@3. The Narrative Sequence of the Hesiodic Theogony

3. The Narrative Sequence of the Hesiodic Theogony

The purpose of this chapter is to articulate the relationship between the Hesiodic Theogony and mênis, the starting point of the Homeric Iliad. The existence of a global relationship between these poetic traditions has already been postulated by Laura Slatkin, who has described its essential content. [1] Formal criteria also give us reasons to suspect the existence of links between the Hesiodic Theogony and the Homeric epics. Hermann Koller has shown that the Theogony has the structure of an expanded, even an overdeveloped prooímion ‘prelude, song to precede another song’. [2] So the question suggests itself: prooímion to what? This chapter is an attempt to explore the possibility that an expanded prooímion like our Theogony had an outsized epic, an Iliad, as its sequel in potential performance and that in understanding both poetic traditions in themselves and in their relationship to each other the notion of sequence in performance is key. [3] {52|53}
Sequence in performance is not the usual approach to such a subject. For instance, an especially fruitful anthropological theory for the analysis of mythological narratives, that of Claude Lévi-Strauss, is based on a repudiation of the cognitive value of the sequential (or syntagmatic) dimension of mythical narrative. [4] He asserted that meaning arose in myth not in the horizontal dimension, not in the relation between the components of myth over the course of narrative time, but in the vertical dimension, in the persistent structure of their relation to one another at any given moment in time. In other words, the myth must be read the way an orchestral score is, vertically, not horizontally, to apprehend the harmonic relation between the notes that the instruments are playing at each moment. The formulation and the analogy are both strange, since people apprehend and derive pleasure from the sequence in a musical performance. Indeed, the sequence of notes is a critical aspect of musical form even for the most elaborate polyphony. In a different sequence, the music is either another piece or noise. Counterpoint demands the chronological dimension in order to be apprehended in the first place, on the principle that the apprehension of harmonies, like that of notes or colors, is fundamentally a matter of differentiation in context. The order of events has similar constitutive and identifying functions in narrative, mythological or not. Yet the rules for such sequences have been a nonsubject, as though they were inaccessible to analysis, trivial, or self-evident.
At issue is the whole “logic” of the movement from one event, one episode, to the next. For the analysis of this logic we now have a complementary anthropological model in the work of Pierre-Yves Jacopin, whose syntactic analysis of a single myth from one small-scale society in the Colombian Amazon is in marked contrast to the theoretically endless, constantly ramifying study of mythical variants that typifies the work of Lévi-Strauss. [5] I refer the reader to Jacopin’s exemplary study for a fully developed instance of the theory and practice of syntactic analysis. At the risk of oversimplifying his work, my point of departure for an application of its results will be the formal rules for the relation between episodes. According {53|54} to Jacopin, the myth has both a syntagmatic and a paradigmatic axis, and the “logic” of episodic transition along the syntagmatic axis is a fundamental aspect of mythical performance. That logic is metonymic: the relation of one episode to the next is like that of one stanza to the next in a nursery rhyme such as “The House that Jack Built.” [6] With a kind of perfect economy, each element generated in one episode of the myth is preserved, assumed, and subsumed in the next episode, which then bases all its elements on the existence in sequence of the elements generated in the previous ones, such that the last episode, logically if not explicitly, incorporates the whole sequence. Each episode of a myth is something like a hollow wooden doll that can be taken apart to reveal a smaller doll within; that smaller doll, in turn, contains another even smaller doll, and so forth. In the same way each episode in a myth can reveal its metonymic relationship to previous ones by recapitulating them, and such recapitulation is a narrative tendency, if not a constant, of mythical performance. Nor is it important to decide once and for all what constitutes an episode. As disturbing as it may seem, what is needed is just a reasonable, functional demarcation of units that can be subject to analysis, for it must be admitted that the analysis of a myth is heuristic, not an exact science that arrives at some definitive and unitary truth.
Concrete examples of these abstract formulations are forthcoming. After a sample analysis of the beginning of the Theogony, I propose to apply this model to the myth of Zeus’s succession in the hope of clarifying its unfolding meaning, its sequential relationship to the Iliad tradition, and ultimately, the relation of both the Theogony and the Iliad to the social context of their performance.
From a syntactic standpoint, mythical thought is above all teleological. The narrative is intended to justify the situation that obtains at its conclusion. So while the trajectory of the performed mythical narrative is linear, its goal is always uppermost in mind. That it is explains, at least in conceptual terms, why the prooímion to the Theogony can summarize its retelling by the Muses either forward, in performance sequence (45–51, etc.) or backward, in thought sequence (11–21). [7] Likewise, my metaphorical hollow {54|55} doll can be conceived either as the largest one that contains all the others in decreasing order of size or as the sequence of dolls in increasing size that constitute it. The Theogonic myth has as its goal the creation of the world and the establishment of the kingship of Zeus over gods and men; in turn, it actually represents an emergent, not a permanent or rigid, solution to a set of problems that do not thereby disappear forever. As we shall see, the teleology of this particular myth can in turn become metonymized—it should be clear that I am calling metonymic an incorporating relation between elements over time, not within the same time frame in the accustomed sense of the term—into the starting point of another myth that is its conceptual sequel.
From the standpoint of a syntactic analysis, the teleological aspect of the myth exists on a smaller scale as well. Although it may at first seem vacuous to say so, each episode provides what is necessary for the next episode to occur. As Jacopin puts it, “Any sequence is the consequence of the one that precedes and the cause of the one that follows.” [8] It is also clear that such a system of thought cannot have a starting point for the origin of the world that we might consider a logical point of departure. To put it more concretely, since a myth cannot begin with a logical “zero,” it must begin with a logical “one.” In the Theogony, which recounts the beginnings of the world, the starting point is the birth of a featureless being. Unlike the other primordial beings, the primordial Chaos, meaning “Gap” or “Chasm,” has no epithets or descriptive phrases applied to it, and it is born from no parent (Theogony 116). Although this Gap may appear to us to be an empty space that the subsequent cosmogony will fill and so replace, at line 814 Chaos turns out to be located in the depths of Tartaros, with the hideous Titans situated on the far side of it. So Chaos is still there, now as part of an emerged cosmos. Instead of being filled and so replaced, it has only been displaced and bounded by the things and creatures generated since the beginning. [9] Chaos {55|56} is not at all a zero or a name for nothingness. Yet from another, contrasting standpoint, that of cosmogonic myths in small-scale societies, the parentless birth of featureless Gap as a starting point for the emergence of the phenomenal world strangely resembles a conceptual zero, though it assuredly falls short of being one. [10] In fact the Theogony otherwise betrays concern about its starting point: It begins with its own prooímion, a hymn to the Muses, even though it is apparently itself a prooímion, and this prooímion to a prooímion keeps on stopping, starting again (not less than three times [35, 53, 104]), and retelling three times in summary the myth it is about to perform before it actually begins to do so. At one of these stopping points, after going back to the story of his initiation (sic) as a poet, the poet says: ἀλλὰ τίη μοι ταῦτα περὶ δρῦν ἢ περῖ πέτρην “But why do I have these things about the oak and the rock?” Gregory Nagy has convincingly interpreted this question as a reference to inherited myths about the birth of humankind from oaks or rocks struck by a thunderbolt; in his formulation, the poet is “asking why he has lingered at the beginning of beginnings.” [11] This is not yet the place to try to account in detail for these postponements of the beginning of the myth; for the moment, I merely point out that a metonymic, syntactic way of thinking, in which a given state of affairs is always justified by a previous one and which lacks our concept of zero, might have trouble initiating a tale that is actually about “the beginning of beginnings.”
Once the cosmogonic myth begins, it takes the form of a genealogical catalog with narrative digressions. Actually, these digressions occur only when the procreative processes that generate the world are disturbed or interrupted, and they explain how those processes are restored so that the genealogical format and the procreative processes it recounts can resume. In fact, there are two kinds of narrative: genealogical and nongenealogical on the way to becoming genealogical again. We may not be in the habit of thinking of genealogy as narrative, but it certainly is that, and it contains mythical thought just as nongenealogical narrative does. [12] {56|57}
In fact, the sequence in a genealogy carries meaning in the same way as the sequence in a narrative. For instance, the cosmogony in the Theogony begins with the parentless birth of a featureless Chaos; it is immediately followed by a list of three other beings whose birth or parents are also not spoken of, though they are endowed with features and attributes that make sense only in terms of their ultimate place in the created world—in other words, in terms of their teleology in the myth: broad-breasted Earth, safe home of all the Olympian gods, misty Tartarus, beneath the ground, and Eros, most beautiful of gods, limb-loosing dominator of the minds of all gods and all men (117–122). So the myth is once again looking forward and backward at once.
Chaos is clearly first (prṓtista ‘first of all’, not just prôton ‘first’) and distinct from these others, who constitute a group among themselves. If Chaos is a kind of tangible nullity that is a precondition for creation, the other three are unparented initial entities that existed along with it. The first of them is Gaia ‘Earth’, followed by Tartarus ‘Underground’. In traditional poetic diction, Earth is an adjectival genitive of Tartarus, [13] “Tartarus of Earth,” as though it were not inside it but part of it or at least next to it; here, in the primordial state before such a metonymic relationship to Earth has come about, Tartarus is presented as a separate entity, no more “a part of” Earth than Eros; so in the next generation, each has its own distinctive offspring. Nevertheless it belongs here and comes after Earth precisely because of its subsequent adjectival relationship to it, in order both to explain or justify that relationship and to express a categorical distinction between it and Earth. Tartarus does not and cannot belong to Earth, cannot be “a child of Earth” like Mountains or like Sky. Instead, it is Earth’s secondary and contrastive peer, another primordial place associated with it but having a distinctive identity from it—not its child, not its parent, not its sibling. Ultimately, what is being articulated here in precise and concrete terms is the conceptual disjunction between what will eventually become the land of the living and what will eventually become the land of the dead. Finally, the last primordial principle is Eros. In a cosmogonic system in which, aside from these initial beings, there is no creation distinct from {57|58} procreation, the sexual principle is a sine qua non, and therefore it is last in the first series of created beings. Not a spatial entity like the others, it is what has to preexist so that the process of procreation, which has not yet begun and is about to begin, actually can begin. In other words, since the previous entities (including Eros) were not produced by procreation, and since all subsequent entities will be produced by it, Eros could not be situated anywhere else in the genealogy.
This explanation for the place of Eros in the sequence is not contradicted by the fact that both Chaos’s and Earth’s first procreative act is without a partner. Until each of them generates at least one match (Chaos: Night and Darkness; Earth: Sky and itself), there can be no heterosexual procreation. So the underlying metonymic sequence is: birth (Chaos, Earth, Tartarus, Eros), birth-from-one (Night, Darkness, Sky), birth-from-pair. [14] The Hesiodic notion of sexual reproduction does not exclude procreation by a female entity without a male, only (and radically) its opposite, procreation by a male without a female; but that is not what is at issue here, in this primordial state of the world. Until there are matched pairs, it is not even proper to speak of male and female: both Chaos and Earth are as yet of indeterminate sex. That Eros is prior in sequence to birth-from-one and not intermediate between birth-from-one and birth-from-pair, as we might expect it to be, signifies that sex is a precondition for and a part of procreation, whether the birth is from one or two. To put it another way, since they procreate, Chaos and Earth are of indeterminate (or still undifferentiated) sex, not lacking in sex. [15]
We are witnessing, then, in these initial genealogies not just the birth of primordial beings, but the creation of procreation itself. If this metonymic creation of procreation had not been a goal, the first two creatures born {58|59} might have been, for instance, a sexually contrasting pair like Sky and Earth, who could then begin procreating immediately. I also note that this metonymic process is similar to but by no means identical with a progressive, evolutionary process. As in the psychoanalytic concept of human psychological development or in the image of the smaller dolls inside the larger ones, the earlier manifestations are not eradicated or rendered obsolete by the later ones; on the contrary, later ones incorporate the former, which remain accessible, active constituents of reality and experience.
The foregoing discussion is a small example of a syntactic analysis of a short mythical discourse. It respects the coherence and integrity of the narrative and attempts to discover the consistent “logic” and significant thought processes behind its sequencing rather than to impose a concept or a metaphor on it from our perspective. [16] The sense of the narrative would be destroyed or drastically altered if the sequence were changed, just as the sense of any story would be if the episodes were told out of order. [17] In contrast to a structural analysis of myth, the survival of a myth’s variants over time and space is not obligatory to recover meaning in a syntactic analysis. The unfolding of the discourse itself provides at least an initial context in which the sense of the myth can arise. It is only an initial context, however, since the analysis of a myth should answer to the myth’s functions in ever broader contexts. Such a method of analysis also requires that the myth’s individual episodes be defined within the context of the whole myth; that the whole myth be defined in its performance context, perhaps necessitating explication of its relationship to other myths; and finally, that the performance itself be defined within the social setting in which it functions. {59|60}

