Hour 12. The cult hero as an exponent of justice in Homeric poetry and beyond

The meaning of dikē

12§1. The key word for this hour is dikē, which means ‘justice’ long-term and ‘judgment’ short-term. In ancient Greek poetics, a primary metaphor for dikē is a flourishing field or garden or orchard or grove or vineyard or any other such place where vegetation is cultivated. As I will argue, the typical cult hero is an exponent of dikē. And the worshippers of the cult hero can view the presence of his or her corpse in the local earth as the cause of vegetal flourishing or thriving or blooming.
12§2. As we have seen in Hour 11§9 and §57, the corpse of the cult hero, as hidden below in the local earth, is envisioned as a talisman of fertility and prosperity for the worshippers who cultivate that earth. Now we will see that such a vision is a sign of dikē in the long-term sense of ‘justice’.

An occurrence of dikē as ‘justice’ in the Odyssey

12§3. We see an example of this vision in a passage quoting the words of the disguised Odysseus, addressed to his wife Penelope:

Hour 12 Text A

|107 My lady, who among mortals throughout the limitless stretches of earth |108 would dare to quarrel [neikeîn] against you with words? For truly your glory [kleos] reaches the wide firmament of the sky itself |109 - like the glory of some faultless king [basileus], who, godlike as he is, |110 and ruling over a population that is multitudinous and vigorous, |111 upholds acts of good dikē [= eu-dikiai], while the dark earth produces |112 wheat and barley, the trees are loaded with fruit, |113 the ewes steadily bring forth lambs, and the sea abounds with fish, |114 by reason of the good directions he gives, and his people are meritorious [aretân] under his rule.
Odyssey xix 107-114 [1]
12§4. The wording of this passage shows the only place in the Odyssey where Penelope is said to have kleos or ‘glory’ herself, but even here the glory emanates more broadly from the poetic tradition that features primarily Odysseus and only secondarily those who are close to him, especially Penelope, as we saw in Hour 9§22 and §23. Moreover, the kleos of Penelope depends on the validity of comparing it with the kleos of the unnamed king whose ‘acts of good dikē’ energize the fertility and prosperity of the land he rules. Since the words about this just king are spoken by the disguised Odysseus, it is evident that he himself will take the role of that just king when the time comes. But when exactly will that time come? Will it be after he kills the suitors? Or will it be after he dies? I ask the second question because the wording that refers to the inhabitants of the fertile and prosperous land of the just king is remarkably parallel to the wording that referred to the inhabitants of the kingdom of Odysseus after he is dead:

Hour 12 Text B (part of Hour 11 Text J)

As for yourself [= Odysseus], death shall come to you from the sea, |135 a gentle death, that is how it will come, and this death will kill you |136 as you lose your strength in a prosperous old age. And the people all around [your corpse] |137 will be blessed [olbioi].
Odyssey xi 134-137 [2]
12§5. This wording is taken from the prophecy of Teiresias to Odysseus in Odyssey xi 90-137, which I quoted in its entirety in Hour 11 Text J. I draw attention once again to the word olbioi here, which I continue to translate as ‘blessed’, and which describes here the inhabitants of the kingdom of Odysseus. As I argued in Hour 11§§38-39 and §44, this word olbioi, ‘blessed’, refers to the blessings of fertility and prosperity that the inhabitants of Ithaca receive as a result of the hero’s death (xi 136-137; retold at xxiii 283-284). This death, as I argued in Hour 11§59, leads to the transformation of Odysseus into a cult hero, who is invoked as olbios, ‘blessed’, at the end of Odyssey, at xxiv 192 as quoted in Hour 11 Text G.
12§6. In the Hesiodic Works and Days, as we saw in Hour 11§15, this same word olbioi, ‘blessed’, is used to describe cult heroes who are immortalized after death and who enjoy a state of bliss in the Islands of the Blessed, which as we have seen is a paradisiacal setting that transcends the temporal and the spatial constraints of mortality:

Hour 12 Text C = 11 Text C

|170 And they live with a carefree heart [thūmos] |171 on the Islands of the Blessed [Nēsoi Makarōn] on the banks of the deep-swirling river Okeanos, |172 blessed [olbioi] heroes [hērōes] that they are, and for them there is a honey-sweet harvest [karpos] |173 that comes to fruition three times each year, produced by the life-giving land.
Hesiod Works and Days 170-173
12§7. On the basis of these parallel texts, then, I argue that the picture of a just king who rules over a fertile and prosperous land in Text A, Odyssey xix 107-114, refers to the future status of Odysseus as a cult hero. But I still need to confront a possible objection: why would a cult hero be described as a basileus, ‘king’, at xix 109? And besides, would not the title of ‘king’ fit Odysseus when he is alive, right after he kills the suitors and recovers his kingdom - and before he is dead? True, the title would fit then as well, but I maintain that the context of the words spoken by the disguised Odysseus to Penelope is more transcendent. The fact is, the title of ‘king’ fits the cult hero as well. There is evidence to show that the generic cult hero is conventionally described as a basileus, ‘king’. [3] In a stylized thrēnos or ‘lament’ composed by Pindar (F 133), for example, hēroes hagnoi, ‘holy heroes’, are equated with basilēes, ‘kings’. [4]

The Golden Generation of humankind

12§8. We find another attestation of the idea of cult heroes as basilēes, ‘kings’, in the Hesiodic Works and Days, which tells the story of the Golden Generation, a mythological category of humankind that corresponds to the positive aspects of cult heroes:

Hour 12 Text D

|122 And they [= the Golden Generation of humankind] are superhumans [daimones]. They exist because of the Will of Zeus. |123 They are the good, the earthbound [epi-khthonioi], the guardians of mortal humans. |124 They guard acts of justice [dikē] and they guard against wretched acts of evil. |125 Enveloped in mist, they roam everywhere throughout the earth. |126 They are givers of prosperity. And they had this as a privilege [geras], a kingly one [basilēion]. [5]
Hesiod Works and Days 122-126 [6]
12§9. Elsewhere in the Hesiodic Works and Days (248-262), these cult heroes are described as agents of the goddess of justice personified, Dikē, who is daughter of Zeus: all these forces of justice are shown as uniting in their mission to punish men who are adikoi, ‘unjust’ (260), especially basilēes, ‘kings’ (261), who make dikai, ‘judgments’, unjustly, that is, ‘in a crooked way’, skoliōs (262). [7]

