@1. Mênis and Cosmic Status in the Hierarchy of Peers

1. Mênis and Cosmic Status in the Hierarchy of Peers

A good place to begin reconstructing the meaning of mênis is not the beginning of the epic, which may be all too familiar for the perspective I wish to attain, but an extended passage from the middle of it. At the beginning of book 15 Zeus awakes from his seduction by Hera and finds the Trojans being routed by the Achaeans and Hector lying on the plain, spitting blood. Zeus pities him, then vents his anger at Hera and her dólos ‘tricky plan’. He now understands her to have seduced him and lulled him into a deep postcoital slumber in collusion with Poseidon, so that she could disobey his earlier, explicit prohibition against any god’s entering the battle at Troy, under pain of being thunderstruck or hurled to Tartarus (8.5–27). He threatens to lash her with plēgaí ‘blows’, and he recalls the time he strung her up en aithéri kaì nephélēisi, “in the bright sky and the clouds,” hung two anvils from her feet, and bound her hands with an unbreakable golden chain because of what she did to Herakles. Though the other gods pitied her, they were able to do absolutely nothing, Zeus reminds her, since “whomever I could catch, I kept grabbing and hurling down from the divine threshold, till each came down to earth scarcely breathing” (15.2224). [1] The contrasting treatment of the gods here is worth remembering: Hera bound hand and foot and immobilized on high, and any other gods whom Zeus could catch hurled down one level in the cosmic hierarchy.
In response to this threat, Hera swears to her independence of Poseidon, who, she says, is acting on his own desire to worst the Trojans in defiance of Zeus’s order forbidding the gods to interfere in the battle. Zeus smiles {5|6} knowingly at her oath and then commands her to send for Iris and Apollo: Iris to stop Poseidon, and Apollo to restore Hector and set the Achaeans instead of the Trojans into flight. He then goes on to describe what will happen in the rest of the Iliad, including the death of Patroklos and the return of Achilles, as though to reassert his arrested plan on the narrative as well as the political level. [2]
When Hera returns to Olympus, the other gods are dining together. She ignores the greetings of all but one. Only and specifically to Themis does she complain of the excessive and unkind (ὑπερφίαλος καὶ ἀπηνής [15.94]) conduct and the evil deeds (κακὰ ἔργα [97]) of her husband, Zeus. Then she self-righteously predicts the resentment he is about to cause among the other divinities and mortals. In her vexation, the poet tells us, she laughs with her lips but not with her forehead. Zeus doesn’t care how we try to stop him, she says, by words or by violence, since he karteí te stheneí te diakridòn eînai áristos, “in power and strength is another order of best.” [3] The best thing is to act with restraint no matter what evil thing he does.
She then predicts the suffering that will be inflicted upon one of the gods present who is not famous for restraint even under the best of circumstances, namely, Ares, since his son Askalaphos has just been slain. Ares immediately slaps his thighs with downturned hands [4] and speaks of his overwhelming need to avenge the death of his son, even if it is his own destiny, he says, to be struck by the thunderbolt of Zeus (Διὸς πληγέντι κεραυνῷ [15.117]) and to lie with corpses in the blood and dust. He then tells his attendants, Deimos ‘Fear’ and Phobos ‘Rout’, to yoke up his horses, and he puts on his shining armor. This is the point at which the narrator informs us that “a greater and more grievous anger and mênisfrom Zeus (ἔνθα κ’ ἔτι μείζων τε καὶ ἀργαλεώτερος ἄλλος / πὰρ Διὸς ἀθανάτοισι χόλος καὶ μῆνις ἐτύχθη [15.121-122]) would have been generated unless Athena had intervened with Ares, out of her fear for all the gods (πᾶσι περιδείσασα θεοῖσιν [15.123]). Greater and more grievous than what? Than the prior exercise of {6|7} Zeus’s mênis spoken of by Zeus himself at the beginning of the book. In other words, the narrative is making it clear that this is the second example of mênis in this context, the first being that inflicted upon Hera and the other gods. What does Athena do now to avert this more terrible disaster? First she acts to restrain Ares physically; she removes the helmet from his head, the shield from his shoulders, and the spear from his hand. She then tells him he has lost his nóos kaì aidṓs, “intelligence and sense of shame.” Didn’t you hear what Hera was saying about Zeus? You will go back to Olympus sooner or later in grief and under compulsion, but what will happen to the rest of us? Zeus will leave his place in Troy, and he will grab “one after another whoever is to blame along with whoever is not” (137). Give up your khólos ‘anger’ for your son (138), since someone greater in force has or soon will die in return for his death; the generation of mortals is beyond saving. Saying these things, she sits Ares down, and the danger his intervention would have offered the divine community has passed. The word khólos can be used as a substitute for the term whose significance we are trying to rebuild, mênis, but at times it contrasts with it. In fact khólos is a complex term with its own significance. [5]
The point Athena is making to Ares is that the mênis of Zeus will result not just in his own punishment, as Ares had imagined himself thunderstruck in the dust and blood, but in indiscriminate punishment of the whole community of gods, regardless of their complicity. Better to preserve the integrity of the divine community than lose it in a vain attempt to redress a death among mortals. The same point was made earlier in this episode when Zeus spoke of Hera’s punishment along with that of any god whom he could catch. Randomly, he threw them down to earth, scarcely breathing. In fact, aside from the language of the thunderbolt and of binding, [6] the most consistent feature of these narratives of Zeus’s suppression of other, insubordinate gods is the social solidarity they imply and evoke. That is why, for instance, Hera appeals only to Themis when she returns to Olympus to report Zeus’s behavior. Themis is the guardian of the social order, the one who presides over the feast that ritually binds the divine community together. [7] Hera tells her with some irony that gods and mortals will not all be pleased with what Zeus has done. She has in mind not that Ares will act alone on behalf of his son but that all the gods will be roused to action by what Zeus has done to her and the Achaeans. Before that can happen, {7|8} however, Athena puts an end to Ares’ desire to avenge the death of his own son, and furthermore she quashes any intimation of a wider revolt by speaking overtly of the indiscriminate havoc Zeus will wreak upon the divine community, since his power and force are distinctly greater than anyone else’s. Experience has shown that he is willing to use them on the whole social group.
It is important, I repeat, to see this narrative moment in the terms in which it is portrayed: the group’s resentment of the random use of supreme physical force on innocent and guilty alike by an authority figure working on the blanket assumption that the group has solidarity with the individual in revolt and that the threat of the random use of violence against disobedience will maintain his own status in the hierarchy. The precise word for the random use of Zeus’s supreme physical force as a sanction against the social group with an insubordinate member occurs only once in this extended passage, but it is none other than mênis. In other words, mênis is not a word for a hostile emotion arising in one individual against some other individual, as we may spontaneously understand it. It is the name of a feeling not separate from the actions it entails, of a cosmic sanction, of a social force whose activation brings drastic consequences on the whole community.
When mênis is invoked, it is not a matter of some minor offense. Here is a list of the other offenses that either incur or threaten to incur it in the Odyssey, the Iliad, and other Homeric epic poetry:I conclude two things from this list. First, mênis is incurred by the breaking of basic religious and social tabus, though not all the causes given may at first appear to be such; second, there is a variability and consistency in these causes that brings to mind Albert Lord’s notion of composition by theme, {8|9} whereby the traditional singer of tales learns to perform a song by manipulating larger units of composition, constellations of formulas, into associative though not rigidly repeated sequences. [8] Like myths, and unlike musical themes, these themes actually consist of their variations. It has already been suggested that the word mênis functions in epic as the name of a theme. [9] The loose connection among the offenses in this list raises questions about the unity of the contexts of mênis, but it also suggests that the answer to such questions lies in an understanding of the word’s function within the context of a compositional theme.
In fact, what any word means in epic diction cannot be discussed without invoking the traditional techniques of epic composition in performance. [10] I offer a brief example that happens to involve this particular word. Some have maintained that the mênis of Agamemnon at Achilles in 1.247 is a secondary phenomenon signaled by the use of the secondary verb mēníō ‘I have mênis’ as against the historically primary noun (mênis). [11] As mentioned in the Introduction, the noun is used only of gods and Achilles, whereas this verb is used of gods, Achilles, and heroes other than Achilles. But in fact thematic analysis of this and related passages will reveal [12] that it has close parallels in context and precise parallels in diction to the passage that features Zeus’s mênis in book 15. Such parallels argue that, from the standpoint of composer/performer and audience, the use of the verb for Agamemnon and the noun for Zeus are variants of each other. Both are instances of the same theme, and neither can be privileged at the other’s expense. My first goal, then, is to begin reconstructing the meaning of mênis by considering, in all its specificity and variety, the epic theme that it signifies. {9|10}

