his [= Patroklos’] mind was seized by derangement [atē]; his limbs failed him, |806 and he just stood there in a daze.
Iliad XVI 783-806 [3]
5§9. At this climactic moment of god-hero antagonism, when Patroklos becomes equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn], we can see that the partially concealed superhuman force or daimōn here is the god Apollo himself. And, at this moment, Patroklos is struck down by the divine hand of Apollo, who is the direct cause of the hero’s death. After this blow is delivered by the god himself, Patroklos finds himself dazed and without armor, and now he receives a second blow from the spear of the hero Euphorbos (XVI 806-815); then comes the third and final blow, from the spear of the hero Hector (XVI 816-854). After these three blows, Patroklos finally dies (XVI 855-857).
5§10. The narrative of the Iliad makes it clear that Hector succeeded in killing Patroklos only because that hero had first been struck down by the divine hand of the god Apollo himself and had thus been deprived of the protective armor of Achilles. So, if any Achaean now wants to rescue the corpse of Patroklos from the field of battle, he will be fighting not only Hector but also the god Apollo himself. Just as Patroklos was killed because he fought Apollo, so also any other Achaean hero will surely be killed if he now stands up to Hector, since the Achaean will first have to face the god Apollo himself. Such is the thinking of the Achaean hero Menelaos, who says to himself that he would not dare to stand up alone to Hector by attempting to rescue the corpse of Patroklos:

Hour 5 Text C

|98 When a man is willing, face-to-face with a daimōn, to fight another man |99 whom the god honors, then it becomes a sure thing that a big pain [pēma] will roll down [kulindesthai] upon him. [4]
Iliad XVII 98-99 [5]
5§11. The expression pros daimona, ‘face-to-face with a daimōn’, here at verse 98 of Iliad XVII recurs at verse 104, where Menelaos is thinking further, asking himself whether he would dare to make the attempt even if he is backed up by Ajax, arguably the greatest of all Achaean warriors next to Achilles. [6]
5§12. In this context, the use of the word daimōn is mystical in not naming the god - but it is ostentatiously mystical. By that I mean that the identity of the daimōn is obvious. That daimōn is Apollo.
5§13. We see another “dress-rehearsal” at an earlier point in the Iliad: the Achaean hero Diomedes is described as daimoni īsos, ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’, at Iliad V 438 and 459 when he makes his own four-stage attempt at facing Apollo in battle. After Diomedes makes his four-stage attempt, however, he ultimately backs down. [7]
5§14. So, the god Apollo causes the death of the hero Patroklos in the Iliad, and the death is signaled by the marking of Patroklos as daimoni īsos, ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’. By way of this marking, the killer daimōn is identified as the god Apollo himself. In fact, Patroklos is the only hero in the Iliad who gets struck down directly by the hand of Apollo - or by the hand of any other god.
5§15. Why Patroklos? It is because Patroklos is a stand-in for Achilles. As we will see later on, in Hour 6, Patroklos at the moment of his death becomes the ritual substitute of Achilles.

Apollo as divine antagonist of Achilles

5§16. The god Apollo causes the death of not only Patroklos but also Achilles. Just as Apollo initiates the killing of Patroklos, which is completed by Hector, so also the same god initiates the killing of Achilles himself, which is completed by Paris. But this greatest of all killings happens not in the Iliad. It happens instead in the epic Cycle, specifically, in the Aithiopis or ‘Song of the Ethiopians’:

Hour 5 Text D

|7 Achilles, while routing the Trojans and |8 rushing to the citadel, is killed by Paris and Apollo. |9 When a heated battle starts over the corpse, |10 Ajax picks it up and carries it off to the ships while |11 Odysseus fights off the Trojans.
plot-summary by Proclus of the Aithiopis by Arctinus of Miletus p. 106 lines 7-11 [8]
So, the death of Achilles happens not in the Iliad but beyond the Iliad. In the Iliad, however, the best friend of Achilles, Patroklos, will stand in for Achilles as the victim of Apollo.
5§17. In the Iliad, after Patroklos is killed in battle, Achilles himself takes the place of his best friend in challenging Apollo by rushing at Hector four times, and Achilles too is given the epithet daimoni īsos, ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’, at the precise moment of his fourth try (XX 447), just as Patroklos had been given that same epithet at the moment of his own fourth try, which as we have seen happens not once but twice in two separate four-try sequences (XVI 705, 786). As we have also seen, the fourth try of Patroklos in the second of these two sequences proves to be fatal. By contrast, the fourth try of Achilles is not fatal here in the Iliad, because the god Apollo intervenes and hides Hector in a huge cloud of mist (XX 443-444). There are three further moments when Achilles will be given the epithet daimoni īsos, ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’, in the Iliad (XX 493; XXI 18, 227), but, in each one of these three moments, the epithet fails to activate the death of Achilles. That death is postponed for a moment that will take place outside the Iliad as we know it.

Arēs as divine antagonist of Achilles

5§18. The death of Achilles, prefigured by the death of Patroklos, is an epic theme so all-encompassing that it transcends even the divine antagonism of the god Apollo toward these two heroes. As we will now see, Achilles has not only one divine antagonist but two. His other divine antagonist is Arēs.
5§19. Here we need to confront a major complication. In the second of the two passages centering on the death scene of Patroklos in the Iliad, Text B (XVI 783-806), we notice that the hero is being compared not only to an unnamed god, a daimōn, ‘superhuman force’ (XVI 786), who turns out to be Apollo, but also to a named god, Arēs (XVI 784). As a warrior, Patroklos is ‘equal’ (īsos 786) not only to the god Apollo in his climactic moment of god-hero antagonism. He is ‘equal’ (atalantos 784) also to the god Arēs. [9] As we will see in more detail in Hour 6, Arēs is the god of war or, more specifically, the god of martial fury.

Achilles as ideal warrior and ideal bridegroom

5§20. We have just seen that Patroklos has as his divine antagonist not only Apollo but also Arēs. And we will now see that Patroklos is a stand-in for Achilles in his antagonism with both these gods. But why is Achilles himself linked to both Arēs and Apollo as divine antagonists? The answer to this question divides into two halves. The first half has to do with Achilles as a warrior and the second, with Achilles as a bridegroom.
5§21. We have already seen that Patroklos in the Iliad is a stand-in for Achilles as a warrior. So, when Patroklos at the moment of his death is ‘equal’ to both Arēs and Apollo, it is because Achilles in his own right is ‘equal’ to these two gods as an ideal warrior. But now we will see that Achilles is also ‘equal’ to these same two gods as an ideal bridegroom. [10]
5§22. We have already started to explore in Hour 4 the ritualized equation of bridegrooms with gods: as we saw in Song 44 of Sappho, for example, the generic bridegroom is equated to a god at the moment when he gets married. Now we will see that the identity of the god who is being compared to the bridegroom is manifested in the ritual convention of imagining the bridegroom not only as a god but also as a hero, especially as Achilles. And there are two divine models for Achilles as an ideal bridegroom: Arēs and Apollo. As we now proceed through the rest of Hour 5, we will see the active presence of both Arēs and Apollo in the songs of Sappho. Before we turn to studying the relevant songs, however, I need to give an overview of the historical background. [11]

The historical background of Sappho’s songs

5§23. Sappho was a woman credited with the composition of some of the most beautiful songs in world literature. This formulation is relevant to what I already noted in Hour 3, that the performance of songs by women is a most important matter in ancient Greek song culture. And it is a most important matter for us to consider the songs of women as we study the Homeric Iliad, since the traditions of such songs pervade the Iliad.
5§24. It makes sense, therefore, to take the time to read in the online Sourcebook all the fragments of surviving poetry and song attributed to Sappho and Alcman. Reading these fragments will take less than half an hour. Especially important are the fragments of Sappho. The earlier you acquaint yourself with the traditions of song represented by Sappho, the better you will understand the entirety of ancient Greek song culture.
5§25. Sappho was a Lesbian, by which I mean simply that she originated from an island named Lesbos, situated off the northern coast of Asia Minor. The people of Lesbos spoke a local version of the Greek dialect known as Aeolic, and they were considered to be Asiatic Greeks, as distinct from the European Greeks of, say, Thessaly, who spoke their own local version of Aeolic. I have already mentioned these Aeolic-speaking Greeks in Hours 2 and 4, where we saw that Achilles has a special affinity with these Aeolians. As we will see in more detail later, Achilles himself hails from Aeolic Thessaly.
5§26. In the song culture of the island of Lesbos, the woman Sappho was considered the primary representative of women’s songs, while a man called Alcaeus was considered the primary representative of men’s songs. According to the traditions of Lesbos, both Sappho and Alcaeus lived in the late seventh and early sixth centuries BCE. That rough date matches a reference in a song of Alcaeus (Fragment 49.12) to a contemporary event that can be dated independently, namely, the destruction of Ascalon by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, in 604 BCE (Alcaeus Source 1).
5§27. The songs of Sappho and Alcaeus, taken together, represent the repertoire of the myths and the rituals of the people of Lesbos as expressed in lyric song.
5§28. I insert here a quick working definition of myth and ritual together, repeated from the Introduction. Ritual is doing things and saying things in a way that is considered sacred. Myth is saying things in a way that is also considered sacred. So, ritual frames myth.
5§29. The songs of Sappho and Alcaeus date back to a period when the city-states of the island of Lesbos were confederated into a single state. This federal state, the political term for which was sunoikisis (Thucydides 3.3.1), was dominated by the city of Mytilene, known as the home of Sappho and Alcaeus. There was a single communal place reserved for the festivals of this island federation, and that place was named Messon, the ‘middle space’.
5§30. In the words of Alcaeus, this federal space was called the temenos theōn, ‘sacred precinct of the gods’ (Fragment 130b.13). It was the designated place for celebrating a seasonally recurring festival, described in the words of Alcaeus as assemblies or ‘comings together’ of the people of Lesbos (Fragment 130b). This festival featured as its main spectacle the singing and dancing of choruses of Lesbiades, ‘women of Lesbos’, described as ‘exceptional in their beauty’ (krinnomenai phuan 130b.17). When I say choruses, I mean singing and dancing ensembles. The Greek word khoros refers to dancing as well as singing.
5§31. The reality of such a festival in Lesbos featuring the choral performances of women is independently verified by a scholion (this word is a technical term referring to a learned note found in a manuscript) attached to a passage in the Homeric Iliad (IX 130): from this scholion we learn that the name of the festival was the Kallisteia, which can be translated as ‘pageant of beauty’. In the relevant Iliadic passage as well as elsewhere in the Iliad, there are references to women from Lesbos, described as exceptional in their beauty, who were captured by Achilles in the years that preceded the final destruction of Troy (IX 128-131, 270-273). These direct references in the Iliad can be analyzed as indirect references to the festival of the Kallisteia in Lesbos. [12] Another reference to the Kallisteia is attested in a poem from the Greek Anthology (9.189), which says that this festival takes place within the temenos, ‘sacred precinct’, of the goddess Hērā: this festival, as we learn from the same poem, was the occasion for choral singing and dancing by the women of Lesbos, with Sappho herself pictured as the leader of their khoros, ‘chorus’. As I already said, an ancient Greek chorus was an ensemble of singing and dancing performers.
5§32. Sappho in her songs is conventionally pictured as the lead singer of a chorus that consisted of the women of Lesbos, and she speaks as their main choral personality. [13] As we see in the Greek Anthology, she is figured as the lead singer of this chorus of women who sing and dance in the federal space of the people of Lesbos. Sappho’s songs are pictured as taking place within this sacred place, marked by the deictic adverb tuide, ‘here’ (as in Sappho Song 17 line 7).
5§33. Elsewhere too, this same federal space of the people of Lesbos is marked by the deictic adverb tuide, ‘here’ (Sappho Song 96 line 2), as the sacred place of choral performance, and the noun molpa (line 5) makes it explicit that the performance takes the form of choral singing and dancing. In archaic poetry, the verb for ‘sing and dance in a chorus’ is melpein or melpesthai. [14]