Hesiod as an exponent of justice

12§10. By contrast with such unjust men, the persona of Hesiod speaks as an exponent of justice when he admonishes the unnamed kings to speak their words in a way that ‘makes them straight’, ithunein (263). Hesiod has good reason to make this admonition, since he is accusing these unnamed kings of having taken bribes (264) and rendering ‘crooked judgments, that is, skoliai dikai (264).
12§11. The persona of Hesiod is not only the speaker of the entire Works and Days: he is also the main character of the action, from the very start. He and his brother, named Perses, are engaged in a neikos, ‘quarrel’ (35), over inheritance, and the unnamed kings are supporting the brother against Hesiod, having been bribed (as implied in 264). Whenever Hesiod speaks to Perses or to the kings in the poem, he presents himself as the representative of dikē, ‘justice’ (213, 217, 220, 225, 239, 254, 256, 272, 275, 278, 279, 283), and of whatever is dikaio-, ‘just’ (217, 226, 270, 271, 280), whereas the other side represent the opposite of justice, which is hubris, ‘outrage’ (213, 214, 217, 238), and whatever is adiko-, ‘unjust’ (260, 272). Besides the instances of the word dikē in the long-range sense of ‘justice’ I note the instances of the same word in the short-range sense of ‘judgment’: in these instances, Hesiod consistently accuses Perses and the unjust kings of making or upholding dikai, ‘judgments’, that are perverted, and a choice adjective for such bad judgments is skoliai, ‘crooked’ (219, 221, 250, 264; adverb skoliōs, ‘crookedly’, at 262), whereas the good judgments of the just are itheiai, ‘straight’ (36, 224, 226).

Metaphors for dikē and hubris

12§12. We see at work here a metaphor that pervades the Hesiodic Works and Days: dikē or ‘justice’ is straight and direct or unidirectional, whereas hubris as the opposite of justice is crooked and indirect or multidirectional. The etymology of the noun dikē, derived from the verb deik-nunai, which means ‘to point’ or ‘to indicate’, shows the built-in idea of direction, directness, directedness. [8]
12§13. As for the opposite of dikē, which is hubris, I have already noted that this word is conventionally translated as ‘outrage’. But this translation does not capture adequately the metaphorical world of hubris as the opposite of dikē in the sense of ‘justice’. To understand in more depth the meaning of hubris as the opposite of dikē, I propose to outline the contexts in which we find the word hubris, and I divide these contexts into the realms of (1) humans (2) animals (3) plants. In the human realm, hubris refers to acts that provoke a sense of moral outrage, which calls for a response by humans and gods alike, and the response can take the form of social and cosmic sanctions respectively; in the Odyssey, for example, hubris refers frequently to the behavior of the suitors of Penelope (i 368 and so on). I will have more to say toward the end of this hour about such a human realm of hubris. As for the realm of animals, hubris refers more simply to any behavior that is violent (Herodotus 1.189) or sexual (as in Pindar Pythian 10.36) - though such behavior extends of course from animals to humans. As for the realm of plants, hubris refers to excessive productivity in one aspect of the plant, to the detriment of other aspects: for example, in the case of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, hubris would result in the excessive production of wood or of leaves at the expense of the fruit itself. [9] I turn to a case described by the botanist Theophrastus (fourth / third century BCE). In the passage I am about to quote, Theophrastus is analyzing the behavior of the white lupin plant (Lupinus albus), a kind of shrub that bears a fruit (a kind of “bean”) that is even today commonly eaten as a snack in many parts of the Mediterranean world:

Hour 12 Text E

The white lupin [shrub] becomes a-karpos [= stops bearing karpos, ‘fruit’] when it gets wood-crazy, as it were, and behaves with exuberance [hubris].
Theophrastus About the aetiologies of plants 3.1.5 [10]
Or again, in the case of almond trees, soil that is poor in nutrients is better than rich soil for cultivating these trees if you want them to produce plenty of almonds:

Hour 12 Text F

For almond trees, poor soil [is preferable], for if the soil is deep and rich, the trees experience an exuberance [hubris] because of all the good nutrition, and they stop bearing fruit [a-karpeîn].
Theophrastus About the aetiologies of plants 2.16.8 [11]
12§14. To counteract the undergrowth of fruit in plants, the cultivator must prevent the overgrowth of wood or leaves in order to restore equilibrium in growth. So, the cultivator must regulate the plant. Theophrastus, in his treatise Research about plants (2.7.7), mentions a wide variety of ways to regulate, including the process of pruning (for example, the pruning of grape vines at 3.15.4); and he notes a traditional way for referring to such a process: you can say that the cultivator ‘punishes the plant that is committing hubris’ (kolazein hōs hubrizon to dendron). [12] And, giving another example, Theophrastus notes that the native expression in Arcadia for pruning the sorbapple tree is euthunein, which means literally ‘straighten’. Here is how Theophrastus says it:

Hour 12 Text G

In Arcadia they have an expression ‘straightening [euthunein] the sorbapple tree [oa]’. There are many such trees in their region. And they say that, when this [‘straightening’] happens to the trees, those that have not been bearing fruit will now start to bear fruit, and those that bear fruit that will not ripen [on the tree] will now have fruit that ripens, and ripens beautifully.
Theophrastus Research about plants 2.7.7 [13]
12§15. As we saw at the beginning of this hour, a primary metaphor for dikē in the sense of ‘justice’ is a flourishing field or garden or orchard or grove or vineyard or any other such place where vegetation is cultivated. And now we see that hubris, which is the opposite of dikē, is a negative force that counteracts the flourishing of vegetation: hubris results in vegetal overgrowth and undergrowth. From a mythological point of view, the extreme landscapes of hubris are a wildland or a desert.
12§16. In the examples of hubris as surveyed so far, an excessive production of wood or of leaves prevents a plant from producing fruit. Conversely, as we will now see, excessive production of seed will prevent garden-herbs like lettuce from producing leaves, and such herbs will then go to seed or bolt, as we say. That is why, as Theophrastus notes (About the aetiologies of plants 3.9.2), the way to cultivate such herbs is to prevent ‘the generating of fruit’ (karpogoneîn) by promoting ‘the production of leaves’ (phullophoreîn).
12§17. So, what are the mythological consequences of going to seed? A prime example is a myth that links the thridax or ‘lettuce’ with the hero Adonis, a beautiful mortal boy who became the lover of the goddess Aphrodite herself. References made by ancient authors to this myth have been collected by an author dated to the early third century CE, Athenaeus of Naucratis (2.69b-d), and from these references we can see a central event of the myth: Aphrodite hid Adonis inside a head of lettuce. Since Aphrodite is the goddess of reproduction as well as sex, this action of hers is most counterproductive, since lettuce must be kept from going to seed if it is going to be a good little lettuce. Accordingly, the hiding of Adonis inside a head of lettuce results in sterility for Adonis. And the hero Adonis is in fact associated with sterility. The boy may be a great lover, most appreciated by the goddess of sexuality herself, Aphrodite, but he is still sterile. And there is an ancient traditional proverb that stems from this myth:

