3. καλλίσφυρος in the Iliad and the Odyssey

In light of the symbolic associations that σφυρόν bears in the Iliad, it is difficult to believe that an epithet deriving from this noun, and that occurs in the same poetic tradition, has no specific meaning and no pertinence to its context. καλλίσφυρος is the only such epithet that appears in the Homeric poems. It occurs twice in the Iliad and twice in the Odyssey. And the pattern of its appearances is significant.
καλλίσφυρος appears for the first time in the Iliad in Book IX, in the story of Meleager, an elaborate mythological digression from the narrative. In this passage Meleager returns from battle and lies with his wife Kleapatra, the daughter of Marpessa. In a short account of Marpessa’s history she appears as καλλίσφυρος:
κούρῃ Μαρπήσσης καλλισφύρου Εὐηνίνης
Ἴδεώ θ', ὃς κάρτιστος ἐπιχθονίων γένετ' ἀνδρῶν
τῶν τότε· καί ῥα ἄνακτος ἐναντίον εἵλετο τόξον
Φοίβου Ἀπόλλωνος καλλισφύρου εἵνεκα νύμφης
Iliad IX 557–560
A story of Apollo raping a maiden is not uncommon. But this story involves more than a rape; it is a capture and abduction, as the use of the verb ἀνήρπασε (564) indicates. Her mother, in fact, believes her dead and laments for her, as the verb κλαίω signifies. This verb appears in Homer almost exclusively for mourning the dead or for lamenting an anticipated or desired death. [1] So Marpessa’s abduction by Apollo has morbid overtones.
But if her abduction is a kind of death, it is a death from which she returns. For as this passage implies, and as other references to the myth confirm, Marpessa’s husband Idas succeeds in retrieving her from the god. [2] This is a very unusual ending to a common tale. The rape of Marpessa stands, in fact, as the only temporary translation of a mortal by a god in all of Homer. [3] This character, who appears as καλλίσφυρος, has a death-like experience and then uniquely returns from it.
It is in reference to another maiden raped by a god that καλλίσφυρος appears for the second time in the Iliad. In Book XIV, when Zeus seduces Hera, he lists some of the women he raped in the past. He says:
οὐ γάρ πώ ποτέ μ' ὧδε θεᾶς ἔρος οὐδὲ γυναικὸς
θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι περιπροχυθεὶς ἐδάμασσεν,
οὐδ' ὁπότ' ἠρασάμην Ἰξιονίης ἀλόχοιο,
ἣ τέκε Πειρίθοον θεόφιν μήστωρ' ἀτάλαντον·
οὐδ' ὅτε περ Δανάης καλλισφύρου Ἀκρισιώνης.
Iliad XIV 315–319
Danae appears only in the context of her relationship with Zeus. She is described simply as the mother of Perseos and as being καλλίσφυρος. The full story about her is clearly assumed to be familiar to the reader. She is not abducted by a god, as Marpessa is, but only raped. Nevertheless her mingling with Zeus has nearly fatal consequences. For Danae’s father Akrisios locks his daughter and new-born grandson into a larnax and puts them out to sea to die, out of fear of Perseos’ eventual power. The story is certainly archaic and was well known to Simonides who used it in a lyric poem about Danae’s lament when she is put out to sea. [4] The method used for her disposal is particularly striking, for the larnax served as a coffin in the Minoan civilization, and was put out to sea with the corpse in it. [5] The story of Danae is probably a mythical remnant of this early funerary practice. Like Marpessa, Danae suffers disappearance and a threat of death after mingling with a god, and, like Marpessa, she avoids death in the end. The details of her story that are not included here are perhaps symbolically inferred in her description as καλλίσφυρος.
It is striking, and perhaps not coincidental, that of the seven women Zeus mentions as his conquests—Dia, Danae, Europa, Semele, Alcmene, Demeter and Leto—five of them receive this epithet, or some variant of it, within even the small body of archaic poetry that is extant. The recurrence of the epithet with parallel characters indicates that its use might be primarily thematically generated.