Transition to Sappho’s songs

5§34. With this overview in place, I am ready to show some of Sappho’s most celebrated songs. Two of them in particular, Songs 1 and 31, will have much to tell us about the central question of this hour: how are mortals compared to immortals? I will start with Song 31, which will be a key to understanding how and why the gods Arēs and Apollo are figured as divine models for Achilles as an ideal bridegroom.
5§35. And I will start with Arēs. One thing I need to highlight right away, even before we start reading Song 31 of Sappho, is that we cannot consider this god without considering also the symmetrical goddess Aphrodite.

Arēs and Aphrodite as models for the bridegroom and the bride

5§36. In the wedding songs of Sappho, the god Arēs is a model for the generic gambros, ‘bridegroom’, who is explicitly described as īsos Areui, ‘equal [īsos] to Arēs’, in Sappho Song 111.5. Correspondingly, there are many instances of implicit equations of the generic bride with the goddess Aphrodite: in Sappho Song 112, for example, the bridegroom is said to be infused with the divine charisma of Aphrodite, evidently by way of his direct contact with the bride.
5§37. At a wedding, which is a ritual of initiation in terms of ancient Greek song culture, the likening of the bridegroom and the bride to a god and a goddess leads to death. But this death is only figurative. And that is because death in rituals of initiation is not physical but psychic. From cross-cultural surveys of rituals of initiation as practiced in traditional societies around the world, it becomes evident that initiands who are identified with divinities at the moment of initiation are imagined as dying to their old selves as members of a given age-class and being reborn into their new selves as members of the next age-class. [15] A prime example of such psychic death at a wedding is Song 31 of Sappho, to which I now turn.

Song 31 of Sappho

Hour 5 Text E

|1 He appears [phainetai] to me, that one, equal to the gods [īsos theoisin], |2 that man who, facing you |3 is seated and, up close, that sweet voice of yours |4 he listens to, |5 and how you laugh a laugh that brings desire. Why, it just |6 makes my heart flutter within my breast. |7 You see, the moment I look at you, right then, for me |8 to make any sound at all won’t work anymore. |9 My tongue has a breakdown and a delicate |10 - all of a sudden - fire rushes under my skin. |11 With my eyes I see not a thing, and there is a roar |12 my ears make. |13 Sweat pours down me and a trembling |14 seizes all of me; paler than grass |15 am I, and a little short of death |16 do I appear [phainomai] to myself.
Song 31 of Sappho [16]
5§38. The form phainetai ‘he appears’ at line 1 of this song and the form phainomai, ‘I appear’, at line 16 are the third and the first persons of a verb related to the noun phantasia, a derivative form that means ‘fantasy’ in later Greek prose. Or, to put it more accurately, phantasia means ‘imagined vision’ or ‘imagination’. The English word fantasy, derived from phantasia, is actually misleading as a translation, since this word implies a vision that is unreal. In ancient Greek song culture, however, there is no ‘fantasy’ about the kind of vision that is seen here in Song 31 of Sappho. This kind of vision is an epiphany, and I am now using here another word that actually derives from the same verb phainetai, ‘he appears’, / phainomai, ‘I appear’, as we have just seen it at lines 1 / 16. An epiphany is a vision that is felt to be real, not unreal. It is the appearance of something divine, something that is understood to be absolutely real.
5§39. The ‘he’ in line 1 of this song refers to a bridegroom, and he is figured as a god at the moment of singing this song. It is as if a god has appeared at a wedding. In the words of line 1 of the song, the bridegroom phainetai, ‘appears’, to be īsos theoisin, ‘equal [īsos] to the gods’. Appearances become realities here. I say this because phainetai means not only ‘appears’ but also ‘is manifested in an epiphany’, and this epiphany is felt as real. [17] Literally, the bridegroom ‘appears in an epiphany’, phainetai, in line 1. In ritual terms, the word phainetai, ‘he appears’, here signals a real epiphany. And the word kēnos (ekeinos), ‘that one’, as we will see in Hour 15§45 when we read Philostratus, also signals the epiphany.
5§40. As for the ‘you’ who is being addressed by the speaker, this ‘you’ is a she. She is the bride. And, just as the bridegroom phainetai, ‘appears’, to be īsos theoisin, ‘equal [īsos] to the gods’, at line 1 of the song, the bride is figured as a goddess at the same moment in the song. The ritual occasion of a wedding, as formalized in a wedding song, collapses the distinction between ‘bride’ and ‘goddess’. Here I recall what I noted already in Hour 4, where we saw that the word numphē means both ‘bride’ (as in Iliad XVIII 492) and ‘goddess’, that is, ‘nymph’ (as in Iliad XXIV 616).
5§41. And the ‘I’ who is speaking is also a she. She is the lead singer who sings the song, and she is ‘Sappho’. This woman who speaks in the first person here is vicariously speaking for the whole group that is notionally participating in the ritual of the wedding. Such a female lead singer is a prima donna, to borrow an Italian term used in the world of opera. And this lead singer, this female speaker, experiences an attraction to both the bridegroom and the bride. Or, we might say, she experiences an attraction to the attraction between the two. The attraction is both esthetic and erotic. It is a totalizing attraction, creating feelings of total connectedness. And this totalizing connectedness activates all the senses of the speaker, who experiences an “erotic meltdown.”
5§42. The feelings come to a climax described as just one moment away from death. Here is the way it is expressed in line 16 of the song: tethnakēn d’oligō ’pideuēs | phainom’ emautāi, ‘and a little short of death | do I appear [phainomai] to myself’. The wording here matches what is expressed in line 1 of the song: phainetai moi kēnos īsos theoisin, ‘that man appears [phainetai] to me (to be) equal to the gods’. In both line 1 and line 16, what is ‘appearing’ or ‘seeming’ on one level is an epiphany on a deeper level. To translate phainom’ emautāi at line 16 on such a deeper level proves to be difficult: ‘I am manifested to myself in an epiphany’.
5§43. The wording in line 16 of Song 31 of Sappho, however we translate it, expresses the idea that the speaker is personally experiencing an epiphany. She undergoes a fusion with divinity, and this fusion is not only esthetic but also erotic. But I think it would be too simple to say that such an experience is auto-erotic. Rather, as I will argue, it is an experiencing of auto-epiphany. And such an experience is not only erotic. It is also mortally dangerous.
5§44. The epiphany in line 16 of Song 31 induces a near-death experience for the speaker: tethnakēn d’oligō ’pideuēs | phainom’ emautāi, ‘and a little short of death | do I appear [ phainomai ] to myself’. We will now see that this figurative personal death, in the ritualized context of a wedding, is modeled on a realized mythical death. As I will argue, death in myth is a prototype for the vicarious experience of the first-person speaker in her interaction with the second-person bride and with the third-person bridegroom. And such an experience of death can be described as an initiation. As I explained a few minutes ago, the likening of a bridegroom and a bride to a god and a goddess leads to a figurative death in rituals of initiation such as weddings.
5§45. Here I return to Text A and Text B, two passages I showed at the beginning of this hour. Both passages were taken from Iliad XVI, where we saw the logic of myth at work in the words that tell about the death of Patroklos. In Text A, Patroklos is likened indirectly to Apollo (XVI 705); in Text B, he is likened directly to Arēs (XVI 784) and again indirectly to Apollo (XVI 786). This logic is relevant to Text E, Song 31 of Sappho, where the bridegroom and the bride are likened indirectly to Arēs and Aphrodite. In the logic of myth, as we saw in the Iliad, a hero’s identity at the moment of death merges with a god’s identity, and, at that moment, the hero can be likened to a god. In the logic of ritual, as we have just seen in Song 31 of Sappho, such a merger of identity leads only to a figurative death, a near-death, as expressed in the words that tell about the near-death experience of the woman who is speaking in the first person. [18]
5§46. Such a moment, when the bridegroom is the god and the bride is the goddess, is signaled by the epithet īsos theoisin, ‘equal [īsos] to the gods’, which is applied to the bridegroom in line 1 of Song 31.
5§47. We have already seen a similar epithet in Hour 4 when we were reading Song 44 of Sappho. There we saw Andromache and Hector as bride and bridegroom, and the two of them were described as theoeikeloi, ‘looking just like the gods’ (line 34). As we saw from the context, the two of them were looking like gods at their wedding, that is, at the ritual moment when they got married to each other.
5§48. In the songs of Sappho, we see also other variations in the merging of human and divine identities. In Song 165, for example, we find the wording phainetai woi kēnos īsos theoisin, ‘he appears [phainetai] to her, that one, equal [īsos] to the gods’. In that song, the third-person woi, ‘to her’, seems to be referring to the bride, in contrast with the wording we find in line of 1 of Song 31, phainetai moi kēnos īsos theoisin, ‘he appears [phainetai] to me, that one, (to be) equal [īsos] to the gods’, where the first-person moi, ‘to me’, refers to the speaker, who is ‘Sappho’. In Song 31, the subjectivity is linked to the first-person speaker, who is the vicarious participant; in Song 165, on the other hand, the subjectivity is linked to the third person, who is the immediate participant. There is a shifting of referents that accompanies the shifting of pronouns from ‘I’ to ‘she’.

