Chapter 8. The Formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ: Homeric Reflections of an Indo-European Metaphor


The aim of this chapter is to explore a covert form of intertextuality through the study of the function, origin, and meaning of the formulaic expression νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ. By intertextuality, I am hereby referring to the use of the same expression in multiple Greek and other Indo-European (and even Mesopotamian) traditions, which allow us to trace “parallel” texts in order to shed light on unintelligible Homeric attestations of a given expression. Intertextuality thus involves transcending the single-tradition barrier and opening up wider perspectives. The search is no longer about the quotation of or allusion to a given expression attested in two different traditions or texts. Rather, it concerns diachronically diffused relationships between ‘Homer’ and various other Indo-European strata, which help us retrieve the shared intertext of ancient imagery whose distant ‘memory’ has survived in Homeric poetry.
With respect to the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ, the situation we encounter in Homer is a relic of a much older use of imagery connected to the mythical pattern of the Cattle of the Sun. In Greek mythology this imagery symbolizes, at a surface level, the end of the day and the beginning of night. Notwithstanding their function in Greek tradition, cattle are allegorically linked to a prototypical opposition between light and darkness, between the Here and the Beyond, and, finally, between life and death, as we will see in surveying equivalent cattle myths in other Indo-European traditions. With a Dumézilian intention in mind, [1] we should not look for the preexistence of an Ur-Myth of the Cattle of the Sun, but rather for key elements of a solar imagery common to various poetic and mythical traditions of the Indo-European daughter languages and cultures.
On the other hand, the source and significance of νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ does not account for its function within the Homeric epics. Genetic attempts to ‘unlock’ the meaning of this obscure phrase have two important but often neglected disadvantages, as they tend to ignore (1) the fact that this expression was, already in the Archaic period, unintelligible (as can be seen from the pleonastic use of μελαίνης νυκτὸς in what seems to be a modernized version of the old formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ as well as from the confusion between twilight and dawn), and (2) that iconyms (words/expressions deprived of standard meanings) “are resistant to normal lexicographical procedures,” [2] and interpretive methods, I would like to add.
I will, therefore, first study the thematic context [3] of this formula, in order to show that its function should be traced in its symbiosis with the rest of the narrative that contains thematic relics emanating from the old use of this imagery. These relics are not recognizable at a surface level, but do exist within the boundaries of the common poetic consciousness of the tradition.
Under such a methodological framework, the examination of the function of the fossilized νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ may be of particular importance not only for determining its function within the narrative but also for the Homeric similes at large. It is a tempting hypothesis that formulaic expressions may be working quite differently under a separate performance register and, moreover, that this performance register creates meaning that, despite its condensed form, is replete with implicit associations shared by the singer and his audience because they belong to the realm of social memory. [4] The obscure formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ would have hardly recalled the myth of the Cattle of the Sun in the bard’s and audience’s mind, but it would still have kept a great part of its original metaphoric force, which epic tradition has, once more, successfully appropriated to its needs and means in order to effect surprising tropes in the narrative.

Narrative Function (Iliad)

In the Iliad, the expression νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ is attested four times, always in similes. Two of these similes (in Iliad XI and XV) belong to the category of animal similes, whereas the other two (in Iliad XXII) are typical star/fiery similes. [5] The following table displays the typical features found in the Iliadic similes and the single Odyssean attestation of the aforementioned formula:
Features Iliad XI 172-178 Iliad XV 323-326 Iliad XXII 26-32 Iliad XXII 317-319 Odyssey iv 814
Motion + + + + +
Gleam + - + + +
Fear + + - + -
Simile + + + + +
Terminal Adonic + + + + +
A closer inquiry reveals the existence of an entire semantic texture partly shared and partly amplified by other Iliadic similes containing certain associative details. [6]

Lion similes

Two of the Iliadic attestations of the νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ formula are found in lion similes. The first refers to Agamemnon (Iliad XI 172–178):
οἳ δ᾿ ἔτι κὰμ μέσσον πεδίον φοβέοντο βόες ὥς,
ἅς τε λέων ἐφόβησε μολὼν ἐν νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ
πάσας, τῇ δέ τ᾿ ἰῇ ἀναφαίνεται αἰπὺς ὄλεθρος,
τῆς δ᾿ ἐξ αὐχέν᾿ ἔαξε λαβὼν κρατεροῖσιν ὀδοῦσιν
πρῶτον, ἔπειτα δέ θ᾿ αἷμα καὶ ἔγκατα πάντα λαφύσσει·
ὣς τοὺς Ἀτρείδης ἔφεπε κρείων Ἀγαμέμνων,
αἰὲν ἀποκτείνων τὸν ὀπίστατον· οἳ δ’ ἐφέβοντο.

while others still in the middle plain stampeded like cattle
when a lion, coming upon them in the dim night, has terrified
the whole herd, while for a single one sheer death is emerging.
First the lion breaks her neck caught fast in the strong teeth,
then gulps down the blood and all the guts that are inward;
so Atreus’ son, powerful Agamemnon, went after them
killing ever the last of the men; and they fled in terror.
A conventional method of interpreting this simile (and any simile) is to examine the relation between tenor and vehicle. [7] This approach fails, though, to cater to the function of elements which seem inappropriate or, rather, irrelevant to the narrative context. Are these elements mere additions of no importance, or do they contribute to our understanding of the function of the similes? In other words, is it possible to locate in other lion similes certain features also shared by the νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ lion similes, which, in turn, can illuminate the deep structure of the expression within the Iliadic narrative? And what, to begin, is the relation of the lion simile containing the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ in Iliad XI 172–178 to other lion similes [8] in the same Book or even in the Iliad at large?
Some verses later in the same Book (Iliad XI 548–557), Ajax is compared to a lion attacking cattle that are protected by both dogs and men:
ὡς δ᾿ αἴθωνα λέοντα βοῶν ἀπὸ μεσσαύλοιο
ἐσσεύοντο κύνες τε καὶ ἀνέρες ἀγροιῶται,
οἵ τέ μιν οὐκ εἰῶσι βοῶν ἐκ πῖαρ ἑλέσθαι
πάννυχοι ἐγρήσσοντες· ὃ δὲ κρειῶν ἐρατίζων
ἰθύει, ἀλλ᾿ οὔ τι πρήσσει· θαμέες γὰρ ἄκοντες
ἀντίον ἀΐσσουσι θρασειάων ἀπὸ χειρῶν
καιόμεναί τε δεταί, τάς τε τρέει ἐσσύμενός περ,
ἠῶθεν δ᾿ ἀπὸ νόσφιν ἔβη τετιηότι θυμῷ·
ὣς Αἴας τότ᾿ ἀπὸ Τρώων τετιημένος ἦτορ
ἤϊε, πόλλ᾿ ἀέκων· περὶ γὰρ δίε νηυσὶν Ἀχαιῶν.

as when the men who live in the wild and their dogs have driven
a tawny lion away from the mid-fenced ground of their oxen,
and will not let him tear out the fat of the oxen, watching
nightlong against him, and he in his hunger for meat closes in
but can get nothing of what he wants, for the raining javelins
thrown from the daring hands of the men beat ever against him,
and the flaming torches, and these he balks at for all of his fury
and with the daylight goes away, disappointed of desire;
so Aias, disappointed at heart, drew back from the Trojans
much unwilling, but feared for the ships of the Achaians.
In this simile we encounter most of the typical characteristics displayed in the table above: the lion is modified by the term αἴθων, which can also mean ‘glittering’, ‘gleaming’. The contrast between light and darkness is enhanced by the opposition between the rising of both dogs and men at night (πάννυχοι ἐγρήσσοντες) and the burning of the torches to keep the lion away (καιόμεναί τε δεταί). The rush of both groups (the dogs and men and the lion) is emphasized by the use of the words ἐσσεύοντο and ἐσσύμενος respectively, and the lion’s fear is also stated (τρέει). In addition, ‘at dawn’ (ἠῶθεν) designates the temporal point of the lion’s unwilling but final withdrawal. This is a significant detail that I would like to coin “additive”. It adds, so to speak, some additional, at first glance rather trivial, information to the lion simile. Interestingly enough, this superficially unimportant detail will be a key point in the interpretation of the (for Iliad XI) initial lion simile containing the νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ expression.
Another lion simile is that of Iliad XII 299–308, in which Sarpedon is compared to a mountain-raised lion attacking a flock of sheep:
βῆ ῥ᾿ ἴμεν ὥς τε λέων ὀρεσίτροφος, ὅς τ᾿ ἐπιδευής
δηρὸν ἔῃ κρειῶν, κέλεται δέ ἑ θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ
μήλων πειρήσοντα καὶ ἐς πυκινὸν δόμον ἐλθεῖν·
εἴ περ γάρ χ᾿ εὕρησι παρ᾿ αὐτόθι βώτορας ἄνδρας
σὺν κυσὶ καὶ δούρεσσι φυλάσσοντας περὶ μῆλα,
οὔ ῥά τ᾿ ἀπείρητος μέμονε σταθμοῖο δίεσθαι,
ἀλλ᾿ ὅ γ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἠ᾿ ἥρπαξε μετάλμενος, ἠὲ καὶ αὐτός
ἔβλητ᾿ ἐν πρώτοισι θοῆς ἀπὸ χειρὸς ἄκοντι·
ὥς ῥα τότ᾿ ἀντίθεον Σαρπηδόνα θυμὸς ἀνῆκεν
τεῖχος ἐπαΐξαι διά τε ῥήξασθαι ἐπάλξις.

he went onward like some hill-kept lion, who for a long time
has gone lacking meat, and the proud heart is urgent upon him
to get inside of a close steading and go for the sheepflocks.
And even though he finds herdsmen in that place, who are watching
about their sheep flocks, armed with spears, and with dogs, even so
he has no thought of being driven from the steading without some attack made,
and either makes his spring and seizes a sheep, or else
himself is hit in the first attack by a spear from a swift hand
thrown. So now his spirit drove on godlike Sarpedon
to make a rush at the wall and break apart from the battlements.
This time, the harvest of thematic features common to the νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ similes is not so rich. Nevertheless, both the movement of the lion (βῆ ῥ᾿ ἴμεν // ἐλθεῖν // δίεσθαι) and the cattle’s abode are repeatedly mentioned (ἐς πυκινὸν δόμον // σταθμοῖο). On the other hand, there is no reference to the interplay between light and darkness, while the role of the phrase ἠὲ καὶ αὐτός / ἔβλητ᾿ ἐν πρώτοισι θοῆς ἀπὸ χειρὸς ἄκοντι remains rather obscure. In order to explore the function of this simile, we need to turn to lion imagery as depicted on Achilles’ shield (Iliad XVIII 573–589):
ἐν δ᾿ ἀγέλην ποίησε βοῶν ὀρθοκραιράων·
αἱ δὲ βόες χρυσοῖο τετεύχατο κασσιτέρου τε,
μυκηθμῷ δ᾿ ἀπὸ κόπρου ἐπεσσεύοντο νομόνδε
πὰρ ποταμὸν κελάδοντα, παρὰ ῥαδαλὸν δονακῆα.
χρύσειοι δὲ νομῆες ἅμ᾿ ἐστιχόωντο βόεσσιν
τέσσερες, ἐννέα δέ σφι κύνες πόδας ἀργοὶ ἕποντο·
σμερδαλέω δὲ λέοντε δύ᾿ ἐν πρώτῃσι βόεσσιν
ταῦρον ἐρύγμηλον ἐχέτην· ὃ δὲ μακρὰ μεμυκώς
εἵλκετο, τὸν δὲ κύνες μετεκίαθον ἠδ᾿ αἰζηοί.
τὼ μὲν ἀναρρήξαντε βοὸς μεγάλοιο βοείην
ἔγκατα καὶ μέλαν αἷμα λαφύσσετον· οἱ δὲ νομῆες
αὔτως ἐνδίεσαν, ταχέας κύνας ὀτρύνοντες,
οἳ δ᾿ ἤτοι δακέειν μὲν ἀπετρωπῶντο λεόντων,
ἱστάμενοι δὲ μάλ᾿ ἐγγὺς ὑλάκτεον ἔκ τ᾿ ἀλέοντο.
ἐν δὲ νομὸν ποίησε περικλυτὸς Ἀμφιγυήεις
ἐν καλῇ βήσσῃ μέγαν οἰῶν ἀργεννάων,
σταθμούς τε κλισίας τε κατηρεφέας ἰδὲ σηκούς.

