Chapter 4: Phílos


The specific values of Lat. cīvis ‘fellow citizen’, Got. heiwa- ‘family group’, Skt. śeva ‘friendly’ lead us to postulate for the Indo-European word *keiwo-, which these words enable us to reconstruct, a meaning with both a social reference and sentimental overtones.
The uses, especially the Homeric ones, of Gr. phílos and its derivatives point in the same direction, however unsure we may be about the full sense. The social meaning is prior and connected in particular with hospitality—the guest is phílos and benefits from the specific treatment designated by phileîn ‘to be hospitable’—but also with other forms of attachment and of mutual gratitude: phileîn, philótēs may imply the exchange of oaths and phílēma denotes the “kiss,” the regular form of greeting or welcome among phíloi. Emotional values appear when the term is used with reference to relations within a family group: phílos ‘dear’, philótēs ‘love’.
Such are the constant values of phílos, and meticulous analysis of the passages where phílos qualifies objects enables us to dispel the illusion, as old as Homeric philology itself, that phílos could be equivalent to a simple possessive word.


A connection between the terms signifying “friend” and others which denote in various ways “possession” is a fact of far-reaching importance. The use of these terms throws light on the close connection between social notions and sentimental values in Indo-European. But this connection is not apparent at first sight.
Let us consider the Latin term cīvis ‘citizen’, from which the abstract noun cīvitās is derived, designating properly the quality of a citizen and, collectively, the totality of the citizens, the city itself. Cīvis is peculiar to Latin vocabulary and it is hardly represented in Italic. So far as it designates the “citizen” it has no correspondent elsewhere. We can, however, link it together with terms found in Sanskrit and Germanic which can be equated formally, but which present a very different sense: Skt. śeva- ‘friendly’, Goth. heiwafrauja, which translates Gr. oikodespótēs ‘head of the family’. The Gothic form heiwa- exactly coincides with those of Sanskrit and Latin. All three presuppose an ancient *keiwo-s, which in Latin became an i-stem.
We are here confronted with a term common to a group of languages which is certainly ancient, but which had a different semantic evolution in each of them. Faced with these divergences some etymologists have doubted the correctness of this connection. But the objections do not take into consideration the relationships revealed by a closer examination of these forms, considered in their proper context.
In Germanic, the notion can be defined as familial and conjugal. The Gothic compound heiwa-frauja (with frauja ‘master’) translates Gr. oikodespótēs in Mark 14, 14, where the sense is “head of the family (who performs his duties of hospitality).” In other passages where Gr. oikodespótēs designates the “master of the house” with reference to his slaves, Gothic uses a different term, garda-waldans. The choice is instructive. To render the same Greek title, the translator distinguishes two notions; the “master of the house” is, according to the context, rendered either as garda-waldans ‘he who has the power (waldan) in the precincts of the house (gards)’, i.e. the one who commands the servants, or heiwa-frauja ‘he who is master (frauja) of the family’, i.e. the one who welcomes the passing guest under his roof. Gothic separates the “house” as a place of habitation and an enclosed domain (gards) from the “house” as a family grouping and a circle of personal relations, which is called heiwa-. In other Germanic languages this sense is clearly confirmed by Old High German hīwo ‘husband’, hiwa ‘wife’, hīun (Old Icel. hjōn, hjū) ‘conjugal couple’, -rat (German Heirat) ‘marriage’, Old Icel. hy-ske ‘family’, etc. All these show that *keiwo- (*kiwo-) referred in ancient Germanic to the situation of persons united by the marriage bond and comprised in the family circle. This institutional notion also appears in the Skt. words śeva-, śiva-which are translated as “propitious, friendly, dear.” They reflect the sentimental aspect of a relation between groups. This is seen especially in the very frequent association in the Vedic hymns between śeva-, śiva- and sakhā- ‘companion’ (cf. Latin socius), implying a certain type of friendly behavior towards partners in the alliance.