It is true that in both these apperarnces of καλλίσφυρος in the Iliad the epithet has the same metrical function. It occurs before the bucolic diaeresis, follows the name it describes and precedes the patronymic, and appears both times in the genitive case. It therefore conforms to the characteristics of an ornamental epithet. Parry, in fact, cites καλλίσφυρος as a prime example of an ornamental epithet used for heroines. Only Helen, he argues, has distinctive epithets of her own, while the other heroines in Homer share generic epithets that are metrically determined. [6] He uses καλλίσφυρος’ appearances with Εὐηνίνης and Ἀκρισιώνης to support this contention.
But what Parry fails to discuss is the appearance of καλλίσφυρος in the Odyssey. In this poem the epithet also occurs twice, to describe Ino and Hebe. In these instances καλλίσφυρος does not appear in the genitive case; it does not occur before the bucolic diaeresis, but in the end of the fourth foot and in the fifth foot; and it combines with names of different metrical value from those in the Iliad. The figures of Ino and Hebe are not mortals but goddesses, and so do not fall under the heading of “heroine.” But to claim that one epithet is used in different metrical positions depending on the nature of the noun it accompanies would contradict the very assertions Parry is making.
καλλίσφυρος first appears describing Ino as she emerges from the sea to aid the shipwrecked Odysseys:
τὸν δὲ ἴδεν Κάδμου θυγάτηρ, καλλίσφυρος Ἰνώ,
Λευκοθέη, ἣ πρὶν μὲν ἔην βροτὸς αὐδήεσσα,
νῦν δ' ἁλὸς ἐν πελάγεσσι θεῶν ἐξέμμορε τιμῆς.
ἥ ῥ' Ὀδυσῆ' ἐλέησεν ἀλώμενον, ἄλγε' ἔχοντα·
Odyssey v 333–336
Ino appears nowhere else in Homer, and she is significant as one of only two mortals who become gods in Homer. The full story surrounding this miraculous event appears in later sources. Ino’s husband Athamas goes mad and tries to kill his two sons. He murders one but Ino escapes with the other, Melikertes, and leaps with him into the sea from a cliff. [7] Homer does not include these details but seems to assume them, stressing only the fact of her transformation after her leap. Her mortal name Ino and her description as καλλίσφυρος at the end of line 333 are juxtaposed to Leukothea, her immortal name, which appears at the beginning of the following line. Though now a goddess, she was once a βροτὸς αὐδήεσσα. The ἣ πρὶν μὲν of her mortality explicitly contrasts with the νῦν δ' of her acquired immortality.
Many details of this myth—pursuit by a threatening man, the saving of a child, and the threat of death in the sea—are reminiscent of the myth of Danae. One scholiast, in fact, reports that Leukothea was put to sea in a chest to die, but washed up on the coast of an island and so survived. This confusion of details suggests that her myth was closely related to that of Danae. [8]
Ino’s double identity, her miraculous rebirth after death, is stressed not only in the Odyssey. For Pindar uses the myth in Olympian II as an illustration of the uncertainty of fate and the mystery of death. [9] He contrasts her original πένθος with βίοτον ἄφθιτον she acquires after death. Pindar also mentions her in Pythian XI, referring to her by both her mortal and her immortal names, thereby stressing her double identity. [10]
The importance as well as the ambiguity of this figure is also reflected in ritual cult practices. Ino had cults throughout Greece, in Megara, South Laconia, Charoneia, and elsewhere. She was worshipped as chthonic as well as a marine spirit. And she was regarded both as mortal and as immortal. Her death was mourned in her cult, although she did not technically die. Xenophanes’ advice to the men of Elea, who wonder whether they should sacrifice to her, is illustrative of this confusion: “If you regard her as a goddess, do not bewail her, if as a mortal, do not sacrifice.” [11]
The name Leukothea has in itself significant connotations. For the tale of Ino’s fatal leap off a cliff parallels the story of Sappho’s leap into the sea for Phaeon and the story of Aphrodite’s leap for Adonis, both of which took place at the Λευκάς πέτρη. [12] This white rock becomes, in fact, a standard element of erotic myth. [13] It is also an important landmark associated with death: in the Odyssey it marks the boundaries of earth and the entrance to the underworld; [14] and in the Aithiopis is it the Λευκὴν νῆσον to which Thetis transports Achilles at the moment of his death. [15] The word λεύκη and the places it identifies have both sexual and morbid connotations, always representing the boundary between one state of consciousness and another. [16]
The name Ino acquires is therefore emblematic of death and of sexuality. The experience of death is the central feature of this myth; both the cause of her death—that is, pursuit by her husband—and the specific context of this passage also have erotic overtones. For Ino appears before Odysseus to offer him the use of her κρήδεμνον (v 351), a garment which is a common symbol of chastity in Greek poetry. [17] So the gift of her veil to the hero has symbolic overtones of the abandonment of her chastity to him. Her offer of aid to Odysseus parallels those of other fantastic female figures, such as Kirke and Kalypso, whose relationships with Odysseus also have erotic aspects. [18] Ino is a variant of a recurrent figure in the poem, an immortal woman linked with or touched by death who offers Odysseus help and seductive—if sublimated—love. The name Leukothea has many levels of meaning appropriate to this character. Perhaps the epithet καλλίσφυρος is similarly emblematic of these themes and experiences.
