The Pragmatics of Verbal Abuse in Homer [*]

Giuseppe Lentini, Sapienza University of Rome



By employing recent work done in the discipline of Pragmatics (Historical Pragmatics; (Im)politeness studies), this paper aims to sketch out a typology and a description of the dynamics of verbal abuse in Homer. The metalanguage of verbal abuse, that is, how the narrator and the characters of the poems ‘talk about’ and categorize this phenomenon, will also be analyzed.


§1 Homeric verbal abuse in recent studies
§2 Historical Pragmatics and the ‘pragmatic space’ of verbal abuse
§3 (Im)politeness theory
§4 Types of verbal abuse in Homer (I): flyting (intercommunal verbal abuse)
§5 Is verbal abuse ‘cooperative’?
§6 Types of verbal abuse in Homer (II): the Irus episode
§7 Types of verbal abuse in Homer (III): intracommunal, non-disruptive, verbal abuse
§8 Types of verbal abuse in Homer (IV): the dialogue between Eurymachus and Odysseus
§9 The metalanguage of verbal abuse (I): νεικέω, εὔχομαι, ἀπειλέω
§10 The metalanguage of verbal abuse (II): κερτομέω
§11 Types of verbal abuse in Homer (V): intracommunal, (potentially) disruptive, verbal abuse.

§1 Homeric Verbal Abuse in Recent Studies

Over the past few decades, many works have appeared with a focus on verbal abuse in Homer within more general treatments of speech and conversation in ancient Greek epic. [1] In his seminal The Language of Heroes, R. Martin has applied innovatively the “speech-act theory” of Austin and Searle as well as the insights on “genres” of speaking developed by Bakhtin and Todorov to a study of the language used by the characters of Homer’s Iliad. [2] As far as abuse is concerned, Martin has insisted on its ritual and “generic” aspects: on the one hand, he considers abuse in Homeric poetry an institutionalized speech genre, as the contemporary verbal contests of “dozens” and “sounding” are; [3] on the other hand, following G. Nagy’s fundamental analysis of neikos in archaic Greek poetic traditions, he sees in Homeric abusive speeches a reflex of the poetic traditions of praise and blame abundantly attested in Greek poetry, which have a good claim to being inherited Indo-European poetic genres. [4] Moreover, further broadening the comparatist bent of his approach, he uses the term flyting, which is in fact native to the Germanic genre of verbal contests, to refer to the phenomenon of abuse in the Iliad. [5]
The conceptual underpinnings of Martin’s analysis can also be found in other recent titles dealing with verbal abuse in Homer. H. Mackie relies on the opposition between the genre of blame (flyting or neikos) and the genre of praise in order to characterize the language of the Achaeans as opposed to that of the Trojans in the Iliad: flyting is prominent among the Greeks, where it is used to get the warriors to act as a group, while it is not widely used by the Trojans. [6] E. Minchin starts from Martin’s assumption that Homeric speeches are imitations of real-life conversations, and analyzes the rebukes in Homer (which, as we shall see, may be characterized by verbal abuse) in order to show their analogies to contemporary rebukes. [7] D. Beck’s work, while innovative in its application of the theories of conversation and discourse analysis, insists on the typicality of conversation exchanges in Homer; precisely in this light, she also analyzes the abusive speeches that take place on the battlefield (challenges and vaunts; rebukes), and less commonly elsewhere (most notably, in the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon in the Achaean assembly of Iliad 1). [8]
In this paper I will attempt a sketch of the pragmatics of verbal abuse in Homer. With the works I have just mentioned I share the general idea that Homeric discourse can be analyzed with the help of basically the same tools we use for our own everyday language. However, the insistence of those works on the “generic” aspects of verbal abuse, as well as their more or less pronounced dependence on the “speech-act theory” of Austin and Searle, seem to me to be inadequate to illustrate effectively the phenomenon of abuse in Homer: insisting on its ‘generic’ aspects may lead us to neglect important differences in its forms and functions, while classic speech-act theory may prove too rigid to tackle its multiformity. In order to reach a more nuanced understanding of Homeric abuse, then, I suggest we make use of recent work done in the discipline of pragmatics.

§2 Historical Pragmatics and the “Pragmatic Space” of Verbal Abuse

It is possible to investigate the pragmatics of verbal abuse in Homer by using a contrastive method. The sub-discipline of Historical Pragmatics seeks “to understand the patterns of intentional human interaction (as determined by the condition of society) of earlier periods, the historical developments of these patterns, and the general principles underlying such developments;” it does so precisely by contrasting our own linguistic habits with those of earlier periods. [9] Even if Historical Pragmatics is normally engaged in diachronic analyses of linguistic functions and forms within the history of a single language, the application of a contrastive method appears to be equally possible when dealing with two (or even more) languages.
Verbal abuse, however, is a difficult unit of investigation. In an article aiming at a diachronic analysis of insults in the history of the English Language, A.H. Jucker and I. Taavitsainen define insult as “a disparaging predication by a speaker about a target, experienced by the same target as a face-threatening speaker intention” (as is clear from this definition, the two scholars interpret the term “insult” broadly enough, since it in practice overlaps with the notion of verbal abuse). [10] Insults, then, “describe to a large extent the effect on the addressee: that is to say a perlocutionary effect.” [11] As a consequence, the illocutionary force of an utterance that is considered an insult may vary. In theory, an utterance of any illocutionary force can be perceived as insulting. The two scholars, then, rejecting in practice an application of speech-act theory in its most conservative, Searlean, sense, prefer to think of speech-acts in terms of “prototypes,” that is, of “fuzzy concepts that show both diachronic and synchronic variation within a pragmatic space.” [12] This notion of “pragmatic space” is employed “in analogy to the concept of semantic fields in which expressions are analyzed in relation to neighboring expressions.” They identify some of the most important “dimensions” of the pragmatic space of insults. On the formal level, they distinguish between ritual (rule governed) and creative insults, as well as between typified and ad hoc insults. On the semantic level, they distinguish between truth-conditional and performative insults; in relation to their degree of dependence on the context, insults may be considered conventional or rather particular; further, depending on the speaker’s attitude, it may be possible to distinguish between ludic vs. aggressive insults; intentional vs. unintentional; insults characterized by irony or rather sincerity; finally, an aspect which should not be neglected is the reaction to insults: a response in kind is opposed to a reaction on a different plane, which may entail a denial, silence, or physical violence. [13]

§3 (Im)politeness Theory

We will make use of these categories for our analysis of Homeric verbal abuse; in fact, some more will have to be added. For the moment, though, I suggest we elaborate further on the connection between insults and face-threats which Jucker and Taavitsainen hint at, but do not develop, in their definition of insults. The notion of a face-threat (and face-threatening acts) is well-known, thanks especially to “Politeness theory.” In Brown and Levinson’s classical exposition, “face” corresponds to “the want to be unimpeded” (in their terminology, negative face) and “the want to be approved of in certain respects” (in their terminology, positive face). [14] Brown and Levinson’s general assumption is that, except in cases where there is particular urgency or desperation and the utmost efficiency is required, two persons engaged in verbal interaction will avoid performing or will adequately “redress” acts threatening each other’s face (face-threatening acts), such as orders, requests, threats, and warnings (affecting negative face), or expressions of disapproval, criticism, contempt or ridicule, insults, disagreements, and challenges (affecting positive face). [15] A face-threatening act can be avoided by going off-record (that is, being indirect); [16] or it can be “redressed” by using several politeness strategies (for example, apologizing or seeking agreement, presupposing common ground with the hearer and so on). [17]
Brown and Levinson focused almost exclusively on harmonious interactions, that is, on how language can preserve social harmony; in so doing, they tended to give the impression that conflictive interactions are negligible. [18] As a reaction to this limit, a growing number of scholars have started concentrating their efforts in showing that language can breach social harmony and the very opposite of politeness, impoliteness, is not only a very common phenomenon, but also well worth investigating. [19] Impoliteness studies then aim at treating face-threat or, better, face-attack strategies systematically. [20] Scholars working on impoliteness tend to advocate a broader, more flexible, and less individualistic understanding of the notion of face than that employed by Brown and Levinson. [21] A model that seems better equipped to analyze face-attack strategies is Spencer-Oatey’s “Rapport Management” framework. [22] Spencer-Oatey’s framework consists of five categories: three types of faces (“quality,” “relational,” and “social identity”), and two types of sociality rights (“equity” and “association” rights). Quality Face corresponds to the desire of being valued positively, while Social Identity Face describes the desire to be respected and accepted in one’s social roles; Relational Face concerns a positive evaluation in relation to a group of significant others. On the other hand, Equity Rights have to do with the desire of being treated fairly and not unduly imposed by others; Association Rights with the belief that one is entitled to associate with and have positive relationships with others. In his recent survey, J. Culpeper relies on this model to tackle most of the many questions posed by the study of impoliteness phenomena: impoliteness’ relationship with intentionality; its conventionalized forms and its indirect, implicational forms; the contexts legitimizing impoliteness and those exacerbating it; and the functions of impoliteness events. [23] We shall confront some of these same questions in our analysis of Homeric verbal abuse.

§4 Types of Verbal Abuse in Homer (I): Flyting (Intercommunal Verbal Abuse)

By surveying recent work in different strands of pragmatics, we have sketched out some of the interpretive tools potentially useful in our analysis of verbal abuse in Homer, and we have hinted at some of the questions posed by such a study. We will now seek to define the typologies of verbal abuse in Homer and its metalanguage (that is, how the narrator and the characters talk about verbal abuse). [24] Before that, however, there is one more dimension in addition to those already outlined that we will have to take into account in our analysis. This has to do with the orientation of the conflict kindled or fueled by a verbally abusive phenomenon. As M. Nagler has shown, for an evaluation of conflict within the Homeric poems it is of the utmost importance to establish whether the conflict is perceived to be happening within the community or is projected outside the community against an external enemy. This opposition is often a question of points of view, of how the two sides involved in the fight or an external observer interpret the conflict, and cannot always be defined on objective grounds. [25]
Our starting point will be the typical abusive exchange taking place between adversaries on the battlefield. The many examples in the Iliad have significant elements in common with the flyting of Germanic epic tradition. This has led scholars to apply the term flyting also to the Homeric episodes, or even to Homeric verbal abuse tout court. [26] I believe it is much more useful to limit the use of this term to the verbal contests on the battlefield, which are quite unequivocally intercommunal in orientation. [27]
An elaborate and extended example of this genre can be found in the encounter between Achilles and Aineias in Iliad 20, which moreover offers precious metalinguistic hints. [28] Precisely as Germanic flyting, Homeric verbal dueling on the battlefield, normally leading to actual, physical combat, is a multi-speech-act event, encompassing boasts, threats, curses, vows, disparaging remarks, and commands. [29] Its ritual character has been connected ethologically to ceremonialized aggression in animals, [30] and is evident from its typical sequence of Claim, Defense (optional), and Counterclaim. [31] In the episode we have just mentioned, the two heroes, Achilles and Aineias, stand out of the crowd as they are eager to fight against each other (Iliad 20.158–160):
δύο δ’ ἀνέρες ἔξοχ’ ἄριστοι
ἐς μέσον ἀμφοτέρων συνίτην μεμαῶτε μάχεσθαι
Αἰνείας τ’ Ἀγχισιάδης καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς
two men far greater than all the others
were coming to encounter, furious to fight with each other,
Aineias, the son of Anchises, and brilliant Achilles
Aineias came forward “threatening” (ἀπειλήσας, line 161): ἀπειλέω normally means “to threaten” with words, and we will have much to say about this verb later. Here, however, it refers to the gestures performed by Aineias and described in the lines which follow immediately (nodding in his helmet, holding the shield in front of his chest, shaking his spear). Achilles starts the verbal contest with a mocking question (lines 178–179: τί σὺ τόσσον ὁμίλου πολλὸν ἐπελθὼν | ἔστης;), implying that Aineias’ brave behavior is exceptional: only the hope of gaining the kingdom of Priam, or the promise of a τέμενος by the people might have convinced Aineias to be so daring (lines 179–186). The mocking tone also persists in the understatement through which Achilles states that he deems it difficult for Aineias to kill him (line 186). [32] Then he performs an assertive speech-act (introduced by φημί, line 187), boasting that another time he put Aineias shamefully to flight (line 187–195). Achilles ends his speech with a command and a threat (line 196–198: ἀλλά σ’ ἔγωγ’ ἀναχωρήσαντα κελεύω | ἐς πληθὺν ἰέναι … πρίν τι κακὸν παθέειν). Aineias replies by stating that Achilles’ insults (Aineias speaks of κερτομίας καὶ αἴσυλα at line 202: we will have to say more about the first of these terms) may scare little children, but not him, since he knows how to respond to such attacks. He avoids commenting on the episode mentioned by Achilles, but rather shifts the attention from that event to his heroic pedigree: if Achilles is son of Peleus and Thetis, he can boast (line 209, εὔχομαι, another verb very important for us) to be the son of Anchises and Aphrodite; he goes on for more than twenty-five lines listing his ancestors down from Dardanos (lines 213–240), and seals this genealogical tour de force by reaffirming that he can boast (again εὔχομαι, line 241) such a lineage. Before inviting Achilles to fight (lines 255–257), Aineias asks to quit such speeches, and offers a metadiscursive reflection on the exchange he has been having with Achilles that is worth quoting (lines 246–255):
ἔστι γὰρ ἀμφοτέροισιν ὀνείδεα μυθήσασθαι
πολλὰ μάλ’, οὐδ’ ἂν νηῦς ἑκατόζυγος ἄχθος ἄροιτο.
στρεπτὴ δὲ γλῶσσ’ ἐστὶ βροτῶν, πολέες δ’ ἔνι μῦθοι
παντοῖοι, ἐπέων δὲ πολὺς νομὸς ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.
ὁπποῖόν κ’ εἴπῃσθα ἔπος, τοῖόν κ’ ἐπακούσαις.
ἀλλὰ τί ἢ ἔριδας καὶ νείκεα νῶϊν ἀνάγκη
νεικεῖν ἀλλήλοισιν ἐναντίον ὥς τε γυναῖκας,
αἵ τε χολωσάμεναι ἔριδος πέρι θυμοβόροιο
νεικεῦσ’ ἀλλήλῃσι μέσην ἐς ἄγυιαν ἰοῦσαι
πόλλ’ ἐτεά τε καὶ οὐκί· χόλος δέ τε καὶ τὰ κελεύει
For there are harsh things enough that could be spoken against us
both, a ship of a hundred locks could not carry the burden.
The tongue of man is a twisty thing, there are plenty of words there
of every kind, the range of words is wide, and their variance.
The sort of thing you say is the thing that will be said to you.
But what have you and I to do with the need for squabbling
and hurling insults at each other, as if we were two wives
who when they have fallen upon a heart-perishing quarrel
go out in the street and say abusive things to each other
much true, and much that is not, and it is their rage that drives them
Apart from introducing some more metadiscursive terms on abusive language (ὀνείδεα, line 246; νείκεα and νεικεῖν, lines 251–254), Aineias’ words are interesting because they seem to hint at the ritual character of flyting: “the sort of thing you say is the thing that will be said to you” (line 250). This aspect of flyting, Aineias clearly implies, may lead to a devaluation of the aggressive words pronounced. Heroic flyting is ritual, but, unlike e. g. “sounding,” is not ludic; rather, it can be terribly serious. [33] Aineias, however, seems to suggest that the ritual character of flyting may turn it into a ludic activity, or, at least, may weaken the aggressive charge of the insults, as Aineias’ simile describing a quarrel taking place among women suggests.