Hour 12 Text H

more barren [a-karpos] than the Gardens of Adonis
CPG I p. 19.6–11 [14]
12§18. The rituals surrounding the Gardens of Adonis, as Marcel Detienne has shown, are a negative dramatization of fertility. [15] The so-called Gardens of Adonis (kēpoi Adōnidos) are potted herbs that are planted in the most unseasonal of times, the Dog Days of summer: the plants grow with excessive speed and vigor, only to be scorched to death by the sun’s excessive heat, and this death is then followed by stylized mourning and lamentations for Adonis, protégé of Aphrodite. In opposition to the normal cycle of seasonal agriculture, which lasts for eight months, the abnormal cycle of the unseasonal Gardens of Adonis lasts but eight days (as we see from Plato Phaedrus 276b). Like his suddenly and violently growing plants, Adonis himself dies prohēbēs, ‘before reaching maturity [hēbē]’ (CPG I p. 183.3–8, II p. 3.10–13; compare also II p. 93.13). [16]

The Silver Generation of humankind

12§19. The beautiful boy hero Adonis is parallel to the heroes featured in the stylized narrative of the Hesiodic Works and Days about a debased second generation of humankind, the Silver Generation, who were created after the first humans, the Golden Generation. Here is the narrative about the Silver Generation:

Hour 12 Text I

|127 Then a second Generation, a much worse one, a later one, |128 the Silver, was made by the gods who abide in their Olympian homes. |129 They were like the Golden one neither in their nature nor in their power of perception [noēma]. |130 As a boy, each one was raised for a hundred years by dear mother; |131 each one was playing around, quite inept [nēpios], at home. |132 But when the time of maturing [hēbân] and the full measure of maturity [hēbē] arrived, |133 they lived only for a very short time, suffering pains [algea] |134 for their acts of heedlessness [aphradiai], since they could not keep overweening hubris |135 away from each other, and they were not willing to care for [therapeuein] the immortal gods, |136 not willing at all, nor were they willing to make sacrifice on the sacred altars of the blessed [makares] gods, |137 the way humans are required by cosmic law [themis] to behave, each group according to its own customs. Anyway, they too, when the time came, |138 were hidden away by Zeus son of Kronos. He was angry at them because they did not give honors [tīmai], |139 no they did not, to the blessed [makares] gods who possess Olympus. |140 But when the earth covered over this generation [genos] as well |141 - and they are called the blessed [makares], abiding below the earth [hupo-khthonioi], [17] mortals that they are, |142 the Second Ones, though they too [like the First Ones, who are the Golden Generation] get their share of honor [tīmē]) …
Hesiod Works and Days 127–142 [18]
12§20. Like the boy hero Adonis, the heroes of the Silver Generation are unable to achieve a stable maturity or hēbē. They are immature and unseasonal. By contrast, in Works and Days 115–120 the unspoiled heroes of the Golden Generation live in a Golden Age of stable fertility, as expressed directly by the word karpos, ‘fruit’ (117). They are mature and seasonal. The Golden Age presents an idealized picture of wealth that is won by way of dikē: true and lasting, it is antithetical to the sudden and violent wealth that is won by way of hubris and that is destined not to last (320–326).
12§21. So, just as the Golden Generation is a positive image of a cult hero, the corresponding Silver Generation is a negative image, as we see from the narrative here in Text I. In this narrative about the Silver Generation, the Hesiodic Works and Days shows the dark side of cult heroes: the heroes of the Silver Generation refuse to ‘care for’ the gods, therapeuein (135), as we have just noted here and have already noted in Hour 6§51, and they likewise refuse to perform sacrifices to the gods (136). But, despite such impious behavior, which is equated with not giving tīmē, ‘honor’, to the gods (138), these heroes of the Silver Generation are said to receive tīmē, ‘honor’, from humans after they die, just as the heroes of the Golden Generation receive honor (142). And, as we have seen in Hour 8§21 with reference to Text C there, taken from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (259-267), this word tīmē can refer to the ‘honor’ that cult heroes receive in the rituals of hero cult after they die, as in the case of the tīmē received by the cult hero Demophon after he dies (261, 263). As we can see in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (268), where the goddess refers to herself as tīmāokhos, ‘receiver of honor’ [tīmē], the gods receive tīmē just as cult heroes receive tīmē, but of course they do not have to die to receive it as heroes have to die. And the heroes of the Silver Generation do have to die, as we have just seen in the text I quoted. So, once again, I apply the formula that I applied in Hour 11§45 and §51: god-hero antagonism in myth corresponds to god-hero symbiosis in ritual.

