@2. Mênis and the Social Order

2. Mênis and the Social Order

An irrevocable cosmic sanction that prohibits some from taking their superiors for equals and others from taking their equals for inferiors—this abstracted definition implies a rigid hierarchical structure and a predictable punitive response to violations of it that belie the richness and flexibility of Greek epic. There are indeed examples of such rigidity. For instance, there is no uncertainty whatever about maltreating the body of a dead person. As soon as Odysseus can, he responds appropriately to Elpenor’s statement from the underworld that unless he is mourned and buried, Elpenor will become a mḗnima ‘cause of mênis’ to someone’s disadvantage in the gods’ eyes (Odyssey 11.73). At issue is the cosmic status of the dead man’s psukhḗ, whose transition to Hades is ensured by the funeral ritual that the living are obliged to enact (Iliad 23.71ff.); the psukhḗ belongs with its like in the lower world. [1]
As much power and danger, however, accrue to the epic character who wields the ultimate sanction as to the one who crosses the uncrossed line and incurs it. [2] That is why Achilles responds the way he does to the dying Hector’s similar warning not to make him a mḗnima ‘cause of mênis’ among {32|33} the gods on the day when Apollo and Paris destroy Achilles in the Scaean gates (Iliad 22.355ff.). Achilles had just told Hector that dogs and birds will share out his flesh and that if he could Achilles would cut up and eat his dead body raw. Hector’s intent is to save his body from desecration by alerting Achilles to his own impending death and to the destructive consequences for all the Achaeans if he carries out those threats. [3] Achilles’ retort is a competitive assertion of fearlessness, power, and identity that is in kind, if not in degree, not unlike those found in other speeches over a vanquished enemy. He pointedly ignores the warning, and as he orders Hector to die, he also asserts his readiness to accept his own death whenever it will come. In fact, Achilles intends to be the instrument of his own death as well as others’—as Cedric Whitman put it, he has now become the “angel of death,” an all-powerful figure—and so there is no limit that he will not at least threaten to cross. [4]
Aside from the paradoxical and dangerous power that accrues to even the potential breaker of tabus, another factor that complicates the epic order is the uncertainty of the world hierarchy itself, which is a matter of blood, social status, cosmic function, competitive achievement, error, and dispute. In the human domain, as in the divine, the hierarchy that mênis enforces is defined in a process of division—cohesive in principle but divisive in fact. [5] For the Achaean heroes at Troy, as Gregory Nagy points out, the division of spoils (dasmós [1.166], from the verbal root in daíomai ‘divide’), which distributes to each hero a géras ‘prize’ according to his timḗ ‘prestige’, inherits the metaphors and also the diction of a sacrificial feast (daís, derived from the same verbal root as dasmós), which is also described and conceived as a division. Even the word for the feast itself is also used for a share of the meat. The Iliadic treatment of this theme of division has distanced it from sacrificial ritual. The quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon, like the one between Poseidon and Zeus, is over the division of booty and social prestige, not slices of meat. [6] Yet the links between the {33|34} apportionment of food and the distribution of booty and honor are persistent and powerful. The blood sacrifice redefines and reasserts the hierarchical structure of the divine, human, and animal worlds, but that hierarchy is not limited to the relationship between basic cosmic categories. Within the society of humans, there are ritual distinctions to be made in the sacrifice. Different pieces of the sacrificial meat are assigned to different persons as a function of their social status. [7] As there is an overt social aspect to the ritual sacrifice, so there is an implicit cosmic aspect to the distribution of booty in the human domain, to which I shall return. [8] For the moment, I note that here again there is no sharp distinction between the maintenance of the cosmos and the moral equilibrium of human society. [9] The human social hierarchy is simply continuous with the hierarchy of the world as a whole.
The social/cosmic hierarchy is ceaselessly reestablished and redefined by communal divisions, sacrificial or otherwise, because in the society represented in epic there is no notion of value other than relative value and no notion of relative value other than publicly witnessed and approved exchange value such as that defined in a communal division. For instance, when Achilles wishes to express the idea of the absolute value attaching to his life’s breath (psukhḗ) he says that other objects of value, such as horses’ heads or sheep or tripods, can be plundered or won, but that once your life’s breath has crossed the barrier of your teeth, you cannot plunder or capture it (9.406–409). If there is no way to plunder a lost psukhḗ, then nothing is worth as much as it. In Achilles’ words, prizes like Agamemnon’s are not ἐμοὶ ψυχῆς ἀντάξιον, “exchange-worthy for my life’s breath” (9.401). The point is that in such a value system a hero can only approximate our idea of absolute value as a special case of relative value, the case when something or someone lacks any exchange-worthy equivalent. {34|35}
The function of mênis is anterior even to the hierarchy established by the division of value-laden objects or subjects. It actually protects the rules that define exchange value as well as the hierarchy that those rules establish. The epic word for such a rule is thémis (θέμις), which is an inherent aspect of the mênis theme in several of the scenes discussed in the previous chapter. [10] Ares’ desire to fight despite the prohibition of Zeus proves that he does not know what is and is not thémis (5.761); in book 15, Hera appeals specifically to the goddess Themis herself in her desire to protest Zeus’s assertion of his dominion over her and his management of the war. Hera orders her to govern the daís ‘feast, division’ in the Olympian halls, but Themis is silent before Hera’s indignation (15.87–103), supporting, by implication, Zeus’s place in the hierarchy, not Hera’s. There is even a passage in which thémis prevents mortals from engaging in battle with immortals (the sword in question is Poseidon’s): ἄορ … / εἴκελον ἀστεροπῇ· τῷ δ’ οὐ θέμις ἐστὶ μιγῆναι / ἐν δαῒ λευγαλέῃ, ἀλλὰ δέος ἰσχάνει ἄνδρας (14.385–387), “a sword … like lightning; it is not thémis to mix with it in woeful battle, but fear keeps men away from it.” [11]
Thémistes, the concrete plural of thémis, [12] are not just rules that enforce the cosmic hierarchy, however. They are also rules for social behavior, including rules that govern the division and reciprocal exchange of goods. [13] As Emile Benveniste has shown, the thémistes are not “arbitrary rules invented by those who apply them: they are of divine origin.” [14] In fact, they {35|36} come from Zeus himself, who provides them to the king along with the scepter (Iliad 1.238–239, 9.97–99). [15] The violation of such rules provokes mênis from Zeus against the whole community. The point is explicit in the following passage, a generic image from a simile in which the word ópis, as elsewhere, functions as a synonym of mênis. [16]

ὅτε λαβρότατον χέει ὕδωρ
Ζεύς, ὅτε δή ῥ’ ἄνδρεσσι κοτεσσάμενος χαλεπήνῃ,
οἳ βίῃ εἰν ἀγορῇ σκολιὰς κρίνωσι θέμιστας,
ἐκ δὲ δίκην ἐλάσωσι θεῶν ὄπιν οὐκ ἀλέγοντες·
τῶν δέ τε πάντες μὲν ποταμοὶ πλήθουσι ῥέοντες,
πολλὰς δὲ κλιτῦς τότ’ ἀποτμήγουσι χαράδραι,
ἐς δ’ ἅλα πορφυρέην μεγάλα στενάχουσι ῥέουσαι
ἐξ ὀρέων ἐπικάρ, μινύθει δέ τε ἔργ’ ἀνθρώπων·

when Zeus pours down torrential rain, when he acts harshly
out of anger at men whose judgments violent twist the thémistes in
the assembly and who drive out justice [ díkē ] without a care for the
ópis of the gods; all of their flowing rivers are filled, and then
torrents chop off hunks of slope and they flow down head first to the
purple sea from the mountains, and the fields of men decrease.