Mênis and the Warrior God

In book 4 of the Iliad, shortly before Diomedes’ aristeía ‘deeds-of-valor narrative’ begins in book 5, [13] Athena and Ares respectively lead the opposing armies into battle for the first time since Pandaros broke the truce (4.422–439). At the beginning of the fifth book, Athena gives ménos kaì thársos, “courage and daring,” to her favorite, Diomedes, to make him conspicuous among all the Argives and win him glory. Diomedes then proceeds to kill one of the two sons of Dares, [14] a priest of Hephaistos. The other son begins to run away when Hephaistos intervenes and covers him in night, so that the old man, his father, might not be utterly bereft of sons. The Trojans, on the other hand, are aroused by the death of the one son of Dares and the flight of the other, but at this point, somewhat abruptly, Athena takes Ares by the hand and addresses him (5.31): Ἆρες, Ἄρες βροτολοιγέ, μιαιφόνε, τειχεσιπλῆτα! “Ares, Ares, mortal-devastator, defiled-slaughterer, wall-approacher!” She suggests that they allow the Achaeans and Trojans to fight it out on their own, letting Zeus grant glory to whichever side he wishes, and that the two of them withdraw in order to avoid provoking his mênis. Ares says nothing, but Athena leads him out of battle and sits him down beside the Scamander (35), where he is still seated when his wounded sister, Aphrodite, begs him to lend her his horses and chariot at line 356. To pinpoint his inactivity, the narrator tells us that his spear and his horses “were leaning in the mist” (356).
According to Bernard Fenik’s study of the conventions of battle narratives, the moment at which Athena abruptly stops him early in the book, when the son of Dares is killed, is a conventional trigger for a god to intervene in battle on the side of his or her favorites, who are about to be routed. [15] Athena, vigilant of Zeus’s prerogatives and her own, wishes to forestall Ares from helping the Trojan side, and an appeal by her to exercise restraint and to fear the mênis of Zeus is something Ares cannot decline to heed. It is no weak convention to banish him from the battle. Although other gods intervene in the ensuing struggle (Athena herself, to heal the wounded Diomedes [121–132], Aphrodite, to save Aeneas from death at the {10|11} hands of Diomedes [311–318], and Apollo, also to protect Aeneas [334–354] when Diomedes wounds Aphrodite and she retires), their role is only to restrain and defend until Apollo finally calls Ares out to fight in a passage that explicitly refers to and contravenes Athena’s request that he sit the battle out. That is why his exhortation to Ares to enter the battle begins with exactly the same line as Athena’s earlier request that he refrain from fighting: Ἆρες, Ἄρες βροτολοιγ, μιαιφόνε, τειχεσιπλῆτα!”Ares, Ares, mortal-devastator, defiled-slaughterer, wall-approacher!” (5.455). [16] Ares willingly obliges Apollo, whose authority to request his participation is apparently equal to or greater than Athena’s authority to prevent it.
Athena, urged by Hera to enter the battle against Ares, waits until lines 733–739 to arm herself. She must first gain Zeus’s permission to do so, since she does not want to provoke his anger (5.757–766, esp. 762). Ares’ intervention is the only reason for her own, and once Zeus assents, she immediately accompanies Diomedes into battle against Ares specifically. Aphrodite and Apollo, she says to Zeus, have unleashed him ἄφρονα … ὃς οὔ τινα οἶδε θέμιστα “mindless one, who knows no things that are thémis” (5.761). [17] In this case, apparently, the gods siding with Ares are not perceived to be defending their faction’s coherence, not revolting as a group against Zeus; Hera, Athena, and Diomedes, their champion, are acting with Zeus’s approval against Ares, who is championing Apollo and Aphrodite. So Athena’s original threat to Ares about the mênis of Zeus, though it was effective in forestalling his participation in the battle, has lost its force, and the solidarity in whose interest Ares had originally retired is broken. What has taken place to create these factions? On the level of narrative structure, divine mênis against Ares has been displaced by a variant kind of heroic mênis, and a dramatic change in the cohesion of the divine community is its direct result.
To explain what I mean about a variant kind of heroic mênis, I must digress for a moment. An unspoken demand that the god show restraint in battle accounts for the language Apollo uses to rouse Ares to battle. He asks him to join in so as to keep Diomedes from the battle: “Wouldn’t you join in and keep this hero from battle?” (5.456). Likewise, Athena, upon entering the fray, asks Zeus’s permission to drive Ares from it, “in the hope that after smiting [root *plēg-] Ares I may chase him from the battle” αἴ κεν {11|12} Ἄρηα / λυγρῶς πεπληγυῖα μάχης ἐξ ἀποδίωμαι [5.762–763]). The parallelism in diction and theme between Diomedes and Ares is not an isolated or a chance phenomenon. It is a token of the ritual antagonism between hero and god that is a constitutive principle of Diomedes’ aristeía if not of aristeíai in general. [18] The antagonism cannot exist without a relationship of identity between hero and god on some fundamental level. Antagonism and, paradoxically, heroic glory itself arise when the hero tries to reach and surpass the god with whom he identifies and against whom he struggles. In the case of a warrior in his aristeía, the diction and themes of battle narrative make it plain that the god whom the warrior incarnates and competes with is Ares himself. Thus the formula daímoni îsos, “equal to the god,” which occurs nine times in the Iliad, is always and only used of a hero in his aristeía, whether it be Diomedes, Patroklos, or Achilles himself. Its metrical alternative, which is all but once applied to heroes in their aristeíai, is îsos Árēï, “equal to Ares”; the latter expression also occurs in a longer form, brotoloigôi îsos Árēï, “equal to Ares the mortal-devastator,” with the same contextual restrictions as daímoni îsos. [19]
To return from this digression to the variant mênis theme of book 5, it, too, is part of the Diomedes-Ares identification/antagonism. Just as Ares is restrained from fighting by Athena’s threat that he will incur the mênis of Zeus, so Diomedes is restrained from fighting on the grounds that he will incur the mênis of Apollo: moreover, the act that threatens to incur Apollo’s {12|13} mênis is precisely the one in which Diomedes is said to be daímoni îsos (431ff.). That act is his quadruple assault upon Aeneas, who is being protected by Apollo himself. Three times he attacks Aeneas, and Apollo violently repels him each time; but when Diomedes stubbornly rushes at Aeneas a fourth time, the narrator qualifies him as daímoni îsos, and only at this point does Apollo explicitly threaten him, shouting:

“φράζεο Τυδεΐδη καὶ χάζεο, μηδὲ θεοῖσιν
ἶσ’ ἔθελε φρονέειν, ἐπεὶ οὔ ποτε φῦλον ὁμοῖον
ἀθανάτων τε θεῶν χαμαὶ ἐρχομένων τ’ ἀνθρώπων.”
Ὣς φάτο, Τυδεΐδης δ’ ἀνεχάζετο τυτθὸν ὀπίσσω
μῆνιν ἀλευάμενος ἑκατηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος.

“Think, son of Tydeus, and yield, and don’t be
wanting to think like the gods, since the class of the
immortal gods and the class of mortals who go on the
earth is never the same.” So he spoke, and the son
of Tydeus did hold up a little, shunning the wrath [ mênis ] of
Apollo who shoots from afar.


Diomedes, to whom Athena has given the magical ability to distinguish gods from mortals (5.127–128), so that he can literally see the cosmic difference that he is being told here to respect, finally retreats so as to shun [20] the mênis of Apollo. A few lines later the incident motivates Apollo to invite Ares to return to battle and confront Diomedes. “He would fight even Zeus himself” (ὅς νῦν γε καὶ ἂν Διὶ πατρὶ μάχοιτο [457, cf. 362]), Apollo says, and he attacked me daímoni îsos (459), repeating the formula used at the climactic moment of the incident. The statement that Diomedes would fight even Zeus brings right to the surface of the narrative the thematic linkage I am arguing for between the mênis of Apollo against Diomedes and the mênis of Zeus against Ares for rebellion against him.