Two further generations of humankind

12§22. In the Hesiodic Works and Days, the contrast between dikē and hubris is re-enacted not only in the contrast between the Golden and the Silver Generations but also in an overall myth of five successive generations of humankind (106–201). As we are about to see, the contrast between the Golden and Silver Generations is part of an overall system of contrasts between dikē and hubris, framed within the myth of five generations. This system has been cogently analyzed by Jean-Pierre Vernant, who has shown that the superiority and inferiority of Generations 1 and 2 respectively are marked by their dikē and hubris, while, inversely, the inferiority and superiority of Generations 3 and 4 respectively are marked by their hubris and dikē. [19] So, we turn next to these Generations 3 and 4.
12§23. I start with Generation 3. Just as the narrative about Generation 2, the Silver Generation, shows the dark side of cult heroes, so also the narrative about Generation 3, the Bronze Generation, shows the dark side of epic heroes. Here is the narrative:

Hour 12 Text J

|143 And Zeus the father made another Generation of mortal men, the Third. |144 He made it Bronze, not at all like the Silver. |145 A Generation born from ash trees, violent and terrible. Their minds were set on the woeful deeds of Arēs |146 and on acts of hubris. Grain |147 they did not eat, but their hard-dispositioned heart [thūmos] was made of hard rock. |148 They were forbidding: they had great force [biē] and overpowering hands |149 growing out of their shoulders, with firm foundations for limbs. |150 Their implements were bronze, their houses were bronze, |151 and they did their work with bronze. There was no black iron. |152 And they were wiped out when they killed each other with their own hands, |153 and went nameless to the dank house of chill Hādēs, |154 yes, nameless [nōnumnoi]! Death still took them, terrifying as they were, |155 yes, black Death took them, and they left behind them the bright light of the Sun.
Hesiod Works and Days 143-155 [20]
12§24. So, this negative picture, with its emphasis on hubris (146), suits the dark and latent side of the epic hero as we see him in action in Homeric poetry. [21] The negativity extends to the afterlife for such a hero, which is described in a way that seems at first to offer no hope for immortalization after death. The narrative simply says that the dead heroes went to Hādēs. So, if Hādēs were a permanent rather than a transitional place of existence for heroes after death, then these heroes of Generation 3 would be forever nōnumnoi, ‘nameless’ (154).
12§25. By contrast, the narrative in the Works and Days about Generation 4 features a positive picture of the epic hero, with an emphasis on heroic behavior that is dikaion, ‘just’ (verse 158), and with a promise of immortalization after death:

Hour 12 Text K (including Text C)

|156 But when this Generation too was covered over by the earth, |157 Zeus made yet another Generation on earth, which nurtures many, a fourth one. |158 This one, by contrast [with the third], was just [dikaion]. [22] It was better. |159 It was the godlike generation of men who were heroes [hērōes], who are called |160 demigods [hēmi-theoi]; they are the previous generation [= previous to ours] who lived throughout the boundless earth. |161 These [demigods] were overcome by evil war and the terrible din of battle. |162 Some died at the walls of seven-gated Thebes, the land of Cadmus, |163 as they fought over the sheep of Oedipus. |164 Others were taken away by war over the great yawning stretches of sea |165 to Troy, all on account of Helen with the beautiful hair. |166 Then they [= this Generation] [23] were covered over by the finality of death. |167 But they received, apart from other humans, a life and a place to live |168 from Zeus the son of Kronos, who translated them to the edges of the earth, |169 far away from the immortal gods. And Kronos is king over them. |170 And they live with a carefree heart [thūmos] |171 on the Islands of the Blessed [Nēsoi Makarōn] on the banks of the deep-swirling river Okeanos, |172 blessed [olbioi] heroes [hērōes] that they are, and for them there is a honey-sweet harvest [karpos] |173 that comes to fruition three times each year, produced by the life-giving land.
Hesiod Works and Days 156-173 [24]
12§26. I have already quoted the last part of this text, the four verses 170-173, in Hour 11 Text C, where I analyzed the use of the word olbioi, ‘blessed’ (172). This word, as we have seen, occurs typically in contexts where heroes are pictured as inhabitants of paradisiacal settings in an afterlife. And I quoted these same four verses 170-173 again in Text C of this hour, where I compared the context of the word olbioi in Text C with the context of the same word in Text B of this hour, at Odyssey xi 137, referring to the blessings brought upon the people of Odysseus after his death as prophesied by Teiresias.
12§27. So, in this Hesiodic narrative about Generation 4 we see an alternative visualization of the heroes whom we know from Homeric poetry and from other poetry (especially the Seven against Thebes epic, which has not survived in any integral text from the ancient world). First of all, the Hesiodic narrative shows the heroes of Generation 4 only in a positive light, and the negative side of the epic hero is reserved for Generation 3; by contrast, Homeric poetry views both the positive and the negative sides of its heroes. Secondly, the Hesiodic narrative speaks explicitly about the immortalization of the heroes belonging to Generation 4; by contrast, the immortalization of heroes after death is only implied in Homeric poetry, as we have seen in Hour 8§§40-48.
12§28. Another difference that we see here between Homeric and Hesiodic poetry is signaled by the Hesiodic use of the word hēmi-theoi, ‘demigods’, in the Works and Days (160) with reference to the epic heroes of Generation 4 who were obliterated in the time of the Theban and the Trojan Wars (161-165) - but who were preserved after death and immortalized by being transported to the Islands of the Blessed (167-173). By contrast, the word hēmi-theoi is never used in Homeric poetry - except for one occurrence in Iliad XII (23). Matching this exceptional Homeric occurrence of hēmi-theoi is an exceptional shift in the Homeric narrative perspective here: instead of viewing heroes through the lens of the heroic age, seeing them as they were back then, alive and hoping to be remembered, the poetry now views them through the lens of a post-heroic age, seeing them as already dead and about to be forgotten (XII 17-33). [25] So, the scenario of obliteration followed by immortalization for the hēmi-theoi in the Hesiodic Works and Days (obliteration in 161-166, immortalization in 167-173) must be contrasted with a scenario of obliteration followed by no mention of immortalization for the hēmi-theoi mentioned in the Homeric Iliad (XII 17-33). [26]

Hesiod in the Iron Age

12§29. Unlike Homeric poetry, Hesiodic poetry consistently views heroes through the lens of a post-heroic age, as we can see most clearly when Hesiod finally turns to Generation 5 of humankind, which is his own generation:

Hour 12 Text L

|174 If only I did not have to be in the company of the Fifth Generation |175 of men, and if only I had died before it [= the Fifth Generation] or been born after it, |176 since now is the time of the Iron Generation.
Hesiod Works and Days 174-176 [27]
12§30. In this grim Iron Age, which is the here and now for Hesiod, the neat division between dikē and hubris breaks down. You cannot say that this is a time of either dikē or hubris, because these two forces are presently engaged in an ongoing struggle, and Hesiod expresses his pessimism in the light of his present neikos, ‘quarrel’ (mentioned in verse 35), with his unjust brother Perses, who is being supported by the unjust kings. Earlier in this hour, at §10, I explored the details of such an ongoing struggle of dikē and hubris as viewed through the situation of Hesiod as he describes it. And Hesiod’s wording about the Iron Age, as I just quoted it in Text L, reflects his pessimism about the outcome of the struggle. In his anguish, he expresses a riddling wish, as we see it quoted in Works and Days 175-176, which is part of Text L: if only he had died, he says, in the previous generation or been born in the next generation! Well, if Hesiod had died in the previous generation, which is one of his two alternative wishes, he would have found himself in Generation 4, and we have already seen what happened to the epic heroes who died in Generation 4: they became cult heroes by way of becoming immortalized after death in a paradisiacal setting that matches the Golden Age. And if he had been born in the next generation, which is the other one of his two alternative wishes, he would have found himself in the paradisiacal setting of the Golden Age of Generation 1, who are cult heroes to start with, just as Generation 4 are cult heroes to end with, though they had started off as epic heroes. So, the two alternatives in the riddling wish of Hesiod are really one and the same thing, which is, to be in the Golden Age. [28]
12§31. Not only are the end of Generation 4 and the beginning of Generation 1 the same thing. We can also say that Generations 1 and 2 are the same thing, which is, the positive and the negative sides of cult heroes; and that Generations 3 and 4 are the same thing as well, which is, the negative and the positive sides of epic heroes. We can even say that Generations 1 and 2 are the same thing as Generations 3 and 4, since epic heroes do become cult heroes at the end of 4 in the cyclical logic of 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 back to 1 and so on. And this cycle is the same as the present, which is the quintessential here-and-now. [29] We see this kind of thinking in the mythmaking traditions of other Indo-European languages as well: in Celtic and Indic traditions, for example, the number 5 following the sequence 1 2 3 4 is a symbol of integration and centrality. [30]
12§32. Even though Hesiod wishes he did not live in the Iron Age, he still faces the struggle between dikē and hubris, which he proceeds to split into two separate worlds, just as he had split the world of heroes into two worlds, occupied by the cult figures on the one hand and the epic heroes on the other hand - and just as he had split those two worlds further into two sub-worlds each, occupied by heroes who are just and heroes who are unjust.
12§33. In a new split between dikē and hubris, as foreseen by Hesiod in the context of his Iron Age, there is a polis, ‘city’, of dikē, and this city abounds in fertility (225–237). By contrast, there is a polis, ‘city’, of hubris, and this city is afflicted by sterility (238–247): Zeus punishes the people of such a city with famine (243), with the barrenness of their women (244), and with the diminution of their household possessions (244). Moreover, the stylized city of hubris is afflicted with shipwrecks in seastorms brought on by Zeus himself (247), whereas the fortunate inhabitants of the stylized city of dikē do not have to sail at all (236–237), since the earth bears for them plentiful karpos or ‘fruit’ (237). [31]
12§34. Hesiod’s city of dikē is of course very much like the Golden Age of the Golden Generation, and at first sight it fits the heroic world. But the very opposition of dikē and hubris in this tale of two cities reflects a post-heroic world. By contrast, Homeric poetry, which is mostly situated in the world of heroes, by and large avoids any foregrounding of an opposition of dikē and hubris in the sense of ‘justice’ and its opposite. In fact, there are only three attested cases of such a formal opposition in Homeric poetry. In each of these three cases, we see parallel contexts: Odysseus does not yet know where he has just arrived in the course of his travels, and he is asking himself whether the new place he has just reached is populated by people who are dikaioi, ‘just’, or by hubristai, that is, by people who commit hubris (vi 120, ix 175, xiii 201). In the first case (vi 120), the place is the land of the Phaeacians; in the second, it is the land of the Cyclops (ix 175); and in the third (xiii 201), it is his own homeland, Ithaca. In the course of events, the Phaeacians turn out to be dikaioi, while the Cyclops is the ultimate hubristēs. But the situation is ambiguous in the case of Ithaca, since the suitors of Penelope fit the description hubristai while only those who are near and dear to Odysseus would qualify as dikaioi. So, the political situation in Ithaca at the time of Odysseus’ homecoming is the closest Homeric parallel to the political situation in the world of Hesiod. And such a political situation in Homeric poetry is the closest thing to a post-heroic context.
12§35. A related point can be made about the word dikē in the absolute sense of ‘justice’ and about derivative words conveying the same sense. That fact is, Homeric poetry avoids such words. We have already seen two of the most notable exceptions: in Text A of this hour, Odyssey xix 107-114, we saw the disguised Odysseus comparing Penelope to a basileus, ‘king’, who ‘upholds acts of good dikē [eu-dikiai]’ (111), and in Text E of Hour 9, Odyssey iii 130-135, we saw that Athena punished some of the Achaeans in the course of their travels back home after the capture of Troy, and that the reason for this punishment was their failure to be dikaioi, ‘just’ (133). We can say about both these cases that the exception proves the rule. In each case, Odysseus is stepping out of his role as epic hero. In the first case, as I argued in §7 near the beginning of this hour, the picture of a just king who rules over a fertile and prosperous land refers to the future status of Odysseus as a cult hero. And, in the second case, as I argued in Hour 11§55, Odysseus himself had been one of those offending Achaeans who had failed to be dikaioi, but the story of his moral offenses at Troy is screened out by the Odyssey. So, technically, neither one of these two examples shows Odysseus as a Homeric hero of the Trojan War.