Here the storm from Zeus destroys by water rather than fire, but the language of this offense and the broad swath of destruction it results in are by now familiar aspects of the mênis theme. From the comparative perspective of Marcel Mauss, it is clear why the violation of social rules like those that govern the exchange and distribution of goods should have direct cosmic consequences. In his terms, reciprocal exchange is a “total social phenomenon.” Exchange rules govern economic, political, legal, religious, and moral institutions, and in archaic societies, “social phenomena are not discrete: each phenomenon contains all the threads of which the social fabric is composed.” [17] Under such circumstances, the violation of a rule {36|37} about exchange directly jeopardizes the whole social fabric. It is easy to understand, then, why exchange rules have the same status as rules that enforce the basic structure of the world, since they actually do enforce the basic structure of the world, however much they may appear to us to govern discrete aspects of individuals’ social lives.
Like mênis, which stands behind such rules, thémis governs the treatment of guests, who are accordingly under the protection of Zeus himself. In book 13 (624ff.) Menelaos, in high dudgeon, tells the Trojans of the mênis of Zeus Xenios, “Zeus having to do with xénoi (guests, hosts, and strangers),” which the Trojans failed to heed when they (plural, not singular) made off with his wife and her possessions, ἐπεὶ φιλέεσθε παρ᾽ αὐτῇ “since/after you [plural] were loved/treated affectionately by her.” But Zeus will one day utterly destroy their city. To us, the insistent use of the plural in this passage is disconcerting, for we would blame the individual concerned for the abduction of Helen. Menelaos looks to us like an angry man willfully expanding his target. He is not: offenses that incur mênis are by nature group offenses. The logic of the social system represented in the epic requires the annihilation of Troy for the offenses of Paris; the literal notion that the Trojans as Menelaos’s guests were loved by their hosts and stole Helen and her dowry is utterly consistent with the bloc concept of solidarity at work in all the contexts of mênis. [18]

The Mênis Theme and Exchange Rules in the Odyssey

Violations of the proper treatment of beggars—for beggars are just a particular type of guest [19] —are as much a matter of thémis as violations of cosmic status boundaries. The thémistes about exchange apply irrespective of differences in social status. When Odysseus, the beggar in disguise, is {37|38} hospitably received at the hut of his swineherd, he prays aloud that Zeus grant his host, Eumaios, whatever he most desires—in this instance, that is surely what is happening at that very moment, the return of his master, Odysseus—for receiving him so well. In response the swineherd both deprecates and justifies his generosity:

ξεῖν’, οὔ μοι θέμις ἔστ’, οὐδ’ εἰ κακίων σέθεν ἔλθοι,
ξεῖνον ἀτιμῆσαι· πρὸς γὰρ Διός εἰσιν ἅπαντες
ξεῖνοί τε πτωχοί τε. δόσις δ’ ὀλίγη τε φίλη τε
γίνεται ἡμετέρη·

Guest [ xeînos ], it is not thémis for me, not even if a man worse off than you should arrive,
to dishonor [ atimêsai ] a guest [ xeînos ]: for all are protected by Zeus,
guests [ xeînoi ] and beggars both; our giving is meager but cherished.

(Odyssey 14.56–59)
With their anaphoric repetition of the word xe î nos ‘guest, host, stranger’, these lines are a vigorous, heartfelt statement of traditional notions about hospitality and even the inherent prestige (thus the word atimêsai ‘dishonor’) that a beggar gets because of thémis. The Odyssey massively confirms these notions in both positive and negative outcomes, in the reinstatement of Odysseus, the beggar who becomes king, and in the unavenged massacre of the suitors, those great abusers of the privileges and obligations of guest-friendship. It is not a joke or a secularization of a sacred notion, as some have suggested, [20] when Telemachus subsequently instructs Eumaios to do as follows to the selfsame beggar:

τὸν ξεῖνον δύστηνον ἄγ’ ἐς πόλιν, ὄφρ’ ἂν ἐκεῖθι
δαῖτα πτωχεύῃ· δώσει δέ οἱ ὅς κ’ ἐθέλῃσι,
πύρνον καὶ κοτύλην· ἐμὲ δ’ οὔ πως ἔστιν ἅπαντας
ἀνθρώπους ἀνέχεσθαι, ἔχοντά περ ἄλγεα θυμῷ.
ὁ ξεῖνος δ’ εἴ περ μάλα μηνίει, ἄλγιον αὐτῷ
ἔσσεται· ἦ γὰρ ἐμοὶ φίλ’ ἀληθέα μυθήσασθαι.”

Bring this poor guest [xe î nos] to town, so that he can
beg his portion there. Whoever wants to will give him
a scrap of bread and a drink. There is no way that I
with the troubles I have on my mind can support every single human being. {38|39}
And if this guest [ xeînos ] really has mênis , it will be that much harder for him:
it is just near and dear to me to tell the truth.