Finally, Latin cīvis is also a term of companionship implying a community of habitat and political rights. The authentic sense of cīvis is not “citizen,” as it is traditionally translated, but “fellow-citizen.” A number of ancient uses show the sense of reciprocity which is inherent in cīvis, and which alone accounts for cīvitās as a collective notion. We must look upon cīvis as the designation by which the members of a group, who enjoy indigenous rights, originally addressed each other, as contrasted with the different varieties of “strangers,” hostes, peregrini, advenae. It is in Latin that Indo-European *keiwos (in the form of *keiwis) acquired its strongest institutional sense. From the ancient relationship of “friendship,” which Vedic śeva- denotes, to the better attested sense “group by matrimonial alliance,” which appears in Germanic heiwa- and, finally, to the concept of “co-partners in political rights,” which Latin cīvis expresses, there is a progression in three stages from the “closed group” to “the city.”
In this way we can restore the connection between “the house” as the family circle (Gothic heiwa), and the group within which the man who is a member of it is called cīvis. This close association engenders friendly relations: Skt. śeva- ‘dear’ is one of these terms which transpose what once expressed membership into a term of affection.
Not only is this connection irreproachable but it also illustrates the real nature of “friendship” at an ancient stage of the societies which are called Indo-European, where sentiment was inseparable from a lively awareness of group and class membership.
To this same category belongs another term of greater complexity, the history of which is played out in only one language—Greek. It appears to have an exclusively sentimental value and at first sight does not imply any truly social notions: this is the Gr. adjective phílos (φίλος) ‘friend’.
To all appearances nothing looks simpler than the connection between phílos ‘friend’ and philótēs, philía ‘friendship’. But what gives us pause is the well-known fact that in Homer phílos has two meanings: besides that of “friend,” phílos also has a possessive sense: phíla goúnata, phílos huiós (φίλα γούνατα, φίλος υἱός) do not indicate friendship, but possession: “his knees,” “his son.” Inasmuch as it expresses a possessive, phílos is used without reference to grammatical person, and may refer, according to context, to the first, second, or third person. It is a mark of possession which does not imply any friendly relation. Such is the difference between the two senses of phílos.
This has been much discussed; it suffices to recall the latest proposed attempts at an explanation. There is in fact no immediate satisfactory etymological connection for phílos. In 1923, Loewe [1] suggested that phílos might be connected with the first term in certain Germanic personal names: Old High German Bil(i)-frid, Bil-trud, Bili-gard etc. and further, with an Old English adjective bilewit ‘compassionate’. He traces all these terms back to the original sense of “well-meaning, friendly,” and then compares the stem of the Old English adjective with that of Gr. phílos. To this one can object that, first, the interpretation is made ad hoc from proper names which do not even belong to common Germanic; further, the Old English term does not actually signify “friendly”; finally, we have no ancient Germanic form for which we can posit with certainty an adjectival use.
In our case we are still left with the problem of explaining the possessive sense of phílos. This was felt by Kretschmer, who proposed a solution along quite different lines. [2] Like some other linguists he starts from the possessive sense, reversing the connection between the two phílos. He thinks that the original sense of phílos was “his”; this developed to “friend,” and this evolution of sense is supported by the analogy of Lat. suus. From the fact that suus, a possessive pronoun, gave rise to such expressions as sui ‘his own people’ and aliquem suum reddere ‘to make somebody his friend’, Kretschmer concludes that it is easy to pass from a possessive relationship to one of friendship. This would impel us to seek the etymology of phílos no longer as meaning “dear,” but as an ancient possessive. Now, neither the root nor the formation in -l- has correspondents among possessive pronouns within the classical limits of Indo-European. So Kretschmer adduced a Lydian word bilis, which in all probability signifies “his own,” and connects it with phílos.
The demonstration is hazardous in the extreme: both the original sense and the form are equally arbitrary, to say nothing of the legitimacy of a comparison with a language still as little known as Lydian. The point must be made that the whole construction rests on the exclusively possessive meaning from which Kretschmer started. But this sense is itself questionable. In fact, the sense is not that of a simple straightforward possessive, as we have a right to expect from this etymology. Examples of Indo-European possessives are not lacking in Homer, notably the forms of hós (ὅς) < *swos. Moreover, and this is the essential point, phílos marks the possession in a particular way and with restrictions which we must take into consideration.
Given that the notion of possession which phílos expresses is specific and limited we should, as a sound methodological principle, try to find as a point of departure a relation which would also cover the other sense of phílos as “friend.” We see now that Kretschmer did not pose the problem in the proper terms. [3]
Finally, there is a third fact to be taken into account: the verb phileîn (φιλεῖν), which does not only signify “love, feel friendship,” but also, from the earliest texts on, “to kiss”; the derivative phílēma (φίλημα) signifies nothing else but “kiss.” Now neither amor, nor amicus on the one hand, nor suus on the other, ever developed this precise sense. Thus any explanation, to be valid, must account for all three senses.