Song 1 of Sappho

5§49. We are now about to see another shifting of referents, in Song 1 of Sappho. Here the shift is from ‘you’ to ‘I’. In this case, the shift in the ownership of pronouns involves the second-person ‘you’ of the goddess Aphrodite herself and the first-person ‘I’ of Sappho. During an epiphany of Aphrodite, Sappho exchanges identities with the goddess. It is a moment of personal fusion with Aphrodite:

Hour 5 Text F

|1 You with pattern-woven flowers, immortal Aphrodite, |2 child of Zeus, weaver of wiles, I implore you, |3 do not devastate with aches and sorrows,|4 Mistress, my heart! |5 But come here [tuide], if ever at any other time |6 hearing my voice from afar, |7 you heeded me, and leaving the palace of your father, |8 golden, you came, |9 having harnessed the chariot; and you were carried along by beautiful |10 swift sparrows over the dark earth |11 swirling with their dense plumage from the sky through the |12 midst of the aether, |13 and straightaway they arrived. But you, O holy one, |14 smiling with your immortal looks, |15 kept asking what is it once again this time [dēute] that has happened to me and for what reason |16 once again this time [dēute] do I invoke you, |17 and what is it that I want more than anything to happen |18 to my frenzied [mainolās] heart [thūmos]? “Whom am I once again this time [dēute] to persuade, |19 setting out to bring her to your love? Who is doing you, |20 Sappho, wrong? |21 For if she is fleeing now, soon she will give chase. |22 If she is not taking gifts, soon she will be giving them. |23 If she does not love, soon she will love |24 even against her will.” |25 Come to me even now, and free me from harsh |26 anxieties, and however many things |27 my heart [thūmos] yearns to get done, you do for me. You |28 become my ally in war.
Song 1 of Sappho = Prayer to Aphrodite [19]
5§50. As the female speaker of Song 1, the ‘I’ of Sappho is being pictured here as the lead singer of a choral lyric performance. She leads off by praying to Aphrodite to be present, that is, to manifest herself in an epiphany. The goddess is invoked from far away in the sky, which is separated from the earth by the immeasurably vast space of ‘aether’. Aphrodite is implored to fill the aching need caused by the sorrows of love. And, now that she is invoked, despite the overwhelming sense of separation between the divine and the human, Aphrodite makes her presence felt in a sudden flash, in one single divine moment. So, the goddess appears, that is, she is now present in the sacred space of performance, and her presence becomes an epiphany for all those who are present. Then, once Aphrodite is present, she exchanges roles with the prima donna who figures as the leader of choral performance. In the part of Song 1 that we see enclosed within quotation marks in the visual formatting of modern editions (lines 18-24), the first-person ‘I’ of Sappho is now replaced by Aphrodite herself, who has been a second-person ‘you’ up to this point. We see here an exchange of roles between the first-person ‘I’ and the second-person ‘you’. The first-person ‘I’ now becomes Aphrodite, who proceeds to speak in the performing voice of Sappho to Sappho herself, who has now become the second-person ‘you’. During Aphrodite’s epiphany inside the sacred space of the people of Lesbos, a fusion of identities takes place between the goddess and the prima donna who leads the choral performance tuide, ‘here’ (line 5), that is, in this sacred space. [20]
5§51. The exchange between the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ of Sappho and Aphrodite in Song 1 of Sappho is reflected also in the wording of Song 159 of Sappho, where Aphrodite is imagined once again as speaking to Sappho and addressing her by name. Moreover, in Song 134 of Sappho, the speaker says she is dreaming that she has a dialogue (dialegesthai) with Aphrodite.
5§52. Back in Song 1, Sappho prayed to Aphrodite to give her the power that the goddess has, the power to make love happen. She prayed that she may ‘get done’ whatever it is that Aphrodite ‘gets done’ in the active voice of the verb meaning ‘to get something done’, telessai (line 26), which is to be contrasted with the passive voice telesthēn applying to a passive lover who simply lets love happen (as in Sappho Song 5 line 4, not cited here). To be granted that power is to be the lead singer of the song that has the power to make love happen. Such is the power of song in the songs of Sappho. Such is the power of the prayer that is powered by Song 1 of Sappho.
5§53. Earlier in this hour, I took time out to study the historical context of the myths and rituals of the people of Lesbos in the era of Sappho. I concentrated on the sacred space of their federal precinct, where the festival of the Kallisteia was celebrated in choral performances by the women of Lesbos. In Song 1, of Sappho, we can now see a reference to this sacred space, which had been called Messon to indicate a political ‘middle ground’. The reference is indicated simply by the deictic adverb tuide, ‘here’ (line 5).
5§54. Song 1 of Sappho can be seen as a prayer in the sense of a totalizing formula for authorizing choral performances of women at the festival of the Kallisteia. The seasonal recurrences of the festival are signaled by the triple deployment of the adverb dēute, ‘once again this time’, in Sappho’s prayer (lines 15, 16, 18). Every time in the past when Sappho has invoked Aphrodite by offering to her this prayer that we now hear, the goddess has heeded the prayer and has manifested herself in an ever-new epiphany. And now, once again this time, the goddess appears to Sappho, who will once again this time speak for the whole chorus as she speaks first for herself and then for Aphrodite and then once again this time for herself.
5§55. In the postclassical era of literary critics like Menander the Rhetorician (3.333-334; Sappho Source 47), the description of compositions like Song 1 of Sappho as prayers fails to capture the meaning of an act of prayer in the context of a choral performance. The modern mind, seizing on current understandings of the word prayer, is quick to infer that the “prayers” of Sappho must be mere literary conceits. This is to ignore the dimension of performance, which complements the dimension of composition in the lyric singing that we see in this early period of ancient Greek song culture. It is also to ignore the ritual background of such performance, which complements the mythological background of the composition. [21]
5§56. What appears to be a private “prayer” uttered by Sappho is at the same time a public act of worship that is notionally sung and danced by the people of Lesbos as represented by a chorus of their women, legendary as they are for their beauty, and as led by the figure of Sappho as their prima donna. What appears to be the most deeply personal experience of Sappho is at the same time the most widely shared communal experience of the people of Lesbos.
[[For those who may enjoy seeing coincidental parallels in American popular culture, here is an example. I cite here the lyrics of Madonna’s 1989 song, “Like a Prayer”:
Life is a mystery | Everyone must stand alone | I hear you call my name and it feels like | [home] | Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God | When you call my name | Like a little prayer | Down on my knees | Going to take you there | In the midnight hour | I can feel your power | Just like a prayer | You know I’ll take you there. | I feel your voice | It’s like an angel sighing | I have no choice | I hear your voice | Feels like flying | I close my eyes | Oh God I think I’m falling | out of the sky | I close my eyes | Heaven help me. | Like a child | You whisper softly to me | You’re in control | Just like a child | [Now I’m dancing] | It’s like a dream | No end and no beginning | You’re here with me | It’s like a dream | Let the choir sing. [22] ]]

The ritual background of Song 1 of Sappho

5§57. I now propose to go into more detail about the identification of the speaker with the goddess Aphrodite in Song 1 of Sappho. This identification happens, as we saw, within a lapse of time that we moderns indicate by way of quotation marks, starting with ‘Whom am I once again this time…’ and ending with ‘… soon she will love | even against her will’. Within this lapse of time, the ‘I’ of Sappho becomes the ‘I’ of Aphrodite, while the ‘you’ of Aphrodite becomes the ‘you’ of Sappho. So, the lead singer of Song 1, who is the prima donna of the song, becomes a goddess during this lapse of time. And the lead singer here is not only a prima donna. She is a diva, to borrow another Italian term used in the world of opera. To say it in English, the lead singer is now a goddess.
5§58. And what exactly is the moment when the lead singer becomes a goddess? This moment recurs every time the song is sung once again, as at a ritual that marks either a girl’s coming of age or her wedding. Essential for understanding this concept of recurrence in Song 1 of Sappho is the concept of repetition in ritual, as expressed by the adverb dēute, ‘once again’ (lines 15, 16, 18). I signal here the formulation of Kierkegaard (Repetition, 1843): “The dialectic of repetition is easy, for that which is repeated has been - otherwise it could not be repeated - but the very fact that it has been makes the repetition into something new.” [23] Similarly for us modern readers, every time we look back at this passage, there will be something new for us to see.

The Maiden Song of Alcman

5§59. Here is another ancient Greek example of a song performed at a seasonally recurring festival. Once more we will see the ritual practice of equating the prima donna - or we can also say prima ballerina - with a goddess. This time, the equation happens at a “coming out” ritual that marks a coming of age from girlhood to womanhood:

Hour 5 Text G

|39 And I sing |40 the radiance of Agido, seeing |41 her as the sun, which for us |42 is shown by Agido - she is the eyewitness - |43 to shine [phainein] with its sunlight. But for me to praise [ep-aineîn] her |44 or to blame [mōmēsthai] her is not allowed by the glorious [kleenna] leader of the chorus [khorēgos = Hagesikhora]. |45 No, she does not at all allow me. For that one [Hagesikhora] appears radiantly to be |46 outstanding, as when someone |47 sets among grazing cattle a horse, |48 well-built, a prize-winner, with thundering hooves, |49 something from out of those dreams that happen underneath a rock. [24]
From the Partheneion, ‘Maiden Song’, of Alcman, lines 39-49 [25]
5§60. Here is a thesis paragraph that is meant to encapsulate the argumentation in the exegesis that follows:
The words in this passage indicate a ritual of female initiation in the public space of Sparta, where the entire male and female population is experiencing contact with the divine. The climactic moment in this ritual is marked by an epiphany, as marked here by the words that I translate ‘shine with sunlight’.
Now I proceed to the exegesis.
5§61. This song, conventionally known as the Partheneion, the ‘Maiden Song’, was reputedly composed by a legendary poet named Alcman for performance at a seasonally recurring grand public festival in Sparta. [26] Year after year, local maidens were specially selected for the occasion of singing and dancing this song in the public space of Sparta, and we have already seen that the word for such singing and dancing was khoros, ‘chorus, song-and-dance ensemble’. As the girls sang and danced the song, they took on the roles of the names featured in the song. Two names stand out, referring to the two premier roles in the singing and dancing. These names are Hagesikhora and Agido, referring in the song to two competing chorus leaders of what I infer must be two competing choruses. [27]
5§62. I note the use of the word khorēgos, ‘chorus-leader’, in the song, referring to the girl called Hagesikhora, one of the two chorus leaders. The name Hagesikhora means the same thing as khorēgos. As for the other girl, called Agido, the words of the song identify her with the sun itself, but then, right after this declaration, the girl called Hagesikhora is said to match Agido in her own solar radiance. In modern terms, such descriptions as prima donna or prima ballerina surely apply to both girls.
5§63. So, the girls who figure as the center of attention in the choral performance of this Song of Maidens by Alcman are being identified with the divine force of the sun itself, just as the girl who is getting married in Song 31 of Sappho is identified with the divinity of love and sexuality, Aphrodite.
5§64. So far, as I have been talking about Song 31 of Sappho, I have not yet said that the goddess who is identified with the bride must be Aphrodite herself. But now, on the basis of the comparisons we can make with the Maiden Song of Alcman, the identification of the bride with the goddess Aphrodite in Song 31 of Sappho has become evident. And it follows that the bridegroom in this same song is identified with the god Arēs.