§5 Is Verbal Abuse Cooperative?

The verbal interaction described by Aineias at line 250 may also be used to introduce a pragmatic problem regarding verbal abuse. In Aineias’ formulation it is clear that a certain kind and amount of cooperation between the two parties is required to keep the verbal exchange going. But in what sense can an activity such as abuse be cooperative? In pragmatics studies much has been written about Grice’s Cooperative Principle and about whether it can also be seen operating in verbal abuse or impoliteness phenomena. [34] Without leaving Homeric studies, we may recall, for example, that R. Martin, following M. L. Pratt, states that in abusive verbal exchanges “non-cooperation counts as cooperation for the duration of the ritual.” [35] This idea is evidently predicated on a social, extra-linguistic interpretation of Gricean Cooperation. Grice defined the Cooperative Principle as “a rough general principle which participants will be expected (ceteris paribus) to observe, namely: Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.” [36] Many scholars have taken this to mean that the Cooperative Principle presupposes a social cooperation in communication: the participants strive after the same goal and are equally interested in achieving this goal. [37] Interpreted in this way, it would be nonsense to apply the principle to verbal abuse, quarreling, or impolite behavior, as these are clearly socially uncooperative events. However, as scholars dealing with such phenomena point out, and as is also implicit in Aineias’ words, there is no doubt linguistic cooperation in verbal abuse. Even if the participants in a conversation are not sharing the same social goal, they may be sharing the same linguistic goal. [38] In other words, the Cooperative Principle can be seen operating “purely to allow your interlocutor to understand what you are saying or implying. This is regardless of whether the content of your message happens to be what the social goal sharers would consider ‘cooperative’ or ‘uncooperative’; regardless of whether it be harmonious communication or conflictive;” and, in this version, the principle could be summarized as follows: “Use language in such a way that your interlocutor can understand what you are stating, presupposing or implying.” [39] We shall have to come back to the applicability of Grice’s Cooperative Principle when dealing with the terms κερτομέω/κερτομία, which, as we will see, entail implicational verbal abuse.

§6 Types of Verbal Abuse in Homer (II): The Irus Episode

Let us now look more closely at the actual content of Achilles’ and Aineias’ words. What aspects of their “face” or what rights are attacked by their speeches? It is easy to see in Achilles’ speech an attack on the quality face of his adversary (Achilles’ claim is that Aineias is a coward); Aineias’ long genealogical boast is also to be interpreted agonistically, as a counterattack on Achilles’ implied superiority. [40] On the other hand, I would find it questionable to see in the exchange between the two enemies real violations of equity or association rights (for example, in Achilles’ order and threat of lines 196–198): the relationship between the two is a priori hostile, so it would be nonsense to expect from them the respect of those rights. The model of flyting as a contest between two agents belonging to different, hostile, communities provides an important foil against which to evaluate less clear-cut cases of verbal abuse.
An intriguing example is Irus’ confrontation with Odysseus in Odyssey 18. The words directed by Irus to the disguised Odysseus are introduced by the verb νεικέω (Odyssey 18.9):
καί μιν νεικείων ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα
and now he spoke, insulting him, and addressed him in winged words
The actual words spoken are (Odyssey 18.10):
εἶκε, γέρον, προθύρου, μὴ δὴ τάχα καὶ ποδὸς ἕλκῃ
Give way, old sir, from the forecourt, before you are taken and dragged out by the foot
Irus issues a command, accompanied by the vocative γέρον, which may be considered disparaging (this is clear from Odyssey 18.27 and 31), and closed by a threat. It is possible to find very close parallels to what are clearly flyting exchanges: cf. for example the son of Panthus who gives an order to Menelaus at Iliad 17.13 (χάζεο), and threatens him a few lines later (μή σε βάλω). [41] Quite clearly, Irus construes his hostility against the disguised Odysseus as intercommunal: Odysseus is a stranger, and, in his view, in no way part of the community in which Irus is, as it were, the “official” beggar. It is interesting, however, that Odysseus, before responding with a powerful counter-threat (Odyssey 18.20–24), clearly defines his relationship with Irus as intracommunal, for he evokes association and even equity rights. Odysseus evidently suggests to Irus that he thinks he is entitled to associate and have positive relationships with the other members of the community, and this seems to be predicated on his equal standing to Irus (they are both beggars). Let us read Odyssey 18.15–19:
δαιμόνι’, οὔτε τί σε ῥέζω κακὸν οὔτ’ ἀγορεύω,
οὔτε τινὰ φθονέω δόμεναι καὶ πόλλ’ ἀνελόντα.
οὐδὸς δ’ ἀμφοτέρους ὅδε χείσεται, οὐδέ τί σε χρὴ
ἀλλοτρίων φθονέειν· δοκέεις δέ μοι εἶναι ἀλήτης
ὥς περ ἐγών, ὄλβον δὲ θεοὶ μέλλουσιν ὀπάζειν
Strange man, I am doing you no harm, nor speaking any
nor am I jealous, if someone takes plenty and gives it to you.
This doorsill is big enough for both of us, nor have you any
need to be jealous of others. I think you are a vagabond
as I am too. Prosperity is in the god’s giving
This attempt at conciliation (be it serious or not, as seems more likely, on behalf of Odysseus at this stage) would be in any case difficult to imagine between enemies on the battlefield; though we might recall the memorable case of the encounter of Diomedes and Glaucus in Iliad 6.119–236, in which the two enemy warriors engage in a flyting exchange, but when Diomedes discovers that they are ξένοι of each other (that is, that they, at another level, belong to the same community) the duel ceases.

§7 Types of Verbal Abuse in Homer (III): Intracommunal, Non-Disruptive, Verbal Abuse

Let us now survey some of the typologies of intracommunal verbal abuse. There are some circumstances in which such events potentially lead to very serious consequences for the community in which they take place: due to the extreme importance of those conflicts (think of the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon), we will provide a specific illustration of them in the last section of this paper. For the moment we will focus on those cases in which intracommunal verbal abuse appears to be not only less threatening to the harmony within the community, but may even be able to strengthen the group’s cohesion against an external enemy.
We can easily observe that verbal abuse is commonly employed by a chief on the battlefield in order to exhort his warriors to action. This kind of verbal abuse normally attacks the quality or relational face of the hearer, but is typically devoid of threats, or even commands: it aims at obtaining an adequate reaction from the hearer not through directives or commissives, but by stinging the hearer’s sense of honor. To be felicitous, it should be issued by a person who is in a superior position, either because this is socially acknowledged (for example, in the case of the recognized chief of a group) and/or because the hearer’s actions are falling short of his recognized role and status. The abusive speeches that Hector directs at his brother Paris (cf. Iliad 3.38ff.; 6.325ff., both introduced by the verb νεικέω; cf. also 13.768ff.) belong to this category: Hector is the elder brother, and he is also the best warrior of the Trojan army, so his use of verbal abuse against Paris is perfectly legitimate, as Paris himself recognizes in Iliad 6.633; moreover, Paris is the main cause of the war, so he should in no way behave like a slack warrior. On the other hand, Hector himself can be made the object of abuse: in particular his Lycian allies rebuke him when he is seen to be leading the army in an unsatisfactory way, forcing the ἐπίκουροι, whose involvement in the war is motivated uniquely by their friendship with the Trojans, to bear the burden of the fight: cf. Sarpedon in Iliad 5.471ff. (speech introduced by νεικέω) and Glaucus in Iliad 17.140ff. (speech introduced by ἐνίπτω + χαλεπῷ μύθῳ and accompanied by a gesture of disapproval, ὑπόδρα ἰδών). This type of intracommunal abuse again has the aim of channelling all the energy against a common external enemy.
A highly ritualized example of this type of abuse can be found in the epipolesis of Agamemnon in Iliad 4.4. [42] Agamemnon performs a general review of his troops, and he praises the warriors who are eager to fight, while he blames the slackers. His abusive speeches (we may label them rebukes), all introduced by the verb νεικέω, aim at stirring up the heroes by questioning their claims to prestige within society (genealogy, acquired honors etc.). One of the targets is Diomedes, who, in a long tirade, is unfavorably compared with his father Tydeus (Iliad 4.365–400): an illustrious genealogy of a warrior is, as we have seen in Aineias’ speech to Achilles, a powerful claim to prestige, granted that the evoked ancestors are not dishonored by having engaged in cowardly behavior. Unlike flyting exchanges, in such cases the agonistic force of the abusive speech does not entail a comparison between speaker and hearer, but rather between the hearer and an evoked foil figure, in this case Tydeus. After Agamemnon has delivered his abusive speech, Sthenelus, the son of Capaneus, another hero taking part in the expedition of the Seven, responds to Agamemnon’s abuse with a boast, in a sort of flyting gesture (Iliad 4.405: ἡμεῖς τοι πατέρων μέγ’ ἀμείνονες εὐχόμεθ’ εἶναι). Diomedes silences him (Iliad 4.411–418), since, he says, he is not wroth with Agamemnon if he incites (οὐ νεμεσῶ ... ὀτρύνοντι, line 414) the Achaeans to war. Diomedes clearly tolerates a certain amount of verbal abuse as if this is acceptable in the context of martial exhortation. As Culpeper observes regarding contemporary impoliteness phenomena, there are contexts (think, for example, of army recruit training) in which a certain level of impoliteness is not only tolerated, but even expected. [43] In such cases, impoliteness may be sanctioned, legitimized by the context, and its hurting effects on the target mitigated (which is what Diomedes seems to imply). But they are not necessarily neutralized: Culpeper points out, for example, that army recruits do take offence, even if they are naturally well aware that impoliteness in the context of army training is legitimized. Indeed, in Iliad 9.31–36 we see Diomedes polemically reminding Agamemnon of his previous reproach, a clear sign that the sting of Agamemnon’s abuse has not been painless.
Other targets of abuse in Agamemnon’s epipolesis are Odysseus and Mnestheus (Iliad 4.327–348). In this case Agamemnon makes use of the motif “of sustenance earned”: [44] Agamemnon blames the two heroes because their behavior does not correspond to the remarkably high honor they are granted. They are the first to receive meats and wine at the feasts, but when it comes to fighting they are no longer in the front of the line. To be sure, Odysseus harshly rejects Agamemnon’s criticism and Agamemnon has to apologize (Iliad 4.349–363). [45] However, Agamemnon’s abuse seems to have fulfilled its exhortatory function after all, for at Iliad 4.495 Odysseus appears to fight bravely in the first ranks.
Interestingly enough, verbal abuse directed at the king in person can enhance his authority (and hence the cohesion of the community), provided that the verbal attack is performed by a discredited speaker. Thersites performs an abusive speech against Agamemnon (Iliad 2.211–242: it is described by the verbs νεικέω, lines 224, 243, 276; ὀνειδίζω, line 255; κερτομέω, line 256) that echoes in some respects Achilles’ protest against the same hero in Iliad 1. Thersites’ marginal character, however, turns him into a scapegoat on whom the tensions and frustrations of the community can unload; he is upbraided and physically punished by Odysseus with the result that Agamemnon’s authority is in the end reaffirmed. [46]
Positive effects for the community also seem to be generated by the quarrel between Odysseus and Achilles, which is the subject of the first song of Demodocus (Odyssey 8.75–78): [47]
νεῖκος Ὀδυσσῆος καὶ Πηλεΐδεω Ἀχιλῆος,
ὥς ποτε δηρίσαντο θεῶν ἐν δαιτὶ θαλείῃ
ἐκπάγλοισ’ ἐπέεσσιν, ἄναξ δ’ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων
χαῖρε νόῳ, ὅ τ’ ἄριστοι Ἀχαιῶν δηριόωντο
the quarrel between Odysseus and Peleus’ son, Achilles,
how these once contended, at the gods’ generous festival,
with words of violence, so that the lord of men, Agamemnon,
was happy in his heart that the best of the Achaeans were quarreling
Here the quarrel (νεῖκος), which involves the uttering of regrettably vague “terrible words” (ἐκπάγλοισ’ ἐπέεσσιν, line 77), seems to have its roots in the contrasting claims of the two heroes, who both strive to hold the title of “the best of the Achaeans” (cf. line 78). [48] But, such a claim can be gained only by demonstrating one’s own value in war against the Trojans. Thus, the verbal duel here has the positive consequence of focusing the competitive drives of the two warriors against a common enemy; hence the joy of the king Agamemnon. [49] In Hesiodic terms, the competition between Achilles and Odysseus would correspond to positive eris. [50]