The First Narrative Episode of the Theogony

It should be possible to undertake an analysis of the entire genealogical content of the Theogony along these lines, but that is not my goal. Instead, I propose to discuss the episodes in which the process of procreation here initiated and defined is transformed, disturbed, or interrupted, since those episodes relate directly to my overall theme. Without prejudice to any general theory of the structure of the poem, I consider the first episode to occupy lines 154–210, on the simple grounds that the narrative immediately before and after these lines has the form of a genealogical catalog, but lines 154–210 do not. [18] Moreover, form echoes function: the genealogical catalog is suspended in these lines because the procreative process itself is first arrested and then restored in them. [19] The narrative begins by expanding upon a descriptive detail in the foregoing genealogical catalog about Kronos, the youngest (hoplótatos) of the first group of children born to Earth (Gaia) and Sky (Ouranos), namely, that he was “the most dreadful (deinótatos) of children, and he hated his swelling [θαλερόν] sire” (138). At lines 154–155 it turns out that all of the children of Earth and Sky are most dreadful (deinótatoi ), and the hatred that Kronos felt for Sky is reciprocated by him for all his children. In other words, the hatred and dread between Kronos and Sky are only a metonym of the reciprocal hatred and dread {60|61} between this, the first father, and all his children. No prior cause is provided for this hatred and dread (ἤχθηρε of Kronos [138] ἤχθοντο of the children to Sky [155]), and none is needed; they are a given aspect of the primordial family ἐξ ἀρχῆς, “right from the start” [156]), the point of departure of this myth, like the birth of Chaos in the cosmogonic myth. The hatred also stands in fundamental contrast to the philótēs ‘sexual desire’ but also ‘love’ (177) that Sky evinces for Gaia. [20] Whenever one of his children is born (γένοιτο [156]), Sky hides it away (ἀποκρύπτασκε) and does not allow it “into the light” (ἐς φάος [157]). Being let forth into the light is elsewhere a metaphorical expression for birth, as the absence of persons from the light is equivalent to their death. [21] The apparent contradiction between the children’s birth and their not being let into the light is explained by the place in which Sky puts his children, “a hiding-place of Earth,” Γαίης ἐν κευθμῶνι (158). In other words, once they are born, he returns them to a physical feature of their mother that has the symbolic value of a womb or a tomb. Their confinement within their mother causes her pain and sorrow (159–60). The language suggests both the pain of pressure and confinement associated with childbirth and grief at death (στοναχίζω, στείνομαι). Sky has put Earth in a continuous, deadly state of childbirth, with maximum pain and without issue or end. The children’s death is impossible, but Sky’s acts are an attempt to invent death for his immortal children.
This bad deed devised by Sky is a source of pleasure to him (158), in stark contrast to the horrible suffering it causes Earth. [22] She reciprocates by contriving a bad and crafty device of her own, first generating the “family of adamant” [23] and then fashioning a great sickle from it. The devising of adamant {61|62} is already a metonymic antidote to Sky’s reversal of procreation, since it is a kind of generation from within Earth; moreover, Earth then fabricates something from it, the sickle (in fact, both of her actions here are the first instances of an important principle later in the myth, namely, the symbolic equation of the cunning creation of crafted things with the procreation of children). She then presents the sickle to her children and exhorts them to pay back their father for his prior outrageous acts (164–166).
Her speech offers no instructions on the use of this dangerous tool, but her children are all seized by dread [24] —all except Kronos, whose standard epithet, ἀγκυλομήτης ‘curved-[or crooked-]plotter’, is given here. [25] It refers to his devious cunning, which is in evidence in what follows and is analogous to the cleverly devised curved tool invented by his creative and procreative mother. [26] He promises her to carry out the deed, and she hides (κρύψασα [174]) him in ambush (in itself a cunning strategy that repays Sky’s hiding of his children, 157) with the sickle. She also provides him with the tricky tutoring proper to an adolescent being initiated into adulthood (δόλον δ᾿ ὑπεθήκατο πάντα [175]). [27] It is no coincidence, then, that such a transition to adulthood is often symbolized as a rebirth, since the act {62|63} Kronos is about to perform is a counteraction to his own and his siblings’ “un-birth.” [28]
Once Kronos is instructed, Sky comes. [29] In his desire for sex, he embraces Earth and extends himself everywhere (ἐτανύσθη πάντῃ [177–178]). At this point, Kronos seizes him from ambush with his left hand and with the huge, toothed sickle in his right hand he “hurriedly harvested [sic] the genitals [μήδεα] from his dear [φίλου] father” (180–181). [30] He throws them away behind him, and not without issue: here the first part of the episode ends and procreation is about to resume in dramatic fashion.
Let me recapitulate the metonymic logic of the myth so far. The point of departure for this episode is the reciprocal, primordial (ἐξ ἀρχῆς) hatred and dread between Sky and the children born from Earth and himself. As each of these children is born, he hides it from the light in a hiding place within their mother causing her pain and grief: it is a womb to which he returns them as if to a tomb. This action on Sky’s part is described by Earth as a bad, unseemly trick that must be paid for. It also arrests the procreative process that is the business of this poem; thus, it is not surprising if her repayment takes the form of much more tricky actions that are at the same time fertile. She generates adamant from within herself, as though it were a child hidden within her, and craftily makes it into a sickle, a tool for harvesting. She then gives it to her youngest and most devious son, along with tricky instructions, and hides him, in turn, in ambush. When Sky, hankering for sex in the evening, stretches himself around Earth, Kronos stretches out his arms from ambush and literally ‘harvests’, ἤμησε, with the sickle, his father’s μήδεα, a word that means ‘genitals’ and at the same time ‘cunning plans’. [31] Its root verb, μήδομαι, was the verb Earth used to describe Sky’s devious, provocative actions in the first place (166). Compare:

πρότερος γὰρ ἀεικέα μήσατο ἔργα
he [Ouranos] was the first to devise unseemly deeds

(166) {63|64}
φίλου δ’ ἀπὸ μήδεα πατρὸς / ἐσσυμένως ἤμησε
he [Kronos] harvested his father’s genitals/devisings
The castration of the father by his youngest son is a tricky act by a devious child with the help of a crafty tool devised by his cunning mother. Once he has acted, procreation resumes, first metonymically, from just the drops of the blood of Ouranos’s harvested genitals falling upon Earth like semen or seeds; after a gestation period, Earth produces the Erinyes, spirits of vengeance, then the fully armed warriors with far-shadowing spears called Giants (their mythical variants are the Spartoi, the “sown” warriors who spring up full-grown from the Earth); and then the Meliai, ash-tree nymphs, ash being the hard and heavy wood used for warriors’ spears. Giants are nothing more or less than walking spears, and the Meliai are their female counterparts; the paradox in the generation of anything at all from the blood of a castration is heightened and also explained and even compensated for by the spear’s symbolic value as a warrior male’s projectile cut from a female tree that springs from the Earth. But the ultimate paradox is the climax of the episode: the birth and maturing from the severed male genitals themselves, in combination with the sea, an element that is otherwise characterized as sterile and fruitless (in contrast to the Earth), [33] of none other than Aphrodite, the cunning goddess of sex and desire. The embodiment of female sexuality and fertility is born in an overt paradox from a violent act that should epitomize the vulnerability of male sexuality but is actually represented as a reciprocal, fruitful act undertaken by the mother and her youngest son consorting in trickery to restore fertility. {64|65}
To prove the efficacy of the myth’s solution to Sky’s trick, the mythological poem returns at line 211 to the form of a genealogical catalog. Nothing direct is said at the end of the episode about the liberation of Kronos’s siblings from their hiding place; nor is anything mentioned about the physical separation of Earth from Sky that some consider the goal of the castration myth. [34] This is because the myth is not (or is no longer) concerned with either; its focus is on undoing Sky’s strategy of exercising his male sexual prerogative at the expense of female procreation. It concludes with Sky’s naming of his children as a group, in implicit acknowledgment of their birth, but he calls them Titans because of their overreaching (ti-tain-ontas [209]) and their bad deed (μέγα ῥέξαι / ἔργον [209–210]) and because of the payment (tí-sis) that will eventually result. We need not be surprised that the big reach of Kronos (ὠρέξατο [178]) is here extended to his peers. This instance of social solidarity is nothing more than the principle of metonymy (Kronos = the Titans) applying in a way that is no longer intuitive either socially or cognitively speaking. [35] It is worth emphasizing that instead of arresting the birth of his and Earth’s children, Sky’s strategy costs him his sexual prerogative altogether. At the moment, he is the one who pays by having his genitals cut off, harvested, and reborn into Aphrodite, the principle of procreative sex herself. Sky’s attempt to suppress female sexuality in favor of male sexuality is a turn in a game of all or nothing, in which the only result of Sky’s action can be its complete reversal. Female sexuality displaces male sexuality, as male had displaced female. That is the impeccable and extreme logic of the transformation of Sky’s severed genitals into the feminine sexual principle herself (his mere castration would not have been enough!). But the story is not over, as Sky implies. The transactions, the metonymic sequences of payment and repayment, have only begun.
In discussing the prooímion to the Theogony, which qua prelude to a prelude as well as in its repeated stops and starts betrays concern about the difficulty of beginning, I mentioned the inherent difficulty of finding a starting point in a metonymic system of thought. Each step in the sequence {65|66} is built upon a previous one, but the absolutely first step has nothing prior to build upon. The same difficulty is reflected in the conception and representation of the ultimate beginnings of the world; likewise here, in this first episode of the poem, the first extended generation of created beings undergoes a similar start and stop before it is finally “brought to light” (the light for them to be brought into having been created in the prior generation [124]). We have also seen a formal analogy between the cosmological and the poetic process present in it as well: the beginning of the episode is marked by the suspension of the genealogical catalog, and the end by its resumption, so that the actual form of the poem, whether genealogical or narrative, is implicitly at issue in the myth’s first episode. Nor is it a coincidence that Ouranos closes off the story by naming and then etymologizing the name of his children (καλέεσκε … φάσκε [207–211]). In an irrevocable acknowledgment of their birth and a last expression of his hostility to them (παῖδας νεικείων, “insulting his children” [208]), Ouranos is here putting the seal on this episode by assuming and resuming the genealogical poet’s conventional name-listing and name-justifying function. [36] Ouranos’s castration has in fact liberated the teleological nominalism of the genealogical poet, who had also been stuck at the beginning of beginnings. There now exists a starting point in terms of form (a nongenealogical style) and in terms of content (a nonprocreative father) to build upon and against. In other words, the cosmogonic poem has, among other things, actually provided us with a genealogy of narrative itself, in the specific context of the initiation of genealogy itself.

Learning Metonymically, Part 1

When procreation resumes at line 211, it returns to the offspring of Night, as though her solitary generative processes, begun at 125, had been interrupted by the coupling of the primordial procreative pair, Earth and Sky. Actually, as noted, just enough of her children were born to enable the story of the first family’s disturbed procreation to take place. Right after that story is over, important creatures for the next episode of the myth, which does not take place for several hundred lines, are born into the world: first among them (211–12) are Moros ‘Fate’, Ker ‘Doom’, and {66|67} Thanatos ‘Death’, who are soon followed (217) by the Moirai ‘Fates’ and the Keres ‘Dooms’. Again, the logic of the sequence is metonymic. First the concrete entities are generated, then the divinities who preside over them. We have already seen how Sky’s actions toward his children are a prefiguring of death, in which created beings are relegated to the space below the earth and cannot emerge; the issues raised in the episode as a whole about the limits on behavior seem to justify the generation of all these creatures. Their birth prompts the narrative to look ahead, with the teleological perspective I have remarked on, to their ultimate function:

αἵ τ’ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε παραιβασίας ἐφέπουσιν,
οὐδέ ποτε λήγουσι θεαὶ δεινοῖο χόλοιο,
πρίν γ’ ἀπὸ τῷ δώωσι κακὴν ὄπιν, ὅστις ἁμάρτῃ.

goddesses who track the missteps of mortals and gods
and never cease their terrible anger,
until they pay evil vengeance [37] in return to anyone who misses the mark.


Mortals have not yet come into the world, and we have no explicit instance as yet of a god’s misstep (παραιβασία [220]), but this brief excursus on the function of the Moirai and Keres is suggestive by virtue of its context and content: it immediately follows Sky’s statement (210) about the ultimate (μετόπισθεν) repayment that awaits the Titans for their ἀτασθαλία ‘recklessness, folly’. [38]