Back to Hesiod as an exponent of dikē

12§36. By contrast with Homeric poetry, Hesiodic poetry explicitly depends on dikē. Even the identity of Hesiod as an authoritative poetic voice depends on the justification of dikē. Especially in the Hesiodic Works and Days, the embedded master narrative starts with the disequilibrium of injustice and moves towards the equilibrium of justice. I offer here an overall summary.
In response to the injustices committed by the unjust brother Perses and by the crooked kings who support Perses, the just brother Hesiod literally speaks the Works and Days, and his initial poetic speech is composed of four parts:
- First, he retells the myth of Prometheus and Pandora (verses 42-105), which is all about a work ethic - an ethic that has to be understood in terms of agriculture, which in turn has to be understood as a sacred activity that stays in rhythm with the natural life cycle.
- Second, he tells the myth of the Five Generations of Humankind (verses 106-201). As we have seen, the symbolism of the number 5 in this myth centers on the idea of a totality that becomes visible only by way of understanding how the four parts that lead up to it will in the end fit into that totality. And such a totality is the natural life cycle of the generic hero as the ultimate representative of humanity. Essentially, Generations 1 and 2 stand for the positive and negative images of the cult hero; Generations 3 and 4 stand for the negative and positive images of the epic hero; Generation 5 is the composite of the generic hero - as seen in the here-and-now. And the myth of the Five Generations of Humankind is also a vision of humanity - and how humanity has degenerated from the Golden Age to the Iron Age. The metaphor of metals correlated with the sequence of Five Generations of Humankind - Gold / Silver / Bronze / ___ / Iron - is symbolic of this human degeneration. The decreasing of value in this sequence of metals is made possible in the poetics of the Works and Days by way of leaving blank the fourth space in the sequence of spaces occupied by Gold / Silver / Bronze / ___ / Iron. The same blank fourth space makes it possible for the poetry to set up the dichotomies of better and worse, worse and better, for Generations 1 and 2, 3 and 4; otherwise, Generation 4 could not be viewed as the ‘better’ Generation that it is. This is why no metal can occupy the blank fourth space, since the idea of degeneration would have required such a metal to be worse, not better, than Bronze. And this is also why the least valuable metal must come last, and that metal is Iron.
- Third, he tells a fable, about the Hawk and the Nightingale (202-212), and he calls this fable an ainos (202). The moral of the story is implied by what comes after the telling of the fable (275-278), at which point the listeners are told that beasts, unlike humans, habitually devour other beasts. By implication then, the unjust acquisition of wealth through power is like cannibalism. As we have already seen Hour 10§41, the image of humans devouring other humans is like a nightmarish vision that conjures up the worst moments of epic heroes.
- Fourth comes an apocalyptic split vision of absolute dikē on one side and absolute hubris on the other side. The two sides are seen as a city of dikē (225-237) and a city of hubris (238-247).
12§37. After these four narratives, the integrating logic of the master narrative takes hold. In the Hesiodic Works and Days, the man of dikē will in the end regain the wealth of the earth that he has justly earned (280-281), while the man of hubris will in the end lose all the wealth that he gained unjustly (325-326). And, in fact, the unjust brother Perses does in the end lose all his wealth (396).

A reconnection of generations in an orchard

12§38. By contrast with the myth of the Five Generations of Humankind in the Hesiodic Works and Days, where the generic hero is refracted into four different generations, showing split images of cult heroes and epic heroes, of good heroes and bad heroes, the narrative of the Homeric Odyssey comes to an end with an integrated vision of heroic generations. This integration is achieved by way of a reconnection that happens between ancestor and descendant, as focused in the relationship of father and son. And this reconnection happens at the moment when Odysseus finds his father Laertes in an ‘orchard’, an alōē (Odyssey xxiv 226). The son finds the father in the act of cultivating that orchard, which looks just like the paradisiacal garden of a Golden Age. Here is what Odysseus says to Laertes, even before their mutual recognition is complete:

Hour 12 Text M

|244 Old sir, it is clear that you are most knowledgeable in tending |245 an orchard [orkhatos]. It is well tended, with care [komidē], and there is nothing, |246 no plant at all - no fig tree no grapevine no olive tree |247 no pear tree no bed for herbs - no, there is nothing in this whole garden [kēpos] that lacks for care [komidē].
Odyssey xxiv 244-247 [32]
12§39. Once the father and the son are reconnected, Laertes may start looking like a cult hero from the Golden Age. In the text that we have just seen, however, where Odysseus is addressing Laertes for the first time, the father is not yet ready to connect with the son because he has not yet recognized him. The interior sorrow of Laertes about being disconnected from Odysseus is still reflected in his exterior appearance, and, as the still-unrecognized Odysseus says bluntly but lovingly to his father, Laertes has not taken good ‘care’ (komidē xxiv 249) of himself, even though he has taken very good ‘care’ of the orchard, as we saw in the wording of Text M (xxiv 245, 247). But beneath the exterior degradation of the father, as Odysseus goes on to note, it is clear that Laertes still has the looks of a basileus, ‘king’ (xxiv 253). So, once the son takes proper care of his father, Laertes will once again look like his true self (xxiv 254-255); and, later on in the narrative, this is exactly what happens, with the help of the goddess Athena (xxiv 365-371). But now, so that Laertes may finally recognize Odysseus, the son shows that he knows everything about the orchard that Laertes is tending. Odysseus reveals that his father had actually given that garden to him as a gift when Odysseus was still a boy (xxiv 336-337), and Odysseus shows that he remembers every detail that he learned from his father back then, when he was growing up, about this ‘orchard’ (alōē xxiv 336) or ‘garden’ (kēpos xxiv 338). Odysseus now narrates, in proper order, all the beautiful details that he had learned from his father about this paradisiacal place where they used to take long walks together, and the father would answer every single question asked by the son (xxiv 337-344).
12§40. So, once Laertes reclaims his appearance as a king, he can be like a cult hero as he welcomes back to his paradisiacal garden a returning epic hero who has finally achieved a successful homecoming - and who can now reclaim a garden that he has owned all along. Now Odysseus, appearing as a king in his own right, can ultimately become a cult hero in his own right. So, the divide between epic hero and cult hero is ultimately repaired, and so too is the divide that separates generations from each other. Now an integrated vision of the generic hero can finally be achieved.