To understand this complex history we must remember that in Homer the whole vocabulary of moral terms is strongly permeated by values which are not personal but relational. What we take for a psychological terminology, an effective and moral one, refers in fact to the relations of an individual with the members of his group; and the close associations of certain of these moral terms with each other is such as to throw light on the initial sense.
For instance, there is a constant connection in Homer between phílos and the concept of aidṓs (αἰδώς), a very interesting term, and one which we must treat on its own. Expressions like: phílos te aidoîós te (φίλος τε αἰδοῖός τε), aidṑs kaì philótēs (αἰδὼς καὶ φιλότης), aideîsthai kaì phileîn (αἰδεῖσθαι καὶ φιλεῖν) indubitably show a close connection. Even if we keep to the accepted definitions, aidṓs ‘respect, reverence’, both as regards one’s own conscience and towards members of the same family, shows by its association with phílos that the two notions were both institutional and that they denote sentiments proper to the members of a closed group.
Thus, if a member of a given group is attacked or insulted, aidṓs will bring one of his kinsmen to act in his defense; more generally, within a given group one may assume the obligations of another because of aidṓs; the word also denotes the feeling of deference towards a person with whom one has ties. If a warrior spurs on his faltering comrades with the cry of aidṓs! he recalls them to a sense of that collective conscience, the self-respect, which will restore their solidarity.
Within a much larger community, aidṓs defines the sentiment felt by superiors towards their inferiors (regard, pity, mercy, sympathy in misfortune, etc.), as well as honor, loyalty, collective propriety, the prohibition of certain acts, of certain modes of behavior—and it develops finally to the several senses of “modesty” and “shame.”
Aidṓs throws light on the proper sense of phílos. Both are employed with reference to the same person; both designate on the whole the same type of relationship. Relatives, in-laws, servants, friends, all those who are united by reciprocal duties of aidṓs are called phíloi.
It now remains to determine what properly characterizes phílos, or the relationship of philótēs. The abstract word is more informative than the adjective. What is philótēs?
In order to define this notion we can use a valuable pointer provided by Homeric phraseology: this is the connection between phílos and xénos, between phileîn and xenízein. We may state straight away what this combination tells us in a number of uses: the notion of phílos expresses the behavior incumbent on a member of the community towards a xénos, the “guest-stranger.” This is the definition which we propose.
This relationship is fundamental both in the Homeric picture of society and in the terms which refer to it. In order to understand it clearly, we must envisage the situation of a xénos, of a “guest,” who is visiting a country where, as a stranger, he is deprived of all rights, of all protection, of all means of existence. He finds no welcome, no lodging and no guarantee except in the house of the man with whom he is connected by philótēs. This bond is given visible expression in the súmbolon, the sign of recognition, which has the form of a broken ring, the matching halves of which were kept by the parties to the relationship. The pact concluded in the name of philótēs makes the contracting parties phíloi: they are henceforth committed to a reciprocity of services which constitute “hospitality.”
This is why the verb phileîn expresses the prescribed conduct of the person who welcomes a xénos to his hearth and whom he treats according to ancestral custom. The heroes in Homer on many occasions insist on these ties: “it is I,” says Antenor, recalling a visit which Odysseus and Menelaus paid him, “it is I who entertained them (exeínissa) and welcomed (phílēsa) them in my house” (Il. 3, 207). The sense of “welcome (a guest)” comes out clearly in an example like the following: “There was a rich man but he was phílos to men, because he welcomed (philéesken) everybody, his house being on the roadside” (Il. 6, 15). The relation of sentiment to behavior, of phílos to phileîn, comes out clearly in this passage. In the Odyssey, Odysseus, welcomed as a guest (xeînos) in Laodamas’s house, is invited to show his talents in a competition. He accepts: I do not reject any competitor, he says, with the exception of Laodamas, “because he is my xénos. Who could compete against his host, the one who welcomes him (philéonti)?” (Od. 8, 208). Elsewhere a messenger comes to warn Menelaus that two foreign visitors (xeínō) are outside the house: “Shall we unharness their horses or shall we conduct them to somebody else who will make them welcome (hós ke philḗsēi)?” (Od. 4, 29). In yet another passage Calypso tells how a survivor from a shipwreck had been cast ashore on her island. “I made him welcome (phíleon), I fed him and promised to make him immortal” (Od. 5, 135). This close relationship between xénos and phílos is also evidenced by the Homeric compound philóxenos ‘he for whom the xénos is a phílos’ (a quality associated with theoudḗs ‘who reveres the gods’, Od. 6, 121), the only compound with phílo- where the second term applies to a person.