§8 Types of Verbal Abuse in Homer (IV): The Dialogue between Eurymachus and Odysseus

The scene in Odyssey 18.349–394 can be seen as an elaborate blend of the various types of verbal conflict we have been illustrating so far. [51] Eurymachus’ speech, directed at the disguised Odysseus, is a variation on the “motif of sustenance earned” that we have seen in Agamemnon’s epipolesis; if the beggar were to work for him as a θής, he would give him wage, bread, clothing, and shoes. Eurymachus, however, is convinced that the beggar would rather beg among the people to feed his insatiable belly. [52] Eurymachus speaks to the disguised Odysseus as if he were in a higher position; his words are thus comparable to Agamemnon’s rebukes in the epipolesis both thematically and in the hierarchical position assumed by the speaker. In his reply, however, Odysseus reverses Eurymachus’ basis for his abuse, and construes it as if it were a challenge between peers (Odyssey 18.366): [53]
Εὐρύμαχ’, εἰ γὰρ νῶϊν ἔρις ἔργοιο γένοιτο ...
Eurymachos, I wish there could be a working contest between us …
In this way, the verbal conflict would assume the aspect of positive eris, as the competition imagined between the two litigants (in work and in martial prowess, lines 366–379) would have, we may imagine, positive effects for the community at large. In this sense it would be similar to the νεῖκος between Achilles and Odysseus. Finally, in the last lines of his reply, the disguised Odysseus envisages the scenario of Odysseus’ return and the fight that would ensue. Eurymachus would be scared to death and the doors, although very wide, would appear to him too narrow in order for him to escape. We know that Odysseus is already there; we have come as near as possible to the classic intercommunal flyting exchange!

§9 The Metalanguage of Verbal Abuse (I): νεικεω, ευχομαι, απειλεω

We have gathered sufficient material now to offer a sketch of the metalanguage of abuse in Homer. Our starting point will be some important intuitions by A. Adkins. In analyzing Homeric verbs and nouns which denote insulting, threatening, rebuking, boasting, and vowing, he shows that there are significant overlaps in the use of such words. Adkins explains this peculiarity with reference to the “total situation of Homeric man.” Living in a shame—or, as Adkins would prefer, results—culture, Homeric man would tend to classify all those types of speech together. When employed by him, they help make his presence felt in the highly competitive world of epic heroes; when, on the other hand, he is the target, it could be seen to threaten his status and reputation. [54]
I believe we are in a better position than Adkins himself was to understand fully this important intuition. Indeed, what struck Adkins and forced him to reflect on the difficulty of finding exact and univocal translations for those words can be easily explained within the framework we have provided for our analysis of the pragmatics of Homeric verbal abuse. The speech-acts indicated by those terms (insulting, threatening, rebuking, boasting, vowing) are normally perceived by the hearer as face-attacks. This, as Politeness theories demonstrate, is even true in our societies; [55] and it appears to be all the more true in Homeric society, which puts such weight on honor and shame.
The most general term indicating a face-threatening activity is νεῖκος/νεικέω. We have seen that it can introduce language including threats, warnings, commands (cf. for example Irus, Odyssey 18.9), name-calling, and disparaging remarks (cf. Hector to Paris, Iliad 3.38; or Agamemnon to Odysseus, Iliad 4.337). The noun νεῖκος may indicate this kind of language (cf. Iliad 23.483) or a quarrel in which such agonistic language is used (cf. Odyssey 8.75, the quarrel between Achilles and Odysseus; Iliad 20.251, Aineias to Achilles).
Another term typically used to indicate agonistic language is the verb εὔχομαι (and the noun εὐχωλή). [56] We have seen that to respond to Agamemnon’s abusive speech, which compared unfavorably the sons of the Seven with their fathers, Sthenelus delivers a boast, introduced by the verb εὔχομαι (Iliad 4.405 ἡμεῖς τοι πατέρων μέγ’ ἀμείνονες εὐχόμεθ’ εἶναι); or that Aineias, to respond to the threats and mocking remarks of Achilles, boasts about his illustrious ancestors (Iliad 20.219 and 241). We may say, simplifying a bit, that the agonistic force of νεικέω works by diminishing the hearer’s claims, while that of εὔχομαι by increasing the speaker’s claims. It is possible, however, to find cases in which εὔχομαι or its variant εὐχετάομαι refer metapragmatically to flyting speeches tout court, where we find threats in addition to boasts. In the flyting exchange between Euphorbus and Menelaus in Iliad 17.11ff., Euphorbus issues a series of commands and a threat directed at Menelaus (lines 12–17). Menelaus responds scornfully by addressing Zeus and pronouncing a moral maxim (Iliad 17.19):
Ζεῦ πάτερ οὐ μὲν καλὸν ὑπέρβιον εὐχετάασθαι
Father Zeus, it is no good thing to boast so arrogantly
Here the verb εὐχετάασθαι refers to the threatening speech just pronounced by Euphorbus. [57] Menelaus then goes on to boast that he has already killed Euphorbus’ brother Hyperenor when the latter insulted Menelaus by calling him a cowardly warrior (lines 23–28); finally Menelaus issues a threat and an order (lines 29–32):
ὥς θην καὶ σὸν ἐγὼ λύσω μένος εἴ κέ μευ ἄντα
στήῃς· ἀλλά σ’ ἔγωγ’ ἀναχωρήσαντα κελεύω
ἐς πληθὺν ἰέναι, μηδ’ ἀντίος ἵστασ’ ἐμεῖο
πρίν τι κακὸν παθέειν· ῥεχθὲν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω
So I think I can break your strength as well, if you only
stand against me. No, but I myself tell you to get back
into the multitude, not stand to face me, before you
take some harm. Once a thing has been done, the fool sees it
When Euphorbus replies, he will use the verb ἐπεύχομαι to describe Menelaus’ speech (ἐπευχόμενος ... ἀγορεύεις, line 35).
We see in this last example a clear overlap between assertive and commissive aspects in the utterances that are defined by εὔχομαι. Such an overlap is even more evident in the verb ἀπειλέω. [58] This verb can mean “to threaten,” as for instance when Laomedon refuses to give the wage to Apollo and Poseidon (Iliad 21.453–454):
σὺν μὲν ὅ γ’ ἠπείλησε πόδας καὶ χεῖρας ὕπερθε
for he threatened to hobble your feet and to bind your arms
In other cases, however, the verb signals an assertive speech act. For example, when Diomedes imagines that Hector will boast of having turned him to flight, he says (Iliad 8.147–150):
Ἕκτωρ γάρ ποτε φήσει ἐνὶ Τρώεσσ’ ἀγορεύων·
“Τυδεΐδης ὑπ’ ἐμεῖο φοβεύμενος ἵκετο νῆας.”
ὥς ποτ’ ἀπειλήσει· τότε μοι χάνοι εὐρεῖα χθών
for some day Hektor will say openly before the Trojans:
“The son of Tydeus, running before me, fled to his vessels”
So he will vaunt; and then let the wide earth open beneath me
Again, in the flyting exchange between Achilles and Asteropaeus (Iliad 21.148–160), the latter will reply to Achilles’ threatening question about who he is (only children of unhappy parents, Achilles maintains, fight his fury) by claiming descent from the river Axios. The narrator describes the speech in the following way (Iliad 21.161):
ὣς φάτ’ ἀπειλήσας
So he spoke, threatening
The speech by Asteropaeus then, as always when warriors rehearse their own genealogy, has to be construed agonistically, and indeed, when Achilles has killed Asteropaeus, his vaunt will pick up Asteropaeus’ genealogical claim (Iliad 21.184–199, especially lines 186–187, φῆσθα σὺ μὲν ποταμοῦ γένος ἔμμεναι εὐρὺ ῥέοντος, | αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ γενεὴν μεγάλου Διὸς εὔχομαι εἶναι, “you said you were of the generation of the wide-running river, but I claim I am of the generation of the great Zeus”). [59]
The speech-acts indicated by the verbs εὔχομαι and ἀπειλέω are extremely important for the face and identity of warriors. It should come as no surprise then that falling short of one’s own boasts can be in turn a theme of rebuke and abuse. [60] In Iliad 8.228–230, Agamemnon seeks to exhort the Achaeans through these abusive words:
αἰδὼς Ἀργεῖοι, κάκ’ ἐλέγχεα, εἶδος ἀγητοί·
πῇ ἔβαν εὐχωλαί, ὅτε δὴ φάμεν εἶναι ἄριστοι,
ἃς ὁπότ’ ἐν Λήμνῳ κενεαυχέες ἠγοράασθε ...
Shame, you Argives, poor nonentities splendid to look on.
Where are you high words gone, when we said that we were the bravest?
those words you spoke before all in hollow vaunting at Lemnos
And a similar use, this time of ἀπειλαί, can be observed in Iliad 13.219–220.