Turning a xe î nos ‘guest’ out of one’s house against his will is a violation of thémis that can bring down mênis. Telemachus’s remark that his mênis will only make things worse for the beggar himself is not trivial or inconsistent with other examples. A person aggrieved with mênis, like Demeter or Zeus in passages already discussed, is by definition alienated from the solidary group subject to sanction, and that person is often portrayed as suffering. [21] Such alienation would be literally painful to a beggar, who is so intimately dependent on the social group for his survival. Nor is the lowly status of a beggar incompatible with an offense worthy of mênis. To think so would be to fall prey to the gross error in which Odysseus’s disguise later entraps the suitors (18.346–404, etc.), in other words, to make a crucial mistake about the status of beggars as individuals in the cosmic hierarchy.
But there is another dimension to this passage. The beggar in question is, after all, Odysseus, and Telemachus is setting him up to deny a claim to mênis against his own household, which is for the moment headed by his son. In fact, the Odyssey, as it does here, withdraws from attaching this theme to the actions of its hero. Odysseus’s release from Kalypso’s island, which starts the tale of his return, is predicated on the cancellation of a threat of mênis. [22] It is also possible that Athena, in requesting that Odysseus return, has implicitly relinquished her mênis against the Achaeans, incurred for unspecified events during the capture of Troy. [23] When Telemachus assembles the Ithacans in book 2 to complain of his plight and enlist their help in his struggle against the suitors, he tells them this:

οἶκος ἐμὸς διόλωλε· νεμεσσήθητε καὶ αὐτοί,
ἄλλους τ’ αἰδέσθητε περικτίονας ἀνθρώπους,
οἳ περιναιετάουσι· θεῶν δ’ ὑποδείσατε μῆνιν,
μή τι μεταστρέψωσιν ἀγασσάμενοι κακὰ ἔργα.
λίσσομαι ἠμὲν Ζηνὸς Ὀλυμπίου ἠδὲ Θέμιστος,
ἥ τ’ ἀνδρῶν ἀγορὰς ἠμὲν λύει ἠδὲ καθίζει· {39|40}

My household has perished; you yourselves should be
outraged, and you should be ashamed before others,
neighboring people who live around us; fear the mênis of the gods,
lest in anger at evil deeds they indeed turn things
upside down. I implore both Olympian Zeus and Themis,
who dissolves and seats assemblies of men.


The unspeakable abuse of hospitality by the suitors is not only shameful for others to witness but a violation of the rules of exchange that merits divine mênis. Telemachus invokes the relevant gods: Olympian Zeus, who stands for the divine community as a whole, and Themis herself, the guardian of the social order. He warns his fellow Ithacans that for an offense of this type, members of the offending party’s solidarity group are liable to be caught up in the resulting retribution, whether or not they are blameworthy. So the Ithacans should be afraid.

Now this passage actually implies that a basic component of the story of Odysseus’s return, the massacre of the suitors, is a variant of the mênis theme. Even though Telemachus is a youth and this is his first attempt to convene and address an assembly, there is no reason to doubt the legitimacy of that contention. Indeed, there is evidence to confirm it. In a supposition that appears to depend on this speech of Telemachus, Antinoos uses the verb apomēníō ‘invoke mênis’ of Telemachus in predicting his willingness to provoke resentment against the suitors for their plot to kill him (16.378), and Eumaios and Philoitios, Odysseus’s trusty servants, both ascribe to the suitors a disregard for ópis, which is, as mentioned, a virtual synonym of mênis (14.82, 20.215). [24] Lastly in his first Cretan lie, the disguised Odysseus pointedly refers to the way a scrupulous Egyptian captor, suppressing his just anger at the offenses of the Cretan’s men, had not slain him but received him as a suppliant and “watched out for the mênis of Zeus protector of xe î noi [guests, hosts, strangers], who is especially outraged at evil deeds” (Διὸς δ’ ὠπίζετο μῆνιν / ξεινίου, ὅς τε μάλιστα νεμεσσᾶται κακὰ ἔργα. [14.283–284]). [25] A few lines earlier (14.156–164), after hearing from Eumaios of the suitors’ abuses, the beggar Odysseus had sworn a powerful oath on the name of Zeus and the table of hospitality that Odysseus would soon return and pay the suitors back for the dishonor they were doing his wife and {40|41} son. [26] The two passages do not seem unrelated. In addition, there may be a final, ritualized reflex of the mênis theme in the use of sulfur and fire on the great hall by Odysseus as a κακῶν ἄκοςction. Instead he goes on to SB>. Do you need an ele this here?t and !eadings like this are tagged H2. What would you like here?ction. Instead he goes on to SB>. Do you need an ele this here?t and !eadings like this are tagged H2. What would you like here?, “cure of evils” (22.481), once the massacre of the suitors is over. [27] A sulfurous smell follows the thunderstroke, which is the primary expression of mênis.
Ultimately, however, the poem mutes the idea that Odysseus’s revenge is an expression of mênis. What eventually happens, for example, to the Ithacans whom Telemachus addressed, the innocent bystanders who have not acted in any way upon their moral outrage? In view of the intense social bonds in this world and the solidarity rules associated with mênis, this question demands an answer. As if that answer were the teleology of the whole poem, it is provided at the very end of book 24, where there is an assembly of the men of Ithaca in which more than half decide that their brothers and their children who were slain in the massacre, actually deserved it, for μέγα ἔργον ἔρεξαν ἀτασθαλίῃσι κακῇσι, “they did a big thing in their evil wantoness” (24.458), using language that recalls the very beginning of the Odyssey, the seventh line of the proem. [28] So this first group of relatives goes home. They are not refusing to acknowledge any bond between themselves and their own children or brothers just because of the moral circumstances of their violent death; they are also excluding themselves from the fatal social consequences of any mênis.
The other Ithacans, led by Eupeithes, the father of Antinoos, do not share their view. They now set out to avenge their kin (24.470–471). Before they actually confront Odysseus and his family in battle dress, a brief conversation takes place between Athena and Zeus. The goddess asks Zeus whether he will make war between them or philótēs ‘friendship’. [29] He answers:

“τέκνον ἐμόν, τί με ταῦτα διείρεαι ἠδὲ μεταλλᾷς;
οὐ γὰρ δὴ τοῦτον μὲν ἐβούλευσας νόον αὐτή,
ὡς ἦ τοι κείνους Ὀδυσεὺς ἀποτίσεται ἐλθών; {41|42}

My child, why are you asking and begging these
things of me? In fact, didn’t you yourself devise this plot,
so that Odysseus would come and pay those people [keînoi] back?


In the context of book 2 and Telemachus’s invocation of the word mênis against the suitors there, one would expect that the pronoun keînoi ‘those people’ in a sentence answering Athena’s question refers to the suitors and also the Ithacans, who are marked for mênis by virtue of their passive solidarity with the vicious suitors. In fact that expectation is dashed. Zeus does not pronounce himself in favor of their destruction. Instead he goes on to say that “since Odysseus has already paid back the suitors” (ἐπεὶ δὴ μνηστῆρας ἐτίσατο [482]), he and Athena should let Odysseus rule and make the Ithacans forget about their children and brothers (ἔκλησιν θέωμεν, “let us make a complete forgetting” [485]). [30]