The gods are said to phileîn mortals, that is to say, they show them the regards and favors due to phíloi. This is why it is said that a man is phílos theoísinphílos to the gods’ and, more specifically, diíphilos, arēíphilosphílos to Zeus, to Ares’. Here we find the institutional basis of the notion of phílos in society, with all the implications with which this personal relationship is fraught. Philótēs in particular can come about in exceptional circumstances, even between combatants, as a solemn covenant in which the sentiment of “friendship,” in the ordinary sense, is not involved.
We have an instructive example in the Iliad (3, 94). Hector proposes that Menelaus and Paris should fight by themselves for the possession of Helen; they shall meet in single combat and the victor shall take her with all her possessions … hoi ďálloi philótēta kaì hórkia pistà támōmen (οἱ δ’ἄλλοι φιλότητα καὶ ὅρκια πιστὰ τάμωμεν), ‘The rest of us shall conclude a philótēs and bind ourselves by a solemn oath’. The philótēs is put on the same level with hórkia ‘oaths’; it is a group relationship sealed by a solemn oath. This terminology is what is employed to conclude pacts which are sealed by a sacrifice. The philótēs appears as a “friendship” of a very definite type which is binding and involves reciprocal pledges, accompanied by solemn oaths and sacrifices.
In another passage of the Iliad (7, 302), the duel between Ajax and Hector is drawn out; they have fought each other for a long time and night falls. They pledge themselves to separate. Let us exchange gifts, says Hector, so that it may be said among the Achaeans and Trojans: “they have met in single combat,” ēd’ aût’ en philótēti diétmagen arthmḗsante (ἠδ’ αὖτ’ ἐν φιλότητι διέτμαγεν ἀρθμήσαντε) ‘and then they separated, having bound themselves in philótēs’. As witness of the philótēs thus concluded the two champions exchange their most precious arms. Hector gives his finest bow and Ajax a magnificent belt. This behavior, as well as the formula used in the pledge, shows the compelling force of philótēs, which intervenes between combatants who are enemies and remain so. In these circumstances, it comes to an agreement to break off the combat for the time being by mutual consent in order to resume it at a more favorable moment. It is agreement which is expressed by the word philótēs: a precise action which binds (ἀρθμήσαντε) the two partners. But we see also that the pledge follows a set form. It comprises the exchange of arms and gifts. We have here an example of a well-known type of exchange, which solemnizes a pact.
A further example follows. When Hector and Achilles are going to face each other in a final duel, Hector proposes an agreement that the corpse of the loser should not be thrown to the beasts. Achilles replies: “Do not propose an agreement. There are no pledges (hórkia pistá) between lions and men. The hearts of wolves and sheep do not beat in unison, but constantly do they devise evil for each other; even so is it not possible for you and me to be in philótēs, and there will be no hórkia between us”: emè kaì sè philḗmenai oudé ti nō̄̂in hórkia éssontai (ἐμὲ καὶ σὲ φιλήμεναι, οὐδέ τι νῶιν ὅρκια ἔσσονται), (until one or the other is killed), (Il. 22, 261-266). Here, too, we have a mutual pledge of a binding nature. Thus we have three examples which show how far the use of phileîn may extend. The behavior expressed by phileîn always has an obligatory character and always implies reciprocity; it is the accomplishment of positive actions which are implied in the pact of mutual hospitality.