He made upon it a herd of horn-straight oxen. The cattle
were wrought of gold and of tin, and thronged in speed and with lowing
out of the dung of the farmyard to a pasturing place by a sounding
river, and beside the moving field of a reed bed.
The herdsmen were of gold who went along with the cattle,
four of them, and nine dogs shifting their feet followed them.
But among the foremost of the cattle two formidable lions
had caught hold of the bellowing bull, and he with loud lowings
was dragged away, as the dogs and the young men went in pursuit of him.
But the two lions, breaking open the hide of the great ox,
gulped the black blood and the inward guts, as meanwhile the herdsmen
were in the act of setting and urging the quick dogs on them.
But they, before they could get their teeth in, turned back from the lions,
but would come and take their stand very close, and bayed, and kept clear.
And the renowned smith of the strong arms made on it a meadow
large and in a lovely valley for the glimmering sheepflocks,
with dwelling places upon it, and covered shelters, and sheepfolds.
Now, the picture is much clearer. Fearful lions (σμερδαλέω λέοντε), cattle (βοῶν ὀρθοκραιράων), dogs and shepherds trying to protect them (κύνες // νομῆες), speedy movement (ἐπεσσεύοντο // ἐστιχόωντο // πόδας ἀργοὶ ἕποντο // μετεκίαθον // ἐνδίεσαν, ταχέας κύνας ὀτρύνοντες), returning home after grazing (ἀπὸ κόπρου ἐστιχόωντο νομόνδε), the opposition between light and darkness (μέλαν αἷμα // οἰῶν ἀργεννάων), and even the cave (σταθμούς τε κλισίας τε κατηρεφέας ἰδὲ σηκούς), all the pieces have been ‘reassembled’ in the aforementioned simile. [9]
If we now combine the material shared by the lion similes presented above, we can see that what remained implicit in the first two of them (Iliad XI 172–178 and XI 548–557, respectively) becomes explicit, provided that they are thematically contextualized. Despite the apparent contextual divergence of the two similes in Iliad XI (the lion in Iliad XI 172–178 will first succeed in his attack, whereas the one in Iliad XI 548–557 will fail), both Agamemnon and Ajax (who are compared to these lions) will suffer the same fate. As Iliad XVIII 583 (ἔγκατα καὶ μέλαν αἷμα λαφύσσετον) makes clear, Agamemnon and Ajax will both face a great danger in battle. [10]
Likewise, what was obscure in the Sarpedon lion simile in XII 299–308 becomes clear when compared to the lion imagery described in Iliad XVIII 573–589. One can now grasp the full semantic range of the expression τεῖχος ἐπαΐξαι διά τε ῥήξασθαι ἐπάλξις used for Sarpedon in the simile quoted above (Iliad XII 308). A few verses earlier, almost the same expression had been used for both Hector and the Trojans (XII 291: τείχεος ἐρρήξαντο πύλας καὶ μακρὸν ὀχῆα). Under this scope, an equivalent expression in the description of the cattle on Achilles’ Shield (XVIII 582: τὼ μὲν ἀναρρήξαντε βοὸς μεγάλοιο βοείην) enables us to reconstruct the thematic nexus of correlations motivating further associations for the bard and his audience. Sarpedon breaks the wall of the Achaeans Hector-like, but only superficially. The Iliadic tradition deliberately lets us play with the idea that Sarpedon may only temporarily become Hector’s surrogate, a great hero who will destroy the Achaean wall. Like the lion in the ‘Shield of Achilles’, Sarpedon’s achievement will be short-lived; he will be driven away and later killed. [11]
The other lion simile containing the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ refers to Hector and Apollo (Iliad XV 323–327):
οἳ δ᾿ ὥς τ᾿ ἠὲ βοῶν ἀγέλην ἢ πῶϋ μέγ᾿ οἰῶν
θῆρε δύω κλονέωσι μελαίνης νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ
ἐλθόντ᾿ ἐξαπίνης σημάντορος οὐ παρεόντος,
ὣς ἐφόβηθεν Ἀχαιοὶ ἀνάλκιδες· ἐν γὰρ Ἀπόλλων
ἧκε φόβον, Τρωσὶν δὲ καὶ Ἕκτορι κῦδος ὄπαζεν.

And they, as when in the dim of the black night two wild beasts
stampede a herd of cattle or a big flock of sheep, falling
suddenly upon them, when no herdsman is by, the Achaians
fled so in their weakness and terror, since Apollo drove
terror upon them, and gave the glory to the Trojans and Hektor.
This lion simile involves a ‘superfluous’ expression that seems a trivial addition to the nucleus of the simile, i.e. the dreadful attack of two beasts on a herd of oxen or a great flock of sheep (Iliad XV 323). This ‘superfluous’ expression highlights the powerlessness of the herbivorous animals attacked by a carnivorous predator, presenting them as defenseless due to their lacking a protector/shepherd (XV 325: σημάντορος οὐ παρεόντος).
Is this the only function of the ‘superfluous’ expression, or is it linked to other uses of the term σημάντωρ in the Iliad? Before embarking on an examination of the other attestations of this term throughout the poem, we should keep in mind that one less developed, albeit recurrent, feature of the myth of the Cattle of the Sun is the inability of their protector to safeguard them. In the story of Euenius in Herodotus IX 93–94, the wolves kill about sixty of the sheep of Helios while Euenius sleeps (κατακοιμήσαντος). Likewise in the Odyssey, Odysseus’ comrades kill the Cattle of the Sun when the Sun-God is absent and Odysseus is sleeping. The same feature occurs in the Hercules-Cacus episode, in which the treacherous thief steals the cattle during Hercules’ sleep. [12] Therefore, the defenselessness of the cattle seems to be a characteristic of the deep structure of this imagery. Let us now turn to the other two Iliadic attestations of the term σημάντωρ (Iliad IV 422–440):
ὡς δ᾿ ὅτ᾿ ἐν αἰγιαλῷ πολυηχέϊ κῦμα θαλάσσης
ὄρνυτ᾿ ἐπασσύτερον Ζεφύρου ὕπο κινήσαντος-
πόντῳ μέν τε πρῶτα κορύσσεται, αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
χέρσῳ ῥηγνύμενον μεγάλα βρέμει, ἀμφὶ δέ τ᾿ ἄκρας
κυρτὸν ἰὸν κορυφοῦται, ἀποπτύει δ᾿ ἁλὸς ἄχνην-
ὣς τότ᾿ ἐπασσύτεραι Δαναῶν κίνυντο φάλαγγες
νωλεμέως πόλεμόνδε. κέλευε δὲ οἷσιν ἕκαστος
ἡγεμόνων· οἱ δ᾿ ἄλλοι ἀκὴν ἴσαν, οὐδέ κε φαίης
τόσσον λαὸν ἕπεσθαι ἔχοντ᾿ ἐν στήθεσιν αὐδήν,
σιγῇ, δειδιότες σημάντορας· ἀμφὶ δὲ πᾶσιν
τεύχεα ποικίλ᾿ ἔλαμπε, τὰ εἱμένοι ἐστιχόωντο.
Τρῶες δ᾿, ὥς τ᾿ ὄϊες πολυπάμονος ἀνδρὸς ἐν αὐλῇ
μυρίαι ἑστήκωσιν ἀμελγόμεναι γάλα λευκόν,
ἀζηχὲς μεμακυῖαι, ἀκούουσαι ὄπα ἀρνῶν,
ὣς Τρώων ἀλαλητὸς ἀνὰ στρατὸν εὐρὺν ὀρώρει·
οὐ γὰρ πάντων ἦεν ὁμὸς θρόος οὐδ᾿ ἴα γῆρυς,
ἀλλὰ γλῶσσ᾿ ἐμέμικτο· πολύκλητοι δ᾿ ἔσαν ἄνδρες.
ὦρσε δὲ τοὺς μὲν Ἄρης, τοὺς δὲ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη
Δεῖμός τ᾿ ἠδὲ Φόβος καὶ Ἔρις ἄμοτον μεμαυῖα

As when along the thundering beach the surf of the sea strikes
beat upon beat as the west wind drives it onward; far out
cresting first on the open water, it drives thereafter
to smash roaring along the dry land, and against the rock jut
bending breaks itself into crests spewing back the salt wash;
so thronged beat upon beat the Danaans’ close battalions
steadily into battle, with each of the lords commanding
his own men; and these went silently, you would not think
all these people with voices kept in their chests were marching;
silently, in fear of their commanders; and upon all
glittered as they marched the shining armour they carried.
But the Trojans, as sheep in a man of possessions’ steading
stand in their myriads waiting to be drained of their white milk
and bleat interminably as they hear the voice of their lambs, so
the crying of the Trojans went up through the wide army.
Since there was no speech nor language common to all of them
but their talk was mixed, who were called there from many far places.
Ares drove these on, and the Achaians grey-eyed Athene,
and Terror drove them, and Fear, and Hate whose wrath is relentless
This simile chain in Iliad IV 422–440 offers a good departure point. The term σημάντορας is used for the leaders of the army, whose commands the ordinary soldiers fear. The reference to σημάντορας conjures up, in the singer’s and audience’s mind, a nexus of associations innate in their shared awareness and readily evoked by traditional language. Thus the ensuing simile comes as no surprise. The Trojans are compared to sheep standing in the yard of a rich man. They give white milk and bleat when they hear the voice of the lambs. The alternative meaning of σημάντωρ has been brilliantly explored here by the Iliadic tradition, which unravels certain elements belonging to the conventional frame of poetic experience. The fact that the first simile refers to the Danaans, who move in silence on the battlefield, whereas the second designates the Trojans, who march making much noise, is of no importance to the poetic technique of the Iliad. The tradition is able to combine features, forming part of the same imagery even when plot referents are contradictory. In a nutshell, Danaans and Trojans and their marching in battle may be antithetical, but the poetic means employed for their iconizing are the same.
The term σημάντωρ is also attested in Iliad VIII 127, when Diomedes kills Hector’s charioteer, Eniopeus, son of Thebaius. As a result, the swift-footed horses shrink back, but Hector, for all his sorrow for the loss of his charioteer, has to let him lie dead and look for another driver (Iliad VIII 122–132):
ἤριπε δ᾿ ἐξ ὀχέων, ὑπερώησαν δέ οἱ ἵπποι
{ὠκύποδες· τοῦ δ᾿ αὖθι λύθη ψυχή τε μένος τε}.
Ἕκτορα δ᾿ αἰνὸν ἄχος πύκασε φρένας ἡνιόχοιο·
τὸν μὲν ἔπειτ᾿ εἴασε, καὶ ἀχνύμενός περ ἑταίρου,
κεῖσθαι, ὃ δ᾿ ἡνίοχον μέθεπε θρασύν· οὐδ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἔτι δήν
ἵππω δευέσθην σημάντορος· αἶψα γὰρ ηὗρεν
Ἰφιτίδην Ἀρχεπτόλεμον θρασύν, ὅν ῥα τόθ᾿ ἵππων
ὠκυπόδων ἐπέβησε, δίδου δέ οἱ ἡνία χερσίν.
ἔνθά κε λοιγὸς ἔην καὶ ἀμήχανα ἔργα γένοντο,
καί νύ κε σήκασθεν κατὰ Ἴλιον ἠΰτε ἄρνες,
εἰ μὴ ἄρ᾿ ὀξὺ νόησε πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε·