So Diomedes is actually behaving in a way that closely parallels Ares’ behavior in this book and in book 15. Not long before he took on Apollo himself, Diomedes had even been warned by Athena to fight with no other god than Aphrodite (5.130–132). [21] Apollo’s insistence on the difference {13|14} between gods and mortals makes it clear that the boundary is dangerous to cross. What could incur the mênis of Apollo is Diomedes’ attempt to compete with him as an equal. On the other hand, the diction implies that Diomedes, in his stubborn fourth assault on Aeneas, actually does transcend the limits of human nature and become the god’s equal. Yet he stops there and retreats a little; he does not kill Aeneas, nor is he punished. This conclusion ennobles Diomedes while it keeps the cosmic categories intact.
In that regard it contrasts dramatically with the only other attested example of mênis in such a context. I am referring to the use of these same motifs and diction in the aristeía of Patroklos in the sixteenth book of the Iliad. After Patroklos slays Sarpedon, the narrator tells us that he made a big mistake (μέγ᾽ ἀάσθη [16.685]); he would have escaped death if he had kept to the word of Achilles. When Achilles sent him into battle, he had told him (16.84–96; repeated in Achilles’ prayer to Zeus, 16.240–248) to drive the Trojans from the ships and then return, not to press on toward Troy itself, lest some god ἐμβήῃ ‘step in, intervene,’ for Apollo really loves them. But at lines 698–704 we are told that the Achaeans with Patroklos would have captured Troy but for Apollo’s intervention, since Patroklos three times went at the angle of the wall, and three times Apollo shoved him away:

ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ τὸ τέταρτον ἐπέσσυτο δαίμονι ἶσος,
δεινὰ δ’ ὁμοκλήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα·
“χάζεο, διογενὲς Πατρόκλεες· οὔ νύ τοι αἶσα
σῷ ὑπὸ δουρὶ πόλιν πέρθαι Τρώων ἀγερώχων,
οὐδ’ ὑπ’ Ἀχιλλῆος, ὅς περ σέο πολλὸν ἀμείνων.”
Ὣς φάτο, Πάτροκλος δ’ ἀνεχάζετο πολλὸν ὀπίσσω
μῆνιν ἀλευάμενος ἑκατηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος.

But when he was rushing in like the god [ daímoni îsos ]
he threatened him terribly, speaking winged words:
“Give way, Zeus-born Patroklos; it is not your destiny
that the city of the proud/prize-winning Trojans be sacked beneath your spear,
or even that of Achilles, who is really much better than you.”
So he spoke, and Patroklos withdrew far behind,
shunning the mênis of Apollo who shoots from afar.

Apollo draws two distinctions for Patroklos in this passage, as opposed to the single one between gods and mortals that he articulated to Diomedes in {14|15} book 5. The first is between Patroklos and the eventual sacker of Troy; the second is between Patroklos and Achilles; by implication, there is a third distinction being drawn, between Patroklos and a god, since, like Diomedes, he is said to be equal to a daímōn ‘divinity (in this context, Ares)’ when he charges the wall a fourth time. In answer to Apollo’s threat he retreats an ironically great distance [22] in order to avoid his mênis. It is not that Apollo’s mênis might be provoked because of Patroklos’s misguided attempt to sack Troy or his disregard of the difference between himself and Achilles. The point is that his disregard of those distinctions parallels and reinforces his disregard for the here-unspoken distinction between gods and mortals, and that Patroklos is impersonating Ares just as he is impersonating Achilles. [23] To justify supplying this inexplicit rationale, I invoke a simple principle of interpretation: that a given traditional theme can carry with it ideas that poet and audience have learned to associate with it elsewhere. It is also my hope that the remainder of my discussion will make it clear that the word mênis consistently implies the prohibited transgression of fundamental cosmic rules.
Nor is it a coincidence that all this takes place as Patroklos in his aristeía is assaulting the wall of Troy: τειχεσιπλῆτα ‘wall-approacher’ is one of two fixed epithets of Ares, and approaching a wall is an appropriate metaphor for that god’s tendency to arrive at the limits of behavior as well as the great heroes’ similar and dangerous willingness to scale the limits between mortality and divinity. [24]
The tension of this moment is lessened when Patroklos retreats, but Apollo in disguise incites Hector against him. Patroklos, aiming at Hector, succeeds in slaying only his charioteer, Kebriones, with a rock to the forehead. A protracted battle ensues between the two heroes and then the {15|16} two armies over the body of Kebriones, and as the day wanes the Achaeans begin to get the upper hand. Then, suddenly, the following happens:

Πάτροκλος δὲ Τρωσὶ κακὰ φρονέων ἐνόρουσε.
τρὶς μὲν ἔπειτ’ ἐπόρουσε θοῷ ἀτάλαντος Ἄρηϊ
σμερδαλέα ἰάχων, τρὶς δ’ ἐννέα φῶτας ἔπεφνεν.
ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ τὸ τέταρτον ἐπέσσυτο δαίμονι ἶσος,
ἔνθ’ ἄρα τοι Πάτροκλε φάνη βιότοιο τελευτή·

Patroklos sprang upon the Trojans with evil intent,
three times then he sprang upon them, equal to rushing Ares,
shrieking terribly, and three times he slew nine men.
But when he was rushing forward that fourth time equal to the daímōn ,
then the end of life rose up before you, Patroklos.


The killing of nine (= three, three times) men three times is a remarkable intensification of the notion of “threeness” in this theme. In this regard it parallels the culminant grouping mathematics of a war that ends in its tenth year (= the year after three groups of three years, like the fatal assault after three murderous others), which is by no means irrelevant to Patroklos’s attempt to storm Troy. The functional equivalence of thoôi atálantos Árēï “equal to rushing Ares,” to daímoni îsos, “equal to the daímon” is flagrant in this text, and the absence of any mention here of Patroklos’s attempt to sack Troy or to surpass Achilles is eloquent: his final transgression is across the line that Apollo guards between mortals and Ares. Moreover, the other fixed epithet of Ares (occurring in the two passages cited from book 5—lines 31 and 455—as well as at 5.844 and 21.402), μιαιφόνος ‘who defiles himself by murder’, as Pierre Chantraine understands it, seems profoundly relevant to the transgressive, murderous behavior of Patroklos in this context, just as τειχεσιπλῆτα was relevant to the prior instance of the three assaults theme. [25]

This time the fourth, tabu assault does not elicit verbal warnings or threats from Apollo; there is no way Patroklos can ward off what is about to happen to him, since Apollo stalks him silently, from behind, and as though to make his imperceptibility triply plain, in a mist. Even were Patroklos to turn around, he would not know he was being attacked. Apollo smites (the root *plēg-: πλῆξεν[791]; again, θεοῦ πληγῇ [816]) the mortal from behind {16|17} with downturned hand on the back and shoulders, making Patroklos’s eyes twirl and the helmet fall off his head. Its plumes are defiled (the verb μιαίνεσθαι ‘defile’ is used twice) with dust and blood, which was not thémis before (796–799). Then his spear shatters, his shield falls to the ground, his breastplate comes undone, ἄτη ‘derangement’ takes his wits, and his limbs are loosed. Violence to the eyes and loosed limbs, the first and last two consequences of the blow to the back, are usually sufficient to describe a hero’s death, but they and all the details between are only a prelude to death in Patroklos’s elaborate, operatic demise. Steven Lowenstam has suggested that Apollo’s invisible plēgḗ is one of several elements that lend a sacrificial cast to the death of Patroklos, who is the ultimate therápōn, a word whose original but now latent meaning was, precisely, ‘ritual substitute’. The plēgḗ corresponds to the oblique, stunning blow dealt a sacrificial animal before its throat is cut. [26] At the same time it is a reflex of the mênis motif, in which the root *plēg– regularly specifies smiting, usually, as we shall see, by a thunderbolt.
Here Patroklos has reached the climax of his life as a warrior, performing inhuman feats of strength and violence which intrinsically demand that his mortality be asserted and his life ended. The blow of the god with mênis marks at one and the same time the sacrifice of the hero’s beloved companion, the punishment of a human who has transgressed too far and too often the limits of his condition, and the glorification of a literally extraordinary achievement. Patroklos has become the incarnation of Ares and a dead man at the same moment. To us, this expression of Apollo’s mênis upon an individual may seem very different from the communal devastation we have seen to be the result of mênis in previous cases, but the death of Patroklos is a devastating blow not just to Achilles but by definition to the whole host of fighting men and, beyond that, as we will see, to the whole human estate.
All four invocations of mênis we have been considering have the same purpose: to enforce the sovereign cosmic order. In the case of Ares, it is the social and political coherence of the divine community that Athena invokes to suppress his lust to avenge the death of his son or to intervene on behalf of the Trojans, whom he favors. Should Ares incur the mênis of Zeus by failing to defer to his sovereignty, the divine community would be destroyed by Zeus’s violent assertion of his rule. In the case of Diomedes and Patroklos, it is the hierarchical distinction between gods and mortals that is {17|18} tested by the heroes. More could be said about the especially rich context of Diomedes’ aristeía; by no coincidence, it also contains a long digression on the mythology of divine “mortality,” on moments when gods such as Ares were close to death, and it concludes with a literal duel between Ares and Diomedes in which Athena serves as the mortal hero’s charioteer. In short, the ritual antagonism between warrior and war god and its dangerous and empowering consequences are the fundamental structuring principle of Diomedes’ whole aristeía.