The institutional context also illuminates the special meaning of the verb phileîn in the sense of “to kiss” (modern Greek philô ‘to kiss’), which gave rise to the exclusive sense of the derivative phílēma ‘the kiss’. Here, again, we must go back to the original meaning of the term, which seems to us merely to denote affection. The act of “kissing” has its place in the comportment of “friendship” as a mark of recognition between phíloi. This usage was not exclusively Greek. Herodotus remarks on it among the Persians, and he uses the verb phileîn as the natural expression to describe it. We quote this very instructive text:
When the Persians meet on the street, we can tell by this sign whether they belong to the same rank: instead of greeting each other with words, they kiss each other (philéousi) on the mouth. If one of the two is slightly inferior in status, they kiss (philéousi) each other on the cheek. If one of them is of very inferior rank, he throws himself on his knees and prostrates himself before the other.
I, 134
The same custom is reported by Xenophon:
At the moment of the departure of Cyrus, his relations (sungeneîs) took leave of him by kissing him (philoûntas) on the mouth, following a custom which still exists today among the Persians.
Cyropaedia I, 4, 27
We might also recall here, in the Christian period, the “kiss” (phílēma, Lat. osculum), as the sign of recognition which Christ and his disciples, and later the members of the first communities, exchanged. In more recent times, the kiss is the gesture which dedicates the knight in the ceremony of accolade, and even today it marks the reception of a dignitary into an order of chivalry, at the time of the delivery of the insignia.
In these different forms we find the same ancient relationship of favor from the host to the guest, from god to man, from master to his inferiors, from the head of the house towards the members of his family. It is a close tie which is established between persons and which subsequently turns this “friendship” into something personal.
This mutual relationship entails a certain form of affection which becomes obligatory between the partners of the philótēs. The manifestation of this relationship is the welcome of the phílos to the hearth of his phílos, the exchange of presents, the reminder of the similar ties established between the ancestors of the partners and sometimes of matrimonial alliances concluded on the occasion of visits made or returned.
All this gives an emotional color to the relationship between phíloi and, as tends to happen, the sentimental attitude goes beyond the bounds of the institution; the name οf phílos is extended to relations living in the same house as the master of the house, especially to her whom he has introduced as his wife. This is why we frequently have the qualification of phílē in apposition with álokhos, ákoitis ‘spouse’ in Homer. Certain uses still show the nature of this relationship and how it is attached to the ancient norm; for instance, the following passage of the Iliad:
I possess, says Agamemnon, three daughters in my manor. Let Achilles take away the one whom he would like as phílē in the house of Peleus, and this without offering me gifts.
9, 146–7
From the fact that she is taken away in the required form, the young girl given by her father whom the young husband introduces into his own home is bound to this family group by conventions as well as by ties of affection: the conditions under which her father has given her make her in some way into a pledge of a philótēs concluded between two men, at the same time as she acquires, once installed in her new home, the status of phílē ákoitis, a wife (cf. Il. 9, 397).
Once an emotional value was attached to phílos it became an epithet or form of address used towards those who live in the home, whether as relations, father, mother, wife, children, or even as domestics, such as the old nurse (maîa) Eurycleia. The term is affectionate and this quality finds, after Homer, its proper expression in the abstract philía ‘friendship’, which is distinguished from philótēs, as well as from the verb phileîn, which in current use, from Homer on, had the meaning “to love” (with sensual love).
Here we find the most curious development in this semantic history. It is especially characteristic of the language and style of Homer. The use of phílos, going beyond the sphere of human relations, is extended to objects of various kinds to which the common and constant meaning of “dear” could hardly apply. Apparently phílos denotes nothing more than possession; it becomes the equivalent to a simple possession and is generally translated as such. But there is no agreement about the explanation of this development.
We begin by delimiting it into three groups of usage. In the first place, phílos appears often with things which are most closely linked with the person: soul, heart, life, breath; with parts of the body: limbs, knees, chest and eyelids; to these we add the more general reflexive function. Then it is used with the terms designating places which are presumably “dear,” notably the “homeland” (phílēn es patrída gaîan is a frequent formula), or the “return” (nóstos). Finally, we have a short list of terms which do not seem to involve any emotional coloring: gifts, house, clothes, bed; and the function here must be one of possession pure and simple.
How can we classify these notions by relating them to the persons who habitually receive the epithet phílos, that is, those who, as we have seen, are united by the bond of xenía, as well as the members of the family, father, mother, spouse, children? And how can we establish the transition between these uses, some of which are of frequent occurrence, and those which are connected with institutions?