A typological comparison of initiation rituals

5§65. Such identification with divinities, as I noted earlier, is well attested in the initiation rituals of a wide variety of societies around the world. In my research, I have studied as a point of typological comparison the Navajo and Apache rituals of girls’ initiation into puberty. [28] Such initiation rituals are customarily performed by and in honor of a young female member of the community at a point in her life when she begins to menstruate. The medium for performance is singing as well as dancing.
5§66. The focal point of these Navajo and Apache rituals of female initiation is the goddess “Changing Woman.” More literally, her name means “the woman who is transformed time and again.” In the here and now of the Changing Woman ritual, the songs are thought to have the power of re-enacting the prototypical event.
[[In “live” meetings, I show at this point a clip from a video recording the climax of an Apache Changing Woman ritual.]]
5§67. In the case of the Navajo rituals, the localization of the family building known as the hogan becomes sacred space, where the distinctions between the details of myth and the details of ritual can merge in the minds of those who participate in the ritual. [29] Within the sacred space, the young girl to be initiated becomes identified with the goddess Changing Woman. We may also say: the girl identifies with the goddess.
[[Here I point to a relevant detail in the clip from the video showing the Changing Woman ritual of the Apache. I notice that the father of the girl being initiated says in the voiceover he made for the video that his daughter is “portraying” a goddess while she dances and notionally sings at the same time. In other words, the girl “seems” like a goddess. The father says this in the English-speaking part of his voiceover. But then he follows up by saying something different in the Apache language: now he says that his daughter at that moment is in fact the goddess. In the world of non-ritual, by contrast, it is simply a matter of seeming like a goddess.]]
5§68. After a pronouncement of blessings in the Navajo ritual, the girl initiand goes out of the hogan and runs a race with other young people who are participants in her initiation, and it is ritually prescribed that she must take the lead in the race. We can find a comparable detail in the ancient Greek ritual as enacted in the Maiden Song of Alcman. In this ritual as well, there was some sort of race, as we see from the words of the song referring to the running of the two girls Hagesikhora and Agido in competition with the other girls and with each other (lines 58-59).
5§69. In the Navajo ritual, the prescribed course of the race to be run by the girl initiand is symbolic of the course of the sun. It has been observed that “the race is, in effect, her pursuit of the sun.” [30] In the myth of Changing Woman, which is correlated with the ritualized race of the girl initiand, the goddess actually mates with the Sun, who is envisioned as a male divinity; at the moment of intercourse, the Sun takes on the form of a handsome young man. [31] As we will see later, there is a comparable theme in Song 58 of Sappho (lines 25-26), where the female speaker declares her powerful attraction to the divine power of the shining sun.
5§70. In the Talking God type of hogan songs in Navajo ritual, the goddess is conventionally described as moving towards the ritually decorated family hogan and then signaling her arrival. As she arrives, the references that are made to the goddess in the song shift from the third to the first person, so that the goddess herself, represented in the words of the singer, now speaks as an “I.” It seems that the “I” stands for a composite of the girl initiand and of Changing Woman herself, though the actual performer is the chief singer, not the girl. A phrase continually repeated in Talking God Hogan Song 25 goes like this: “With my sacred power, I am traveling.”
5§71. This ritual picturing of a traveling goddess whose climactic epiphany in the here and now signals a shift from speaking about her in the third person to speaking for her in the first person is comparable to the ritual picturing of the goddess Aphrodite as she travels from her celestial realm on high all the way down to the sacred space where Song 1 of Sappho is being performed. In this ancient Greek song, we see a shift that is comparable to the shift we just saw in the Navajo ritual: in the Greek song, the main performer or prima donna shifts from speaking to Aphrodite in the second person to speaking for her in the first person, so that Sappho as Aphrodite may now speak directly to Sappho as Sappho herself (starting at line 18 and lasting through line 24).
5§72. Here I conclude my comparative analysis of the ritual practice of equating a prima donna or prima ballerina with the divine in the Maiden Song of Alcman, where a beautiful girl named Agido, who is a prima donna of the choral performance, ‘summons’ the sun to shine. By now we can see what is meant: the girl literally makes the sun shine. The song identifies the girl Agido with the sun.

Song 16 of Sappho

5§73. In this song as well, we see an identification of the prima donna or prima ballerina with the sun:

Hour 5 Text H

|1 Some say a massing of chariots and their drivers, some say of footsoldiers, |2 some say of ships, if you think of everything that exists on the surface of this black earth, |3 is the most beautiful thing of them all. But I say it is that one thing |4 that anyone passionately loves [erâtai]. [32] |5 It’s really quite easy to make this understandable |6 to everyone, this thing. You see, that woman who was by far supreme |7 in beauty among all mortals, Helen, |8 she […] left her best of all husbands, |9 him she left behind and sailed to Troy, |10 caring not about her daughter and her dear parents, |11 not caring at all. She was swept along […] |15 [All this] reminds me right now of Anaktoria. |16 She is [not] here. [33] |17 Oh, how I would far rather wish to see her taking a dancing step that arouses passionate love [= eraton], |18 and to see the luminous radiance from the look of her face |19 than to see those chariots of the Lydians and the footsoldiers in their armor |20 as they fight in battle […].
Song 16 of Sappho [34]
5§74. This song captures what could be described as Sappho’s own personal ascending scale of affection. In the first stanza, consisting of four lines, there are three things to compare with ‘that most beautiful thing’ that anyone ‘passionately loves’, erâtai. But each one of these three things pales in comparison to whatever ‘that one most beautiful thing’ may be. And what is ‘that thing’? It is elusive. From the start, the speaker has been speaking about ‘that thing’. But then, the next thing you know, she starts saying ‘this thing’ instead of ‘that thing’ and, as she goes on to say, it is quite easy, really, to explain ‘this thing’.
5§75. The three things that pale in comparison to that one thing that is so passionately desired are three radiant visions of beauty. The first of these visions is the dazzling sight of magnificent chariot-fighters in their luminous war-chariots as they are massing for frontal assault against their terrified enemy; the second vision is an army of footsoldiers fighting on the battlefield; and the third vision is a fleet of battleships proudly sailing at sea. But none of these three radiant visions of beauty can match that ultimate brightness radiating from the speaker’s love object, that unique thing of passionate love, who is a beautiful diva called Anaktoria. The song now shows Anaktoria in an exquisite moment of singing and dancing in a chorus, and the words of the song point to her lovely step as she dances, a step that is eraton or ‘arousing passionate love’.
5§76. And then there is ‘the luminous radiance from the look of her face’ (k’amarukhma lampron idēn prosōpō line 18). This luminous vision of Anaktoria, the song is saying, cannot be surpassed by anything in the whole wide world. And the radiance of Anaktoria is now directly compared with the radiance of the luminous chariots and the two other luminous foils in the first stanza (lines 1-2).
5§77. The first stanza of this song is a striking example of a priamel, which is a rhetorical device where “A” is highlighted by saying that “B” and “C” and “D” and so on cannot match it. The sequence has to be ... D C B and finally A.
Here is a typological example we can find in American popular music...
Some say love, it is a river, that drowns the tender weed,
Some say love, it is a razor, that leaves the soul to bleed,
Some say love, it is a hunger - an endless aching need,
I say love, it is a flower - and you, its only seed.
[[In “live” meetings, I show at this point a clip featuring a song “The Rose” sung by Bette Midler in the film by the same name, The Rose (1979).]]

Another song of Sappho

5§78. In an article I published about another song of Sappho (I refer to the relevant fragment as Π2), I offer this translation of the last line of the song: [35]

Hour 5 Text I

Passionate love [erōs] for the Sun has won for me its radiance and beauty.
Sappho Π2 26
In terms of an alternative interpretation, the translation could be ...
Passionate love [erōs] has won for me the radiance and beauty of the Sun.
I prefer the first of these two interpretations, which makes the Sun the objective genitive of erōs, ‘passionate love’. [36]

Back to Song 16 of Sappho

5§79. Such a genitive construction, if my interpretation holds, is parallel to the phrase ot|tō tis erātai, ‘whatever one loves passionately’, in the first stanza of Song 16 of Sappho. This ‘whatever’ (lines 3-4) is described as kalliston, ‘the most beautiful thing’, in the whole wide world (line 3).
5§80. In Song 16, no vision of beauty can match that ultimate brightness radiating from the speaker’s love-object, who is a beautiful diva called Anaktoria. The song focuses on the divine moment when Anaktoria sings and dances in the chorus, and the wording creates a sublime vision of her beauty. In this vision, the beautiful Anaktoria who is imagined in the wording can now come to life, and I have already highlighted the wording that shows ‘her dancing step that arouses passionate love and the luminous radiance from the look of her face’ (eraton te bāma | k’amarukhma lampron idēn prosōpō lines 17-18). This vision cannot be surpassed by anything else in the whole wide world.
5§81. In the logic of Sappho’s poetic cosmos, nothing can surpass the radiance of the sun. So, the all-surpassing radiance of ‘whatever’ it is that the speaker says she loves more than anything else on this earth - which is the vision of the singing and dancing Anaktoria - must be the same thing as the sun.

Back to Song 31 of Sappho

5§82. By now we have surveyed a wide variety of songs that feature divine models in ritual contexts like weddings. Applying what we have learned from these songs about the phenomenon that I have been calling epiphany, I will now re-examine Song 31 of Sappho. But first I will summarize in the next two paragraphs what I have already argued:
In Song 31, the erotic experience shared by the ‘he’ who is the bridegroom and by the ‘you’ who is the bride is communalized in the reaction of the ‘I’ who figures as the vicarious participant in the experience. And this reaction is an epiphany in and of itself.
The subjective feelings in this moment of epiphany are linked to the first-person speaker who is Sappho. When we hear phainetai moi kēnos īsos theoisin, ‘he appears [phainetai] to me, that one, (to be) equal [īsos] to the gods’, at line 1, it is the first-person speaker who is feeling the erotic sensations experienced by the bride in the second-person and by the bridegroom in the third person. At the climax of the erotic experience as spoken by the first-person speaker, she says about her feelings: tethnakēn d’oligō ’pideuēs | phainom’ emautāi, ‘and a little short of death | do I appear [phainomai] to myself’, at line 16. The verb phainomai, ‘I appear’, here signals again an epiphany - an epiphany that manifests itself to the self, to the speaking ‘I’.
5§83. This appearance of the self to the self, as an epiphany, signals the divine presence of Aphrodite. I waited till now to say this about Song 31, after having compared other songs that signal the presence of Aphrodite.
5§84. In one sense, what is shown in Song 31 is the epiphany of Aphrodite, since she is a most appropriate goddess for the occasion of a wedding. In another sense, however, what is shown in Song 31 is the epiphany of the bride, whose identity fuses with that of Aphrodite at the moment of her wedding. And, in still another sense, what is shown in Song 31 is the epiphany of the speaking ‘I’ who identifies with Aphrodite by virtue of vicariously identifying with the ‘you’ of the bride who is Aphrodite at this very moment. For Sappho, then, as I have been arguing, what is seen is an auto-epiphany.
5§85. Just as the vicariousness of Sappho in Song 31 fuses the ‘I’ who is the singer with the ‘you’ who is the bride, so also the ‘I’ of Sappho in Song 1 fuses the ‘I’ who is the singer with the ‘you’ who is Aphrodite.
5§86. In Song 31 of Sappho, the projection of identity that we see going on in this song makes it possible for the singer of the song to become the bride herself and even Aphrodite herself, at least for a moment, just as the singer of Song 1 of Sappho becomes Aphrodite herself for the brief moment when Aphrodite is being quoted by the singer. In the logic of Song 31, seeing Sappho as Aphrodite for a moment is just as real as seeing the bride as Aphrodite and just as real as seeing the bridegroom as Arēs.
5§87. Then, when the song comes to an end, everyone can revert to their human selves - though they may have been upgraded in human status because they had been part of the song. I find it relevant to compare the words of T. S. Eliot (The Dry Salvages, 1941), “you are the music | While the music lasts.” [37]