Death and eros also permeate the passage in which καλλίσφυρος appears for the second time in the Odyssey, in Book xi, when the poet describes the εἴδωλον of Heracles. He is the last shade whom Odysseus meets in his encounter with the dead; his appearance at the end of the book gives the description special significance. Heracles speaks sadly about the toil and suffering he experienced during his lifetime. But his mood and the gloom of the shades surrounding him are undercut and sharply contrasted with the glorious description of Heracles’ transformation into a god: [19]
τὸν δὲ μέτ' εἰσενόησα βίην Ἡρακληείην,
εἴδωλον· αὐτὸς δὲ μετ' ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι
τέρπεται ἐν θαλίῃς καὶ ἔχει καλλίσφυρον Ἥβην,
παῖδα Διὸς μεγάλοιο καὶ Ἥρης χρυσοπεδίλου.
Odyssey xi 601–604
As in the passage about Ino, Heracles’ death is mentioned, but is immediately followed and countered by the news of his rebirth and immortality.
The only specific fact related about his new status is that Hebe is his wife in Olympos. And she is καλλίσφυρος. This is the only other instance in addition to the description of Ino in which καλλίσφυρος occurs in the Odyssey. And it is the only other passage in either the Odyssey or the Iliad in which a mortal becomes a god. [20]
The marriage of Hebe, the goddess of youth, to a former mortal who has experienced death is an especially striking and paradoxical detail. It emphasizes all the more the vitality of Heracles’ rebirth. This is the only passage in Homer where Hebe appears as καλλίσφυρος. Elsewhere she bears either no epithet at all or ones quite common for goddesses. [21] Hesiod describes her as καλλίσφυρος, [22] but, once again, only in passages describing Heracles’ rebirth, where she appears as his wife. Similarly Theocritus, in his description of the immortalized Heracles, refers to his new bride as λευκόσφυρος. [23] The combination of λευκός and σφυρόν in this epithet points to a thematic connection between the adjective and the epithet καλλίσφυρος that was suggested earlier. Since the description of Hebe as καλλίσφυρος seems restricted to this one context, the epithet seems less a comment about her than it does one about her new husband. Certainly the phenomenon of a transferred epithet is not unusual in archaic poetry. And women, in particular, often acquire the traits of the men with whom they are connected. [24] If the epithet is understood as an intended reflection on Heracles its uses correspond thematically to its appearance in the Ino passage in Book v. Hebe is a mirror of Heracles’ acquired immortality. In both cases the epithet is connected with violent death and with the subsequent transcendence of it.
Heracles is perhaps the most important hero in the Greek mythical tradition. But because of his immortalization he is also more than a hero. This transformation into a god is mentioned repeatedly in early Greek literature, not only in Odyssey xi, but also in Hesiod and in Pindar. In Theogony 950–955 Hesiod refers to his immortalization and to his marriage to Hebe, while Pindar, at the end of Nemean I, describes his marriage to Hebe as a kind of initiation rite, signifying his entrance into the Olympian community and his transformation from mortal to god. [25] His dual nature and the ambiguity surrounding it are strikingly reflected in Pindar’s description of him as a ἥρως θεὸς in Nemean III 22.