Some scholars have thought that the possessive sense of phílos, for instance when it qualifies ē̂tor ‘heart’, resulted from the use of phílos with kinship terms. As in French les miens, les siens ‘my people, his people’ are said for the members of the family, similarly phílos would have become restricted to a possessive function. But this argument is false from the start: in the expression les miens for “my parents” the contrary development has taken place, i.e. the possession has come to be used with reference to relatives.
Still others think on the contrary that the first sense attributable to phílos should be “his,” as illustrated by the possessive uses, and that this gave rise to the notion of “dear.” In this way the problem would be most simply and easily solved. But this solution would merely replace one difficulty by another, and a still greater one: how can a simple possessive adjective have produced such a wealth of conceptions? This fact would be unparalleled. Finally, as has been shown above, phílos is deeply rooted in the most ancient institutions of society and denotes a specific type of human relationship. This alone would be a sufficient reason to reject so fine-spun and flimsy a semantic thread.
We find ourselves finally left with two equally unsatisfactory solutions. We should be deluding ourselves if we believed that there is any easy transition from “dear” or “friend” to “personal” and finally to “(his) own.” Such an evolution, where the primary sense was supposedly so quickly attenuated, is hardly conceivable. But it goes against all the evidence to reverse the relationships and to posit a possessive “his” as the original sense, which gradually developed the meaning “friend” or “dear.”
Such is the present state of the problem. We find ourselves faced with a choice of roads which lead nowhere. This state of affairs, because of its very peculiarity, suggests that the dilemma may be due to inexact interpretation. We must therefore take up the problem again from the beginning. The crucial point lies in the relation of the “emotional” sense to the “possessive” sense. We have already seen that one of the two fundamental facts, the notion of “friend,” must be reinterpreted within the framework of “hospitality.” What of the other datum, that of phílos as a possessive? A new examination is necessary here, too. We shall therefore run through the Homeric examples which are everywhere registered as simply indicating possession, where phílos qualifies objects rather than persons. We list these combinations one after the other and comment briefly on the principal passages quoted. The contexts are always important in such material.
Phílos with dō̂ron ‘gift’. The context οf phíla dō̂ra (Odyssey 8, 545) is as clear as one would wish: the situation is that of the host (xeinodókos) vis-à-vis his guest (xeînos). Alkinoos recalls the duties incumbent on him: the guest is escorted (pompḗ), he is offered the phíla dō̂ra which are the “gifts of hospitality,” because of the above mentioned relation between the phílos and the xénos. The expression recurs in Odysseus’ speech of thanks to Alkinoos, who has given him shelter: pompḕ kaì phíla dō̂ra (13, 41). Further (Il. 24,68), the phíla dō̂ra of Hector are the gifts offered to Zeus, and he in return regards Hector as phíltatos because of his devotion to him and towards all the gods. The term in this example illustrates the relationship between men and gods, who are mutually phíloi. In all these examples, therefore, the epithet applied to the “gifts” is that which is appropriate to those who offer it as a mark of hospitality, so that phílos is in no way a simple possessive.
Phílos with dô̄ma ‘house’ (Od. 18, 421) introduces us to the same situation: “let us, says Amphinomos, leave this guest (xeînos) to the good offices of Telemachus, since he has come under his hospitable roof (toû gàr phílon híketo dô̄ma ).” Here, too, we must evidently focus on the connection phílos-xénos: phílon dô̄ma is the home of the one who conducts himself as a phílos.
Phílos with démnion ‘bed’ (Od. 8, 277): phíla démnia designates the “marriage bed” in the episode when Hephaistos is deceived by his wife. We have seen above that phílos is the frequent epithet of ákoitis, álokhos, of the wife and the hearth. The misfortune of Hephaistos highlights the value of the adjective: the bed, called phílos because it is the marriage bed, has been the place of the infidelity; it will also be the place of revenge.
This brings us to the uses where phílos is applied to terms for habitation.
With oikíon ‘house, nest’: phíla oikía is the nest where the bird finds its young (Il. 12, 221). Very frequent is the formula phílē gaîa for the homeland, the dream of wanderers, and those away at the wars, the earth which contains his hearth and home. It is especially when they express their desire to return home that the phrase phílēn es patrída gaîan ‘to their phílē native land’ becomes charged with emotional force. Consequently it is not surprising to find phílos used with nóstos ‘the return home’ (Il. 16, 82). All that phílos suggests when it evokes the persons living in the same home is transferred here to the “land” where this home is situated and to the “return” which is longed for. If we reduce all this to a simple possessive use, it would empty phílos of its true sense.