Epiphany and death

5§88. As we have seen, the epiphany in Song 31 of Sappho induces a near-death experience for the first-person speaker: tethnakēn d’oligō ’pideuēs | phainom’ emautāi, ‘and a little short of death | do I appear [phainomai] to myself’, at line 16. And such a figurative personal death is modeled on a realized mythical death. As I have argued, death in myth is a prototype for the vicarious ritual experience of the first-person speaker in her interaction with the second-person bride and with the third-person bridegroom, who are respectively the vision of Aphrodite and the corresponding vision of Arēs. [38]
5§89. Here I note again the fact that the generic bridegroom is visualized as īsos Areui, ‘equal to Arēs’, in another song of Sappho (Song 111 line 5). And the bridegroom who gets married in lyric is comparable to the warrior who gets killed in epic. As we have seen from the climactic passage I quoted in Text B from Iliad XVI, where the warrior hero Patroklos is killed in battle, that hero is visualized at that moment as atalantos Arēi, ‘equal to Arēs’ (line 784). And Patroklos in such a context is a stand-in for Achilles. So, just as Patroklos as a stand-in for Achilles qualifies as ‘equal to Arēs’, we can expect Achilles himself to qualify for epithets meaning ‘equal to Arēs’. What is vital here for my argument is the fact that a bridegroom can be visualized not only as īsos Arēi, ‘equal to Arēs’, but even as Achilles himself in the songs of Sappho.
5§90. The figure of Patroklos as a ritual stand-in for Achilles in the Iliad helps us understand what has been up to now a missing link in the picturing of the bridegroom in Song 31 of Sappho. Patroklos as the stand-in for Achilles in epic prefigures Achilles at the moment of his own death in epic, when he, too, like the model bridegroom in lyric, is destined to be ‘equal to Arēs’.
5§91. As we saw in Hour 4 Text E, the generic bridegroom was conventionally visualized as Achilles himself in the songs of Sappho (Himerius Orations 9.16). Such a lyric convention in the songs of Sappho can be explained as an organic correlation of myth and ritual. In the logic of myth, Achilles never becomes a model husband because War personified, Arēs, cuts him down like a beautiful plant in full bloom. In the logic of ritual, on the other hand, Achilles is the perfect model for a bridegroom precisely because he is cut down in war and thus cannot ever become a husband. For love to find its self-expression in the ritual of a wedding, it needs someone to die for love. [39]
5§92. Such a ritual need is expressed in the relationship of Erōs, personified as the god of erotic love, with Aphrodite, the goddess of erotic love. In another song of Sappho, we find an imagined dialogue between Sappho and Aphrodite where the goddess says in her own words that Erōs is her therapōn (Sappho Song 159). As we will see in Hour 6, this word means not only ‘attendant’ but also ‘ritual substitute’, that is, someone who ritually dies for the sake of the one he attends. Pictured as a pubescent (not prepubescent) boy, Erōs is doomed to die for the sake of Aphrodite. In the poetics of Sappho, as later ancient sources tell us (Sappho Fragment 172), the death of erotic Love personified is a most persistent theme. That is only natural, since Erōs is a non-Olympian god. Whereas Olympian gods are exempt from death, death comes naturally for divine non-Olympians. The consolation, at least, for the death of Erōs is that he is easily resurrected. It could be said that the resurrection of Erōs is as easy as the revival of lust.

Erōs and Arēs

5§93. The death of Erōs could be pictured as a martial death resulting from the warfare of love. We see clearly the language of love as war in Song 1 of Sappho, where the goddess Aphrodite is invoked in prayer to become a summakhos, ‘ally in war’ (line 28), for Sappho in speaking the words of lyric love song. Conversely, Sappho as the speaker of a lyric love song is offering herself as an ‘ally in war’ for Aphrodite, thus crossing over into the themes of epic. So, we see here that love and war can be estheticized and eroticized together. Similarly in the Iliad, Aphrodite crosses over into the themes of epic by intervening in the epic action - and she gets wounded in doing so, as if she were a mortal (V 327-354). [40] Such a pairing of love and war, as we will now see, is reflected in the parallels we find between Aphrodite and Arēs. So, we next turn to Arēs, god of war and lover of Aphrodite.
5§94. Parallel to the wounding of the goddess Aphrodite are the two woundings of the god Arēs in the Iliad: he too gets wounded as if he were a mortal (V 855-863, XXI 401-408). More than that, the woundings of Arēs are in both cases described as mortal woundings, and the Iliad actually shows Arēs in the act of going through the motions of a figurative martial death. Such an epic experience is for Arēs a mock death. [41] It must be a mock death and not a real death, because Arēs is an Olympian god, and Olympian gods do not die. Such ritualized mockery is typical of “divine burlesque,” which represents one of the oldest features of Greek myth. There are striking parallels to be found in Near Eastern sources dating back to the second millennium BCE. [42]

Arēs as a model for Achilles

5§95. The figurative death of the god Arēs in the Iliad is an extreme case of divine mirroring: the immortal god of war gets involved not only in the martial actions of heroes but even in their martial deaths. And he gets so involved because god and hero mirror each other at the moment of a hero’s death, which is the climax of the inherent antagonism between them. [43] At the moment when he dies a warrior’s death in place of Achilles, Patroklos is vicariously experiencing such a moment of mirroring between Achilles as warrior and Arēs as god of warriors: that is why Patroklos looks just like Arēs at that moment (Iliad XVI 784). [44]
5§96. As mutual antagonists, the hero Achilles and the god Arēs match each other in life as well as in death. In the case of Achilles, as we see from surviving traces in the epic Cycle, this hero was pictured as an irresistible lover in the imaginations of lovelorn girls hoping to make him their husband. [45] In the case of Arēs, as we see when we read the second song of Demodokos in the Homeric Odyssey, this god is imagined as an irresistible lover for the goddess of love and sexuality herself, Aphrodite (viii 266-366).
5§97. Among other related characteristics shared by the hero Achilles and the god Arēs is their superhuman speed, as expressed by words like theein, ‘run’. [46] Also, in the case of Achilles, his success in war is closely connected with the use of epithets like podas ōkus, ‘swift of foot’, as at Iliad I 58. In the case of Arēs, his own swiftness of foot is pictured as ideal for success in courtship as well as in warfare: in the second of three songs that the singer Demodokos sings in Odyssey viii, which is about the love affair of Arēs and Aphrodite, we find that one of the war god’s most irresistible attributes is his nimbleness of foot in choral lyric dancing. [47] And yet, despite his irresistible attractiveness in courting Aphrodite, the dashing young Arēs will never marry. Like the dashing young Achilles, Arēs is eternally the bridegroom and never the husband.

Achilles the eternal bridegroom

5§98. I return once again to Hour 4 Text E, where we learned that the generic bridegroom is visualized as Achilles himself in the songmaking of Sappho (Fragment 105b, as reported by Himerius Orations 9.16). This visualization is relevant to what we saw in Hour 4 Text F, where the generic bridegroom is pictured as a tender seedling in a song of Sappho (Song 115). And it is relevant also to Hour 4 Text G, where the goddess Thetis in lamenting her son Achilles pictures him as a tender seedling that is doomed to be cut down in war (Iliad XVIII 56-59). [48]
5§99. Just as the generic bridegroom in the songs of Sappho can be visualized as the hero Achilles, so also the generic bride can be visualized as a heroine. [49] In Aeolic traditions, such heroines figured in myths about the conquests of Achilles - not only martial but also amorous conquests - in the years that preceded the destruction of Troy. These myths told of beautiful Aeolic girls of Asia Minor and the outlying island of Lesbos who had once been immune to love and thus unreachable to their frustrated suitors. But then they fall helplessly in love with Achilles - that dashing young Aeolic hero who had sailed across the sea from his home in European Thessaly to attack the Aeolic people of Asia Minor and Lesbos. [50]
5§100. Comparable to these once-unreachable Aeolic girls is a prize apple, unreachable to the apple-pickers, which ‘blushes’ enticingly from the heights of a “shooter-branch” in a song of Sappho:

Hour 5 Text J

Just like the sweet apple that blushes on top of a branch, | the topmost apple on the topmost branch. It has eluded the notice of the apple pickers. | Oh, but no. It’s not that they haven’t noticed it. They just couldn’t reach it. [51]
Sappho Fragment 105a [52]
[[In “live” meetings for Hour 5, I show a photograph of apples ripening on a tree. The apples pictured in this photograph (taken by William M. Todd) are a local variety that is native to the island of Lesbos and to the mainland across the strait. They are yellow when they ripen, showing only a ‘blush’ of red. [53] ]]
5§101. And the brides of Sappho’s songs are conventionally compared to apples:

Hour 5 Text K = Hour 4 Text E

Himerius (Orations 9.16) reports: ‘Sappho compared the girl to an apple […] she compared the bridegroom to Achilles, and likened the young man’s deeds to the hero’s.’
Sappho Fragment 105b
5§102. Like Sappho’s prize apple, these contemporary brides are imagined as unreachable. But they are unreachable only up to the moment when they take the place of Aeolic heroines who had once upon a time fallen in love with Achilles, that model bridegroom. These Aeolic girls of the heroic past are imagined as throwing themselves at Achilles. That is, they throw a metonymic extension of themselves at Achilles by throwing an apple at him: such a theme is attested in the bittersweet story of a lovelorn girl from the Aeolic city of Pedasos (Hesiod Fragment 214). [54] In the logic of myth, the love felt by such heroines is doomed from the start, and, in the end, they die for their love. In the logic of ritual, however, that same love promises to be requited. Such is the love expressed by girls pictured in the act of throwing apples at their prospective lovers in the songs of Sappho (Song 214A). A moment ago, I described such a ritual throwing of apples as a metonymic extension of the female self, using the term metonymic in line with the working definition I offered in Hour 4§32: metonymy is an expression of meaning by way of connecting something to something else that is next to that something or at least near to it, thereby establishing contact.