§10 The Metalanguage of Verbal Abuse (II): κερτομέω

Particularly interesting from a pragmatic perspective is the verb κερτομέω, together with other words related to it: the noun κερτομία, and the adjective κερτόμιος. [61] Its connection with the metalanguage of abuse is demonstrated by its association with νεικέω, ὀνειδίζω, and ἐρεθίζω. [62] Its exact meaning, however, has been and is still hotly disputed, especially since the compound ἐπικερτομέω is famously and perplexingly used by the narrator to qualify Achilles’ speech to Priam in Iliad 24.649–659. [63] In her 1999 article, J. S. Clay pointed out that κερτομ- indicates an indirect form of communication. This is no doubt right; but her idea that the act of κερτομεῖν is “a subtle way of manipulating someone to do what you want him to do without explicitly saying so” does not fit all the cases in which a speech is qualified as κερτομεῖν. [64] In his innovative 2004 article, M. Lloyd treats the indirectness of the form of communication indicated by κερτομ- within the framework of Grice’s pragmatics and Brown and Levinson’s Politeness theory. Lloyd has been criticized by A. Gottesmann, especially for his application of Grice’s Cooperative Principle and Maxims; Gottesmann argues that kertomia is a kind of uncooperative form of communication, so that an application of Grice’s Cooperative Principle in that case would be problematic. [65] We have already pointed out that this idea is misleading; it is predicated on the belief that the Cooperative Principle must be based on a social goal shared by the agents involved in a given conversation. But, as we have seen, linguistic cooperation can operate even in cases of socially uncooperative conversations, as many or, rather, most, examples of Homeric kertomia no doubt are. [66] I am persuaded by Lloyd’s idea, then, that theories of conversational implicatures may be particularly helpful to come to grips with the genre of discourse indicated by κερτομέω. It is rather Lloyd’s application of Politeness theory that seems to me very problematic, for I believe that the framework provided by Politeness theory is wholly inadequate to deal with those phenomena which are defined by κερτομέω. Lloyd, applying a notion developed by Brown and Levinson, considers kertomia an “off-record” strategy: “a communicative act is done off-record if it is done in such a way that it is not possible to attribute only one clear communicative intention to the act. In other words, the actor leaves himself an ‘out’ by providing himself with a number of defensible interpretations; he cannot be held to have committed himself to just one particular interpretation of his act.” [67] Lloyd seems content with this formulation, and maintains that “taunts and vaunts ... exploit off-record strategies in order to allow the speaker an ‘out’ in case the victim retaliates, and several examples are characterized as kertomia.” [68] But in this way he misses a fundamental point. Brown and Levinson’s definition of off-record is predicated on the assumption that conversation aims at mutual keeping face. In other words, indirectness is used to avoid the face-threatening act. This cannot work for the genre of discourse defined by κερτομ-, or at least for most of its cases, because they are, as we will see, more or less explicit face-attacks. Lloyd’s miscalculation leads him to an even more misleading mistake: he sees the speeches qualified by the root κερτομ- as examples of Politeness. [69] It is true that very often speeches qualified by κερτομ- are on the formal level polite. But this can hardly mean that they are examples of Politeness, because, as we have already said, they are used to perform face-attacks. The truth is that the indirectness or off-record strategy employed in kertomia cannot be accommodated within the framework provided by Politeness theory: Politeness has the aim of avoiding face-threats, while kertomia in almost every case involves a face-attack against the hearer. As scholars working on impoliteness have demonstrated, indirectness or off-record strategy can be a powerful tool to attack face. Impoliteness can be implicational and can rely on Gricean implicatures; it can take the form of mock-politeness (or sarcasm). [70]
If we scrutinize a few examples of the uses of κερτομέω, κερτομία, or κερτόμιος, we shall discover that indirectness in abuse is the most distinct feature of such genre of discourse, but also that there are various types and different degrees of indirectness. For example, in Odyssey 9.475–479, Odysseus employs kertomia in his address to the Cyclops (this is explicitly recognized at line 474):
Κύκλωψ, οὐκ ἄρ’ ἔμελλες ἀνάλκιδος ἀνδρὸς ἑταίρους
ἔδμεναι ἐν σπῆϊ γλαφυρῷ κρατερῆφι βίηφι.
καὶ λίην σέ γ’ ἔμελλε κιχήσεσθαι κακὰ ἔργα,
σχέτλι’, ἐπεὶ ξείνους οὐχ ἅζεο σῷ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
ἐσθέμεναι· τῶ σε Ζεὺς τείσατο καὶ θεοὶ ἄλλοι
Cyclops, in the end it was no weak man’s companions
you were to eat by violence and force in your hollow
cave, and your evil deeds were to catch up with you, and be
too strong for you, hard one, who dared to eat you own guests
in your own house, so Zeus and the rest of the gods have punished you
This is no doubt a boast, comparable to the vaunts of victorious warriors on the battlefield, but here made indirect by the use of an understatement (violation of the Maxim of Quantity), οὐκ … ἀνάλκιδος, Odysseus has been very brave indeed! Sarcastic comments over defeated enemies are introduced by ἐπικερτομέων in Iliad 16.744–750 and Odyssey 22.194–199. In both passages there is a clear mismatch between the real situation and the words pronounced, that is, a violation of the Maxim of Quality implying cruelly mocking remarks about the victims. In the first passage, for example, Patroclus ‘transfigures’ his victim Kebriones falling from his chariot into a diver:
τὸν δ’ ἐπικερτομέων προσέφης Πατρόκλεες ἱππεῦ·
“ὢ πόποι ἦ μάλ’ ἐλαφρὸς ἀνήρ, ὡς ῥεῖα κυβιστᾷ.
εἰ δή που καὶ πόντῳ ἐν ἰχθυόεντι γένοιτο,
πολλοὺς ἂν κορέσειεν ἀνὴρ ὅδε τήθεα διφῶν
νηὸς ἀποθρῴσκων, εἰ καὶ δυσπέμφελος εἴη,
ὡς νῦν ἐν πεδίῳ ἐξ ἵππων ῥεῖα κυβιστᾷ
ἦ ῥα καὶ ἐν Τρώεσσι κυβιστητῆρες ἔασιν” [71]
You spoke in bitter mockery over him, rider Patroklos:
“See now, what a light man this is, how agile an acrobat.
If only he were somewhere on the sea, where the fish swarm,
he could fill the hunger of many men, by diving for oysters;
he could go overboard from a boat even in rough weather
the way he somersaults so light to the ground from his chariot
now. So, to be sure, in Troy also they have their acrobats”
As this example makes clear, there is a creative (cf. §2) component in the indirectness of kertomia. This aspect can make this mode of discourse fun for an audience (that is, it can make it entertaining); [72] hence its association with laughing, as in Odyssey 18.349–355:
τοῖσιν δ’ Εὐρύμαχος, Πολύβου πάϊς, ἦρχ’ ἀγορεύειν
κερτομέων Ὀδυσῆα· γέλω δ’ ἑτάροισιν ἔτευχε·
“κέκλυτέ μευ, μνηστῆρες ἀγακλειτῆς βασιλείης,
ὄφρ’ εἴπω, τά με θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι κελεύει.
οὐκ ἀθεεὶ ὅδ’ ἀνὴρ Ὀδυσήϊον ἐς δόμον ἵκει·
ἔμπης μοι δοκέει δαΐδων σέλας ἔμμεναι αὐτοῦ
κὰκ κεφαλῆς, ἐπεὶ οὔ οἱ ἔνι τρίχες οὐδ’ ἠβαιαί”
Eurymachos, son of Polybos, began speaking among them,
Taunting Odysseus, and started up laughter among his companions:
“Hear me, all you suitors of the glorious queen, hear me
while I speak out what the heart within my breast urges.
This man comes as gift of the gods to the house of Odysseus.
It is my thought that he can give us illumination
From his bald head, which has no hair, not even a little”
The stranger, we should note, has not even a few hairs on his head (line 355). Eurymachus violates the Maxims of Quantity, Quality, and possibly also Manner (he is not being orderly) to state that there is a blaze of torches coming from the stranger’s head, thus evoking mockingly the scenario of a divine epiphany (cf. Odyssey 17.483–485, for the idea that the beggar might be a god in disguise).
Thersites’ abuse is similarly entertaining. He usually utters what is laughable to the Achaeans (γελοίϊον, Iliad 2.215), and according to Odysseus, Thersites employs kertomia when delivering his invective against Agamemnon (σὺ δὲ κερτομέων ἀγορεύεις, line 256). Thersites’ speech may be considered at least in part indirect, since it relies heavily on rhetorical questions. [73] In this sense it is also creative, as one would expect from kertomia. [74]
The entertaining and creative aspect of kertomia may turn it into a ludic activity (on the ludic dimension in the pragmatic space of abuse cf. §2). This seems to be the case for the occurrence in the Hymn to Hermes 56, where kertomia is an activity practiced by youths in symposia. [75]
In many cases, whoever performs kertomia speaks from an assumed position of superior knowledge to the detriment of the target. In this way s/he utters words which s/he knows are insincere (violation of the Maxim of Quality); but there may be no cues and the hearer may not be able to establish that s/he is the object of kertomia. Such speeches may also be mildly abusive (cf. Odysseus in his encounter with Laertes, Odyssey 24.240–279, where we find some of the rhetorical tools well known to us by now, such as litotes, understatements, and so on). In a very interesting passage of Odyssey 13, Odysseus suspects (wrongly) that Athena is making kertomia at his expense (lines 324–327):
οὐ γὰρ ὀΐω
ἥκειν εἰς Ἰθάκην εὐδείελον, ἀλλά τιν’ ἄλλην
γαῖαν ἀναστρέφομαι· σὲ δὲ κερτομέουσαν ὀΐω
ταῦτ’ ἀγορευέμεναι, ἵν’ ἐμὰς φρένας ἠπεροπεύῃς
for I do not think
I have really come into sunny Ithaka, but have been driven
off course to another country, and I think you are teasing me
when you tell me I am, and saying it to beguile me
Odysseus does not believe he is in Ithaca, as Athena has told him. He suspects or pretends to suspect that the goddess is taking advantage of his bad psychological state in order to make fun of him.
Odysseus also thinks he has been made the object of kertomia in Odyssey 8. After displaying their abilities in the games, the Phaeacian youths decide to invite the newly arrived guest, Odysseus, to participate in the games. Laodamas then addresses him with the following words (Odyssey 8.145–151):
δεῦρ’ ἄγε καὶ σύ, ξεῖνε πάτερ, πείρησαι ἀέθλων,
εἴ τινά που δεδάηκας· ἔοικε δέ σ’ ἴδμεν ἀέθλους.
οὐ μὲν γὰρ μεῖζον κλέος ἀνέρος, ὄφρα κεν ᾖσιν,
ἢ ὅ τι ποσσίν τε ῥέξῃ καὶ χερσὶν ἑῇσιν.
ἀλλ’ ἄγε πείρησαι, σκέδασον δ’ ἀπὸ κήδεα θυμοῦ·
σοὶ δ’ ὁδὸς οὐκέτι δηρὸν ἀπέσσεται, ἀλλά τοι ἤδη
νηῦς τε κατείρυσται καὶ ἐπαρτέες εἰσὶν ἑταῖροι
Come you also now, father stranger, and try these contests,
if you have skill in any. It beseems you to know athletics,
for there is no greater glory that can befall a man living
than what he achieves by speed of his feet or strength of his hand. So
come then and try it, and scatter those cares that are on your spirit.
Your voyage will not be put off for long, but now already
Your ship is hauled down to the sea, and your companions are ready
To which Odysseus replies (Odyssey 8.153–157):
Λαοδάμα, τί με ταῦτα κελεύετε κερτομέοντες;
κήδεά μοι καὶ μᾶλλον ἐνὶ φρεσὶν ἤ περ ἄεθλοι,
ὃς πρὶν μὲν μάλα πολλὰ πάθον καὶ πολλὰ μόγησα,
νῦν δὲ μεθ’ ὑμετέρῃ ἀγορῇ νόστοιο χατίζων
ἧμαι, λισσόμενος βασιλῆά τε πάντα τε δῆμον
Laodamas, why do you all urge me in mockery
to do these things? Cares are more in my mind than games are,
who before this have suffered much and had many hardships,
and sit here now in the middle of your assembly, longing
to go home, entreating your king for this, and all the people
The difficulty of this passage lies in the reasons why Odysseus considers Laodamas’ words mockingly insincere (κερτομέοντες, line 153). Indeed, it must be pointed out that the narrator gives no hint about the actual illocutionary force of Laodamas’ words, but it is Odysseus that interprets Laodamas’ words as kertomia. According to P. V. Jones, Laodamas has been in his speech “the soul of tact and courtesy”; [76] in Clay’s view, “Odysseus has misinterpreted their words and taken offence where none was intended.” [77] According to Lloyd and Gottesmann, however, there is an insulting aspect in Laodamas’ strategy of communication: according to them, Laodamas is objectively performing kertomia. Lloyd maintains that even if there are no violations of the Gricean maxims in Laodamas’ speech, the context gives clues to interpret the words as an off-record insult: the Phaeacians are confident in their athletic skills, while Odysseus risks making a fool of himself if he competes in the games, since he is in bad physical shape. [78] Gottesmann on the other hand believes that the insulting component in Laodamas’ approach is implied by a contrast between his (apparent) polite words to Odysseus and his previous speech directed at his friends, in which he, while insisting on Odysseus’ physical shape, had expressed the intention of inviting the guest to take part in the games (lines 133–139):
δεῦτε, φίλοι, τὸν ξεῖνον ἐρώμεθα, εἴ τιν’ ἄεθλον
οἶδέ τε καὶ δεδάηκε· φυήν γε μὲν οὐ κακός ἐστι,
μηρούς τε κνήμας τε καὶ ἄμφω χεῖρας ὕπερθεν
αὐχένα τε στιβαρὸν μέγα τε σθένος· οὐδέ τι ἥβης
δεύεται, ἀλλὰ κακοῖσι συνέρρηκται πολέεσσιν.
οὐ γὰρ ἐγώ γέ τί φημι κακώτερον ἄλλο θαλάσσης
ἄνδρα γε συγχεῦαι, εἰ καὶ μάλα καρτερὸς εἴη
Come, friends, let us ask the stranger if he has skill and knowledge
For any kind of contest. In his build he is no mean man,
for the lower legs and thighs he has, and both arms above them,
for the massive neck and the great strength, nor is it that he lacks
youth, but the crush of many misfortunes has used him hardly.
For I say there is no other thing that is worse than the sea is
for breaking a man, even though he may be a very strong one
According to Gottesmann, Odysseus must have overheard this and realized that he was being insulted: “for no sooner does Laodamas praise Odysseus’ build and youth than he contradicts himself by commenting that he has been ‘shriveled up’ by the sea. This serves to reverse the polarity of his words, from a sympathetic assertion of the stranger’s ‘sorry’ state into an antagonistic ascription of the stranger’s sorry status.” [79] This of course cannot be excluded, but the text in no way signals that Odysseus had overheard the words of Laodamas’ first speech; and even if Odysseus had, it is questionable whether there was much in that speech that may have been considered offensive or mocking. We may of course look for other possible details in Laodamas’ words that could have sounded irritating. Can it be, for example, that Laodamas’ mention of Odysseus’ κήδεα and πομπή were perceived by Odysseus as a sort of mocking mimicry, given that he had insisted so much on both since his arrival at Alcinoos’ palace? [80] The interpretation of this passage should be left open. Personally, I would not exclude a radically different possibility: namely, that the attribution of kertomia to Laodamas says nothing about the intention of the Phaeacian youth or about Odysseus’ real perception of Laodamas’ words, but is only a rhetorical strategy adopted by the hero. Scholars have generally assumed that Odysseus takes offence at Laodamas’ words: but does he really? No indication pointing in this direction is given in the text: Odysseus’ words to Laodamas are introduced by the neutral τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη (line 152). Odysseus does eventually take offence, but only later on, when Euryalus speaks; when that happens, however, the illocutionary force of Euryalus’ speech is indicated by the narrator (νείκεσε, line 158), the speech itself is evidently aggressive, and Odysseus responds “looking darkly” (ὑπόδρα ἰδών, line 165, a typical reaction to face-attacks). [81] On the contrary, Laodamas’ invitation may well be sincerely polite. He, however, had insisted on the glory (κλέος) a hero can obtain from competing in the games (lines 146–147), and in stating that Laodamas is making kertomia, Odysseus may be simply showing modesty in front of his host, as after all would be desirable in a guest. [82] Laodamas—Odysseus may want to imply—is (gently) making fun of him, for he cannot be serious in envisaging κλέος in the games for the wretched guest who sits in the Phaeacians’ agora and begs the king and all the people for his return home (lines 156–157, quoted above). In part, the situation could be compared with that of Odyssey 7.208–225, where Odysseus rejects Alcinoos’ hypothesis that he may be a god. In both cases Odysseus would insist on his κήδεα to debase himself. But we may wonder how sincere Odysseus’ modesty is, and whether it is actually aimed at strategically avoiding participation in the games. [83] His assumed modesty, in any case, could be easily mistaken for athletic incapacity, and this is exactly what happens. Euryalus insults him, and Odysseus will have to show that after all he knows how to compete and win in the games.
In Iliad 24.649–655, Achilles explains to Priam that the Trojan king, who has just requested to be given a bed, will have to sleep outside:
τὸν δ’ ἐπικερτομέων προσέφη πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς·
ἐκτὸς μὲν δὴ λέξο γέρον φίλε, μή τις Ἀχαιῶν
ἐνθάδ’ ἐπέλθῃσιν βουληφόρος, οἵ τέ μοι αἰεὶ
βουλὰς βουλεύουσι παρήμενοι, ἣ θέμις ἐστί·
τῶν εἴ τίς σε ἴδοιτο θοὴν διὰ νύκτα μέλαιναν,
αὐτίκ’ ἂν ἐξείποι Ἀγαμέμνονι ποιμένι λαῶν,
καί κεν ἀνάβλησις λύσιος νεκροῖο γένηται
Achilles of the swift feet now looked at Priam and said, sarcastic:
“Sleep outside, aged sir and good friend, for fear some Achaian
Might come in here on a matter of counsel, since they keep coming
And sitting by me and making plans; as they are supposed to.
But if one of these come through the fleeting black night should notice you
he would go straight and tell Agamemnon, shepherd of the people,
and there would be delay in the ransoming of the body”
Lloyd offers a generally convincing explanation of the use of ἐπικερτομέων (line 649) in this passage: [84] Achilles has already performed an angry on-record response to Priam’s impatient request of releasing Hector (lines 553–570); here, while being superficially polite, he manages to give a similar riposte to Priam’s impatience (cf. line 635 λέξον νῦν με τάχιστα), but off-record. He speaks to Priam from a position of superior knowledge, as C. Macleod explains: “Achilles knows that his guest must leave by night, and his speech hints at the danger of his remaining. He knows too that a god has escorted Priam (lines 563-567); and he guesses that the same god will help him return, as in fact happens.” [85] I would add that the (mildly) abusive implication of Achilles’ kertomia lies precisely in Priam’s incapacity to properly perceive the danger of his situation. He is a fool, Achilles implies, if he wants to stay there. Hermes will explicitly state that Priam does not care about the danger (κακόν) of sleeping among enemies (lines 683–688):
ὦ γέρον οὔ νύ τι σοί γε μέλει κακόν, οἷον ἔθ’ εὕδεις
ἀνδράσιν ἐν δηΐοισιν, ἐπεί σ’ εἴασεν Ἀχιλλεύς.
καὶ νῦν μὲν φίλον υἱὸν ἐλύσαο, πολλὰ δ’ ἔδωκας·
σεῖο δέ κε ζωοῦ καὶ τρὶς τόσα δοῖεν ἄποινα
παῖδες τοὶ μετόπισθε λελειμμένοι, αἴ κ’ Ἀγαμέμνων
γνώῃ σ’ Ἀτρεΐδης, γνώωσι δὲ πάντες Ἀχαιοί
Aged sir, you can have no thought of evil from the way
you sleep still among your enemies now Achilles has left you
unharmed. You have ransomed now your dear son and given much for him.
But the sons you left behind would give three times as much ransom
for you, who are alive, were Atreus’ son Agamemnon
to recognize you, and all the other Achaians learn of you
Achilles had hinted at the same scenario by using an ironic understatement (a typical aspect of kertomia). If Agamemnon were to know that Priam was there, there would be a delay (ἀνάβλησις, line 655) in releasing Hector. [86] Achilles then plays with Priam’s inability to foresee the danger, the κακόν (cf. Hermes at line 683), something which is typical of fools, i.e. those who are νήπιοι (cf. Iliad 17.32 = 20.198).