Mênis and Divine Sex

On three occasions mênis is aroused in divinities by sexual transgressions. The first occurs when Hermes visits Kalypso in the fifth book of the Odyssey to relay Zeus’s request that she ‘send back’ ἀποπέμπειν Odysseus; she reacts with anger at the gods as a group οἵ τε θεαῖς ἀγάασθε παρ’ ἀνδράσιν εὐνάζεσθαι / ἀμφαδίην, “who are jealous of goddesses’ blatantly bedding down with mortal men” (5.119–120). She then goes on to give specifics. Eos, who snatched Orion, whom Artemis then “smote, attacking with her jealous arrows” οἷς ἀγανοῖς βελέεσσιν ἐποιχομένη κατέπεφνεν [124]); [27] Demeter, who made love to Iasion in the thrice-plowed furrow, but Zeus “smote him, hitting him with a blazing thunderbolt” (μιν κατέπεφνε βαλὼν ἀργῆτι κεραυνῷ [128]); and now there is Kalypso herself, who rescued Odysseus after Zeus had struck his ship with a thunderbolt and destroyed his companions, and whom she offered to make ageless and immortal forever. Even so, she is willing to let him go over the resistless sea, since Zeus’s nóos ‘mind’ is inescapable. To which Hermes responds with a stern warning:

οὕτω νῦν ἀπόπεμπε, Διὸς δ’ ἐποπίζεο μῆνιν,
μή πώς τοι μετόπισθε κοτεσσάμενος χαλεπήνῃ

So now send him back, and watch out for the mênis of Zeus,
so that he won’t hold a grudge and be harsh on you somehow afterwards.


In the context of the other uses of mênis we have been considering, the {18|19} punishments in the list of Kalypso imply that in such instances the actual object of Zeus’s wrath at her (“hold a grudge and be harsh on youτοι … κοτεσσάμενος χαλεπήνῃ [147]) would be Odysseus rather than the goddess herself. So in the case of Ares or his stand-in Diomedes, it was the male god or the hero who was smitten by the thunderbolt. Is this case a hybrid of the previous ones, in which both god and mortal, not just one or the other, are incurring the wrath of Zeus?

The picture is not very clear until we look at another example that features a similar triangle. It occurs in the Hymn to Aphrodite, which tells how Zeus finally managed to subjugate Aphrodite to a male mortal in return for the way she had beguiled gods, including himself, to have sex with mortal women and other goddesses to have sex with mortal men (Hymn to Aphrodite 45–52). In order to humble her as well, Zeus makes her fall in love with the shepherd Anchises, before whom she appears as a virginal girl. Sexual desire takes hold of him as soon as he sees her, and he greets her as a goddess. But she totally denies any resemblance to divinity, and explains that Hermes has brought her to him to be called his wife and to bear his children (126–127); she asks him please to wait and carry out the formalities of marriage. If you are mortal, he replies, and a woman bore you and a mortal is your father, and you have been brought here by a god, then no god or mortal will keep me from making love to you right now,

οὐδ’ εἴ κεν ἑκήβολος αὐτὸς Ἀπόλλων
τόξου ἀπ’ ἀργυρέου προϊῇ βέλεα στονόεντα.
βουλοίμην κεν ἔπειτα, γύναι εἰκυῖα θεῇσι,
σῆς εὐνῆς ἐπιβὰς δῦναι δόμον Ἄϊδος εἴσω.

not even if far-shooter Apollo himself should
shoot woeful arrows from his silver bow.
Woman like the goddesses, I woud be willing at that point,
after mounting your bed, to enter the house of Hades.

(Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 151–154)
Once they make love, Aphrodite reveals herself to him and describes the birth and rearing of Aeneas, whose name expresses her αἰνὸν ἄχος, “awful grief [ákhos])” at having gone to bed with a mortal man; but their descendants will be ἀγχίθεοι ‘near-gods’, she says, and Aeneas himself will be θεοείκελος ‘like a god’. [28] Nevertheless, she warns Anchises that if he is {19|20} asked who is the mother of their child, he is to name one of the nymphs who will actually rear him once he is born.

εἰ δέ κεν ἐξείπῃς καὶ ἐπεύξεαι ἄφρονι θυμῷ
ἐν φιλότητι μιγῆναι ἐϋστεφάνῳ Κυθερείῃ,
Ζεύς σε χολωσάμενος βαλέει ψολόεντι κεραυνῷ.
εἴρηταί τοι πάντα· σὺ δὲ φρεσὶ σῇσι νοήσας
ἴσχεο μηδ’ ὀνόμαινε, θεῶν δ’ ἐποπίζεο μῆνιν.

but if you speak out and declare mindlessly
that you had sex with well-garlanded Cythereia,
Zeus in his anger will smite you with his smoky thunderbolt.
That is all I have to say; but you think
and keep it in your mind and do not mention
my name, and watch out for the mênis of the gods.

(Hymn to Aphrodite 286–290)
The explicit use of the word mênis in this admonitory passage is completely consistent with its use in regard to Kalypso and Odysseus. The triangle in both cases consists of Zeus (representing the gods as a group), [29] a goddess, and a mortal. Zeus will exercise his wrath by striking the mortal lover with a thunderbolt, but in the case of Anchises, strangely, an explicit condition is added: he will be punished only if he reveals who is the true mother of his child. Actually this condition recalls Kalypso’s complaint that what the gods begrudge goddesses is their going to bed ‘openly’ ἀμφαδίην (5.119) with a mortal man. From the contexts in the Odyssey and the Hymn to Aphrodite, it becomes clear that by “openly” Kalypso means “with the knowledge of Zeus.” Thus Hermes in his initial remarks to her stressed the distance of her island from everyone, but he added:

ἀλλὰ μάλ’ οὔ πως ἔστι Διὸς νόον αἰγιόχοιο
οὔτε παρεξελθεῖν ἄλλον θεὸν οὔθ’ ἁλιῶσαι. {20|21}

But there is just no way for another god either to
outstrip or to nullify the mind of aegis-bearing Zeus.

(Odyssey 5.103–104)

Hermes immediately went on to explain that φησί ‘he [Zeus] says’ that Odysseus is there. Kalypso responded by remarking on the gods’ intolerance of goddesses’ openly going to bed with men, and when she told the stories of Orion and Iasion, she said of the latter:

οὐδὲ δὴν ἦεν ἄπυστος
Ζεύς, ὅς μιν κατέπεφνε …

nor was Zeus ignorant for long, and he smote
him …


Finally, when Kalypso acceded to Zeus’s will, she repeated what Hermes had said about the impossibility of hiding her relationship from Zeus. “I kept telling him I would make him immortal and ageless all the days,” she says,

ἀλλ’ ἐπεὶ οὔ πως ἔστι Διὸς νόον αἰγιόχοιο
οὔτε παρεξελθεῖν ἄλλον θεὸν οὔθ’ ἁλιῶσαι,
ἐρρέτω, εἴ μιν κεῖνος ἐποτρύνει καὶ ἀνώγει,

but since there is no way for another god either
to outstrip or to nullify the mind of Zeus, let
him go, if he urges and demands him.


The implication of this repeated language is that as long as Zeus had not found out about her sleeping with Odysseus she did not have to give him up.