[ back ] 1. |107 ὦ γύναι, οὐκ ἄν τίς σε βροτῶν ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν |108 νεικέοι· ἦ γάρ σευ κλέος οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἱκάνει, |109 ὥς τέ τευ ἦ βασιλῆος ἀμύμονος, ὅς τε θεουδὴς |110 ἀνδράσιν ἐν πολλοῖσι καὶ ἰφθίμοισιν ἀνάσσων |111 εὐδικίας ἀνέχῃσι, φέρῃσι δὲ γαῖα μέλαινα |112 πυροὺς καὶ κριθάς, βρίθῃσι δὲ δένδρεα καρπῷ, |113 τίκτῃ δ’ ἔμπεδα μῆλα, θάλασσα δὲ παρέχῃ ἰχθῦς |114 ἐξ εὐηγεσίης, ἀρετῶσι δὲ λαοὶ ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ.
[ back ] 2. θάνατος δέ τοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ |135 ἀβληχρὸς μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται, ὅς κέ σε πέφνῃ |136 γήρᾳ ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον· ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ |137 ὄλβιοι ἔσσονται.
[ back ] 3. BA 170-172 = 9§31. On Odysseus as an ideal king, see Levaniouk 2011:26-28.
[ back ] 4. βασιλῆες ἀγαυοὶ … ἥροες ἁγνοί in Pindar F 133, quoted by Plato Meno 81b; see BA 170-171 = 9§31. Also, in an inscription grounded in rituals honoring the dead, in a context of promising a blissful life after death, the dead person is told: καὶ τότ’ ἔπειτ’ ἄ[λλοισι μεθ’] ἡρώεσσιν ἀνάξει[ς] ‘and then you will be king [anassein] among the other heroes [hērōes]’ (IG XIV 638 = SEG 40:824[2]); see BA 171 = 9§31n3 (where the citation needs to be corrected).
[ back ] 5. Commentary in BA 152-154 = 9§4.
[ back ] 6. |122 τοὶ μὲν δαίμονές εἰσι Διὸς μεγάλου διὰ βουλὰς |123 ἐσθλοί, ἐπιχθόνιοι, φύλακες θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων, |124 οἵ ῥα φυλάσσουσίν τε δίκας καὶ σχέτλια ἔργα |125 ἠέρα ἑσσάμενοι πάντη φοιτῶντες ἐπ’ αἶαν, |126 πλουτοδόται· καὶ τοῦτο γέρας βασιλήιον ἔσχον. Variant readings in the first two of these verses: |122 τοὶ μὲν δαίμονες ἁγνοὶ ἐπιχθόνιοι τελέθουσιν |123 ἐσθλοί, ἀλεξίκακοι, φύλακες θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων.
[ back ] 7. GM 68.
[ back ] 8. PH 260 = 9§15n60.
[ back ] 9. Michelini 1978. She gives a variety of examples, many of which will be cited here as well.
[ back ] 10. ὁ δὲ θέρμος ἄκαρπος γίνεται καθάπερ ὑλομανῶν καὶ ἐξυβρίζων. The combination of hulo-maneîn ‘be wood-crazy’ and ex-hubrizein ‘behave with hubris’ is also attested in a metaphorical context where it refers to human exuberance: Plutarch How a youth should hear poetry 15f. In the usage of Theophrastus, we find another form that shows a close parallelism with hulo-maneîn ‘be wood-crazy’: it is phullo-maneîn ‘be leaf-crazy’, as attested in Research about plants 8.7.4 (twice).
[ back ] 11. οἷον ταῖς ἀμυγδαλαῖς ἡ λεπτή· βαθείας γὰρ οὔσης καὶ πιείρας ἐξυβρίσασαι διὰ τὴν εὐτροφίαν ἀκαρποῦσι. See also Theophrastus About the aetiologies of plants 3.6.8, again about the almond tree.
[ back ] 12. κολάζειν ὡς ὑβρίζον τὸ δένδρον.
[ back ] 13. ἐν Ἀρκαδίᾳ δὲ καὶ εὐθύνειν καλοῦσι τὴν ὄαν· πολὺ γὰρ τὸ δένδρον τοῦτο παρ’ αὐτοῖς ἐστι. καί φασιν, ὅταν πάθῃ τοῦτο, τὰς μὲν μὴ φερούσας φέρειν τὰς δὲ μὴ πεττούσας ἐκπέττειν καλῶς.
[ back ] 14. ἀκαρπότερος ᾿Αδώνιδος κήπων.
[ back ] 15. Detienne 1972.187–226.
[ back ] 16. Nagy 1985:62 = §50.
[ back ] 17. This adjective hupo-khthonioi ‘abiding below the earth’, which is applied to the Silver Generation here at verse 141, seems at first to be perfectly symmetrical with the adjective epi-khthonioi, which I translate simply as ‘earthbound’ and which is applied to the Gold Generation at verse 123. Although the Silver Generation abides below the earth by virtue of being hupo-khthonioi, this formation does not imply that the Golden Generation abides above the earth by virtue of being epi-khthonioi. True, at verse 125 in Text D, we saw this description: ‘enveloped in mist, they roam everywhere throughout the earth’. But at other times they too abide below the earth: see BA 153-154 = 9§5.