What happens next makes it doubly clear that the Odyssey is subtly shedding the mênis theme in favor of something else. Odysseus and his father and son along with Dolios and his six sons arm themselves to meet the approach of the suitors’ kinsmen. The scene begins to unfold as a battle, with Athena in the guise of Mentes urging Laertes to pray to Athena and hurl the first spear. He does so, kills one person, Eupeithes, and the battle is joined. Not until this moment, when, as the narrator tells us, Odysseus and his son would have killed them all (528), does Athena intervene as a disembodied voice telling the Ithacans to disengage and end the bloodshed. They retreat in fear, whereupon Odysseus swoops down upon them like an eagle. At this point, Zeus sends down a thunderbolt not to destroy the Ithacans but to threaten Odysseus with khólos from Zeus if he does not cease from battle (μή πώς τοι Κρονίδης κεχολώσεται εὐρύοπα Ζεύς, ‘‘lest Zeus the son of Kronos who sees far and wide will somehow become angered at you’’ [544]). Telemachus’s implicit threat of mass destruction against this group with solidarity to the suitors has become a threat of divine anger against a transgressive Odysseus in the interest of social reintegration. Unlike Diomedes or Patroklos, who resist {42|43} the divine imposition of such limits and surpass themselves in the face of such a challenge from above, [31] Odysseus immediately and gladly obliges (‘‘he was rejoicing in his heart’’ [545]).
How can we account for this turn of events? Not by suspecting the genuineness of the conclusion of our Odyssey or by impugning Telemachus’s moral stance at the beginning of it. What happens in book 24 is consistent with the way in which the whole Odyssey treats questions of solidarity in blame. The Odyssey implicitly acknowledges the Iliad’s bloc solidarity rule for the consequences of mênis, but it consistently refuses to confuse offending parties with the groups to which they belong. From the very beginning, this poem is concerned to differentiate blame. Using language that echoes that of the Ithacans who decide not to join battle against Odysseus, the proem tells us that Odysseus’s companions “perished by their own acts of wantoness” (αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο [1.7]) although Odysseus strove to win their nóstos ‘return to light and life’. [32] Actually Odysseus is asleep when his men make the fatal error of eating the Cattle of the Sun. They all perish by the thunderbolt of Zeus, but Odysseus, albeit barely, manages to survive. Likewise, in the massacre of the suitors, Odysseus is at pains to kill with special brutality such persons as Melanthios (22.171–177, 474–477) or Leodes (22.310–329) but to spare the lives of those such as the herald Medon or the singer Phemius (22.330–360) who were forced to take part in the suitors’ activities. He also learns from Eurykleia which serving women actually slept with the suitors, so he can slaughter them (22.441–473) but not those who remained loyal to their master. [33]
I submit that such differentiations of blame are impossible in the Iliad but that the Odyssey is at pains to legitimate them. The distinction is even a matter of formular usage, of semantic distinctions between formulas held in common by the two traditions. [34] In the Iliad formulaic references to atasthalíai ‘acts of wantonness’ consistently point to the responsibility of a whole group, including its leaders, for what it suffers, but in the Odyssey, the term is used to differentiate blame. For instance, in the Iliad, book 4, Agamemnon taunts Diomedes and Sthenelos as epigones whose second {43|44} expedition against Thebes was inferior to that of the original Seven, which included their fathers, Tydeus and Kapaneus. Diomedes refuses to respond, but Sthenelos cannot keep from pointing out that “those men [the Seven] perished by their own atasthalíai” (κεῖνοι δὲ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο [409]). He does not mean that the death of the Seven was not his fault, but that they all perished together and deserved it. Or again, when Hector addresses his own thumós ‘heart’ before doing battle with Achilles in book 22 and tells himself “but now since I have destroyed the host of fighting men by my own atasthalíai” (νῦν δ’ ἐπεὶ ὤλεσα λαὸν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ἐμῇσιν [104]) he is girding himself to go down, as we would say, like a captain with his ship, to take the responsibility that is his and share the destiny to which his actions have consigned his host. His resoluteness soon fades, but it remains a heroic ideal to which he aspires and ultimately returns. By contrast, the craven and distrustful Eurylokhos uses the same traditional expression to ascribe blame to Odysseus for the companions lost in the Cyclops’s cave: “for those men [keînoi] also perished for the atasthalíai of this one [Odysseus]” (τούτου γὰρ καὶ κεῖνοι ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο [10.437]). His “also” implies that Odysseus’s blameworthy mistakes are now about to cost the remaining blameless companions their lives in the cave of Circe, with the further implication that, as before, Odysseus himself will survive.
So it appears that our Odyssey places a moral distance between the massacre of the suitors and the theme of mênis. Indeed, it is as though the Odyssean tradition constrains the social dimensions implicit in Iliadic mênis and domesticates its cosmic scope: the target is not the blameless and blameworthy alike but only the blameworthy, and the cosmic dimensions have been scaled down to ritual proportions, such as Odysseus’s purification of his home by fire and sulfur. It may appear that there is a progressive evolution in social thought from the Iliad to the Odyssey, that a moral code distinct from a system of world maintenance is being generated. As I have noted, however, societies that are much less complex than those of ancient Greece maintain side-by-side both a moral code and a set of world-maintaining prohibitions. [35] This particular difference between the Iliad and the Odyssey is analogous to the difference between the Theogony and the Works and Days. The mythological narrative of the Theogony describes the emergence of the structure of the world and the principles of its maintenance; while in the Works and Days, the world that has emerged becomes more and more narrowly developed and described, and moral rules and prohibitions about more and more minute aspects of daily life are specified. [36] The second narrative in the sequence subsumes the prior one: the moral differentiation in the Odyssey knows of, can incorporate, and would be impossible without the demiurgic bloc solidarity rule in the Iliad narrative. The point is not that the Odyssey is more evolved and sophisticated than the Iliad but that within the Homeric tradition, morality is “invented” by the differentiation of the bloc solidarity rule which applies to the violation of world-maintaining prohibitions. [37] The contrast is more likely to be a matter of completeness in world description than progress.
The episode of the suitors’ massacre is not a minor aspect of the poem’s content but a central feature of Odysseus’s homecoming, although certainly not its only one. It begins to make sense, then, that no one in the Odyssey, neither the narrator nor any character in the text, ever explicitly ascribes mênis to Odysseus in connection with the suitors. But this lack also makes sense from another point of view that cannot be separated from the moral one: the explicit central theme of the Iliad is the mênis of Achilles, and the Homeric tradition will not validate the mênis of any other hero. This phenomenon has already been noted within the Iliad itself. [38] In other words, the muting and transmuting of the Iliadic mênis theme into its Odyssean counterpart is an aspect of the traditional mutual differentiation process that lies behind the formation of our particular versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey. [39] From this standpoint, the concluding scene of the Odyssey, which effectively puts a seal on a morally selective, socially integrating revision of the mênis theme, seems to belong where it is as a statement of the identity of the Odyssey as against the Iliad.
This perspective on the Odyssey as a whole also helps us to understand why the cause of the mênis of Athena (3.135) is so unclear. Nestor is answering Telemachus’s inquiry about the circumstances of his father’s supposed death (3.89–91). He tells the tale of the Achaeans’ departure from Troy and the parting of the ways between himself and Odysseus after the sack of the city, which was the result of the second of two internecine quarrels (ἔριν [3.136], then ἔριν … δεύτερον αὖτις [3.161]). The first quarrel arose between Agamemnon and Menelaos in a late assembly called {45|46} to decide how to respond to the mênis of Athena (on the reason for the assembly, see 3.137–145):