When the next episode of the succession myth does begin, at line 459, the language of this passage is in fact instantiated for a second time. The first instance was when Earth told her children to pay (τεισαίμεθα) back the outrage of their reckless (ἀτασθάλου) father (164–165). In general, naming is a metonymic process in which key actions or concepts are not nameable (as in 220–222) until they occur concretely. It is as though a definition in action must precede an appropriate naming. For instance, immediately {67|68} after the genealogical catalog of the children of Kronos and Rhea, the narrative of the second episode begins with the information that Kronos gulped down (κατέπινε [459]) his children as each of them emerged from its mother’s womb to her knees; and we are told that Kronos did so in order that he might not lose the “king’s privilege” (βασιληΐδα [462]). [39] J.-P. Vernant and Marcel Detienne understand this to mean that Kronos was the first king in the history of the world, and they can point to mythical and cultic evidence in Hesiod and elsewhere that strongly associates Kronos with kingship. [40] Ouranos, they claim, is nowhere a king in Hesiod, although Apollodorus’s summary of the Theogony makes him the first in a series of three (Ouranos, Kronos, then Zeus). Yet it is clear that Ouranos is a paterfamilias like Kronos, and that Kronos in several ways emulates him in the assertion of his power. [41] I suggest that Ouranos is a kind of king who is both a zero and a one, a proto-king and a non-king at once, just as Chaos is a primordial entity who is positively nothing. Ouranos is a father whose children are not actually born until he loses his gonads and a patriarch with no family to preside over until the very moment when he is displaced by his successor. When the concept of king concretely recurs, as it does in the case of Kronos in the second episode—and it is no coincidence that the word is not used of Kronos until then, when it is a question of his losing the title to the next generation—then the word “king” can be uttered, but not before. Perhaps this contention will be more convincing if I can point to more instances of the same conceptual movement from action to name. Clearly, {68|69} it applies only to key terms that the mythical narrative is concerned to define and justify; if it applied consistently to everything, could speech ever begin?
In any case, the first act of Kronos was to gulp down his children as each emerged from the nēdús ‘womb’ of its mother, Rhea, to her knees (460). Kronos gulps down his children; he does not eat them. The significance of this strange act is syntactic and not simply a matter of table manners. The word καταπίνω ‘swallow whole’ is used three times (459, 467, 473) to refer globally to what Kronos does to all the children. [42] For Zeus, the last-born child, for whom Rhea deceptively substitutes a swaddled stone, the poem uses the same word (497), but it also provides a more precise and specific description (487): τὸν τόθ’ ἑλὼν χείρεσσιν ἑὴν ἐσκάτθετο νηδύν, “then taking it [the stone] with his hands, he put it down into his own nēdús.‘‘
In other words, Kronos has a nēdús ‘womb’ as well as Rhea. When he swallows the children, he is doing something very similar to but significantly different from what his father, Ouranos, had done with him and his siblings: Ouranos had taken his children and put them back, once they were born, into a keuthmṓn ‘hiding place, hole, cave’ of Gaia, a physical feature of the earth that functions as a kind of proto-womb/tomb from which the children could not emerge into light. This reversal of Gaia’s procreative function was answered by Sky’s castration and the birth of Aphrodite. Kronos has learned from his father’s failure, of which he was the instrument. At the same time, the basic terms at issue have progressed and been transformed from the primordial spatial anatomy of Earth’s cave to the relatively anthropomorphic notion of nēdús. The anatomical reference of the word nēdús is uncertain, but two things about it are clear: it is more or less the same body part with the same function in both Kronos and Rhea, [43] {69|70} and it is a procreative attribute similar in function to the keuthmṓn of Gaia, [44] but evolved from it. The difference between a spatial womb/cave and a nēdús is another aspect of the myth’s metonymic logic, in that the personages of the myth now can operate within an emerged natural world and accordingly have body parts that are distinct from physical features of nature. So in order to preserve his masculine, kingly prerogative, whose existence is in itself a metonymic step forward from the blank role of Sky, Kronos is outdoing his father by reversing procreation and actually adopting for himself a female procreative function (concealment of the children before birth) because he now possesses within him a body part with procreation as its possible function. Ouranos had only reversed female procreation and asserted male sexuality at its expense, with the result that he was irreversibly detached from his male body part. By putting the children in his own nēdús, Kronos has turned the tables on Rhea and put himself in the position that the “winning” side had in the first episode of the myth. Though their father, he has hidden away the children inside himself! From this perspective, we can see yet another way in which Kronos’s stratagem is an incremental improvement over the first episode. Gaia had succeeded in restoring her procreative function by using her cunning and allying herself with her youngest male child, who was trapped within her. So it was an additive combination of female with male that defeated the exclusionary maleness of Ouranos. Kronos has gone one step further by cunningly combining male and female at once inside himself and in his own self to forestall his wife from doing the same. [45]
But in more ways than one, it is just another fruitless trick. Kronos’s preemptive strategy demands constant vigilance ( …οὐκ ἀλαοσκοπιὴν ἔχεν, ἀλλὰ δοκεύων / παῖδας ἑοὺς κατέπινε [466-467]), a measure of his cunning. [46] In {71|72} her grief at this clever new way of “unbirthing” her children, Rhea implores both parents to devise a (by implication, better) mêtis ‘cunning plan’ so that the birth of her last child, Zeus, will escape Kronos’s vigilance and so that she may repay (τείσαιτο) the erīnûs ‘furies, spirits of vengeance’ of her father, Sky, and of her swallowed children (472–473). [47] Two things are especially worth noting: this is the first instance of the common noun mêtis in the Theogony, a term of capital importance in the poem. Here is yet another instance of what I would call “metonymic nominalism,” the principle that a concept is nameable upon its recurrence, as against its first instance. Just as Kronos is a king in name, as against Ouranos, so the mêtis of Gaia in response to Kronos’s cunning trick is the first named mêtis. [48] Second, a single reactive ploy intended to repay the erīnûs of the prior and the future generation is represented as the first instance of “moral” retribution in the myth. Kronos’s repayment (τεισαίμεθα, “we could repay the hurt” [165]) of his father was a matter of directly reciprocating one bad deed with another. Here it is a matter not of directly repaying the hurt itself but of repaying agents or principles of repayment (the erīnûs) that emerged in nature as a result of Sky’s castration. [49] In fact, the fundamental terms of a reciprocal, punitive, self-justifying moral order are coming into existence and, now, into play in the world, as a stable sovereign order is established.
But how Rhea actually restores the moral order and defeats Kronos’s vigilance is not completely clear from the narrative, which is as follows: {71|72}

οἱ δὲ θυγατρὶ φίλῃ μάλα μὲν κλύον ἠδ’ ἐπίθοντο,
475καί οἱ πεφραδέτην, ὅσα περ πέπρωτο γενέσθαι
ἀμφὶ Κρόνῳ βασιλῆι καὶ υἱέι καρτεροθύμῳ·
πέμψαν δ’ ἐς Λύκτον, Κρήτης ἐς πίονα δῆμον,
ὁππότ’ ἄρ’ ὁπλότατον παίδων ἤμελλε τεκέσθαι,
Ζῆνα μέγαν· τὸν μέν οἱ ἐδέξατο Γαῖα πελώρη
480Κρήτῃ ἐν εὐρείῃ τρεφέμεν ἀτιταλλέμεναί τε.
ἔνθά μιν ἷκτο φέρουσα θοὴν διὰ νύκτα μέλαιναν,
πρώτην ἐς Λύκτον· κρύψεν δέ ἑ χερσὶ λαβοῦσα
ἄντρῳ ἐν ἠλιβάτῳ, ζαθέης ὑπὸ κεύθεσι γαίης,
Αἰγαίῳ ἐν ὄρει πεπυκασμένῳ ὑλήεντι.
485τῷ δὲ σπαργανίσασα μέγαν λίθον ἐγγυάλιξεν
Οὐρανίδῃ μέγ’ ἄνακτι, θεῶν προτέρων βασιλῆι.
τὸν τόθ’ ἑλὼν χείρεσσιν ἑὴν ἐσκάτθετο νηδύν,
σχέτλιος, οὐδ’ ἐνόησε μετὰ φρεσίν, ὥς οἱ ὀπίσσω
ἀντὶ λίθου ἑὸς υἱὸς ἀνίκητος καὶ ἀκηδὴς
490λείπεθ’, ὅ μιν τάχ’ ἔμελλε βίῃ καὶ χερσὶ δαμάσσας
τιμῆς ἐξελάαν, ὁ δ’ ἐν ἀθανάτοισιν ἀνάξειν.
καρπαλίμως δ’ ἄρ’ ἔπειτα μένος καὶ φαίδιμα γυῖα
ηὔξετο τοῖο ἄνακτος· ἐπιπλομένου δ’ ἐνιαυτοῦ,
Γαίης ἐννεσίῃσι πολυφραδέεσσι δολωθείς,
495ὃν γόνον ἂψ ἀνέηκε μέγας Κρόνος ἀγκυλομήτης,
νικηθεὶς τέχνῃσι βίηφί τε παιδὸς ἑοῖο.
πρῶτον δ’ ἐξήμησε λίθον, πύματον καταπίνων·

They really heard and obeyed their dear daughter,
475and the two of them revealed to her as many things as were destined
to happen to Kronos the king and his stout-hearted son:
they sent her to Luktos, to the rich land of Crete,
when she was about to give birth to the youngest of her children,
great Zeus; huge Earth received him
480in broad Crete to ripen and rear him.
There she came, bringing him through black night,
first to Luktos; taking him in her hands she hid him
in a steep cave, down in the caverns of earth,
in the wooded, covered Aigaian mountain.
485Then she swaddled a stone and handed it over to
the son of Ouranos, mighty king, lord of the former gods.
Then taking it with his hands he put it in his belly,
pitilessly, but he did not understand with his wits that {72|73}
instead of a stone his own son remained behind, undefeated and free from woe,
490soon to subdue him by violence and hands and
to drive him from his rank, and he in turn would rule among the immortals.
Starting right then the courage and shining limbs
of that lord grew; and as the year came round,
tricked by the clever instructions of Earth,
495great devious-devising Kronos let back up his own offspring,
defeated by the wiles and violent deeds of his own son.
First he vomited out the stone that he drank down last.


The first difficulty in this passage is stylistic. Instead of telling the story in linear fashion, it tells it teleologically; that is, it cannot keep from foretelling the conclusive events of each episode (477–480, 488–491) before it actually gets to them (481–486, 492–497ff.). This sort of sequencing is appropriate and even dramatic to an audience that knows and in fact anticipates the conclusion to its stories. As we have seen, it is also a typical feature of the metonymic style of thought, which is at once linear and goal oriented.

Indeed, in this case, it seems as though the poet is too interested in getting to the expected result. Commentators supply missing information from Apollodorus or the Orphic tradition about how Kronos was actually made to vomit up his children. [50] But the absence of such instrumental details is at least mitigated once we appreciate the reason for it. The birth of Zeus is like a stanza near the end of “The House that Jack Built” in that it explicitly recapitulates every step of the birth processes in the episodes that precede it. Zeus is born from his mother; then, like Kronos and his siblings, he is reinserted into the womb/cave/hiding place of Earth, and at the same time his father believes he is swallowing him down as he did Rhea’s other {73|74} children; then, by his own violence and cunning and with instruction in cunning from Gaia, exactly as in Kronos’s case, he overcomes his father and so frees himself and his siblings. [51] The myth is more interested in recapitulating all these steps than in presenting all the details. In other words, its concern is with the metonymic logic and consistency of the story, not “realism.” That logic demands that Zeus defeat his father by doing what the father had done and doing him one better: an act of concealment to outdo and undo Kronos’s concealment of his children within himself, namely, the concealment of a stone in swaddling clothes and of Zeus in Earth. The fact that Zeus’s way of restoring his siblings to the light is not explained but only named (νικηθεὶς τέχνῃσι βίηφί τε παιδὸς ἑοῖο, “defeated by the wiles and violent deeds of his own son” [496]) is another example of the metonymic “nominalism” I spoke of, whereby a notion such as kingship is capable of being named on the occasion of its second manifestation. Moreover, there is now a third in the series of verbal metonymies that mark the decisive steps in the progress of this myth. Previously noted were:

πρότερος γὰρ ἀεικέα μήσατο ἔργα
he [Ouranos] was the first to devise [ mḗsato ] unseemly deeds

φίλου δ’ ἀπὸ μήδεα πατρὸς / ἐσσυμένως ἤμησε
he [Kronos] harvested [ ḗmēse ] his father’s genitals/devisings
Now we have:

πρῶτον δ’ ἐξήμησε λίθον, πύματον καταπίνων
First he [Kronos] vomited out [ exḗmēse ] the stone that he gulpeddown last.

This is the only attested instance in Greek of an aorist of the root ἐμέω with its final –ε- lengthened to -η-; elsewhere the form is always ἤμεσα. [52] The line itself has a metonymic function, in that it evinces no need to speak of the subsequent vomiting of the other children: the freeing of one stone stands for the rest. It is unnecessary to add that the vomiting of the stone is Kronos’s repayment for the castration with which Kronos repaid his father Ouranos’s devious prior deed. Vomiting the stone also represents Kronos’s loss of sovereignty to Zeus as well as his defeat by him and by Gaia in a contest of trickery, but instead of losing his masculinity, as Ouranos had, he loses his attempt at femininity, his ability to conceal his own children in his nēdús. The additive, metonymic verbal progress from mḗsato to ḗmēse to exḗmēse echoes the metonymic learning process of the myth itself. The principle of feminine procreation, instanced here by no less than two female wombs for the youngest child, both Rhea’s and Gaia’s, wins out as before, but it must again be combined with the violence that apparently only males contribute. At least thus far, the myth evinces a rule of sexual difference that is expressible in terms of the Prague School distinction between marked and unmarked categories: females and males are both capable of exercising cunning, which is the unmarked member of the opposition, but only males are capable of exercising violence or physical force, the marked member of the opposition. [53] Each of the two qualities can be used either to foster or to prevent the procreation of children. Kronos’s attempt to prevent the birth of his successor by cleverly discovering his own infertile femininity is surpassed by the procreative cunning of the older generation combined with the decisive, if inexplicit, force and cunning of the newer generation—in other words, by a combination of male and female personages and attributes across generations. The underlying {75|76} goal is that the right mixture of violence with cunning, old with young, and male with female will someday produce the ultimate in cosmic power.
The poet’s next words present a problem:

λῦσε δὲ πατροκασιγνήτους ὀλοῶν ὑπὸ δεσμῶν,
Οὐρανίδας, οὓς δῆσε πατὴρ ἀεσιφροσύνῃσιν·
οἵ οἱ ἀπεμνήσαντο χάριν εὐεργεσιάων,
δῶκαν δὲ βροντὴν ἠδ’ αἰθαλόεντα κεραυνὸν
καὶ στεροπήν· τὸ πρὶν δὲ πελώρη Γαῖα κεκεύθει·
τοῖς πίσυνος θνητοῖσι καὶ ἀθανάτοισιν ἀνάσσει.

And he [Zeus] set free his father’s brothers from their destructive bonds,
the sons of Ouranos, whom their father [54] had bound;
they were grateful for his benevolent deeds
and gave him thunder and the blazing thunderbolt
and lightning; previously, huge Gaia had hidden that within herself:
trusting in them he rules over mortals and immortals.


The poet seems to be referring to the binding of the Cyclopes by their father (οὓς δῆσε πατήρ, “whom their father bound”) “as if he had already told the story,” [55] but it is not apparent that he has. A similar passage shortly hereafter (617ff.) alludes to the binding of the Hundred-Handers by Ouranos and Zeus’s subsequent release of them as well; in their gratitude, they become Zeus’s allies in the battle of the Olympians against the Titans. West adopts the solution of H. Buse to this apparent inconsistency. [56] Buse guessed that Hesiod “originally” conceived the story of the castration of Ouranos about the Titans alone, without including the Cyclopes or the Hundred-Handers in lines 139–146. That would explain why the “youngest child,” who is the hero of the episode, is the youngest of the Titans, not of all the children (Titans, Cyclopes, and Hundred-Handers are consistently distinguished in the text). Later, Buse continues, when the poet found that the story of Zeus required that the birth of the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers be told, he reintroduced them into the myth by having them born {76|77} at the same time as the Titans, not realizing that this adjustment created a new problem. For if they are born at the same time as the Titans, they are also imprisoned in Gaia along with them; and when the Titans are released after the castration of Ouranos, the audience assumes, as West puts it, that the “the castration which liberated the Titans would naturally also liberate anyone else concealed with them.” [57] We are asked, then, to believe that Hesiod had the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers born precisely in the middle of the story of the birth and imprisonment of the Titans by Ouranos, that he next speaks of them again in the context of their liberation from imprisonment by their father, but that he was unaware that his audience would think of them as imprisoned and therefore liberated along with the Titans. How could a poet be so unaware of what he was saying? This explanation accounts for one inconsistency by asking us to believe that it arose from the poet’s bumbling attempt to correct another (supposed) inconsistency and that the correction entailed an even worse inconsistency. One may wonder whether the poet was so inept or the explanation so faulty.