Briseis as a stand-in for Aphrodite

5§103. As I have argued, Achilles in his role as the model bridegroom was imagined as a stand-in for the god Arēs in the songs of Sappho. [55] And, just as the Aeolic hero Achilles can stand in for the god Arēs at moments that center on the ritual of a wedding, so also various Aeolic heroines can stand in for a goddess, who is none other than Aphrodite, goddess of love and sexuality. A case in point is the captive woman Briseis in the Iliad. As I noted already in Hour 4, Briseis is overtly associated with the Aeolic women of Lesbos whom Achilles captured as beauty-prizes in the years that preceded the destruction of Troy (Iliad IX 128-131, 270-273; XIX 245-246). And the point is, Briseis is likened to Aphrodite in a most telling context:

Hour 5 Text L = Hour 4 Text J

|282 Then Briseis, looking like golden Aphrodite, |283 saw Patroklos all cut apart by the sharp bronze, and, when she saw him, |284 she poured herself all over him in tears and wailed with a voice most clear, and with her hands she tore at |285 her breasts and her tender neck and her beautiful face. |286 And then she spoke, weeping, this woman who looked like the goddesses: |287 “O Patroklos, you have been most gracious to me in my terrible state and most gratifying to my heart. |288 You were alive when I last saw you on my way out from the shelter |289 - and now I come back to find you dead, you, the protector of your people |290 - that is what I come back to find. Oh, how I have one bad thing after the next to welcome me again and again. |291 The man to whom I was given away by my father and by my mother the queen |292 - I saw that man lying there in front of the city, all cut apart by the sharp bronze, |293 and lying near him were my three brothers - all of us were born of one mother - |294 they are all a cause for my sorrow, since they have all met up with their time of destruction. |295 No, you did not let me - back when my husband was killed by swift-footed Achilles, |296 killed by him, and when the city of my godlike Mynes [= my husband] was destroyed by him |297 - you did not let me weep, back then, but you told me that godlike Achilles |298 would have me as a properly courted wife, that you would make that happen, and that you would take me on board the ships, |299 taking me all the way to Phthia, and that you would arrange for a wedding feast among the Myrmidons. |300 So, now, I cannot stop crying for you, now that you are dead, you who were always so sweet and gentle.” |301 So she [= Briseis] spoke, weeping, and the women kept on mourning in response. |302 They mourned for Patroklos, that was their pretext, but they were all mourning, each and every one of them, for what they really cared for in their sorrow.
Iliad XIX 282-302
5§104. Most remarkably, Briseis is likened to the goddess Aphrodite here in Iliad XIX 282 in the context of her beginning to lament for Patroklos, who had been likened to the god Arēs at the moment of his death in Iliad XVI 784.
5§105. The epic has quoted, as it were, Briseis in the act of singing a choral lyric song of lament for the death of Patroklos (XIX 287-300), and this quotation of Briseis, along with the framing narrative concerning the antiphonal response of the women attending Briseis (XIX 301-302), re-enacts most accurately the morphology of a genuine choral lyric lament. [56]
5§106. In her lament, Briseis sings her bittersweet sorrow not only over the death of Patroklos but also over the death of her own fondest hope: when he was alive, Patroklos had promised to arrange for her a marriage to Achilles, but, now that Patroklos is dead, the hope of that promise is gone forever (XIX 295-300). So, the Iliad pictures Patroklos as a stand-in for Achilles in courtship as well as in war. [57] Just as Achilles is featured as an eternal bridegroom who never gets married, so also Patroklos himself becomes such an eternal bridegroom by virtue of being a stand-in for Achilles. I will have much more to say in Hour 6 about Patroklos as a ritual stand-in for Achilles.

The merging of identity in myth and ritual

5§107. In the ritual of a wedding as celebrated by the songs of Sappho, there is the prospect of a happy ending as the identity of the bride shifts from girl to goddess to woman. In the process of becoming a goddess for a moment, the bride dies to her old self as a girl and is reborn to her new self as a woman. In the corresponding myth, by contrast, there is the prospect of a sad but compellingly erotic ending to the story. The bride-to-be will never get married to the ideal bridegroom, imagined as Achilles. And that is because this most eligible bridegroom will die in war and will never be married.
5§108. The death of Achilles in war is the climax of his erotic charisma. In general, the martial death of heroes is eroticized as the beautiful death, la belle mort. Even the body of the dead hero is eroticized - as the beautiful corpse, le beau mort (a most striking example is Poem 10 of Tyrtaeus). [58] Achilles himself is pictured as such a beau mort in Homeric poetry. A case in point is the moment when the goddess Thetis and her fellow Nereids lament the future death of her beloved son in war: at that moment, as we have seen in Iliad XVIII 54-60, quoted in Hour 4 Text G, the hero Achilles is compared to a beautiful seedling that dies prematurely while it is still in full bloom. [59] And in Song 105c of Sappho, as we have already noted, we can see a comparable image of a beautiful plant at the moment of death; also comparable is the image of a bridegroom as a beautiful plant in Sappho’s Song 115.
5§109. Such themes of eroticized death are relevant to the near-death experience of the speaking ‘I’ in Song 31 of Sappho. The woman who speaks in the first person here is vicariously speaking for the whole group that attends the wedding. The whole group is notionally participating in the stylized deaths of the male and the female initiands - in this case, of the bridegroom and the bride.

Distinctions between real death and figurative death in lyric

5§110. The stylized death of the bridegroom in a wedding as described by Sappho matches the realized death of Achilles in war. Premarital death in ritual marks the transition from bridegroom to husband, while martial death in myth marks an eternal deferral of such a transition. By dying in war, Achilles becomes the very picture of the ultimate bridegroom in eternally suspended animation, forever on the verge of marrying. In the logic of ritual, what is needed for female initiands, especially for brides, is such an eternal bridegroom. [60]
5§111. As we will see in Hour 20 Text I, a comparable model of unfulfilled desire and unrequited love is the hero Hippolytus in the Hippolytus of Euripides: at the end of that drama (1423-1430), we will read an anthropologically accurate description of a ritual of female initiation featuring a chorus of girls performing a lament for the death of Hippolytus as their local cult hero. [61] As the drama of Euripides will illustrate, the identity of the female initiand depends on the program, as it were, of the ritual of initiation. The nuptial goddess Aphrodite and the prenuptial as well as postnuptial goddess Artemis reveal, as a pair, different phases of erotic engagement in the life cycle of a woman, determining when she is attainable - and when she is unattainable. [62]
5§112. So far, then, we have seen this symmetry:
(1) figurative death in the ritual of a wedding
(2) real death in the ritual of warfare.
And this symmetry is parallel to the symmetry of kleos aphthiton, ‘unwilting glory’, in epic and lyric, since this expression applies not only to the epic theme of a hero’s death in war, as in the case of Achilles in Iliad IX 413, quoted in Hour 1 Text A, but also to the lyric theme of a wedding, as in the case of Hector as bridegroom and Andromache as bride in Song 44 of Sappho (line 4). The expression kleos aphthiton links the doomed warrior in epic with the wedded couple in lyric.
5§113. Parallel to the linking effected by this expression kleos aphthiton is the linking effected by the god Apollo himself: he too links Achilles in epic with Hector and Andromache in lyric. The celebrants at the wedding in Song 44 of Sappho sing Apollo as the subject of their song by invoking the god’s epithet Paean - who is Pāōn in the local dialect of Lesbos - when they celebrate Hector and Andromache as bridegroom and bride (line 33). Apollo as Paean is the embodiment of a song called the paean (paiēōn in Homeric Greek, paiān in the dialect of Athens). To sing a paean is to sing a song from Lesbos, as we see from the wording of Archilochus (Poem 121). To sing a paean in the Iliad is to sing Apollo as Paean, though Paean is a god in his own right in more archaizing contexts of the Iliad (as at V 401 and V 899-901). Elsewhere in the Iliad, Achilles calls on the Achaeans to sing a paean, that is, to sing Apollo as Paean when they celebrate the death of Hector in war (XXII 391). [63]
5§114. As we have already seen, there are also other linkings of the doomed warrior in epic with the wedded couple in lyric. Achilles is theoeikelos, ‘looking just like the gods’, as a warrior in the Iliad (I 131, XXIII 155), and so too Hector and Andromache as bridegroom and bride are theoeikeloi, ‘looking just like the gods’, at the moment of their wedding in Song 44 of Sappho (at line 34; also [i]keloi theoi[s], ‘looking just like the gods’, at line 21). And Achilles is in fact the only recipient of the epithet theoeikelos, ‘looking just like the gods’, in the Homeric Iliad. So, the warrior who kills Hector attracts the same epithet in epic that Hector attracts in lyric.

Apollo as model for Achilles

5§115. It remains to ask about the god with whom Achilles is identified in epic and with whom Hector and Andromache are identified in lyric. For this god, epic and lyric are undifferentiated, just as the kleos aphthiton of Achilles as warrior in epic is undifferentiated from the kleos aphthiton of Hector and Andromache as bridegroom and bride in lyric. This god is Apollo.
5§116. So, now, at long last, we turn from Arēs to Apollo as the other divine antagonist of Achilles - and as his other divine model.
5§117. At the moment of his death, the hero Achilles is destined to confront not only the god Arēs as the generic divine antagonist of warriors but also the god Apollo as his own personal divine antagonist. This personalized destiny of Achilles, as the victim of Apollo, is made explicit in the epic Cycle (plot-summary by Proclus of the Aithiopis by Arctinus of Miletus p. 106 lines 7-11), but it is only implicit in the Iliad, where Patroklos substitutes for Achilles in his antagonism with Apollo just as he substitutes for him in his antagonism with Arēs.
5§118. What makes this destiny of Achilles so personalized is his special connection with song, a medium signaled as kleos aphthiton, ‘unwilting glory’. The god of this medium is Apollo, who is the god of poetry and song. And such poetry and song are conceived as lyric. To put it another way, such poetry and song can be conceived as a form of epic that is not yet differentiated from lyric. [64] Apollo is the god of an older form of epic that is still sung to the accompaniment of the lyre, unlike the newer form of epic, which is unaccompanied by the lyre. Typical of the newer form of epic is Homeric poetry as we know it.
5§119. Correspondingly, Achilles is the hero of such an older form of epic. In this role, he is imagined as looking exactly like Apollo - beardless and wearing long hair. Like Apollo, Achilles is the essence of a beautiful promise in the making, of a telos or ‘fulfillment’ realized only in performance, only when the song is fully performed. [65]
5§120. And there is a visual signature of this shared role of god and hero in the Iliad. I start with the fact that Achilles is pictured in this epic as singing to the tune of a lyre that he himself is playing (IX 186-189). As we have seen in Hour 4, Achilles had plundered this lyre from the Aeolic city of Thebe, ruled by the king Eëtion (IX 186-189), whom he killed when he captured that city - and who was the father of that greatest singer of lamentations in the Iliad, Andromache (VI 414-416). As I argued in Hour 4, what Achilles sings to the tune of this Aeolic lyre is an echo of the loves and bittersweet sorrows heard in lyric song. [66]
5§121. Such a lyrical image of Achilles evokes a correspondingly lyrical image of Apollo. Even in epic, this god is conventionally pictured as a lyric personality. In fact, Apollo controls the medium of lyric, of choral lyric. A prime example is the conventional description of Apollo as the Mous(h)ēgētēs, that is, as the choral leader of the Muses. [67] Such a description is attested in lyric (an example is Song 208 of Sappho) and even in epic (Iliad I 603-604). Apollo accompanies himself on the lyre as he sings and dances, while the Muses are the chorus who also sing and dance (Homeric Hymn to Hermes 475-476).
5§122. The god Apollo controls not only lyric. He controls all song and poetry, and he is ultimately in control of all occasions for the performance of song and poetry. In this overarching role, he embodies the authority of poets, that is, of craftsmen who compose song and poetry. This authority transcends such categories as epic and lyric. And it transcends the genres that figure as subcategories of epic and lyric, as well as the occasions that shape those genres. This authority is linked to the authorship of song and poetry.
5§123. It could even be said that the fatal attraction of Achilles for Apollo in the context of their ritual antagonism centers on the fact that the god controls the medium that gives kleos aphthiton, ‘unwilting glory’.
5§124. I find it relevant to evoke again the words of T. S. Eliot (The Dry Salvages, 1941): “you are the music / While the music lasts.” And, now that I have evoked these words, I take the opportunity to go even further: in the long run, these words apply as well to the premier hero of ancient Greek song culture, Achilles. He too is the music, while the music lasts – but this music is destined to last forever. That is the message of the kleos aphthiton, ‘unwilting glory’, of Achilles in Iliad IX 413, quoted in Hour 1 Text A.