This situation is precisely relevant to the context of the Hymn to Aphrodite. Aphrodite’s concluding admonition to Anchises that he not announce his having gone to bed with her (ἐξείπῃς καὶ ἐπεύξεαι [286]) is intended to keep Zeus and the other gods from finding out that she had made love to a mortal man, whereas it had been Zeus’s goal from the start of the hymn to put an end to her status as the only nonvirginal goddess not to sleep with a mortal while announcing and declaring (ἐπευξαμένη εἴπῃ [48]) among all the gods her power to cause male gods to sleep with mortal women and {21|22} goddesses with mortal men (48–52). The irony of the warning about the wrath of Zeus at the conclusion of the hymn is exquisite. Aphrodite does not yet know that Zeus made her fall in love with Anchises in the first place, and she thinks that by invoking his wrath she will retain her powerful status in the divine community despite the way she has degraded herself with Anchises. Moreover, as the last lines of a poem to which we are privy, Aphrodite’s warning itself makes it clear that Anchises did announce and declare the identity of his son’s mother. In this case he should have been thunderbolted. The tradition in fact exists that he was and that his subsequent inability to walk (as from the ruins of Troy) was the consequence of that punishment. [30]
But why should Zeus be so threatened as to strike the mortal lovers of goddesses once he learns of them? One part of the problem is that for a divinity to keep a secret lover is in itself a challenge to Zeus’s nóos ‘mind’. Compare, for example, the language in the passages I have cited: οὔ πως ἔστι Διὸς νόον αἰγιόχοιο / οὔτε παρεξελθεῖν ἄλλον θεὸν, “there is no way for another god to outstrip the nóos of aegis-bearing Zeus.” [31] Actually, this is a variation on the pattern of power consolidation in the Theogony, in which Zeus uses his thunderbolt against Gaia’s youngest son, Typhoeus (lines 820–68) and prevents Metis from having a child stronger than himself by swallowing not the child, as Kronos had done unsuccessfully (453–506), but her mother (886–900). [32] It is as though making love to a goddess raises a mortal man toward the level of Zeus just as much as it degrades the goddess. The mortal is exactly like the warrior hero who becomes daímoni îsos in a powerful and dangerous but not inevitably fatal place, though his sexual prowess is disturbing indeed to Zeus and Apollo or Artemis in their pride of rank. His divine equivalence explains why Anchises does not perish from the blow of the thunderbolt. Like Hephaistos, whose thunderbolting by Zeus will be discussed, Anchises is only lame, not dead, the lameness being at once a paradoxical talisman of his transgression and his sexual conquest. Given the strong masculine bias of this culture, the mortal male who makes love to a divine female is taking a much more threatening {22|23} step up in the cosmic hierarchy than a female mortal who makes love to a god. We are also in a better position now to understand why Hermes speaks of the mênis of Zeus against Kalypso, when it is not she but her lover who will be thunderbolted. The goddess is instrumental in enabling the mortal to transgress the cosmic boundaries, but the direct threat to Zeus comes from the male who threatens to displace him, not from the female. [33] The sanction, however, is clearly against the pair. In this context, the destruction of a bonded pair’s mortal partner is precisely analogous to the indiscriminate, solidarity-breaking devastation that marks divine mênis in its other attestations.
The basic issue in these episodes involving mortals behaving like gods is that gods and mortals are not, as Apollo said to Diomedes, φῦλον ὅμοιον, “the same class [phûlon].” [34] The traditional role of Apollo in making just this distinction and reinforcing it with an appeal to the destructiveness of mênis is what lies behind the remarks of Anchises. “No god or mortal will keep me from making love to you right now,” he said to the disguised Aphrodite, not even if Apollo were to shoot his arrows. “ After mounting your bed, I would be content to enter the house of Hades” (Hymn to Aphrodite 151ff.). His bravado is somewhat undermined by the fact that the girl has just assured him that she is no goddess, but that is only one of several ironies.
In attested Greek epic there remains one more instance of mênis in the context of a sexual offense, when Demeter is angered at Zeus and the other Olympians by the rape of Persephone. Once the Eleusinians have built Demeter a temple to propitiate her for Metaneira’s interruption of baby Demophon’s immortalization process, Demeter sits within it to distance herself from the divine community (Hymn to Demeter 303–204), grieving for her daughter who has been lost to the land of the dead. Instead of fasting, as she had before, [35] she keeps the seed from sprouting by hiding it (κρύπτει) and thereby creates a universal famine that threatens to destroy the race of {23|24} mortals as it deprives the gods of the timḗ of sacrifice (310–13). Zeus responds not by thunderbolting Demeter for threatening his world order but by sending Iris to ask her to return to the “class [phûla] of the gods” (φῦλα θεῶν) [322]). [36] The one explains the other. Zeus’s world order depends on Demeter’s solidarity with the Olympians. But she simply refuses, whereupon he sends out all the gods (326) to give her gifts and whatever timaí ‘honors’ she might choose among the immortals. Again she firmly refuses (330), but this time she stipulates the condition for her return. She will not set foot on Olympus or let the fruit sprout until she sets eyes on her fair-eyed daughter. That is when Zeus sends Hermes to Hades to retrieve Persephone:

Ζεύς με πατὴρ ἤνωγεν ἀγαυὴν Περσεφόνειαν
ἐξαγαγεῖν Ἐρέβευσφι μετὰ σφέας, ὄφρα ἑ μήτηρ
ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ἰδοῦσα χόλου καὶ μήνιος αἰνῆς
ἀθανάτοις παύσειεν· ἐπεὶ μέγα μήδεται ἔργον
φθῖσαι φῦλ’ ἀμενηνὰ χαμαιγενέων ἀνθρώπων
σπέρμ’ ὑπὸ γῆς κρύπτουσα, καταφθινύθουσα δὲ τιμὰς
ἀθανάτων. ἡ δ’ αἰνὸν ἔχει χόλον, οὐδὲ θεοῖσι

Father Zeus ordered me to bring proud Persephone
out of Erebos to them, so that her mother might see
her with her eyes and cease from her anger [ khólos ] and
terrible mênis at the immortals; since she is
devising a great deed, to destroy the feeble class [ phûlon ] of
earth-born humans by hiding the seed beneath the
earth, also destroying the privileges [ timaí ] of the immortals.
She has terrible anger [ khólos ], nor does she mingle with the

Almost every aspect of Demeter’s alienation is similar to the aggrieved alienation of Achilles caused by the loss of an unwilling girl (ἀέκουσα ‘unwilling [Iliad 1.348]; κούρη ‘girl’ [1.98, 275, 337, etc.]), the indiscriminate devastation it causes his own social group, his initial rejection of the offer of gifts and ‘honor’ timḗ by his colleagues if he will return to society, then the softening and stipulation of a single condition for return: when the fire reaches the ships. [37] More pertinently, there is also a clear similarity to the theme of mênis as a sanction for transgression against the structure of the cosmic hierarchy. What has aroused Demeter’s mênis is the forceful (βίῃ), unwilling (ἀέκουσα), and inescapable (ἀναγκῃ) removal of her divine daughter (κούρη) from the surface of the earth to the world below. [38] In contrast to the passionate upward thrust of the mortal warrior or the insubordinate Ares, and in contrast to the uplifting, willing seduction of mortal men by goddesses, the offensive, dangerous act here is unwilled and downward in the cosmic hierarchy: not a man’s seduction but a maiden’s rape, not the immortalization of a mortal but the relegation of an immortal to the land of the dead. Demeter’s grief-stricken mênis, the consequence of these retrograde transgressions, literally threatens to undo the structure of both the divine and the human worlds. Zeus has no choice but to accede to her uncompromising demand, since the solidarity and integrity of his whole domain has been breached by the rape of Persephone and is being threatened by the mênis of her mother. It is worth stressing here and for the purposes of subsequent discussion that theogonic principles of Zeus’s rule are at issue in the instance of Demeter’s anger, where Zeus is not the subject but an object of the goddess’s cosmically destructive intentions. Zeus’s explicit goal in response to her act is to achieve the reintegration of Demeter into Olympian society (321–368), as though the most disturbing aspect of her mênis is her removal to a temple and her refusal to “mingle with the gods” (355). [39]