There were, as well, countless cults of Heracles throughout the Greek world that reflected both his prominence and his twofold character. [26] Pausanias relates, for example, that the Cretans originally worshipped him as a hero, but later worshipped him as a god. [27] Herodotos devotes some attention to the confusion over Heracles’ true nature, and concludes that the only wise solution is to build two temples, one for Heracles the hero, and one for Heracles the god. [28] This ambiguity recalls the ambiguity of Ino’s true character and the subsequent dispute over the nature of her cult.
There are, then, reasons why the passages about Heracles and Ino should have this distinctive epithet in common. καλλίσφυρος appears in each case in a description of the transformation from mortal to immortal. Ino’s immortal persona is Leukothea, a significant and symbolic name with many mythological resonances that suggest an erotic experience as well as a death and rebirth. And the identification of her mortal persona as καλλίσφυρος is emblematic of the same miracle. Heracles’ union with Hebe similarly symbolizes his new existence and his entrance into the realm of the gods. The nature of this initiation also lends erotic connotations to the experience. Hebe is καλλίσφυρος because she is a reflection of his qualities, an allegory for his transformation.
The coincidence of the two appearances of καλλίσφυρος in the Odyssey with the only two instances of the immortalization of humans in Homer establishes specific symbolic connotations for the epithet, ones not inconsistent with the appearances of the word in the Iliad. In the Odyssey the epithet occurs in passages about death and rebirth that have sexual overtones; while in the Iliad it occurs in passages about violent rape, abduction and return that have overtones of death. All the examples share basic themes of sexuality, death, renewal and the tension between the mortal and immortal realms. The symbolism of the epithet is consistent, but not rigid, adapting itself to the specific context and work in which it appears.
This understanding of the connotations of καλλίσφυρος connects the epithet directly with the symbolism of σφυρόν in the Iliad. The association with death remains; only an erotic connotation is added. But the addition of erotic implications to a word associated with death is not surprising. The fusion of these two themes is common in Homer, particularly in the Odyssey. It is also evident in the diction of the lyric poets, who adapt Homeric death images for erotic contexts. [29]
The use of καλλίσφυρος in the Iliad and in the Odyssey is significant and explicable, although not on the basis of its metrical function. The epithet occupies one metrical position in the Iliad, but a different one in the Odyssey, and the names they modify differ metrically in the two poems. The connotations of the epithet are, however, constant in both poems and consistent with the symbolism of its root noun. It is the meaning rather than the meter of the word that best explains its use.


[ back ] 1. In the Iliad, κλαίω appears most frequently in the laments for the deaths of Patroklos and Hektor: XXII 90, 427, 429, 437, 515; XXIV 208, 619, 712, 746, 760, 773, 776. For Patroklos: XVIII 5, 286, 297, 300, 301; XXII 9, 252. For Achilles: I 362; XVII.73.
[ back ] 2. Apollodorus I 60-61; Pausanias V 18.2: Pausanias writes that Idas appears on the Kypselos chest retrieving Marpessa. He quotes a hexameter which, he claims, is inscribed on the chest. Here the epithet appears again: Ἴδας Μάρπησσαν καλλίσφυρον, ἃν οἱ Ἀπόλλων / ἅρπασε, τὰν Εὐανοῦ ἄγει πάλιν οὐκ ἀέκουσαν. [ back ] These are not the same lines as appear in the Iliad. They may be based on the Iliad, but they nevertheless represent an independent version. It is striking that the same epithet appears although she is called by a different name. (In the Iliad the epithet combines with her patronymic.) This use of the epithet in a thematically parallel passage leads to the conclusion that it is associated with the theme of her abduction and return and not simply metrically with the patronymic.
[ back ] 3. Rohde 1928:81.
[ back ] 4. Simonides 543A (as numbered in Campbell 1972).
[ back ] 5. Rutkowski 1968:226.
[ back ] 6. Parry 1928a:118–119.
[ back ] 7. Pausanias I 447; Apollodorus III 4.3.
[ back ] 8. Scholia ad Iliad I 38.
[ back ] 9. Pindar Olympian II 30–34.
[ back ] 10. Pindar Pythian XI 2.
[ back ] 11. Farnell 1921:36.