Fatal attraction

5§125. A question remains: what is it, then, that attracts the hero to the god who will cause his death? I find no direct answer to this question in the passages that we have been reading during this hour, but I will attempt at least to offer this distillation of an indirect answer: whatever it is in us that makes us human makes us irresistibly attracted to the divine, even at the risk of mortal danger.
5§126. I find it relevant to quote here a formulation devised by Dio of Prusa (“Dio Chrysostom”), a Greek thinker who lived in a period straddling the first and the second centuries CE. In what I am about to quote, taken from his Olympic Discourse (Oration 12), Dio is representing a hypothetical speech delivered by none other than the great sculptor Pheidias of Athens, who is speaking about his masterpiece, the colossal statue of Zeus that he sculpted for the temple of Zeus at Olympia in Elis. In the passage I will be quoting, Pheidias explains his idealizing of the human form in creating the spectacular statue of Olympian Zeus. To justify the idealized human form that he creates for Zeus, the sculptor speaks about a universal need felt by humans not only to imagine gods as existing in the sky or in the cosmos in general but also to have a feeling of divine immediacy by being physically near them, close to them - a feeling achieved by way of mental or even physical contact with statues and with paintings and with other images of the gods:

Hour 5 Text M

Because of their attraction to the divine unknown [daimonion], [68] all humans have a powerful erotic desire [erōs] to worship [tīmân] and to take care of [therapeuein] [69] the divinity [theion] [70] that they do know, by being up close to it and near it, as they approach it and try to touch it in an act of persuasion, and they sacrifice to it and offer it garlands. Quite simply, they are like disconnected [nēpioi] [71] children who have been torn away from their father or mother and who, feeling a terrific urge [himeros] and longing [pothos], often reach out their hands while they are dreaming, in the direction of their parents who are not there; so also are humans in their relationship with the gods, loving them as they do, and justifiably so, because the gods do good things for them and have an affinity with them. And, in their love for the gods, humans strive in all possible ways to be with them and in their company.
Dio of Prusa 12.60-61 [72]
5§127. In the epic narrative of the Iliad, we find a sinister twist to this kind of attraction: whatever it is that attracts a hero like Patroklos to a god like Apollo on the battlefield makes that hero want to kill the god. In trying to kill the god, of course, the hero only brings about his own death. In other words, the fatal attraction experienced by the hero is not even recognized as fatal until it is too late.