He fell out of the chariot, and the fast-footed horses
shied away. And there his life and his strength were scattered.
And bitter sorrow closed over Hektor’s heart for his driver,
yet grieving as he did for his friend he left him to lie there,
and went on after another bold charioteer; and it was not
long that the horses went lacking a driver, since soon he found one,
Archeptolemos, bold son of Iphitos, and gave into his hands
the reins, and mounted him behind the fast-running horses.
And now there would have been fighting beyond control, and destruction,
now they would have been driven and penned like sheep against Ilion,
had not the father of gods and of men sharply perceived them.
In this case, the term σημάντωρ means horse driver (the one who leads the horses), charioteer. The detail about the horses shrinking back after the death of Eniopeus may seem trivial, but a scrupulous examination of the immediate context may help us get a clearer view of this apparently ‘superfluous’ reference. Before embarking on this examination, I propose to dwell momentarily on the figure of Nestor, who, together with Diomedes, attacks Hector’s chariot. Nagy, [13] drawing partly on the work of Frame, [14] has convincingly argued that Odyssey xxiv 11–12 (πὰρ δ᾿ ἴσαν Ὠκεανοῦ τε ῥοὰς καὶ Λευκάδα πέτρην, // ἠδὲ παρ᾿ Ἠελίοιο πύλας καὶ δῆμον ὀνείρων), referring to the souls of the suitors being brought to Hades by Hermes, is based on solar imagery. In fact, the Streams of the Ocean, the Gates of the Sun, and the District of Dreams are all situated in the far-west end of the known world. The gates ‘pylai’ are paralleled with Homeric Pylos. Nagy carefully notes that “Frame’s arguments are not used to negate a historical Nestor and the historical Pylos, but rather to show that the kernel of the epic tradition about Nestor and Pylos was based on local myths linked with local cults.” [15] Nestor’s name may be associated with the root *nes- (of the verb νέεσθαι ‘return to life and light’). Frame [16] uses Iliad XI 671–761, in which Nestor himself narrates how he retrieved the cattle of Pylos from the Epeians, to argue that this embedded Iliadic story is a thematic analogue to the Cattle of the Sun. The same might be the case with the seer Melampous, [17] who also has a solar significance. Frame goes so far as to suggest that the entire Odyssean series of Odysseus’ famous efforts to return home is based on a solar metaphor. [18] Keeping these observations in mind, we can turn to Iliad VIII 122–129, in which Diomedes kills Hector’s charioteer, Eniopeus, son of Thebaius.
Iliad VIII begins with a scene on Olympos, where Zeus asserts his command over the rest of the immortals and confirms his will to prevent them from participating in the war of mortal men at Troy. The entire scene, however, is replete with references to the structure of the cosmos. Within this ‘topography’ Olympos occupies the highest peak of the world, followed by the earth, and finally Hades and Tartaros situated far below. This cosmic geography sets the framework for the ensuing battle, which contains a specific cosmic, i.e. solar, allegory.
Zeus descends from Olympos by crossing the sky in a manner similar to Helios. His two horses are ‘bronze-footed’ (Iliad VIII 41), ‘flying-footed’ (Iliad VIII 42), ‘with long manes streaming of gold’ (Iliad VIII 42). He is also dressed in gold (Iliad VIII 43) and holds a golden lash (Iliad VIII 43-44). The horses willingly obey their divine charioteer and fly between earth and the starry heavens (Iliad VIII 45-46).
As the battle begins at daybreak with great casualties on both sides, there is no sign as to the final outcome. But when the sun arrives at mid-sky (Iliad VIII 68), then Zeus weighs in his golden scales the fates of Achaeans and Trojans (Iliad VIII 69–71). The fates of the Achaeans “settled down towards the bountiful / earth, while those of the Trojans were lifted into the wide sky” (Iliad VIII 73–74). Moreover, Zeus thunders from Ida and a kindling light comes to the Achaeans, who are terrified upon seeing it. It is significant that the weighing of the fates temporally coincides with noon, namely the point of time when the Sun reaches the highest point in its course. According to Greek religious beliefs, [19] after midday, when Eos is not any longer present, the day starts to wane. By inference, the κηροστασία and what follows, i.e. the chariot fighting, are patterned upon solar imagery.
Then the real description of the battle starts, with Paris wounding one of Nestor’s horses. The Pylian hero is virtually at the mercy of Hector, who drives by on his chariot. Diomedes comes to Nestor’s rescue, helps him mount the chariot driven by the great horses of Aeneas (a gift from Aphrodite), attacks Hector, and kills Hector’s charioteer. Diomedes would have killed Hector himself were it not for Zeus, who, in his turn, stops Diomedes’ chariot with his thunderbolt.
All of these scenes, from the beginning of Iliad VIII up to this point, are connected to a solar imagery. In particular, the κηροστασία designates life and death in terms of the rising and setting of the sun. The fates of the Achaeans set towards the earth, whereas those of the Trojans rise to the heavens. Zeus, who has certain heliacal features in this episode, confirms with his σέλας (Iliad VIII 75–76) the outcome of the weighing of fates. It is within this framework that we come to the notable verse VIII 131: … σήκασθεν … ἠΰτε ἄρνες ‘driven and penned like sheep’ (in reference to the Trojans).
In a remarkable manner, life and death are expressed through solar imagery, which functions as a mythologically cohesive mechanism for the entire episode. Zeus, Helios-like, is the only figure endowed with the ability to drive his divine chariot successfully through the sky. In the world of mortals, all other charioteers are unable to drive their chariots: one of Nestor’s horses is killed by Paris’ arrow, one of Hector’s charioteers is killed by Diomedes, and Diomedes’ chariot is stopped by Zeus’ thunderbolt while in pursuit of Hector. This polarity between divine ability and human helplessness is highlighted through a solar metaphor based on common beliefs about the movement of the Sun. [20]
In this light, the reference to the term σημάντωρ in this scene can be more fully appreciated if it is placed within the network of its other Iliadic attestations. For the singer and his audience, the word σημάντωρ seems to have been associated with powerlessness and fear, and both its meanings (leader and shepherd) were combined in the poetic memory that formed the basis of the Iliadic tradition. Now we can see the full range of associations latent in what seemed a ‘superfluous’ verse in the νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ simile in Iliad XV 325: the cattle and sheep are completely defenseless and, moreover, the result of the attack of the deadly predators is going to be destructive. [21]
Examination of the lion similes containing the νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ formula has shown that imminent danger is a recurrent feature of this imagery. In order to determine the contextual frame of the entire νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ expression, we need to turn to its other two Iliadic attestations, both in fire similes.

Fire similes

In Iliad XXII 27–28 (ὅς ῥά τ᾿ ὀπώρης εἶσιν, ἀρίζηλοι δέ οἱ αὐγαί // φαίνονται πολλοῖσι μετ᾿ ἀστράσι νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ) and Iliad XXII 317 (οἷος δ᾿ ἀστὴρ εἶσι μετ᾿ ἀστράσι νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ), Achilles shines like a star gleaming in the night sky. However, the reference to νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ does not simply create a contrast between light and darkness, but also symbolizes the coming of a disastrous event, since the appearance of the constellation of the Dog of Orion is a κακὸν δέ τε σῆμα … δειλοῖσι βροτοῖσιν (XXII 30–31). Orion, associated with astral imagery, was a famous hunter killed by Artemis at the island of Ortygia (Odyssey v 121–124) because the goddess was jealous of Eos’ love for him. [22] Later in Iliad XXII 188–193, Achilles is compared to a dog hunting a fawn. The allegory innate in the early reference to Orion in Iliad XXII 29–31 becomes obvious as the dramatic hunting of Hector unfolds. Implied from a mythological point of view, Achilles, Orion-like, will meet his end (though not in the Iliad) through the action of the enraged god Apollo (Artemis’ brother), who has been contested by Achilles’ arrogance in these final scenes of the poem. [23]
In the other star simile in Iliad XXII 317–319, Achilles is compared to Hesperos, the evening star that stands out among all other stars in the night sky. No direct threat is expressed in this case, but Hesperos “evokes the idea of closing day and night drawing on, which fits the theme of Hector’s coming death.” [24] Achilles’ marching onto the battlefield makes him look like a gleaming star, a clear sign of the coming of night. In Iliad XXII 466, a similar metaphor is used: [25] when Andromache rushes to the walls of the city and sees Hector’s dead body being dragged by the victorious Achilles, black night covers her eyes (τὴν δὲ κατ᾿ ὀφθαλμῶν ἐρεβεννὴ νὺξ ἐκάλυψεν). [26] As a result, in the case of the Hesperos simile, the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ could not have simply meant ‘at the dead of night’. For, ‘the dead of night’ is just before dawn, not at twilight when Hesperos is visible in the sky.

Narrative Function (Odyssey)

The single Odyssean attestation of the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ poses a rather different problem. There is hardly any solar imagery here, not even in the ‘usual’ context of a simile (Odyssey iv 839–841):
… ἡ δ᾿ ἐξ ὕπνου ἀνόρουσε
κούρη Ἰκαρίοιο· φίλον δέ οἱ ἦτορ ἰάνθη,
ὥς οἱ ἐναργὲς ὄνειρον ἐπέσσυτο νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ.

… But Icarius’ daughter, waking with a start, drew a warm sense of comfort from
the vividness of this dream that had flown to her in the dark of the night.
Penelope wakes up from sleep with her heart softened after a vivid dream has rushed upon her νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ. But what did the dream tell her? Only that Pallas Athena will be on her side, without revealing whether Odysseus is alive or dead. Earlier in the same Book, Penelope had also been compared to a lion trapped by men (Odyssey iv 791–792). Tormented by her fears, νήδυμος ὕπνος comes upon her (793: ἐπήλυθε) bringing a dream that emphasizes her fear of Telemachus’ nostos (Odyssey iv 806–807).
Penelope’s rising from sleep, from a condition of being and not being, is accompanied by her doubts concerning both Odysseus’ and Telemachus’ condition. Falling to sleep and waking up set a framework narratively paralleled to life and death, as can be inferred from the use of diction pertaining to a lament context (Odyssey iv 800-801, 805–806, 812-813). Expressions like ἐν ὀνειρείῃσι πύλῃσιν (Odyssey iv 809) and εἴδωλον ἀμαυρόν (Odyssey iv 824 and iv 835) allude to the interplay between light and darkness and indicate the passage to the world of the dead and the return from it. [27] In extension, I propose that the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ determines the end of Penelope’s psychological oscillation between life and death. The interplay between light and darkness, which had been sustained throughout the entire episode, thus finds its temporary rest.