καὶ τότε δὴ Ζεὺς λυγρὸν ἐνὶ φρεσὶ μήδετο νόστον
Ἀργείοις, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι νοήμονες οὐδὲ δίκαιοι
πάντες ἔσαν· τῶ σφεων πολέες κακὸν οἶτον ἐπέσπον
μήνιος ἐξ ὀλοῆς γλαυκώπιδος ὀβριμοπάτρης,
ἥ τ’ ἔριν Ἀτρεΐδῃσι μετ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἔθηκε.

and then Zeus devised a grievous homecoming in his mind
for the Argives, since not all of them were at all intelligent [40] or just, [41]
and for that many of them took a bad path
because of the destructive mênis of the grey-eyed daughter of a mighty father,
who made strife between the two sons of Atreus.

In an assembly called to decide how to respond to a god’s mênis, one hero recommends appeasement through sacrifice, and the other is in favor of returning home. The dispute ends in a parting of the ways. [42] All these {46|47} details sound familiar, but Nestor becomes imprecise just when he could describe what the heroes actually did to arouse the mênis of Athena in the first place: “Not all of them were at all intelligent or just and … many of them took a bad path.” There are so many ways to account for the suppression of these particular details, however, that in the end their absence seems overdetermined. Acts that impose mênis are, as I have argued, violations of basic prohibitions, and a reluctance to speak of unspeakable acts needs no justification (which is not to deny that in appropriate circumstances, full disclosure of such acts can have admonitory value). Furthermore, Nestor may be inhibited by the desire or the need to suppress details that a young man like Telemachus should not hear. Athena/Mentes bowdlerizes when she tells the boy that “cruel men are holding his father” (1.197); cruel men are in fact holding Telemachus, not his father, who is being held by a sexy goddess, Calypso. Athena’s lie replaces the truth with a false notion that puts the boy in the same spot as his father and so serves her larger purpose. [43] Nestor may well have similar intentions. In the matter of his evasion, Jenny Clay even suspects, and not without reason, that Odysseus himself was the one responsible for incurring the mênis of Athena. [44] Yet it is also true that the formulation in lines 132–136 is consistent with the diction and thought of other instances of the mênis theme. The offense is social (‘‘not all of them”), whether or not an individual is responsible from our standpoint, and the response is broad and indiscriminate (‘‘many of them”). Finally, this whole episode is another potentially Iliadic mênis tale that the Odyssey will broach, encapsulate, and veer away from.

Exchange Rules and the Mênis Theme in the Iliad

As I have said, in book 13 of the Iliad (624ff.) Menelaos effectively characterizes the Achaean expedition against Troy to retrieve Helen as an expression of the mênis of Zeus Xenios. Not only is the offense a group offense—Menelaos maintains that the Trojans were Helen’s beloved guests and then stole her—but so also is the response a group effort to achieve either the return of Helen and her possessions or the devastation of the Trojans’ city. Two other passages appear directly related to this one. There is a moment {47|48} in Achilles’ aristeía in which he himself is likened to divine mênis—that is, not to a divinity with mênis but to the mênis itself—unleashed upon a blazing city:

Τρῶας ὁμῶς αὐτούς τ’ ὄλεκεν καὶ μώνυχας ἵππους.
ὡς δ’ ὅτε καπνὸς ἰὼν εἰς οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἵκηται
ἄστεος αἰθομένοιο, θεῶν δέ ἑ μῆνις ἀνῆκε,
πᾶσι δ’ ἔθηκε πόνον, πολλοῖσι δὲ κήδε’ ἐφῆκεν,
ὣς Ἀχιλεὺς Τρώεσσι πόνον καὶ κήδε’ ἔθηκεν.

He kept on destroying Trojans and their one-hoofed horses as well,
as when smoke going up reaches the wide heaven
when a city is ablaze, and the mênis of the gods sent it up,
and made toil for all and attached woes to many,
so Achilles made toil and woes for the Trojans.

The language and syntax of the simile echo the description of Achilles’ mênis in the prologue to the Iliad. In both contexts, the noun mênis is the subject of three active verbs: ἀνῆκε, ἔθηκε, ἐφῆκεν; versus ἔθηκε, προΐαψεν, τεῦχε (1.2, 3, 4). In both places, two of the sentences have complements stressing the social scope of the destruction wrought by mênis: μυρί᾽ … ἄλγε᾽ [countless woes] ἔθηκε (1.2) and πολλὰςψυχὰς προΐαψεν [many souls] (1.3), versus πᾶσι δ᾽ ἔθηκε πόνον [woe on all] and πολλοῖσι δὲ κήδεα [many woes] ἐφῆκεν (21.524). So Achilles has come to resemble the sanction against the Trojans that Menelaos had spoken of as something real. As mênis has now become a metaphor for Achilles rather than his attribute, so also the social target of this now metaphorical mênis has been transferred from Achaeans to Trojans. [45] Both changes bespeak the distance the hero has by now put between himself and mênis. [46]
It may appear that the following lines also refer to the mênis of Zeus Xenios against the Trojans:

ἀλλ’ ἄγε τῷδ’ ἔφες ἀνδρὶ βέλος Διὶ χεῖρας ἀνασχών,
ὅς τις ὅδε κρατέει καὶ δὴ κακὰ πολλὰ ἔοργε
Τρῶας, ἐπεὶ πολλῶν τε καὶ ἐσθλῶν γούνατ’ ἔλυσεν·
εἰ μή τις θεός ἐστι κοτεσσάμενος Τρώεσσιν
ἱρῶν μηνίσας· χαλεπὴ δὲ θεοῦ ἔπι μῆνις. {48|49}

up and raise your hands to Zeus and let loose an arrow at this man
whoever he is in his power, who has wrought much havoc already
upon the Trojans, since he has unstrung the knees of many brave men;
unless he is some god angered at the Trojans,
one with mênis on account of a sacrifice; [47] the mênis of a god is hard to bear.


This passage occurs during the aristeía of Diomedes, when Aeneas tells Pandaros to shoot the man and end the massive slaughter he is causing—unless, that is, he is a god with mênis. In response, Pandaros says that he recognizes the hero’s shield, helmet, and horses as Diomedes’, but he also allows that he does not know for certain if Diomedes is really a god; at the very least, he decides, there is an angry god beside Diomedes protecting him from Pandaros’s arrows, which are useless even though they hit their mark. So here is a third reference to divine mênis against the Trojans in the context of an Achaean warrior’s efforts.