§11 Types of Verbal Abuse in Homer (V): Intracommunal, (Potentially) Disruptive, Verbal Abuse

We may now come back to an important category of verbal abuse that we have on purpose refrained from tackling earlier (cf. §7). We will deal with three cases of intracommunal verbal abuse that may have serious consequences for the community within which they take place. I will first examine the quarrel between Zeus and Poseidon in Iliad 15; then move on to the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon in Iliad 1; and finally focus on the arbitration scene on the Shield of Achilles in Iliad 18.
We start with the quarrel between Zeus and Poseidon in Iliad 15, as it illustrates in the clearest manner the dynamics of intracommunal disruptive abusive exchanges. After Hera’s trick on Zeus, Poseidon intervenes on the battlefield in order to rouse the Achaeans. When Zeus awakens, he instructs Iris to order Poseidon to stop (Iliad 15.160–167):
παυσάμενόν μιν ἄνωχθι μάχης ἠδὲ πτολέμοιο
ἔρχεσθαι μετὰ φῦλα θεῶν ἢ εἰς ἅλα δῖαν.
εἰ δέ μοι οὐκ ἐπέεσσ’ ἐπιπείσεται, ἀλλ’ ἀλογήσει,
φραζέσθω δὴ ἔπειτα κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμὸν
μή μ’ οὐδὲ κρατερός περ ἐὼν ἐπιόντα ταλάσσῃ
μεῖναι, ἐπεί εὑ φημὶ βίῃ πολὺ φέρτερος εἶναι
καὶ γενεῇ πρότερος· τοῦ δ’ οὐκ ὄθεται φίλον ἦτορ
ἶσον ἐμοὶ φάσθαι, τόν τε στυγέουσι καὶ ἄλλοι
Tell him that he must now quit the war and fighting, and go back
among the generations of gods, or into the bright sea.
And if he will not obey my words, or thinks nothing of them,
then let him consider in his heart and his spirit
that he might not, strong though he is, be able to stand up
to my attack; since I say I am far greater than he is
in strength, and elder born; yet his inward heart shrinks not from calling
himself the equal of me, though others shudder before me
The message to be delivered to Poseidon starts with an order (cf. ἄνωχθι, line 160), moves to a warning which includes a threat (lines 163–165), and is followed by an assertive speech-act (lines 165–166, cf. φημί), in which Zeus boasts his own superiority to Poseidon, who does not hesitate to consider himself equal to Zeus (line 167). Zeus’ injunctions are clearly predicated on an explicit refusal of equity rights. In reporting Zeus’ speech to Poseidon, Iris gives even clearer signposts as to the illocutionary force of Zeus’ words: cf. κέλευσε (line 176) and ἠπείλει (line 179). Poseidon cannot but interpret Zeus’ words as a face-attack; more precisely he explicitly invokes equity rights to demand a less bully-like behavior from his brother Zeus (Iliad 15.184–186):
τὴν δὲ μέγ’ ὀχθήσας προσέφη κλυτὸς ἐννοσίγαιος·
ὢ πόποι ἦ ῥ’ ἀγαθός περ ἐὼν ὑπέροπλον ἔειπεν
εἴ μ’ ὁμότιμον ἐόντα βίῃ ἀέκοντα καθέξει
Then deeply vexed the famed shaker of the earth spoke to her:
“No, no. Great though he is, this that he has said is too much,
if he will force me against my will, me, who am his equal in rank …”
The equality invoked by Poseidon is predicated on the equal division of the whole cosmos among the three sons of Kronos and Rhea. Zeus has no more claims than Poseidon does to exercise power on the earth, which is common to the three gods (lines 186–195). Interestingly, Poseidon compares the speech of his brother Zeus to that of a father reproaching his children with harsh words (Iliad 15.196–199):
χερσὶ δὲ μή τί με πάγχυ κακὸν ὣς δειδισσέσθω·
θυγατέρεσσιν γάρ τε καὶ υἱάσι βέλτερον εἴη
ἐκπάγλοις ἐπέεσσιν ἐνισσέμεν οὓς τέκεν αὐτός,
οἵ ἑθεν ὀτρύνοντος ἀκούσονται καὶ ἀνάγκῃ
and let him absolutely stop frightening me, as if I were
mean, with his hands. It were better to keep for the sons and the daughters
he got himself these blusterings and these threats of terror.
They will listen, because they must, to whatever he tells them
We may wonder what situation would have ensued if Iris had reported such a speech to Zeus. But Iris asks Poseidon whether this is to be considered his last word (lines 201–204):
οὕτω γὰρ δή τοι γαιήοχε κυανοχαῖτα
τόνδε φέρω Διὶ μῦθον ἀπηνέα τε κρατερόν τε,
ἦ τι μεταστρέψεις; στρεπταὶ μέν τε φρένες ἐσθλῶν.
οἶσθ’ ὡς πρεσβυτέροισιν Ἐρινύες αἰὲν ἕπονται
am I then to carry, O dark-haired, earth-encircler,
this word, which is strong and steep, back to Zeus from you?
Or will you change a little? The hearts of the great can be changed.
You know the Furies, how they forever side with the elder
Iris’ intervention is very interesting from a pragmatic point of view. We may see in her speech a twofold violation of the Maxim of Quantity. Her description of Poseidon’s speech as ἀπηνέα τε κρατερόν τε adds a detail which makes clear to Poseidon the dangerous force of his speech; at the same time, the expression ἦ τι μεταστρέψεις is a clear understatement, which is moreover accompanied by a double justification consisting of general maxims. [87] Iris is praised for her fitting words by Poseidon, who now yields (line 211). His reaction was due to the pain (ἄχος) provoked by Zeus’ abusive language, which Poseidon qualifies through the very flexible verb νεικέω (Iliad 15.208–210):
ἀλλὰ τόδ’ αἰνὸν ἄχος κραδίην καὶ θυμὸν ἱκάνει
ὁππότ’ ἂν ἰσόμορον καὶ ὁμῇ πεπρωμένον αἴσῃ
νεικείειν ἐθέλῃσι χολωτοῖσιν ἐπέεσσιν
but this thing comes as a bitter sorrow to my heart and my spirit,
when Zeus tries in words of anger to reprimand one who
is his equal in station, and endowed with destiny like his
He considers Zeus’ abuse inappropriate as it is directed at an equal. He then issues a threat (Iliad 15.212: ἀπειλήσω τό γε θυμῷ), promising that there will be no healing to the wrath of the other gods if Zeus spares Troy from destruction.
Conflict within a community (that of the gods, structured in accordance with the primeval division of the cosmos) is potentially kindled by abusive speech (direct threats, boasts, and rude commands) resented by the target. While the spark of the potential conflict between Zeus and Poseidon consists of a direct face-attack, the quarrel of Achilles and Agamemnon in Iliad 1 seems to start from an indirect, almost random, remark. [88] When Calchas asks for Achilles’ protection in order to reveal who is to be considered responsible for Apollo’s wrath, Achilles swears he will protect the seer (Iliad 1.87–90):
οὔ τις ἐμεῦ ζῶντος καὶ ἐπὶ χθονὶ δερκομένοιο
σοὶ κοίλῃς παρὰ νηυσὶ βαρείας χεῖρας ἐποίσει
συμπάντων Δαναῶν, οὐδ’ ἢν Ἀγαμέμνονα εἴπῃς,
ὃς νῦν πολλὸν ἄριστος Ἀχαιῶν εὔχεται εἶναι
no man so long as I am alive above earth and see daylight
shall lay the weight of his hands on you beside the hollow ships,
not one of all the Danaäns, even if you mean Agamemnon,
who now claims to be by far the best of the Achaeans
No reaction on behalf of Agamemnon is recorded by the narrator at this point, but there is here a blatant violation of the Maxim of Quantity by Achilles, and it is not difficult to imagine that such a violation would be interpreted as ‘impolite’ by Agamemnon. Achilles’ strictly unnecessary addition that he will grant protection to Calchas even if he were “to mention the name of Agamemnon, who now claims to be the best of the Achaeans” may have been taken by Agamemnon as an attack to his Relational Face, for his claim of leader of the Achaeans seemed to be cast in doubt. [89] (We may add that this interpretation would have been after all well-founded, for in Iliad 1.244, when the quarrel has already begun, Achilles attributes to himself the title of “best of the Achaeans.”) The attribution to Agamemnon of the speech act of “claiming to be the best” (verb εὔχομαι) may even remind the audience of the use of εὐχωλή and similar words to mock slack warriors for their past, ineffective vaunts. [90] When Calchas makes the cause of Apollo’s wrath manifest, Agamemnon reacts by requesting from his army a gift in return for the release of Chryseis. But when Achilles explains that there are no common goods from which the army could offer a gift, Agamemnon interprets his words as a cunning attempt at gaining an advantage over him (Achilles would have the gift while Agamemnon should be deprived of it), and hints at the possibility of getting a gift from Ajax or Odysseus or even Achilles (131–139). This possibility, however, is abandoned immediately afterwards, when Agamemnon turns his attention to the organization of the propitiatory rites in honor of Apollo.
But Agamemnon’s diversion has no effect on Achilles, who reminds Agamemnon that it was to follow him that Achilles left Phthia (lines 149–160). Achilles, then, picking up the first part of Agamemnon’s speech, interprets lines 137–140 as a real threat (Iliad 1.161): καὶ δή μοι γέρας αὐτὸς ἀφαιρήσεσθαι ἀπειλεῖς (“and now my prize you threaten in person to strip from me”). By specifying the illocutionary force of Agamemnon’s words, Achilles shows that he thinks he is being treated as an inferior, and it is precisely at this point that Achilles challenges the hierarchy of the Achaean camp (lines 163–168): [91]
οὐ μὲν σοί ποτε ἶσον ἔχω γέρας ὁππότ’ Ἀχαιοὶ
Τρώων ἐκπέρσωσ’ εὖ ναιόμενον πτολίεθρον·
ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν πλεῖον πολυάϊκος πολέμοιο
χεῖρες ἐμαὶ διέπουσ’· ἀτὰρ ἤν ποτε δασμὸς ἵκηται,
σοὶ τὸ γέρας πολὺ μεῖζον, ἐγὼ δ’ ὀλίγον τε φίλον τε
ἔρχομ’ ἔχων ἐπὶ νῆας, ἐπεί κε κάμω πολεμίζων
never, when the Achaians sack some well-founded citadel
of the Trojans, do I have a prize that is equal to your prize.
Always the greater part of the painful fighting is the work of
my hands; but when the time comes to distribute the booty
yours is far the greatest reward, and I with some small thing
yet dear to me go back to my ships when I am weary with fighting
In this context, Achilles hints at his intention to return to Phthia (a threat, in practice, for in doing so he deprives the Achaean army of its strongest hero), but Agamemnon responds with a snub (lines 180–181, σέθεν δ’ ἐγὼ οὐκ ἀλεγίζω | οὐδ’ ὄθομαι κοτέοντος), [92] followed by a formal threat (cf. Iliad 1.181: ἀπειλήσω δέ τοι ὧδε), which equates his authority to that of a god: as Apollo takes away Chryseis from him, so he will take Briseis away from Achilles; and he concludes (Iliad 1.185–187):
ὄφρ’ ἐῢ εἰδῇς
ὅσσον φέρτερός εἰμι σέθεν, στυγέῃ δὲ καὶ ἄλλος
ἶσον ἐμοὶ φάσθαι καὶ ὁμοιωθήμεναι ἄντην
so that you may learn well
how much greater I am than you, and another man may shrink
from claiming parity with me and playing the equal to my face