Disobedient Warriors and Sexual Politics

Internally, the consistency within each of these two sets of attestations of mênis is beginning to become clear, but what do disobedient warriors and sexual transgressors really have to do with each other? If we think of mênis as merely denoting a familiar emotional state, there is a low-level link {25|26} between them that does not account for the intimate and detailed relationships between the passages in which they occur. But mênis is not just a term for an emotional state. It is a sanction meant to guarantee and maintain the integrity of the world order; every time it is invoked, the hierarchy of the cosmos is at stake. So in all these examples, it is a question either of maintaining Zeus’s sovereignty over other gods or of enforcing the limit that keeps mortals from becoming gods, a limit that heroic figures, to their credit and at their risk, must test.
In fact, we are witnessing the establishment and maintenance of tabus within the epic world. In her classic comparative study of such concepts in small-scale societies, Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas shows how prohibitions are one way that societies cope with the combination of danger and power that arises when their classification schemes are subject to stress. Disorder in the classification scheme is destructive to existing patterns of experience but also potentially creative of new patterns. Thus, it can receive various treatments. It can be ignored or denied or violently suppressed or constituted as a new category or incorporated in such a way as to “ambiguate” and thus enhance the richness and meaning of existing patterns. In small-scale societies the power to enforce prohibitions regularly resides in no person but inheres in the structure of the world. [40] In the world of Greek epic, by contrast, the Olympian gods who represent and maintain the structure of the world wield this power, which has been formalized as mênis and made specific and generalizable for a set of prohibitions. Within the mythological tradition of Greek epic, mênis is, as I hope to show in detail, a continuing expression of the reign of Zeus which emerges in the traditions that culminate in the Theogony of Hesiod. [41] From a more archaic perspective, the enforcement of prohibitions I have been discussing supports the inherited tripartite ideology of social structure reflected in Indo-European languages, as described by Georges Dumézil. [42] According to him, the ideal structure of Indo-European society as represented in the mythological tradition comprises three domains: sovereignty, warfare, and fertility. In fact, we have observed offenses in the realms of warfare (Ares, {26|27} Diomedes, Patroklos) and fertility (Kalypso, Aphrodite, Demeter) that were arrested or punished in the interest of maintaining the sovereignty of Zeus. Later we will see an offense in the realm of sovereignty itself. [43]
Yet, it is also a fundamental goal of epic heroes to create disorder within the defining categories of the Olympian order and thus to “enrich and ambiguate them,” to apply Douglas’s formulation. Her anthropological discussion of the danger and power arising from a challenge to the fundamental categories of nature precisely suits the position of such heroes as Patroklos or Anchises at their acme. It is also worth noting that the divine enforcement of prohibitions is not necessarily to be thought of as the attribution of moral and ethical functions to epic gods. At issue is world maintenance, asserting and preserving the prevailing order of the cosmos, not an individual’s right or wrong behavior. As Walter Burkert puts it in another context, “More important than individual morality is continuity, which depends on solidarity.” [44] So we can understand the logic, however repugnant it may seem, in Zeus’s threat to punish a whole social group for an offense committed by just one of its members. [45] The idea of mênis is utterly bound up with principles of solidarity and continuity, which it exists to maintain and by virtue of which it maintains itself. Burkert’s distinction between individual morality and social continuity is a provocative one for Greek epic, but his statement that one is more important than the other is not borne out in Greek epic or in small-scale societies either. According to Mary Douglas, rules of right and wrong (that is, rules of morality) coexist and randomly conflict with prohibition rules (tabus) in small-scale societies as they do in more complex ones. She offers a set of principles describing the ways in which the two can interrelate, such as this one: “When the sense of [moral] outrage is adequately equipped with practical sanctions in the social order, pollution is not likely to arise. Where, humanly speaking, the outrage is likely to go unpunished, pollution beliefs tend to be called in to supplement the lack of other sanctions.” [46] After all, {27|28} a code of morality exists to serve and preserve the existing social structure in the same way as a set of prohibitions does. The intersection and divergence of principles of world maintenance and principles of morality will occupy us again later. Within the Homeric epic, however, it is not yet clear whether any meaningful distinction can be drawn between the two; I will assert that they are in fact continuous with one another. [47]

M ênis and the Hierarchy of Peers

Zeus’s concession to Demeter’s mênis is ultimately consistent with the patterns of transgression and the issues of world maintenance raised in other instances of the mênis theme, but it is not without its surprising aspects. In particular, Demeter wields against Zeus the cosmic sanction that is elsewhere appropriated by him or by his delegate. But the problem in her myth is a structural one in the Olympian order, and there is another allusion to it in the passage with which this analysis began, the beginning of book 15 of the Iliad. A difficulty arises from the potential contradiction between Zeus’s dominance over the world of gods and mortals as against his cooperative relationship with his two brothers, Poseidon and Hades, who are his peers: Demeter, also Zeus’s sibling, in fact has the same power relationship to Zeus as his two brothers. Though she lacks the thunderbolt, her cosmic powers—in epic terms, her timḗ—when applied negatively, are adequate to menace the very structure of the world. [48] So rather than menace her and her peers with random violence—in this regard, it is significant that she has physically isolated herself from Olympus, having withdrawn to her temple at Eleusis—it behooves Zeus to restore the solidarity of the gods by granting her request and importuning her to return to the divine community. For Zeus, domination does not rule out undoing his own mistakes.
By contrast, in the sequel to the opening scene of book 15, Hera knuckles under to Zeus’s threats despite her misgivings about his actions, and she reluctantly tells Iris and Apollo to go to Mount Ida and receive Zeus’s {28|29} commission. There Zeus tells Iris to descend to the Trojan plain and get Poseidon off the battlefield: he should return either to his own domain, the bright sea, or to the phûla theôn “class of the gods” (Iliad 15.161, 177). But if Poseidon does not heed the words of Zeus, strong as he is, let him carefully consider, awaiting the onset of Zeus, who is his superior (φέρτερος) in violence as well as his elder in birth (15.163–166 γενεῇ πρότερος). The threat of physical force is even more explicit when Iris actually delivers the message (179–184). Others should dread even to appear as Zeus’s equal (τόν τε στυγέουσι καὶ ἄλλοι [167, 183]), she tells Poseidon.
Again in contrast to Demeter’s case, Poseidon’s isolated disobedience is met with a request for compliance to the will of Zeus. Either reintegration into the divine community or retirement to his own separate but equal domain is what is required of him—alternatives that are familiar from Demeter’s myth. Nor is Zeus hesitant to threaten violence and pull rank. The assertion of prior birth is as significant as the threat, for it is an attempt to legitimate his superiority over his brother in terms other than just force. Neither, however, seems to have the least effect on Poseidon, who claims he has equal timḗ to Zeus (ὁμότιμος [186]), along with the other of the three sons of Kronos and Rhea, Hades. In the cosmic division (τριχθὰ δὲ πάντα δέδασται, “everything was divided into three shares” [189]), each was awarded a domain (as it was for Demeter, the domain is designated by the word timḗ), sky, sea, or underworld, with earth and Olympus common to all three, says Poseidon (186–93). Zeus should respect that division, save his threats of violence for those who are really base (196), and keep his harsh words (ἐκπάγλοις [from the root *plēg-] ἐπέεσιν) for his own sons and daughters, who are obligated to heed them (197–199).
In other words, Poseidon, who is not Zeus’s child, is neither intimidated by Zeus’s violence nor respectful of his claim to outrank him in birth. Here again the distinction is being drawn between ranking behavior among members of the same generation (such as Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon) as against that between a younger generation and its elders (as between Zeus and his children—Athena, Apollo, and other junior Olympians). Poseidon’s overt point is that Zeus is inappropriately asserting his status over him, his peer, as an elder would over a younger. The underlying point is that Poseidon is just as powerful as Zeus and just as capable as Demeter was of menacing the cosmic order. It is no coincidence—and I shall return to this point in some detail later on—that precisely the same relationship obtains between Agamemnon and Achilles, and that their conflict is couched in precisely the same terms. Agamemnon claims to be superior (φέρτερος [1.186]) to Achilles, as well as his elder (γενεῇ προγενέστερος [9.161]) in {29|30} birth, and he also claims that he is taking away Briseis from him so that another may dread to appear as his equal (στυγέῃ δὲ καὶ ἄλλος [1.186–187]). Moreover, Achilles and Poseidon share an analogous ‘grief’ ákhos (15.218, Poseidon = 16.52, Achilles) at the disregard of their equal status in the community and at authoritarian abuse of the communal division that guarantees it (Achilles: τὸν ὁμοῖον ‘peer’ [16.53] vs. Poseidon ἰσόμορον ‘having an equal share’ [15.209]; Poseidon: δέδασται ‘has been shared’ [15.189] vs. Achilles δέδασται ‘has been shared’ [1.125], δασμός ‘process of dividing into shares’ [1.166]). Ultimately, Poseidon, exactly like Achilles, chooses to come to terms with Zeus and save face by redrawing the uncrossable line a little farther back: he will not confront Zeus this time, but should he [Zeus] try to keep Troy from destruction, Poseidon says, then there will be incurable anger between them. [49] But what accounts for the deep and patent parallelism between him and Achilles?
Lurking behind both characters’ reactions is the dark theme that crystallizes the tradition’s words and thoughts, the theme of mênis. In the case of Achilles and Agamemnon, the word (or rather, the verb derived from it) is used of both heroes (ἐμήνιε of Agamemnon [1.247], μήνιε of Achilles [1.488]). In the case of Demeter and Zeus, the goddess explicitly uses mênis as the ultimate sanction (μήνιος Hymn to Demeter [350], μήνιος [410]). By doing so, she puts Zeus in an untenable position between the conflicting demands of two peers, herself and Hades. The intermittent return of her daughter is the perfect and only solution. Lastly, in the case of Poseidon and Zeus, the word itself remains unspoken but is referenced for both gods by its near synonym khólos (Zeus: ἀλευάμενος χόλον αἰπύν, “shunning sheer anger” [223], χολωτοῖσιν ἐπεέσσι, “with angered words”; Poseidon and Zeus: ἀνήκεστος χόλος, “incurable anger” [217]) and the other diction that is elsewhere consistently associated with the mênis theme. [50] In fact, the absence of the word mênis can be as much an aspect of its meaning as is its presence, given that the acts incurring it are in principle unspeakable.
Such a pattern of variation in dramatis personae but consistency in diction is typical of the way themes function in traditional poetry. In fact the opening of book 15 comprises three successive, interwoven variations on the theme of mênis, around Hera, Ares, and Poseidon. From this perspective, we can also see how mênis suits its diverse thematic contexts. In each instance, it is the irrevocable cosmic sanction that prohibits some characters from taking their superiors for equals and others from taking their equals for inferiors.