Narrative Function (Homeric Hymn to Hermes [4])

In the Homeric Hymn to Hermes (4), Maia of the beautiful locks of hair, who lived in a shadowy cave (6: ἄντρον ἔσω ναίουσα παλίσκιον), mingled with Zeus νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ (7) while Hera was sleeping (8). The cave where the tryst takes place is the abode of the beautiful-haired nymph. It symbolizes the passage from one state of being to another, functioning as a protected space for Zeus and Maia. The background of this event is colored by the imminent danger posed by Hera, which is overcome (see above the Odyssey example with Penelope’s dream) by sleep. In this particular case, the mating in the cave brings the new god Hermes to light and life (12: εἴς τε φόως ἄγαγεν, ἀρίσημά τε ἔργα τέτυκτο). His stealing of Apollo’s cattle, “stepping over the threshold of the high-roofed cave” (23: οὐδὸν ὑπερβαίνων ὑψηρεφέος ἄντροιο) where the god’s cattle are kept, [28] is presented as his final action within the course of a single day: ἠῷος γεγονὼς μέσῳ ἤματι ἐγκιθάριζεν, // ἑσπέριος βοῦς κλέψεν ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος (17–18). The reference to ἄντρον becomes all the more significant, [29] since the cave will be the focal point around which the last and most important part in the process of Hermes’ stealing Apollo’s cattle will take place. The cave, where Helios’ cattle are also kept, is mentioned in Herodotus’ Histories, the most notable source for both the Cave and the Cattle of the Sun. The story runs as follows (IX 93.1-2):
ἔστι ἐν τῇ Ἀπολλωνίῃ ταύτῃ ἱερὰ Ἡλίου πρόβατα, τὰ τὰς μὲν ἡμέρας βόσκεται παρὰ ποταμόν, ὃς ἐκ Λάκμονος ὄρεος ῥέει διὰ τῆς Ἀπολλωνίης χώρης ἐς θάλασσαν παρ᾿ Ὤρικον λιμένα, τὰς δὲ νύκτας ἀραιρημένοι ἄνδρες οἱ πλούτῳ τε καὶ γένεϊ δοκιμώτατοι τῶν ἀστῶν οὗτοι φυλάσσουσι ἐνιαυτὸν ἕκαστος· περὶ πολλοῦ γὰρ δὴ ποιεῦνται Ἀπολλωνιῆται τὰ πρόβατα ταῦτα ἐκ θεοπροπίου τινός. (Ἐν δὲ ἄντρῳ αὐλίζονται ἀπὸ τῆς πόλιος ἑκάς, ἔνθα δὴ τότε ὁ Εὐήνιος οὗτος ἀραιρημένος ἐφύλασσε, καί κοτε αὐτοῦ κατακοιμήσαντος τὴν φυλακὴν παρελθόντες λύκοι ἐς τὸ ἄντρον διέφθειραν τῶν προβάτων ὡς ἑξήκοντα).
In this town of Apollonia there is a flock of sheep which is sacred to the Sun. By day they graze along the banks of a river which rises on Mount Lacmon and flows through the countryside around Apollonia to the sea by the port of Oricus. At night it is up to the leading citizens, from the wealthiest and noblest families, to look after them; one of them is chosen for the job and does it for a year. The importance of this flock to the people of Apollonia is due to a prophecy they once received. (The sheep spend the night in a cave which is some distance from the town. This was the cave where Euenius was on the occasion in question, when it was his turn to guard the flock. One night he fell asleep during his watch, and wolves slipped past him into the cave and killed about sixty of the sheep).
In tragedy, the word ἀμολγός (ἱερᾶς νυκτὸς ἀμολγόν) is attested as a noun in Aeschylus’ Heliades, TrGF 3, fr. 69.7 (Radt), where it must be assigned to the chorus, [30] and as an adjective in Euripides’ [31] Alcmene, TrGF 5.1, fr. 104 (Kannicht): ἀμολγὸν νύκτα. [32] It is also found, as a noun, in the Orphic Hymns (34.12: γαῖαν δ᾿ ὀλβιόμοιρον ὕπερθέ τε καὶ δι᾿ ἀμολγοῦ ‘and upon the rich earth you look upon through the twilight’). [33]

The Origins of the Expression [34]

Lazzeroni has convincingly shown that the unintelligible and obscure Homeric expression νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ can be explained by a parallel Indic tradition representing dawn and night as milk-producing cows in Vedic mythology. [35] Night is thus illuminated by the stars or by dawn, and milk represents either twilight or crepuscular light. I would like to add to his convincing interpretation substantial evidence from other Indo-European daughter-languages pointing to the common origins of this prototypical cosmic metaphor.

Vedic Evidence

The Rig-Veda offers a revealing analogy for the milking imagery inherent in the νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ formula. Both the dawn and the night are symbolically represented as milk-producing cows: [36]
Rig-Veda 1.186.4: … uṣā́sānáktā … sudúgheva dhenúḥ (the dawn and the night [are] like a cow [bearing] good milk).
Rig-Veda 2.3 (321), 6: … uṣā́sānáktā … sudúghe páyasvatī (the dawn and the night, of good milk, milk-producing).
Rig-Veda 3.40 (264), 14: máhi jyótir níhitaṁ vakṣáṇāsv āmā́ pakvám carati bíbhratī gaúḥ (a great light is stopped in front of the belly (of dawn); the cold cow will produce cooked/burnt milk).
Rig-Veda 7.41 (557), 7: áśāvatīr gómatīr na uṣā́so vīrávatīḥ sádaṁ ucchantu bhadrā́ḥ / ghṛtáṁ dúhānā viśvátaḥ prápītā (rich in horses, rich in oxen, rich in men, the dawns always bright gleam to us, sending forth everywhere the milk-butter shaft, those (dawns) that are full (of milk).
These dawns are in fact cows used by the god Indra as a depository of light in the form of warm, shining milk (Rig-Veda 1.62.9). Therefore, in Vedic mythology, milk and light are associated through the cattle/cow imagery we have referred to. [37] Vedic mythology offers an excellent parallel to the Greek myth of Helios’ cattle, the more so since there is a strong connection between freeing the sacred cattle and sunrise. The god Indra releases the cattle of the Paṇis (demons living at the ends of the earth and keeping large numbers of cattle in a cave), [38] but it is through the intervention of certain priests that the cows are really freed, Vala is cut asunder, and the sun shines again (Rig-Veda 2.24.3).
One other noteworthy element concerning the role of cattle in Vedic mythology is the special connection of cows and sheep to the god Varuna, their protector. He knows the thrice-seven secret names of the cows and claims that the one who knows their names will pass them to the next generation, functioning like an inspired poet (Rig-Veda 7.87.4: “The cow bears thrice seven names. / He who knows the track should tell them like secrets, / if he would serve as inspired poet to the later generation”). [39] Moreover, ‘cow imagery’ represents human thoughts, kept in the mind just as cows are guarded in a cave or stall. Evocations of cow-like dawns accompany daily praises to Varuna in order to free humans from evil “as a calf from halter.” [40] The solar element is not absent from the lore surrounding Varuna; he is the all-seeing god, whose watchful and undeceived vigilance nothing can escape. He is also, like the Greek Helios, able to extend his powers over both the living and the dead (see Helios threatening of Zeus in Odyssey xii 382–383 that if Odysseus’ comrades are not punished he will shine upon the dead).

Roman Evidence

In Roman literature the closest equivalent to the myth of Helios’s Cattle is that of Hercules driving away the cattle of Geryones and facing Cacus, a monstrous fire-breathing giant whose abode was the Aventine [41] or Palatine [42] hill in Rome. Cacus is thought to have been a local fire deity (the same applies to his sister Caca who is a religious predecessor of the goddess Vesta) [43] or a local seer, [44] who offered hospitality to a hero named not Hercules but Garanus or (T)recaranus. [45] The initial fight between a local fire-god and a local hero became (after the fusion of Greek and Roman mythological material) part of Hercules’ nostos and was eventually transformed into a fight between Hercules and Cacus. The story of Hercules and Cacus is only related by Roman authors (Livy, Virgil, Propertius, Ovid are the most important versions), with the exception of Dionysius of Halicarnassos, who deals with the Cacus myth in Roman Antiquities (I 38–42). [46] On the other hand, the tradition of Geryones is also known from Greek mythology, [47] but seems to have been of special interest to Roman poets of the Golden Age, the more so because Geryones was thought to live in Spain (an area of special weight in Roman history) and was brilliantly exploited by Augustan poets, who strove to use myth as a vehicle for political propaganda. [48] I will now offer, in a brief digression, an overview of the Geryones myth together with an analysis of its basic interpretive parameters. I have decided to also include in the Roman evidence some notes on the Stesichorean Geryoneïs, as they form an integral part of the Geryones myth used by Roman authors (mainly Augustan poets).