[ back ] 1. |698 Ἔνθά κεν ὑψίπυλον Τροίην ἕλον υἷες Ἀχαιῶν |699 Πατρόκλου ὑπὸ χερσί, περὶ πρὸ γὰρ ἔγχεϊ θῦεν, |700 εἰ μὴ Ἀπόλλων Φοῖβος ἐϋδμήτου ἐπὶ πύργου |701 ἔστη τῷ ὀλοὰ φρονέων, Τρώεσσι δ’ ἀρήγων. |702 τρὶς μὲν ἐπ’ ἀγκῶνος βῆ τείχεος ὑψηλοῖο |703 Πάτροκλος, τρὶς δ’ αὐτὸν ἀπεστυφέλιξεν Ἀπόλλων |704 χείρεσσ’ ἀθανάτῃσι φαεινὴν ἀσπίδα νύσσων. |705 ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ τὸ τέταρτον ἐπέσσυτο δαίμονι ἶσος, |706 δεινὰ δ’ ὁμοκλήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα· |707 χάζεο διογενὲς Πατρόκλεες· οὔ νύ τοι αἶσα |708 σῷ ὑπὸ δουρὶ πόλιν πέρθαι Τρώων ἀγερώχων, |709 οὐδ’ ὑπ’ Ἀχιλλῆος, ὅς περ σέο πολλὸν ἀμείνων. |710 Ὣς φάτο, Πάτροκλος δ’ ἀνεχάζετο πολλὸν ὀπίσσω |711 μῆνιν ἀλευάμενος ἑκατηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος.
[ back ] 2. This next passage, and the previous passage, are most incisively analyzed by Muellner 1996:10-18.
[ back ] 3. |783 Πάτροκλος δὲ Τρωσὶ κακὰ φρονέων ἐνόρουσε. |784 τρὶς μὲν ἔπειτ’ ἐπόρουσε θοῷ ἀτάλαντος Ἄρηϊ |785 σμερδαλέα ἰάχων, τρὶς δ’ ἐννέα φῶτας ἔπεφνεν. |786 ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ τὸ τέταρτον ἐπέσσυτο δαίμονι ἶσος, |787 ἔνθ’ ἄρα τοι Πάτροκλε φάνη βιότοιο τελευτή· |788 ἤντετο γάρ τοι Φοῖβος ἐνὶ κρατερῇ ὑσμίνῃ |789 δεινός· ὃ μὲν τὸν ἰόντα κατὰ κλόνον οὐκ ἐνόησεν, |790 ἠέρι γὰρ πολλῇ κεκαλυμμένος ἀντεβόλησε· |791 στῆ δ’ ὄπιθεν, πλῆξεν δὲ μετάφρενον εὐρέε τ’ ὤμω |792 χειρὶ καταπρηνεῖ, στρεφεδίνηθεν δέ οἱ ὄσσε. |793 τοῦ δ’ ἀπὸ μὲν κρατὸς κυνέην βάλε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων· |794 ἣ δὲ κυλινδομένη καναχὴν ἔχε ποσσὶν ὑφ’ ἵππων |795 αὐλῶπις τρυφάλεια, μιάνθησαν δὲ ἔθειραι |796 αἵματι καὶ κονίῃσι· πάρος γε μὲν οὐ θέμις ἦεν |797 ἱππόκομον πήληκα μιαίνεσθαι κονίῃσιν, |798 ἀλλ’ ἀνδρὸς θείοιο κάρη χαρίεν τε μέτωπον |799 ῥύετ’ Ἀχιλλῆος· τότε δὲ Ζεὺς Ἕκτορι δῶκεν |800 ᾗ κεφαλῇ φορέειν, σχεδόθεν δέ οἱ ἦεν ὄλεθρος. |801 πᾶν δέ οἱ ἐν χείρεσσιν ἄγη δολιχόσκιον ἔγχος |802 βριθὺ μέγα στιβαρὸν κεκορυθμένον· αὐτὰρ ἀπ’ ὤμων |803 ἀσπὶς σὺν τελαμῶνι χαμαὶ πέσε τερμιόεσσα. |804 λῦσε δέ οἱ θώρηκα ἄναξ Διὸς υἱὸς Ἀπόλλων. |805 τὸν δ’ ἄτη φρένας εἷλε, λύθεν δ’ ὑπὸ φαίδιμα γυῖα, |806 στῆ δὲ ταφών.
[ back ] 4. The metaphor here evokes the menacing image of a boulder that breaks off from a cliff overhead and starts rolling downward from the heights above, ever increasing in speed as it nears ground zero. In Iliad XIII 136-142, Hector himself is compared to such a breakaway boulder as he rushes toward his enemies. In Iliad XVII 685-690, when the death of Patroklos is formally announced, the fact of his death is described at verse 688 as a ‘pain’ (pēma) inflicted by ‘a god’ (theos) who literally ‘rolled it down’ (kulindein) upon the Achaeans.
[ back ] 5. |98 ὁππότ’ ἀνὴρ ἐθέλῃ πρὸς δαίμονα φωτὶ μάχεσθαι |99 ὅν κε θεὸς τιμᾷ, τάχα οἱ μέγα πῆμα κυλίσθη. Commentary in BA 63 = 4§6n1.
[ back ] 6. On Ajax as a rival of Achilles for the status of ‘best of the Achaeans’, see BA 31-32 = 2§6.
[ back ] 7. On Diomedes as a rival of Achilles for the status of ‘best of the Achaeans’, see BA 30-31 = 2§5.
[ back ] 8. |7 τρεψάμενος δ’ Ἀχιλλεὺς τοὺς Τρῶας καὶ |8 εἰς τὴν πόλιν συνεισπεσὼν ὑπὸ Πάριδος ἀναιρεῖται καὶ |9 Ἀπόλλωνος· καὶ περὶ τοῦ πτώματος γενομένης ἰσχυρᾶς |10 μάχης Αἴας ἀνελόμενος ἐπὶ τὰς ναῦς κομίζει, Ὀδυσσέως |11 ἀπομαχομένου τοῖς Τρωσίν.
[ back ] 9. BA 293 = 17§5.
[ back ] 10. What follows is an epitomized version of parts of Nagy 2007a (“Lyric and Greek Myth”) and 2007b (“Homer and Greek Myth”).
[ back ] 11. The eleven paragraphs that follow are based on a longer survey of the historical background of Sappho’s songs in Nagy 2007a (“Lyric and Greek Myth”).
[ back ] 12. HPC 236, 242 = II§§289-290, 302.
[ back ] 13. PH 370 = 12§60.
[ back ] 14. PH 350-351 =12§29n62 and n64.
[ back ] 15. PP 101-103.
[ back ] 16. |1 φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν |2 ἔμμεν’ ὤνηρ, ὄττις ἐνάντιός τοι |3 ἰσδάνει καὶ πλάσιον ἆδυ φωνεί-|4σας ὐπακούει |5 καὶ γελαίσας ἰμέροεν, τό μ’ ἦ μὰν |6 καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόαισεν, |7 ὠς γὰρ ἔς σ’ ἴδω βρόχε’ ὤς με φώναι-|8σ’ οὐδ’ ἒν ἔτ’ εἴκει, |9 ἀλλὰ κὰμ μὲν γλῶσσα ἔαγε λέπτον |10 δ’ αὔτικα χρῶι πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμηκεν, |11 ὀππάτεσσι δ’ οὐδ’ ἒν ὄρημμ’, ἐπιρρόμ-|12βεισι δ’ ἄκουαι, |13 κάδ δέ μ’ ἴδρως ψῦχρος κακχέεται τρόμος δὲ |14 παῖσαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας |15 ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ’ ὀλίγω ’πιδεύης |16 φαίνομ’ ἔμ’ αὔται·
[ back ] 17. PH 201 = 7§2n10.
[ back ] 18. PP 87-97.
[ back ] 19. |1 ποικιλόθρον’ ἀθανάτἈφρόδιτα, |2 παῖ Δίος δολόπλοκε, λίσσομαί σε, |3 μή μ’ ἄσαισι μηδ’ ὀνίαισι δάμνα, |4 πότνια, θῦμον, |5 ἀλλὰ τυίδ’ ἔλθ’, αἴ ποτα κἀτέρωτα |6 τὰς ἔμας αὔδας ἀίοισα πήλοι |7 ἔκλυες, πάτρος δὲ δόμον λίποισα |8 χρύσιον ἦλθες |9 ἄρμ’ ὐπασδεύξαισα· κάλοι δέ σ’ ἆγον |10 ὤκεες στροῦθοι περὶ γᾶς μελαίνας |11 πύκνα δίννεντες πτέρ’ ἀπ’ ὠράνωἴθε|12ρος διὰ μέσσω· |13 αἶψα δ’ ἐξίκοντο· σὺ δ’, ὦ μάκαιρα, |14 μειδιαίσαισ’ ἀθανάτωι προσώπωι |15 ἤρε’ ὄττι δηὖτε πέπονθα κὤττι |16 δηὖτε κάλημμι |17 κὤττι μοι μάλιστα θέλω γένεσθαι |18 μαινόλαι θύμωι· τίνα δηὖτε πείθω |19 βαῖσ᾿ ἄγην ἐς σὰν φιλότατα; τίς σ’, ὦ |20 Ψάπφ’, ἀδικήει; |21 καὶ γὰρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέως διώξει, |22 αἰ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ’, ἀλλὰ δώσει, |23 αἰ δὲ μὴ φίλει, ταχέως φιλήσει |24 κωὐκ ἐθέλοισα. |25 ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλέπαν δὲ λῦσον |26 ἐκ μερίμναν, ὄσσα δέ μοι τέλεσσαι |27 θῦμος ἰμέρρει, τέλεσον, σὺ δ' αὔτα |28 σύμμαχος ἔσσο. On the reading βαῖσ᾿ ἄγην at line 19, see PP 98n34.
[ back ] 20. PP 97-103.
[ back ] 21. Here I agree with Yatromanolakis 2003.
[ back ] 22. I note especially the “choral” context of the word choir here.
[ back ] 23. Kierkegaard 1983 [1843]149. See PP 101-103; also 52.
[ back ] 24. On this mystical reference to dreams that are dreamed while sleeping at the foot of a rock formation that looms over the sleeper, I have much more to say in GM 223-262.
[ back ] 25. |39 ἐγὼν δ’ ἀείδω |40 Ἀγιδῶς τὸ φῶς· ὁρῶ |41 ϝ’ ὥτ’ ἄλιον, ὅνπερ ἇμιν |42 Ἀγιδὼ μαρτύρεται |43 φαίνην· ἐμὲ δ’ οὔτ’ ἐπαινῆν |44 οὔτε μωμήσθαι νιν ἁ κλεννὰ χοραγὸς |45 οὐδ’ ἁμῶς ἐῆι· δοκεῖ γὰρ ἤμεν αὔτα |46 ἐκπρεπὴς τὼς ὥπερ αἴτις |47 ἐν βοτοῖς στάσειεν ἵππον |48 παγὸν ἀεθλοφόρον καναχάποδα |49 τῶν ὑποπετριδίων ὀνείρων.
[ back ] 26. PP 53-54.
[ back ] 27. PP 57, 89, 92. I also infer that these two competing choruses are representatives of the two royal houses of Sparta.
[ back ] 28. PP ch. 4. In Hour 2, I gave a working definition of the term typological comparison.
[ back ] 29. PP 88.
[ back ] 30. The sources are documented in PP 89-90.
[ back ] 31. PP 90.
[ back ] 32. Here is a transliteration of the first stanza: oi men ippēōn stroton oi de pesdōn | oi de nāōn phais’ epi gān melainan | emmenai kalliston egō de kēn’ ot|tō tis erātai.
[ back ] 33. In the papyrus fragment, the negative ‘not’ is not visible, but its restoration is supported by editors.
[ back ] 34. |1 [ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον οἰ δὲ πέσδων |2 οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ’ ἐπ[ὶ] γᾶν μέλαι[ν]αν |3 [ἔ]μμεναι κάλλιστον, ἔγω δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-|4-τω τις ἔραται· |5 [πά]γχυ δ’ εὔμαρες σύνετον πόησαι |6 [π]άντι τ[ο]ῦ̣τ’, ἀ γὰρ πόλυ περσκέ̣θ̣ο̣ι̣σ̣α |7 κ̣άλ̣λο̣̣̣̣c̣ [ἀνθ]ρ̣ώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα |8 τ̣ὸν̣ [πανάρ]ιστον |9 κ̣αλλ[ίποι]σ̣’ ἔβα ’ς Τροΐαν πλέοι̣[σα |10 κωὐδ[ὲ πα]ῖδος οὐδὲ φίλων το[κ]ήων |11 π̣ά[μπαν] ἐμνάσθη, ἀλλὰ παράγ̣α̣γ̣’ α̣ὔταν |12 […]σαν […] |15 [..]μ̣ε̣ νῦν Ἀνακτορί[ας ὀ]ν̣έ̣μναι-|16 [-σ’ οὐ ] παρεοίσας, |17 [τᾶ]ς <κ>ε βολλοίμαν ἔρατόν τε βᾶμα |18 κἀμάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προσώπω |19 ἢ τὰ Λύδων ἄρματα †κανοπλοισι |20 [πεσδομ]άχεντας.
[ back ] 35. Nagy 2010a:189. See also GM 261-262; PH 285 = 10§18; PP 90, 102-103.
[ back ] 36. In terms of the first interpretation, the original Greek wording would be τὸ λά[μπρον ἔρως ἀελίω καὶ τὸ κά]λον λέ[λ]ογχε. In terms of the second interpretation, it would be τὸ λά[μπρον ἔρος τὠελίω καὶ τὸ κά]λον λέ[λ]ογχε.
[ back ] 37. Eliot 1941 [1963]:199.
[ back ] 38. A longer version of what I argue here is presented in Nagy 2007a (“Lyric and Greek Myth”) 31-36.
[ back ] 39. Nagy 2007a (“Lyric and Greek Myth”) 31-32.
[ back ] 40. Nagy 2007a (“Lyric and Greek Myth”) 32. The paragraphs that follow are taken from this same essay.
[ back ] 41. EH §76.
[ back ] 42. Burkert 1960:132.
[ back ] 43. EH §§105, 108, 110, 115.
[ back ] 44. BA 32-34, 292-295 = 2§8, 17§5.
[ back ] 45. EH §56.
[ back ] 46. I have collected some striking examples in BA 326-328 = 20§§9-10.
[ back ] 47. HPC 90 = I§214.
[ back ] 48. I disagree with the formulation of Dale 2011:53n22: “She is hardly comparing the best of the Achaeans to a twig.”
[ back ] 49. In what follows, I recapitulate what I argue in Nagy 2007a (“Lyric and Greek Myth”).
[ back ] 50. HPC = 149, 250-251 = II§§49, 321.
[ back ] 51. On the ancient textual source where we find the quotation of this fragment, see Dale 2011:64.
[ back ] 52. οἶον τὸ γλυκύμαλον ἐρεύθεται ἄκρωι ἐπ’ ὔσδωι, | ἄκρον ἐπ’ ἀκροτάτωι, λελάθοντο δὲ μαλοδρόπηες, | οὐ μὰν ἐκλελάθοντ’, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐδύναντ’ ἐπίκεσθαι.
[ back ] 53. On the cultivation of apples in ancient and modern Lesbos, see Mason 2004.
[ back ] 54. BA 141 = 7§29n6.
[ back ] 55. More detailed argumentation in Nagy 2007a (“Lyric and Greek Myth”) 28-37.
[ back ] 56. Dué 2002:70-71; HPC 242-350 = II§§303-320.
[ back ] 57. Nagy 2007a (“Lyric and Greek Myth”) 32-34.
[ back ] 58. HC 578-587 = 4§§259-270; HPC 296 = II§425.
[ back ] 59. BA 182-184 = 10§11.
[ back ] 60. Dué 2006:82-83.
[ back ] 61. PP 94-96.
[ back ] 62. Nagy “Lyric and Greek Myth” (2007) 34-36.
[ back ] 63. Nagy “Lyric and Greek Myth” (2007) 36-37.
[ back ] 64. PH 360-361 = 12§§44-45.
[ back ] 65. HTL 138-143.
[ back ] 66. HPC 239-240 = II§297.
[ back ] 67. PH 350-351 = 12§29.
[ back ] 68. This word daimonion is derived from daimōn, which refers to an unspecified god, whereas theos refers to a specific god: see Hour 5§1. That is why I interpret daimonion here as the ‘divine unknown’.
[ back ] 69. For the meaning of this word, see Hour 6§54.
[ back ] 70. This word theion is derived from theos, which refers to a specific god. That is why I interpret theion here as ‘divinity that is known’.
[ back ] 71. On the meaning of nēpios as ‘disconnected’, see the Core Vocabulary.
[ back ] 72. διὰ δὲ τὴν πρὸς τὸ δαιμόνιον ὁρμὴν ἰσχυρὸς ἔρως πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις ἐγγύθεν τιμᾶν καὶ θεραπεύειν τὸ θεῖον, προσιόντας καὶ ἁπτομένους μετὰ πειθοῦς, θύοντας καὶ στεφανοῦντας. ἀτεχνῶς γὰρ ὥσπερ νήπιοι παῖδες πατρὸς ἢ μητρὸς ἀπεσπασμένοι δεινὸν ἵμερον ἔχοντες καὶ πόθον ὀρέγουσι χεῖρας οὐ παροῦσι πολλάκις ὀνειρώττοντες, οὕτω καὶ θεοῖς ἄνθρωποι ἀγαπῶντες δικαίως διά τε εὐεργεσίαν καὶ συγγένειαν, προθυμούμενοι πάντα τρόπον συνεῖναί τε καὶ ὁμιλεῖν.