I doubt that there is an inconsistency here to begin with. At issue are both a metaphor and a metonym. The language of binding (usually with the words déō and desmós, but also with dámnēmi/damáō/damázō and pēdáō) is metaphoric for the “killing” of an immortal. The epic tradition can speak of a thunderbolt as binding a warrior (Iliad 13.434–437, etc.) just as the confinement of Ares to a bronze jar is binding (Iliad 5.385ff.) or the hiding of creatures from the light (underground, in a cave or hollow hiding place) is binding (Theogony 717–721; Pindar Pythian 1.27); so also their release (always with forms of the verb lúō) from bonds can be described as being brought to light, using the language of birth (Theogony 625–626). [58] The reference to the release of the Cyclopes and then the Hundred-Handers from binding is a precise allusion to their release from the hiding place within Earth in which Sky confined them in the first episode of the myth. [59] As to the {77|78} objection that they, too, must have been released from that prison by the castration of Ouranos, it depends on a physical or “cosmogonic” model for the interpretation of the first episode of the myth that it may once have had but that is no longer an explicit or a functional part of it. Sky’s castration is a metonymic event that is a symbolic antidote to his prevention of the birth of his children, as the birth of Aphrodite from his genitals shows; and just as Kronos himself, the youngest of the Titans, stands for his siblings, so is the castration itself tantamount to their liberation and no one else’s. Some scholars assert that Hesiod could or would or should have said “and so the Titans were freed; but the Cyclopes and Hundred-Handers were not freed yet, and remained below the earth.” [60] But since Hesiod does not even see fit to say explicitly that anyone at all was freed by the castration of Ouranos, I question the validity of their assumption. Instead, the narrator seems to assume that his audience understands the extent of Kronos’s metonymic power, a power that we extend too far in thinking that it implies the liberation of the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers even when we are directly informed otherwise, as here.
In any case, the liberation of the Cyclopes is as much the last element of this episode as the first element of the next one, and the next episode is actually the culmination of the narrative. In it, Zeus establishes his sovereign order and withstands threats to his supremacy by finding a way to square the circle, to maintain his own political and procreative powers without suppressing feminine sexuality and procreation. For that is clearly one of the myth’s pressing dilemmas. Another is also coming into focus, namely, how is it possible for a stable sovereign order to be established when the principle of succession—which is nothing more or less than a particular {78|79} manifestation of the metonymic rule, whereby the next episode is built upon the previous one—always obtains? If the sovereign is a patriarch, then son succeeds father as episode succeeds episode, in which case the order of the day is cumulative change, not Zeus enthroned forever. In fact, these two aspects of the puzzle that the myth is trying to solve are closely related. The functional distinction between the sexes is intertwined with the competitive contest between them and with the principle of son succeeding father. [61]
But in the episode of the Cyclopes we can begin to glimpse how the myth will solve its puzzle, for what Zeus is doing by liberating them is nothing less than incorporating the past into the future. Instead of leaving his grandfather’s generation buried in the depths of an underworld to which they were consigned by Sky, he is “bringing them forth” (that is, actually getting them born into the world) as part of his sovereign order, and they in turn provide him with a weapon that is, like the sickle of Gaia with which Kronos overthrew his father, a tricky tool that was heretofore hidden in the depths of the Earth (505). Like the “birth” of the Cyclopes and also of Zeus himself from Gaia, the “birth” of the thunderbolt bridges the great gap between cunning and force as well as the one between past and future, since it is the product of the Cyclopes’ skills (μηχαναί) and the ultimate weapon of force. [62] The thunderbolt is also yet another “child” of Gaia, but this time her offspring is an instrument of the current patriarch’s power provided by a previous generation rather than a threat to it placed by Gaia in the hands of the youngest child of the next one. The difference is a sort of seal on this tool’s success as well as another mark of its superiority to its prior analogues. In the end, then, the episode of the liberation of the Cyclopes and the award of the thunderbolt to Zeus is little more than a concrete example of metonymic “learning,” that is, of learning from previous episodes’ successes and failures. The Cyclopes and their {79|80} thunderbolt are clear analogues in origin and function to Zeus himself, and as such they are appropriate tokens of his identity as king.
As mentioned above, [63] Kronos’s stratagem is the first event to call up the word mêtis, which is the name the text assigns to his stratagem’s antidote, the tricky plan of Gaia and Ouranos to conceal the baby Zeus. If Kronos is the first explicit king, he is also the first person to devise a (still not so called) mêtis, on the principle, formulated above, [64] that the second occurrence of a discrete concept, in this instance the antidote to his tricky plan, is the one that evokes its proper name. We may be tempted to anticipate that the divinity who incarnates mêtis will now appear in the sequence, as was the case for móros and κḗr. [65]

Learning Metonymically, Part 2

The subsequent episodes of the myth are events with variants that will, in principle and in fact, continue for the rest of mythic time, beyond the Theogony itself. They are nothing more or less than testing challenges to the sovereignty of Zeus, a sovereignty that is never static or lightly borne by those upon whom it is imposed, since it is a dynamic part of the emergent world of myth. [66] In fact, the myths portray Zeus’s sovereignty as inherently unstable and unbearable, along with the ordered structure of the world itself. Both are in constant need of reinforcement or reassertion or recalibration. This is true even if Zeus seems eternally able to meet all challenges. It is almost as though Zeus’s power over the world would end if no one resisted it, or to put it another way, in this portrait of the world the need to test and challenge the authority that rules the world is as irresistible and unclosable and constitutive of experience as the need for that authority to resist subversion and so persist.
Despite the open-endedness that is ultimately built into the myths in this way, these particular episodes in the Theogony have a structure like that of a breaking wave. They are still concerned with the initial establishment, however unsteady, of Zeus’s power, in contrast to the failure of his predecessors to survive even a single contest, a factor that makes it possible for this particular myth to have a structure and even an apparent end. In other words, the myth’s form is based upon its prior episodes and oriented toward a goal that they have already implicitly (and, in the prologue, at least, explicitly) defined, namely, the establishment of one and the same male in continuing power over the world. It may also be true that the challenges to Zeus after the Theogony are intrinsically different from those within it (I shall return to this subject). [67] In either case, it is important from the standpoint of method to realize that the issue here is a contrast between the significance of mythical episodes within the structure of a single myth as against a sequence of myths. This issue will arise again later.
To say that the myth’s form in this last episode is based on prior episodes and implicitly defined in them is only to assert yet again the validity of the rule of metonymy, but in this case it seems to be a deceptive formulation. On the basis of prior episodes, we would expect this one to begin, as did the others, with another recapitulation, perhaps in the even greater detail that suits the climax of a myth told in epic style, of the birth of a new sovereign’s children from his spouse. This time, however, it would incorporate a clever and successful method of regulating their birth without the sovereign’s surrendering power to the youngest. Such a tale is indeed the climax of the myth, but it is retarded by no less than three apparently digressive episodes. Retarding a climax by means of digression is hardly an unexampled strategy in epic-style storytelling. [68] Moreover, the digressions themselves are intimately related to the climactic episode and to the previous episodes. All three are centered upon the twin themes of generational competition with respect to cunning and with respect to force, two notions that are at the heart of the myth’s notion of kingship. In fact, the only thematic difference between the three digressions and the climactic episode is that the contest in them is not over sexual cunning, the ability to create children, and so between Zeus and a female procreative partner over a male child destined to become his successor, but between Zeus and a varied sequence of male rivals directly over the sovereignty of the cosmos. The confrontation with the female threat, the most dangerous of all, is left for last, and these others are apparently meant to prepare for it.
In fact, the notion of kingship itself is gaining in scope as the world has grown from a single nuclear family dominated by a patriarch who was its biological father into an extended family with collateral branches spanning {81|82} several generations. Zeus can no longer prove his sovereignty by simply resolving the problem of succession in the narrow sense, by asserting definitive superiority over his sexual partner and her male offspring. The supreme patriarch has been redefined as the winner of a contest among a set of male rivals arising from the members of his growing cosmic household. [69] The episodes that precede the expected resolution of strictly reproductive aspects of the myth are not digressions but places in which the narrative portion of the Theogony “catches up” with the metonymic progress of its catalog portion. Their very existence also makes it clear that the issue is not simply the narrow one of how a male can succeed in reproducing himself without ceding power to his offspring, but also the political and social issues of how to become king of the world. One can see, then, that inasmuch as Ouranos was a “zero-degree” king and Kronos a primitive one, Zeus is the “evolved” version, a true king, presiding over an evolved and proliferating domain.
The first of these digressive episodes is the exquisitely structured confrontation between Zeus and Prometheus, an excursus from the genealogy of Prometheus’s family that begins at line 507. [70] Iapetos and Klymene have four children, in sequence, Atlas, Menoitios, Prometheus, and Epimetheus. The dreadful teleology of each of these births is then told in the same sequence (511–520), except that Prometheus’s ultimate destiny is left for last (521–534)—a swerve that highlights his significance. Each has a symbolically equivalent end. Epimetheus receives the first woman; Menoitios is thunderbolted by Zeus; Atlas’s fate (moîra in line 520) is to hold the heaven tirelessly under heavy constraint (anánkē); and Prometheus is bound in unbreakable bonds. I have spoken of the symbolic equivalence of binding and thunderbolting, and Atlas’s fate is to be understood as a form of binding. [71] In exchange for Prometheus’s gift of celestial fire to mankind, [72] Epimetheus {82|83} accepts the gift of the first woman, an eternal cause of suffering with fiery origins and attributes who forever distinguishes mortals from immortals; in fact she is presented as a punishment to Prometheus tantamount to his binding (585–615, esp. 613–615). [73] In other words, all Prometheus’s siblings are either actually or metaphorically thunderbolted, and their destinies are united with those of the other rivals to Zeus in the retarding episodes that precede the marriage of Zeus and Metis. After all, his fiery thunderbolt is the symbol of Zeus’s ultimate power. [74] Observe that in yet another instance of the metonomy of the myth’s sequence, he has only just received it (in lines 501–506). So we are to understand the destinies of all the children of Iapetos and Klymene as the result of challenges to the sovereignty of Zeus and as occasions for absolute assertions of that sovereignty. The difference is not worth dwelling upon, especially since the narrator does not inform us as to the behavior that prompted Zeus’s responses except in Prometheus’s case. He is a metonym, then, for his three siblings.
At line 521, the poet takes up Prometheus’s story at its conclusion, with him bound in chains, a column driven through, and an eagle eating his liver. This horrific tableau immediately gives way to another: Herakles’ slaughter of the eagle and the liberation of Prometheus, which took place “not against Zeus’s desire” (529) in order to augment the glory (kléos) of Zeus’s son (Herakles) and also because by then he had relented from the khólos ‘anger’ he had harbored since Prometheus started competing (ἐρίζετο [534]) with him in boulaí ‘trickery’. Having begun with the end of Prometheus’s story, the narrator has proceeded to its aftermath and is {83|84} thence actually embarked on the story from the beginning, since he has to explain what caused Zeus’s khólos in the first place. [75] The anger in Zeus caused by Prometheus’s competition in trickery is in fact the trigger of the myth and its focal point, as we can see from the diction at its conclusion:

οὐδὲ γὰρ Ἰαπετιονίδης ἀκάκητα Προμηθεὺς
τοῖό γ’ ὑπεξήλυξε βαρὺν χόλον, ἀλλ’ ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης
καὶ πολύιδριν ἐόντα μέγας κατὰ δεσμὸς ἐρύκει.

for not even the son of Iapetos, akákēta [76] Prometheus,
escaped from his [Zeus’s] heavy anger, but under necessity
a mighty bond restrains him despite knowing many things [ kaì polúidrin eónta ]. [77]


The narrative’s goal, then, is not the liberation of Prometheus but his binding as a result of Zeus’s anger. The ring opened at line 521, where the genealogies end, is thus closed at line 617, whereupon the next episode begins. So this myth is an example—the first in the Theogony—of the anger of Zeus. {84|85}