[ back ] 1. All translations are my own.
[ back ] 2. On the foretelling of the plot at this point and the sequential structure of the whole Iliad, see Schadewaldt 1966.
[ back ] 3. On the meaning of diakridón, compare the use of the verb krínomai for cosmic disjunctions like the one created between gods and mortals at Mekone (Hesiod Theogony 535) or diakrínomai for the settling of disputes (Works and Days 35) or the disengagement of the armies of the Trojans and the Achaeans (Iliad 3.98, 102); Hera means that Zeus’s superiority in force is so great that it distances him as a cosmic phenomenon even from the other gods, and that he is therefore invincible. For another expression of this same idea by Zeus himself, see Iliad 8.17–27, the boast of the golden chain: τόσσον ἐγὼ περί τ’ εἰμὶ θεῶν περί τ’ εἴμ’ ἀνθρώπων (8.27), “to such an extent am I beyond both the gods and the human beings.”
[ back ] 4. For this gesture as a sign that lethal danger is at hand, see Lowenstam 1981, 140–143.
[ back ] 5. On the meaning of khólos, see Walsh 1989 and forthcoming; on its use to refer back to previously defined instances of mênis, see below, Chapter 4, 111 and n. 43.
[ back ] 6. For the significance of binding in these contexts, see below, Chapter 3, 77–78.
[ back ] 7. For this definition of Themis, see Detienne and Vernant 1974, 105.
[ back ] 8. The notion of themes as deep structures that are articulated in formulas and result in the suppleness and consistency of epic poetic language is essentially the same as the principle of composition in all forms of myth. As Lord’s fieldwork taught him, multiformity is the norm in myth, and any single myth consists only of its variants. For a reassertion of Lord’s concept of theme in its historical as well as its compositional aspect, see Nagy 1990, 18–35.
[ back ] 9. Nagy 1979, 72–73.
[ back ] 10. As models for semantic analysis based on composition by theme, I have had the following in mind throughout: Nagy 1979; Lowenstam 1981, 1993; Petegorsky 1982; and Martin 1989.
[ back ] 11. Calvert Watkins (1977a) considers the uses of the denominative verb secondary and not subject to the same semantic restrictions as the noun itself. James Redfield (1979, 97–98 and n. 7) cites pertinent parallels to the distinctive usage of nouns as against the verbs derived from them, but he does not consider the possibility that the difference between the usage of mênis and mēníō is not significant in terms of context and meaning.
[ back ] 12. For the details, see the discussion that follows and also Chapter 4, including 108-111.
[ back ] 13. On the term aristeía, see below, 12 n. 18.
[ back ] 14. The resemblance of the name Dares to Ares may not be a coincidence in view of the parallel event already discussed, when Athena also prevents Ares from joining the battle to avenge the death of his son, Askalaphos.
[ back ] 15. Fenik 1968, 14–15; the expression πᾶσιν ὀρίνθη θυμός is an immediate prelude to flight in other battle narratives. Fenik also says that this is the only place in the attested battle books in which the twin brother in such a scene is not slain. In other words, Hephaistos’s intervention is or should be the start of something extraordinary on the level of divine intervention.
[ back ] 16. I discuss the meanings of the terms miaiphóne ‘defiled slaughterer’ and teikhesiplêta ‘wall-approacher’ below, 15–18.
[ back ] 17. Note the language here and its parallelism with the themes and diction of the first example, when Hera appealed to Themis against Zeus, and Ares was characterized as having lost his nóos ‘intelligence’.
[ back ] 18. On aristeíai, see Fenik 1968, 9–77, which treats the fifth book of the Iliad in its typical aspects; and Krischer 1971, 13–85; see also Nagy 1979, 161–163, on Diomedes as a warrior and on the notion of ritual antagonism between god and hero.
[ back ] 19. δαίμονι ἶσος 5.438, 459, 884 (Diomedes), 16.705, 786 (Patroklos), 20.447, 493, 21.18, 227 (Achilles); ἶσος Ἄρηϊ 11.295, 13.802 (Hector), 20.46 (Achilles; also in its grandest, most elaborate, and perhaps most archaic variant, encompassing a whole line 22.132: ἶσος Ἐνυαλίῳ κορυθάϊκι πτολεμιστῇ). Line 604 of book 11 (Patroklos) is only an apparent exception to the phrase’s restriction to a hero’s own aristeía. The line occurs during the aristeía of Hector, but at the moment that, as the narrator cannot refrain from telling us, was the κακοῦ ἀρχή, “start of woe,” for Patroklos. He comes out of Achilles’ hut and sees the Achaeans perishing under Hector’s onslaught, a scene that motivates him to ask Achilles if he can return to battle. This makes it the true beginning of his aristeía and the use of the formula elegantly marks it so. On the other hand, the use of ἶσος Ἄρηϊ for a Trojan named Leonteus at 12.130 is a real exception, but the only one. For more on Leonteus, see Nagy 1979, 295 n. 8; Nagy points out that he is also called ὄζος Ἄρηος, which is a synonym of θεράπων Ἄρηος. The terms imply a greater significance for this figure than Homeric epic attests. Also relevant is the existence of yet another pair of formulaic alternates occurring in these same contexts: ; ἶσος ἀέλλῃ, “equal to a wind blast” (11.297, 12.40), vs. λαίλαπι ἶσος, “equal to a gale” (11.746, 20.50). This last citation actually equates Ares himself in battle to the laílaps ‘gale’. For the traditional association of Ares with the wind, compare the Indic war god with functions parallel to Ares’, Vāyu, whose name actually means “storm wind,” and see Nagy 1979, 323–47. Another formula in this semantic class, θοῷ ἀτάλαντος Ἄρηϊ, “equal in weight to swift Ares,” is less contextually constrained than the others.
[ back ] 20. The verb ἀλεύω is also used of avoiding spears on the field of battle, as in Iliad 3.360, 7.254, 20.281, 22.285. See also 30 n. 50 below.
[ back ] 21. For the view that even Diomedes’ encounter with Aphrodite is transgressive, see Clay 1983, 82–83 n. 56.
[ back ] 22. Compare Diomedes’ shorter retreat in the parallel passage (τυτθόν ‘a little way’ [5.441]), which in fact reflects an ultimately greater respect on his part for the boundary in question. Patroklos’s distance (πολλόν ‘far’) appears to be a spatial equivalent to the πολλόν in the preceding line that Apollo places between him and Achilles, from whom Patroklos differs all too little (Achilles himself perishes at the hands of Paris and Apollo while attempting to enter the city, as we know from the summary of the Aethiopis in Proclus (Chrestomathia 2) τρεψάμενος δ᾽ Ἀχιλλεὺς τοὺς Τρῶας καὶ εἰς τὴν πόλιν συνεισπεσών, “Achilles routing the Trojans and attacking the city”; the deaths of Patroklos and of Achilles take place in the Scaean gates. Iliad 18.453 and Aethiopis (Allen 126). In other words, the distance that the hero retreats is in inverse proportion to the distance between god and mortal to which he admits.
[ back ] 23. For Patroklos’s impersonation, see Sinos 1980 on therápōn.
[ back ] 24. Iliad 5.31 and 455; on the significance of τειχεσιπλῆτα, see Lowenstam 1981, 76; Lowenstam points out that both Patroklos’s and Achilles’ deaths take place around a charge against the wall. See 23.80–81.
[ back ] 25. Chantraine 1968–79, s.v. μιαίνω.
[ back ] 26. On the etymology and underlying meaning of therápōn see Van Brock 1959; and Lowenstam 1981.