[ back ] 12. For Sappho: Menander, fragment 258K. For Aphrodite: Chennos fragment. In Gregory 1973:137–178.
[ back ] 13. Strabo, for example, describes this rock and mentions the leap from it as a cure for love: 10.2.8–9.
[ back ] 14. Odyssey x 508–509, 512–515: ἀλλ' ὁπότ' ἂν δὴ νηῒ δι' Ὠκεανοῖο περήσῃς, / ἔνθ' ἀκτή τε λάχεια καὶ ἄλσεα Περσεφονείης … / ἔνθα μὲν εἰς Ἀχέροντα Πυριφλεγέθων τε ῥέουσι / Κώκυτός θ', ὃς δὴ Στυγὸς ὕδατός ἐστιν ἀπορρώξ, / πέτρη τε ξύνεσίς τε δύω ποταμῶν ἐριδούπων· / ἔνθα δ' ἔπειθ', ἥρως, χριμφθεὶς πέλας, ὥς σε κελεύω. [ back ] It is also reflected in the opening passage of xxiv, when Hermes escorts the souls of the dead (11): πὰρ δ' ἴσαν Ὠκεανοῦ τε ῥοὰς καὶ Λευκάδα πέτρην.
[ back ] 15. Proclus Aithiopis: καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐκ τῆς πυρᾶς ἡ Θέτις / ἀναρπάσασα τὸν παῖδα εἰς τὴν Λευκὴν νῆσον διακομίζει. [Line 199 – not in DW script]
[ back ] 16. Nagy 1973:137–138.
[ back ] 17. Nagler 1967:299.
[ back ] 18. It is significant that Odysseus sheds Kalypso’s cloak only in order to don Ino’s veil. The gift and the powers of one replace those of the other. Also the description of Ion as βροτὸς αὐδήεσσα in line 334 parallels the description both of Kirke and of Kalypso as θεὸς αὐδήεσσα in the Odyssey.
[ back ] 19. Whether or not this passage is an interpolation is irrelevant to this study, for the concern here is with the diction of the passage and not with the authorship.
[ back ] 20. Certainly there are other examples of gods capturing mortals and keeping them in an immortal world. Such examples are Eos’ capture of Kleitos (Odyssey xv 250), her capture of Tithonys (v 1) and her capture of Orion (v 121), or Zeus’ capture of Ganymede (Iliad XXI 223). But these figures are not independently transformed into gods.
[ back ] 21. Hebe bears no epithet, for example, in Iliad V 905. Some common epithets she bears are πότνια (IV 2) or πρέσβα θεὰ (V 722).
[ back ] 22. Hesiod Theogony 950; Hesiod fragment 25.28 in Merkelbach and West 1967.
[ back ] 23. Theocritus XVII 32.
[ back ] 24. This phenomenon is evident in the Iliad, where several of the principal female characters—such as Helen and Andromache—reflect the qualities of the male characters around them.
[ back ] 25. Pindar Nemean I 69–72: αὐτὸν μὰν ἐν εἰρή- / νᾳ τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον̄ <ἐν> σχερῷ / 70 ἡσυχίαν καμάτων μεγάλων / ποινὰν λαχόντ' ἐξαίρετον / ὀλβίοις ἐν δώμασι, δεξάμενον / 71 θαλερὰν Ἥβαν ἄκοιτιν καὶ γάμον / δαίσαντα πὰρ Δὶ Κρονίδᾳ, / 72 σεμνὸν αἰνήσειν νόμον.
[ back ] 26. Farnell 1921:95–145.
[ back ] 27. Pausanias II 10.1.
[ back ] 28. Herodotos II 44.
[ back ] 29. Consider Sappho 31.15–16: … τεθνάκην δ' ὀλίγω 'πιδεύης / φαίνομ' ἔμ' αὔται· Or Anacreon 413: μεγάλωι δηὖτέ μ' Ἔρως ἔκοψεν ὥστε χαλκεὺς / πελέκει, χειμερίηι δ' ἔλουσεν ἐν χαράδρηι. Or Ibycus 286: ἀζαλέ- / αις μανίαισιν ἐρεμνὸς ἀθαμβὴς / ἐγκρατέως πεδόθεν †φυλάσσει† / ἡμετέρας φρένας.