However, the generic nature of the descriptions in these last two examples argues against a specific reference in either of them to Menelaos’s claim of divine mênis against the Trojans for the abduction of Helen (13.624). From the standpoint of traditional poetics, it is likely that the reverse is true, that Menelaos’s citation of the mênis of Zeus Xenios at the Trojans is a specific reflex of a conventional association of the devastation of mênis with a victor’s speech over his fallen enemy, which is the context of both his and Achilles’ invocation of the word; Aeneas’s use of the term in anticipation of a losing confrontation in battle can be understood as an extension from such a context. In other words, it is not possible to claim with confidence that the last two passages cited are examples of mênis as a sanction for the violation of the rules of reciprocal exchange in connection with the abduction of Helen. They may also be “generic” examples of the mênis theme that are vague or inexplicit in regard to cause since in those particular contexts it is the consequences of mênis that are significant, not its cause; there may well be other factors that come into play, such as a general reticence about acts that provoke mênis. [48] Whatever the reasons for this {49|50} particular silence, it is worth recognizing that these passages do voice other recurrent aspects of the mênis theme: group offenses incur mênis (as in Iliad 5.177, κοτεσσάμενος Τρώεσσιν “angered at the Trojans”), which is a sanction characterized by implacable, usually fiery devastation on a massive scale.
My survey of the uses of mênis is almost at an end, but I have postponed discussing three instances, the mênis of Apollo (Iliad 1.75), Agamemnon (1.247), and Achilles (1.1, etc.). Before I consider them, I wish to investigate the mythical backdrop of the mênis theme, a backdrop that I believe they presuppose. For the moment, I note that in all three cases, mênis is incurred by violations of the value system based on group distribution and reciprocal exchange. Apollo’s is incurred by Agamemnon’s refusal to accept an exchange with the priest Chryses for a woman awarded to Agamemnon even though the same community that awarded the woman approves the exchange (1.22–23). Agamemnon’s is incurred by Achilles’ unwillingness to honor his superior authority (1.185–186), as established in the communal division of plunder (1.119–120, 166–167). Achilles’ is incurred by Agamemnon’s depriving him of the symbol of prestige provided him in the communal division (1.391–392). In each instance, someone’s social prestige (timḗ) is at issue. The priest is dishonored (1.11); Achilles is dishonored (1.171); Agamemnon is dishonored by the loss of his prize and by Achilles’ disrespect (1.118–120, 175). In a hierarchy established by a communal division based on the rules of exchange, a person’s social value is in view and at stake in every exchange in which he or she takes part. Moreover, a slight to a person’s authority or rank is the same thing as an offense against the rules of reciprocal exchange, which support and define that rank. The connection between social status and exchange rules explains why in book 15 (185–199) Poseidon immediately refers to the story of the distribution of the cosmos when Zeus does not treat him as an equal, and why a botched prayer or sacrifice—prayers and sacrifices are transactions based on the rules of reciprocal exchange—can be experienced as an offense to a person’s or a god’s status (the word is the same for both: timḗ). If you do not accept or provide my gift, that is because you do not consider me worthy of exchange with you or because what you are offering or being offered is an inappropriate return; likewise, if you do not accept my authority over you, you reject the system of distribution and exchange that justifies my rank relative to yours. Since the rules of exchange are thémistes whose violation threatens the structure of the world, the world’s coherence is menaced by an offense to them. From this perspective, the unity of all the examples of the mênis theme discussed thus far as well as those in the first book of the Iliad can emerge: when a person dies, or a hero surpasses himself, or a god ignores the rank of another god, or a goddess sleeps with a mortal, or a king rejects an offer of exchange, the value of a person and the continuity of the world are at stake because the hierarchy of persons based on the thémistes of exchange is being breached. Such permeability of the social fabric is characteristic of a “total social phenomenon.” [49] The stability of such a system depends on several conditions: the means at its disposal to calibrate and recalibrate the hierarchy so that all understand and agree to it; a clear and common notion of the equivalences or commensurabilities of goods [50] that are subject to exchange or, to put it more simply, a shared system of value (not “values” in our sense); and a hearty adherence to the reciprocal rules of exchange and distribution that establish and match the shared, perceived, and acceptably recalibrated value of goods. In the world of Greek epic, these conditions are rarely met. Instead of saying that they constitute the system’s stability, it would be more accurate to say that perennial difficulty in achieving these conditions is responsible for the system’s frailty. What that has to do with the “real world” or the social context of epic for which this system is a metaphor is another question, but it is worth emphasizing that there is no reason to suppose that this system and the problems inherent in it mirror an external ‘‘reality.’’ They are just as likely to be excursions from that “reality.” [51]