Agamemnon is picking up here Achilles’ previous protest for not receiving a gift equal to his, and his words are very similar to those pronounced by Zeus to Poseidon (Iliad 15.165–167, quoted above, and 181–183). [93] But in the case of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, there is nothing similar to the important mediating function performed by Iris: Achilles comes then very near to a physical reaction, and Athena has to intervene (lines 188–223). Achilles’ insults at lines 225–244 are most clearly the substitute for physical retaliation, and their direct harshness (cf. the rare epithet ἀταρτηροῖς defining the character of his words at line 224) makes up for the fact that Achilles has no power to respond to Agamemnon’s threat with an equivalent counterthreat: he can only withdraw from war and make a prophecy that the Achean army will at some point desperately need his presence (the complexity of Achilles’ verbal strategy is admirably captured by Athena’s unusual expression at line 211 ὀνείδισον ὡς ἔσεταί περ, something like “cast in his teeth how it will be”).
Even when, in Iliad 9, Agamemnon agrees to send an embassy to Achilles and offer an “unlimited ransom” (line 212, ἀπείρεσι’ ἄποινα) to make amends, he does not refrain from claiming yet again superior status. He closes the long list of his gifts with the words (lines 158–161):
δμηθήτω· Ἀΐδης τοι ἀμείλιχος ἠδ’ ἀδάμαστος,
τοὔνεκα καί τε βροτοῖσι θεῶν ἔχθιστος ἁπάντων·
καί μοι ὑποστήτω ὅσσον βασιλεύτερός εἰμι
ἠδ’ ὅσσον γενεῇ προγενέστερος εὔχομαι εἶναι
let him give way. For Hades gives not way, and is pitiless,
and therefore he among all the gods is most hateful to mortals.
And let him yield place to me, inasmuch as I am the kinglier
And inasmuch as I can call myself born the elder
Odysseus will shrewdly avoid reporting this “coda” to Achilles. Nevertheless, the insincerity of Agamemnon’s attempt at conciliation does not escape Achilles. [94] He refuses Agamemnon’s offer and will not be persuaded until Agamemnon “has made good to me all his heart-rending insolence,” (line 387 πρίν γ’ ἀπὸ πᾶσαν ἐμοὶ δόμεναι θυμαλγέα λώβην). Achilles’ long refusal, not mitigated by any politeness strategy, [95] includes, among other things, a snub (lines 376–378, ... ἐρρέτω ... τίω δέ μιν ἐν καρὸς αἴσῃ, cf. also lines 334–335), sarcastic remarks (lines 391–392: οὐδέ μιν ὧς γαμέω· ὃ δ’ Ἀχαιῶν ἄλλον ἑλέσθω, | ὅς τις οἷ τ’ ἐπέοικε καὶ ὃς βασιλεύτερός ἐστιν), together with on-record abuse (lines 332–333; 372–373).
Our last example, although also taken from the Iliad, is part of the somewhat isolated and self-contained section of the Shield of Achilles. Here, among the activities of the city at peace we find the description of a legal dispute (Iliad 18.497–508):
λαοὶ δ’ εἰν ἀγορῇ ἔσαν ἀθρόοι· ἔνθα δὲ νεῖκος
ὠρώρει, δύο δ’ ἄνδρες ἐνείκεον εἵνεκα ποινῆς
ἀνδρὸς ἀποφθιμένου· ὃ μὲν εὔχετο πάντ’ ἀποδοῦναι
δήμῳ πιφαύσκων, ὃ δ’ ἀναίνετο μηδὲν ἑλέσθαι·
ἄμφω δ’ ἱέσθην ἐπὶ ἴστορι πεῖραρ ἑλέσθαι.
λαοὶ δ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἐπήπυον ἀμφὶς ἀρωγοί·
κήρυκες δ’ ἄρα λαὸν ἐρήτυον· οἳ δὲ γέροντες
εἵατ’ ἐπὶ ξεστοῖσι λίθοις ἱερῷ ἐνὶ κύκλῳ,
σκῆπτρα δὲ κηρύκων ἐν χέρσ’ ἔχον ἠεροφώνων·
τοῖσιν ἔπειτ’ ἤϊσσον, ἀμοιβηδὶς δὲ δίκαζον.
κεῖτο δ’ ἄρ’ ἐν μέσσοισι δύω χρυσοῖο τάλαντα,
τῷ δόμεν ὃς μετὰ τοῖσι δίκην ἰθύντατα εἴποι
The people were assembled in the market place, where a quarrel
had arisen, and two men were disputing over the blood price
for a man who had perished. One man claimed full restitution
in a public statement, but the other refused and would accept nothing.
Both then were eager to have a decision according to an arbitrator.
And people were speaking up on either side, to help both men,
but the heralds kept the people in hand, as meanwhile the elders
were in session on benches of polished stone in the sacred circle
and held in their hands the staves of the heralds who lift their voices.
With those in hand they sprang up, and gave judgments in turn;
and between them lay on the ground two talents of gold, to be given
to the one who among them spoke the straightest opinion
The enormous amount of bibliography devoted to these eleven lines have mainly aimed at defining the characteristics of the legal procedure described. [96] Dealing with this scene in the context of verbal abuse in Homer may even appear surprising. I am of course interested in a better understanding of the legal aspects of this description, but believe that such a goal can be achieved only if we investigate further the logic of the quarrel itself; and this in turn needs to be done against the backdrop of what we have so far observed regarding the pragmatics and metalanguage of verbal abuse in Homer. [97]
The scene portrays a community gathered in the market-place where two men were quarrelling (the terms used are νεῖκος and ἐνείκεον) “over the blood price for a man who had died” (lines 497–499); the two men must be the killer and a kinsman of the victim. While the two are portrayed as performing opposing speech acts (to which we shall come back soon), they are both eager “to get a limit according to a sage” (ἐπὶ ἴστορι πεῖραρ ἑλέσθαι, line 501). The crowd is split into two groups of supporters, acclaiming either man (line 502), while the elders, taking turns, “rendered their judgments” (line 506, δίκαζον); a prize of two gold talents would be given to the one who pronounced the “judgment in the straightest manner” (line 508, δίκην ἰθύντατα).
It is easy to recognize in the quarrel of the two men a verbally abusive exchange. The noun νεῖκος and the verb νεικέω are unequivocal. But also the verb εὔχομαι, which identifies the illocutionary force of the first man’s speech-act (ὁ μὲν εὔχετο, line 499) is, as we have seen, typical of agonistic and abusive exchanges. Indeed, on the formal level, the scene of the two men reproduces the basic pattern of the classic flyting episode. We have already dealt with the encounter of Achilles and Aineas in Iliad 20 (cf. §4); there we had a similar description of two men standing out from the crowd (Iliad 20.158–160): [98]
δύο δ’ ἀνέρες ἔξοχ’ ἄριστοι
ἐς μέσον ἀμφοτέρων συνίτην μεμαῶτε μάχεσθαι
Αἰνείας τ’ Ἀγχισιάδης καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς
Two men far greater than all the others
Were coming to encounter, furious to fight with each other,
Aineias, the son of Anchises, and brilliant Achilles
We have already seen also that the verbs characterizing the actual ensuing speeches are εὔχομαι (Aineias boasting his ancestors, lines 209 and 241) and νεικέω (cf. lines 251, 252, 254).
Nonetheless, unlike the duel between Achilles and Aineias, the conflict described on the Shield is clearly intracommunal. In this sense, it is rather at the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon that we should look. Indeed, I follow L. Muellner (and others) in believing that the quarrel portrayed on the Shield reflects the dynamics of the conflict that is at the center of the Iliad. [99] When in Iliad 9 Ajax makes a final plea in order for Achilles to accept the compensation offered him by Agamemnon, he quotes the exemplum of a brother or father of someone who has been killed, who accepts the blood-price (ποινή) from the killer. [100] In our passage, the point in dispute is precisely whether the kinsman must accept the compensation offered him. The first man claimed, boasted even, full compensation, while the other refused to accept anything. [101] In the first man we may then see someone in a position similar to that of Agamemnon in Iliad 9, that is, someone who offers compensation, but does not refrain from using agonistic/abusive language (εὔχετο); in the second man we may identify someone who like Achilles refuses such an offer of compensation. [102]
The potential consequences of such a conflict are serious, as is shown by the division within the people: there are supporters on both sides, and we can imagine that a stasis would ensue if the verbal conflict were to degenerate and lead, in a classical flyting progression, to physical combat. And yet, the two men on the Shield are not at all eager to fight, like two enemies engaged in flyting. Rather, “they both are eager (ἄμφω δ’ ἱέσθην) to take a limit (πεῖραρ) according to a sage (ἴστωρ)”: what this means in practice is that they are seeking an agreement, which will have to be defined by “one who knows” (this is the literal meaning of the word ἴστωρ, which is connected with the root *weid-, meaning “to see” and also “to know”). This must be the man who, among the elders engaged in a sort of contest in justice, will solve the quarrel by pronouncing the straightest judgment, thus winning the prize of two talents. [103] Ideally, the agreement between the two opposing men will be possible only when both sides get an “equal share” (τὸ ἴσον). [104] Let us look for example at Theognis 543–544:
χρή με παρὰ στάθμην καὶ γνώμονα τήνδε δικάσσαι,
Κύρνε, δίκην, ἶσόν τ' ἀμφοτέροισι δόμεν
I must render this judgment according to a chalkline and square,
Kyrnos, and give to both sides their equitable share
Determining what is equal and right is not a simple matter. “Theognis” states he needs special precision tools (a chalkline and a square) to perform this task. In Iliad 15.410–413 the stalemate between the two armies fighting with equal force is illustrated through the image of a carpenter cutting straight a ship’s timber with the aid of a chalkline:
ἀλλ’ ὥς τε στάθμη δόρυ νήϊον ἐξιθύνει
τέκτονος ἐν παλάμῃσι δαήμονος, ὅς ῥά τε πάσης
εὖ εἰδῇ σοφίης ὑποθημοσύνῃσιν Ἀθήνης,
ὣς μὲν τῶν ἐπὶ ἶσα μάχη τέτατο πτόλεμός τε
but as a chalkline straightens the cutting of a ship’s timber
in the hands of an expert carpenter, who by Athene’s
inspiration is well versed in all his craft’s subtlety,
so the battles fought by both sides were pulled fast and even
The carpenter is one who “one who is well versed (literally 'knows', εἰδῇ, again etymologycally from the root *weid-in all his craft’s subtlety (πάσης … σοφίης)”: the perfect straightness of the cut is a sign of his expertise. [105]
The ἴστωρ in the scene of the Shield, then, is the man who, through his experience and knowledge, indicates a balance which both parties deem acceptable. There will be no winner and no loser; the two sides will be even. The agonistic force of the abusive exchange between the two men is in this way sublimated and transferred onto the elders engaged in a competition to obtain the best solution for the quarrel. This is no doubt a difficult matter; a great prestige will be granted to the ἴστωρ by the community. [106]
We can conclude on a more positive note and observe that the picture of the Shield reverses the dynamics of the in-group conflicts we have examined in this last section. If one of the two quarreling men were to impose his superiority over the other, the survival of the city would be jeopardized; it is rather necessary that the two men reach an agreement on equitable terms. The importance of this principle for the very existence of a community (the polis, in the Greek imagination) cannot be overestimated. [107]