What enrages Zeus first is being deceived at Mekone, where Prometheus offers him a choice between two sacrificial portions, covering one with a beef stomach (καλύψας γαστρὶ βοείῃ) that conceals its edible meat and entrails, and covering the other with a layer of fat (καλύψας ἀργέτι δημῷ) that conceals only inedible bones. Which one to pick? Zeus knows the trick, but he has a goal in mind, namely, woes for the whole race of mortals, and he will bring it to pass. [78] His goal is clearly the opposite of Prometheus’s, which is to deceive Zeus and benefit men by providing them with the edible portions of the animal. So Zeus takes the fat-covered portion but gets very angry when he sees only the white bones within. The narrative repeatedly insists that Zeus “knows imperishable tricks,” (áphthita mḗdea eidṓs), [79] but in his anger Zeus compliments Prometheus, saying that he knows imperishable tricks beyond all, ironically professing Prometheus’s superiority. Then he defeats the whole purpose of Prometheus’s division by “not giving,” ouk edídou, [80] mortals sacrificial fire with which to cook the meat that Zeus’s choice privileged them to consume. So Prometheus deceives Zeus and steals fire for mortal men. Seeing the blaze of fire among men makes Zeus deeply angry (δάκεν δ᾽ ἄρα νειόθι θυμόν, “it bit his heart to the bottom” [567]). Now mortal men have two defining characteristics that distinguish them from gods: meat and fire to cook it with. So Zeus decides to give them a third, a bad thing in exchange for the fire (570), a {85|86} beautiful bad thing in exchange for a good one (585): the first woman. Hephaistos and Athena make her according to Zeus’s tricky plans. She has a silver garment and a beautiful embroidered kalúptrē ‘veil’ to cover her head, with a golden wreath around it cunningly inscribed with marvelous creatures. These deceptive coverings for an evil recall the way that Prometheus deceptively ‘covered’ kalúpsas (541) portions of meat, the good one with the beef stomach, the bad with its fat. This maiden is even described as a drone who consumes the food produced by others’ toil rather than a nurturer, a stomach that eats and does not provide (599), a means to take from men the meat that Prometheus gave them to cook and to eat. What Zeus has actually done is to give men as their inevitable companion δόλον αἰπὺν ἀμήχανον, “sheer cunning that cannot be tricked” (589). Without a wife a man has no children to care for him in old age or to inherit his property. Even with a good wife, a man’s life is at best a balance of good and evil. With a bad one, it is ceaseless grief.
The significance of all this is not immediately transparent, and the narrative almost appears to have run away with itself, since it features the participation of divinities who have not yet been born. [81] But the basic point is simple: Zeus is angered at Prometheus’s successful and threatening attempts to deceive him. He must prove that he is the winner not just by exercising superior force in binding Prometheus but in his ability to outwit him. So the crowning trick is Zeus’s tricky award of trickery incarnate—woman—to mortal men. It undermines Prometheus’s benefactions since it makes men eternally subject to the cunning of their wives, who are creatures they cannot do without and who will always be other than themselves. In this respect the tale contrasts radically with the destiny of Zeus himself, whose crowning act is to become one with the goddess of cunning. So the myth has several goals: to define mankind as distinct from divinity, [82] to define men as distinct from women, and to have Zeus in anger defeat the challenge to his cunning from Prometheus by the exercise of both superior force and superior cunning. That is a recipe for domination that men cannot hope to achieve. The anger of Zeus at Prometheus, then, makes the definition of {86|87} the whole cosmos that much sharper. What has actually happened is that men have become distinct from gods. They cook meat with fire and eat it; they burn bones wrapped in fat for the gods; [83] and also, they have acquired an insurmountable sexual difference. Men cannot ever become androgynous like Zeus, [84] since Zeus set woman as the cunning portion and Epimetheus foolishly and unknowingly accepted her as such.
Before discussing its sequel, I have two final remarks to make about this tale: the notions of competition (éris: ἐρίζετο [534]) and exchange are its structuring principles, and they crystallize its metonymic logic. Each move is meant to top the next one, which it also includes and betters. That is why, for instance, Zeus “was not giving” fire to mortal men (563), as against taking it away, because the myth cannot remove aspects of reality that are already present and because it is a gesture to counter Prometheus’s nongift to Zeus (the fat that contains only bones). The logic of the myth is cumulative, not reversible. Even the notion of aetiology explicit in this myth (‘‘from then on men burn white bones [ὀστέα λευκά] for the immortals” [556–557]) is simply an application of the metonymic rule to the relation between myth and ritual. A single event in the myth becomes an everlasting part of reality, an eternally repeated ritual.
The Titanomachy is appropriately consequent upon the myth of Prometheus, the Titan whose cunning Zeus defeats one-to-one. It is a test of force between the divine communities each represents, and it is a test of the combined worth of each group as well as its particular members. One might expect that the next “logical” step after a one-to-one contest in cunning would be a one-to-one contest in force, but the myth is naturally concerned to present the extreme case of each possible challenge to Zeus in a cumulative sequence. Cunning is not a trait ascribable to or exercised by solidary groups in this tradition, whereas force is both an individual and a group trait. [85] So the battle challenge to the Olympians by the Titans is a test of Zeus’s sovereignty, of his ability to maintain the existence of his solidary {87|88} group, not just his own capacity for violence. Zeus’s response to the test is an astute cultivation of solidarity with the past prompted by the phradmosúnai ‘clever plans’ of Gaia herself, the cunning mother of the Hundred-Handers, whom Zeus releases from the womb/tomb within her in which they have been imprisoned since the beginning of the myth. Thus he wins for his group allies of the requisite violence. The path to the Olympians’ success at withstanding a test of force is adaptive and additive rather than static and one-dimensional. A simple exercise of force would be, by definition, inadequate to turn the tide. It is a question of acquiring superior force through cunning and of integrating past into present by heeding Gaia’s counsel and restoring her offspring. This is, in fact, the final stage in the restoration of the myth’s proper sequence. Of those whose creation Ouranos had reversed, the Hundred-Handers are the only children who remained unborn. Now all the arrested births—of the Titans, the Olympians, the Cyclopes, and the Hundred-Handers—have been undone (note the language of birth in regard to their release: ἀνήγαγον ἐς φάος, “brought back to light” [626]), and the broken sequence of mythical generation has been reconstituted, setting right the wrongs done by Zeus’s patriarchal predecessors. Moreover, the restoration of the Hundred-Handers, like that of the Cyclopes, is a symbolic recapitulation of Zeus’s own birth. There is, in fact, a symbolic equivalence among all these masters of force, the Titans, the Cyclopes, their thunderbolt (it, too, was hidden within the earth), the Hundred-Handers, and Zeus himself, who was also saved by the promptings of Gaia and nourished in her caves. In this context, it makes sense that the Olympians, who have, so to speak, greased the myth’s wheels and whose combined force outweighs their enemies’, win the confrontation with the Titans, since the side that best observes the principle of metonymic addition must prevail at each stage of the myth.
The stage is now set for Zeus to meet the ultimate masculine challenge, a youngest son whose attributes combine cunning and force, like Zeus’s own. Typhoeus possesses the tireless hands and feet of a mighty god (κρατεροῦ θεοῦ), and like his recently reborn brothers, he is a multiple-headed monster. One hundred serpent heads spring from his shoulders, with darting tongues and fire sparkling from each pair of eyes. There are voices in every head that utter every sort of sound, from bulls to lions to gods to dogs. These multiple, mutating voices, which later tradition overlays with multiplicity of form, are tokens of his cunning. [86] This terrifying creature {88|89} must be single, since cunning, unlike force, is not a group trait, and he must be a child of Gaia, since in the context of the myth she has been either the biological mother or the “adoptive” mother of all the male children who supersede their fathers. So despite her apparent alliance with Zeus in previous episodes, including her physical “adoption” of Zeus as her own and heretofore her “youngest” child, it makes sense that this ultimate test be a new youngest child from within her. She does not, however, actively participate in a challenge to Zeus alongside her latest offspring, either because Zeus’s strike against him is preemptive or because the myth is tactful in regard to her relationship to Zeus. The overall structural point is that the birth of Typhoeus completes the liberation of Gaia’s femininity after its suppression by Ouranos. The release of the Titans, the release of the Olympians, the liberation of the Cyclopes and then of the Hundred-Handers—all have been steps along this path. In a sense, the birth of Typhoeus effects closure on the story of Gaia, the procreative principle, and makes it possible for Zeus’s reign—including his own first procreative act—to begin in earnest as its sequel. In other words, Typhoeus is something like Zeus’s proto-son, in such a way that his attributes, a combination of trickery and violence, are bound up with his genealogy. Typhoeus is in fact an Anti-Zeus, his darker double, and there is a mythopoeic exchange of attributes between the two that reinforces this underlying theme. [87] The thunder and lightning with which Zeus preemptively strikes Typhoeus are accompanied by πρηστήρων ἀνέμων, “blazing winds,” which are certainly appropriate to the lord of the thunderbolt. [88] Their presence is also motivated by the destiny of Typhoeus, who becomes the source of just such storm winds after his defeat by Zeus (869). [89] On the other hand, the poet can also speak of the πυρός τ᾽ ἀπὸ τοῖο πελώρου, “fire from that monster” (845). [90] The {89|90} upshot is that when the poet precedes his detailed description of the confrontation with the words
Ζεὺς δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν κόρθυνεν ἑὸν μένος, εἵλετο δ’ ὅπλα
And so since/when Zeus was capping his own ménos [mind-body energy], he took up his weapons
On the other hand, Typhoeus is the embodiment of Zeus’s ménos, his double, and the language of this expression can also be understood to mean that Zeus was mastering ménos manifestly his own but incarnate in his antitype. [92] So the contrast between the two expressions, “he was not restraining his own ménos‘‘ (subject to one interpretation only) and “he was {90|91} capping his own ménos‘‘ (subject to two concurrent interpretations, one parallel to the former expression, one beyond it), is an icon of the metonymic advance from the previous episode to this one.

Learning Metonymically, Part 3

All the metonymic sequences in the myth until now have been leading up to the first marriage of Zeus. It proceeds as one could predict. The youngest child—in this instance, the younger of only two—is foretold by Gaia and Ouranos to be a threat to his father’s kingly rank. Hating all his children, Ouranos himself had returned them after their birth to their mother’s womb/tomb, but a combination of trickery and violence on the part of the children’s mother and her youngest son cost Ouranos his masculinity. They also resulted in the only birth thus far in the myth from something male: the generation of Aphrodite herself, the incarnation of productive feminine sexuality, from Ouranos’s severed genitals. Learning from his father’s destiny, Kronos had sought to avoid the threat to his succession posed by his children. He placed each of them in his own nēdús ‘womb/tomb’, but he was tricked into taking a swaddled stone for his youngest son, Zeus, who was secreted away and returned to Earth’s womb as his own parents had been; then, by a combination of cunning and violence Zeus had succeeded in liberating his siblings and also those of his parents, in getting them to be born or, in the cases of the reversed births of the older generation, reborn.
Given these failed attempts to forestall the natural order of succession, what will Zeus do? He is facing the same sort of threat from his own offspring, and he must use the metonymic principle to counteract it. His first wife is herself the metonymic télos of all the mothers in the prior episodes: she is Metis, ‘Cunning’ herself, not just cunning tricks or their sequel, a trick named as mêtis. [93] Likewise, his response to her pregnancy and the threat it poses to him is the metonymic télos of the previous episodes: he keeps the children in their mother’s womb and puts them in his own nēdús {91|92} at the same time by swallowing Metis herself after fooling her “with tricky words [lógoi],” αἱμυλíοισι λóγοισι (890). In other words, Zeus tricks Cunning herself, and then he performs the ultimate in tricks: he gives birth to a child. Putting the children within their mother within his own nēdús is metonymic in three ways at once. It incorporates the strategies of his predecessors within his own at the same time as it literally incorporates the mother and children within himself. Moreover, the myth is signifying that this act represents the incorporation by Zeus of mêtis within himself, in other words, his acquisition of the tricky intelligence that Metis incarnates (900). So Zeus’s incorporation of Metis is his crowning gesture, the perfect pendant to his acquisition of the thunderbolt. As a result of it, he succeeds precisely where his patriarchal predecessors had failed. By putting Metis into his nēdús he accomplishes two things that neither of them had: he prevents the birth of one child (the younger son who was destined to deprive him of his kingship), and as he must, he succeeds in giving birth instead to a female figure who contrasts completely with Aphrodite in her generation and her nature. She is born from his head, that is to say, from himself entire, for the word kephalḗ ‘head’ is actually a synonym in epic language for an entire person. [94] In fact, the head is a metonym for the whole, the point being that Zeus has not lost the metonymic relationship between his head and the rest of himself, in contrast to Ouranos and his genitals: once severed, the metonymic relation between them and himself was irretrievably lost. [95] The vestiges of Ouranos’s masculinity became the paradoxical and ironic birthplace of Aphrodite, whose birth represents the total failure of Ouranos’s effort to suppress the generative feminine sexuality that she incarnates. For an instant in the story of the world’s creation, Zeus undismembered is its only perfect androgyne. His ability to give birth signals his complete victory, and his daughter Athena is a nonthreatening mirror image of his own combination of cunning and violence, a reinforcement of his sovereignty rather than its undoing. She is nonthreatening because she is female, and in this myth power is transferred only to males, although her status as a female is in doubt or, more accurately, neutered. She is a virgin, and so an infertile, nonerotic female as well as a warrior. In short, she is a masculinized female unable to produce male heirs. So her gender traits are both a mirror to the androgyny of Zeus who gave birth to her and a sharp contrast to the fertile eroticism of Aphrodite. In a word, Zeus has become the first (and only) {92|93} male mother of a female son. The mere fact of Athena’s birth, moreover, is enough to enable Zeus to suppress the birth of the male child. It seems that the only successful strategy is for the male child not to be born at all and for the female one to be born in his stead. By the metonymic principle once more, he is the first male to give birth and to “unbirth” a child successfully—at one and the same time, in other words, to apply destructive force and creative cunning to solve the problem of ending his own succession. This pattern also explains why Zeus and Metis, unlike their predecessors, are fated to have only one child: more children could justifiably be expected to revolt with the help of their mother and the youngest son, but there are no groups of unborn children to bring to light, now or later. [96]
With Metis inside him, Zeus is literally the outermost of the dolls-within-dolls I used as a metaphor to account for the syntax of his myth. He himself has the mother within himself who has the child within herself, because the ultimate in cunning is, in the end, the metonymic principle itself. Metis is essentially the apprehension of logical connections between episodes and the consequent ability to foresee what the outcome, what the teleology, will be.