The Geryones myth

Geryones was a mythical creature, a three-headed, three-bodied giant living in the island of Erytheia, [49] which was situated at the western end of the world. He was the son of Chrysaor (who is mythologically connected to the Sun) and Callirhoë, daughter of Oceanus. Geryones’ sacred cattle were protected by the herdsman, Eurytion, with the help of the two-headed watchdog, Orthus. Hercules, after killing both Eurytion and Orthus, drove Geryones’ cattle away with the aim of bringing them to Eurystheus at Argos or Tiryns. Of special importance for our investigation is the meeting between Helios and Heracles. Heracles, after being insulted by Helios, obtains an outstanding means of transport, Helios’ own golden cup, with which he travels through the sky. Heracles uses this cup twice: first, on his own when he crosses the Ocean and arrives at Erytheia and, second, with the stolen cattle after Geryones’ death, on his way back to Tartessos, where he meets Helios and returns it. [50] Burkert [51] has drawn our attention (by adopting a Proppian [52] model of analysis) both to the motifematic patterns and to the wealth of local traditions with which this myth has been associated. [53] The Geryones myth is mainly related to the western end of the world (probably due to the location of the place where the Sun sets). Cacus [54] was associated with the underworld, so stealing the sacred cows could be a metaphor for a threat against the regular order of the universe, alluding to a potential release of the dead. This brings us, surprisingly close to Helios’ threat against Zeus in Odyssey xii 377–383, as well as to the menacing words of the goddess Ishtar to Anu in Gilgamesh, VI iii-VII i (see Babylonian evidence below). As Davies [55] has neatly put it: “… the story of Heracles’ mission to fetch the cattle of Geryon, like the tale of his descent to Hades to fetch Cerberus, is (though in more oblique form) a Jenseitsfahrt, [56] a heroic journey to the land of the dead.” Heracles was traditionally associated with fighting monsters, death figures like Thanatos in Euripides’ Alcestis, or Old Age in iconographical representations. [57] Geryones himself may have been, in an older version of the story, the shepherd of his own cattle (not Eurytion as in Apollodorus’ version). Croon [58] goes as far as identifying him with the mythical Herdsman of the dead. [59] The myth of Geryones and his fatal encounter with Heracles seems to belong to an older mythical stratum, being added to the list of Heracles’ labors at a later date, after it had lost its original color as standing for a visit to the underworld. [60] At that point, the analogy between the two dogs involved in two of Heracles’ exploits, Cerberus (who formed part of an overt journey to the underworld) and Orthus (being part of the Geryones myth) had been obliterated. [61] Davies suggests a parallelism between Geryones and Nereus as well as between Geryones and Cacus. [62] Both Geryones and Cacus are associated with darkness, since they live in caves (see Hesiod, Theogony 294: σταθμῷ ἐν ἠερόεντι for Geryones, and Virgil’s Aeneid VIII 254 sub antro for Cacus) where it is difficult to enter. Moreover, when Hercules [63] enters Cacus’ dwelling, the terrible thief reacts like a beast: he bellows loudly (Aeneid VIII 248: insueta rudentem), acquiring a feature that recalls Geryones’ name itself, Γηρυών, from the present participle γηρύων < γηρύω ‘to roar’. [64] These fascinating features inherent in the tale of Geryones point to further similarities between Geryones, Alcyoneus, and Cacus, already noted by Wilamowitz, [65] who argues that the giant Alcyoneus was also a cattle-thief. [66] In fact, his stealing of Helios’ (!) cattle, which Heracles brought back from Erytheia (!), caused an entire war between gods and men. [67]
The first extant reference to Hercules and the cattle of Geryones, though, is attested in Livy (I 7.4–8.1):
Herculem in ea loca Geryone interempto boves mira specie abegisse memorant, ac prope Tiberim fluvium, qua prae se armentum agens nando traiecerat, loco herbido ut quiete et pabulo laeto reficeret boves et ipsum fessum via procubuisse. Ibi cum eum cibo vinoque gravatum sopor oppressisset, pastor accola eius loci, nomine Cacus, ferox viribus, captus pulchritudine boum cum avertere eam praedam vellet, quia si agendo armentum in speluncam compulisset ipsa vestigia quaerentem dominum eo deductura erant, aversos boves eximium quemque pulchritudine caudis in speluncam traxit. Hercules ad primam auroram somno excitus cum gregem perlustrasset oculis et partem abesse numero sensisset, pergit ad proximam speluncam, si forte eo vestigia ferrent. Quae ubi omnia foras versa vidit nec in partem aliam ferre, confusus atque incertus animi ex loco infesto agere porro armentum occepit. Inde cum actae boves quaedam ad desiderium, ut fit, relictorum mugissent, reddita inclusorum ex spelunca boum vox Herculem convertit. Quem cum vadentem ad speluncam Cacus vi prohibere conatus esset, ictus clava fidem pastorum nequiquam invocans mortem occubuit.
Hercules, after slaying Geryones, was driving off his wondrously beautiful cattle, when, close to the river Tiber, where he had swum across it with the herd before him, he found a green spot, where he could let the cattle rest and refresh themselves with the abundant grass; and being tired from his journey he lay down himself. When he had there fallen into a deep sleep, for he was heavy with food and wine, a shepherd by the name of Cacus, who dwelt hard by and was insolent by reason of his strength, was struck with the beauty of the animals, and wished to drive them off as plunder. But if he had driven the heard into his cave, their tracks would have been enough to guide their owner to the place in his search; he therefore chose out those of the cattle that were most remarkable for their beauty, and turning them the other way, dragged them into the cave by their tails. At daybreak Hercules awoke. Glancing over the herd, and perceiving that a part of their number was lacking, he proceeded to the nearest cave, in case there might be foot-prints leading into it. When he saw that they were all turned outward and yet did not lead to any other place, he was confused and bewildered, and made ready to drive his herd away from that uncanny spot. As the cattle were being driven off, some of them lowed, as usually happens, missing those which had been left behind. They were answered with a low by the cattle shut up in the cave, and this made Hercules turn back. When he came towards the cave, Cacus would have prevented his approach with force, but received a blow from the hero’s club, and calling in vain upon the shepherds to protect him, gave up the ghost.
Livy’s account of the episode highlights certain themes, such as Hercules’ sleep, the motif of deceit, and the light-darkness interplay. Hercules’ initial theft of Geryones’ cattle and their recovery from brigands have been compared to the Indic myth of the rescue of the soma cows by the god Indra. [68] Along these lines, Cacus is thought to be an analogue of Geryones, who, like Vritra, steals the cows, [69] which symbolize the power of life and light.
Virgil [70] in Aeneid VIII 200-275 has Evander narrate the episode of Cacus, who, after Hercules has driven away the Cattle of Geryones, steals four cows and four bulls. [71] Hercules kills this three-headed half-man and sets the cattle free. This is an embedded narrative with an aetiological aim of explaining the cult of Hercules and the foundation of the Ara Maxima. Moreover, it brings Aeneas (and Augustus) within the company of all mortals who will be deified.
In Virgil’s narrative we encounter some of the typical elements of the myth of the Cattle of the Sun, such as the cave (spelunca or antrum) where the cattle are kept, the pursuit of Hercules, and the flight of Cacus, as well as the most noteworthy feature of this literary account, the opposition between light and darkness (the cave is called a domus atra). [72] The end of the Virgilian narrative speaks for itself (Aeneid VIII 262–267):
panditur extemplo foribus domus atra revulsis
abstractaeque boves abiurataeque rapinae
caelo ostenduntur, pedibusque informe cadaver
protrahitur. nequeunt expleri corda tuendo
terribilis oculos, vultum villosaque saetis
pectora semiferi atque exstinctos faucibus ignis .

Straightaway the doors are torn off and the dark den laid bare; the stolen oxen
and forsworn plunder are shown to heaven, and the shapeless carcass is dragged
forth by the feet. Men cannot sate their hearts with gazing on the terrible eyes,
the face, the shaggy bristling chest of the brutish creature, and the quenched
fires of his throat.
The black cave opens as the doors are destroyed and the liberated cattle “are shown to the sky” (caelo ostenduntur), i.e. they are exposed to the open air.
Propertius IV 9 also refers to the sacred cattle driven from Erytheia to the Palatine hill in Rome, [73] where the thief Cacus steals the cattle and is then killed by Hercules. Some of the typical aspects of this myth are present in Propertius’ account, which differs from Virgil’s. The cave is only mentioned in brief (IV 9.12): [74]
aversos cauda traxit in antra boves
he dragged the cattle backwards by their tails to the cave
The opposition between light and darkness does not belong to the Cacus episode, but to another myth (that of Hercules’ successful descent to the underworld) embedded in the following scene between Hercules and the maidens in the sacred grove (IV 9.41):
atque uni Stygias homini luxisse tenebras?
and how only to the mortal has the Stygian darkness become light?
The Hercules-Cacus story is also mentioned by Ovid in Fasti I 543–586, [75] where it is also used as an aetiological myth for the foundation of the Ara Maxima. The whole episode takes place at early dawn (I 547: mane erat). Hercules wakes up only to find that two of his bulls are missing. He looks in vain for any traces, while the external narrator seizes the opportunity to update the reader with all of the necessary information: the cattle had been stolen by Cacus, son of Mulciber, a monstrous creature leaving in a cave situated far away (I 553–556):
dira viro facies, vires pro corpore, corpus
grande (pater monstri Mulciber huius erat),
proque domo longis spelunca recessibus ingens,
abdita, vix ipsis inveniendis feris
Grim was his aspect, huge his frame, his strength to match; the monster’s sire was Mulciber. For house he had a cavern vast with long recesses, hidden so that hardly could the wild beasts themselves discover it.
The cave is, of course, a typical element in this myth, but here we encounter a detail that had been emphasized in the Herodotean (IX 93.1-2) version of the story, i.e. that the cave is located at a distant place, even if the reader understands that it will be close to the Aventine hill where Cacus’ abode is situated:
(… ἔνθα δὴ τότε ὁ Εὐήνιος οὗτος ἀραιρημένος ἐφύλασσε, καί κοτε αὐτοῦ κατακοιμήσαντος τὴν φυλακὴν παρελθόντες λύκοι ἐς τὸ ἄντρον διέφθειραν τῶν προβάτων ὡς ἑξήκοντα).
This was the cave where Euenius was on the occasion in question, when it was his turn to guard the flock. One night he fell asleep during his watch, and wolves slipped past him into the cave and killed about sixty of the sheep.
The sound of the cattle reveals the cave’s location to Hercules, where he fights against Cacus, who vomits flames from his mouth (Fasti I 572: … et flammas ore sonante vomit) like Typhoeus or Aetna. Despite the speed of fire (Fasti I 574: et rapidum Aetnaeo fulgur ab igne iaci), Hercules moves quickly and defeats the dreadful Cacus. He, then, sacrifices one bull to Jupiter and sets up the Ara Maxima in the place taking its name from an ox, later called Forum Boarium (Fasti I 582: hic ubi pars Urbis de bove nomen habet). [76]
Dionysius of Halicarnassos (Roman Antiquities I 39) [77] narrates the Hercules-Cacus episode, offering more or less the same details we have found in the aforementioned Roman authors. In the course of his return to Argos after having completed one of the labors set for him by Eurystheus, Hercules stopped at a προσεχὲς τῷ Παλλαντίῳ χωρίον in Rome to feed Geryones’ cattle. While he was sleeping, the thief, Cacus, stole some of his cattle and hid them in a cave (this time closely situated), [78] dragging them by their tails in order to deceive Hercules. When Hercules woke up and realized that some of the cattle were missing, he started looking for them, eventually arriving at the cave by following the traces of the cattle. Cacus pretended he knew nothing, but when Hercules thought of bringing the rest of the cattle inside the cave, the stolen ones ἀντεμυκῶντο ταῖς ἔκτοσθεν καὶ ἐγεγόνει ἡ φωνὴ αὐτῶν κατήγορος τῆς κλοπῆς (I 39.3-4). Subsequently, Hercules fights against Cacus and kills him with his club. He then founds an altar to Zeus Heuresios, sacrificing one of the cattle.
Dionysius’ account does not refer to the monstrosity of Cacus, describing him only as a local thief (I 39.2: λῃστής τις ἐπιχώριος ὄνομα Κάκος), nor does it deal with the fiery element, which in the other versions is linked to Cacus’ monstrosity. On the other hand, Dionysius’ version does share features with Livy’s account.

Iranian Evidence

The Avestan deity Ahura-Mazdāh is the equivalent of the Vedic Varuna Asura; both gods are endowed with special far-seeing capacities and have beasts under their control. [79] According to Nyberg, [80] Ahura-Mazdāh is an early form of a Himmelsgott. Herodotus (I 131) is the first Greek authority to observe that the Persians regard the sky-vault as Zeus: οἱ δὲ νομίζουσι Διὶ μὲν ἐπὶ τὰ ὑψηλότατα τῶν ὀρέων ἀναβαίνοντες θυσίας ἔρδειν, τὸν κύκλον πάντα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ Δία καλέοντες. The sky-vault has two aspects, the day and night sky, respectively. [81] The daily element is represented by Ahura-Mazdāh and the night element by Mithra, the night-god. The polarity between these two deities, both of cosmogonic significance, is typical in Iranian religious belief. This divine pair is of Indic origin, belonging to the Indo-Iranian stratum of Iranian religion. Both Varuna and Ahura-Mazdāh are called far-seeing (it comes as no surprise that the same ability applies to Varuna’s son, Surya, the Sun-god). Varuna is closely linked to the Sun, his great miracle being that “im Luftkreis stehend die Erde mit der Sonne wie mit einem Maße gemessen hat.” [82] Since Ahura-Mazdāh shares common characteristics with the Indic Varuna, one expects to find mythological patterns common to both of them. One such mythological pattern is that of the sacred cattle. According to Yasna 29, the soul of the cattle has a sky connotation. [83] Earthly cattle are personified as heavenly, primeval entities, which, through the intervention of Ahura-Mazdāh and Asa, produce āzûti (“fluid”, “pouring”), a sacral concept that together with milk constitutes a “sakrales Begriffspaar [84] and forms the subject of exhortation. The soul of the cattle bears two elements, milk and urine, symbolizing the generation of life. This is an old Aryan tradition, reflected in both the Indic soma and in its Iranian analogue haoma. [85] These precious, heavenly gifts for mankind are linked to the cosmic significance of the sacred cattle as symbols of solar power procreating life. [86]

Irish Evidence

The metaphor of the ‘water’ (milk) of the dawn-cows may be, according to Watkins, [87] older than the Rig-Veda examples quoted above. The Vedic vár (water, milk) corresponds to Old Irish fír (milk). The old and obscure formula, teora ferbba fíra (three milk cows), referring to the dawn-cows, is offered by two separate traditions with both a mythological and a legal component: the first is from the Cetharslicht Athgabala (AL 1.64; CIH 325.25, 881.4, 1897.16), the second is a judgment of Fachta mac Sencha in Cormac’s Glossary § 585. There might be, as Watkins argues, a connection with Modern Irish bo bhainne (milk-cows). Watkins is absolutely right in asserting that the apparent archaism of Old Irish fír “owes its preservation to being frozen in a formulaic epithet in a mythological nexus which is itself of Indo-European antiquity.” [88] This may also be the case for the Homeric νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ.