[ back ] 1. The implied analogy between death, a passage to the lower world, and loss of status is not inappropriate. Compare Achilles’ statement (Odyssey 11.489ff.) that he would rather serve a man without land in the upper world than rule all the dead corpses. Achilles may mean that the difference between life and death is incommensurate with social status, but he positively characterizes death as an extreme loss of social prestige, such that the lowest serf among the living is superior to the highest king among the dead; see also the remarks in Chapter 1 regarding the rape of Persephone, 23–25, 28–29.
[ back ] 2. See again the discussion in Douglas 1966, 38–40, of the power and danger that goes with impurity.
[ back ] 3. Pace Ameis and Hentze 1906, 2:427 (on line 358), who suppose that Hector is threatening maltreatment of Achilles’ body; such maltreatment would only bring down mênis on the Trojans themselves.
[ back ] 4. Whitman 1958, 207. On the conventions of such killing speeches, see Muellner 1976, 92–97. It is also true that Achilles does not carry out this threat. In fact, no one’s body is actually left as prey for dogs and birds in the Iliad. Achilles’ and the poet’s statements to the contrary notwithstanding. The tabu against the desecration of the dead body stands, but so does the power that arises from the bravado to defy it. For more on the mênis attached to unburied corpses and to Achilles’ identity, see Chapter 5, 168–172.
[ back ] 5. Loraux 1987; see also Detienne and Svenbro 1969; Nagy 1990, 143 n. 40.
[ back ] 6. For the identity of the “morceau du héros” in the division of spoils and the division of the sacrificial animal, see Nagy, 1979, 126–41, esp. 132, sec. 19 n. 3, on the use of the words géras and timḗ for “honorific portion (of a sacrifice)” and “cult,” respectively. In sec. 18 n. 1, Nagy alludes to a brief summary in the Cypria of the daís ‘sacrificial meal’ at Tenedos to which Achilles was not invited in time, resulting in his dishonor (atimazómenos) and his mênis (Aristotle Rhetoric 1401b18–19; Proclus 104.21–24 Allen). Note also that the quarrel of Odysseus and Achilles in the first song of Demodokos takes place at a daís (Odyssey 8.76), and see Nagy’s analysis of all these recurrent elements in a series of quarrels involving Agamemnon, Achilles, Odysseus, and Achilles’ son Pyrrhus/Neoptolemos. Pyrrhus’s quarrel is actually attested in the context of Panhellenic cult, the Delphic Theoxenia.
[ back ] 7. So the phrase dais eḯsē, “equal share,” used in epic of a share of sacrificial meat actually means “proper share in terms of one’s relative status in the community” or “equitable share,” not the same share for all. Nagy 1979, 128 and sec. 14 n. 4, citing Motto and Clark 1969.
[ back ] 8. At the conclusion of this chapter, 50–51.
[ back ] 9. For the nature of this distinction, so apparent to us, see above, Chapter 1, 27–28.
[ back ] 10. See above, Chapter 1, 6–7, 11.
[ back ] 11. Poseidon’s weapon is here associated with Zeus’s thunderbolt, the instrument of his mênis as has been noted above, Chapter 1, 6–7
[ back ] 12. For the semantic typology of abstract singular noun > concrete plural noun, compare English parallels such as liberty > liberties, art > arts, etc., and see Wackernagel 1950, 92–93.
[ back ] 13. On reciprocal exchange in social institutions, the monograph of Marcel Mauss (1925) is fundamental. It has been translated into English twice, Mauss (1967) and Mauss (1990). For the vocabulary of exchange in Ancient Greek, see Benveniste 1966a. There are important clarifications of Mauss in Sahlins 1972 and an application of Mauss’s theory to Homeric epic in Finley 1977.
[ back ] 14. The meaning of the Indo-European root of thémis, *dhē– is “create and define, establish in existence.” Benveniste 1969, 2:104. I disagree, however, with Benveniste’s statement that thémis concerns the génos ‘family’ and díkē ‘justice’ is inter-familial. Though supported by comparative evidence and perhaps vestigial in epic, the distinction is belied by examples he himself provides (Iliad 9.97) as well as by passages such as 1.237–39 and 16.387–88 (cited just hereafter). If the thémistes belong to the king, he uses them to adjudicate disputes εἰν ἀγορῇ, “in the assembly” (16.387), not just within the family. The goddess Themis, we learn, “dissolves and seats assemblies of men” (Odyssey 2.68–69) as well as “ruling the equal feast in the divine household” (Iliad 14.95). J.-P. Vernant and Marcel Detienne’s definition of the function of thémis is pertinent: “Her role is to indicate what is forbidden, what frontiers must not be crossed, and the hierarchy that must be respected for each individual to be kept forever within the limits of his own domain and status.” See also Detienne 1973, 43; and for bibliography on this word, Lloyd-Jones 1983, 186–187, with addendum on 249 (wherein read “P. 186’’ for ‘‘P. 166”).
[ back ] 15. On the díkē and thémistes of the king in Hesiod and Theognis, see also Nagy 1990, 63–79.
[ back ] 16. Watkins 1977, 201–3. For the expression here, θεῶν ὄπιν οὐκ ἀλέγοντες, “not heeding the ópis of the gods,” compare the functionally related phrase in Hymn to Aphrodite 290: θεῶν δ’ ἐποπίζεο μῆνιν, “watch [root *op-] out for the mênis of the gods.” The same association of verbal derivative of ópis with mênis occurs in the Odyssey (14.283). For the connection between seeing (*op-) and mênis, see Watkins 1986, 298 n. 26. A derivative of the likely Indo-European root of mênis (the root *men– ‘mente agitare’) is attested in Luvian with the meaning “see” (Starke 1980, 142ff.). For more on the etymology of mênis, see the Appendix.
[ back ] 17. Mauss 1967, 1.
[ back ] 18. Pierre Chantraine (1954) says that the passage about the storm sent by Zeus against the world of men who twist the thémistes and drive out díkē (Iliad 16.385–392) is consistent with Hesiodic religious ideas and not, therefore, genuinely Homeric. He cites Works and Days 240–247, where the “whole pólis together” (ξύμπασα πόλις) suffers for the offenses of one bad man (κακοῦ ἀνδρόςί), their basileús ‘king’. M. L. West (1978, 216–217) on Works and Days 240 pertinently cites Iliad 1.408–410 on King Agamemnon’s offense and its consequences for the people—they are the result of Apollo’s mênis, discussed in detail below, Chapter 4—as well as Hesiod fr. 30 MW, which describes the way the people (λαοί) of the hubristic King Salmoneus were thunderbolted on account of his offenses (he acted as and claimed to be the thunderer himself). I agree with Chantraine about the consistency of these epic passages with the Hesiodic tradition, but I contend that they are not therefore incompatible with the Homeric world view. On the contrary, I present the sequential relation between Homeric mênis and the Hesiodic tradition in Chapter 3.
[ back ] 19. Just as giving alms is merely a particular case of obligatory, reciprocal gift. See Mauss 1967, 10–12.
[ back ] 20. Turpin 1988, 257 n. 40; Watkins 1977.
[ back ] 21. See above, Chapter 1, for the distance between Zeus and the other gods and his attempts to make Demeter return to the phûla theôn ‘class of the gods’. For the social alienation of Achilles in his mênis, see below, Chapter 5.
[ back ] 22. See above, Chapter 1, 18–23.
[ back ] 23. Jenny Strauss Clay 1983, 51, 186–212, who has brought attention to the reference to Athena’s mênis in the Odyssey (3.135), believes that Odysseus by himself was responsible for Athena’s wrath. See below, 46–47 and n. 44.
[ back ] 24. See Watkins 1977, 201–203.
[ back ] 25. For the equivalence of suppliants and guests, see Muellner 1976, 87–88.
[ back ] 26. This oath deserves comparison, in both diction and theme, with the oath of Achilles on the scepter in Iliad 1.233–244.