Works Cited

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———. 1999. “Iliad 24.649 and the Semantics of ΚΕΡΤΟΜΕΩ.” The Classical Quarterly 49:618–621.
Clover, C. J. 1980. “The Germanic Context of the Unferþ Episode.” Speculum 55:444–468.
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———. 2004. “‘The Most Divinely Approved and Political Discord’: Thinking about Conflict in the Developing Polis.” Classical Antiquity 23:359–399.
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[ back ] * I would like to thank Håkan Tell for invaluable help in the completion of this article. The translations of the Homeric passages are taken from R. Lattimore’s versions (The Iliad of Homer, Chicago 1951; The Odyssey of Homer, New York 1967), with some occasional adjustments.
[ back ] 1. The words “verbal abuse” will be those regularly used to refer to the phenomena I shall deal with in this paper; these two words specify the verbal dimension of the phenomenon as opposed to the physical dimension, while at the same time highlighting the common ground between the two. For an examination of the use in everyday language of the words “verbally abusive” to describe “impoliteness” phenomena cf. Culpeper 2011:88–94.
[ back ] 2. Martin 1989.
[ back ] 3. Martin 1989:66–67. On “dozens” and its relationship with heroic verbal contests cf. also Parks 1990:42–43; 111–112; 174–175.
[ back ] 4. Cf. Martin 1989:68 (with reference to Nagy 1999:222–242, who in turn refers to G. Dumézil and M. Detienne).
[ back ] 5. On flyting cf. below, §2.
[ back ] 6. Mackie 1996.
[ back ] 7. Minchin 2007:23–51.
[ back ] 8. Beck 2005:149–190 and 206–220.
[ back ] 9. The quotation is from Jucker 2008:895; for the contrastive method cf. Jucker and Taavitsainen 2000:68–70. A rich and recent presentation of the problems, methods, and results of the discipline is Jucker and Taavitsainen 2010.
[ back ] 10. Jucker and Taavitsainen 2000. For a broad and intellectually rich investigation of the characteristics, purpose, and effects of insults cf. the brilliant Neu 2008. There is no doubt a narrower way of interpreting the verb “to insult” or the corresponding substantive, that is as name-calling: for a brief overview of insults in Greek literature based on such a narrower interpretation, cf. Dickey 1996:165–174.
[ back ] 11. Jucker and Taavitsainen 2000:72. Feeling insulted and being insulted, however, need not coincide: cf. Neu 2008:6–8. It may be useful to recall that in speech-act theory three aspects are distinguished in an utterance: the locutionary act (the mere act of producing an utterance); the illocutionary force (the act, for example, of uttering a “promise,” “order,” “thank,” etc., performed by the speaker in issuing an utterance); and the perlocutionary effect (the effect of the utterance on the hearer).
[ back ] 12. Cf. Jucker and Taavitsainen 2000:74. On the inadequacy of the classic version of speech-act theory as far as face-threatening acts are concerned cf. also Brown and Levinson 1987:10; Culpeper 2011:118–119.
[ back ] 13. Jucker and Taavitsainen 2000:74–76; cf. also Archer 2010:394–399.
[ back ] 14. Brown and Levinson 1987 (quotations are from p. 58). Brown and Levinson’s notion of face is derived (with modifications and restrictions) from Goffman 1967. On the limits of Brown and Levinson’s notion of face cf. Culpeper 2011:24–26. For a recent succinct treatment of this important notion cf. Bargiela-Chiappini 2009. An application of some of Goffman’s and Brown and Levinson’s insights to the world of the Homeric heroes is attempted by Scodel 2008.
[ back ] 15. Brown and Levinson 1987:65–68.
[ back ] 16. Brown and Levinson 1987:211–227.
[ back ] 17. Brown and Levinson 1987:101–210.
[ back ] 18. Cf. Culpeper 1996:349–350; Culpeper 2011:6.
[ back ] 19. On impoliteness, in addition to the already quoted Culpeper 1996 and 2011, see also Bousfield 2008; Bousfield and Locher 2008; and the monographic number of Journal of Politeness Research 4/2 2008 (“Impoliteness: Eclecticism and Diaspora,” edited by D. Bousfield and J. Culpeper).
[ back ] 20. As Culpeper 2011:118 observes, face-attack is more appropriate than face-threat when dealing with impoliteness phenomena: we have a threat when the damage to face is seen as a possibility to avoid (as when we are dealing with politeness strategies); an attack when there is an actual damage to face (as when we are dealing with impoliteness strategies).
[ back ] 21. Apart from J. Culpeper, on whom see below, cf. also Bousfield 2008:33–42.
[ back ] 22. As Culpeper 2011:26–43 shows. For Spencer-Oatey’s Rapport Management theory cf. in particular Spencer-Oatey 2008.
[ back ] 23. Culpeper 2011.
[ back ] 24. The analysis of the metalanguage of abuse is important to reveal how people understand it: cf. Culpeper 2011:71–112 on impoliteness metadiscourse mainly in British contemporary society.
[ back ] 25. Nagler 1988. According to Nagler, conflict in Homer is called eris when taking place within the community, disrupting the existing order; alkê when it aims at protecting the community; polemos when it refers to conflict in an unmarked way, without specifying whether it takes place within or outside a community. I am not so much interested in the actual validity of such terminological distinctions (nor indeed does it seem that in the author’s view this is the point of the whole discussion), but rather on the fundamental opposition between typologies of conflict.
[ back ] 26. For example Martin 1989 and Mackie 1996. On the traditions of Homeric verbal dueling and Germanic flyting cf. the rich analysis by Parks 1990; other comparative material can be found in Miller 2000:232–238; West 2007:476–477. On the poetics of flyting in Homer cf. also recently Camerotto 2007.
[ back ] 27. Cf. Parks 1990:50.
[ back ] 28. On this scene cf. Nagy 1999:265–275; Parks 1990:117–126; Lentini 2008–2009:56–57.
[ back ] 29. Cf., for recent surveys, Jucker and Taavitsainen 2000:77–80; Archer 2010:394–395.
[ back ] 30. Cf. Parks 1990:19, with reference to Ong 1981; Bax 2010:493–495, who observes that “its ultimate substratum is the ubiquitous threat–submission system.”
[ back ] 31. Clover 1980:452; on the “rules” structuring flyting exchanges cf. also Parks 1990:96–126.
[ back ] 32. On understatement as a mocking device see below.
[ back ] 33. Cf. Parks 1990:163; Bax 2010:495.
[ back ] 34. Grice’s Cooperative Principle: Grice (1975).
[ back ] 35. Martin 1989:67 (quoting Pratt 1977:217).
[ back ] 36. Grice 1975:45 (= Grice 1989:26). From this “rough principle” derive, according to Grice, the four Maxims (Quality, Quantity, Relation, and Manner) ideally regulating our conversations: for more on Grice’s pragmatics see below.
[ back ] 37. Some of the scholars interpreting in this way Grice’s Cooperative Principle are listed in Bousfield 2008:25–26, who discusses in particular the position held by Watts 2003.
[ back ] 38. Cf. Bousfield 2008:25–29, following Thomas 1986.
[ back ] 39. Bousfield 2008:29. Lumsden 2008, however, shows that we should not opt for one kind of cooperation only, since “where there is cooperation with a broader [that is, extra-linguistic, social] goal, it is this goal that appears to determine relevance and so forth in the conversation ... where there is no extra-linguistic cooperation we can fall back on merely linguistic cooperation” (p. 1903); cf. also Culpeper 2011:157–158.
[ back ] 40. On the aggressive value of boasts, see discussion of εὔχομαι and ἀπειλέω below.
[ back ] 41. On Irus’ scene as a flyting exchange, cf. Parks 1990:85–86. On the social dynamics of the episode, see Thalmann 1998:100–107, who also points out significant differences between the classical flyting exchanges on the battlefield and the Irus episode. On the exchange between Menelaus and Euphorbus, see below §9.
[ back ] 42. On this scene, cf. Martin 1989:69–72; Lentini 2006, chap. I.
[ back ] 43. Culpeper 2011:215–218. For the use of army recruit training data in impoliteness studies, cf. Culpeper 1996:359–364 and Bousfield 2008.
[ back ] 44. Martin 1989:135.
[ back ] 45. On Odysseus’ reaction, cf. Lentini 2006:24–33.
[ back ] 46. On Thersites, cf. Thalmann 1988; recent treatments are Stuurman 2004 and Rosen 2007:69–116. For the characters of his speech, which is described by the verbs νεικέω and κερτομέω, see below.
[ back ] 47. There is no need here to dwell on the old question of the mythical background of the whole episode, which includes a discussed Delphic prophecy (lines 79–82), and on the important problem it poses as far as the relationship between the Iliad and the Odyssey is concerned. I have expressed my view elsewhere (Lentini 2006:94–102, with bibliography); for different perspectives, it is sufficient here to refer to Nagy 1999:15–58; and to Clay 1997:96–112.
[ back ] 48. The δαίς in which the quarrel takes place seems to be an appropriate context for the boasts of the warriors: cf. Iliad 8.229–232.
[ back ] 49. A king rejoices when his subjects do their duties: cf. Iliad 4.255; 4.311; 18.557. A situation similar to the νεῖκος between Achilles and Agamemnon can be observed in Odyssey 24.513–515 (cf. Thalmann 1998, 220–221; Lentini 2006:99–100), where Laertes rejoices at the competition over excellence between Odysseus and Telemachus: ὣς φάτο, Λαέρτης δ’ ἐχάρη καὶ μῦθον ἔειπε· | «τίς νύ μοι ἡμέρη ἥδε, θεοὶ φίλοι; ἦ μάλα χαίρω· | υἱός θ’ υἱωνός τ’ ἀρετῆς πέρι δῆριν ἔχουσι (“so he spoke, and Laertes also rejoiced and said to them: ‘what day is this for me, dear gods? I am very happy. My son and my son’s son are contending over their courage”). In Lentini 2006:100–101, I suggest that Odysseus’ great deed of the wooden horse recounted in the third song of Demodocus can be seen as a feat spurred by his νεῖκος with Achilles.
[ back ] 50. Cf. again Lentini 2006:100.
[ back ] 51. On this scene cf. Lentini 2006:29–32.
[ back ] 52. Eurymachus’ speech is both thematically and verbally similar to Melanthius’ verbal attack against Odysseus in Odyssey 17.223–228.
[ back ] 53. Cf. Thalmann 1998:110.
[ back ] 54. Adkins 1969b. The validity of such intuition does not mean that we should accept the general theory on Homeric ethics put forth by Adkins (cf. especially Adkins 1960), in particular the crude dichotomy between competitive and co-operative values: for criticisms of Adkins’ work, cf. Long 1970; Williams 1993; Cairns 2001 with further bibliography. As should be clear from our discussion, in our view competitive and co-operative virtues in Homer are not as distinct as Adkins would maintain, but are rather closely intertwined: cf. Thalmann 2004:366.