Babylonian Evidence

The myth of the Cattle of the Sun is also known from ancient Mesopotamia and the Babylonian epic, Gilgamesh. [89] After having killed the god-demon Humbaba (Tablet 5), Gilgamesh wins widespread fame and receives a sexual proposal from the goddess Isthar. Gilgamesh is unwilling to accept her offer, and Isthar, in her anger, asks the sky-god Anu to give her the Bull of Heaven to wreak vengeance upon Gilgamesh and the city of Uruk, where Gilgamesh and his beloved friend Enkidu reside (Gilgamesh, VI iii-VII i): [90]
‘Father, please give me the Bull of Heaven, and
let me strike Gilgamesh down!
Let me … Gilgamesh in his dwelling!
If you don’t give me the Bull of Heaven,
I shall strike (?) [ ]
I shall set my face towards the infernal regions,
I shall raise up the dead, and they will eat the living
I shall make the dead outnumber the living!’
Isthar’s words recall Helios’ threat against Zeus in Odyssey xii 377–383:
῾῾Ζεῦ πάτερ ἠδ᾿ ἄλλοι μάκαρες θεοὶ αἰὲν ἐόντες,
τῖσαι δὴ ἑτάρους Λαερτιάδεω Ὀδυσῆος,
οἵ μευ βοῦς ἔκτειναν ὑπέρβιον, ᾗσιν ἐγώ γε
χαίρεσκον μὲν ἰὼν εἰς οὐρανὸν ἀστερόεντα,
ἠδ᾿ ὁπότ᾿ ἂψ ἐπὶ γαῖαν ἀπ᾿ οὐρανόθεν προτραποίμην.
εἰ δέ μοι οὐ τίσουσι βοῶν ἐπιεικέ᾿ ἀμοιβήν,
δύσομαι εἰς Ἀΐδαο καὶ ἐν νεκύεσσι φαείνω.᾿᾿

“Father Zeus and you other blessed gods who live for ever, take vengeance on
the followers of Odysseus, son of Laertes. They have criminally killed my cattle,
the cattle that gave me such joy every day as I climbed the starry sky and as I
dropped down from heaven and sank once more to earth. If they do not repay
me in full for my slaughtered cows, I will go down to the realm of Hades and
shine among the dead.”
There are no milking cows here, but both epics share the theme of punishment that will fall upon humans (the city of Uruk and Odysseus’ companions) as well as the threat of “a reversal of the upper and lower worlds.” [91] Therefore, the theme of fear, which recurs in all Iliadic attestations of the νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ formula, prevails in the episode of the Bull of Heaven and the Cattle of the Sun, as narrated in the Gilgamesh and in the Odyssey, respectively.


The examination of Indo-European mythological cognates [92] concerning the isolated and obscure Homeric formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ has revealed the existence of a “prototypical” imagery having as its kernel a set of complex conventional meanings connected to a solar metaphor.
1. Solar Imagery: the imagery is based on the intricate association of cattle with sunrise (which is of key importance in Vedic mythology). [93] In Greek mythology where this myth is found in fragmentary form, there is clearly a focus on versions where the cattle’s abode is emphasized (Odyssey xii, Homeric Hymn to Apollo [3] and to Hermes [4], Herodotus), while the solar element is clearly downplayed. A noteworthy exception is the whole-verse expression ‘when Helios returned towards the setting/time of unyoking his oxen’ (Odyssey ix 58: ἦμος δ᾿ ἠέλιος μετενίσσετο βουλυτόνδε). This phrase is indeed a rara avis among the attestations of solar imagery associated with cattle in Greek mythology. It refers to the specific time the oxen are unyoked (i.e. at the end of the day). [94] The downplaying of the solar element is, in all probability, due to the fact that the Sun/Helios belongs to an older religious stratum which has been replaced by a newer one, that of the Olympian deities. This is obvious in both the Homeric and Herodotean versions. In both the Iliad and the Odyssey, Dawn (Ἠώς) is commonly mentioned in reference to the beginning and end of the day. [95] The formulaic system makes this quite plain, as it offers specific formulaic expressions used in both epics for the setting out and setting down of Dawn. In Herodotus, the mention of Helios’ holy sheep (ἱρὰ Ἡλίου πρόβατα) is completely marginal, while Euenius plays the prominent role.
2. Imminent Danger: Imminent danger is a typical feature of all Iliadic attestations of the expression. As far as the two animal similes are concerned (Iliad XI and XV), the threat of the attacking predators is clearly stated. In the two solar/fiery similes in Iliad XXII, the deadly tone is expressed in a different way. In Iliad XXII 30–31, Sirius (gleaming in the night sky) is described as λαμπρότατος μὲν ὅ γ᾿ ἐστί, κακὸν δέ τε σῆμα τέτυκται, // καί τε φέρει πολλὸν πυρετὸν δειλοῖσι βροτοῖσιν. Later, in Iliad XXII 317–319, the gleaming armor of Achilles is compared to Hesperos shining during the twilight. Once again, the simile is used as a foreshadowing of the threat imposed by Achilles upon Hector, who soon afterwards will meet his doom. In Odyssey iv 795–841, Penelope is visited by a vivid dream in which a black phantom (iv 824 and iv 835: εἴδωλον ἀμαυρόν) tells her not to be afraid (iv 825: θάρσει, μηδέ τι πάγχυ μετὰ φρεσὶ δείδιθι λίην) and does not reveal, despite her asking (iv 833–834: ἤ που ἔτι ζώει καὶ ὁρᾷ φάος ἠελίοιο, // ἦ ἤδη τέθνηκε καὶ εἰν Ἀΐδαο δόμοισι), whether Odysseus is alive or dead. The element of fear for the menaces imposed on Odysseus’ life is equally at work here, making Penelope wake up from her sleep (Odyssey iv 839). Imminent danger is also typical in the Vedic story of the Vala and the stealing of the sacred cows, referred to in the Rig-Veda, as well as in the epic of Gilgamesh, with Isthar threatening to do almost what Helios threatens in the Odyssey.
The examination of similes thematically relevant to those containing the νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ formula has shown that the function of this fossilized phrase within the traditional medium of epic poetry is based on the opposition between light and darkness as symbols of some imminent danger having a negative result: Agamemnon in Iliad XI, Apollo in Iliad XV, and Achilles in Iliad XXII, all will bring destruction to their opponents. What initially formed part of a coherent imagery has ‘survived’ within the frame of the Homeric simile, leaving only certain traces on the poetic surface, but being shared by the members of the poetic community. The myth of the Cattle of the Sun has cosmogonic significance. In various Indo-European cultures cattle have been associated with the light of the sun and a process of regeneration and fertility. This symbolic interpretation belongs to a mythological substratum that epic poetry has somehow obliterated, as there is no real place for the Sun-god among the powerful Olympians. The Sun-god (Helios) is still referred to as an important deity of course, but one outside of the usually invoked Olympian pantheon. As Apollo has been virtually equated with him, [96] Helios’ role has been marginalized. The same applies to the goddess of dawn (Eos), who is used to denote the coming of the day. With the exception of the episode of the Cattle of Helios in Odyssey xii, the Sun-god is virtually absent from epic poetry. Only some old formulaic expressions, such as Odyssey ix 58 and νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ (four times in the Iliad, one time in the Odyssey), have been preserved in epic memory. The latter is a more complicated expression than the former, due to its isolation and obscurity. As I have tried to show, its full interpretation has to cater to both its origins and its placement within the framework of the Homeric simile. I would therefore like to argue, in extension, that certain features of Homeric diction are poetically colored according to the register in which they are placed, and that the they are perceived as such by the audience because of their special coding. If a formula is attested in only one rhythmic and thematic register (such as that of the Homeric similes), it obviously has a special relationship with this particular register. The essential observation here is that the contradictory semantic uses of the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ reveal, from a diachronic point of view, only its unintelligibility. Under this scope, the exploration of the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ has shown that its traditional referentiality can be fully retrieved through an intertextual search in other Indo-European and even Mesopotamian traditions, allowing us to map out the entire intertext of this obscure archaism. On the other hand, Homeric epic invites us to appreciate the subtle technique by which it has appropriated this dictional fossil to its scope and needs. Synchronically perceived, this ossified expression had a special color, familiar to both poet and audience. No scrupulous etymologizing was needed by ancient listeners to ‘interpret’ this formula as a sign of imminent danger. Its apt contextualization made its elliptical nature recognizable to the members of the poetic community.