We must restore all its components to the adjective in order to interpret phílos with heímata ‘clothes’:
(Take care, Odysseus shouts at Thersites, if you continue your insults) I will take away the phíla heímata, the mantle and tunic which cover your secret parts (aidō̂) and I will beat you black and blue before chasing you away ignominiously.
Il. 2, 261
Here we have an allusion to the relationship which unites phílos and aidō̂s (see above) in a particular application: the clothes have at one and the same time an intimate relation with the user (they are the clothes which protect his modesty) and also with respect to society. “These clothes which are phíla to you” is here, too, a transposition to things of phílos which is properly applied to persons.
We now pass on to another group of notions, the limbs and other parts of the body qualified by phílos. In some examples the use of phílos in its full sense is beyond any doubt. When Priam appeals to Hector not to expose his life, which is phílē, in combat (Il. 22, 58), it is a father who is speaking, trembling with emotion. When Achilles announces that he will go to confront Hector “the destroyer of the phílē head” (Il. 18, 114), we must understand that the head of Patroclus was phílē to him, being that of a phílos. A little more subtle, but still fully comprehensible provided that we put it in its context, is the use, at first surprising, with laimós ‘throat’ (Il. 19, 209). But we must read the whole passage: Achilles refuses to stop fighting until he has avenged Patroclus:
No food nor drink shall pass my phílos throat, now that my companion (hetaîros) is dead and lies surrounded by his weeping companions.
The sorrow of Achilles is that of a phílos, and the feeling of having lost his hetaîros makes him put aside all desire for food. Later, when the elders again press him to take food, Achilles exclaims again, with a significant repetition of the epithet, but this time replacing the “throat” by the “heart.”
No, do not ask me to satisfy my phílon ē̂tor, when a terrible anguish afflicts me.
Il. 19, 305-7
Used with ē̂tor ‘heart’ or with laimós ‘throat’, in the circumstances where everything reminds Achilles of his lost friend, phílos retains its full sense, both institutional and sentimental. There is simply a transference of the epithet, a bold use with laimós (of which it is the only example), but quite frequent with ē̂tor, which applies to a part of the body the expression appropriate to a person.
With kheîres ‘hands’, phílos preserves in several passages its proper function: to lift towards the gods phílas kheîras (Il. 7, 130) is certainly the gesture appropriate to those bound to the gods by the relationship of philótēs. When Ino gathers khersí phílēsi Odysseus, who is exhausted after the shipwreck (Od. 5,462), the epithet is a good expression of the intention to welcome and protect. Similarly the sailors stranded on the Island of the Sun, in search of food, try to catch birds and fishes, phílas hó ti kheîras híkoito ‘everything which came to their phílas hands’ (Od. 12, 331): here, again, the gesture of the extended hands, ready to receive, is that of the phíloi to whom the gifts are offered; the epithet denotes a gesture which imitates that of welcome.
This is also the sense of a passage of the Iliad (18, 2) where Achilles, grieved by the death of Patroclus, rends his own face philēsi khersí: the pain of a phílos is transferred to the hands which manifest it.
With goúnata ‘knees’ phílos can also be restored to its proper function. What does the gesture of Eurycleia signify, when she puts on the knees, phíla goúnata, of Autolycus the newly-born grandson which his daughter has presented him with (Od. 19, 401)? Here we have a ritual of recognition, an acknowledgement, the phíla goúnata of the father or grandfather who receive the newborn child and thus legitimize it as a member of the family. The same connection between the bond of kinship and the expression phíla goúnata explains another passage in the Odyssey (21, 55), when Penelope takes on her phíla goúnata the bow of Odysseus, who is still absent, and bursts into tears. Significant also, but in a different way, is phílos for the knees of a warrior (phíla goúnata) in the heat of battle: Hector’s shield knocking against his phíla goúnata (Il. 7, 271); or in facing one’s fate: Achilles (9, 610) says and Agamemnon repeats (10, 90) “as long as the breath stays in my chest and my phíla goúnata move.” It is at the moment when, chosen by the fate of Zeus, the hero faces his supreme test and must fight to the limit of his strength, that he speaks of his phíla goúnata: his knees will carry him until the end, they will not fail him, and in so doing they will show themselves phíla. The context shows what this quality represents in such circumstances.