[ back ] 27. Meier-Brügger (1993, 267–268) shows that the usual translation of the word ἀγανός as ‘gentle’ is inappropriate here as elsewhere. He derives the adjective from the verb ἄγαμαι ‘be jealous’, which is actually attested just above (line 119, ἀγάασθε; again, line 122, ἠγάασθε) in exactly this semantic context.
[ back ] 28. Compare the initial description of Anchises himself in the Hymn to Aphrodite (55): δέμας ἀθανάτοισιν ἐοικώς, “like the immortals in build.” See also Segal 1974.
[ back ] 29. In regard to Kalypso, compare Hermes’ ascription to Zeus of the order to send back Odysseus (5.99), and Kalypso’s answering reference (5.118) to the gods’ jealousy of goddesses who sleep with mortal men; and in the passage just cited, the reference to the thunderbolt of Zeus (Hymn to Aphrodite 288) but the mênis of “the gods” (290). The notion of social solidarity is never far from mind when it comes to mênis . There is another parallel between the two triangles in the variation between Zeus’s thunderbolt and Artemis’s arrows (Kalypso), as against that between Apollo’s arrows and Zeus’s thunderbolt (Hymn to Aphrodite). For more on the relation between arrows and thunderbolts, see below, Chapter 4, 101-102.
[ back ] 30. Sophocles fr. 373; Hyginus Fabulae 94; he was either blinded (Servius on Aeneid 1.617) by the thunderstroke or paralyzed (Servius on Aeneid 2.649) by it. See below, Chapter 4, 124-128: the thunderbolt has a similar effect on Hephaistos’s ability to walk. The parallel carries with it an implication about Anchises’ near-god status that is consistent with the evidence given here (above, 10–18 with n. 28, and below, 23).
[ back ] 31. See Nagy 1974b, 265–278, on the relation among mḗdea, nóos, and sexual activity for Zeus, Kronos, and Ouranos.
[ back ] 32. For a detailed analysis of these episodes in the context of the Theogony as a whole, see below, Chapter 3.
[ back ] 33. Again, Zeus can and does thunderbolt or bind divinities in such circumstances.
[ back ] 34. For the special use of the term phûlon ‘class [as in classify, not social class], group, kind’ and its derivative phulokrineîn to single out the marked category from a distinctive, diverse, but complementary set of alternatives, see Loraux 1978, 77 n. 78; and Nagy 1990, 290–291.
[ back ] 35. The conventional sign of grief, Hymn to Demeter 49–50; cf. her refusal to eat as the raped woman in the “Cretan lie” she tells the daughters of Keleos. Hymn to Demeter 129. For more on her specific refusal to eat honey-sweet food, see Muellner, “μελιηδής,” forthcoming, and compare the sexual symbolism of the one thing that Persephone eats in the underworld, the pomegranate pip that Hades pops into her mouth, with the hidden seed (σπέρμα [307]) of the famine. Demeter’s action is as much a threatening demonstration of her power as a sympathetic attempt to prevent Persephone from being impregnated by Hades.
[ back ] 36. For the meaning of the plural phûla, see Loraux 1978, 54.
[ back ] 37. On the wrath of Demeter and Achilles and their psychological connection with mourning, see Loraux 1986, 253–257; on the thematic parallels, see Lord 1967, 241–248.
[ back ] 38. Hymn to Demeter 72, 124, 413, 8 (cf. 66, 333, etc.).
[ back ] 39. Consider also the way Persephone’s return is described as Hades’ willing acceptance of the wishes of Zeus βασιλεύς (Hymn to Demeter 367–68). As Richardson 1974 remarks, βασιλεύς is the theogonic, not the Homeric title of Zeus. The threat to Zeus constituted by mortal males in connection with the Hymn to Aphrodite is also a theogonic theme, as is the issue of the nóos ‘mind’ of Zeus (Hymn to Aphrodite 36, etc.), since Zeus’s power consists in his superiority in force and in nóos, and Zeus’s stated goal in the myth of the hymn is to assert his power vis-à-vis Aphrodite.
[ back ] 40. Douglas 1969, 38–40, 104. Parker 1983 is concerned with a specifically legal, institutional form of μίασμα ‘defilement (from tabu violation)’ and is not relevant to the subject at hand.
[ back ] 41. On the consistent presentation of an interconnected series of theogonic myths as a paradigmatic backdrop to the events in the Iliad, see Lang 1983, 140–164; and Nagy 1992. The backdrop of myths noted by Lang center on the theme of Zeus’s mênis, but Lang does not bring out this feature. On the whole question of the relation of the mênis theme to the theogonic tradition, see below, Chapters 3 and 4.
[ back ] 42. For an overview of this hypothesis, see Dumézil 1958; for a more detailed presentation of evidence from epic texts in the Indo-European languages, see Dumézil 1968.
[ back ] 43. I am referring to the regulation of sovereignty issues between Zeus and Poseidon and Zeus and Demeter and to the episode alluded to in Iliad 1.396–406 discussed in Chapter 4, below, 118–123.
[ back ] 44. Burkert 1985, 248.
[ back ] 45. For a society in which such a rule of solidarity actually applies in daily life, the standard anthropological example is the Nuer; see Evans-Pritchard 1940. Other societies with so-called corporate kin structure have similar rules about blood vendetta. My thanks for this information to P.-Y. Jacopin.
[ back ] 46. Douglas 1966, 132. For a comparative discussion of the relation between moral rules and prohibitions and the conflicts that can arise between them in small-scale societies, see Douglas 1966, 129–58, including chap. 9, “The System at War with Itself,” 140–158.
[ back ] 47. See Chapter 4.
[ back ] 48. For the meaning of timḗ in epic and in cult, see Nagy 1979, 118, sec. 1 n. 2. The local hero’s everlasting timḗ is his cult; for the epic hero, the imperishable prize that compensates for his death is kléos; in the domain of the Olympian gods, a particular divinity’s timḗ or cult includes a definition of that god’s ritual domain or sphere. This is the sense of the word in the Theogony, for instance, in which Zeus caps his victory over Prometheus, the Titans, and Typhoeus by distributing to the gods their timaí (Theogony 73–74, 111, and esp. 885: ὁ δὲ τοῖσιν [sc. θεοῖς] ἐὺ διεδάσσατο τιμάς, “and he divided well their timaí among them”). See also Nagy 1990, 216, on timaí vs. tékhnai.
[ back ] 49. Compare Achilles’ speech at 1.293–303, in which he agrees to give up Briseis ἐπεί μ᾽ ἀφέλασθέ [you, plural] γε δόντες “since you (the group) are depriving me of my prize that you (the group) gave me,” but if you Agamemnon (at 301 the text switches back to “you, singular”) come and try to take anything else against my will, then your blood will spurt around my spearshaft.” For an analysis of this scene that complements mine and anticipates some of its conclusions, see Lowenstam 1993, 73–77.
[ back ] 50. To which can be added the expression just cited, ἀλευάμενος χόλος αἰπυν, “shunning sheer anger [khólos].” The object of the verb ἀλεύω ‘shun’ is the word mênis in three other places: 16.711, 5.34, and 5.444, passages I have already discussed. This is its only occurrence with khólos as its object. Otherwise, its object is a spear or death. This is one among several examples in which a speaker referring to the mênis theme uses the word khólos instead. For more on mênis and khólos, see above, 7 n. 5, and below, Chapter 4, with n. 43. For reticence about uttering the word mênis, see the Appendix.