[ back ] 1. Dumézil 1958, 1968 was the first comparative mythologist to focus his attention on key structures of the Indo-European peoples and to emphasize the importance of isolating shared elements generating new myths. The Dumézilian approach highlights the dynamic appropriation of mythical material instead of aiming at a reconstructive process of an initial, closed tradition that has been altered by later additions and removals.
[ back ] 2. Silk 1983:330. Doubts may be raised as to the use of such an impressionistic term as iconym, which has originated from a lexicographical study (see above). But iconyms do sometimes exist in specific contexts and can be restricted to them. This is the case of the formula under examination. Such formulaic expressions, especially in ‘oral’ texts like that of the Iliad and the Odyssey, have their own semantic aura acquired both by traditional and by direct referentiality. The former refers to a specific kind of metonymical relation that pulls on the narrative’s surface the whole emotive range hidden in a formula, whereas the latter “is determined by both its position in the verse and its immediate thematic environment.” For the term traditional referentiality, see Foley 1991:24; Danek 2002:3–19.
[ back ] 3. Muellner 1990:59–101.
[ back ] 4. Bakker 2001a:23.
[ back ] 5. Scott 1974.
[ back ] 6. For a thorough examination of the function of similes in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, see Moulton 1977. Moulton treats exhaustively the topic of the narrative function of similes by examining them in sequences, pairs or dispersed throughout the entire epics.
[ back ] 7. See Richards 1936 = 1971:90.
[ back ] 8. For the difference between conventional/standard and metaphoric thematic context, see the illuminating discussion of Muellner 1990:61–62.
[ back ] 9. See Alden 2000:67–70, who rightly argues that this simile is traditional since it belongs to a family of relevant lion-similes. Within a total of 27 Iliadic similes describing lions attacking cattle, 19 portray herdsmen and dogs trying to protect the cattle by pushing back the carnivorous predator.
[ back ] 10. See Iliad XI 186–194, in which Zeus tells Iris to inform Hector that Agamemnon will be wounded and that only later on will he take control of things on the battlefield.
[ back ] 11. For this simile, see also Minchin 2001b:155–156 and, for the useful term ‘advance organizer’, 155n63.
[ back ] 12. See the second part of this study.
[ back ] 13. See Nagy 1990b:225, and in particular 223–262.
[ back ] 14. Frame 1978:81–115.
[ back ] 15. Nagy 1990b:225.
[ back ] 16. See Frame 1978:87–90.
[ back ] 17. Frame 1978:91–92.
[ back ] 18. Nagy 1990b:223–262 provides a brilliant illustration of how evidence from various Indo-European sources can be employed to discover the meaning and function of an obscure expression within the realm of Greek poetical and mythological tradition.
[ back ] 19. Nagy 1990b:252.
[ back ] 20. Is it a coincidence that the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ is also attested in tragic plays (the first example is found in Aeschylus’ Heliades, TrGF 3, fr. 69.7 (Radt) and the second in Euripides’ Alcmene, TrGF 5.1, fr. 104 (Kannicht): ἀμολγὸν νύκτα), whose plot is connected to solar myths?
[ back ] 21. The same observation can be made for another lion simile in Iliad XV 630–637. Hector is again compared to a lion attacking defenseless cattle. The defenselessness of the cattle is also stressed through the shepherd’s inability to protect them:… ἐν δέ τε τῇσι νομεὺς οὔ πω σάφα εἰδώς // θηρὶ μαχέσσασθαι ἕλικος βοὸς ἀμφὶ φονῇσιν (Iliad XV 632–633). See Janko 1992:262–263.
[ back ] 22. Eos was traditionally associated with mortal consorts (Cephalus, Cleitus, Tithonus, Ganymedes). See Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988 ad loc.; Boedeker 1974. Nagy 1990b:253 argues about the existence of a sequence of events epitomized in what he calls abduction/preservation followed by death. He claims that “Orion’s relation to Dawn is the inverse of the Sun’s” (253) because “unlike the Sun, it [Orion] rises and sets at nighttime, not day-time” (253).
[ back ] 23. Hector will make this more than explicit in Iliad XXII 359–360:… ὅτε κέν σε Πάρις καὶ Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων // ἐσθλὸν ἐόντ᾿ ὀλέσωσιν ἐνὶ Σκαιῇσι πύλῃσιν. In cases like this the following proposal by Minchin (2001b:154), initially used for another occasion, becomes extremely valid: “I propose, therefore, that the poet has allowed the scene in his mind’s eye (the scene of the simile) to run ahead of the narrative proper. And, forgetting that he must co-ordinate the two, he has continued to sing his simile-song.”
[ back ] 24. See Richardson 1993:138.
[ back ] 25. For the functional equation between simile and metaphor, see Goodman 1968:77–78. See also Petergorsky 1982. I owe these references to Muellner 1990:60n2.
[ back ] 26. This is my own translation.
[ back ] 27. The Gates of Dreams (Odyssey iv 809: ἐν ὀνειρείῃσι πύλῃσιν) recall the Gates of the Sun and the District of Dreams (Odyssey xxiv 12: Ἠελίοιο πύλας καὶ δῆμον ὀνείρων) which is the location where the passage to the underworld is situated. On the association between νόστος (root *nes-) and the return to life and light, see Frame 1978:81–115; Nagy 1990b:224–225.
[ back ] 28. In the Homeric Hymn to Hermes (4) 14–15 Hermes is described as ἐλατῆρα βοῶν, ἡγήτορα ὀνείρων, // νυκτὸς ὀπωπητῆρα (‘thief of cattle, bringer of dreams, spy of the night’). Hermes is described as a “bringer of dreams,” who employs his cunningness to deceive Apollo. In this aspect he recalls the cattle thief Cacus (see Roman evidence below) who also tries to take in Hercules after having stolen his cattle. See Dionysius of Halicarnassos Roman Antiquities I 39.3, and Small 1982:10–11n25–27.
[ back ] 29. The cave has been constantly exploited by Greek and Roman poets as a symbol of inspiration, sanctity, or as a place of nurturing. On the other hand, it may have negative connotations: it can be a trap, a passage to the underworld, or a place of suffering. There are also multiple uses of the cave according to the ingenuity and innovation of each poet (see Paschalis 1981:30). The cave seems to be a typical element in the myth of the Cattle of the Sun and its variations. According to Heyden 1995:127, caves represent sacred space and stand for symbols of life and death. This is a liminal and allegorical space, a meeting point between earth and sky or earth and underworld, thus making possible the passage from one cosmic region to another. In Hesiod’s Theogony 294 (but see the OCT edition of Hesiod by Solmsen 1970 ad loc.), Heracles drives off Geryon’s cattle from a “gloomy stable (σταθμῷ ἐν ἠερόεντι). In Apollodorus’ Library I 6.1 it is the Giant Alcyoneus who drives off the Cattle of the Sun from the island of Erytheia (see Apollodorus’ Library II 5.10, where it is stated that Heracles uses the cup of Helios in order to go to the island of Erytheia; see Frame 1978:46n23). According to Apollodorus, the gods were not allowed to kill a Giant on their own and so needed the help of a human. Thus, it was Heracles who became Athena’s ally and helped kill Alcyoneus. What is also important is Zeus’ trick against Gē, who suspected the plan of the Olympians against Alcyoneus and who was looking for a remedy/drug (ἐζήτει φάρμακον) to make the Giant’s death by a mortal impossible. Zeus after forbidding the Dawn and the Moon and the Sun to shine, uproots beforehand the plant producing the drug (… Ζεὺς δ᾿ ἀπειπὼν φαίνειν Ἠοῖ τε καὶ Σελήνῃ καὶ Ἡλίῳ τὸ μὲν φάρμακον αὐτὸς ἔτεμε φθάσας …). In Apollodorus’ account there is no mention of a cave but there is a prohibition (not a threat, and this time by Zeus to the Sun, not by the Sun to Zeus, as in Odyssey xii) concerning solar forces (the Dawn, the Moon, and the Sun). The cave may be relevant to the adyton (νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ or Νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ) mentioned in the Derveni Papyrus (col. XI 1–2) in reference to the place Νύξ prophesizes from (see Kouremenos-Parassoglou-Tsantsanoglou 2006:83, 116–117). Interestingly enough, the Derveni author explains ἄδυτον as ‘that which cannot set’, not ‘that which cannot be entered’.
[ back ] 30. Due to metrical reasons. The meter is not iambic trimeter, and so the verse does not belong to the narrative parts of the play. It is not certain whether the meter is Ionic (see Radt TrGF 3, app. crit. ad fr. 69) but it would be interesting if we could trace a lyric tone here pertaining to the function of this formula. For this interpretive strategy, see the second part of this study on the function of the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ. See also Sideras 1971:19.
[ back ] 31. Not in Phaethon, pace Sideras 1971:19. See Diggle 1970:144, who rightly rejects Hermann’s conjecture ἀμολγόν, accepting Dobree’s σταλαγμόν.
[ back ] 32. See Hesychius s.v. ἀμολγόν: ζοφερὰν καὶ σκοτεινήν. οἱ δὲ μέρος καθ᾿ ὃ ἀμέλγουσιν.
[ back ] 33. Translation by Athanassakis 1977:49.
[ back ] 34. The Cattle or Sheep of the Sun as a mythological motif are known in many cultures. See Thompson 1955, A 732.1.
[ back ] 35. See Lazzeroni 1971:45–47. See also Kretschmer 1921:108, 1924:166-167.
[ back ] 36. See the discussion of Lazzeroni 1971:45–47 from whom I have drawn all the examples from the Rig-Veda. See also Jacoubet 1924:399-402; Wahrmann 1924:98-101.
[ back ] 37. See Lazzeroni 1971:45–46.
[ back ] 38. Cf. the Herodotean ἐν δὲ ἄντρῳ αὐλίζονται ἀπὸ τῆς πόλιος ἑκάς (IX 93). See also Frame 1978:46.
[ back ] 39. Jakobson 1985:41; Watkins 1995:72–73.
[ back ] 40. Jakobson 1985:41.
[ back ] 41. See Fontenrose 1959:339.
[ back ] 42. See Ogilvie 1965:55.
[ back ] 43. Fontenrose 1959:339.
[ back ] 44. Small 1982:35 argues that the Palatine, the Aventine and the Forum Boarium, where the incident between Hercules and Cacus takes place, “provided the setting for two kinds of encounter: guest-friendship (the ius hospitii) and the cattle raids.” Small 1982:35–36 also concludes that the foundation of the city of Rome offered the political background for the Romanization of everyone received in that place, whether it be the Etruscan Vibennae, the Greek Heracles, the Arcadian Evander, or the Trojan Aeneas. Cacus may well be of Italian origin, a figure of good for the Etruscans but of evil for the Romans.
[ back ] 45. See Origo gentis Romanae VI 1 and Servius, ad Aeneid VIII 203.
[ back ] 46. The story of the Heracles and the cattle of Geryones (but not the episode with Cacus) is first attested in the following Greek sources: 1) Hesiod’s Theogony 287–294, 982–983; 2) Stesichorus’ Geryoneis (PMGF frs. 181–186 S7–S87); 3) early mythographers such as Agias and Dercylus of Argos (FGrHist 305 F 1 = EGM fr. 1), Hecataeus of Miletos (FGrHist 1 F26 = EGM fr. 26), Hellanicus of Lesbos (FGrHist 4 F 111 = EGM fr. 111), and Pherecydes of Athens (FGrHist 3 F 18b = EGM fr. 18b).
[ back ] 47. In Hesiod’s Theogony (287–294 and 979–983) Heracles kills Geryones and drives his cattle away from Eirytheia to Tiryns after crossing the straits of Oceanus and slaughtering Orthus and Eurytion in their dark stable (σταθμῷ ἐν ἠερόεντι). See also Apollodorus’ Library II 106–112. For an exhaustive treatment of Heracles’ journey to the western end of the world, see Jourdain-Annequin 1989:475–515.
[ back ] 48. See Enciclopedia Virgiliana II, s.v. Gerione 698–699 and Enciclopedia Oraziana, s.v. Gerione 383–384. For Geryones, see also Der Neue Pauly, s.v. Geryoneus; RE 7.1286–1296, s.v. Geryoneus; LIMC, IV.1:186–190 s.v. Geryones. The myth of Cacus, on the other hand, does not become a favored subject of iconography during the Augustan period (namely when this theme is used as political propaganda in support of Roman origins and ancient victories against locals in the Italian peninsula), but begins to be iconographically represented from the Antonine era onwards. See LIMC III.1, 177–178, s.v. Cacus [Arce]. For the myth of Geryones, see also Adam 1985:577–609 with interesting observations on local Italic traditions of three-headed monsters. Blazquez Martínez 1983:21–38 is basically informative, whereas Brize 1980 examines iconographic representations of Stesichorus’ Geryoneïs in early Greek art (mainly iconography).