[ back ] 18. |127 Δεύτερον αὖτε γένος πολὺ χειρότερον μετόπισθεν |128 ἀργύρεον ποίησαν Ὀλύμπια δώματ’ ἔχοντες, |129 χρυσέῳ οὔτε φυὴν ἐναλίγκιον οὔτε νόημα· |130 ἀλλ’ ἑκατὸν μὲν παῖς ἔτεα παρὰ μητέρι κεδνῇ |131 ἐτρέφετ’ ἀτάλλων, μέγα νήπιος, ᾧ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ·|132 ἀλλ᾽ ὅτ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἡβήσαι τε καὶ ἥβης μέτρον ἵκοιτο, |133 παυρίδιον ζώεσκον ἐπὶ χρόνον, ἄλγε’ ἔχοντες |134 ἀφραδίῃς· ὕβριν γὰρ ἀτάσθαλον οὐκ ἐδύναντο |135 ἀλλήλων ἀπέχειν οὐδ’ ἀθανάτους θεραπεύειν |136 ἤθελον οὐδ’ ἔρδειν μακάρων ἱεροῖς ἐπὶ βωμοῖς, |137 ᾗ θέμις ἀνθρώποις κατὰ ἤθεα. τοὺς μὲν ἔπειτα |138 Ζεὺς Κρονίδης ἔκρυψε χολούμενος, οὕνεκα τιμὰς |139 οὐκ ἔδιδον μακάρεσσι θεοῖς οἳ Ὄλυμπον ἔχουσιν. |140 αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ καὶ τοῦτο γένος κατὰ γαῖα κάλυψε, |141 τοὶ μὲν ὑποχθόνιοι μάκαρες θνητοὶ καλέονται, |142 δεύτεροι, ἀλλ’ ἔμπης τιμὴ καὶ τοῖσιν ὀπηδεῖ.
[ back ] 19. Vernant 1985:100-106.
[ back ] 20. |143 Ζεὺς δὲ πατὴρ τρίτον ἄλλο γένος μερόπων ἀνθρώπων |144 χάλκειον ποίησ’, οὐκ ἀργυρέῳ οὐδὲν ὁμοῖον, |145 ἐκ μελιᾶν, δεινόν τε καὶ ὄβριμον· οἷσιν Ἄρηος |146 ἔργ’ ἔμελε στονόεντα καὶ ὕβριες, οὐδέ τι σῖτον |147 ἤσθιον, ἀλλ’ ἀδάμαντος ἔχον κρατερόφρονα θυμόν. |148 ἄπλαστοι· μεγάλη δὲ βίη καὶ χεῖρες ἄαπτοι |149 ἐξ ὤμων ἐπέφυκον ἐπὶ στιβαροῖσι μέλεσσι. |150 τῶν δ’ ἦν χάλκεα μὲν τεύχεα, χάλκεοι δέ τε οἶκοι, |151 χαλκῷ δ’ εἰργάζοντο· μέλας δ’ οὐκ ἔσκε σίδηρος. |152 καὶ τοὶ μὲν χείρεσσιν ὑπὸ σφετέρῃσι δαμέντες |153 βῆσαν ἐς εὐρώεντα δόμον κρυεροῦ Ἀίδαο, |154 νώνυμνοι· θάνατος δὲ καὶ ἐκπάγλους περ ἐόντας |155 εἷλε μέλας, λαμπρὸν δ’ ἔλιπον φάος ἠελίοιο.
[ back ] 21. BA 158 = 9§11.
[ back ] 22. In the original Greek here, the word dikaioteron describing the fourth generation means not ‘more just’ but ‘just - as opposed to unjust’, where the ‘unjust’ are the third generation. See also Hour 11§22 for the note on thēluterai at Odyssey xxiv 202 as meaning not ‘more female’ but ‘female - as opposed to male’.
[ back ] 23. In the original Greek, the particle men here in Works and Days 166 is parallel to the men as used at verses 122, 137, 141, 161, not to the men as used at verse 162. I argue for this interpretation in GM 126n17 and PH 10§7n16; also in BA (1999) xiii = 0§19n2, with bibliography. In terms of this interpretation, the heroes who fought in the Theban War and in the Trojan War were all eligible for immortalization.
[ back ] 24. |156 αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ καὶ τοῦτο γένος κατὰ γαῖα κάλυψεν, |157 αὖτις ἔτ’ ἄλλο τέταρτον ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ |158 Ζεὺς Κρονίδης ποίησε, δικαιότερον καὶ ἄρειον, |159 ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων θεῖον γένος, οἳ καλέονται |160 ἡμίθεοι, προτέρη γενεὴ κατ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν. |161 καὶ τοὺς μὲν πόλεμός τε κακὸς καὶ φύλοπις αἰνὴ |162 τοὺς μὲν ὑφ’ ἑπταπύλῳ Θήβῃ, Καδμηίδι γαίῃ, |163 ὤλεσε μαρναμένους μήλων ἕνεκ’ Οἰδιπόδαο, |164 τοὺς δὲ καὶ ἐν νήεσσιν ὑπὲρ μέγα λαῖτμα θαλάσσης |165 ἐς Τροίην ἀγαγὼν Ἑλένης ἕνεκ’ ἠυκόμοιο. |166 ἔνθ’ ἦ τοι τοὺς μὲν θανάτου τέλος ἀμφεκάλυψε |167 τοῖς δὲ δίχ’ ἀνθρώπων βίοτον καὶ ἤθε’ ὀπάσσας |168 Ζεὺς Κρονίδης κατένασσε πατὴρ ἐς πείρατα γαίης. |169 [[see BA 169 = 9§29n]]|170 καὶ τοὶ μὲν ναίουσιν ἀκηδέα θυμὸν ἔχοντες |171 ἐν μακάρων νήσοισι παρ’ Ὠκεανὸν βαθυδίνην, |172 ὄλβιοι ἥρωες, τοῖσιν μελιηδέα καρπὸν |173 τρὶς ἔτεος θάλλοντα φέρει ζείδωρος ἄρουρα.
[ back ] 25. EH §67, following BA 159-162 = 9§§13-17.
[ back ] 26. Koenen 1994:5n12 calls this Iliadic scenario “the flip side of the same story.”
[ back ] 27. |174 Μηκέτ’ ἔπειτ’ ὤφελλον ἐγὼ πέμπτοισι μετεῖναι |175 ἀνδράσιν, ἀλλ’ ἢ πρόσθε θανεῖν ἢ ἔπειτα γενέσθαι. |176 νῦν γὰρ δὴ γένος ἐστὶ σιδήρεον.
[ back ] 28. BA 168-169 = 9§29.
[ back ] 29. BA 169 = 9§30.
[ back ] 30. Rees and Rees 1961:118-204. I highlight these two examples: the ‘Five Peoples’ in Indic traditions (together with the related idea of five directions - north / south / east / west / ‘here’) and the notion of Five ‘Provinces’ in Ireland.
[ back ] 31. Nagy 1985:62-63 = §51.
[ back ] 32. |244 ὦ γέρον, οὐκ ἀδαημονίη σ’ ἔχει ἀμφιπολεύειν |245 ὄρχατον, ἀλλ’ εὖ τοι κομιδὴ ἔχει, οὐδέ τι πάμπαν, |246 οὐ φυτόν, οὐ συκῆ, οὐκ ἄμπελος, οὐ μὲν ἐλαίη, |247 οὐκ ὄγχνη, οὐ πρασιή τοι ἄνευ κομιδῆς κατὰ κῆπον.