[ back ] 1. Slatkin 1987, 259–268.
[ back ] 2. Koller 1956; and Nagy 1982; revised in Nagy 1990a, 36–82.
[ back ] 3. For the perspective of performance on the study of epic in general and Homeric epic in particular, see Martin 1989. I speak of “potential performance” because my concern is with the systematic and internal relationship between the Theogony and the Iliad, a relationship which may or may not have been actualized in performance. Note however, that Socrates asks Ion the rhapsode (Plato, Ion 531a) if he is deinós ‘clever’ in Hesiod and Archilochus as well as Homer; the answer is no, but the question implies that a performer’s competence in all three is a possibility. Even more pertinent are the following lines, the starting point of a song by Pindar (Nemean 2.1–3): ὅθεν περ καὶ Ὁμηρίδαι / ῥαπτῶν ἐπέων τὰ πόλλ’ ἀοιδοί / ἄρχονται, Διὸς ἐκ προοιμίου, ‘starting from the very point where the Homeridai, / singers of sewn-together utterances, most often / take their start, from the prelude [prooímion] of Zeus’ (translation from Nagy 1995, 62). The Homeridai were performers of epic (here referred to as ‘sewn-together utterances’), and from the perspective of Koller’s analysis of the expandable structure of a prooímion ‘prelude’, the Theogony could be considered a prelude to Zeus. A highly reduced (four lines) prooímion to Zeus is attested in the surviving collection of Homeric Hymns as Hymn XXIII (Allen). Its way of encapsulating Zeus is to describe him in intimate conversation with his wife Themis. For the sewing and weaving metaphor applied to poetic performers and the traditional background of the Pindaric passage, see Nagy 1995, 63–86; on the relationship between Zeus and Themis, his second wife after Metis in the Theogony, see above, Chapter 2, passim.
[ back ] 4. Lévi-Strauss 1970, 14–16, and 1976.
[ back ] 5. Jacopin 1987; for a more concise example, see Jacopin 1988.
[ back ] 6. John Miles Foley (1991, 7–8, 14) also uses the term metonymic in connection with the interpretation of traditional performance, but his usage and application of the term differs significantly from Jacopin’s.
[ back ] 7. For insight into the significance of the contrastive context of these two summarizing strategies in the Theogony, see Nagy 1990, 57–58. Richard Hamilton’s objection (1989, 11) that the Muses are called Olympian in the Heliconian part (line 25), is answerable; the prelude to the Theogony is globally a prelude to the Olympian Muses, and they visit the poet on Mount Helicon before being described as singing to Zeus on Olympus. The Heliconian Muses are a local manifestation of the Olympian Muses, not a different set of divinities. Hamilton (12) also considers the backward summary of the Theogony (11–20) “chaotic,” but it is so only if one ignores the teleological in favor of the linear aspect of mythical narrative: its ordering principle is not that of an actual unfolding narrative but of its goal.
[ back ] 8. Jacopin 1988, 151.
[ back ] 9. This difference between the earlier and the later Chaos within Hesiod was well understood by J. Bussanich (1983, 216), cited by Robert Mondi (1989, 10). See also Mondi’s own statement (32): “not the replacement of the original χάος by the structured world, but its dis-placement to the outer fringe of the world, in mythic space beyond the reach of normal human experience.” I came upon Mondi’s formulation only after writing this passage. His comparative and historical approach differs from mine, but our results often converge. I am not convinced, however, as he is, of the lexical independence, from the standpoint of Indo-European linguistics, of the roots of the words χαίνω, χάσκω, χάσμα as against χά(ϝ)ος and χαῦνος. Compare φαίνω and φάσμα with φά(ϝ)ος and πι-φαύ-σκω the latter also has a strong semantic association with φάσκω, from φημί, to which we may compare χάσκω. See Muellner 1976, 104–105.
[ back ] 10. Pace M. L. West (1966, 192), who asserts that the birth of Chaos without explanation of how or from whom betrays Hesiod’s lack of interest “in cosmogony for its own sake,” citing parallels from Anaxagoras, Genesis, and the Rig Veda in which there is a prior state on the world “on which creation supervened.” I note that West offers no parallels from less complex societies. His come from archaic and classical Greece, ancient India, Phoenicia, and the Hebrew Bible.
[ back ] 11. Nagy 1974a, 113–131, newly revised as chap. 7, “Thunder and the Birth of Humankind,” in Nagy 1990a, 181–201, esp. 199.
[ back ] 12. On mythical genealogy as an artifact of systematic thought, see Vernant 1985, 16: “Pour la pensée mythique, toute généalogie est en même temps et aussi bien explication d’une structure.” Despite this powerful insight, Vernant does not decode the syntagmatic aspect of the genealogies, as I am attempting to do.
[ back ] 13. See Theogony 807 and West on Theogony 119 and 841 concerning the expression τάρταρα γαίης, “tártara of earth,” a collocation that recurs in tragedy (Euripides Hippolytus 1290) and the Orphic fragments. The expression survives into modern Greek as well as τὰ Τάρταρα τῆς γῆς. Lawson 1910, 98.
[ back ] 14. Compare the remarks of Nagy 1990a, 76–77 on Hekate and the theme of the mounogenḗs ‘born-alone’, which is undifferentiated into positive and negative valence; the principle Nagy articulates for that context is a metonym of this primordial sequence of differentiations.
[ back ] 15. So it is misleading to equate Eros with philótēs. Philótēs demands the participation of two partners (phíloi) in sex; Eros, cosmologically prior, does not (pace West on Theogony 120; see Theogony 132 and 927, where sexual reproduction by a female without a partner is said to be “without philótēs”). Note that the steps in the creation of procreation are another example of the difference between a metonymic way of thinking and our own. The movement is not from zero to one but from one (γένετο [116]) to pair, from pair to (group of) three, etc. It is significant that two in this sequence is pair, which is probably based on the absence of interspecies reproduction in nature. It is also a factor that in arithmetic systems that lack a zero, counting is indistinguishable from grouping, as attested in Iliad 2.123–128. In order to express the idea that there are many more Achaeans than Trojans, Agamemnon says that if the Achaeans were divided up into groups of ten, and a Trojan was placed beside each group of ten, there would be many groups of ten Achaeans without any Trojans beside them.
[ back ] 16. Compare West’s loose formulation (192): “The universe is, naturally [sic], built from the bottom upward, starting with the foundations (Chaos: see on 116). Then come the floor and the walls (Earth, with her subsidiary parts Tartarus, mountains, and sea), and the roof (Uranos).” West’s house-building metaphor is interesting as an intimation of the metonymic structure of the myth (cf. the metaphor of “The House that Jack Built”). West’s reference to his discussion of Chaos at line 116 is puzzling, since he describes it there as “the space between Earth and Tartarus,” which does not square well with the notion that Chaos is “the foundations.” Nor is the notion that Tartarus is a “subsidiary part” of Earth justifiable from the text, in my opinion, whereas mountains and sea, Earth’s offspring, are indeed conceived as such.
[ back ] 17. In Homeric epic, the desire to tell the story in the correct sequence is reflected by the word katalégō ‘tell in order, catalog’ often accompanied by the adverb atrekéōs ‘not twisted’. The existence of the formula should in itself dispel lingering doubts that a Hesiodic genealogical catalog is a narrative form. Interestingly, the word is attested only once in the Hesiodic corpus (fr. 280.11 M–W), in the speech of Theseus to the shade of Meleagros telling why he has come down to the underworld with his trusted companion; as attested, the speech of thirteen lines contains at least three genealogies.
[ back ] 18. I take no position here on the overall structure of the Theogony, a subject best discussed in relation to an interpretation of its content. The issues have been treated by Hamilton (1989, 3–43), who offers a critique of previous accounts and claims (14–15) that the poem’s structure is the one given in the third summary of the Muses’ song in the prooímion (Theogony 106–113, setting aside as controversial lines 108–110; this is a minimal account—5 hexameters—of the overall structure of a poem of more than a thousand lines). Hamilton offers a severely limited analysis of the content of the form that he wishes to describe; moreover, he tries to describe that form without reference to formal features or compositional style. As a result, his description of the poem’s form and his critiques of others’ descriptions of it are too reductive, however commonsensical they may appear to be. Of previous attempts to account for the poem’s structure, only Hans Schwabl’s (1966, 1970) takes into account the formal features of the text, but his penchant for arithmetic symmetry has been severely criticized at the expense of his overall contribution. His formal analysis is based on the principle that formulas can consistently be understood as structural elements (Schwabl 1966, 6), but he says that his concept of “formula” must not be confused with Milman Parry’s, since its value as a structural element is a matter of its function in context, not its traditionality. In view of Schwabl’s own work and that of others (such as Nagler 1967; and Lowenstam 1981), I would suggest that there is no contrast and never was one between a structural and a traditional formula. The underlying notion of theme accounts for the structural phenomena with which Schwabl is concerned.
[ back ] 19. Along the lines of Schwabl’s formal analysis, I point out that the nongenealogical narrative begins with a relative clause—ὅσσοι γὰρ (154)—and the resumption of genealogy within the episode is marked by an echoing relative clause that begins ὅσσαι γὰρ (183); the standard-form genealogies (of the type “X begot Y,” etc.) resume after the conclusion of the episode, 211.
[ back ] 20. It is certainly significant from the standpoint of the external social context of the myth that the first family in the world is characterized by ἔχθρη ‘hatred’ between father and children rather than the φιλότης ‘friendship’ that ideally governs family relations in the epic world and in daily life, but until we understand the logic of the myth in syntagmatic terms the significance of this provocative inversion cannot be determined. In other words, the myth is to be understood as a consistent system in itself, which must ultimately be set against the society’s system as a whole to determine its meaning. Any attempt to find the correspondence between pieces of the mythical world taken out of context and pieces of the external reality can only mislead us about the goals of the text. [ back ] For more on hostility between generations as opposed to solidarity within them in this myth, see n. 47 below and the discussion in Chapter 4, 118–120.
[ back ] 21. For the parallels to birth in epic diction, see West on line 157. The death symbolism is concrete in the name of the goddess Kalypso (from καλύπτω ‘conceal’) and the consequences of Odysseus’s stay in a cave on her godforsaken island: he is ἄϊστος ‘unseen, dead’ (Odyssey 1.235, 242).
[ back ] 22. Bad deed: κακῷ … ἔργῳ (158); ἀεικέα … ἔργα (166). Devising: μήσατο (166), a term from the language of craft and cunning. See Detienne and Vernant 1974, 220, 229.
[ back ] 23. This language is consistent with the concrete notion that metals are born from Earth, since they come out from inside her; the same metaphors occur later in the passage concerning Zeus’s thunder, thunderbolt, and lightning, which are always conceived of as crafted weapons like the sickle of adamant. We are told explicitly that before they were given to Zeus, great Earth had kept them hidden, κεκεύθει (505). Compare the κεύθμω in which the children are hidden here (158). For another Hesiodic instance of a metal born from Earth, see fr. 287 M–W, the scholion to the reference to the “silver race” in Works and Days 128: τὸ δ᾽ ἀργύρεον ἔνιοι τῆι γῆι οἰκειοῦσι λέγοντες ὅτι ἐν τοῖς μεγάλοις Ἔργοις τὸ ἀργύριον τῆς Γῆς γενεαλογεῖ.
[ back ] 24. Δέος (167), referring in another way to their being δεινότατοι (155), ‘most dreadful’ but also ‘most full of dread’!
[ back ] 25. West on Theogony 18 claims that the ending –μητις rather than -μήτης is required for the word to be related to mêtis ‘cunning’. This assertion is disputable (see Frisk 1970 and Chantraine 1968–79, s.v. μῆτις), and it leads him to the also disputable notion that Κρόνος ἀγκυλομήτης originally meant “Kronos of the curved sickle.” Mêtis is consistently characterized as devious, crooked, or curved (see Detienne and Vernant 1974, 55). The point is that there is a symbolic analogy between mêtis, the sickle, and Kronos himself, not that Kronos’s epithet literally derives from the story of the sickle (which is not to deny that there is a folk-etymological link between the two).
[ back ] 26. It is also implicit in the word applied to him previously, δεινότατος (138) ‘most dreadful’ as well as ‘most dreadfully clever’. Earlier (137) Kronos was called ὁπλότατος, an expressive word for youngest (vs. the unmarked term νεώτατοτς, as in Iliad 7.153), with etymological and punning connections here to the epic word for tool (especially of a blacksmith: see LSJ9 s.v. and for further examples, see below) and weapon, ὅπλον. For the etymology, see Frisk 1970 s.v. ὁπλότερος and Chantraine 1968–79, s.v. ὅπλον. The meaning “young” seems to have developed from “capable of bearing arms” (therefore not “old”).
[ back ] 27. On ambush as an aspect of mêtis, see Detienne and Vernant 1974, 69–70; ὑποτίθεμαι is the proper term for instructions by an adult to an adolescent initiate, see Friedländer 1913. For the role of cunning in adolescent initiation, see Vidal-Naquet 1981.
[ back ] 28. For adolescent initiation and rebirth, see van Gennep 1909.
[ back ] 29. For the sexual connotations of ἦλθε ‘came’ (176), see Detienne and Vernant 1974, 67 n. 27.
[ back ] 30. After the text’s earlier insistence on the reciprocal hatred (ἔχθρη) obtaining between this father and his children, and given what the son is doing to him in this context, the occurrence of the formula “dear father” seems jarring, but one can compare the way that phílos is regularly used of parts of one’s body, and see Slatkin 1988, 130–131. In fact, as Slatkin points out, only a phílos can be ekhthrós, since the word ekhthrós ‘enemy’ applies only to members of one’s own group. The Trojans do not use it of the Greeks, nor do the Greeks use it of the Trojans; only Helen can be ekhthrós to both Greeks and Trojans since she has been phílos to both.
[ back ] 31. On the double meaning of μήδεα, see Nagy 1974b, 265–278.
[ back ] 33. See the use of the feminine adjective τραφερή ‘ripening’ to designate land in the formula ἐπὶ τραφερὴν τε καὶ ὑγρήν “overripening and wet” (Iliad 14.308; Odyssey 20.98), as against the sea foam (ἀφρός) in which Aphrodite ‘was ripened’ ἐθρέφθη (191–192), from the same root as τραφερή).