[ back ] 49. The localization of Erytheia was a matter of speculation and controversy in antiquity. Hecataeus (FGrHist 1 F 26) thought Erytheia was in Ambracia in Epirus, whereas Herodotus (IV 8 et aliter) believed it was Gadeira itself (modern Cadiz in Spain). On the other hand, Ptolemy identified it with Mauritania.
[ back ] 50. This account of the Heracles-Geryon myth is taken from Apollodorus’ Library II 5.10. It is believed that this account reflects Stesichorus’ Geryoneïs. See Page 1973:144, who owes this observation, as he says, to an unpublished lecture entitled Stesichorus and the story of Geryon, given by W. S. Barrett at a meeting of the Hellenic and Roman Societies at Oxford in September 1968 (138n1).
[ back ] 51. Burkert 1979:84.
[ back ] 52. See Propp 19752.
[ back ] 53. Burkert 1979:84 refers to Heracles’ participating in a war with Pylos (Isocrates Archidamus (6) 19; Agias FGrHist 305 F 1 = EGM fr. 1). Heracles, while driving the cattle of Geryones to Argos, meets in Epiros the shepherd Λαρίνος who, Cacus-like, steals the sacred cattle. Heracles sets them free and then offers some of them to Dodonean Zeus (Lycus Rheginus FGrHist 570 F 1b; Proxenus Epirota FGrHist 703 F 8 in Photius’ Lexicon, vol. II litteras E-M continens, s.v. Λαρινοὶ βόες // λ 311 (Theodoridis 1998) and Suda, Lexicon s.v. Λαρινοὶ βόες // λ 311 (Adler 1933)). The ancient scholiast on Pindar (Nemean 4.84) links the otherwise isolated βουβόται in Pindar Nemean 4.52 with the story of Heracles and the Λαρίνου βόες. The same story is also alluded to in the scholia on Aristophanes’ Aves 465c and probably 465d (Holwerda 1991), the scholia on Theocritus’ Idyll 4.20 (Wendel 1914), and on Nicander’s Heteroeumena, fr. 38 (22) (Gow and Scholfield 1953) attested in Antoninus Liberalis’ Metamorphoses IV 13–14 (Cazzaniga 1962). It is also assumed by Hecataeus of Miletos FGrHist 1 F 26 (attested in Arrian’s Alexandri Anabasis II 16.5–6 (Roos 1967)), by Scylax Caryandensis GGM 26, and by Ephorus Cumaeus, FGrHist 70 F 129b (quoted by Ps.-Scymnus’ Orbis Descriptio (ad Nicomedem Regem) 152 (Müller 1855–1861).
[ back ] 54. For Cacus, see Der Neue Pauly, Ark-Ci, 2.879, s.v. Cacus.
[ back ] 55. Davies 1988b:278.
[ back ] 56. The term was coined by Meuli 1921:15 (see Gesammelte Schriften, 2.604). Recently Davies 2002:5–43 examined important folk-tale elements of the Iliad and the Odyssey arguing (38–39) that “most of our earliest attested cycles of Greek myths, not only those of the Iliad and the Odyssey (the Trojan expedition and the hero’s return), but also the Argonautic Expedition, many of the labours of Heracles, and Perseus’ quest for the head of Medusa, reflect the primeval pattern of a heroic journey to the Underworld and a conquest over death.” Davies rightly observes that the myth of the Cattle of the Sun also shares common elements with Circe’s episode, thus corroborating their link with the underworld (27).
[ back ] 57. Davies 1988b:279–280.
[ back ] 58. See Croon 1952:27, 67, who distinguishes between a Chalcideian and a Corinthian version convincingly maintaining (65) that the tradition of the Herdsman of the Dead was strong among the Western Greeks. On the other hand, his attempt to localize the origins of the Geryones myth on the lower Spercheios valley near Hypata and Thermopylae is rather eccentric. Mythogenesis is a far more complicated phenomenon than Croon thinks, and, needless to say, it is almost absurd to try to reconstruct a canonical version of any given myth.
[ back ] 59. See also Davies 1988b:281n23.
[ back ] 60. This attractive suggestion was first made by Schweitzer 1922:132–135.
[ back ] 61. See Davies 1988b:282; Schweitzer 1922:132; Kroll 1932:373.
[ back ] 62. Davies 1988b:287.
[ back ] 63. Hercules is used for the Roman figure and Heracles for the Greek hero.
[ back ] 64. Davies 1988b:287.
[ back ] 65. Wilamowitz 18952:45n74.
[ back ] 66. See Pindar Isthmian 6.32–33. and the relevant ancient scholium ad versum 6.32 (Drachmann).
[ back ] 67. Davies 1988a:287–288n59. Geryones bears similarities also with Electryon (“the gleaming one”) who is accidentally killed by Amphitryon, Heracles’ father, after he (Electryon) had lost his cattle by the Taphians (Apollodorus Library II 4.6). Burkert 1979:84–87 offers an impressive bulk of information concerning Heracles’ association with cattle, mainly representing local traditions.
[ back ] 68. This has been already observed by both Bréal 18632:1–161 and Schroeder 1914.
[ back ] 69. The text of the OCT for Livy refers to bulls and cows or only to bulls (since the masculine is used). Ogilvie 1965:58 notes that Stroth, followed by Kleine and Madvig, changed the text to aversas boves eximiam quamque keeping the reading of N (consensus codicum Symmachianorum) that offered feminine participles, that is to say relictaruminclusarum. This change is well founded on the striking similarities between the text of Livy and that of Dionysius of Halicarnassos (Roman Antiquities I 38). Ogilvie 1965:58 argues otherwise, disfavoring the view that Livy’s source was either Ennius or the source used by Dionysius of Halicarnassos.
[ back ] 70. One should note that in Virgil’s Georgics 1.477 we encounter the expression sub obscurum noctis which recalls the formula νυκτὸς ἀμολγῷ. This attestation becomes all the more intriguing for it is immediately followed by pecudesque locutae. I have decided not to include this reference to my main discussion because it is rather isolated even by Virgilian standards and can hardly be connected to any mythical pattern.
[ back ] 71. See Paschalis 1997:291: “Evander tells the story of Hercules and Cacus after the company have sated their hunger on the roasted flesh of bulls from the sacrifice.”
[ back ] 72. Paschalis 1997:290 has rightly drawn our attention to the semantic link between Cacus and caecus. In his own words, “[t]he inrush of light leads to the defeat of ‘Cacus’; vice versa, the darkness of sleep is a major threat to the vigilant gaze of ‘Palinurus’.” The interplay between Cacus and light/darkness probably originates from his being Vulcanis filius (see Servius ad Aeneid VIII 190 and, for the reference, O’ Hara 1996:204). The evil side of this notorious thief was, according to Servius, reflected in his name (from Greek κακός with an accent shift [… translato accentu Cacus dictus erat]).
[ back ] 73. Virgil places Cacus’ cave on the Aventine hill. For a semantic allusion to adventus and avis, see Paschalis 1997:289.
[ back ] 74. There are many Virgilian echoes in this part of the poem (like that of the cave and the grove, which recall, in all probability, Aeneid VI 9–13). See Spencer 2001:259–284 with further bibliography. For the function of Hercules in this episode, see both Cairns 1992:65–95 and Anderson’s response (1992:96–103) in the same volume. For the blending of epic and elegy as well as the existence of elements belonging to the παρακλαυσίθυρον or κῶμος, see the seminal article of Anderson 1964:1–12.
[ back ] 75. For comments, see Bömmer 1958.
[ back ] 76. Bömer 1958:65 ad versum 582, notes that “lag die Kultstätte nicht am Forum Boarium, sondern beim Circus Maximus.”
[ back ] 77. I have included the discussion of the Dionysius passage in the Roman evidence for methodological reasons (Dionysius deals with the myth of Geryones and in particular with the Hercules-Cacus confrontation in Rome).
[ back ] 78. See I 38.2: ὀλίγας δέ τινας ἐξ αὐτῶν εἰς τὸ ἄντρον, ἐν ᾧ πλησίον ὄντι ἐτύγχανε τὴν δίαιταν ποιούμενος.
[ back ] 79. Jakobson 1985:42.
[ back ] 80. See Nyberg 1966:98–100.
[ back ] 81. Nyberg 1966:99.
[ back ] 82. Nyberg 1966:100.
[ back ] 83. Nyberg 1966:196.
[ back ] 84. Nyberg 1966:198.
[ back ] 85. Jamison 1991:22 notes that there were various forms of Indic rituals that took their names from the chief offering occuring at the right moment of the entire process. The Haviryajñas included oblations of animal and dairy products, whereas the Somayajñas dealt with the offering of a drink called soma. An important event in this sacrifice was the pressing of the soma, “straining it through a sheep’s fleece, and mixing it with milk” (Jamison 1991:23). For the soma-drinking, see Jamison 1991:61–62, 65–66, 83–88, 101, 107. For the soma-pressing, see Jamison 1991:22–24, 149, 161–164, 166–167, 248.
[ back ] 86. For Iranian religious beliefs and ritual practice, see Boyer et al. 1989:111–152.
[ back ] 87. Watkins 1987:399–404. For a possible connection with Vedic vár in usríyãnãm vár (Rig-Veda 4.5.8) ‘milk of the dawn cows’, see also Watkins 1995:72.
[ back ] 88. Watkins 1987:399–404.
[ back ] 89. I am very skeptical about the possible influence of the Gilgamesh epic to the Odyssey. Similarities may be explained by similar social conditions and analogous generic constraints rather than direct influence, which is a problematic notion for other reasons as well. This is not the place to discuss the matter in detail. See Tsagarakis 2000:19–26. For an alternative view, see Bakker 2001b:331–353.
[ back ] 90. The translation is that of Dalley 1991:80. The same threat is uttered by Ishtar to the Janitor of the underworld in another Mesopotamian poem, The Descent of Ishtar, and by Ereshkigal in Nergal and Ereshkigal. The threat is the same but there is no mentioning of the Bull of Heaven. See Dalley 1991:129n62.
[ back ] 91. West 1997:417n43.
[ back ] 92. The only example of Near Eastern provenance is from the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh. The threat of punishment and reversal are indeed closely comparable between the Cattle of the Sun and the Bull of Heaven, but I am not willing to equate them. There is clear reshaping here, since Isthar’s threat aims at obtaining the bull, which will be the instrument of vengeance (I owe this observation to Prof. Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood through private communication). I have decided to include this example in the same section with those of Indo-European origin simply because of the remarkably similar form the solar penalty takes in both the Thrinacia episode in the Odyssey and the Gilgamesh epic.
[ back ] 93. See Frame 1978:44–45.
[ back ] 94. Helios’ cattle and sheep are designated by the phrase … ἠὲ βοῶν ἀγέλην ἢ πῶϋ μέγ᾿ οἰῶν in Odyssey xii 299; (cf. Iliad XV 323). This may be another indication of the common elements shared by various manifestations of the cattle imagery. I disagree with Frame 1978:162–164, who argues that βουλυτόνδε should be etymologized from βοῦς + λούω and not from βοῦς + λύω, which is the standard interpretation. From a linguistic standpoint, all three arguments presented by Frame do not seem very strong to me. It is true, as Frame 1978:164 suggests, that the verbal adjective λυτός has a long υ in the penultimate syllable, but there are plenty of other forms of λύω in Homer with a variable length of υ. Secondly, time and place share common and alternating means of expression, even in Homer. Temporal and local deixis often converge, as can be seen in forms like ἠῶθεν (‘from daybreak, at dawn’) which is clearly temporal while using the deictic particle -θεν (expressing movement from a place). See Lyons 1977:718. Finally, a reconstructed *boulewotonde or *boulowetonde (Frame 1978:164–165) would have indeed produced a long close o, which is rather unlikely to have turned into a back closed rounded vowel [u]. There is, as far as I know, no inscriptional evidence for such a change. Moreover, we know (see Allen 19873:66–67) that a change in the value of υ must have occured in Attic-Ionic at a very early date. So, “when the Boeotians adopted the Attic (Ionic) alphabet and its values around 350 B.C., they found the υ unsuitable for representing the genetically corresponding [u] vowels of their dialect, which they rendered instead by ου: e.g. π]ουθιω = Attic Πυθίου” (Allen 19873:67).
[ back ] 95. The formula ἦμος δ᾿ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς is constantly used in Homeric epic to indicate the beginning of day.
[ back ] 96. See Burkert 1985:120.