Very close in sense is the connection of phílos with guîa ‘limbs’: the phíla guîa of a warrior are “loosened,” “become tired” in combat. We must see in the phíla guîa an expression as significant as phaídima guîa ‘shining, glistening limbs’.
We finally come to the examples—and they are very numerous—where phílos accompanies the word for “heart”: phílon ē̂tor (or kê̄r) is so frequent a phrase that it passes for the typical example of the “possessive” use of phílos. We believe, on the contrary, that the adjective here keeps its full force and that it often suffices to refer to the context to see this. We must of necessity limit ourselves to a few examples.
In the first book of the Odyssey there are no less than six of them. Athena wants to influence her father Zeus in favor of Odysseus: “Cannot your phílon heart be softened?” (1, 60), and she reminds him that formerly he took pleasure in the offerings of Odysseus. Her wish is then that Zeus again become a phílos to Odysseus and she repeats (1, 82): “if it is phílon to the gods that Odysseus should return to his home…” Next we have examples of phílos in family relationships: Telemachus is sad in his heart (phílon) when he recalls the memory of his father (114), and the heart (phílon kê̄r) of Penelope is anguished when the song of the bard recalls her loss (341). Phílos occurs also in connection with hospitality: Telemachus welcomes the xénos, wants to detain him and assures him he will return bathed, heaped with gifts and glad in his (phílon) heart. But the xénos (in fact it is Athena in disguise) excuses himself for not being able to stay: he will return to accept the gift which his phílon heart prompts Telemachus to give (316). This is the terminology of the philótēs, and the epithet is simply transferred from the host to his heart.
The following passages should also be read: the phílon heart of Menelaus breaks when he learns that his brother has been assassinated (Od. 4, 538); the phílon heart of Penelope is afflicted in her fear for her son (804), and it is relieved when a dream reassures her (840). Sometimes there is a play on the senses of the same expression. Menelaus learns from Proteus that he must return to the shores of the Egyptus before he comes back home and joins his phíloi, his family (375), and this his phílon heart laments (481). But when Menelaus recalls the valor of Odysseus and says that he has never seen a hero who had a phílon heart like his (270), he evokes an echo of the lament of Telemachus: of what use was it to him to have a heart of iron (kradíē sidēréē) in his breast? (293) Here, as with phíla goúnata, the quality indicated is “not to weaken,” “to remain constant and firm.”
It would take many chapters to list and analyze with the necessary care all the examples of phílos where it is said to be “possessive.” We believe, however, that we have interpreted the most important. This re-examination was necessary to expose a long-standing error, which is probably as old as Homeric exegesis, and has been handed down from generation to generation of scholars. The whole problem of phílos deserves a full examination. We must start from uses and contexts which reveal in this term a complex network of associations, some with institutions of hospitality, others with usages of the home, still others with emotional behavior; we must do this in order to understand plainly the metaphorical applications to which the term lent itself. All this wealth of concepts was smothered and lost to view once phílos was reduced to a vague notion of friendship or wrongly interpreted as a possessive adjective. It is high time we learned again how to read Homer.
As to the etymology of phílos, it is now clear that nothing which has been proposed on this subject holds good any longer. [4] We now know that the proto-history of the word belongs to the most ancient form of Greek: Mycenean already had proper names composed with phílo-: pi-ro-pa-ta-ra (= Philopatra), pi-ro-we-ko (= Philowergos), etc. The discussion about its origins is thus not yet finished. It is more important to begin to see what it signifies.


[ back ] 1. Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung 51, p. 187ff.
[ back ] 2. In Indogermanische Forschungen 45, 1927, p. 267.
[ back ] 3. The same may be said of a recent study of the same problem, that of H. B. Rosén, Strukturalgrammatische Beiträge zum Verständnis Homers, Amsterdam, 1967, p. 12ff., which traces all the examples of phílos back to a possessive sense without regard for the variety of contexts, or the precise meaning of phileîn, philótēs, phílēma.
[ back ] 4. The interpretation of phílos given here goes beyond and greatly adds to what was proposed in December 1936 to a meeting of the Société de Linguistique; a resumé of the paper appeared in Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris 38 (1937), Procès-verbaux, p. x.