[ back ] 34. For instance, West, commenting on lines 154–210, explains that “primitive man wonders why the sky stays so high and does not rather fall down upon the earth.” It is also worth noting that Aither ‘Bright Upper Air’ is the first child of Night, born back in line 124. It is difficult to miss the resemblance between Chicken Little and West’s “primitive man.” On the contention of Marcel Detienne and J.-P. Vernant (1974) that the episode involving Ouranos is purely cosmogonic and to be disjoined from the following episodes, see below, 68–69 with n. 41.
[ back ] 35. West (on line 209) is puzzled by the ascription of the reaching to the Titans, not Kronos, but he explains it by citing a summary of this episode in Apollodorus 1.1.4 in which the solidarity of Kronos with the other Titans is even more overt than in Hesiod.
[ back ] 36. Functions of the poet that have been to the fore in the lines just preceding this passage on the birth of Aphrodite (190–200). For naming and etymologizing as distinguishing marks of Hesiodic style even in the context of Homeric epic, see the remarks of Slatkin 1991, 60–77 on Iliad 1.403–405.
[ back ] 37. On the meaning of ópis, see above, Chapter 2, 36. The translation here is that of LSJ9, s.v.
[ back ] 38. For the possibility of a popular etymological link between ópis and ópisthen, see Chantraine 1968–1979, s.v. ὄπις. Moreover, Detienne and Vernant (1974, 73 n. 55) have noted a thematic kinship between these and other children of Night born here (Nemesis, Apate, Philotes, Pseudeis Logoi) and the creatures born from the castration of Ouranos, namely, the Erinyes (185) and the seductive and deceitful Aphrodite herself, with whom apátē ‘deceit’ and philótēs ‘friendliness’ are explicitly associated (205–206). It is as if the creatures born of Ouranos’s castration are relatively positive, and those born of Night immediately thereafter are their relatively negative counterparts. Note also the metonymic relation between the two, not unlike that between action and naming discussed just below; see also below, 71.
[ back ] 39. The word timḗ ‘privilege’ is a complex one. Within human society, it seems to indicate the relative social prestige in an individual as recognized by his peers, but in the divine world, it denotes the particular sphere over which a given divinity presides and which is the focus of his or her cult in the society of humans. It is as though the mutually exclusive and perfect “division of labor” in the divine world precludes the social competitiveness of the human one.
[ back ] 40. On Ouranos’s not being king, see Detienne and Vernant 1974, 66–103; on the kingship of Kronos, see Vernant 1985, 27.
[ back ] 41. It seems to me that Detienne and Vernant go too far in asserting (1974, 66–103) discontinuity between the Ouranos-Gaia episode and the subsequent episodes of the myth. For them, the story of Sky’s castration is purely cosmogonic and has nothing to do with the struggle for sovereignty. Kronos’s swallowing of his children looks forward to Zeus’s swallowing of Metis and is unrelated to Sky’s suppression of the birth of his children. But the cosmic dimensions of Sky’s castration are actually inexplicit in our version of it, and its consequences for the future struggles to the fore. As we shall see, the themes and issues of sovereignty that Detienne and Vernant consider the distinguishing factor between the first and the other episodes are embedded in the dimensions of family life, the contrast of force with cunning, and in the dynamics of sexual difference that are present in all episodes of the story. As for Kronos’s gulping down his children, I will explain it in metonymic terms as a step between Sky’s hiding his children within Earth and Zeus’s swallowing of Metis; see below, 69–70, 91–93. In fact, Vernant and Detienne are unable to keep to a model that really does disjoin Ouranos from his successors, cf. p. 101: “Par sa position médiate entre Ouranos et Zeus, Kronos…”
[ back ] 42. LSJ9 defines καταπίνω ‘gulp, swallow down (solids or liquids)’; in other words, as Gregory Nagy suggests to me, it means to eat without chewing. Aside from its use here and in later retellings of this story (as in Plato Euthyphro 6a2 or Pseudo-Apollodorus 1, 20, 3, etc.), it is used by Herodotus to describe Egyptian plovers swallowing leeches from the mouths of crocodiles (2.68), by Aristophanes of bad poets wolfing down slices of fish (Clouds 388), and on two other occasions of swallowing people: Euripides Cyclops 219, where the Satyrs ask the Cyclops please not to swallow them as he will his full pails of milk, and Aristophanes Knights 693, where the Sausage Seller describes the angry Paphlagonian as a storm wave ready to swallow him up (to which compare Theognis 680: μὴ ναῦν κατὰ κῦμα πίῃ, “lest the wave swallow the ship”). It is also the regular Hippocratic term for swallow.
[ back ] 43. It seems to me unlikely that it means “womb” for Rhea and “stomach” for Kronos, as LSJ9 would have it. The distinction is ad hoc and makes the reflexive possessive ἑήν ‘his own’ in line 487 pointless. If its function was not contrastive, why use ἑήν in the first place? Even if a contrast between womb and stomach is there on the surface, the point of the diction and the story is that in both Rhea and Kronos, the nēdús has essentially the same form and function. Specific (mis)conceptions concerning reproductive anatomy and sexual procreation that lie behind this notion are not clear from the evidence in this text and are not necessarily relevant to its meaning, either. Skeptics about the concrete parallelism between male and female nēdús might wish to consider the concrete, exterior similarity between male and female breasts.
[ back ] 44. The parallelism between nēdús and keuthmṓn extends to the reaction inspired in the female by the procreation-arresting act of the corresponding male in each episode: in Earth’s case, the pain of childbirth and the grief of death (see above, p. 61 with n. 20); in Rhea’s case, the suffering of πένθος ἄλαστον, ‘unforgettable grief’, an expression associated with ritual lament by women for the dead. See Nagy 1974b, 255–261, Alexiou 1974.
[ back ] 45. Note that he does so on learning from both Sky and Earth that he risked losing his kingship to his own child (463). This is another instance of the male + female strategy, and it explains why Rhea as well must have the benefit of assistance from both (470). She must stay one step ahead of Kronos in the metonymic race, and therefore it is essential that no advantage gained be abandoned. (I note that, from our perspective, which is inappropriate, it is senseless for Sky and Earth to help each side against the other.)
[ back ] 46. For alertness and watchfulness as an aspect of cunning, see Detienne and Vernant 1974, 21–22, 37–38.
[ back ] 47. Note that Sky and the swallowed children have erīnûs but that Rhea has pénthos álaston, “unforgettable grief,” instead (467), surprisingly so in view of the later association of erīnûs with crimes against mothers. In general, this myth concerns itself with conflict and its resolution between generations, and conflict within a generation is ruled out. Even the “solidarity” of Sky and Earth is unimpeached by Earth’s instrumental role in his castration. This is a myth about succession, after all. It is important and significant that internal conflict within the solidary group of gods comes later, as a metonymic consequence of the establishment of a stable cosmic order. In Chapter 4 I take up the transformation of these themes in the Iliad into stories of intragenerational conflict among the Olympians. The only example of conflict over sovereignty by two members of the same generation in the Theogony is the conflict between Zeus and Prometheus, discussed below. But Prometheus is clearly not a member of a solidary kin group to which Zeus also belongs. He is a rival born of Zeus’s collateral kin, like the hateful χηρωσταί ‘heirs of a vacant inheritance’ who win out when a mortal man dies intestate (Theogony 600ff.). In fact Prometheus’s challenge to Zeus takes place before Zeus has any children! The kind of conflict that the Iliad can discuss, for instance, between Zeus and Poseidon, does not arise in the Theogony.
[ back ] 48. It is true that the goddess Metis herself is born at Theogony 358 as one of the fifty Okeanids, but I note that she is not a functioning goddess in the myth until after the current episode. In more theoretical terms, my assumption must be that her birth there is related to a sequence that does not intersect with the one being played out here.
[ back ] 49. As I have said, the logic of that sequence is apparent in that the castration was the first deed requiring “justifiable” repayment. But since it was the zero case, it was not carried out in answer to the claims of the erīnûs for the simple reason that the erīnûs did not yet exist; or, to translate the language of the myth, the first act of “justifiable” revenge actually generated the erīnûs.
[ back ] 50. See West (on line 494) and Detienne and Vernant 1974, 71–72 and n. 48, who cite Apollodorus (1.2.1). His account is that Zeus had Metis administer a phármakon ‘drug’ to Kronos that made him vomit (in support of which they cite appropriately Odyssey 4.227, φάρμακα μητιόεντα ‘cunning drugs’). But the Hesiodic text calls for a combination of τέχνη ‘trickery’ and βίη ‘force’, which is, as West notes (on line 494), apparent only in the Orphic version (Orphicorum Fragmenta [Kern] 154), in which Zeus makes Kronos drunk on honey, ties him up, and castrates him. This story provides the requisite violence and cunning, but it still does not explain how Kronos came to vomit up his children. West (on lines 481ff.) also finds Hesiod “curiously non-committal about where the birth [of Zeus] actually occurred.” What concerns West is whether the child was born inside or outside the cave in Crete. This may be interesting from the standpoint of the next episode in the myth, but it is not an issue in this episode, in which the point is that the birth of Zeus was hidden, from us as well as Kronos.
[ back ] 51. West assumes that the ἐννεσίαι ‘instructions’ of Gaia mentioned in line 494 are “given to Rhea.” There is no such advice given to Rhea (pace West on 481ff., the narrative anticipation of the episode in lines 477–480 is not “the arranging of [the episode] between Rhea and her parents”); there is only the one μῆτις ‘cunning plan’ Rhea asks of Gaia at line 471, which encompasses the whole episode from the hiding of Zeus to the vomiting of the stone. The ἐννεσίαι of Gaia here are instructions to Zeus that fool Kronos (analogous to the ὑποθῆκαι of Gaia to Kronos in the first episode) and that are then combined with the violence that Zeus used to overcome his father; the violence is mentioned three times as his specific contribution (73, 490, and here, at 496).
[ back ] 52. Ultimately, West on line 497 seems justified in defending ἐξήμησε, which is the reading of the mss. (except k, which has an impossible ἐξήμεσε). The form with -ε- is original, that with -η- secondary and analogical, assuming that the handbooks are correct that Gr. ἐμέω is cognate with Skt. vámiti, Latin vomere, and Lith. vémti; then the -ε- is the reflex of an original -*h1-. The problem with this etymology is the absence of dialectal or epic evidence in Greek for an initial digamma; see Schwyzer 1968, 1:222 n. 5, 260 and Chantraine 1968–79, 2:343 s.v. ἐμέω for two ways to account for its disappearance: by dissimilation or as a substandard term taken over into epic. For a single stem attesting -η- as well as -ε- in the sigmatic aorist, compare Attic/Ionic ᾔνεσα with epic ᾔνησα. West points to such morphological alternatives in support of the manuscripts’ reading, but I know of no other word exhibiting both forms within epic, which is really what is needed to support his purely philological argument; see Chantraine 1958, 1:346–353, for a survey. All things considered, I think that the form ἐξήμησε is best considered an example of “poet’s grammar,” on which see Jakobson 1968; in other words, it is a grammatically plausible form motivated by poetic factors (namely, the metonymies posited), not just grammatical ones.
[ back ] 53. For the marked/unmarked distinction, see Nagy 1990, 5–6, citing Jakobson 1957; Jakobson 1939; and Waugh 1982.
[ back ] 54. The word πατήρ here could refer to Zeus’s father, Kronos, and was apparently so understood in antiquity (Apollodorus 1.1.5, 1.2.1) and by Tzetzes (see West on Theogony 502); but the consensus now seems to be that it refers to Ouranos, on the basis of the parallel passage concerning the liberation by Zeus of the Hundred-Handers in 617ff. in which the word πατήρ has no such ambiguity, and given the isofunctionalism in other regards of the Cyclopes, who seem to be referred to here, with the Hundred-Handers. See Detienne and Vernant 1974, 80.
[ back ] 55. West on 502.
[ back ] 56. Buse 1937, 27–28
[ back ] 57. West on 139–153.
[ back ] 58. This and much more evidence is collected and presented by Detienne and Vernant (1974, 86–98); they cite the passage in Aeschylus Prometheus Bound 235 in which Prometheus, past master of unbinding and being bound, boasts of having unbound (ἐξελυσάμην) men and kept them from descending to Hades, but they do not make explicit the symbolic connection between the binding of gods and the death of men. They also note (87 and n. 92) the possible connection between the bronze jar in which Ares is confined and the δειρή ‘neck’ (cf. Latin cervix) of the prison in Tartarus where the Titans are ultimately hidden in darkness (Theogony 726–731). There is a clear analogy between both of these and the keuthmṓn (womb/tomb) within Gaia in which her children are confined and from which they ultimately emerge.
[ back ] 59. Detienne and Vernant (1974, 76) maintain that Ouranos is not a binding god, that he is without mêtis, just as he is not a king; but once again, his is the zero case of binding. Using the words déō and desmós of what he did to his children at this later point in the narrative, when it is a term used of Zeus, is somewhat anachronistic, as though Ouranos could now be called a king, but it suits the way that metonymy functions in myth. In this respect, the myth is like a train that stops only to take on passengers and never leaves any off. It cannot go backward, so it must describe a prior event, when it is compelled to, in terms established by present ones. Such a principle goes a long way toward explaining rules of epic narrative such as Zieliński’s law, which states that “if the poet did not wish to leave out anything in two [simultaneous] accounts, he reported them both not as parallel but as sequential accounts” [Wenn der Dichter von den beiden Handlungen … keine missen wollte, so berichtete er sie beide, aber nicht als parallele, sondern als einanderfolgende Handlungen] (Zieliński 1899–1901, 405). Also pertinent and explicable is Tilman Krischer’s corollary to Zieliński’s law (Krischer 1971, 91): “the Homeric narrative never passes through the same time (of an account) twice and that this is a characteristic of the epic style” [die Homerische Darstellung niemals dieselbe Zeit (der Handlung) zweimal durchläuft und … dies eine Eigenschaft der epischen Stiles ist].