[ back ] 55. The face-threatening effects of insults, threats, rebukes is self-evident. But also boasting can be perceived as a face-threat. Brown and Levinson 1987:87 includes among the acts threatening positive face the “bringing of bad news about H[earer], or good news (boasting) about S[peaker]. (S[peaker] indicates that he is willing to cause distress to H[earer] and/or doesn’t care about H[earer]’s feelings).”
[ back ] 56. Much has been written about this difficult verb: the relationship between its two fundamental meanings (to pray and to boast) have always been seen as enigmatic. For a persuasive linguistic study, cf. Muellner 1976, who demonstrates, among other things, that εὔχομαι in secular contexts is the linguistically marked way to mean “say” (proudly, accurately, contentiously), while a verb like φημί represents the unmarked way. Adkins 1969a and 1969b:33, shows how the verb is used by Homeric heroes to “make their presence felt” in the highly competitive environment in which they live. Cf. also Nagy 1999:45 on the agonistic value of assertives such as εὔχομαι and its substitute φημί: “we know that these words are used by or of a hero to express his superiority in a given area of heroic endeavor.”
[ back ] 57. Adkins’ interpretation of this passage (Adkins 1969b:16) appears unconvincing to me; cf. instead Edwards 1991:64.
[ back ] 58. Cf. Martin 1989:72 (following Adkins 1969b:10–12 and 18–20). He also observes that the senses of ἀπειλέω “can be subsumed under the head of assertives and commissives. And the latter can actually fit under the former category, because, in context, vows and promises are made in order to announce a social assertion of alliance or opposition.” Our perspective is significantly different, since for us it is rather the fact that both assertives and commissives perform a face-threat or face-attack that justifies the convergence between the two senses.
[ back ] 59. Cf. Parks 1990:50–51.
[ back ] 60. Cf. Martin 1989:72–73.
[ back ] 61. In what follows I will use kertomia in Latin characters as an abstraction to refer to the speech genre which are or may be described by the actual Homeric words κερτομέω, κερτομία, or κερτόμιος.
[ back ] 62. For such associations cf. Lloyd 2004:82.
[ back ] 63. Cf. Hooker 1986; Jones 1989; Clay 1999; Clarke 2001; Lloyd 2004; Gottesmann 2008.
[ back ] 64. The quotation is from Clay 1999:621.
[ back ] 65. Gottesmann 2008:4–5. Compared to Lloyd 2004, Gottesmann 2008 seems to me to be a regression in the pragmatic analysis of kertomia, even if it is possible to find some valuable observations in his paper (especially the idea that kertomia may be typical of youths, though I am not convinced by his hypothesis of a sympotic specificity of such a genre of discourse).
[ back ] 66. See above, §5.
[ back ] 67. Brown and Levinson 1987:211 (quoted by Lloyd 2004:78)
[ back ] 68. Lloyd 2004:83.
[ back ] 69. In practice, Lloyd’s mistake is that of identifying Politeness with off-record communication tout court.
[ back ] 70. Cf. Culpeper 2011:155–194 (on implicational impoliteness) and 356–357 (on mock-politeness and sarcasm); also Bousfield 2008:118–121.
[ back ] 71. It is highly unlikely, pace Gottesmann 2008:10, that the use of ἐπικερτομέων here is due to the fact that the words uttered by Patroclus, although addressed to Kebriones, are in fact directed at his companions: by this line of reasoning we should interpret in the same way all the boasts over a dead enemy, and what would be then the peculiarity of κερτομέω? For another clear example in which κερτομέω indicates an ironic or sarcastic remark, cf. Odyssey 2.323–336, where the suitors clearly violates the Maxim of Quality to mock Telemachus (that the suitors’ irony is then turned against themselves is another matter).
[ back ] 72. On creativity and entertaining impoliteness cf. Culpeper 2011:239–244.
[ back ] 73. On rhetorical questions as insincere “because they purport to seek information which the speaker in reality already possesses,” cf. Lloyd 2004:83n33 (with reference to Brown and Levinson 1987:223–225). Rhetorical questions are commonly used in kertomia, cf. for example Hera to Zeus in Iliad 1.539–540; or Melanthius to Odysseus in Odyssey 20.177–179; or Achilles to Aineias in Iliad 20.178–190.
[ back ] 74. Notice also Iliad 5.418–425, where Athena’s irony at Aphrodite’s expenses makes Zeus smile.
[ back ] 75. The ludic aspect, together with the idea that kertomia is irritating for the target, is no doubt present in the only case where the verb κερτομέω does not imply the use of words: Iliad 16.259–265, where the Myrmidons are compared to wasps which are irritated by children αἰεὶ κερτομέοντες. The explanation of this simile by Gottesmann 2008:11, seems to me to be hardly convincing.
[ back ] 76. Jones 1989:247.
[ back ] 77. Clay 1999:619.
[ back ] 78. Lloyd 2004:85–86.
[ back ] 79. Gottesmann 2008:5–6 (quotation is from p. 6).
[ back ] 80. On κήδεα and synonyms cf. Odyssey 7.147, 152, 242, 208–225; on the πομπή cf. 7.151; 223.
[ back ] 81. Cf. Holoka 1983.
[ back ] 82. In Odyssey 8.208–211 Odysseus states explicitly that he could not compete with Laodamas, since he is his host.
[ back ] 83. It is possible to imagine that participation in the games would put Odysseus in an embarrassing situation: if he loses, he will shame himself, but if he wins he will put his host, Laodamas, to shame, something he cannot do (cf. again lines 208–211).
[ back ] 84. Lloyd 2004:87–89.
[ back ] 85. Macleod 1982:142–143 (quoted by Lloyd 2004:88).
[ back ] 86. Not only a violation of the Maxim of Quantity, but perhaps also of Manner: Achilles’ expression sounds like, as Gottesmann 2008:9 effectively describes it, “bureaucratese.”
[ back ] 87. On giving reasons as a Politeness strategy cf. Brown and Levinson 1987:124.
[ back ] 88. For observations on the dynamics of the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon cf. Parks 1990:91–95; Muellner 1996:94–132; Clark 2002. On the political significance of the quarrel cf. Hammer 2002:80–113; Raaflaub 2005:30–31.
[ back ] 89. Cf. Culpeper 2011:159 on the sometimes impolite implication of the violation of the Maxim of Quantity. Kirk 1985:61, noted that the mention of Agamemnon is “a gratuitous addition ... and mildly insulting, the beginning of trouble. The comprehensiveness of Akhilleus’ guarantee was plain enough without directly mentioning the king again.”
[ back ] 90. Cf. above, §9.
[ back ] 91. Cf. also Achilles’ recollection of the episode in Iliad 16, where while talking to Patroclus he uses τὸν ὁμοῖον (line 53).
[ back ] 92. On snub and impoliteness, cf. Bousfield 2008:101–102.
[ back ] 93. On the analogy between the two speeches cf. Muellner 1996:108–109.
[ back ] 94. For a convincing analysis of the dynamics operating in the embassy scene cf. Wilson 2001:71–108.
[ back ] 95. On the speech-act of refusal and politeness strategies cf. Félix-Brasdefer 2008:42–55.
[ back ] 96. To get an idea, it is sufficient to look at the bibliographies in Fusai 2006 and D’Acunto and Palmisciano 2010:243–245.
[ back ] 97. In what follows I can hint only briefly at the many interpretive problems posed by this passage. I have dealt with these lines at some length already in Lentini 2008–2009:57–64, but I have now slightly shifted my perspective on some important aspects of the scene. In a forthcoming article I shall expound with more philological details the interpretation I put forth concisely here.
[ back ] 98. Cf. also Iliad 13.499–501, δύο δ’ ἄνδρες ἀρήϊοι ἔξοχον ἄλλων | Αἰνείας τε καὶ Ἰδομενεὺς ἀτάλαντοι Ἄρηϊ | ἵεντ’ ἀλλήλων ταμέειν χρόα νηλέϊ χαλκῷ, where there is no flyting exchange, but the two men “are eager (ἵεντ[ο], cf. ἱέσθην in Iliad 18.501) to cut each other’s skin”.
[ back ] 99. Muellner 1976:105–106; cf. Lentini 2008–2009:60–62 for further references.
[ back ] 100. Iliad 9.632–636: καὶ μέν τίς τε κασιγνήτοιο φονῆος | ποινὴν ἢ οὗ παιδὸς ἐδέξατο τεθνηῶτος· | καί ῥ' ὃ μὲν ἐν δήμῳ μένει αὐτοῦ πόλλ’ ἀποτίσας, | τοῦ δέ τ’ ἐρητύεται κραδίη καὶ θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ | ποινὴν δεξαμένῳ.
[ back ] 101. I must warn the reader that this is not the universally accepted interpretation of lines 498–500. I refer to Lentini 2008–2009:60–61, for further details.
[ back ] 102. Notice the verbal parallels between the Embassy scene and the trial scene on the Shield: in Iliad 9.387, as we have seen, Achilles states he will not be persuaded by Agamemnon πρίν γ' ἀπὸ πᾶσαν ἐμοὶ δόμεναι θυμαλγέα λώβην (cf. πάντ’ ἀποδοῦναι in Iliad 18.499), while Achilles’ refusal is described by Odysseus speaking to Agamemnon in Iliad 9.679 with the words σὲ δ’ ἀναίνεται ἠδὲ σὰ δῶρα (cf. ἀναίνετο in Iliad 18.500).
[ back ] 103. Again this is not a universally accepted interpretation: for alternative perspectives on these lines cf. the works cited in Lentini 2008–2009:63n70.
[ back ] 104. For this idea cf. Hommel 1969.
[ back ] 105. In Iliad 13.358–360 there is another description of a stalemate in an even fight (the situation described in the simile of the carpenter) and this time the edge dividing (and binding together) the two armies is called πεῖραρ, the same noun we find in Iliad 18.501 to indicate the ‘limit’ the two men are looking after: τοὶ δ’ (scil. Zeus and Poseidon) ἔριδος κρατερῆς καὶ ὁμοιΐου πτολέμοιο | πεῖραρ ἐπαλλάξαντες ἐπ’ ἀμφοτέροισι τάνυσσαν | ἄρρηκτόν τ’ ἄλυτόν τε, τὸ πολλῶν γούνατ’ ἔλυσεν (“so these two had looped over both sides a crossing cable [πεῖραρ, meaning also ‘limit’] of strong discord and the closing of battle, not to be slipped, not to be broken, which unstrung the knees of many”; the precise interpretation of this passage however is disputed, cf. Janko 1992:92).
[ back ] 106. Cf. the Hesiodic description of the prestige of the good king who solves quarrels among the people in Theogony 81–92.
[ back ] 107. The scene on the Shield illustrates very effectively the problem posed by agonistic, competitive, drives within the world of the polis, ideally characterized by (a certain degree of) equality: on this problem cf. recently Thalmann 2004.