[ back ] 27. Compare the use of the same stem for Agamemnon’s attempt to appease the mênis of Athena, Odyssey 3.145, ὡς τὸν Ἀθηναίης δεινὸν χόλον ἐξακέσαιτο, “so that he might completely cure the dreaded anger [khólos] of Athena,” where the word khólos is functioning as a synonym of mênis. Mênis is the explicit term for her anger at 3.135. This is an instance of the use of khólos to cross-refer to mênis: see Chapter 4, 111, n. 43.
[ back ] 28. On the problems of the proem, see Nagler 1990. I shall return to the overarching significance of the télos ‘outcome, end result’ in mythological narrative in Chapter 3.
[ back ] 29. For the connection between mênis and philótēs see below, Chapter 5.
[ back ] 30. For the notion of numbing the powerful emotions associated with collective loss and death by the instillation of forgetfulness, compare the Hesiodic description of Memory, the mother of the Muses λησμοσύνην τε κακῶν ἄμπαυμά τε μερμηράων, “forgetfulness of evils and ceasing of woes” [Theogony 55]) and Helen’s “antigrief medicine,” φάρμακον νηπενθές, which would keep people from shedding a tear even if they witnessed with their own eyes the death of “a brother or son by bronze” (Odyssey 4.225–226). For the relation between Helen’s medicine and the Muses’, see Clader 1976. The parallels imply that something approaching enchantment is required for the suitors’ kin to relinquish a sense of solidarity with their slain relatives. There is perhaps a reflexive reference here to the function of the Odyssey itself.
[ back ] 31. See above, Chapter 1, 10–18.
[ back ] 32. For this translation of nóstos, see Frame 1978.
[ back ] 33. For another non-Iliadic feature of the massacre of the suitors, see Muellner 1976, 96.
[ back ] 34. The observation of the existence of such contrastive semantics for the same words in the Iliad as against the Odyssey goes back at least as far as Aristarchus’s view that the word δαΐφρων means one thing in the Iliad and another in the Odyssey. For more on the use of ἀτασθαλίῃσιν, see Clay 1983, 36–37. For more on contextual differentiation of diction in the Iliad as against the Odyssey, see Nagy 1974b, 138–139, on the word θεοείκελος; the restricted meaning it has in the Iliad, which is reflected in Sappho 44 (L-P), is not reflected in the Odyssey.
[ back ] 35. Again, see Douglas 1966, 129–139; see above, Chapter 1, 26–28.
[ back ] 36. On the structural distinctions between the Theogony and the Works and Days, see Slatkin 1987. In Chapter 3, I explore the relation of the Iliad to the principles of world maintenance set forth in the Theogony.
[ back ] 37. On the sequence rules of mythical narrative, see below, Chapter 3.
[ back ] 38. Nagy 1979, 78 and sec. 8 n. 2.
[ back ] 39. On this process, see Nagy 1979, 15–25. See also the forthcoming work of Walsh (based on his 1989 dissertation) and its portrayal of Odysseus as the man of kótos, as against the mênis of Achilles.
[ back ] 40. For the relationship between the words noḗmōn ‘intelligent’ and nóstos ‘homecoming’ in passages such as this one, see Frame 1978. Frame finds that a special sort of initiatory insight is required to achieve the “return to light and life” in a series of mythological contexts; these myths support and flesh out the notion that these two Greek words were derivatives of the same Indo-European root *nes– ‘return to light and life’. On two other occasions, persons incurring mênis are said to lack nóos ‘intelligence’ (Iliad 1.343, 15.129; cf. 5.761).
[ back ] 41. Although some hesitate to translate the word δίκαιος as ‘just’ in Homeric epic, there is no doubt that the traditional language is referring here to the kind of action that incurs mênis, which is not only foolish but also against what is thémis (for instance, compare the words used to characterize the behavior of Ares (Ιliad 5.761): ἄφρονα τοῦτον … ὃς οὔ τινα οἶδε θέμιστα, “this mindless one … who does not know any cosmic rule [= thémis]”). Thus, Homeric diction is consistent with the terminology in Hesiod for just and unjust behavior, where there is no hesitation to translate δίκαιος as ‘just’ (compare Theogony 216 in context, and see above, notes 15 and 18).
[ back ] 42. For a series of parallels to the way in which the Odyssey presents variants of the quarrel that is the starting point of our Iliad, see Nagy 1979. The way in which Zeus seconds Athena in her wrath is typical of the special intimacy between the two that is built into the epithet she receives here (ὀβριμοπάτρη ‘daughter of a mighty father’) and reflected in the behavior of the two in the assemblies of the first and the fifth book of the Odyssey. The basis of Athena’s intimacy with Zeus is her relationship to him as mother to son—in which Zeus is the ersatz mother and Athena the ersatz son (to be discussed in detail in Chapter 3). The gender skewing makes the relationship between them noncompetitive; in other words, they can be close because Athena does not threaten Zeus’s sovereignty as a male son would have. The same issue lies in the background for Achilles, who might have replaced Zeus if his mother, Thetis, had not wed Peleus. See below, Chapter 5, Slatkin 1986; and Holway 1989. The close relationship between Zeus and Achilles depends on the relationship between Zeus and Thetis, as book 1 of the Iliad makes clear; in other words, Achilles is an ersatz son of Zeus, like Athena.
[ back ] 43. She behaves like a father to him, but also she has contrived things so that Telemachus reminds himself of his father and vice versa. As explained in Nagy 1974b, 266–269, Men tēs’ purpose is formulated as putting ménos ‘mental energy’ and thársos ‘courage’ inside Telemachus and Athena/Mentes “reminded [hupémnēsen] him of his father more than before” (Odyssey 1.320–322).
[ back ] 44. Clay 1983. Odysseus’s long-delayed return may also correlate with a failure of intelligence and with divine mênis. See note 23, above.
[ back ] 45. On the theme of the transfert du mal, see Nagy 1976.
[ back ] 46. For more on this passage and the overall trajectory of Achilles’ mênis, see below, Chapter 5.
[ back ] 47. “Sacrificial offering” is the consistent meaning of the substantive ἱρά in epic; Aeneas offers the violation of a ritual tabu as a typical provocation of divine mênis. Even so, the language and the context in which it lies cannot be said to rule out a reference to the abduction of Helen. Aeneas may be willfully vague: there is an exact parallel that features the same willful vagueness (‘‘a prayer” or “a sacrifice”) concerning the well-known cause of a god’s mênis in Iliad 1.64–65. On the other hand, the parallel itself suggests that desecrated prayers or sacrifices are in fact generic causes of mênis.
[ back ] 48. See above, 30–31, 47; for more on mênis as a tabu word in itself, see below, Chapter 4, 124 n. 65 and the Appendix.
[ back ] 49. For Marcel Mauss’s definition of this term, see 36 with note 17.
[ back ] 50. Goods in the archaic societies reflected in the Indo-European language comprise movable and immovable property, in other words, animals and people, on the one hand, and what we call objects, on the other. On this distinction and its survival in Greek epic, see, for example, Benveniste 1969, 1:37–45.
[ back ] 51. For an attempt to link such features as the end of the Odyssey to a politically evolving reality, see Seaford 1994, 30–73. From my standpoint, the télos of the Odyssey is not an appendage but a goal inherent in its beginning (on the teleological nature of mythical thought, see Chapter 3). Moreover, I am skeptical of term-to-term (as opposed to system-to-system) correspondences between an epic text and external reality, since the myth is as much a coherent system as the society without. Social behavior in epic has the epic itself as its frame of reference, not the external reality (see also Chapter 3, 61 note 20). But I am in hearty sympathy with Seaford’s assumptions about multiformity and his effort to bring to light the relationship between an evolving version of the epic and its social context.