[ back ] 60. So West on Theogony 139–153; and Detienne and Vernant 1974, 77: “Hésiode aurait du dire ce que nous apprendrons seulement plus tard.”
[ back ] 61. For an explicit and vivid expression of the dilemma that this state of affairs presents on the mortal plane, see lines 600–612, in which the poet expounds on the conflict between a patriarch’s need for heirs and the pains that women inevitably bring. According to Hesiod, a man is damned with or without a wife, since dying intestate means surrendering one’s properties to hateful collateral kin.
[ back ] 62. On the meaning of the term μηχαναί, see Martin 1983. The Hesiodic variant of the Cyclopes as cunning fabricators of the ultimate weapon of fiery force who are liberated from hiding places beneath the earth stands in suggestive contrast to its counterpart in the Odyssey, where one Cyclops attempts to confine Odysseus’s men within a cave, only to be defeated by a primordial fiery weapon created by the more cunning but much weaker adversary, who thereby brings his men forth from the darkness. Odysseus has learned how to do the Cyclops one better, effectively beating him at his own game.
[ back ] 63. Above, 71.
[ back ] 64. Above, 68.
[ back ] 65. Above, 66–67.
[ back ] 66. For challenges to the sovereignty of Zeus beyond the Theogony, see below, Chapter 4, 114–116, 118–120, and, for a remarkable instance, Ovid Fasti 3.796–808; see also Lang 1983 on a set of variants that constitute a subtext to the whole Iliad.
[ back ] 67. See below, Chapter 4, 118–120 on Iliad 1.397–405.
[ back ] 68. The standard example is the story of Odysseus’s scar, as discussed by Eric Auerbach (1953); see also the critique of Auerbach by Norman Austin (1966) and more recently by Michael Lynn-George (1988).
[ back ] 69. In other words, Zeus is now πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε, “father of gods and men,” since the father in this expression is not a biological but a social one. On the sociological meaning of this term attested in Greek and other Indo-European languages, see Ernout and Meillet 1959, 487–488 s.v. pater; also Risch 1944, 122.
[ back ] 70. For the decoding of this episode, Vernant 1974b is fundamental despite the differences in my approach.
[ back ] 71. It is an immobilization and a removal to the distant west, but also see the expression applied to him in line 517, “under mighty necessity,” κρατερῆς ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης. Like the English word necessity, the word anánkē is etymologically related to an Indo-European root for binding (cognate with Latin nex ‘bond, death by binding’ and Hittite ḫenk-an ‘fated death’). Benveniste 1935, 154–155. Note also that the same expression is applied to Prometheus’s binding at lines 615–616, ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης … κατὰ δεσμὸς ἐρύκει, “the bond restrains him beneath necessity.” Puzzlingly, Chantraine (1968–79, s.v. anánkē) claims that none of the etymologies that have been proposed accounts for the two meanings attested for it, which he distinguishes as “constraint” and also “kinship.” He says that the notion of bond should be the connection, as though no one had suggested such a thing, but he seems to reject Benveniste’s hypothesis, which postulates exactly that connection; the passage from the Theogony I have cited (615–616) even attests to a functioning semantic connection (to say nothing of the symbolic one) between anánkē and the notion of bond.
[ back ] 72. Theogony 570, 585, and compare Works and Days 57.
[ back ] 73. The first woman, who is fabricated by the fire god (Theogony 571–572) and adorned with a golden crown of his devising (579–584), also has a tricky nature (589) that is analogous to fire itself (on the trickery of fire and of Hephaistos himself, see Detienne and Vernant 1974, 262–264) in its ability to subdue or seduce the force of men. Moreover, the definitive inability of mortal men to procreate without women and their critical need for children (Theogony 590–612) define the human condition in contrast to the divine. Mortal men are continually succeeded and replaced by their offspring, in contrast to the tense permanence of Zeus’s reign (see above, 78–79 and n. 61).
[ back ] 74. Overtly in line 505: “trusting in them [thunder and lightning and the thunderbolt] he rules over gods and men.” See also Hesiod fr. 343.8 M–W where Zeus swallows Metis not from fear that she will bear a child more powerful than himself but “lest she bring forth another thing mightier than the thunderbolt” δείσας μὴ τέξῃ κρατερώτερον ἄλλο κεραυνοῦ.
[ back ] 75. For a similar way of beginning a story with a goal in mind and then tracking back to a cause of anger (also called khólos) which triggers the forward movement of the narrative toward its goal, see Iliad 1.9–11. The last clause is introduced by the word οὕνεκα ‘because of this’ in line 11 just as it is in line 534 here.
[ back ] 76. The meaning of this epithet is obscure, but everywhere else it belongs to that other epic tricky fire bringer and first sacrificer, Hermes. In this connection, West cites a gloss of Hesychius: Ἰθάς· ὁ τῶν Τιτήνων κῆρυξ, Προμηθεύς. τινὲς Ἴθαξ. Here Prometheus-Ithas/Ithax is the kêrux ‘herald, go-between’ of the Titans. Hermes is the herald of the Olympian gods. The key to the apparent competition between these two figures in mythical tradition may be that they fulfill the same function for two competing groups of gods. Moreover, it suggests that the present story is appropriate to the time before the Olympians proved their dominance over the Titans in the Theogony, which takes place in the next episode of the myth. As for the name Ithas/Ithax, it should be related to the root αἴθω ‘burn’ (see Chantraine 1968–79, s.v., for its relation to ἰθαρός ‘pure’ and ἰθαίνω), which is contextually appropriate to Prometheus and supports an etymology of Ἰθάκη, Odysseus’s island, suggested by Gregory Nagy. Odysseus, who identifies himself at one point as a mortal named Αἴθων (19.183), has important links with Hermes, such as being the only epic personage to share with him the epithet πολύτροπος (Odyssey 1.1; cf. Hymn to Hermes 13, 439; see Nagy 1990a, 34). As for his island, it is repeatedly associated in the Odyssey with the sight of fire and smoke (as in 10.30 or 1.58). There is another trickster figure named Aithon (=Erysikthon), father of the shape-changing sorceress Mestra in Hesiod fr. 43b M–W, whom Sisyphos wooed unsuccessfully (Hesiod fr. 43a.36–57 M–W).
[ back ] 77. This phrase “despite knowing many things” and its feminine variant (kaíper polúidrin eoûsa[n]) is attested at least three times and perhaps four, of tricky persons trying but failing in the attempt to outstrip Zeus in intelligence (here and in Hesiod fr. 43a.58 M–W of Mestra whom Zeus denied to Sisyphos; fr. 343.6 M–W of Metis herself; perhaps also Alcaeus fr. B6.7 L–P of Sisyphos).
[ back ] 78. West writes in his note on line 551, “It has long been recognized that in the original story Zeus did not see through the trick, but was thoroughly deceived.” In his view, Hesiod wants to save Zeus’s “omniscience and prescience.” But the next episode immediately belies that explanation. The language could not be more plain in line 565: ἀλλά μιν ἐξαπάτησεν ἐὺς πάις Ἰαπεοῖο “but the son of Iapetos thoroughly deceived him,” and the same language for deception is repeated in the reprise of the story in Works and Days 48. There is an escalation here that West’s historicism obscures. First, Zeus knowingly lets himself be deceived, a trick that one trickster might play on another and one that suits the goal of Zeus, as we are told; but then, in the next episode, Prometheus really does deceive Zeus and make him angry. Prometheus’s trickery is improving in the pervasive metonymic fashion of the myth. First he succeeds in tricking a willing victim; then he tricks the same victim without prior detection.
[ back ] 79. This formula also and simultaneously means “has unfailing genitals,” a signification that is more to the fore in subsequent episodes. For the double meaning, see Nagy 1974b, 265–278.
[ back ] 80. The language of gift exchange is exploited more fully in the version of the story told in the Works and Days, where the woman given (57) by Zeus as a gift (85) in return for the theft (the opposite of giving, since it is taking what is not given) of fire is called Pan-dora ‘All-gift’ (81–82); but the same undertones are present here as well. Zeus “did not give” the fire (Theogony 563); Prometheus “stole” it (566); and Epimetheus “received” (513) the maiden, who is a kind of poisoned gift. Gregory Nagy points out to me the parallel between such a gift and the meaning of Gift in German, namely, ‘poison’, a translation of the medieval Latin term dosis ‘dose, drug, poison’ that is itself a borrowing of Greek δόσις ‘giving, gift’. Ambivalence is built into the notion of gift from the start. For another example of an apparently positive gift that bites its recipient, see Iliad 7.287–305. Ajax receives Hector’s sword, with which he later commits suicide.
[ back ] 81. Namely, Hephaistos and Athena. Significantly, although the narrative cannot go back in time to restart from an earlier moment, it can go forward in this way toward its goal. This is what explains the appearance of these gods here, that the explicit télos ‘goal’ of Zeus is woe for men (552).
[ back ] 82. I agree with West that this distinction is explicit in the language at the beginning of the tale, lines 535–536: “at Mekone, where mortal men and gods were separated from one another,” ὅτ᾽ ἐκρίνοντο θεοὶ θνητοί τ᾽ ἄνθρωποι / Μηκώνῃ. See also Nagy 1979, 215–216, on κρίναντο in Theogony 882 and Odyssey 9.220, where the same verb, διακρίνομαι, is used of the distinction between sheep and goats. See also, Chapter 1, 6 n. 3.
[ back ] 83. This definition of the divine portion is true of the descriptions of sacrifice in Homeric epic, but evidence from epichoric inscriptions proves that the gods did receive special cuts of beef. Whatever the reason for this distinction, my point here is only that the Promethean sacrifice is consistent with the prototypical sacrifice of epic and the definition of the human condition it implies. See Nagy 1979, 216–217 with sec. 7 n. 2.
[ back ] 84. Zeus’s androgyny consists in his combination of the masculine trait of supremely destructive force with the creative ability to give birth to a child; for a detailed demonstration: see below, 91–93.
[ back ] 85. I base this statement on the absence in Greek myth and epic of a social group exercising cunning together as a group of warriors can exercise force. On the contrary, individuals are regularly the contrivers of ruses. There are indeed classes of animals that are known for their cunning, such as seals or cuttlefish, but that is not the point.
[ back ] 86. Detienne and Vernant 1974, 115–116. On multiplicity of form, see West on Theogony 831–35, citing Nonnus for actual metamorphoses. West points out that the different animals whose voices Typhoeus emits correspond to the typical animal metamorphoses, and that the use of the word ἄλλοτε in lines 833–835 is the standard formula with which to describe shape changing. This is a sign that changing shape and changing voice are mythological variants of each other, not that Typhoeus was “originally” a shape changer, as West argues on the basis of Near Eastern parallels.
[ back ] 87. By mythopoeic I mean a thought process that is acceptable or common in myth but marginal in terms of scientific thought. A precise parallel to this exchange of attributes in a similar context lies in the confrontation in Vedic mythology between Indra Vṛtrahan and the monster he slays, the Vṛtra, as discussed in Renou and Benveniste 1934. There is also the moment in book 22 of the Iliad, esp. lines 193–201, when Hector of the waving helm becomes swift-footed, precisely when he is wearing the armor of Patroklos, formerly Achilles’.
[ back ] 88. For more on the historical and dictional association of Zeus with the storm winds, see Nagy 1979, 321–323.
[ back ] 89. West on line 846 cites the association of πρήστηρ and τυφῶν in Aristophanes Lysistrata 974, and he also notes the underlying doubleness that the parallel points to: “It is impossible to allot one [wind or thunderbolt] to Zeus and the other to his adversary.”
[ back ] 90. West on line 845 supposes that this fire is arising from Typhoeus’s scorched body (an interpretation for which he cites line 859) and not the same as the fire from his eyes, which “are never actually said to burn anything” (though nothing is being burned here, either; he is referring to lines 826–827: ὄσσε … πῦρ ἀμάρυσσεν, “his eyes were flashing fire”). In this context, I would suggest that it is more likely that the tradition actually does envision fire flashing from the monster’s eyes; Sappho, as elsewhere, has metaphorized epic violence into erotic imagery, hence the “flash” or ἀμάρυχμα in Anaktoria’s eyes (fr. 16.18 L–P). Either way, the deeper point is that Zeus and Typhoeus are equals in the fiercest imaginable competition and that fire, like wind, is an attribute of both.
[ back ] 92. For a parallel, though contrastive use of the word ménos ‘mind-body energy’, see Andromache’s first words to Hector on the wall at Troy. Φθίσει σε τὸ σὸν μένος “That ménos of yours will wither you” (Iliad 6.407ff.), she predicts. Unlike Zeus, Hector does not get the better of his own ménos; in fact he dies in a confrontation with a hero of whom he is the double (above, n. 87), not the other way around (in other words, he is “someone else’s double,” if it is possible to think in such terms); that explains why Andromache’s remark is the inverse of Hesiod’s, for Achilles—not Hector—is the one strictly analogous to Zeus.
[ back ] 93. Along these same lines, one might expect the name of Zeus and Metis’s younger child to be Kingship. It is worth noting that in Aristophanes’ Birds, which features a magnificent parody of the Theogony in its parabasis (lines 685–702) and whose plot is a wild sequel to it, the name of Peisthetairos’s bride, in a marriage that marks his displacement of Zeus as the sovereign of the universe, is exactly that, Basileía ‘Kingship’ (Birds 1633, etc.), and she is even said to be Zeus’s daughter! I suggest that Aristophanes is referring to a variant tradition that is consistent in respect to both the name and the gender of this child with the succession myth in the Theogony. On the child’s gender, see below, 92–93.
[ back ] 94. Iliad 8.281, 18.114, etc.; kephalḗ is a variant for autós ‘dead body’ in Iliad 1.3 (cf. 11.55); on the meaning of autós, see below, Chapter 4, 99 n. 13.
[ back ] 95. For the essentially sexual nature of Ouranos’s existence, see Detienne and Vernant 1974, 67.
[ back ] 96. The absence of other offspring in this case shows how the retarded births of the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers are consistent with the logic of the whole myth, as I argued above, 76–78.